Wine & Spirits, 2018 Winery to Watch
Here are some of the new producers we discovered in our tastings in 2018, as well as a few established growers who surprised us with their latest releases. Watch for these 14 names in the year ahead.
Chris Pittenger recently left Skinner, where his Sierra Foothills mourvedres earned him a place on our cover last February. He’s now devoted himself fulltime to the winery he founded in 2009. Look for his 2016 El Dorado County High Country Red, a blend of cherry blossom–scented pinot and the pomegranate flavors of El Dorado gamay, aged in neutral French oak, powerful and impressively structured. —J.G.
Vinous, Antonio Galloni
2015 Pinot Noir First Born, 95 points
The 2015 Pinot Noir First Born, a blend of six barrels from two coastal sites, is a total knock-out. Dense, powerful and super-concentrated, the 2015 possesses remarkable purity from start to finish. A rush of sweet red cherry, plum, rose petal, spice and licorice notes build in the glass, but it is the wine’s overall balance that really stands out. The First Born is unquestionably a big wine, but all of the elements are in the right place.
2015 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast), 94 points
The 2015 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) is flat-out gorgeous. Bright red cherry and raspberry fruit pulse with energy from beams of supporting acids that give the wine its shape. Readers should do whatever they can to taste the Sonoma Coast Pinot in 2015, as it is exuberant and also a huge overachiever. Vineyards are Campbell Ranch, Baranoff and a third parcel that can’t be disclosed. The combination of sites works beautifully, that much is obvious.
2015 Pinot Noir Baranoff Vineyard, 93 points
The 2015 Pinot Noir Baranoff Vineyard is a very pretty, gracious wine. Sweet red cherry, star anise, orange peel and cinnamon give the Baranoff Vineyard much of its distinctive, exotic flavor profile. Pliant, resonant and expressive, the 2015 has quite a bit to offer. The new oak is a bit prominent, but that is a rather small critique for a wine that delivers so much pure pleasure.
2015 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard, 93 points
The 2015 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard is a powerful, super-concentrated wine with an unusual level of density for Gros Ventre. Then again, that is one of the signatures in so many 2015 Pinots. Black cherry, leather, menthol and spice flavors are all given an extra kick of intensity in a Pinot that is powerful, unctuous and brooding. I would give it a few years to fully come together.
2015 Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard, 93 points
Gros Ventre’s 2015 Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard is bright, floral and very nicely lifted. Sweet red cherry, raspberries, rose petal, cinnamon and mint infuse the Cerise with real character. There is a sense of energy to the 2015 that is compelling. The Cerise is not an especially obvious wine, but it is very pretty and full of allure. The 15% whole clusters are very nicely integrated. Sadly, yields are down a punishing 40%.
2016 Gamay Noir, 91 points
Despite its mid-weight structure, the 2016 Gamay Noir is bright, punchy and bursting at the seams with flavor intensity. Silky on the palate, with expressive, perfumed aromatics, the Gamay Noir is a winner from Gros Ventre.
2016 High Country White, 90 points
Gros Ventre’s 2016 High Country White is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Vementino, Sémillon, Muscat and Picpoul. On the palate, the Country White is surprisingly pliant and deep, with real persistence that gives the wine its shape. Melon and white flower overtones add shades of complexity. This is a very pretty wine.
“Western Unions”, Recommended Pairings, Gros Ventre High Country Red
“Enter Passetoutgrains, a Burgundian style of red that’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. While the former lends structure, acidity, and a savory side, the latter is fruit-forward and earthy. One of the only domestic wineries to make a Passetoutgrain is the husband-and-wife team behind Gros Ventre cellars, which bottles it in a way-too-easy-to-drink Gros Ventre High Country Red 2016.”
The Wine Advocate, Lisa Perrotti-Brown
Pale to medium ruby-purple in color, the 2015 Pinot Noir First Born has pronounced notes of crushed black cherries, fresh raspberries and pomegranate with touches of roses, menthol, black soil and fungi. Medium-bodied and delicately crafted with a firm frame of very ripe, very fine-grained tannins and seamless freshness, the red fruit and earthy layers give way to a good, long, perfumed finish. 118 cases produced.
The 2015 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard is pale to medium ruby-purple in color with fragrant notes of pomegranate, kirsch and violets with suggestions of cinnamon stick, milk chocolate and garrigue. Medium-bodied, plush and lively in the mouth, it features beautifully perfumed red fruit and a wonderfully spicy finish. 121 cases produced.
