Russian River Valley Part 2: Exploring Middle Reach

What follows is Part 2 of my Russian River Valley article series, exploring the Middle Reach neighborhood...

Many of the vineyards planted in Middle Reach—the most northerly neighborhood of Russian River Valley—are nestled on the banks of the Russian River. This neighborhood is home to the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in Russian River Valley (RRV), including Rochioli’s famed West Block Vineyard that was planted in 1969. As the most northerly growing region, it has a warmer climate than the other neighborhoods and the fruit is generally the first to be picked in RRV. However, despite its noticeably warmer temperature in comparison to other the neighborhoods, its close proximity to the river does of course still moderate the climate—providing winemakers and viticulturists with the option to pick when fruit is ripe and acidity is still fresh. A vineyard site’s proximity to the river certainly plays a role in the characteristics of the wines from this neighborhood.

Bucher Wines
The Bucher Vineyard is “situated on the western hills of Westside Road,” John Bucher says. “Most of the rows are in the north/south direction with the majority of the blocks having some southern slope influence.” Here, the soils are comprised of Yountville clay loams, as well as Laughlin and Josephine loams—different series of soils than in other RRV neighborhoods. In this vineyard, we see one of the most dramatic ranges of elevation compared to others across this sample set, at anywhere from 100 to 800 feet. It is also in close proximity to the river, located just one mile away. The Bucher Vineyard is a varied site, confirming Bucher’s comment that there are “multiple microclimates [even] within the vineyard.”

I love the spiced plum aromatics of the Bucher Wines 2013 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir. In the mouth, this Pinot possesses a serious amount of baking spice in a spiced plum-cake kind of way; there are also dried cherry and spiced black cherry flavors wrapped up in this light-bodied wine. Despite the lighter-styled body, there is good texture and structure in this Pinot, and the way the fruit mixes with the long, spice-filled finish gives the wine good complexity—a sign of the way many microclimates can bring balancing components together to create an intricate wine.

River Myst Haven
Coming from a slightly different terroir than Bucher Vineyard, the River Myst Haven 2013 Pinot Noir is made with fruit sourced from the Moshin Estate Vineyard. This site is planted in “river bottom loam soil…[and] is relatively flat next to the Russian River.” With this extremely close proximity to the river, the site is cool and brings a juicy, lively profile to the wine.

The nose shows those interesting mustard-like aromas that I have smelled in a few of the wines across the RRV neighborhoods. There are also scents of coriander spice and dried red cherry, a bit reticent at first, but opening nicely with time in the glass—evolving into spiced cherry and spiced plum aromas. Red fruit begins to show a bit more on the nose, as well, with dried strawberry. This Pinot Noir has a classic light to medium body, identifying its cooler site with no overripe flavors—tasting distinctly of fresh red fruit. The palate is juicy and straightforward, opening beautifully after about 20 minutes in the glass. The texture and structure begin to reveal themselves, making this Pinot very drinkable and tasty in its spice-filled fruit profile. Dried cherries and plums interlace with vanilla, and traces of oak influence dust the fruit on the finish. This is a deliciously juicy Pinot Noir.

Moshin Vineyards
The Moshin Vineyards 2012 Rosalina Vineyard Pinot Noir was interesting in that it seemed a bit more angular than the other two Pinots from Middle Reach. When thinking about the vineyard site, Winemaker Rick Moshin points out that “Rosalina Vineyard is planted on Goldridge soil on a south-facing hill. The elevation is only a few hundred feet from river level and the climate is cooler than the northern vineyards.” The coolness of the site definitely shows: the fruit is more tart than it is ripe on the palate, the alcohol is restrained and there is a noticeable spice characteristic to the wine.

Light ruby in the glass, with a rustic and earthy aromatic profile at first, it eventually opens to red cherry and spice aromas. Although, forest floor and cured meat combined with earth aromas definitely dominate. In the mouth, this wine has a very energetic profile; it’s angular, light and fresh, with spicy red cherry cola and dried red cherry. I also detect a bit of cranberry and orange zest—this wine definitely has a tarter fruit profile than ripe. Juicy though still with angular edges, this wine has compelling juxtaposition.

Merriam Vineyards
As for the Chardonnay, the Merriam Vineyards 2013 Bacigalupi Chardonnay comes “from the Frost Block, which sits low on the ranch adjacent to the Russian River on the west side of the river,” Winemaker David Herzberg says. The vineyard site sees a “mix of loam and river rocks from when the river flowed in a different path.” As a low vineyard site that is so close to the river, Herzberg furthers, the cool air settles easily and allows for slow and consistent ripening throughout the growing season. This is definitely detectable on the palate, where zippy energy and acidity are balanced by tasty fruit.

There is a nice dark lemon color to this wine, and the nose is highly aromatic and fresh with lemon, golden apple and a faint hint of browned butter. In the mouth, this Chardonnay is zesty and fresh, lively with a ton of energy. Juicy, fresh lemon and green apple flavors mingle with that same gentle browned butter from the aromas. Underneath, a touch of vanilla is hinted at with a bit of weightiness, but the wine is nonetheless refreshing, finishing with zip and zing. This is a finely balanced Chardonnay.

Matrix Winery
There seems to be a bit more cellar influence in the Matrix Chardonnay than there is in the Merriam Chardonnay. Here, I find the same dark lemon color displaying so beautifully in the glass. The nose is bright and juicy with fresh lemon and green apple. A bit thinner in the mouth, though with more noticeable oak influence than the Merriam, this Matrix Chardonnay has a ton of baking spice—cinnamon and clove—with vanilla notes wrapped up in its creamy, buttered lemon profile. The acidity is very fresh, the body is light, but that oak influence brings a bit of round richness. The wine finishes with spice and oak lingering on the tongue.

Pinot Noir: Spice-Filled, Red-Fruited Beauties
I was really intrigued by the sort of savory aromatic profiles of these Pinots from the Middle Reach neighborhood. Aromas of mustard and spiced/dried cherry and plum, along with cured meat and earth, made for a lot of complexity even before approaching the palates. There is no doubt that the fruit on the palates all lean to the red side, significantly influenced by the same spice-driven quality on the nose. Spice and dried fruit flavor are thematic here, and these wines have a consistently lighter body with fresh acidity. Of the three, Moshin is the most angular in the mouth.

Chardonnay: Zesty and Fresh
I find these Chardonnays to be very true to the varietal, showing lots of fresh citrus, bright acidity and juicy qualities. However, I am a bit surprised to not detect minerality in these wines, given that a mineral quality was so prominent in Rochioli’s Chardonnays from Middle Reach (see RRV Part 1). With that being said, both of these Chardonnay have the same dark lemon color, richly shining in the glass, with fresh aromatic profiles. Lemon and varying degrees of apple are the standout aromas. On the palates, the Matrix Chardonnay definitely shows more influence from the oak than the Merriam Chardonnay. The Matrix is driven by baking spices, vanilla and creamy, buttered lemon flavors, while the Merriam shows brighter flavors of green apple and fresh lemon. Here, I find the distinct differences to be more from winemaking technique than terroir, and both are enjoyable in their respective styles.

Missed Russian River Valley Part 1 in this article series?
Check it out here: Russian River Valley Part 1: Exploring Single Vineyard Wines & Neighborhoods

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