Pinot noir is the ultimate Thanksgiving wine choice because it's imbued with earth and spice. It is, in a phrase, autumn in a glass.

"It's a perfect food-focused wine for many occasions, but especially for the flavors associated with fall and Thanksgiving," said Mark McWilliams of Healdsburg's Arista Winery. "Pinot noir isn't an overpowering wine, so it's not going to dominate the flavors on the table."

McWilliams is the co-vintner behind our wine-of-the-week winner -- the Arista, 2010 Mononi Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. It's a class act pinot worthy of a holiday splurge at $60.

Producing balanced, site-driven pinot is the winery's goal, McWilliams said.

"My brother, Ben (McWilliams), and I split the day-to-day responsibilities at the winery," he said. "Our winemaker, Leslie Sisneros, has been with us for eight years and over that time we've developed a deep trust with her. I am personally very involved in both the grape-growing and winemaking and spend much of my time with Leslie in the cellar or in the vineyards, depending on the season . . . "

The most challenging thing about pinot noir is that it's an unbridled grape, McWilliams said.

"The grapes are very much like young children," he said. "From the beginning, some of them are very well behaved and do exactly as you hope from day one. They are very dependable, very reliable. Others are wild and crazy and do things their way, on their terms."

Winemakers, like parents with a child, can't force their will on a wine. Instead they need to nurture it and encourage it to play to its strengths, McWilliams said.

The McWilliams family planted its first vineyard in 1994 and in 2002 it launched Arista Winery in Healdsburg, focusing almost exclusively on pinot noir in the Russian River Valley and Mendocino Valley.

"My first job in the business was working in my family's vineyard, and it's where my heart will always be," McWilliams said. "I love the rhythm of the vineyard, of the seasons. I walk our vineyards almost daily throughout the year. You have to constantly be learning, listening and observing the vineyard."