HARTFORD HITS A HOMER

New World Pinot Noir is an interesting topic these days.  The wine world is constantly in a state of change as people’s tastes, economics, and world-wide competition alters the playing field on a constant basis.  We talk with distributors, winery owners, and winemakers on pretty much a daily basis and the subject of Pinot Noir is a recurrent one.  Our message over the last couple of years in particular has not necessarily been what the industry wants to hear.  While it is still a very popular practice among wineries to make multiple single-vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings, usually at rather premium prices, the people have shown a declining interest in the category over the last few years in recent times. 

People still like Pinot Noir.  A lot.  We aren’t predicting some sort of Pinot Armageddon.  But it is clear that, in the part of the world we see, people are considerably less interested in those small production offerings in the $50-100 range.  Oh sure there are a few mailing list types that claim that business is great for that sort of thing.  But our view of the marketplace would seem to suggest otherwise.  If we were to extrapolate our observations and project what market message is, it would seem to be this.  A lush, engaging, fruit-driven Pinot always has a place, but a price under $30 would be greatly appreciated.   Well, whether inadvertently or not, someone has created the perfect Pinot for the times.

It comes from the Jackson Family stable, a company that achieved wine-world domination by giving people what they wanted.  They became a major player from nowhere with a Chardonnay that pleased a wide audience, and built on that success.  Later on, it seemed Jess Jackson was concerned about his ‘legacy’, and much energy was spent creating brands that were intended to become iconic like Cardinale, Verite, and the like.  Hartford Court estate was the part of the family that focused primarily on individual bottlings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Old Vine Zinfandel . 

Hartford achieved great notoriety with these stylish, distinct bottlings, but pricing was a little bit of a hindrance on some of the upper-end offerings.  They always made solid, expressive wines at every level, with the occasional home run.  But the current Pinot program has to be a little intimidating for consumers because there were so many specialty bottlings at $50-80, it had to difficult to make a choice. 

As we did the research for this piece, we noticed Hartford Court was offering 14 different designated bottlings on their website.  That’s fine from a winery perspective we guess.  The team here has always had ‘chops’.   But in the process, whether they wanted to or not, they made one of the best ‘regular’ bottlings in their history in 2017, as if they had once again perfectly read the needs of the market and created this wine to fulfill them, just like those early days.

The 2017 Hartford Court Russian River Valley Pinot Noir does everything right.  Deep, saturated color as Pinot goes, classic Russian River spice in the nose along with dark red leaning to black fruits, seamless palate feel, and sufficient weight and tenderness to please just about anyone, Pinotfile or not.  It checks all of the boxes and, if it errs, it does so on the side of hedonism.

We could go on but Jeb Dunnuck did a pretty good job of cheerleading here, “A crazy good value, the 2017 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley is the appellation release from this team, and it comes from all of the estate vineyards across the Green Valley, Laguna Ridge, and Sebastopol regions. Complex notes of strawberries, cranberries, violets, pine forest, and flowers all flow to a medium-bodied Pinot Noir that has a kiss of salinity and marine notes, ripe tannins, and a great finish. This beautiful wine competes with wines costing 2-3 times the price…95 Points.”

It checks all of the boxes and, for our part, we’re able to get it to you for under $30.  Like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want…”.    Only sometimes, you can.