November 19, 2019
by Bruce Neyers
Barbara and I have been on the road a bit over the past two months, and we’ve found ourselves tasting, serving and drinking our 2017 Roberts Road Pinot Noir more than normal. That’s good news, because production of this wine is so small we don’t normally taste it much at the winery. These recent sales trips served to reacquaint us with it. At the same time, we noticed the wine was tasting much better than when we began making it. Tadeo cited this improvement to low yields because of the recent drought years, cooler than normal growing seasons, and vine age as they’re now almost 25 years old. These grapes come from a vineyard in Sonoma’s Petaluma Gap AVA, a parcel of which is planted to budwood called ‘The Swan Selection’. In the early 1960’s, Joe Swan was a pilot for the now defunct Western Airlines. He’s pictured above at our house with Alice Waters in 1985. For several years he flew the route from San Francisco to Paris, and he’d spend whatever free time he had in France exploring vineyards. On one trip, he brought back vine cuttings from one of the most important Pinot Noir vineyards in Vosne-Romanée. He developed a vineyard with those cuttings on his property in Forestville, and beginning with the 1968 vintage the grapes from these vines became the base for his celebrated bottling of Pinot Noir, a wine that has long been the envy of the California wine industry. I drank a lot of Swan Pinot Noir with Joe over the years, as he was a close friend. He made only a barrel or two in most harvests, and I was singularly proud of my six bottle allocation. It was always California’s finest example of Pinot Noir. Once I asked Joe why it was so good. His reply was simple and direct: ‘It’s the plant material. I’m working with true Pinot Noir.’ Soon after his death in 1989 the vineyard was removed, but Mike Sangiacomo got some cuttings to plant on his family’s Roberts Road Vineyard. Mike is pictured below, standing next to the Neyers Block at Roberts Road.
We’ve been working with these vines now for almost 15 years, and the wine gets better with each new vintage. Well-made Pinot Noir combines strong but subtle fruit with earthy, mineral flavors. The soil at Roberts Road is principally basalt, which is porous – like limestone – and it’s broken up into small pieces, just as in the Côte d’Or. The wine is a strong purple in color, not unlike the grape skin, and the nose combines blackberry jam with coffee and stone. It’s a soft wine, with a wide range of flavors, both earthy and tropical, and it’s impossibly easy to drink.