Pale to medium ruby-purple colored, the 2015 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast is intensely scented of crushed wild strawberries, Bing cherries and rose petals with touches of wild thyme and black tea. Light to medium-bodied, very elegant and yet with great intensity and expression, it has soft, silken tannins and plenty of freshness, finishing long and perfumed. 179 cases produced.
Wine & Spirits
The Future Is Mourvedre in the Sierra Foothills Cover article by Luke Sykora
Check out Chris on the cover of Wine & Spirits for the work he does for Skinner Vineyards, in this in-depth article on Mourvedre in the Sierra Foothills featuring Chris, Hardy Wallace, and several other local visionaries. This has nothing to do with Gros Ventre (we don’t make a Mourvedre) but everything to do with Chris – so we wanted to share this great piece of coverage for the region and Skinner Vineyards.
November 22, 2016
5 Wines That Are Pretty Much Made for Thanksgiving, From Chaîne des Rôtisseurs “World’s Best Young Sommelier” and Foot of the Bed Cellars Co-Founder, Martin Sheehan-Stross
Gros Ventre Pinot Noir ‘Cerise’, Anderson Valley, Mendocino 2014
Chris Pittenger spent time working in restaurants and enjoying life outdoors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, right along the Gros Ventre River. After making the move to winemaking, he and his new wife settled in California and launched Gros Ventre Cellars. Gros Ventre, which means “Full Belly,” seemed like a fitting name, not just because it reminded Chris of many great days spent fly-fishing, but because he and Sarah welcomed their first born right when they were starting this endeavor. This Pinot is from a steep site that gives off intense red and black fruit, perfect to go along with that homemade cranberry sauce. There is a savory, herbal edge to the wine, that will take any stuffing recipe to the next level.
Vinous, Antonio Galloni
Gros Ventre 2014 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 92 points
“Gros Ventre’s Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) is terrific. Bright, fresh and beautifully nuanced throughout, the 2014 possesses lovely cut to balance the intensity of its fruit. The flavors are fresh and vibrant throughout in a Pinot that impresses with its superb overall balance. This is a delicious bottle of Sonoma Coast Pinot.” – Antonio Galloni
Food & Wine
“12 Career-Changing Wines from Chicago’s Diana Hawkins,” by Carson Demmond
2012 Gros Ventre ‘First Born’ Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
“Chris Pittenger from Gros Ventre got his start as a snowboarder and occasional sommelier in Wyoming. When I met him, he glossed over the details on his conversion to winemaking, but I can totally understand the desire to see how wine is made once you’ve been working on the other side. He’s done harvests with winemakers from all over—New Zealand, Australia, California… This was the wine that stole the show for me at the West of West tasting a couple of years ago. It was as if all of the Pinots in the room had put their best qualities into this one bottle. It screams for duck. Pinot and duck: That’s classic for a reason. It’s also great with beluga lentils, which are these kind of rich, brown lentils that absorb so much flavor.”
Loam Baby, Sonoma Coast Issue
“8 Days a Week,” by RH Drexel (Vinous)
“If you have all but given up on American pinot noir, well then, you haven’t been looking hard enough. The pinots of Gros Ventre are at once savory, fresh, racy, brooding and possessing of great, great, length and texture. Chris and Sarah Pittenger are grinders when it comes to fulfilling their ongoing dream of producing delicious, memorable wines that are well-suited to aging.”
The World of Fine Wine, Issue 50
Wine without Words: Visual Communication, By Elaine Chukan Brown
“Over the past year, owner-winemakers Chris and Sarah Pittenger of Gros Ventre on California’s North Coast, for example, began to share photographic representations of their Pinot Noir that they call taste plates. Gros Ventre taste plates present a foraged collection of literal descriptors – raspberries, mushrooms, and dried herbs, for example – meant to capture the aroma and flavor profile of a particular Pinot Noir via a photograph. The effect is a photographic expression of a tasting note for their wine. The advantage of the Pittengers’ taste plates rests in their immediacy.”
The Flavor of Cool: Tasting the Wines of the Western Sonoma Coast
By Alder Yarrow, Vinography
“If you haven’t had many of these wines, I highly encourage you to seek them out”
2013 Gros Ventre Cellars “First Born” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast $60 (9 – 9.5)
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky, even meaty raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth cherry and orange peel flavors take on a tangy sour cherry note as they head towards the finish. Muscular tannins have a very fine grain, so the palate doesn’t object to their firm grip. Mouthwatering with excellent acidity.
