After 30 years in the restaurant business, owning and operating 23 independent restaurants, Roger Roessler’s takeaway was that pinot noir is a delectable food wine.

“It became clear to me that pinot noir separated itself from other wines when it came to pairing them with food,” he said.

The vintner is behind our wine-of-the-week winner – Roger Roessler’s Black Pine, 2015 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $30.

This is a gorgeous pinot noir and a rare find at this price point. What sets it apart is its great bones -- structure -- coupled with its concentrated cherry flavors. Notes of earth and spice are also in the mix. It’s an impressive pinot noir that over delivers.

Roessler is clearly smitten with pinot noir.

“She’s elegance, delicate and finesse all wrapped into one,” he said, referring to the varietal. “While each vintage brings its own set of challenges, she rewards patience.”

Roessler moved to Sonoma in 1989 to help renovate the Swiss Hotel. By July of 2000, he was chatting with a winemaker friend over lunch at the restaurant, toying with the idea of sourcing some pinot noir from Buck and Angelo Sangiacomo.

“They were kind enough to sell me two tons of fruit that September and my passion for pinot set roots,” he said.

In 2003 Roessler purchased 40 acres, cleared and planted pinot noir near Annapolis, and, in 2005, purchased another vineyard in Anderson Valley.

“Just as I spent many years learning the restaurant business, my time making wine has been a great learning experience,” he said. “I love blending different components -- clones, exceptional vineyard sites, and amazing pinot noir lots from all over the Sonoma Coast -- to craft an elegant, balanced and intense wine.”

Roessler said collaborating with his winemaker, Drew Huffine, on the blending process has become one of the most exciting parts of the business for him.

The die-hard Cardinal fan, now 70, was born and raised in Columbia, Illinois, a small farming community close to St Louis. He studied at Southern Illinois University, but had his sights set on the restaurant business for as long as he could remember. He moved to California in 1968 to open his first restaurant in the Bay Area shortly after turning 21.

“I’ve relied on my 30 years of owning and operating restaurants, where my passion was creating memorable dining experiences for guests,” Roessler said. “It was about doing the little things. That has translated to a similar passion for crafting wines that exceed people’s expectations.”


It’s estimated that less than 2,000 total acres of the rare pygmy ecotome remains, scattered and largely unprotected in Mendocino and northern Sonoma Counties, where they’ve been used for garbage dumps, airstrips, and private development. Thanks to ongoing conservation efforts – Hans Jenny’s wife and Teresa Sholar’s husband brought the first successful lawsuit to limit their destruction with the Sierra Club in the 1980’s – some are now under California State protection and accessible to the public.

Here’s where to see them:

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, five miles north of Mendocino, has a 2.5 mile easy to moderate trail that starts at the ocean and climbs a well-signed Ecological Staircase through a beautiful sequence of plants and forests on five terraces, with the Pygmy Forest at the topmost. Parking and trailhead are just off Hwy 1, and a self-guided nature tour provides interesting detail on what you’re seeing. Open sunrise to sunset, it’s free. No camping in the Reserve, but available nearby.

Van Damme State Park

Van Damme State Park, just south of Mendocino, provides two ways to see the pygmies. Walking up the aptly named and lush green Fern Canyon trail, the Pygmy Forest is about 8 miles from the trailhead, and 500 feet higher. Alternatively, one can drive to a 0.25 mile short Pygmy loop in the Park, by turning east on Little River Airport Road, just south of Mendocino on Hwy 1. Drive inland for 2.8 miles to the signed parking lot and trailhead on your left. The pygmy forest trail here is actually a raised wooden platform, to protect the extremely slow growing life underfoot, and wheelchair accessible. The State Park has an $8 day use fee, but the Airport Road access is free. Camping is available in the park.

Salt Point State Park

Salt Point State Park, 20 miles north of Jenner on Highway 1, has a 1.4 mile long hike to Pygmy Forest, out and back, or add another mile to do the hike as a loop. For both, start from the Woodside Campground parking area on the east side of the highway just south of the main park entrance. Take Central Trail to North Trail, climbing through redwoods and marine terraces 500 feet in elevation to the pygmy section, which has a somewhat different mix of trees (no Bolander pine) than the Mendocino sections. Park fee is $8. Camping is available in the park.