The late vintner Davis Bynum once joked that “Any idiot can make wine, but he has to be a tireless idiot. Winemaking takes enormous work and attention.”
As a reporter in his 20s, Bynum worked his first 48-hour shift when Harry S. Truman was elected. Bynum decided he was tireless enough to become a winemaker when he was in his 40s.
Today Bynum’s brand is produced by Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Vineyards, and he would be proud to know it continues to impress.
The Davis Bynum 2015 Russian River Valley Jane’s Vineyard Pommard Clone Pinot Noir at $55 was the standout in The Press Democrat Wine of the Week tasting.
It’s a brambly pinot noir with layered aromas and flavors. The sassy pinot has notes of cherry and plum, with a rustic earthiness that will turn heads. It hails from 10 acres of the Pommard Clone planted at Jane’s Vineyard.
“It’s one of the few wines that we’ve ever put in the bottle unfined and unfiltered because it knocked us out as it was,” said winemaker Greg Morthole. “This block always shows earth and brooding fruit tones; it reminds me of great Burgundy, but the fruit is solid Russian River with its signature black and red cherry flavors.”
Morthole, 46, has been the winemaker for Davis Bynum for the past nine vintages. Rodney Strong Vineyards purchased the brand in 2007 from Bynum after he spent four decades at the helm. The vintner passed in 2017 at the age of 92.
Like Bynum, Morthole was drawn to the craft of winemaking because it requires curiosity at its core.
“Curiosity is undervalued in our current culture, and it’s something that drives me to see what lies around the next corner, not only in life, but in wine,” Morthole said. “Being a good winemaker means dancing to each wine’s lead …”
Morthole was weaned on wine made from the sweet Concord grapes, but over the years his palate expanded, and he was drawn to making fine wine. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wyoming in 1996. Today, the winemaker said he likes a wide range of pinot noir styles, but he most fancies the ones groomed in the Santa Rosa plain area within the Russian River Valley.
“The rich red fruit tones supported by savory elements of earth and mushroom make a complex pinot,” he said.
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Pinots that are all the talk
TOP PICK: Davis Bynum
Davis Bynum, 2015 Jane’s Vineyard, Pommard Clone, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.5% alcohol, $55. ★★★★1/2: A brambly pinot noir with layered aromas and flavors. This sassy pinot has generous fruit — notes of cherry and plum — with a rustic earthiness that makes it a standout. It’s knockout, well integrated and balanced. The late vintner/winemaker Davis Bynum would be proud his brand, now produced by Rodney Strong Vineyards, continues to impress.
Black Kite, 2016 Kite’s Rest, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 14.8%, $50. ★★★★★: A gorgeous pinot noir with intensity. Notes of blackberry, black cherry and coffee, with an undercurrent of brown spice. Firm tannins. Nice length. Impressive.
Siduri, 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, 14.7%, $35. ★★★★: This is a lovely pinot noir that impresses with its breath. A touch earthy, with aromas and flavors of blackberry, cassis and tobacco. Rich, yet balanced. Smart.
Emeritus, 2015 Pinot Hill, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 13.4%, $67. ★★★★: A savory pinot with notes of black cherry, blackberry and sage. Balanced. Lingering finish. Lovely.
Merry Edwards, 2016 Flax Vineyard, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $63. ★★★★★: An elegant pinot that’s extremely well crafted; it has great complexity and depth. Notes of cherry, black raspberry, brioche and cracked black pepper. It has firm tannins, yet manages to have a supple texture. Bravo.