Continuing on this odd all-Pinot all-the-time run I seem to be on, I met yesterday with Tony Soter, the founder and for many years main winemaker of Etude, and Jon Priest, who's now taken over the winemaking duties at the brand.
The interesting recent aspect of Etude's Pinots, to me, is that as of the 2004 vintage they are estate wines. The brand's reputation (considerable) was founded on sourced fruit from throughout Carneros, but since purchasing an old cattle ranch in the northeast corner of Carneros, near the Petaluma Gap, and planting it to Pinot in 2000 (easier to do with the financial backing of Foster's Wine Estates, which now owns the company), Etude has been moving toward an all-estate-fruit model.
Priest said that he prefers to think of the Etude estate vineyard as "twenty little vineyards rather than one big one," a point of view born of Etude's decision to start releasing parcel-specific bottlings as well as the basic estate Pinot; the first, the '04 Deer Camp, is out now. There will be two more joining it in future vintages. Soter added that Etude's estate vineyard is on "volcanic, rocky soils-an animal of a different color than the usual Carneros clay soils," noting that in his view this results in Pinot Noir with darker fruit and firmer structure. (He avowed a marked dislike for confectionary, candied Pinot Noir and, after tasting way too much Pinot along those lines for the column, I'm in hearty agreement.)
2004 Etude Deer Camp Pinot Noir ($60) When I tasted this four months back for the column, the oak was sitting on the wine in an unappealing way; now it's much more integrated, mostly present as an aromatic spice note in the lovely aroma, which also shows violets and sweet black raspberry notes; the palate is seamless, dark-berried and focused. Deer Camp is a rocky, sloping portion of the vineyard; the vines here are on the old Martini clone—"the much-maligned Martini clone," Priest says, "but when you grow it on rocks and keep the vigor down it makes a very complete wine."
2004 Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir ($80) A light cola aroma plays off the deeper black cherry and raspberry liqueur scents here, then opens into exotic wild berry flavors and a hint of smokiness; very complete, very delicious, and structurally balanced enough to age well for at least a decade, I'd say.
Every vintage I've had of this wine has impressed me, but I've always thought the available info on this wine hedged its "heirloom" aspects a bit, so I asked Soter what the deal was. His answer, in effect, is that he feels it's a bit déclassé to go around saying something like, "oh, this is grown on La Tâche cuttings that so-and-so brought over in a suitcase"—that to do so would constitute a sort of riding-on-the-coattails of La Tâche's fame. (He also makes the entirely legitimate point that if La Tâche, or Richebourg, or what have you, happens to be a massale selection, then by taking only a few cuttings and propagating them, you haven't necessarily recreated the mix of that vineyard at all, making your claim that you've planted on La Tâche's vine material more than a little specious.)
Anyway. What it comes down to is that those are the sort of selections that go into this wine, though no names are going to be named (for all I know, Foster's may also be wary on legal grounds of proclaiming that they're growing Pinot on vines propagated from illegally imported vine material from ultra-famous French vineyards—most large corporations would be). Also, the selections used for the wine—which until now has been made with sourced fruit—also constitute the nine different clones that are planted in a specific seven-acre section of the Etude estate vineyard which will be dedicated to propagating them.