Our sweaters and scarves of the harsh winter days are easy to discard now that the warmth of spring has embraced us. This year’s brutal and elongated winter forced many of us to seek refuge in warmer climates. Boastful tales of being underneath palm trees, in the glow of the sun, spread far across northeast social media. I too hopped on a jet plane. Yet I don’t care much for zero degree latitude. I like vineyards so I went to visit some friends by the San Francisco Bay.

March in California was a lot nicer than New York City this time of year. My lovely hosts, Jesse Sanford and Sharon Ochs, escorted me through a gauntlet of cocktail bars all over town. This city knows how to pour a stiff drink– from dirty martinis with oysters, elaborate colorful Spanish style gin & tonics with tapas, to classic bourbon & rye whisky lounges with meat. Glossy-eyed smiles were shared with every boozy round.

The next day we set out for Sonoma. Wide-eyed and hydrated with travel mugs full of French press coffee and a tote full of healthy snacks, we travelled up US-101 to visit Stephane Vivier. My friends were blown over that we were invited to his home but I guess there are a few perks to working in the industry. We were greeted at the front gate by his wife and business partner, Dana, and their baby boy, Armand. This kid immediately stole our hearts with his bubbling charisma. Following introductions we were led out amidst foliage to sit underneath a pergola connecting his office and outdoor kitchen. This could have been the most intimate wine tasting scenario I’ve ever been a part of: a young brilliant winemaker giving his precious time to some schlub New Yorker and a newly acquainted married couple.

Stephane grew-up in Burgundy the sanctum of pinot noir, studying viticulture and enology in Dijon. He then travelled the world making wine. He landed in Sonoma where he met Dana, an ultra-educated lady with an accomplished wine biz resume and Vivier Wines was born.

Stephane offers five pinot noirs from the top three sub-regions for the varietal: Anderson Valley, Willamette and the Sonoma Coast. From the Sonoma Coast he makes a single vineyard, the Sun Chase, a cuvee and a pinot noir rose. That was just what we needed on a sunny day. The Willamette was yet to be bottled so we weren’t able to taste it but I think I poured myself an extra glass of Gaps Crown from Anderson. I guess it was my favorite.

What I admire most about the wines are their restraint and length that is reminiscent of a burgundian pinot noir with the vivacity and fruit of the New World. Stephane has done a splendid job listening to Mother Nature and allowing his vines to make grapes that need little human intervention to make world-class pinot. With such a limited production compounded by its growing popularity we’d be lucky if the current releases can last until the next bottling. However, such is the life of a micro-winery. The 2012 cuvee is sourced from three small vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. Here marine winds clear morning fogs that allow for warm dry days which then cycle back to cool off the vines for the night– optimal growing conditions for the delicate and feisty pinot noir grape. This is a perfect and accessible example of Vivier Wines. Hurry up and try a bottle at our shop for $40.

Make sure to read next month’s issue to hear about Part 2 of my trip to Sonoma. Salud!

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