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Wine of the Week: Migration 2017 Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir

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This week's blind tasting

Pinot Noir

TOP PICK

Migration

2017 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir, 14.2% alcohol, $70. ★★★★½

A vibrant pinot noir trumpeting high-toned, tangy fruit — Bing cherry, strawberry and cranberry. It has a hint of herbs and toast beneath its powerhouse red fruit. Supple texture. Gorgeous.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Small Vines 2016 TBH Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 13.2%, $89. ★★★★: A lovely Burgundian-styled pinot noir weighted to red fruit — tart cherry, cranberry and pomegranate. Has a whisper of cinnamon. Buoyed by bright acidity. Lingering finish. Striking.

Dutton Goldfield 2017 Redwood Ridge, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.2%, $62. ★★★★: This pinot has an intensity on the palate with dense but lush fruit. Notes of black raspberry, sandalwood and herbs. Well-crafted.

Marimar Estate 2016 Dona Margarita Vineyard Mas Cavalls, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14%, $47. ★★★★: A savory pinot noir with notes of raspberry and forest floor. Balanced, with good bones — structure. Lovely.

J. Lohr, 2018 Monterey County Pinot Noir, 14%, $17. ★★★½: An approachable pinot noir with bright fruit and vibrant acidity. Aromas and flavors of wild cherry, rhubarb and sage. Has a dried cherry finish. A steal for the price.

Pinot noir is a compelling puzzle; it requires a well-versed palate to piece together a multitude of lots into a single blend.

“It’s thrilling to taste through as many as 80 separate lots of pinot noir and then begin to imagine how I will fit them together,” said Dana Epperson of Duckhorn Vineyards.

The winemaker who loves to puzzle pinot is behind our wine of the week winner –– the Migration 2017 Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir at $70.

The Migration is a vibrant pinot noir trumpeting high-toned, tangy fruit –– Bing cherry, strawberry and cranberry. It has a hint of herbs and toast beneath its powerhouse fruit. The pinot has a supple texture, and it’s gorgeous. You can purchase it from duckhornwineshop.com.

Two tasty yet less expensive pinots in the flight that are in the marketplace are the J. Lohr 2018 Monterey County Pinot Noir at $17 and the Marimar Estate 2016 Dona Margarita Vineyard Mas Cavalls, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $47.

As for the Migration pinot, Epperson said its style is Burgundian.

“I strive to make sophisticated, beautifully layered, cool-climate wines, with abundant fruit, bright acidity, and balance,” she said.

The winemaker said she likes to challenge the finicky grape to reach its full potential.

“Pinot noir is one of the unique varietals that can change drastically in style when it’s pushed to its environmental limits with climate, topography, and soil type,” Epperson said.

The winemaker said she has learned a great deal about pinot during her 15-year career.

“I have developed many different approaches and styles to making pinot noir,” she said.

Epperson, 35, graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in food science in 2006. Today her title is as expansive as her duties at Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena. Epperson is vice president of Sonoma and Mendocino within the Duckhorn portfolio, with all winemakers reporting to her. She’s also the winemaker of Migration, one of Duckhorn’s brands.

“My family has lived in Sebastopol for three generations, and I’m truly grateful to have become immersed in the culture of Sonoma County agriculture,” she said. “I have always been interested in how to create a career where I could enjoy it to its fullest. Winemaking became the obvious choice once I realized my passion for science, art and agriculture. It’s truly a unique blend of all my passions.”

Epperson considers winemaking a team effort.

“I love the collaborative nature of winemaking,” she said. “Tasting and talking with peers to get their subjective opinion can be eye-opening on multiple levels. Every hand that touches the vine or the wine makes an impact, so we all have to work together.”

Curiosity, Epperson said, keeps her engaged from start to finish –– from growing grapes to bottling wine.

“I love learning about new appellations and experimenting with new ideas and techniques,” she said. “Winemaking is a constant process of refinement, and no two vintages are ever the same.”

Of course the hardest lesson, Epperson said, is developing a hands-off approach.

“The most challenging part of making pinot noir,” the winemaker said, “is having the restraint to allow the fruit to express its true terroir.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

This week's blind tasting

Pinot Noir

TOP PICK

Migration

2017 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir, 14.2% alcohol, $70. ★★★★½

A vibrant pinot noir trumpeting high-toned, tangy fruit — Bing cherry, strawberry and cranberry. It has a hint of herbs and toast beneath its powerhouse red fruit. Supple texture. Gorgeous.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Small Vines 2016 TBH Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 13.2%, $89. ★★★★: A lovely Burgundian-styled pinot noir weighted to red fruit — tart cherry, cranberry and pomegranate. Has a whisper of cinnamon. Buoyed by bright acidity. Lingering finish. Striking.

Dutton Goldfield 2017 Redwood Ridge, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.2%, $62. ★★★★: This pinot has an intensity on the palate with dense but lush fruit. Notes of black raspberry, sandalwood and herbs. Well-crafted.

Marimar Estate 2016 Dona Margarita Vineyard Mas Cavalls, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14%, $47. ★★★★: A savory pinot noir with notes of raspberry and forest floor. Balanced, with good bones — structure. Lovely.

J. Lohr, 2018 Monterey County Pinot Noir, 14%, $17. ★★★½: An approachable pinot noir with bright fruit and vibrant acidity. Aromas and flavors of wild cherry, rhubarb and sage. Has a dried cherry finish. A steal for the price.

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