Cool climate pinot noir, cradled in fog, develops something magical in the mist: textural complexity. Sun-kissed pinots can seem simple by comparison, and sometimes they miss with acid retention, mouthfeel and length.
Dana Epperson loves to describe what makes pinot groomed in chilly weather a standout, and she’s unapologetic about her cool climate bias.
Epperson is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Migration, 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $40.
The pinot edged out the others in the line-up because it over delivers for the price and because it has great complexity. Notes of strawberry, cherry, cranberry, orange and a hint of cinnamon are riding on crisp acid. It’s gorgeous.
Epperson credits the vineyards on the Sonoma Coast for making this pinot noir a runaway success.
“In recent years the eastern reaches of the Russian River Valley have been warming,” Epperson said. “While it’s still unquestionably some of the world’s greatest regions for pinot noir, we wanted the flexibility of being able to work with even cooler vineyards. Moving to a Sonoma Coast AVA allows us to keep all of the outstanding vineyard partners we’ve established in Russian River Valley, while also giving us access to some of the amazing cool coastal vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.”
Epperson also said pinpoint precision when blending plays a big role in making a pinot turn heads.
“You wouldn’t think .5 percent in blends would make a big difference until you taste it,” she said. “It can be fairly significant.”
In the world of pinot, Epperson said, this is an exciting time, a golden age thanks to the diversity in style.
“Whether you prefer an austere style, something quite opulent, or a very balanced style like ours, there are remarkable pinot noirs out there,” she said. “That said, you can’t make great pinot noir without great grapes and the competition for the best fruit is fierce.
Migration has an edge in procuring quality grapes, Epperson said, because it’s a brand within St. Helena’s esteemed Duckhorn Vineyards.
Epperson, 33, was named winemaker of Migration in 2016, and her strength in the sciences made her strong candidate. She graduated from Cal Poly in 2006 with a degree in food science.
The winemaker said she was inspired by family friend Sarah Quider, now the director of winemaking at Ferrari-Carano. Quider, Epperson said, has a deep passion for wine and teamwork.
“Every hand that touches the vine or the wine makes an impact,” she said, “so we all have to be working together.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.