Etude Pinot Noir, Grace Benoist Ranch Vineyard, Carneros 2016

Medium ruby color; cherry, raspberry, graham cracker spice on the nose; dark cherry, raspberry, plum, redcurrant on the palate.

Etude Pinot Noir, Grace Benoist Ranch Vineyard, Carneros 2016

Dry; medium-full body with supple, lithe mouthfeel; restrained tannins and balancing acidity (3.62 pH). Savory notes and hints of earth emerge quickly after initial red fruit attack. Multiple interesting layers of flavors present themselves, engendered by 12 months on the lees without racking until the final blending assembly. Aged in tight-grained French oak, 25% new, with medium to medium-plus toasting delivers precisely correct oak. Pure flavors encouraged by no fining and only light filtration at bottling. Rested for nine months in bottle before release.

This bottle is another reason to find Etude Carneros pinot noir. Grapes come from estate vineyards at Grace Benoist Ranch where the vines produce small bunches and even smaller berries, generating small yields and intense, complex flavors. The vividly delicious and—at the same time, subtle—flavors are why are why you will enjoy this wine, also why you will pay extra for the privilege of doing so. The splurge is more than worth it.

Tony and Michelle Soter

Tony Soter established Etude 1982 to realize a commitment to high-end pinot noir. The Carneros AVA was founded the next year. The Grace Benoist Ranch was developed in 2000 with nine Heirloom pinot noir clones, eight additional pinot noir clones, and seven chardonnay clones. The same year, Robert Parker awarded the 1999 Etude Eden Rock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 98 points. The first crush of Grace Benoist Ranch grapes occurred in 2003; the following year, the first pinot noir grapes came into the winery. In 2010, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir 93-plus points. Etude was firmly entrenched as a Carneros superstar. This effort, which is their entry-level offering even at plus $40, affirms Etude’s lofty position in the California pinot noir firmament.

Etude winemaker Jon Priest

Jon Priest is the winemaker at Etude. He succeeds because he believes wines are made in the vineyard, not in the winery. The Etude website notes: “Jon headed early to the Northwest, attending Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, but soon returned home as his architect father helped create memorable Central Coast wineries. He worked briefly in a tasting room, and at the legendary Wine Cask in Santa Barbara before joining Wild Horse, beginning a career that led to Adelaida Cellars, to Pinot Noir focused Taz, and on to Etude, where he has spent nearly a dozen years creating memorable wines that tell you where they came from in every sip.”

The Grace Benoist Ranch vineyards were established with a full commitment to sustainability. Native oak and bay trees were retained to protect nearby waterways. Twelve miles of wildlife corridors were incorporated in the planning of the vineyard planting to preserve riparian habitats and the natural migration of wildlife. Naturally occurring wetlands were protected and an erosion control plan was implemented to protect nearby waterways.

The winery is Napa Green certified. Solar panels supply about a third of Etude’s energy needs. Recycled water is used for landscape irrigation. Employees manage a composting and recycling program which diverts a large percentage of waste away from landfills. Etude also takes pride in their employee-cultivated garden, with a portion of the produce donated to the Napa Food Bank.

Etude Pinot Noir, Grace Benoist Ranch Vineyard, Carneros 2016 provides a terrific entry into the world of quality Carneros pinot noir. The short evaluation is this is simply delicious with the ethereal refinement and elegance that pinot noir can achieve. It offers excellent expression of the varietal and place plus admirable complexity that unfolds through a long, flattering finish. Worthy of sipping solo with wine crackers, maybe a slice of goat cheese, this also will pair with roast chicken, beef Wellington, rack of lamb, roast pork with herbs and fennel, roast or grilled lobster, seared salmon, and many more dishes. It is, after all, a high quality pinot noir. $41-47

Etude Wines website

Grace Benoist Ranch vineyard
Entrance to Etude Winery
Etude Winery
Etude Winery tasting room