Report from the Clos Saron Open House

It seemed that every time a clos saron open house was scheduled I always had family from out of town and could never attend however this time I was able to make it so I went up and spent the day and evening with two friends.

I think most people know about Clos Saron but for those that you do not it is a small family winery located in the Sierra Mountain Foothills above Yuba City. Its not an area renowned for fine wine but there are some outstanding wines have come from that area for decades now. Clos Saron is owned and run by Gideon Binestock and his family. Gideon was born and raised in Isreal but loved to and lived in France for a number of years. While living in France he fell in love with wine and befriended many winemakers in Burgundy and the Rhone as well as elsewhere. The wines from those regions are clearly what influenced his sensibilities. At some point Gideon moved to California to live and work at the Renaissance community near Oregon House. While living there he became involved with their wine program and by 1993 was fully in charge of the winemaking. Anyone who has tried the Cabernet Sauvignons made during his time there know how incredible the wines being produced there were.

At some point Gideon and his wife left the community and struck out on their own on a nearby property to found their own vineyard and winery. There was an existing Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on the land but it struggled to fully ripen every year so they figured it would be a nice place for Pinot and thus grafted it over to that varietal. They have since planted the rest of the property (and some adjoining properties) over to vines. On the property is a small wine cave that was paid for by Gideon selling his collection of old Bordeaux and Burgundy wines he had acquired from his time in France. The rest of the property is a working farm with animals and crops that produces much of the food they eat. Ive visited a number of times and helped with bottling a few times and every time I visit I get the since that this is how vignerons in France likely lived for centuries (though without the forklift and bladder press). The general feeling is one of being close and entwined with nature. I love visiting there.

Gideon is somewhat known as a “natural” winemaker and is in fact one of the few domestic winemakers whose wine you can find at the natural wine store Terroir in SF. While he certainly keeps it simple he really isn’t dogmatic at all in his approach and most of the techniques he uses really just stems from trial and error and personal preference in how the wines turn out. For example, he believes that so2 changes how a wine tastes and its ultimate quality but recognizes that it can be necessary and uses small amounts on most of the wines he produces. One wine that didn’t get any was the 2009 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir and in retrospect he wishes he had given it a small amount of so2 since there have been some bad bottles (its worth noting though that Ive opened 4 and they have all been pristine).

The first part of the open house was a vertical tasting of many of the wines he produces. I was looking forward to this because I was curious how some of the older vintages would show with the low so2 additions. I’ll talk about a few wines individually that’s stood out to me but on a general level its worth noting that I did not detect any brett in any of the wines at all. I would have expected at least some, but I didn’t notice any at all. Out of 20 or so wines open I noticed 3 that had small amounts of VA. Im a pretty big fan of the wines of Joseph Swan winery and a lot of those wines have small amounts of VA so in small amounts it doesn’t really bother me. I also noticed a few of the wines seemed to have some oxidation. I thought “well that is just how it works with these low sulfur wines” but to my shock when I revisited these same bottles later during the dinner I was shocked to find that the oxidation had all blown away. Completely. I vaguely remember a white burg getting less oxidized with some air a few years ago but Ive never seen oxidation completely bow away. I was really surprised that this was even chemically possible. Other than those issues the wines were pristine and showed brilliantly.

A few thoughts on some individual wines:

Gideon makes wine every year now from a 150 year old Cinsault vineyard in Lodi. Before trying his wines from this vineyard I don’t think Ive every had a Cinsault varietal wine before and I have to say that I love what he is doing here. Its a very unique aromatic and flavor profile and the wines have true power without weight. This undoubtedly comes from the ancient vines as old vines seem to be able to produce intensity at lower ripeness levels. Both the 2012 Out of the Blue Cinsault and the 2011 A Deeper Shade of Blue were epiphanies to me with the Out of the Blue being the wine I decided to buy and bring home with me.

Gideon had 4 vintages of his flagship Pinot Noir open. The 2011 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir was absolutely stunning. Maybe the best version of this wine that I have tried. It is dense with flavor but light as a feather. There are some tannins showing and the barest hint of (100% included) stems and gives the impression that it will be a long ager. I had the 2010 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir recently and it showed similar. A bit less extract than the 2011 so you can sense a bit more of them stems but another stunner. There was a 2006 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir open and this was one of the wines that showed a bit oxidized but was perfect later. This had small hints of mature pinot noir flavors but overall this is still young tasting and really wonderful. I don’t remember the 2000 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir as well but I do remember this had more obvious bottle age.

My computer just freaked out and I lost half of what I typed about the rest of the wines so I will post this and retype the rest later as a part 2. Stupid laptop…

Thanks for the report. I wish I was there. Next spring for sure.

Wait, you weren’t at your own open house? Ohhhh, Glenn Bienstock.

Almost as tough as keeping Kim Caldwell and Kim Crawford separate, or Brad Swallow and Bearswallow, or Mike Officer and Mike Officer.

No Chris I was at my home, not the Home Vineyard.

Nice report, Berry Almost reads like a BloodyPulpit…if you could use more ////'s.

What a BloodyPulpit?

when tom posts

Thanks for the great writeup. I’ve noticed the “mysteriously disappearing oxidation” phenomenon in a few of these too.

You’ve got to admit, the construct of “oxidation blowing off with air” or “oxidation getting less with more air” is rather an oxymoron.

I’m taking a wild guess that the premise is wrong, that whatever this is being cured by aeration was not oxidation in the first place?

Turley makes an amazing Cinsault from that Bechtold Vineyard - the storied “El Porrone”!

I have no idea what the real underlying chemistry is but something that smells exactly like oxidation blows off

Thanks. I hear ridge makes one too

great write up Berry. clos saron is #1 on my “places-to-visit” list in california. special wines, for sure.

Thanks for the writeup. I like Clos Saron. Tasted at Rhone Rangers, bought only from 3 or 4 wineries and they were one of them. Didn’t even know the make a pinot noir. I will have to check that out.

Thanks Berry. The Clos Saron Home Vineyard Pinot Noir is an amazing wine to be sure. I have never bought any of the other wines. Maybe I need to order some.

Berry, whatever that oxidized note is, it always also tastes iron-y to me and makes me think the grapes were grown in soil with red in it. It’s also sort of savory. Then it goes away.

+1…I’ve come really close to attending a few times. A few years ago I had plane tickets and everything and had to cancel at the last minute because of a work trip. Thanks so much for the detailed write-up - it’s a great reminder that I really need to make this trip!

Lots of the foothill and mountain area has iron rich soils. Im trying to remember if the clos saron vineyards do but I cant remember.

I don’t understand at all the comparison between oxidation and iron or savoriness.

Berry, Thanks for posting your notes and comments - would love to also get your feedback to the other wines! About the soil - the Home Vineyard has no red clay and is not iron-rich. The Stone Soup and Texas Hill Rd vineyards are both on pure red clay (plus the obligatory rocks, of course). Renaissance has plenty of red clay, but also yellow, orange, green, gray, and white clay patches. Some of the areas we use to farm there were on red soil, other were not.

Similarly to Keith, I am not sure I see the connection between the “false oxidation” and the iron-rich soil, although I do not have any better theory to explain it…