Cool Climate Pinot

Sites once thought too marginal are now producing world-class Pinot, says Linda Murphy. What’s more, they’re at the elegant end of the spectrum

In the Petaluma Gap region of the Sonoma Coast appellation, Denis Malbec, a former Château Latour cellarmaster who consults in California with his wife, May-Britt, produces Pinot under the Notre Vin brand. The grapes come from Charles and Diana Karren’s Terra de Promissio Vineyard in the Gap, a west-to-east break in the coastal mountain range southeast of the Russian River Valley and northeast of Marin County, through which cool marine winds and fog blast their way across vineyards.

During the growing season at Terra de Promissio, mornings are usually shrouded in fog, which burns off around noon. By late afternoon, the cool air returns, and by nightfall, the fog envelopes the vineyard again. Daily temperature swings of 20°C and more are common, and there’s just enough sunlight to ripen small yields of tiny, intensely flavoured grapes.

‘I like the balance of temperature and light here,’ Malbec says of the Petaluma Gap. ‘It doesn’t get above 27°C, and while the wind is not my friend, I like what it does to the grapes (in drying out moisture). It’s an advantage over Burgundy, which must contend with rain and botrytis.’