Pinnacles of Wine: Trekking the Sublime

Pinnacles-on-fireWEBThe Pinnacles National Monument is our nation’s newest national park where you can sip local Pinot Noir while searching for condors. The California condor has been pulled from the brink of extinction in this “lost island.” Condors are magnificent birds despite the fact they are giant vultures that survive on carrion. Like certain giant wine orgs. The Pinnacles is also the location of the historic Chalone AVA. tBoW turned a few pages of the book below, reading enough to become enchanted. Dreamers have been growing fine wine grapes here, a couple thousand feet uphill from the Santa Lucia Highlands floor, for more than 80 years. We learned a little about the beautiful western Santa Lucia range last May with vineyards climbing the hills towards Carmel. No surprise, we gave the Gavilan mountain range to the east short shrift. We did not even notice the incredible and magnificent Pinnacles peaks in clear view at the top of the chaparral covered hills. Ooops. Turns out the more compelling story – ad it’s a good’un – begins a few miles below those Odin-esque peaks in the eponymous Chalone AVA.

read this book

read this book

Chalone was once a coveted funky legendary Pinot Noir site that became California’s first publicly traded wine company. For decades the wine was made in a chicken coop on the property. Philip Togni was the first true winemaker.  The Chalone Wine Group was subsequently purchased in 2004 for $260MM by Diageo, one of the world’s largest wine and spirits groups. Chalone the corporation included numerous properties and brands that justified competitive bidding [ed. Lafite lost]. Investment grade wine businesses being what they are naturally sought to leverage the Chalone brand by driving greater yields from the 250 acres planted on the original Gavilan Chalone property. The new owner decided it was a good idea to pull up 60 y.o. vines yielding half a ton per acre and replace them with new Pinot Noir vines that could yield 2 to 3 tons. Ouch. Enter Brosseau Vineyard.

Jan and Jon Brosseau are the proprietors of the Inn at the Pinnacles, their 6 room Bed and Breakfast Inn-longviewWEBadjacent to the Chalone homestead and a few miles below the imposing majestic Pinnacles towers. Never heard of Brosseau? Now you have. Their son Bill makes about 400 to 500 cases from Jon’s 40 acre property which includes vines planted in the 1980s. Bill also makes wine for Testarossa in Los Gatos. Unfortunately, tBoW did not appreciate Chalone when he tasted a few bottles in the early 1990s – prior to the influential Wine Box tasting that changed the world of wine. We consider ourselves fortunate to have lucked onto Brosseau because we now are of the opinion that the old Chalone – pre-corporate and pre-Wall Street cashout – lives on in the House of Brosseau. By the way, the Inn at the Pinnacles is a lovely destination, too. All the Brosseau wines are TAFI [ed. TAFI = Try And Find It]. If you want some of these wines your best shot is to join their Wine Club.

Here is what we tasted on our Pinnacles tour along with a few other recent treats.

BrosseauPN07WEB2007 Brosseau Brosseau Vineyard Chalone Appelation Pinot Noir $19 in split: The wines we tasted in SLH in May 2012 were memorable enough to bring us back; mostly Pinot Noir and mostly fruit driven with alcohol levels above 14%. The first thing we noticed about this wine was it is neither fruit drive nor fruit forward. The Parker point-mongers would almost certainly score this wine 90 or 89; anything but the 100 points it deserves [ed. nyuk nyuk]. This is high-toned wine showing balance and restraint along with style and grace. Cherries with light tannins. Think prima ballerina on her tippy toes for 30 minutes. Delicate, elegant. Who knew these kinds of wines still existed in California. 14.3%

BrosseauWhite10WEB2010 Brosseau White Blend Balconies $25: A blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc [ed. we think]. We generally like these New World blends whether it is Stacy Clarke formerly of Pine Ridge or Carol Hoyt of Hoyt Family Wines putting them together. This wine shows very nicely. It satisfies with firm fruit flavors and very good acidity. 14.2%

