Paul Sloan had a life-changing experience with pinot noir.
I confess to being possessed by pinot noir, too. This is why I sampled one more set of wines before I left the Sonoma Coast pinot noir tasting held last week in Manhattan. Luckily, Small Vines Wines had the table by the door and the Sloans were pouring their newest pinot noirs.
In 1995, Sloan was working at the popular John Ash restaurant in Sonoma Valley when he tasted the world-renowned Domaine de la Romanee-Conti red burgundy wine. It was the equivalent of a religious experience for the 23-year-old, and Sloan started on a journey seeking the reasons why this wine possessed him.
It led him to study viticulture and winemaking in Sonoma County; to work for two years with legendary viticulturist Warren Dutton, owner of Dutton Ranch, one of California’s premier pinot noir vineyards; and to make a pilgrimage to Burgundy, the holy land of pinot noir to understand its viticulture methods.
In 1998, Sloan and his wife, Kathryn, founded Small Vine Viticulture, a company dedicated to high-density planting that he learned in Burgundy. Six years later, the Sloans founded Small Vines Wines, producing their first pinot noir in 2005.
As Sloan poured the 2010 Small Vines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir into my glass, he said their vineyards are organic, and, as in Burgundy, the vine rows are one meter (slightly more than three feet) apart. I listened with one side of my brain as the other side was mesmerized by the aromas and flavors of black cherry, cranberry and strawberry. As he explained that the fruit came from four vineyards, I concentrated on the lingering flavors and the wine’s perfect balance. Then he mentioned that only 267 cases of this outstanding wine were made. I decided only 266 were going to be available. The bottle price is about $60.
The next glass contained the 2010 Small Vines Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Sloan talked about the vineyard’s evolution toward biodynamic farming while I inhaled the ambrosial scents rising from my glass. He told me that the one meter spacing increased the number of vines per acre, but deceased each plant’s grape volume, as I focused on the delicious red fruit flavors. My attention to the exquisite balance was interrupted when he mentioned that only 100 cases of this wine were made. I’m telling you now only 99 are available. Budget $75 a bottle for the remainder.
Last was the 2010 Small Vines MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. As the floral and red fruit fragrances filled the surrounding air, Sloan informed me that most California vineyards’ rows are 8 to 12 feet apart, and that his restrictive planting yielded grapes with greater concentrated flavors. I nodded my head in agreement as I rolled the spicy, raspberry and black cherry flavors around my palate, enjoying the pure pleasure of the restricted vines’ fruit. Sloan said only 150 cases exist of the 2010 Small Vines MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. After I pay my March rent, it might be 149. The retail is about $75 a bottle.
I departed without telling the Sloans pinot noir changed my life, too: Decades ago, I went to Burgundy for a holiday and drank pinot noir in a winemaker’s cellar in the famous village of Gevrey-Chambertin. After that experience, I resigned my accounting position and became a chef, restaurateur and wine writer. That is pinot noir’s transcendental power.