June 5, 2015
Jancis Robinson: West Sonoma Coast, A Guide
By Elaine Chukan Brown
Gros Ventre 2012 Campbell Ranch Pinot Noir, 17.5 pts
Fresh red fruit, grilled medium-rare steak, light conifer accents and a long mineral crunch. Nice structural balance with a touch more angular tannin presence than the 2011 and still lots of mouth-watering length. Fresh, refreshing, delicious. (ECB)
Gros Ventre 2011 Campbell Ranch Pinot Noir, 17 pts
Subtle aromatics, followed by a lean body with succulent red fruit smudged by ginger, nutmeg and grilled rare meat. Moderate-plus acidity giving mouth-watering length in a long finish. Fresh, clean, wants age. (ECB)
Gros Ventre 2012 First Born Pinot Noir, 16 pts
Concentrated core of spice-smudged dark fruit with rocky mineral and iron elements. Hints of dark sweet fruit and cardamom. Apparent oak gives this wine a fuller frame – will integrate further over time, while keeping a sense of heft. Lightly angular tannin gives nice textural presence. This wine is for people who want a Pinot with bigger presence, while still well-executed with nice acidity and mouth-watering length. (ECB)
Wine Enthusiast Buying Guide
93 Points, Gros Ventre 2012 First Born Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
“Structured in firm tannins, this seamless wine offers juicy red cherry and strawberry most significantly, followed by dried herb and hits of baking spice. Layered without being overly concentrated, it’s made and owned by Chris Pittenger, who also makes Rhône-inspired wines for Skinner Vineyards in El Dorado County. The name honors wife Sarah’s rounded belly while expecting the couple’s first child.”
92 Points, Gros Ventre 2012 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
“Juicy, soft and sublime, this vineyard site sits on the extreme Sonoma Coast, near the town of Annapolis, approaching the Mendocino County line. Fine tannins and bright acidity combine for a memorable taste experience, marked in fresh strawberry, raspberry and black pepper.”
91 Points, Gros Ventre 2012 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
“This wine was sourced from three vineyards along the West Sonoma Coast, from as far north as Annapolis and as far south as Sebastopol. Cranberry, raspberry and dark earth are on offer around a lilting, soft texture and medium-toned body. On the finish, expect black tea and minty herb, the acidity providing crispness.”
Winemakers of West of West pt. 3
“Understated, eloquent, honest and sincere winemaker and wines…”
Planet Jackson Hole: Friendly Ghost of Restaurant Past Returns
“What is sure to be one of the best meals of the summer.”
Somm Journal: California’s Cote d’Or
“West Sonoma Coast Vintners are a band apart.”
SNOW Magazine: Ski & Sip
“For California’s most extreme winemaking, head to the Sonoma Coast. This untamed area is California’s hottest winemaking region- and also the coolest… Some of the most notable bottles come from younger winemakers like Arnot-Roberts, and Sarah and Chris Pittenger of Gros Ventre Cellars…”
Grape Nutz: A Visit to Skinner and Gros Ventre
“The first few vintages of Gros Ventre Pinot Noirs have produced some beautiful wines, with plenty of promise for the future. Chris’ winemaking displays balance and restraint that allows the cooler-climate vineyard sources to show through with subtlety and nuance. The wines share fine structure and show savory notes that complement the fruit.”
August 13, 2014
Los Angeles Magazine: Chef Michael Voltaggio’s Wine, Created in Partnership with Winemaker Chris Pittenger
“For those unfamiliar with this currently en vogue style of wine, it’s both the darling of hipster sommeliers and the product of a thousand-years-old tradition.”There’s a savoriness, there’s a dryness, there’s a strength and power to it,” said Brian Smith.”
August 16, 2014
Two Guys from Napa: Excellent Wines from the Sonoma Coast – Favorites from the West of West Festival
“In case you aren’t personally familiar with wines from this area, we thought we’d share what our favorites were at the Grand Tasting event so you can explore the region on your own. Gros Ventre Cellars (Somerset) – 2012 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir”
August 3, 2014
Discover Sonoma County Wine: The Evolution of California Cuisine & Wine
“The best pairing with the bay shrimp was the Gros Ventre Cambell Ranch which rocked black raspberries and spice with a lively acidity that made this pairing sing. I need to try more of this wine – my first introduction to this vineyard is extremely positive.”
May 14, 2014
Stephen Tanzer’s Winophila: Interview with R.H. Drexel of Loam Baby
“Another project that I immediately fell in love with is Gros Ventre, owned by Chris and Sarah Pittenger. They have a pinot noir from the Campbell Ranch in the Sonoma Coast that haunts me to this day. It is so beautiful–like nothing I’ve had before. They absolutely found the voice of that particular site and captured it in this really humble way.” – R.H. Drexel, Loam Baby
February 19, 2014
Serious Eats: Drinks: Ask a Sommelier: Winemakers to Watch
“We asked 17 somms from around the country about the wineries they’re most excited about right now—wineries to watch and new bottles to seek out, both in the US and internationally.”
