Derek Rohlffs says when it comes to grapes, he’s a caretaker rather than an interventionist.
“I enjoy making and drinking wines that are more about the place than the person,” he said.
This minimalist is behind our wine-of-the week winner –– the Bravium, 2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir at $29. This pinot is striking because of its generous fruit and undercurrent of spice. It’s balanced, weighted to red fruit –– cherry and pomegranate –– and it’s coupled with bright acidity. It has a lush texture, and nice length, with a black pepper finish. It’s impressive.
If Rohlffs had to choose one word to capture the house style he strives for it would be elegant.
“Thankfully I started making pinot noir in 2005 when the pendulum –– at least among people in the know –– was swinging back toward a more elegant style of pinot noir,” he said.
Rohlffs, 47, has an environmental studies degree from UC Santa Barbara, which he followed up with course work and a wine executive certificate at UC Davis.
The vintner can pinpoint the day when he realized winemaking was his calling. It was 1999 and he was 29 when he went with his father to visit his friend Bob Travers, then the proprietor and winemaker of Mayacamas Vineyard.
“That was definitely the moment of inspiration,” Rohlffs said. “An hour visit turned into a three-hour tour and tasting. If I had to pinpoint what was so inspiring, it was the vitality of his wines, how powerful and alive those wines were whether they were 10 years old or 25 years old.”
At the time, Rohlffs was working at Applejacks, a wine and spirits shop outside of Denver, a place that pampered his palate.
“I tasted wines from all over the world,” he said. “I worked there for roughly a year and tasted nearly a half million dollars worth of wine.”
But six months after Rohlffs’ mountain top tasting at Mayacamas Vineyard, he moved to California and began taking winemaking classes at U.C. Davis. After toiling in his Menlo Park garage to create the brand, Rohlffs founded Bravium in 2007 at a bonded winery in St. Helena.
“Bravium is a Latin word that loosely means reward, prize or gift,” Rohlffs said. “It has a double meaning for me. I believe the vineyard offers the gift of the land, and I then offer people the gift of our wine.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or email@example.com.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Showstopper Pinot Noirs
Bravium, 2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 12.5% alcohol, $29. ★★★★
This pinot is striking because of its generous fruit and surprising undercurrent of spice. It’s weighted to red fruit –– cherry and pomegranate –– and its coupled with bright acid. It has a lush texture, and nice length, with a black pepper finish. Impressive. (Bravium, for the curious, is a Latin word that loosely means reward, prize or gift.)
Migration, 2015 Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $68. ★★★★: This pinot has explosive fruit on the palate –– cherry, raspberry and cranberry. It’s a touch earthy with a hint of Asian spice, and it has a lingering finish. It’s striking.
Merry Edwards, 2015 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.3%, $48. ★★★★1/2: What sets this pinot apart is its depth of flavor. It has tangy red fruit and savory notes of earth and mushroom. It’s a complex pinot, with just the right amount of spice in the mix. This supple pinot is knockout.
Three Sticks, 2015 Cuvee Eva Marie, Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir, 14.3%. $90. ★★★★1/4: The Three Sticks is a serious pinot with a lush texture and gorgeous fruit –– bing cherry and blackberry. It’s complex, with layered flavors of herbs and spice, and it has a lingering finish. Well-crafted.
Carmel Road, 2014 Panorama Vineyard Arroyo Secco, Monterey North Crest Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $55. ★★★1/2: A pretty pinot with bright cherry fruit and notes of toffee and vanilla bean. It’s a balanced pinot because its bright acidity keeps it in check. Lovely.