Opening The First Bottle

On Tuesday we opened a bottle of the 2008 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir for the first time.  The last time we tasted the wine, it was sitting in a stainless steel holding container ready to be pumped into the bottling line.  That was exactly two months ago, and we decided to wait until now to see how the wine had fared in its move from barrel to bottle.

To say that we were nervous as we opened the bottle would be the under-statement of the century.  Would the end product live up to all of the hype?  Would those of you who pre-ordered the wine be happy with your purchase?  Would this be a wine that we could be proud of – enjoyable to drink with any dinner, but exceptional enough to hold for a special occasion?   Or would we be revealed as charlatans or carneys – peddling some watery swill labeled as fine wine.  The anticipation while Kerith finished cooking dinner was almost paralyzing.

And then, finally, it was time.

We lined up three glasses of different size and shape to see how the wine performed in different stems.  You can see a picture of our tasting glasses at the bottom of this post.  They ranged from a ridiculously expensive Reidel burgundy glass that we use maybe twice a year to an Ikea wine glass I bought for $1 over ten years ago.

As we poured the wine, the first thing we noticed was the color.  The wine is a gorgeous red garnet; darker than you would expect from a traditional Burgundy, but quite appropriate for a Santa Lucia Highlands pinot.

We swirled and smelled the wine in each glass a few times.  We made notes of our immediate reactions and they ranged from "dark fruit – particularly ripe plums and blackberries" and “smokey” - to a "background of baking spices, particularly clove."  Just what we wanted and expected from this wine.  So far, so good.  Then we went in for the taste, and from the first sip we knew we had achieved something special.  Not only had we solved the early mid-palate problem, but we had created a wine that is uncommonly soft, elegant, and creamy.  The Santa Lucia Highlands nose was very much still there, but the mouth feel was more reminiscent of an aged Burgundy.  In a word, this wine is beautiful. 

When we tried it with food, we realized that the acidity was perfect.  The wine enhanced Kerith’s chicken dish without overwhelming it at all.  We tried smelling and tasting from all three glasses and were pleased that the wine showed well in all three.

Then we set the wine aside for five minutes to snap the picture at the bottom of this post.  The picture doesn’t do justice to the beautiful color of the wine, but we had to sacrifice lighting to get the shot without a flash reflection on the bottle.  Satisfied with the picture, we grabbed the glasses to polish them off. 

And that’s when it happened.  We each had a glass and were swirling and smelling.  I caught the first whiff, did a small double-take, and went in for a second smell.  When I looked up at Kerith, she literally had tears in her eyes.

You see, we decided in our last blending session to add a tiny bit (less than 5%) of juice from the Swan clone.  When we did that blending, the sample gained a gorgeous hint of floral undertone on the nose.  It’s not something that you’d normally find in a Santa Lucia Highlands pinot, but in our opinion it added a little extra something special to the wine.

Over the course of the first 20 minutes of smelling and tasting and discussing, that floral tone was absent.  We figured that through the blending and bottling process we had simply lost those nuances.  We weren’t upset; the wine was great as-is.  We chalked it up to not adding in enough Swan, made a note to try blending more in the 2009 vintage, and moved on.

But somehow, around the 20 or 25 minute mark, while we set the wine aside to take the picture, the magic happened.  Like an oasis in the desert, the floral aroma appeared out of nowhere, and the wine shifted from great to ethereal.  It was tear-worthy.

Based on this tasting, we can say unequivocally that this is a very special wine and one that, frankly, we probably don’t deserve to achieve in our very first vintage – especially from such a challenging growing season.  Much credit goes to our winemaker Chris Nelson for guiding us through this process (and who suggested adding the touch of Swan clone).

Of course we’re biased, and we’re probably setting expectations way too high with this post, but we really can’t begin to explain how happy we are with this wine and how excited we are to get it out to you and out on the market. 

The good news is that we think this wine is ready to ship and drink now.  But, we’re going to tread cautiously and still plan on the first week of December for shipments.  In the interim, we’re going to open a bottle a week to see how the wine changes and develops and whether that floral undertone begins to appear earlier in the tasting.  So, if you want to stop by for a glass, let us know – we’re going to make Tuesday nights Bruliam testing nights for the next 5-6 weeks.

Finally, a word of thanks for the overwhelming response we’ve gotten from the pre-orders.  A number of Brigade members have already ordered, and even some local restaurants are already committed to carrying the wine on their lists (more details on that at a later date).  We think that once people are able to try this wine, whatever’s left is going to go quickly.


bruliam tasting