Barrel and wine tasting at Clos Saron

Clos Saron had a barrel tasting, wine tasting and lunch at its facility in Oregon House, Calif. Fellow Berserker Glenn Bienstock and I attended. It turned out to be a great tasting. I got a good sense of Clos Saron wines.
Winemaker Gideo Beinstock is portraying himself as a pinot noir specialist. I liked his pinot noirs. He has a pinot noir vineyard at the winery. And lets face it, the trajectory of pinot noir sales has been good while syrah sales have generally been in decline.
But I liked his Rhones better, especially the 2004 Heart of Stone syrah. I thought this showed wonderfully well and was one of the better California syrahs that I tasted.
I took a video camera to make a video, but unfortunately both batteries crapped out unexpectedly. They are brand new and perhaps aren’t holding much of a charge yet (yes, I charged both). So my epic was cut short. I did get Beinstock discussing how he picks his wine grapes by feel rather than by brix.
Beinstock also had a barrel tasting of syrah and pinot noir. He said something that I’ve come to believe about barrel tasting: It’s hard to judge a wine from the barrel unless you have a history with the vineyard. The 2012 pinot noir didn’t much taste like pinot noir at this point but had an intense acidity. I’ll bet in 15 years it will be spectacular. The syrah showed better, but again it was hard to gauge it. It was worth it though to hear Beinstock discuss his wines.

2001 Clos Saron Pinot Noir Home Vineyard - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
Definitely more Vosne Romanee than Volnay. Still showing tannin. Quite masculine. Mostly darker red fruits. Balanced with a good finish. This easily has another 10 years to go. I think the fruit will last that long.

2003 Clos Saron Holy Moly - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
This is a GSM blend. It didn’t show much of the 2003 ripeness. It was nice. More dark fruits. Still holding well.

2004 Clos Saron Syrah “Heart of Stone” - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
I loved this. This was one of the best California syrahs that I have tasted. I liked it so much after my first pour I immediately asked for a retaste to confirm how much I liked it. This is kicking ass and taking names. Wonderfully balanced. A floral nose, mostly violets, I guess. Some meatiness on the nose. The meatiness was more pronounced on the palate. The fruits on the palates were more darker red. Tremendous finish. And it feels like it will make it to another 15 years standing up. The price was normally out of my comfort range, but I liked it so much I bit the bullet and bought one.

2007 Clos Saron Pinot Noir Home Vineyard - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
This was my favorite of the three pinot noirs at the Clos Saron tasting. It took quite a bit of swirling to open up. The fruit is brighter than the 2001. I got more floral notes on the nose than the other pinots I liked the minerality and earthiness most in this. I didn’t sense the acidity of the 2001 or 2010, but I get the sense it has plenty of acid to age. Of the three pinot noirs I tasted, I think this will be the best in 10 or 15 years.

2008 Clos Saron Syrah “Heart of Stone” - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
Winemaker Gideon Beinstock said he lost 85 percent of his syrah in this vintage to a frost so he bought fruit from another vineyard. The other vineyard’s fruit was supposedly smoke-tainted, but I couldn’t taste it. Tasted like textbook syrah. Elegant and light with dark plum flavors. Nice finish. It seems like it is still improving. I bought this.

2010 Clos Saron A Deeper Shade of Blue - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
I liked this. The nose was a blend of spice and red fruit. This had almost a pinot noir-like nose. It filled all of your nostrils. This is 64 percent cinsault and a third syrah and the structure from the syrah was evident compared to the 2012 Out of the Blue. Like pinot noir, it’s a lighter red wine. It’s a good match with a lot of foods. I bought this.

2010 Clos Saron Pinot Noir Home Vineyard - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
This is one so many others seem to like. Maybe my expectations were too high. It was a nice wine but it’s hard for me to judge because it is still so tight. This likely would have benefitted from opening the night before or decanting. Again, nicely balanced. This had probably the tartest red fruits of the three pinots. The nose didn’t yield much for me. I would like to revisit this in a few years.

