Question for Rhys ... Bearwallow Pinot Noir

Congratulations to the Rhys team for garnering several ga-zillion points from the new Tanzer-International Wine Cellar issue, spread out very democratically among the chardonnay, pinots, and syrahs. Included was an outstanding review of the 2009 Bearwallow Vineyard pinot in Anderson Valley. But there was no review published for the 2008 edition of Bearwallow.

Was this perhaps a typo? Did Josh Raynolds taste the 2008 Bearwallow, or the 2009?

Also in this IWC issue, on a more somber note, further confirmation that Copain has declassified and/or sold off in bulk the 2008 wine from Kiser Vineyard due to smoke taint. Actually, all Copain 2008’s from Anderson Valley and Mendocino County have been declassified. Given the proximity of Kiser and Bearwallow, and the Bearwallow review appearing as vintage 2009, I’m wondering if the '08 Bearwallow pinot is still on-track for release next spring as previously announced?

Thanks in advance…

Very interesting question…

I am sure Kevin, Josh or Jeff will chime in to clarify or provide more information on the tasting and/or status of the '08 Bearwallow. That said, if I recall correctly, I don’t think they intended to put out a commerical offer of the 08 Bearwallow given the yields as well as the length of time they were working the vineyard directly. I could be wrong with this though.

Also curious, but i thought Kevin has said the Bear Swallow wasn’t going to be released till 2011. I could be wrong.

The wine that Josh reviewed was our '08 (not '09) Rhys AV Bearwallow. We are going to email him about the typo. I can’t speak for any other AV wines, but we lab tested this one (and of course tasted) and it is clean of any smoke taint. We are quite happy with the wine and look forward to releasing it.

Great to hear that, Kevin. I figured it was a Josh Raynolds typo, as no other 2009 Rhys was discussed in the IWC coverage. Congrats on the reviews, which were off-the-charts favorable.

As a big fan of the Copain Kiser En Haut (which I understand has similar soil profile IIRC) I’m really looking forward to following the Bearwallow. Thanks for the update!

I detected no smoke taint in the 2008 “Bear”…


I got the chance to taste, no actually even better, DRINK the 08 Rhys Bearwallow during lunch at the Anderson Valley Pinot Technical Conference yesterday. It was a gorgeous young wine with superb structure and plenty of beautiful fruit. Currently there is enough baby fat to actually make it a good candidate for infanticide. And of course, it has a bright future to boot.

The back label however depressed me. Minuscule yield probably means I won’t be offered this wine upon release.

Another notable 08 Pinot Noir without any smoke taint was the Mary Elke Anderson Valley (a great QPR as well).

What exactly does one look for in a lab test for smoke taint? And also, despite being considered–from a laboratory’s perspective–untained by smoke, how might the flavor characteristic be different than what one would normally expect?

I’ve had a couple of bottles of another (un-named) producer’s '08 (a vintage where they announced cutting WAY back on production due to tainted source-fruit) and am definitely getting a smoke dominant characteristic that I’m not familar with in pinot. I didn’t dislike the wine, mind you, but I’ve had the smoky bacon flavors before in pinot and this was not it.

Here is a link that might help -

The ETS test measure guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol. These compounds are always present in wine in small amounts due to contact with barrels but well below the human sensory threshold. We measured our '08 Bearwallow and found that the levels of these compounds were about 75% below (or only 25% of) the human sensory threshold for guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol. We then tested one of our '07s (which had no contact with smoke) and found that the '08 Bearwallow had even less of these compounds than our '07 Pinots. This combined with our own tasting makes me confident in saying that our Bearwallow is free of any smoke taint.

FWIW, my understanding is that the smoke in AV accumulated at different altitudes and was much less present in the “deep end” of the valley. I can’t speak for Wells decision on his Kiser, but I suspect it had more to do with frost than smoke.

Interesting info, thanks Kevin. This may be a totally stupid question, but how does frost affect wine quality? Quantity I understand… I’ve read that Copain made wine from Kiser in 2008, but elected not to bottle it as a vineyard designated wine.

Frost doesn’t always affect quality but it sometimes does. When a vine gets frost damaged, it sends out new shoots. These new shoots are less productive and the grapes are usually about 3-4 weeks behind the first crop. When the two generations of fruit are intermixed, the fruit ripeness can be quite uneven. In other words, a complete frost burn is sometimes better than a partial frosting. If all the shoots are burned, there can at least be a homogeneous crop from the second shoots. In the partial frosting scenario, its important to do a lot of crop thinning to eliminate the over or under ripe grapes.
The most consistent thing about frost is that it always reduces yield.

I am certainly eager to latch on to some bottles of this first-ever Bearwallow, and pull a cork. I’ve been following this Rhys project with interest because I believe Santa Cruz Mountains and Anderson Valley are the two appellations with greatest potential for pinot noir in America.

Agreed on all counts.

Kevin, will the Bearswallow be part of the Fall release or not until the Spring?

Right now it is slated for Spring 2011, but we re-evaluate the wines just before the Fall offering. Sometimes there is some last minute rearranging based on which wines are drinking best at the moment.