The sun was out and the weather was perfect for Eden Rift’s Oct. 9 Fall Wine Club Release Party as the Mary Ellen and Thom Duo worked their way through the classic rock songbook and San Juan Bautista’s Smoke Point BBQ served up Michelin-starred mac and cheese.
Guests were seated at tables outside the Dickinson House tasting room of the Cienega Valley winery, where they sampled five newly released vintages: a pinot gris, a chardonnay, and three of their distinctive pinot noirs.
“We were very pleased with the event,” said Eden Rift owner Christian Pillsbury. “We had an excellent turnout and we loved seeing our guests come back to explore their relationship with Eden Rift.”
The wines paired very nicely with the offerings from Smoke Point BBQ: pulled pork, brisket, mac and cheese gratin, Fuji apple and ginger coleslaw, and smoked Brussels sprouts accompanied by their Kansas City and central Texas sauces.
“Smoke Point is outstanding,” Pillsbury said. “I eat there a lot and their catering is absolutely terrific. I am a slave to their Brussels sprouts. Barbecue goes so well with wine and sunny days out on the lawn and we like being able to support local businesses.”
Eden Rift offers two different wine club memberships with shipments of selected wines that are released three times a year. Club 1849 is drawn from the diversity of the estate, with a mix of white and red wines; Dickenson Commonwealth focuses on the pinot noirs that define this winery. Both club offerings this fall featured bottles from the new releases.
The release party came just as Eden Rift was harvesting the last of the season’s yield. With their zinfandel and Rhone varietals still left to pick, Pillsbury is very enthusiastic about the crop they have gotten so far.
“Our harvest has been terrific,” Pillsbury said. “The quality has been off the charts for us and it has been a phenomenal vintage. We didn’t have the volume we would have liked, coming off a drought year. But our new vineyard manager brought in a fresh discipline, our winemaker, Cory Waller, has a great team working for him, and was one of the most enjoyable harvests we have had to date.”
The event was well attended, with two seatings that day to allow for social distancing. The wines are also available for tasting by appointment at the vineyard, located at 10034 Cienega Road in Hollister, Thursdays through Sundays.
Eden Rift also offers tastings with tours of the 120-acre estate, with a flight of wines served at the vineyard where they are produced.
During the event, I had a chance to discuss the wines with Eden Rift intern Lauren Strone, who has been working with Waller during the harvest.
The fall wine releases of Eden Rift
2020 Terraces Pinot Gris (13.9%) $32 “For me, this shines through with nectarines, stone fruit, acid,” Strone said. “We call it our oyster wine.” The aroma is sharp with a touch of sour apple, and the wine carries itself with a very light mouthfeel that has a bit of lingering kiwi and acid in the finish. This was a perfect pairing with the Fuji apple and ginger coleslaw we were served. It’s a brisk and refreshing afternoon wine you could sip on your own but it would compliment a light lunch, perhaps smoked turkey croissants sandwiches with Dijon mustard.
2019 Reserve Chardonnay (13.9%) $65 This is a very limited release, with only eight barrels—200 cases—produced. The aroma takes you in with a flowery scent paired with soft peach and herbs. Fermented in 25% new French oak, which gives the wine a little bit of butter and a soft mouthfeel, the citrus runs from orange to lemon with a burst of acid just before it mellows into a melt-away finish. Strone picks up hints of apple and almond, suggests pairing chicken pot pie with this wine, which sounds tempting. In a previous tasting at Eden Rift, I singled out the 2018 Terrace Chardonnay as perhaps the finest chardonnay that I have ever had and this certainly maintains that high level. As was the case with the 2018, this has all the right notes of a great chardonnay without concentrating on any single one of them. It’s a gorgeous wine and my clear favorite between the two whites at this event.
2018 Estate Pinot Noir (13.8%) $48 “This is our flagship wine and the one we are most known for,” said Strone. “It’s aged for 11 months in 20% new French oak. It’s got a nice bright acidity with the red fruit shining through.” There is a strong fruit aroma of cherries and berries and a remarkable mouthfeel as if you are absorbing the wine rather than drinking it. There is an undercurrent of wood, an explosion of berries in the middle, and a lingering acidity in the finish. This is a very tender wine, light and fruit-driven all the way through. Of the three pinots, this is the least serious and the most playful and casual. It’s a barbecue wine rather than a grilled New York steak wine and it went very well with Smoke Point’s pulled pork.
2019 Terraces Pinot Noir (13.9%) $64 “This comes from two specific lots on our Terraces part of the property,” said Strone. “It is aged 15 months in the barrel. For me it is less fruit-driven with a lot more of the spice running through it, with more herbs and black pepper.” The aroma pours out of the glass, with abundant black cherry and pomegranate. It’s a medium-bodied wine with balanced acids, dark berries, an undercurrent of tannins, and a smooth finish that leaves you ready for the next sip. Of the three pinots, I found this one to be a good middle ground between the lighter Estate and the more serious Reserve. It has a versatility that lends itself to a wider range of foods and is a pleasure to sip on its own. This is the bottle you bring when you are not sure what your hosts are serving for dinner and will certainly impress.
2018 Reserve Pinot Noir (13.8%) $72 The Reserve is a superb wine, blended from Waller’s selection of the 10 finest barrels available. Pillsbury singled this wine out as the signature vintage in this release. “It is a lush-styled and glamorous wine,” Pillsbury said. “It is fun to drink but still dressed in a black tie. It is our version of the great American pinot style. It is less about Eden Rift terroir and more about an embrace of our finest barrels. This is the ultimate extension of our estate program.” The aroma is a delicate mix of fruit and mineral with a little oak. On the palate, there is a distinct swirl of deep fruit tones vying for your attention as they come forward then recede in turn, mingling with subdued tannins, finishing with a touch of acid and a pleasant whisper of dryness. This is a wine that reminds you of how special it is with every sip and was the highlight of the event.
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