8 North Coast wines to sip this spring

Hurry up to taste these excellent whites, reds and rosés. Some spring releases have a cult-like following and can sell out quickly.|

The verve of spring has arrived in vineyards across Sonoma County, where this year’s vintage has pushed past the infancy of bud break into a cadre of youthful green leaves.

But new beginnings aren’t just occurring in the vineyard. Spring also ushers in a bevy of new wine releases — the freshest offerings from barrel (or tank) to bottle.

In spring, winemakers often release white wines, rosés and lighter-bodied reds — selections that need less aging to tame their tannins and build complexity. Spring wines are often bright and vibrant, just like the season.

But blink and you may miss them. Some spring releases, like Unti Vineyards Rhone-centric rosé, have a cultlike following and can sell out quickly. And at most wineries, wine club members nearly always call first dibs. (Tip: Sign up for a winery email list to ensure you stay informed of new releases throughout the year.)

The 2022 growing season

Wines released in the spring often provide the first taste of last year’s harvest and begin to build a broader picture of the quality and characteristics of wines for the entire vintage.

In 2022, the growing season began with favorable conditions across the North Coast appellation, which includes Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Marin and Lake counties and parts of Solano county.

Following an early bud break, mild temperatures lasted until late August, when an extreme heat wave enveloped the state. Some growers scrambled to pick early while others took a deep breath and let the fruit hang.

Ripening accelerated in many vineyards across the county. Then came the rain.

In the Wine Institute’s 2022 Harvest Report, Lisa Amaroli, director of winemaking at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, said the successive heat and rain had a “whiplash effect, pushing up the sugars then reversing them after the rain.

“It was definitely a harvest for the record books,” she said.

Despite the season’s challenges, local growers and winemakers agree the quality of the fruit was high, with smaller berries and clusters pointing to an excellent 2022 vintage.

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite new wine releases for spring 2023.

Eight to try

Idlewild Wines, 2022 Flora & Fauna White Wine, North Coast ($30)

Blend: arneis, muscat canelli, favorita, erbaluce and cortese

Winemaker: Sam Bilbro

The 2022 Flora & Fauna white wine from Idlewild Wines in Healdsburg is a Piedmontese-inspired blend of arneis, muscat-canelli, favorita, erbaluce and cortese — a delicious union rarely found outside Italy.

Winemaker San Bilbro sourced the grapes from sites in the Russian River Valley and Mendocino County, with Fox Hills vineyard “lending depth,” Lost Hills vineyard “balancing the vibrancy and bright aromatics” and Rancho Coda vineyard providing “a core of fruit and mouthfeel,” Bilbro said.

“In the end, Mendocino is on display with high and low tones and a very pleasant rusticity, while the Russian River Valley fills in the gaps to make the wine cohesive,” he said.

The Flora & Fauna white is imbued with the scent of orange blossoms, with wet stone minerality, lemon zest and pear on the palate. It would be a conversation-worthy addition to any spring gathering, even if it’s just a party of one.

For more information, visit idlewildwines.com.

Bricoleur Vineyards, (NV) Isla Rose Brut Rosé, Sonoma County ($50)

Blend: 72% pinot noir, 23% chardonnay, 3% pinot gris and 2% pinot meunier

Winemaker: Cary Gott

Bricoleur co-founder Mark Hanson created this sparkling rosé to “embody the entrepreneurial spirit of strong female leadership in the wine industry.” Named after his first granddaughter, Isla Rose, the wine also plays homage to his daughter, Sarah Citron, and his wife, Beth Hanson, both of whom helped found the winery and play key roles at the estate.

Fun fact: Beth’s great-grandfather, Pietro Carlo Rossi, was the original oenologist at the historic Italian Swiss Colony winery.

Bricoleur’s brut rosé is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot meunier sourced primarily from the maritime-influenced Carneros region. Aromas of strawberry, watermelon and red cherry are followed through with bright notes of raspberry, with a bright, dry finish.

For more information, visit bricoleurvineyards.com.

Sutro, 2022 Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley ($35)

Winemaker: Alice Warnecke Sutro

Winemaker and artist Alice Warnecke Sutro produces just 1,200 cases of wine per year, focusing on Bordeaux varieties grown at her home on Warnecke Ranch and Vineyard in Alexander Valley.

The 260-acre property has been in Sutro’s family for five generations. It’s where she grew up and now raises her children. While grapes have been grown on the land and sold to local wineries since 1973, Sutro is the first in her family to make wine, luckily for us.

In the vineyard, the volcanic bedrock and loamy soil results in low yields of sauvignon blanc teeming with vibrancy and mouthwatering acidity. Aromas of passion fruit, lemon grass and lime zest mingle with notes of wet river stone and pineapple.

“I really love this elegant and complex sauvignon blanc,” Sutro said. “It’s crafted very intentionally to reveal the potential of the varietal. Sauvignon blanc can do so much more than people think. Its aromatic range is amazing thanks to our climate, and the volcanic site lends an intriguing minerality.”

For more information, visit sutrowine.com.

