In the wine world we tend to think of the geography of wine as organized into canonical regions or sub-regions—Burgundy, Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Barolo—areas around the world well-suited for wine grapes with long traditions of making great wine. But the more I travel the more I think this is a bit misleading. Wine grapes require soils and weather conditions conducive to growing and ripening grapes, and talented winemakers and viticulturists willing to experiment. But those conditions exist in many pockets throughout the world despite being outside the canonical wine regions.
Case in point—Briceland Vineyards in Humboldt County. Few would think cold, wet Humboldt County in coastal Northern California near the Oregon border would be ideal for grapes. But this is a mountainous region full of microclimates with inland valleys that suck warm air from Central California. They not only make good wine here at Briceland; they make world class award winning wine, about 2000 cases per year, out of their rural, hillside property near Redway California.
Briceland was started by Joe Collins and his partner Maggie Carey in 1985, the second winery in Humboldt County. Joe Collins had a hand in planting most of the early vineyards in Humboldt County starting in the mid-1970’s and is a legend in this area. Joe and Maggie retired several years ago and turned the winery over to Maggie’s son Andrew Morris and his wife Rosie after a long apprenticeship. They are now riding the wave of increased interest in local wines here. They were kind enough to invite us over to taste through their lineup (and share a killer Peruvian appetizer of grilled beef heart called Anticuchos de Corazon as prelude to grilled lamb.)
When I asked Andrew the most important thing he had learned from Joe Collins he said “what a great wine should taste like.”
Lesson learned. These wines are delicious and distinctive.
Below are my notes for some of the wines we tasted. My favorite was the 2014 Syrah from Ishi Pishi Vineyard. Since I reviewed that wine last year, I’ll focus on the Pinot Noir, the varietal for which they are best known, after brief notes on the others. (See this additional review for still more wines in their line up.
Arneis Spirit Canyon Vineyard 2017
The white grape of Piemonte, Italy, Arneis is found only occasionally in the U.S. These grapes are grown along the Russian River south of Ukiah. Aromas of ripe pear, orange zest, and white flowers leap from the glass. The palate is crisp but with a slightly oily texture and piercing acidity showing bitter herbs on the finish. Distinctive and a bit fleshier than the versions from Piemonte I’ve tasted. 88 pts.
Zinfandel Dark Horse 2016
Made from Mendocino fruit, this is light and juicy on palate, the red plum nose decked out in leather and tea with even a floral note. If you think you don’t like Zinfandel try this one. It’s utterly original, a far cry from the sweet and spicy versions from further south. Lean but soft on the palate, smooth reticent tannins with crisp acidity, and with a lovely fresh halo framing the experience, a wine so friendly you’ll want to put it on a leash and take it home. 90 Pts.
Syrah Ishi Pishi Vineyard 2014
These grapes are from a relatively warm vineyard despite its northern Humboldt location, in an inland valley that pulls heat from central California. Smoked meat, dark berry, black pepper, dense, dark, sinewy and structured on the palate with great acidity. A nice bit of grain on the tannins with a jolt of electricity at terminus, a multi dimensional wine showing many sides. See my full review here. 92 pts.
Syrah Dark Horse Vineyard 2015
A cool climate Syrah from this biodynamic vineyard in Mendocino. Dark berries, smoke, black olive and underbrush on the nose. Juicy tart red fruit and lots of hi-toned acidity on the palate, with a bit of citrus on the finish. Very soft tannins but they linger. 89 Pts.
Pinot Noir Rhonda’s Vineyard 2014
From an organic vineyard not far from the winery with about 1000 feet of elevation. Bright red cherries with clove, herbal notes, and dried autumn leaves, a dense aromatic background giving the wine an exotic aura. On the palate it’s really structured and long with firm tannins for Pinot Noir. It opens taut and sinewy but with plenty of fruit power to sustain an easy, elegant grace, even as the vibrant layers of crushed rock minerality and energetic acidity emerge to meld with the drying, spreading tannins. It maintains a wonderful halo of fresh, tart fruit around a savory core throughout the finish.
A calm implacable center bound tightly in a skin of nerve and pulse. The wine marries nicely with this quietly exotic album from Take’ Dake’ and John Neptune, but especially track 2, “In the Hollow” at 6:05. 92 pts.
Reviews based on industry samples