Sonoma-Cutrer has been producing world class Grand Cru Chardonnay in true Burgundian style since 1981 — the winery was completely devoted to that single wine until 2003 when Sonoma-Cutrer introduced their first Pinot Noir. Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay has been voted the most popular wine by the glass in restaurants for 20 of the past 22 year in Wine and Spirits magazine's annual poll. So when head wine maker Mick Schroeter was in New York recently we couldn't turn down the invite for a little vertical tasting.
Mick Schroeter is only the third winemaker in the history of the winery. He began his career in Australia at Penfolds in Australia, and most recently was the winemaker at Geyser Peak Winery in Sonoma County for the past 10 years. After some chat about his career and the sometimes awkward adjustment to life in the U.S. — apparently rubber and pot plant mean very different things in Oz — we got down to tasting.
We started with the 2010 Russian River Ranch Chardonnay, which Schroeter described as "the workhorse of Sonoma-Cutrer." The bright,crisp wine had hints of minerality and spice and was as Schroeter explained "linear on the palate — it starts in front and goes straight back."
We then went through a petit vertical of Chardonnays from the Les Pierres vineyard, which Schroeter explained was a "great example of terroir, and one of the most unique and iconic vineyards in Sonoma." Located in an ancient riverbed, the sandy clay beds have clumps of fossilized sea shell and stones that range in size from small pebbles to baseballs, and red loam with rock that goes deep. "It's not particularly fertile land, but it results in a spectacular wine. They are kind of anemic looking vines, less berries per cluster but that leads to more concentration of flavors."
The Les Pierres 2009 was full of fruit, lemon-lime and wet stone. The 2001 was still bright and youthful and fruit forward, with strong minerality, while the 1997 takes on a nutty sort of character, it takes on what you would see in a Burgundy. "This is not about the winemaking, it's all terroir" explained Schroeter modestly.
We then moved on to a tasting of the winery's 2008 Pinot Noirs: The Vine Hill Ranch, the Owsely Ranch and the Core Bottling. "So few people even know that we make Pinots" said Schroeter. "But we've been making them since 2002. We have always been focused in crafting Burgundian wines so Pint is a natural fit with the brand." The Pinot grapes are grown in two vineyards "The Owsley and Vine Hill vineyards, which are both in the Russian River Valley" explained Schroeter. "The Russian River Valley is defined by the fogs — you have the cold water running down from Alaska and the tropical air coming from Hawaii which collide to create the fog. But even though they share some aspects and are only seven miles apart, Vine Hill doesn't get as cold. The Vine Hill gives you purely classic fruit, with raspberry and cranberry notes. The Owsley vineyard has a deeper color, lower yields and more structure and you get a sense of cooked rhubarb and the forest floor from the fruit."