When you think of California wine, Humboldt County doesn’t immediately come to mind. But nestled within the redwoods and pot farms there are about 150 acres of wine grapes and over 25 wineries in this sprawling county that is home to the Willow Creek AVA. They’ve been making under-the-radar wine here for close to 40 years and Briceland Vineyards has been there for most of it. Founded in 1985 by Joe Collins and Maggie Carey who were instrumental in helping to launch winemaking in the region , son/step-son Andrew Morris and his wife Rosie now own and operate the winery, which produces around 2000 cases per year, with 75% of their production sourced from a variety of small vineyards in the county. From the cool, coastal-influenced vineyards in the south to the warmer, inland valleys in the north affected by central valley heat, and a mountainous topography to break up any settled pattern, there is great diversity and many microclimates in this region, and Briceland’s lineup reflects some of this diversity with their site-driven, hand-crafted wines.
I recently had the opportunity to taste through several of their Humboldt County wines and I spent a very pleasant evening with a 2014 Syrah.
This Syrah has an intense, complex nose showing plum, violets, smoky bacon, and black pepper with chocolate undertones. Aeration exposes a mint note.
In the mouth it is dense with a slight oiliness discernable and firm tannins. It’s all very warm and comforting—what else could bacon and chocolate be? These are oak derived flavors but there is no hint of woodiness. Although the acidity does not seem prominent, there is a lifted, mineral quality in the mid-palate that draws your attention to the top notes giving the wine a fresh aspect as it finishes.
A delicious and very interesting Syrah, unusual because of the lifted quality and the boldness of the meat and smoke that nevertheless feels integrated. I’m in love. Score it a 92.
Here are my quick, first-impression notes on the rest of the line up. The Pinots are especially noteworthy for their vineyard expressions but every wine was superb. Humboldt is now on my radar.
1. Jupiter Pet Nat Ishi Pishi Vineyard Humboldt County
Jupiter is a red, seedless Muscat grape. These grapes are grown organically. Apple and floral notes and quite “leesy” with pleasant, bitter herbal notes on the finish. Medium-bodied and textured in the mouth. An interesting, refreshing wine, a successful experiment.
2. Sauvignon Blanc Humboldt County 2015
Aromas of Meyer lemon, wet stone and pineapple with floral notes. Medium bodied, quite rich for this grape. A bit short on acid compared to the standard Sauvignon Blanc profile but delicious.
3. Viognier 2015 Ishi Pishi Vineyard Humboldt County
Stainless steel fermentation with full malolactic. Floral with pronounced papaya notes. Medium body with racy acidity. Some bitter fennel on the finish. An excellent California Viognier.
4. Chardonnay Humboldt County 2015
Unoaked. Dazzling purity. Lemon zest with pronounced pine notes and hints of butter and herbs. Green tea and a slight bitterness on the finish. A lovely, cool climate Chardonnay.
5. Rosé of Pinot Noir NV Humboldt County
Quite dark in the glass with aromas of hibiscus and orange zest complementing the raspberry fruit. Excellent acidity. Very dry, crisp but with surprising texture. No malolactic fermentation or oak.
6. Pinot Noir Humboldt County 2014
Candied fruit, perfume, and spice, a smooth entry with an intense finish, firm tannins, more herbal than the other Pinots.
7. Pinot Noir Ronda’s Vineyard Humboldt County 2014
From a westerly vineyard facing southwest, about 1000 ft. in elevation. Black cherry, allspice and floral notes with some density, structured with higher apparent acidity than the others.
8. Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard Humboldt County 2014
A warmer site. A gorgeous, ethereal nose with black cherry, spice, and a heath bar or caramel note. Fresh, with great complexity, structured with high acidity but light and lifted, full of finesse on the palate. A gem. My favorite of this lineup of fine Pinot Noir.
9. Pinot Noir Phelps Vineyard Humboldt County 2014
Cherry, plum and spice notes with some caramel, dense and structured with bright acidity and firm tannins.
10. Zinfandel Humboldt County 2014
Red raspberries, and cherry, set off by bay leaf. Low alcohol and high acidity for a Zinfandel. Elegant and well put together with a long finish supported by fine-grained tannins. A gorgeous wine.
Reviews based on industry samples