California pinot noirs offer some surprises 

click to enlarge Budget-friendly: Vintner Luis Moya joined forces with skateboarding winemaker Kenny Likitprakong to create Solindo Pinot Noir, a complex pinot noir that costs $25. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Budget-friendly: Vintner Luis Moya joined forces with skateboarding winemaker Kenny Likitprakong to create Solindo Pinot Noir, a complex pinot noir that costs $25.

Since we last met, I’ve been pondering California pinot noir. It was a logical conclusion that since last week’s column was on buys from Burgundy, this subject would be the follow-up.

Those of you who have been reading my tirades over the years know that I will not spare the rod when it comes to California pinot noir. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — many are overpriced. To augment this rant, an abundance of alcohol and ego — and a lack of originality  — have led to the creation, if you want to call it that, of overpriced junk.

Now that I got that out of the way, here’s the bright side. Vintners are starting to realize this. And, even more importantly, so are consumers. Luckily, there are a few pinot noir producers who get it, and while it is hard to keep prices down on this fickle grape, they have managed to make balanced, affordable wines with character.

Here are three:

Solindo Pinot Noir, 2010 (Los Carneros): Luis Moya, Cuban by birth, has been working with Iberian wines for many years. Why would he want to go and make a pinot noir in California? Like others, he noticed there was a dearth of good, food-friendly pinot noir made in California for less than $30. So, he enlisted the help of Kenny Likitprakong (the skateboarding winemaker behind Hobo, Folk Machine and Banyan wines) and now makes one of the best deals to be found. What grabbed my attention here is that it is not a fruit bomb like so many other California pinot noirs, but it does have a mineral edge, with cola, spice, bing cherries and orange zest. Suggested retail: $25

Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2009 (Mendocino County): All of the fruit that went into this crafty little sucker came from the Anderson Valley, not just the Mendocino AVA at large. Founded in 1974, Navarro has been driving people crazy with its “no retail outside of the winery” policy, but the wines are worth the drive, or at least a few clicks on the keyboard (on the Navarro website). Light-bodied with strawberry, rhubarb, blood orange and tea, you will not find pinot noir of this quality at this price anywhere else. Suggested retail: $19

Calera Pinot Noir, Central Coast, 2009 (Central Coast): With 36 years under its belt, Calera’s wines are tried and true. The problem is they often don’t show that well for a while after being released. The upside is they age very well, at least the single-vineyard bottlings. The Central Coast pinot noir was made from seven sites stretching from Santa Clara to San Luis Obispo, and it is now finally coming into its own with vibrant bing cherries, pomegranate, cranberry fruit and underpinnings of vanilla and spice. Suggested retail: $24

Pamela S. Busch is the owner of, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit questions to

About The Author

Pamela S. Busch

Pamela Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched
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