Chateau St. Jean
2007 Benoist Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir • Benoist Ranch Vineyard
California: Sonoma Coast
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Mission Codename: For the love of Parker
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Send Agent Red back to Sonoma County legend, Chateau St. Jean. Direct him to infiltrate the winery, and procure their best single vineyard Pinot Noir for our demanding Operatives.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Chateau St. Jean
Wine Subject: 2007 Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir – Sonoma Coast
Winemaker: Margo Van Staaveren
Backgrounder: Our Operatives loved the last Chateau St. Jean wine that we featured, and so we have been keeping the winery under close surveillance – waiting for our chance to spring upon a fantastic single vineyard Pinot Noir. Today’s selection was chosen by Robert Parker as the best of the 2007 Pinot’s that he tasted at the winery. We love it, too.
The Sonoma Coast AVA is the 750 square mile area with the Pacific ocean on its western boundary, the San Pablo Bay to the south and Mendocino County to the north, headed inland to the other designated AVAs in Sonoma County. The region is heavily influenced by the cooler ocean climate, increased rainfall and fog that lingers long on the coastal mountains. The specific climate suits the demanding Burgundian varietal of Pinot Noir very well.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark garnet with fine ruby highlights. Perfect clarity through its slightly darkening heart. Swirl the wine, and witness a cascade of wine-stained tears that form quickly before they run down the edges of the glass.
Smell – Bold perfume of Bing cherry, black cherry, red plum and earthen redwood bark. These are accompanied by soft oaky notes and hints of gunpowder, pepper and clove.
Feel – Velvet smooth across the entry, then voluptuous and round at the mid-palate. As the wine fills out the mouth, coating with flavors as it evolves, a soft flinty minerality is revealed. Then, soft and supple tannins add a hint of uniform dryness.
Taste – Ripe red cherry and dusty blackberry at first, then dark cranberry, ripe raspberry and black plum skin. Earth and dusty notes add a beautiful backing. After a moment, subtle cocoa powder, soft black pepper and a hint of braised fig appear.
Finish – Very long and flavor-filled, the finish leads with smoky red fruit and then reveals pepper, spice, minerals, dried red flower petals and cocoa as it slowly fades.
Conclusion – This is a delicious, terroir-driven Pinot Noir that really excited us with its easy and elegant balance. The nose is bold and inviting and the flavors of the wine are authentic and pure Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. With dark fruit and and earthy backbone, this is a terrific Pinot to simply sip and discuss at length – which is exactly what our tasting panel did. The fine feel of the wine, combined with its bright acidity, make it an easy food companion as well. Enjoy with a garlic prime rib, or a spicy grilled chicken!
In order to learn everything that we could about today’s winery, I was sent in undercover. This time, my job was easy. Posing as a tourist, I took advantage of a handful of the excellent tours and educational opportunities that the winery has to offer.
Not only were these programs fascinating – even for a crusty Wine Spy like myself – but the winery itself is a gorgeous delight. Delightful, too are the people of Chateau St. Jean. In all, I learned a great deal more than I thought I would, and I had a great time doing it as well.
What follows is a list of the wonderful opportunities that exist for Operatives like you. The general public is, of course, invited as well:
The Wine Education Program is an innovative addition to our offerings at the winery. Destined for anyone from the novice to the connoisseur, the program offers courses ranging from an introduction to the basic tools and techniques of wine appreciation to the interactive dynamics of balancing food and wine.
Terroir is French for “sense of place” or a vineyard’s unique combination of climate, soil and growing conditions that will determine a grape’s flavor and intensity. Chateau St. Jean is a pioneer in vineyard designation in Sonoma County; we make “wines of terroir”. Enjoy a guided tour of our stunning estate with an educated host.
Complimentary. Offered Daily at 11am & 2pm. Duration 1/2 hour.
In a majestic setting, we will lead you through a professional tasting of our very best wines presented in fine Riedel glassware. The rich history and winemaking tradition at Chateau St. Jean will be shared as well as savory bites to complement our finest Sonoma County wines.
$25.00 per person. Appointments at 10:30, 1:00 or 3:00. Duration 1 hour.
Taste each component of our “flagship” wine before taking on the challenge of blending this prestigious wine from using all five Bordeaux varietals. This great team building exercise is sure to be a memorable experience for all participants wanting to be “Winemaker for a day!”
$75.00 per person. Eight person minimum. Duration 2 hours.