Delectable Blog: Meet a Wine Lover: Vinny Eng
“As the former Wine Director of San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, Vinny is a true wine champion and the best drinking companion one could have. Unearthing treasures from his own Bay Area backyard, Vinny shared with us the California wines and winemakers that fuel his fire.”
August 16, 2013
The San Francisco Chronicle (Jon Bonne)
“The best of the 2011 Pinots from the Sonoma Coast are radiant, almost iridescent wines; they quietly glow with their flavors more than directly state them, as the best Pinot Noir should..
2011 Gros Ventre Campbell Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($54, 13.8%): Chris Pittenger (Skinner Vineyards) tapped this site for his own young label. Its aromas and flavors are either charming or disconcerting, depending on your tastes; there’s a maritime sense to it, reminiscent of salt and ice plants, with tart red fruit and a surprising dose of tannin.”
2011 First Born Pinot Noir named an “Outstanding” Wine of 2013 West of West Festival
August 14, 2013
Thanks to Rusty Gaffney (Pinot File) for including our 2011 First Born as one of “the wines that really caught my attention when I did some serious tasting. None of these wines are inexpensive because of the high farming costs, but they are at the top echelon of California Pinot Noir being produced today.” Click here to read more about the event and and the Fort Ross Seaview Appellation.
July 22, 2013
Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews
26 Hours in El Dorado: Visiting La Clarine Farms, Skinner, and Gros Ventre
“The Gros Ventre Pinots offer a beautiful delicacy with great structure and tension. The wines tasted consistently gave a beautiful center of focus with light touch winemaking, and flavor variation based on location. Beautiful.”
“This Week’s Picks,” August 12, 2013
The Press Democrat
Gros Ventre, 2011 “First Born” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.3 percent, $58.
A new kid on the block, of sorts, but this winery has what it takes to get noticed — an edgy pinot with a range of flavors. Notes of cranberry, cherry and herbs, with a great undercurrent of spice.
February 4th, 2013
The San Francisco Chronicle: Chris Pittenger, Winemaker to Watch
“This year’s class is leading a new generation to produce some of California’s most compelling wines yet.”
Gros Ventre Cellars, May/June 2013
Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
2010 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir First Born Sonoma Coast
(raised in 50% new oak): Bright red. Nuanced aromas of musky red berries and Asian spices, with a bright blood orange nuance adding an exotic touch. Vibrant and delineated in the mid-palate, with a sexy floral quality lifting the flavors of fresh raspberry and cherry-cola. Pungent minerality adds cut and carries through the long, energetic finish. (JR)
2009 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir First Born Sonoma Coast
Ruby-red. Intensely perfumed bouquet of dark berries, cherry-cola, anise and rose oil, with notes of cola and white pepper in the background. Fleshy and broad, offering unlikely energy to its deeply pitched cherry and black raspberry preserve flavors. The floral and cola notes carry through the long, seamless, sweet finish. (JR)
2010 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
Deep red. Fresh raspberry and cherry on the highly perfumed nose and palate. Racy, focused and very spicy, with an exotic floral nuance carrying through the long, seamless finish.
2011 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley
Vivid red. Black raspberry, licorice and dried flowers on the highly perfumed nose. Energetic and precise, offering vibrant dark berry flavors lifted by juicy acidity. A smoky nuance comes up on the long and subtly tannic finish. Nicely focused pinot that shows youthful structure and real energy.
2010 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley
Vivid ruby. Vibrant aromas of redcurrant, raspberry, allspice and potpourri. Fine-grained, sweet and seamless, with strong spicy lift to its red berry and rose pastille flavors. Finishes sweet and long, with a fine dusting of tannins, intense red fruit character and very good breadth and length.
2009 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley
Deep red. A heady bouquet evokes candied raspberry and cherry, with suave Asian spice and potpourri qualities gaining strength with air. Sappy, palate-staining red and dark berry flavors show liqueur-like depth but remain vivacious and precise, with nervy acidity providing spine and lift. Closes sweet and long, with excellent clarity and lingering floral pastille notes.
2011 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley
(made from fruit picked during the third week of September; 20% new oak): Bright red. Cherry-cola and pipe tobacco on the pungent, spice- and floral-accented nose. Sappy and penetrating, offering chewy dark fruit flavors that gain sweetness with air. A note of licorice comes up on the finish, which features gentle tannins and a hint of candied rose.