2010 Clos Saron Syrah Stone Soup - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
This is syrah bottled from a nearby vineyard. Like the 2010 pinot noir, it was still tight. Maybe a hint of violets on the nose and darker fruits on the palate. Restrained. Seems to have the stuffing to age. Another one I’d like to revisit in a few years.

2012 Clos Saron Carte Blanche - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
This was quite nice. I bought this. it’s a blend of albarino, verdelho and chardonnay. No one grape stood out. Crisp and full-bodied. Nice fat midpalate and good finish. A slight waxiness. Lots of minerality. I get the feeling this really has the stuff to age, but I bought it to drink in the next few years.

2012 Clos Saron Out of the Blue - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
Nice nose but a bit too soft. It is 94 percent cinsault. The nose and palate seemed like dried red fruits. It seemed to cry out for structure. It might be a nice summer sipper. Maybe it’s still all baby fat, I don’t think this has the stuffing to age.

2012 Clos Saron Tickled Pink - USA, California, Sierra Foothills (5/11/2013)
Dry and mild red fruit flavors not not that interesting. Too many roses with more depth for less money.

Thanks for the report, Steve. Not having tried this producer’s wines before, do they remind you of any other producer’s wines?

We’ve been carrying the 2006 and 2007 Heart of Stone Syrah for a few vintages, and I agree that this is some of the best CA Syrah being produced. They remind me more of a riper style Northern Rhone Syrah, rather than anything else from CA I have had in recent years. I believe that the Clos Saron wines are a side-project of Renaissance winery’s winemaker (Bienstock mentioned above). The wines have a similarity in feel to those at Renaissance, naturally, in that they seem to have a style that was popular in CA 30 years ago.

I.T., he is no longer at Renaissance, though I don’t know why. It seems like Renaissance isn’t doing much winemaking currently. Tragic, as they have/had some of California’s most singular vineyards, making amazing wine.
Steve, did you encounter any, um, microbial issues with the wines? I and others have had some mixed experiences with the wines in that regard. Still, I agree that he is producing some really interesting wine in a largely unheralded region.

It tends to remind me of more restrained wines from say the Santa Cruz Mountains. Like maybe a poor man’s Rhys. Of course I don’t have a lot of experience with either Rhys or Clos Saron. I think Clos Saron might actually age longer than Rhys.
No brett. I am concerned about his decision to not add a mild shot of sulfur to stop secondary fermentation. Second bottle I open that has secondary fermentation and I’m done buying the wines.

I don’t think secondary fermentation is an issue, as I’m sure the reds are all dry and have gone through full ML. However, there have been some issues with bottle variation, funk, and VA. When they’re on point, though, the wines are very nice.

Clos Saron in located right down the street from Renaissance. The closest significant population is in Marysville.

Gideon opened all of the bottles at the tasting table and there was not a hint of any off bottles. I think if the wines are keep meticuosly cool for every moment of their life the chances of spoilage are much lower. We hand carried our purchases and they were immediately put into a thermal cooler with icepacks for the ride home on a close to 90 degree day.

The terrior of this vineyard, the most northernly vineyard that I know of in the Sierra Foothills and on the Western slope to boot, is unique and lovingly nurtured by Gideon(we are not related) as he and his family live off the land. Domesticated geese, a variety of chickens and ladybugs share the land with active soil microbes and of course the vines. We even saw a wild turkey prowling the mature vineyard as vultures were soaring overhead.

Clos Saron is a small winery making in a good year 800 cases total. Yields in 2011 were greatly reduced. You do the math. The quantities produced are miniscule, Pinot Noir ranges between 75 and 150 cases. Stone Soup 60-150 cases.

These wines are as hand and feet made as possible. Gideon likes to add nothing and take nothing away in his process of preserving the true essence of the grape and terrior.

Here are some of my takeaways from the tasting. The wines have depth and body without being heavy handed in any area. No new oak is used. No fining or filtering. All of the reds displayed a good track record of ageing and developing while still showing their potential as youngsters beneath the structure with their high acids which I love. Aromatic complexity is a goal in all wines. Gideon is a skillful co-fermentor and blender. The Syrah’s also contain a percentage of Viognier.

The Carte Blanch was a nice 3 varietal white blend. Medium bodied and complex.