2010 Brosseau Syrah Cuvée Kilene $30: We realizes the best relief from hiking the Pinnacles park was to visit wineries off the valley floor.Each of the three wineries we visited offer Syrah and Pinot Noir. These are the two hot grapes in the New World. Brosseau is a Gavilan winery with unique soil. The SLH Syrahs were fruit forward with the bacon and bricquet flavors typical of New World Syrah. The Brosseau Syrah was different. No piggly wiggly notes. No charcoal hints. Pure middle weight Syrah flavors. Hardly recognized it. Might not have picked it as Syrah in a blind tasting. Floral and dark; pure light to middle weight juice. 14.3%

What makes these Brosseau wines so interesting? Ignore the ratings. These are discovery not trophy wines. The Chalone and Brosseau vineyards are located in one of the very rare sites in California – where the earth is limestone based. The very first men to plant vinifera here in the 19th century recognized the soil was nearly identical to Burgundy: chalk with sea life deposits. The other region in California with this soil type is where the Tablas Creek partners chose to locate their Rhone style operation in an identical Paso Robles site. This sort of information is robust to 100 point ratings but essential to the production of great Pinot Noir and Rhone style wines.

perretchanson02WEB2002 Andre Perret Condrieu Clos Chanson $20 (TAFI): Picked out of the Woodland Hills Wine Co closeout bin. Condrieu is 100% Viognier, considered somewhat exclusive. Condrieu tastes nothing like California Viognier wines. We did not know what to expect. Neither did Jon Brousseau who confessed it was his first pass at Condrieu. Son Bill turned away the invitation to taste; his palate was shot from tasting field grapes all day. His Dad persuaded him to take a whiff. With a sniff he said we were pulling this cork at the right time as it was ready to fold its hand. The wine was a bit oxidized but not dead yet. The longer it was open the more citric and yellow beets fruit showed. Jon stayed with it until there was none left. 13%

Paraiso09PNWEB2009 Paraiso Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir $19 (Hi-Time Liquor in Costa Mesa): We hit three valley wineries. Paraiso was our first. We were impressed. The Pinot Noir wines were fruit driven increasing with intensity as the word “reserve” appeared on the label. This is their go-to-wine. Paraiso produces 24,000 total cases of wine. This bottle accounts for 19,000! Soft smoky nose with soft Pinot fruit. Aged in 40% new oak. A delightful wine and a top U20 deal. If you find it under $20 grab it. 14.1%

ParaisoRies10WEB2010 Paraiso Riesling $16: One sip and tBoW was sold. There are very few New World Rieslings with the acid one expects from Austria or the Mosel. One mouthful put tBoW on the hill with Kris-B at Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Crispy like Critters. Tons of bright appley fruit. Cannot wait to open another. Made from 35 y.o. vines. At this price it is a true U20 steal. 1800 cases were made so look for it! A very Old World Riesling alcohol level at 12.3%

BourgMoulin102010 Moulin aux Moines Bourgogne Le Seurret 2010 $29: Eno Fine Wine hits another bulls eye. After tasting all those SLH/Gailan Pinot Noir wines it was terrific to open this superb bottle of French Pinot Noir. Fresh and fruity with enough acid and tannins to keep it alive. Blending cherry fruit and some funk. Just perfect. 13.1%

We opened the Goldun Burg above to celebrate a special event at the Canyon Bistro in Topanga, a neighborhood haunt. Owner Larry Cohn [ed. on keyboard] has steadily improved the food and the experience. He is playing piano on the video below. We ate inside because his music patio was booked solid. Larry runs his local jazz program all summer. Next time we book a table in advance!


  1. Wavatar
    Kris-B says:

    No way. I don’t believe it. Real riesling from SLH?

    • Wavatar
      Bacchus says:

      Now you know. Waiting for wine to open up 24 hrs later. Shall try again this evening. The acid was described as enamel remover. Shall report these remarks next blog (two weeks out from this one). Agree wit your assessment “more like Rheinhessen than Mosel.”

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