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Emtu Estate Wines Makes Pinot Noir Personal

There are a lot of different ways to sell the wine you make. You can go retail through a wine distributor. You can do it by making all the reseller and restaurant calls yourself. Some wineries only sell to subscribers or through a wine club. Many wineries sell through tasting rooms.

For the most part, Emtu Estate Wines only sells to people that they have gotten to know over wine and a nice cheese plate while sitting at a rustic picnic table under a shady tree beside the vineyard. People often say that the enjoyment of wine is really about fellowship, good discussions and great memories. Chris and John Mason put that into practice.


Now, most wineries couldn’t do this even if they wanted to. It would be pretty hard to move 10,000 cases of wine that way. And it could be an uncomfortable situation if the wine isn’t top notch. But, Emtu Estate Wines has what is arguably the smallest and most carefully-tended vineyard in the Russian River Valley and produces less than 400 cases of their excellent wine each year. They tend to all of the viticulture and winemaking personally. And that’s how they sell the tasty outcome.

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit them (which is by appointment only, the picnic table isn’t that big), you may still be able to try the wine. That’s because some of Northern California’s better restaurants, such as Chez Panisse in Berkeley, sometimes have the elegant Emtu Estate Labyrinth Vineyard Pinot Noir on their wine list. We encourage you to seek out the wine. It’s very good.

The Mason’s Forestville vineyard consists of just 3,900 vines that were planted in the plot of roughly 2 acres of Goldridge soil in 1999. About 300 of the vines are Merlot, from which they make a nice rosé. The rest is a mix of Pommard and Dijon 115 Pinot Noir clones. The vines are planted with 4’ by 5’ spacing in rows that run north-south on land that slopes gently down to the east. The morning fog generally burns off by lunch time, allowing the vertically-trained shoots to bask in Sonoma County sun.

Chris and John want to make wines that reflect both the terroir and the vintage. With that in mind, the vineyard is only dry farmed and the different Pinot clones are picked and vinified together in a field blend. Fermentation takes place in stainless (or 1-ton bins for the 08 vintage). After fermentation, the basket-pressed wine goes straight into fairly neutral 2-year old French oak barrels where it spends about the next 18 months further developing its unique character. After maturation, the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

California Pinot Noir can often be very ripe with big fruit flavors but somewhat lacking in both acidity and terroir-specific characteristics. Even in the relatively cool Russian River Valley the wines can reach alcohol levels well above 15%. Such is not the case with the Emtu Estate Wine bottlings.  The wines run around 14% alcohol and feature medium-plus acidity. The fruit is there of course, but is more delicate and nuanced than in some wines.

The 2005 Emtu Estate Wines Labyrinth Pinot Noir has a nose just on the plus side of medium that gives cherry, spicy cherry leather, ripe strawberry, earth, incense, and dried herb with a touch of vanilla, oak and orange zest. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with cherry, strawberry, raspberry, the herb and spice, cigar box, leather, hints of watermelon and a lengthy finish. We tasted this wine twice. Once at the vineyard and the second time with a bottle we took home.

We tasted that second bottle at a restaurant a few days later. Our notes for the wine on that occasion were consistent with our findings at the vineyard. We also shared a blind taste with the excellent sommelier. He was pleased by the complexity and acidity. He also pegged it as a western Sonoma Pinot Noir. Score one for terroir-specific vinification! Only 144 cases were produced of the 2005 and it sells for $36. Hurry, as of this writing there are only 15 cases left. And it’s very tasty, excellent with food.

The 2006 Emtu Estate Wines Labyrinth Pinot Noir has a lighter aroma than her older sister, with strawberry and red candy being dominant. The flavors  are again strawberry, raspberry and vanilla. There is cherry here too, but less. Generous dollops of cranberry, spice and floral characters add to the complexity. The acidity in this wine was somewhat lower than in the 2005, but still very much present and appropriate to good Pinot Noir. 260 cases were made of this wine which sells for $40.

So, a focused couple making great Pinot Noir from a tiny vineyard in Russian River that they sell from the backyard is a nice story. And we recommend the wine highly. But the story doesn’t quite end there. The Mason’s dedication to their wine and vineyard is, at least, matched by their dedication to charity and making the world a better place.

All of the wine business’ profits are donated through their Labyrinth Foundation for Disaster Relief to charitable organizations and projects around the world. They also host educational tours of the vineyard for viticultural students, high school students and others. And the Labyrinth Vineyard is kept free of gophers and other rodents by the dozens of birds of prey (mostly hawks and owls) that the Masons rescue, foster and release.

If you are interested in visiting the vineyard, buying the wine, or just learning more about Emtu Estate Wines, please visit their website or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

What’s the best Pinot Noir you’ve had in the last couple of months?

This article is original to Copyright 2008 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.