2010 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley
Medium red. High-pitched aromas of red and dark berries, Asian spices and anise. Concentrated and sappy but very lively, offering gently sweet raspberry and cherry flavors and suave rose pastille and allspice nuances. Closes with very good focus and length, leaving a floral note behind.
2009 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley
Vivid red. Darker in fruit profile than the 2010 but just as energetic, offering vibrant cherry and dark berry aromas and flavors and a touch of candied rose. Supple, precise pinot with excellent spicy persistence.
2011 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
Bright ruby-red. Spicy redcurrant, cherry and dried rose on the nose, with a gentle allspice quality adding complexity. Taut red berry and bitter cherry flavors show good depth as well as cut, with firm acidity providing lift. Smoky cherry, bitter chocolate and a recurring floral note linger on the long, chewy finish.
2011 Gros Ventre Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast
Bright ruby. High-pitched, smoke- and spice-accented aromas of red berries and dried cherry, with a peppery topnote. Spicy and precise, with a tangy edge to its bitter cherry and star anise flavors. Closes with good zesty cut and youthfully firm tannins.
Prince of Pinot/Pinot File, July 2011, June 2012
“Gros Ventre Cellars – A new producer of small lot Pinot Noir from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The inaugural releases were from the 2009 vintage totaling 300 cases. The winery is off to a smart beginning.”
2009 Gros Ventre Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 50 cases, $44. From a 3-acre vineyard in the heart of Sebastopol. This wine is a blend of the 7 Pinot Noir clones on the site: Calera, Swan, 113, 115, 459, 667 and 777. The clones were co-fermented and aged together on their lees. Unfined and unfiltered. • Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries and black cherries with a hint of baking spices, oak and lavender. Even with decanting the wine is a bit closed, but opens some in the glass over time. Crisp and vivid core of Bing cherry and strawberry fruit with a swirl of cola and oak. Medium weighted with nice balance and finesse, and offering a lengthy finish. Drank beautifully two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. No hurry on this one. Very good. Reviewed July 1, 2011 ARTICLE »
2009 Gros Ventre Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 151 cases, $44. A combination of Pommard 5 (one-third) and 2A (two-thirds) clones from this steeply sloped vineyard overlooking the Anderson Valley. Unfined and unfiltered. • Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Brooding black fruits with a hint of sweet oak on the nose which opens slowly in the glass. Delicious core of perfectly ripe and well-bred black and purple Pinot fruits. A little savory, spicy and earthy. Ideal weight, balance and flavor intensity with a generous finish marked by brisk acidity. A complete wine that shows breeding. Decant if you open a bottle now, but patience will bring further rewards. Reviewed July 1, 2011
2009 Gros Ventre Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 151 cases, $44. Pommard 5 and Wädenswil. 100% de-stemmed, native fermentations. Aged 10 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. • Well oaked with noticeable spice and savory accents. Generous purple fruit flavors with bright acidity on the elegant finish. Needs more time to integrate the oak. Very good (-). Reviewed June 24, 2012
2009 Gros Ventre First Born Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 101 cases, $50. A flagship cuveé representing the best lots of a vintage. This bottling is dominated by fruit sourced from an unnamed vineyard along the true Sonoma Coast. • Dark and densely colored in the glass. The nose leaps out from the glass with of scents of spiced black cherries, raspberries, plums and faint herbal oak. Rich and intense, saturating the palate with plush sweet fruits that find every nook and cranny in the mouth. Lively natural acidity maintains the wine’s vitality and supple tannins make for smooth, seductive drinking. This wine is a little too busty for me but it will find many fans. Decanting is obligatory. Very good. Reviewed July 1, 2011
July 1, 2013
Drink Cool Climate Wines
“The 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is from three vineyards located in the cool-climate West Sonoma Coast. The wine has a deep ruby color with aromas of black cherry, ripe strawberry, and black raspberry, with some herbal aromas combined with some floral hints. The wine is moderate to heavy with rich texture and tannins, which makes the wine drinkable now with aeration, but undoubtedly will improve after a few more years in the bottle. This is a great pinot noir wine, and with its complex aromas and flavors it is perfect for sipping, eating with cheese, as well as pairing with poultry, lighter red meats, and even steaks.
Available at top West Coast restaurants (such as: The French Laundry – Napa Valley, Michael Mina and RN74 – San Francisco, Chinois On Main – Santa Monica, Spago – Beverly Hills, etc.) or by ordering from Gros Ventre Cellars.”