Toad Hollow Vineyards Pinot Noir, Monterey County 2017

Medium ruby-garnet color; cherry, plum, baking spice, forest floor on the nose; cherry, black tea, cola, cranberry, raspberry on the palate.

Toad Hollow Vineyards Pinot Noir, Monterey County 2017

Dry; light-medium body; earthy elements and somewhat subdued fruits; good acidity (3.65 pH); very easy going tannins. Easy drinker. Blend of 97% pinot noir, 3% petite sirah. Not complex or etherial, but good value-for-price. Struggles some to find an identity beyond serviceable bottle of wine, but the price certainly is nice. This is not as good as Toad Hollow’s Monterey County 2016 vintage. They used to source their pinot from the Russian River Valley [Goldie’s Vineyard], but this was not. Winery noted in an interview “you can’t do pinot at a reasonable price from there anymore.” Classic trade-off: less distinctive, better price.

The Toad Hollow name comes, according to the winery’s charming website, from original owners, Dr. Toad (Todd Williams) and The Dancing Badger (Rodney Strong—he was a former dancer and choreographer), two friends who decided to start a winery in 1994 instead of retiring and rusting away. It remains family owned, although—from the website: “Heaven is a livelier place these days as both Dr. Toad and Mr. Badger have left their wine glasses with us here on Earth, but we know that these fine gentlemen toast us regularly, as we do them!” A couple of years ago, Frankie entered into a marketing and sales agreement with Delicato Family Vineyards to achieve more distribution, but Frankie retains 100% ownership of Toad Hollow Vineyards.

Regular readers know of my admiration of Toad Hollow’s president Frankie Williams. Francine “Frankie” Williams has a colorful history that includes working for the CIA. She arrived in California in 1972 and met Dr. Todd Williams. They married in 1978 and operated a San Francisco bar named “Toad Manner.” Later, they opened the Whiskey River Inn in the Sierra Foothills before moving back to Sonoma and Healdsburg, where Frankie helped manage a law firm. Then came the wine operation.

Frankie Williams, Toad Hollow president

After Todd passed on in 2007, Frankie vowed to continue and now enjoys her days surrounded by Russian River Valley vineyards, her long-time staff. They source chardonnay from Mendocino County, pinot noir from Monterey, cabernet sauvignon from Lodi, and dry rosé from Sonoma’s Carneros. The grapes for this effort primarily came from the San Bernabe and Arroyo Seco AVAs in the larger Monterey AVA. Interestingly, I don’t get the usually distinctive Monterey AVA rhubarb notes in this effort.

Toad Hollow Vineyards Pinot Noir, Monterey County 2017 is lighter than other California pinot noirs, which can be a virtue in pinots. Same time, this is simple and you want/expect more fruitiness or distinctive notes from Toad Hollow. That said, if you like tame wines that do not challenge your palate or pucker your mouth with tannins and acidity, this will be a winner for you. Certainly works as the second bottle of the night. No part of this is inoffensive or distinctive, which is both its virtue and its shortcoming. Pair with lighter foods or it will be overwhelmed; stuffed eggplant with lamb and pine nuts; vegan enchiladas; roast chicken; pork tenderloin; lighter fish—pinot usually pairs with salmon, but this is not up to blackened salmon or stronger sauces; leek-and-pecorino pizza. You see my recommendations steer away from stronger tasting fare. $14-17

Toad Hollow website

Toad Hollow tasting room
Toad Hollow tasting room interior
Toad Hollow winery and vineyards
Toad Hollow vineyard
Toad Hollow vineyard in springtime
Page from charming Toad Hollow website