20007 PN had good maturing sensations while I preferred the purity of the 2010 and bought some.

2003 Holy Moly was a ringer for an aged CdP. Nicely matured with softened fruit flavors with tertiary texture and intrigue.

Stone Soup is great Syrah. The 2004 was rocking and I bought some smoke free 2008 which was a library selection. The 2010 is from a nearby vineyard a few hundred feet higher in elevation. All were minerally, structured and full of real Syrah flavor.

A Deeper Shade of Blue had beautiful strawberry old vine Cinsault aromatics.

A few thoughts about the issue of “um, microbial issues with the wines? I and others have had some mixed experiences with the wines in that regard”:
Wine is an agricultural product and as such is (or ought to be) alive, ever changing, and perishable. It is sensitive to handling, transportation, and storage conditions.
I have acknowledged past incidents of perceived and/or real microbial and other quality issues with our wines and am happy to openly discuss such issues whenever they are specific well observed and described.

If you ever want to really put this into perspective, I would invite you to attend one (or more) of our open house tastings, which are offered twice a year at the winery. In each of these, we offer a mini-vertical tasting of each of our wines. Each time, in addition to the current vintages, we randomly select a number of samples from our library. Many of these are no longer available for sale, but are shown specifically to demonstrate and study the way our wines age. To the degree possible, we vary the older vintages shown, trying to select wines which were not shown over at least a couple of years. If our wines truly had a serious problem as you suggest, I would expect that to show on a regular basis in our tasting. The fact is that it has not.

To illustrate the point here is a list of the wines shown in the past few tasting.

May 2013: Tickled Pink - 2012, 2007; Carte Blanche - 2012, 2004; Out of the Blue 2012, Deeper Shade of Blue 2010, Pinot Noir - 2010, 2007, 2001; Syrah - 2010, 2008, 2004; Cuvee Mysterieuse - 2009, 2007, 2005; Holy Moly! 2003; Black Pearl - 2007, 2003.

October 2012: Tickled Pink - 2012, 2011, 2005; Carte Blanche - 2012, 2006; Out of the Blue 2011, Deeper Shade of Blue 2010, Pinot Noir - 2010, 2009, 2005(Texas Hill Rd), 1999; Syrah - 2010, 2007, 2002; Cuvee Mysterieuse - 2007, 2004; Holy Moly! 2003; Black Pearl - 2007, 2006, 2000.

May 2012: Tickled Pink - 2011, 2007; Carte Blanche - 2011, 2004(oxidized bottle); Out of the Blue 2011, 2010, Deeper Shade of Blue 2010, Pinot Noir - 2009, 2006, 2002; Syrah - 2009, 2007, 2003; Cuvee Mysterieuse - 2007, 2002; Holy Moly! 2008, 2003; Black Pearl - 2006, 2004, 2001.

October 2011: Tickled Pink - 2010, 2005; Carte Blanche - 2008, 2002; Out of the Blue 2011, Deeper Shade of Blue 2010, Pinot Noir - 2009, 2005(Texas Hill Rd), 2001; Syrah - 2009, 2006, 2002; Cuvee Mysterieuse - 2006, 2002; Holy Moly! 2008, 2003; Black Pearl - 2006, 2003, 2000.

We have never had to open a second bottle due to a flawed, or even corked wine. Possibly just by pure luck… The bottles are opened at the tasting table, right in front of the people who attend. Anyone who has attended two or three of these (as [cheers.gif] many have), would have acquired a thorough overview of our wines, how they age, and the vintage variation. I invite you to do so!

Fascinating stuff. I purchased two bottles of the 2009 Home Vineyard pinot, about which I’ve read some mixed things, but I figure the smart thing is just to hold them for a number of years and figure it will probably work out.

Gideon, do you accept visits at other times besides your open houses, schedule permitting? And when are the open houses usually? Are they listed on your website?

Thanks! I’m up in that area once or twice a year and I would love to learn more about the winery.

We are open for visits all year round: call or email us to schedule an appointment. Our tastings are usually in early May and in October. Join our email list to get notified, or follow us on Facebook, or check our website. Thanks!