Your guests will be greeted with a taste of our Pinot Blanc in the beautiful Mediterranean gardens and will enjoy a guided historical & terroir tour. You will then be escorted to a shady patio for a private reserve wine tasting followed by a picnic box lunch with assorted Sonoma County wines.
$50.00 per person. By appointment, 10 guest minimum. Duration 2 hours.
“Cinq Cépages” stands for Five Varieties. You will taste each component of this iconic wine and you will find out what each one of these Bordeaux varieties bring to the final blend. An extensive reserve tasting of our finest wines will conclude this fun and informative exercise.
$25.00 per person. Eight person minimum. Duration 1 1/2 hours.
Call: (707) 833-4134 ext. 5258 to make an appointment.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Chateau St. Jean winery can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
Awards & Accolades:
Wine Advocate – Robert Parker, Jr. – I tasted three 2007 Pinots, the finest of which is the 2007 Pinot Noir Benoist Ranch. Lots of plum, anise, earthy underbrush, pomegranate, and cherry aromas soar from the glass of this dark medium ruby-colored offering. Medium-bodied with plenty of freshness as well as soil undertones, it should drink nicely for 5-7 years – February 28, 2010
About This Wine:
This single vineyard Pinot Noir opens with generous dark cherry and clove spice aromas with an exotic floral note. Aging in French oak integrates and refines the tannins, creating a creamy texture that wraps around the core of concentrated raspberry and cherry flavors. The wine has a lingering finish with floral hints.
The Vineyards: The Benoist Ranch is located in the coveted Sonoma Coast appellation where maritime influences from both the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay produce Pinot Noir with concentrated black cherry and plum flavors and rich, earthy aromas.
Winemaking: After primary fermentation, the wine was drained from the skins and sent to barrel the next day. The malolactic fermentation occurred in the barrels and lasted for a month. We were able to retain all of the fruit character from the vineyard and develop richness and integration with the oak components. The wine was aged 15 months in 100% French oak (53% new).
About The Winery:
In 1920, “The Chateau” was built as a summer home for Ernest and Maude Goff, and their children. The family, originally from Saginaw, Michigan, made its fortune in iron mines there, and in lumber in the Pacific Northwest. The 250 acres of land now Chateau St. Jean vineyards were initially planted with white grapes. Prohibition curtailed grape growing, however, and the family opted to grow prunes and walnuts instead.
When Chateau St. Jean was established in 1973, the decision was made to preserve the Goff legacy. “The Chateau” was fully restored and opened to the public. It has since been listed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The fishponds in the shape of Lakes Michigan and Huron, and the arched footbridge, delight visitors just as they did 80 years ago.
About The Winemaker:
2006 marked Margo Van Staaveren’s 27th harvest at Chateau St. Jean. During the course of her 25+ year tenure with the winery, Margo has played a pivotal role in every facet of the winemaking process. As winemaker, she makes the final decisions involving blend and style to produce consistently high quality wines in the super premium and luxury category.
Margo is a firm believer that great wines are grown – a conviction she shares with the Chateau founders who led the way for Chateau St. Jean to become a pioneer of vineyard designated wines in the early 1970s. To achieve Chateau St. Jean vineyard designation, the superior quality of the vineyards must be proven year after year and the grapes must consistently exhibit exceptional varietal character.
The art of blending is the cornerstone of Margo’s winemaking philosophy. To her, one of the greatest accomplishments is to create a wine style or signature blend that carries from vintage to vintage while still capturing the uniqueness of that particular growing year.
One of the things she enjoys most about her job is putting together the final blend for the Reserve wines. “Since no two vintages are alike, it gives us the opportunity to carefully search for the vineyard lots that offer the biggest fruit expression and the ability to age in order to create a wine that truly captures the best of the vintage,” says Margo. The Reserve wines represent the most concentrated, distinctive and balanced wines made at Chateau St. Jean.
Margo Van Staaveren graduated from the University of California at Davis in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Fermentation Science. Shortly after graduation, she joined Chateau St. Jean as a Laboratory Technician in 1980. By 1989, she had worked her way to being named Assistant Winemaker and later named Associate Winemaker. Margo was named Winemaker and Director of Operations for Chateau St. Jean in August of 2003, continuing a rich legacy of winemaking as the fourth winemaker in the winery’s history.
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Appellation: Sonoma Coast
Harvest Date: September 3, 2007
Harvest Sugar: 25.5° Brix
Total Acidity: 0.52 g/100 ml
Alcohol: 14.6% by volume
Bottled: February 2009
Release: August 2009
Case Production: 825 cases