The latest reserve vintage from the vineyard founded around this grape.
Pinot noir is known as the heartbreak grape. It’s notoriously fickle in the vineyard, with thin-skinned fruit packed in tight clusters that make it tricky to ripen. As the crop ripens, pinot noir growers—whether on Long Island or in Europe—painstakingly inspect vines and cull out fruit clusters that show a touch of mildew or even individual berries that suffered a peck from a starling, the East End’s bane. This could be why so many grape growers in Burgundy—home of the deep-reaching root of the pinot noir mystery—are happy owning just a few rows in famous, named vineyards.
All this is not lost on Russell McCall, owner of McCall Ranch in Cutchogue, where he tends nearly 11 acres of pinot noir, planted in 1997. (His vineyards also include merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. But the pinot is planted on the sandier soils, which make for better drainage.) A former importer of Burgundian wine, McCall was able to visit those storied rows and talk to the workers who tended them and the winemakers who turned their fruit into some of the world’s most sought-after wine. He joined the cult.
“I guess you could call it my passion,” says McCall. “When I told Stephen Mudd I wanted to plant it, he told me not to do it.” Mudd is now McCall’s consulting vineyard manager; he became a convert after McCall sent him to Oregon, which is in the vanguard of pinot growing in the United States. The men decided to plant four clones successful in Oregon and wait 10 years before using the fruit. “I heard in Burgundy that that’s how long it takes,” McCall says.
But farming is sometimes making do. In the first years, McCall was working land he had bought in concert with the Peconic Land Trust to aid in preservation. Woods edged some of it, which until this day makes it susceptible to bird damage. Most of that fruit goes into their Marjorie’s Rosé. The fruit grown farther afield at a little higher elevation goes into their bottlings of red pinot noir—except in excellent years. Then, it goes into the Reserve Pinot Noir, which has only been produced in 2007, which just sold out, and in 2010, the current vintage, which is available at McCall’s Cutchogue tasting room for $60.
The wine, as are all of McCall’s pinots, was made by John Graziano at Millbrook Vineyards and Winery in the Hudson River Valley.
It’s been part of a trade that’s working out for all. The grapes are trucked up to Millbrook; the winery keeps some for its own bottlings, and the rest are turned into McCall wine. The owners of Millbrook, John and Kathie Dyson, are also part of the pinot club: they own Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma in California, which is known for its pinot noir.
To make the reserve, Graziano says he uses partial whole-cluster fermentation, which slows down the process, allowing for greater extraction. The wine then goes into a higher percentage of new oak barrels than the regular pinot noir.
What they end up with is rich, red, cherry wine with a bit of spice from the oak, a wine that will age, with great acid to balance with food and lower alcohol than some of the bigger wines. “It’s light bodied,” says McCall, “and I’m looking for that pinot essence that has all those pretty flavors that change in the glass and get interesting. It’s like a beautiful song.”
McCall thinks it’s ready to drink now with a dinner of roasted meats. “Anything not cooked on a grill,” he adds. “Indoor cooking of almost any meat goes with the lighter wines.”
With only 290 cases made, it might be wise to try it soon. •