It's Indian Summer in southern California, with highs in the high 80s and cool, cool nights. Perfect for pinot! And to celebrate fall, we popped open a bottle of the best domestic pinot I've had in a very long time, the 2003 Hamel Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Technically, this wine comes from Campbell Ranch in Annapolis, CA, but if you are looking for it on Wine-Searcher (see sidebar) you will find it easily if you just leave it as "2003 Hamel Pinot Noir." I found it as several online retailers for under $30 (remember, I said mostly under $20) and at my beloved Chronicle Wine Cellar for $21.95.
Hamel Winery is in Healdsburg, one of those small, independent wineries that doesn't even have a website, never mind a fancy tasting room with monogrammed glasses and cheese knives for sale adorned with clusters of grapes. They sourced the grapes for this pinot noir from the Campbell Ranch just north of Annapolis, CA on a long, winding road that passes from Highway 1 on the coast, through part of our beloved Sea Ranch, and up into the warm Sonoma County hills. Over on calwine.com they gave this information about the ranch, to accompany their sale of the 2004 vintage of this wine:
Steve Campbell’s family has lived on this property since 1938. Over the past few years, the Campbells watched as several growers planted Pinot Noir in the neighborhood. It had become evident to them and many others that this northwest corner of the Sonoma Coast shows great potential for producing exceptional Pinot Noir. In 2000, Steve, his wife Lisa and his father Phil followed suit. They identified a few choice acres of Goldridge soil on their large ranch and planted a nicely exposed ridge top that slopes gently to the north west. The site is about four miles from the Pacific Ocean and about 700 feet up above the fog line.Kevin’s grapes came from a swath through the center of the vineyard where the flavors showed the most promise. The clone is Dijon 777.This is a serious, and seriously good, Sonoma County pinot noir. The 2003 Hamel is dusky plum in the glass, and it has a delicious, silky texture as it rolls around in your mouth. There is a lot of spice and warm berries (raspberry, with strawberry and cherry) in the aromas and on the palate. The flavors just open up, one after the other, and there are hints of dark chocolate, vanilla, and tea as they do. At the end, there are still some strong tannins, which indicates to me that this wine may continue to improve in the bottle. Though this wine is still available, it is now 2 years since it's release in October 2004, and I think could still be interesting in 2 more years. I'm going to buy a half case and try out this theory!
This has just excellent QPR--a wine that is worth every penny, even if you are spending more pennies than you are used to in the wine store. I like this just as much (maybe more?) than the Flowers pinot noirs, that are 2x the price when you can get your hands on them. It has great complexity, along with all the subtle pinot noir varietal characteristics. I'm not the only blogger to give Hamel high marks. See how Alder over at Vinography compared this wine to the field of California pinots at the June 2006 pinot tasting.