Scribe, 2022 Pétillant Naturel Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley ($38)

Winemakers: Adam and Andrew Mariani and Gustavo Sotelo-Miller

Fourth-generation farmers and brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani are at the helm of Scribe winery in Sonoma Valley, where they produce pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and uncommon varietals like sylvaner and mission.

The pair always seem to be up to something novel, so I like to keep them on my radar. The most recent wine to fit that bill is their 2022 Pétillant Naturel Rosé of Pinot Noir, a bottle-fermented sparkling wine made with 100% pinot noir.

After the grapes were harvested, they were tread by foot to release the juice and encourage color pickup, then whole-cluster pressed. After fermenting in stainless steel, the wine was bottled with a touch of residual sugar to encourage a second fermentation.

The result is a wonderfully juicy, dry sparkling wine with notes of cherry blossom, pomelo and white tea.

“This pét-nat rosé is bright, fruit-forward and full of energy,” co-owner Adam Mariani said. “It tastes like spring.”

To purchase, visit scribewinery.com.

Pennyroyal Farm, 2022 PinoTrio, Anderson Valley ($33)

Blend: 39% pinot blanc, 35% pinot noir, 26% pinot gris

Winemaker: Sarah Cahn Bennett

This finalist at the 2023 North Coast Wine Challenge was a big hit among the judges, who marveled at its floral sweet-pea notes, nuances of quince and white peach and “long, sexy finish.”

Produced at Pennyroyal Farm winery in Anderson Valley, the PinoTrio is a marriage of pinot noir, pinot blanc and pinot gris, all sourced from the winery’s home ranch, Navarro Vineyards in Philo.

“PinoTrio is not a red wine; it’s a nerd wine,” said owner and winemaker Sarah Cahn Bennett, whose parents founded Navarro Vineyards in 1974. “Pinot’s family is genetically sensitive to mutation, and no other variety has as many variations or clones. With one sip of PinoTrio, you can taste the characteristics of each varietal and its family history.”

To purchase, visit pennyroyalfarm.com.

Unti Vineyards, 2022 Rosé, Dry Creek Valley ($38)

Blend: 82% grenache, 18% mourvedre

Winemaker: Jason Valenti

This year marks the 20th annual release of Unti Vineyard’s Bandol-inspired rosé, one of the winery’s most anticipated releases of the year.

Located on a 60-acre estate in Dry Creek Valley, Unti Vineyards has been producing beautifully nuanced Rhone- and Italian-variety wines since 1997.

For the 2022 rosé, grenache and mourvedre from the vineyard’s 24-year-old vines were combined to create a precisely balanced blend under winemaker Jason Valenti.

“Our microclimate and moderate yields allow us to strive for uniform ripeness without scarifying acidity,” Valenti said. “It also provides more even color development in the grenache, which makes it easier to achieve that classic Provencal copper salmon color. Our 2022 rosé is definitely the best I’ve ever made.”

To purchase, visit untivineyards.com.

Birdhorse Wines, 2022 Valdiguié, Suisun Valley ($34)

Winemakers: Corrine Rich and Katie Rouse

Winemakers and life partners Corrine Rich and Katie Rouse launched Birdhorse Wines in 2018 with an overarching goal to focus on less-common varietals grown in less-popular wine regions, which the pair felt were severely overlooked.

Enter valdiguié, a red grape grown primarily in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. For Birdhorse’s 2022 release, Rich and Rouse sourced fruit from Back Road Vineyard in Suisun Valley, southeast of Napa Valley, where the 40-year-old organic vines produce “bodacious bunches of juicy red grapes,” Rich said.

The result is a wine with vibrant, dark fruit flavors of blueberry and black currant and mouthwatering acidity.

“If there is a red grape more expressive in its youth than valdiguié, we’ve yet to meet it,” Rich said. “The core of its character is discernible in early life with bright, vibrant fruit. But over time, it builds on itself, adding layers and nuance. When we open a bottle, we find something new each and every time.”

To purchase, visit birdhorsewines.com.

Furthermore Wines, 2019 Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Gap’s Crown Vineyard ($60)

Winemaker: Ross Cobb

Located on the western slope of Sonoma Mountain in the Petaluma Gap, Gap’s Crown Vineyard is considered one of the most iconic in the appellation, producing superlative chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for wineries like Kosta Browne, Three Sticks, Walt Wines and this 2019 selection from Furthermore Wines.

A Double Gold winner from the 2023 North Coast Wine Challenge, the Furthermore 2019 Pinot Noir is weighty and delicious, with layers of black cherry, plum, blackberry, raspberry and baking spice and judicious use of oak.

“Pinot noir produced from Gap’s Crown is always a crowd-pleaser,” said Chad Richard, co-owner of Furthermore Wines in Sebastopol. “We really try to let the vineyard and vintage speak for themselves.”

This is Furthermore Wines’ first vintage under distinguished winemaker Ross Cobb, whose resume includes Williams Selyem, Flowers Vineyard & Winery and his own brand, Cobb Wines. We expect to see more worthwhile wines from Furthermore under his tutelage.

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @whiskymuse.

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