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DUNSTAN Celebrates its First Release

Saturday I attended the release party for DUNSTAN Wines’ 2008 vintage. This is the first release for that brand which is owned by Ellie Phipps Price of Durell Vineyards. Founded in 1979 by Ed Durell and purchased in 1998 by the Price family, more than 20 wineries, including Chateau St. Jean, TOR, Pali Wine Co. Chasseur, Kistler, and Three Sticks source fruit from Durell. However, DUNSTAN takes its fruit solely from the Durell Vineyard’s Ranch House Block and nothing from that block is made available to other wineries.

The Durell Vineyard sits on roughly 400 acres of land tucked away in the Temelec hills of southern Sonoma County, due west from the town of Sonoma. A tad less than 200 acres are planted with grapes. Due to the Durell Vineyard’s unique location it actually has vines in three different AVAs: Carneros, Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley AVAs. It’s a relatively cool-climate location that yields wines which are complex and expressive of both terroir and vintage while still offering beautiful fruit.

The Ranch House Block is at the southern end of the Durell Vineyard and includes 5 acres of Pinot Noir and 3.5 acres of Chardonnay. DUNSTAN offers one wine from each as well as a rosé of Pinot Noir. While the Chardonnay is all Wente-clone, the Pinot Noir includes 115, 667, 828, Calera and Swan. The 2008 DUNSTAN Pinot Noir is a field-blend of four of those because the Swan grafted more recently and won’t be ready until the 2010 vintage.

While the DUNSTAN brand is new, it’s team has been making excellent wines together under the Sand Hill at Durell Vineyard label. Steve Hill has been managing the Durell Vineyard since 1980. Don van Staaveren, who was winemaker at Chateau St. Jean 1985 through 1997, had been making the Sand Hill wines from their inaugural 2002 vintage. According to Chris Towt, who runs sales and marketing for DUNSTAN, the goal with the new brand is to provide consumers with clear and vivid sense of place. By using grapes only from the small block surrounding the ranch house soil and climate are more consistent for all of the fruit. Extremely dense planting contributes concentrated flavors and guarantees that all vineyard work is done by hand. The vineyard is open by appointment for tours and tasting, giving people the opportunity to make the connection between land and wine first hand.

The name DUNSTAN and its horseshoe logo were also inspired by the vineyard. When planting the vines, an old and very large horseshoe was found. Ellie Phipps Price and Chris Towt share a great love of horses and were inspired by the find and it’s omen of good luck. So, they named the wine DUNSTAN after the blacksmith who, according to legend, forced the Devil to agree never to enter a home with a horseshoe hanging over the door.

I tasted all three of the DUNSTAN wines at the release event, along with 2004 - 2007 vintages of the Sand Hill Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sand Hill Chardonnay. I won’t comment on all of them here as I plan to do a feature on all of the Pinots in the near future. However, I will say that all of the wines are very, very good and, while they clearly show their common origin, are very distinct from each other because they also provide a clear window onto their respective vintages.

To provide a sense of the style of their wines though, I will offer a few words here about DUNSTAN’s 2008 Chardonnay. It offers many layers of flavor with the cool climate showing through in briny minerality, citrus and hints of herb. There are also riper fruit flavors including pear, peach and tropical notes. The barrel treatment is restrained but contributes accents of toast and dark caramel. The mouthfeel is rich but refreshing and not quite full-bodied. It’s a wine that rewards contemplation but is friendly enough not to demand it. Very Highly Recommended. ($40)

DUNSTAN wines are available through the DUNSTAN online shop. The 2006 Sand Hill Pinot Noir and the 2007 vintages of both both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are available from the Sand Hill at Durell Vineyard online shop. To make an appointment to visit DUNSTAN, call them at (707) 933-3839 or send them an email. For further information, visit the DUNSTAN Website or like DUNSTAN on Facebook.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.