Boutique Winery’s Sonoma Mountain Pinots Shine

La Pitchoune makes two wines each year from van der Kamp Vineyard.

Whenever I see a Pinot Noir from Sonoma Mountain’s van der Kamp Vineyard, I’m always curious – doubly so in the case of La Pitchoune Winery (the name is French for “the little one”), which produces two from the vineyard each vintage.

At the five-year mark both of the 2014s shine. I’ve tasted them several times recently, including this fall at La Pitchoune’s release party, which took place on a knoll overlooking the vineyard. As winemaker Andrew Berge poured several vintages of the white label “Van der Kamp” Pinot, he explained the difference between it and  the “VDK” (black label) bottlings: “The black label spends 12 more months in barrel than the white, so it tends to be a little richer and more voluptuous, and with smoother tannins.”

The average elevation at van der Kamp is 1,400 feet.

Berge lauded van der Kamp as a grape source, noting that “there aren’t many Sonoma County Pinot Noir vineyards higher than 1,000 feet” (1,400 per the vineyard’s website) and with volcanic soil. Parts of van der Kamp were planted in the 1950s.

Some of van der Kamp’s vines date back to the 1950s.

“Anti-California” Pinots

When I mentioned that both 2014s, but especially the white label, seemed almost Oregonian, Berge laughed, describing them as “anti-California” Pinots. “They’re very California” in their richness of fruit, he maintained, but in the process of crafting them he and assistant winemaker Tracy Nielsen, La Pitchoune’s founder and CEO, strive to “balance that out.” The two ferment the fruit 30% whole cluster (grapes, stems, and all instead of just grapes), which contributes tannins, structure, and deep savory notes.

The current-release 2015 Pinots, from California’s last drought year, are even more intense than the 2014s. The continuing lack of water in 2015 made the grape berries smaller on average, increasing the skin-to-pulp ratio, which in general concentrates flavors more.

Winemakers Andrew Berge and Tracy Nielsen at van der Kamp Vineyard.

Personalized Tastings

La Pitchoune makes other single-vineyard Pinots I haven’t tasted and a Sonoma Coast Pinot (from multiple sources) whose 2014 was terrific. Also in the lineup: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and a Vin Gris (Rosé) of Pinot Noir that captivated me with its earthy angularity.

A small boutique winery with a low profile but a loyal following, La Pitchoune offers personalized tastings at the winery or elsewhere.

Note: Andrew Berge passed away in 2021. He’s remembered fondly in a blog post on La Pitchoune’s website.

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