Ask my mom? She would say I am fortunate. Ask my wife? She would probably be exceedingly nice (read: lie) and say I am “talented” (I pay her quite a bit for that opinion). Ask my older brother? He would flatly say with no hesitation: “You woke up on third and think you hit a triple!”
As with most in life, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Case in point: Last fall I attended Winesong, the premier wine auction in Mendocino County, to benefit the Mendocino Coast Health Care Foundation. On Friday, there was a walk around Pinot Noir tasting at the Little River Inn on Highway One, in Little River, California (click on the link, I dare you).
I sidled up to one of the folks pouring there (Foursight Wines) and introduced myself (it had been over three years since my visit). The words “Drunken Cyclist” had only been out of my mouth for a heartbeat when a gentleman standing next to me inquired: “Oh, you’re the Drunken Cyclist? A buddy of mine told me you would be here.”
Well, I can assure you that despite the enormous fame and fortune that this blog has afforded me, that does not happen all that often. In fact, I think this was the second time in eight-plus years.
It turns out that said gentleman was Clayt Daley, a former executive at Proctor & Gamble, now a vineyard owner, and life-long Buckeye (that’s a fan of The Ohio State University for those college football philistines out there). It was on that last point that Clayt and I immediately bonded.
A few months later, I met him in Columbus to take in a football game and to talk about wine a bit. His brand, Winner’s Circle Winery (the vineyards were planted on a former horse racing track in the Russian River appellation) produces Bon Pari wines, a Pinot and a Chardonnay, made by Fred Scherrer, who has been making Pinot Noir in the Russian River and Sonoma Coast appellations for decades.
A couple of months ago, Clayt sent me all the wines currently available, and, as you can see below, are phenomenal.
I am not sure if meeting Clayt was “lucky” but I do consider myself fortunate for getting to taste his wines and even more, for spending some time with him.
All wines (except maybe the 2013) are available through the Bon Pari website.
2017 Winner’s Circle Winery Chardonnay Bon Pari, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $75. While I love Bon Pari’s Pinots, the Chardonnay might just be a notch above. While I know comparisons to Burgundy are a bit déclassé these days, to me, this screams “Meursault.” Yes, there is more fruit (lemon, golden apple) and perhaps a touch more oak, but the balance here is incredible. Fruit, acidity, depth, and length. Yowza. While this is, by definition, not a Meursault, I would love to throw this in a blind tasting with a handful of Premier Crus. P.S. Oh and on Day Two? Even better. Whoa. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
2013 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $75. Whoa. Where to start? I opted to start with the oldest of the wines, but if this wine is any indication, I better buckle up. The nose is oddly a bit shy with just a bit of red berry fruit popping through even after the bottle had been open for some time. I wrote “oddly” because the palate is anything but shy. Rich red berry fruit with wave after wave of rather intense flavor. This is not, however, a Pinot bomb, but rather a wine that is crafted in a more restrained “Burgundian” fashion while celebrating its Californian roots. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that this wine is seven years old, but could easily be mistaken for a new release. Holy cow this is Outstanding. Maybe more. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
2014 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $75. This is the third bottle from this producer that I have tried over the last couple of days and this falls in line with the other two: Gangbusters. Yes, it is on the big side. OK, it is decidedly big, but that is what Pinot can do in Sonoma, and why not celebrate that?? On the dark side in color and aromas: black cherry, spice, black pepper, eucalyptus. The palate is luscious with oodles of flavors and waves of fruit, lots of fruit. If you look, you can find a bit of tannin on the back-end, suggesting a few more years to go, but this is ridiculous now. If you like fruit in your Pinot. Lots of fruit. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2015 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $80. This was a departure from the previous bottles as it started much more fruit-forward than the other vintages. Don’t get me wrong, it was still delicious, but the focus seemed to have shifted a bit. I decided to let it breathe a bit and return. Dark in the glass with dark fruit: blackberry, plum, spice (more of a Syrah profile). Even with the additional time, the palate remains fruit-driven, but the Bon Pari nuance and depth are more evident. Whoa. Fruity, yes, but also spicy and earthy. This is my third Pinot from the house and it is clear that these need a bit of time before they’re ready (this 2015 is the current release and it could still use more time!). Fantastic, on the verge of other-worldly, this just needed time open. Holy smokes, this is some powerful Pinot with considerable potential. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2015 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $60. Of the five bottles I received from the winery, this was the last that I opened. Good thing, this just might be the best out of a fantastic lot. The others (save the Chardonnay) were all from the Sonoma Coast appellation. This is now a different ballpark: the Russian River Valley. On its own, the appellation is not the be-all, end-all, but there is a fairly clear delineation here. This RRV is nothing short of gangbusters: just a bit past translucent, with dark cherry a-go-go on the nose. Toss in some spice, earth, intrigue, and holy cow. And Whoa. Fruity? Yes. But also rich and earthy, this has incredible depth and balance. I am not sure how many American Pinots I would place above this wine, but it’s at most a handful. Outstanding to Incredible. 96-98 Points.