Photo by Bacigalupi Vineyards
Out of the dozen or so virtual, online, live sample tastings in which I’ve participated the last several months (necessitated due to the COVID-19 pandemic), I might have been looking forward to the one with Bacigalupi Vineyards the most.
The thing is, I am kind of a fan boy for their matriarch, the indefatigable Helen Bacigalupi, who is a bit of a legend in the pantheon of Sonoma winegrowers, having established the family business in 1956, and having supplied some of the Chardonnay fruit for wine that bested the best of France in the `70s-era “Judgment of Paris” tasting, creating the U.S. wine world’s equivalent of the Miracle on Ice, and effectively putting California on the world wine market map. It should also be noted that most Americans enjoy a good French comeuppance, which probably doesn’t hurt the Bacigalupi’s legacy and domestic brand goodwill.
Refreshingly, several of the major players in this now 3rd-generation family-run business are women: co-founder Helen (who was still doing the grape contracts until she hit 88 years young); Pam Bacigalupi (who grew up at Korbel) handling grape sales; marketing and sales led by sisters Nicole Bacigalupi Dericco and Katey Bacigalupi Row (who emphasized that they “grew up with the humming of the tractors at 4am”); and winemaking under Ashley Herzberg.
Speaking of Herzberg, she has a good sense of what makes the Bacigalupi brand special: following Helen’s credo “always listen to what Mother Nature is telling you.”
“I’m just a babysitter [of the grapes],” Herzberg mentioned, describing their small family-run company size as an asset. “We don’t have to make things in a certain way; we can pivot [with the vintage].” Here’s how the pivoting fared in 2018…
Photo by Joe Roberts
2018 Bacigalupi Vineyards Renouveau Chardonnay (Russian River Valley)
This tribute to Helen and the Paris tasting is arguably the finest wine that Bacigalupi has crafted since they started bottling their own label in 2011. The Chardonnay grapes are all Wente clone plantings from the Goddard Ranch vineyard block that supplied the fruit for the winning Judgment of Paris white (the 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Château Montelena) that shocked the wine world in `76. The vineyard benefits from pools of fog that develop from the tributaries around the property, and is a mix of won-rooted, older vines and younger replacements, all pressed and fermented together in this gem. “You get a lot of variability in the acidity and the minerality” noted Herzberg.
Apparently, you also get one of the most gorgeous Chardonnays in Sonoma, too. Charismatic, lifted, and floral, the nose on this thing is simply stunning; lemon peel, flint, white peaches, jasmine, crème brûlée. In the mouth, it’s energetic, broad, and incredibly long, with a bit of everything: citrus, star fruits, apples, apricots. It’s almost unbelievably good, and feels authentic down to the core. Alas, only 99 cases were produced.
2018 Bacigalupi Vineyards Chardonnay (Russian River Valley)
Here we have premium stuff that’s also affable and easy to sip. Toasty, full of yellow apple action, moving to apricots, lemons, and white flowers, this one is fruity, generous but also quite fresh. You’ll get some nice brioche on the finish, but you need to wait for it, because it’s damned long. It’s one of those wines that make you think “WHAT?!?” when someone tells you that they hate Chardonnay.
2018 Bacigalupi Vineyards Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
For all of the elegance of their Chardonnays, it’s interesting that Bacigalupi Pinots tend to be a bit more on the muscular and meaty side. This is a nice introduction to their style: smoky, with dark dried herbs, black tea, grilled orange peel, black raspberries, and a sense of deep, plummy purity. It’s poised, fresh, and delicious.
Photo by Joe Roberts
2018 Bacigalupi Vineyards Frost Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
This vineyard, planted to 100% Pommard clone, is closer to the Russian River and benefits from its cooling effects, tending to produce Pinot that is earthier and more “grounded.” This vintage is brambly, with wild berry flavors, forest floor and dark herb aromas, and hints of toast, smoked meat, and black cherries. It brings substance and grip, but manages to stay vibrant and characterful, somehow managing to be muscular and curvy at the same time.
2018 Bacigalupi Vineyards Goddard Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
All Wente clone Pinot here, and despite being a single vineyard release, this red lacks for nothing and feels seamlessly complete. Cherries, plums, dried blueberries, tea, spice, cured meat, violets… there’s a lot going on in this one to process. The palate never lets up on its juiciness, but brings just enough backbone and textural complexity to give the impression of wrapping up a pretty bow on the entire package.