Good and cheap Pinot Noir don't have to be mutually exclusive, but may be difficult to find.
Here are some really good ones I've found at different price levels:
Mark West California, $10
MacKenzie Russian River, $20
Siduri Sonoma Coast, $30
And probably the best "available anywhere" cheap Pinot is the Kenwood Russian River. It retails at $18 but it's often steeply discounted and becomes a great deal at around $12.
Two "P" wineries in Sonoma County
Preston - Across the board excellent balance at decent prices (mostly mid-$30s). Just the right amount of fruitiness, but not overwhelming as many are. If you haven't had Lou's wines or haven't in a while try them!
Pedroncelli - Very well-made in what I'd call an older style (not fruit bombs) at extremely reasonable prices. They top my QPR list ("QPR" is a wine geek term for a good deal).
Other winery discoveries
Bennett Valley Cellars - Excellent Pinot, good prices
Davis Family - Not a new winery to me, but their Pinots blew me away!
Inman - More great Russian River Pinot. They pride themselves on earth-friendly farming and processing.
Gracianna - They make real Zinfandel! That is, not a mouthful of fruit backed by 16% alcohol.
Robert Rue - Never heard of them? Me neither until recently. Great Zins!
What Sonoma County does well
Based on my extensive tastings at the last couple Sonoma County Harvest Fairs (hey, somebody has to do it) I've generalized and formed opinions on the state of wine in Sonoma. Warning: Always be wary when anybody says generalize and opinion...
Pinot Noir prices have stabilized but the wines are not consistently worth the money. PN is the chanciest wine to buy if you don't know the wine already. Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends, however, are mostly good across the board. Zinfandel continues to be largely made in the fruit-forward, high alcohol style though most are hiding the hot alcoholic taste in the wine. There are a minority of winemakers still doing the spicy, brambly style of Zin.
There's a move away from overwhelming oak and butter in Chardonnays though some may be moving towards too stark of a wine, but at least there are options in styles now. Sauvignon Blanc is still Sonoma's most underrated wine.
Consumer tastes are getting more sophisticated
Wine continues to improve meaning there are fewer bad ones out there compared to a few years ago. Now there are parallels in beer, coffee and even chocolate in quality, the sense of place (terroir), and, of course, prices.
Speaking of price... the recent economic problems and large supply of grapes has made for some bargains in negociant labels and in great deals from some wineries. (Negociant = someone who buys wine from several places and assembles their own finished product--they don't make the wine themselves). The prices won't stay this way forever so buy and enjoy now--assuming you have a job.
It was a tough year to be in the wine business
Sonoma County and other nearby areas have an amazing supply of "the good life." Not just wine, but local beers, breads, cheeses, and produce are first-rate, too. There are several micro-breweries in Sonoma County with Russian River Brewing considered one of the top breweries in the world. There are several more in neighboring Marin, Napa, and Mendocino counties. There is no problem drinking local. See, you don't have to visit just for the wine!
The rise of eco-friendliness
Concern about everything from the land, energy consumption to corks and bottles is on the minds of most in the wine industry.
In the Tasting Room
Prices to tour and taste keep going up, in Napa anyway, and there's more focus on retail sales rather than hospitality and education. How about more focus on the wine?
|Sonoma Valley old vines in March|
The best time to visit?
The vineyards are most beautiful in the spring and autumn. The crowds are biggest in summer and autumn. The best weather is May-Oct.