Four new releases spur reflections about the relationship between appellation and site.
Wine blogger Jo Diaz recently asked me what I enjoyed most about covering California wines. Three pleasures immediately leaped to mind: tasting fantastic wines, interacting with people who truly love what they do, and learning about low-on-the-radar mom-and-pop operations. I hit the trifecta with four new releases by Lombardi Wines.
On their website, Tony and Christine Lombardi describe their small winery, which produces fewer than a thousand cases, as a “passion project.” From the 2018 vintage, they’re releasing a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and two single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Collectively the wines, made by Cabell Coursey of Flanagan and other wineries of renown, spurred reflections about the relationship between appellation and site.
2018 Lombardi Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. I’m predisposed to like any wine out of Roberts Road Vineyard. Farmed by the longtime growers the Sangiacomo Family, the vineyard is in Sonoma Mountain’s western foothills. The 2018, made from Wente clone grapes, packs an acidic punch, with a slight minerality underlying the citrusy/lemon-curd flavors that come to the fore. The extra-long finish makes this one to remember.
2018 Lombardi Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Grapes of three Dijon clones (115, 667, and 777) go into this Pinot Noir sourced from two vineyards. An initial impression of mild astringency quickly gives way to a sultry burst of flavors – dark-cherry, cola, and ancient earth among them. This wine has so much depth it’s highly drinkable young, though one can’t help wondering what delights 2023 might bring.
2018 Lombardi Giusti Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. With its core of overripe raspberries and blackberries, this wine whisked me back to lazy days canoeing down the Russian River (admittedly with a cheap six-pack), stopping in late summer to pick berries along the shore. Coincidentally, one of the patches wasn’t far as the crow flies from Giusti Ranch, which was planted to grapes many decades ago, then to other crops before vineyards returned as the new millennium dawned.
Without going over the top, the Lombardi Giusti wine exhibits all the fullness of fruit one expects of a Russian River Valley Pinot, yet something about its compelling flavors transcends clone (Dijon 667 and 777) and appellation. The soils and microclimate are that unique.
2018 Hill Justice Vineyard. Most Sonoma County Pinot Noir is grown below 1,000 feet in elevation, so this wine from a vineyard 1,100 feet up Sonoma Mountain stands out for that alone. The Hill Justice Pinot grabs immediate attention with its acidity, intense rich-red and blue fruit, and fine but persistent tannins. I can imagine sommeliers loving this wine, pairing it with foods for which one might ordinarily select a Cabernet or especially a Syrah.
Except for a few Wine Country restaurants that carry them and at several annual charity events, the only way to experience these wines is by applying to be on the Lombardi allocation list. They’re worth seeking out.