December 10, 2018
Sandy Block on the Neyers 2016 Placida Pinot Noir: An MW’s observations
Sandy Block, a respected MW from Boston, is one of the world’s most cerebral wine personalities. From his headquarters in Boston, he has directed the enormously successful wine program at Legal Sea Foods for the past 20 years. In his recent observations for a local trade publication, he turned his attention to California Pinot Noir, and the 2016 Placida Vineyard bottling from Neyers that we make from grapes grown by the celebrated Chuy Ordaz.
‘Tasting dozens of Pinot Noirs blind, it’s unmistakable how dramatically individual a story each one tells. The grape is a chameleon. Highly reflective of its specific growing conditions, Pinot requires handling with utmost care, both in the vineyard and the winery. Its thin skins bruise easily and are rot-prone in humid conditions; because it buds so early in the season Pinot Noir is frost-susceptible; if cropped at too heavy a load the wine it makes will taste dilute; and, to cap everything off, it’s genetically unstable. At a minimum Pinot Noir requires a long, cool, but sunny and dry growing season, the kind of environment where every vintage poses fresh challenges and requires a new strategy to handle the grapes. The net/net is that in a world and a market that prize predictability, Pinot Noir is by its very nature capricious. Its low yields and the intensive manual vineyard work (shoot thinning, pruning, leaf removal and other canopy work) needed to ensure flavor concentration mean that it’s never inexpensive to produce. Why do winemakers persist? When done right, Pinot Noir is incomparable, with an exalted perfume, texture and flavor profile whose every sip offers intrigue and surprise. The following California Pinot Noirs are among the finest I’ve tasted recently.
NEYERS WINERY PINOT NOIR ‘PLACIDA VINEYARD’
RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY 2O16
Some consider Sonoma’s Russian River Valley the heart and soul of California’s Pinot Noir crop. The valley is a chain of low hills and bench lands surrounding the Russian River as it cuts a path westward from just north of Santa Rosa, emptying into the Pacific. The soils range from well-drained, loose-gravelly loam near the river, to rocky sandstone clays on the rolling hills. Pacific fogs roll eastward upriver reducing sunlight hours, prolonging the growing season (typically harvest is at least two weeks after Carneros) and often producing a fuller-bodied more concentrated and tannic wine. This Pinot is one of the exceptions to that more general formulation. With vines planted to the legendary Joseph Swan ‘Selection’ (rumored to have originated in the village of Vosne-Romanée) Bruce Neyers has created a wine of charm and elegance, with tealeaf, red berry and herbal garden scents. It’s an unfined and unfiltered wine of finesse that manages to walk a delicious tightrope between red fruit and more earthy flavor notes.’