After graduating in 1975 from the prestigious enology program at University of California at Davis, Milla Handley worked for three years with one of America’s great winemakers, Dick Arrowwood at Sonoma County’s acclaimed Chateau St. Jean winery. Her next step on the winemaking ladder took her from stylish Sonoma to the remote Anderson Valley, about two hours northwest, where she assisted another great winemaker, Jed Steele.
“Both were passionate winemakers,” she told me last week. “Among many things, Arrowwood taught me to focus on the fruit’s quality, and Steel showed me how to adjust to what nature gives you each year.”
In 1982, Handley made her first wine, a chardonnay, in the basement of her home and it won a gold medal at the Orange County Fair. Pinot noir was next, and last week she showed her mastery of this grape with a tasting of 11 vintages from 1993 to 2009.
Every wine had the natural translucent cherry hue of pinot noir and that grape’s red fruit flavors, from black cherry to cranberry, with balanced acidity. I was astonished at the liveliness of the 1993, favored the 1998 and delighted by the 2007.
Handley understood that Anderson Valley’s cool climate is the natural environment for pinot noir. She found the right location for her vineyard and eventually farmed it with organic methods. Along the way, Handley found other local pinot noir growers that she respected and purchased grapes from them.
The 2007 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is pure pinot noir, of which 41 percent is from Handley’s vineyards. The wine was tank-fermented and limited to 30 percent new oak barrels for 10 months of aging. As I sipped it, I was stuck by its pedigree to the 2002, 1998 and 1997, and simultaneously disappointed that I never put Handley Cellars pinot noir in my cellar. You should not make the same mistake.
The 2007 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is pleasing to drink now, but the older vintages tell us that this youngster has many more years of life. Put a case in your cellar and let Handley Cellars give you the future.
The 2007 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir retails for approximately $29.