Soliste Cellars and the wine of our trip. IPOB,AFWE, who cares. Great wine !

One of our last tastings/visits of our trip and the one I was most excited about was with Soliste Cellars. Soliste is a collaboration between Claude Koeberle & Don Plumley. The backdrop story of how they became friends in Southern California and became inspired to make world class wines is really interesting and can be read out about here Soliste: The PinotFile Winery of the Year | The PinotFile: Volume 9, Issue 35

I first heard about Soliste from their Winemaker Ryan Zepaltas this past March. I then saw over the summer they won a nice little tasting contest at Dry Creek Kitchen called Pigs and Pinot. After reading the above article I signed up for the mailing list and made my first purchases. I had 2 bottles over the summer that really tweaked my interest- 2011 Foret and 2011 Nouveau Monde. My reaction to both was similar to when I had my first SVD’s from Littorai. Whoa, sit up and take notice. They grabbed my attention and I thought ok this is the real deal( but why am I not hearing more about them ?). I got the release letter for their 12 release before we went out for our annual trip and thought it would be great to try these wines before extending myself to deeply. Don was kind enough to make the trek over to Napa for a tasting at our rental home with our group.

The visit started off with a bit of the backdrop of how Don and Claude met and what their philosophy and commitment to making world class wines is. Fascinating story and a bit on their philosophy here and where the name comes from. I’m not big on labels but whether you believe in IPOB or AFWE these wines are made with a definite nod toward the Old World but with a definite California flair. One of the founding principles they have is the admiration of world class wines and winemakers. They seem to provide the inspiration to many of their wines.

Here are the wines from memory

2013 Soleil Rouge Rosé de Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast- I don’t drink a lot of Rose but tend to prefer the Pinot based ones especially for summer drinking. This had crunchy red fruit with nice dry minerality running through it. Went well with some charcuterie we had out. My friends who drink a lot of rose bought a case. A very nice wine for the price point. Good to very good.

2011 St Andelain Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County- A tribute to late Didier Dagueneau and the first of 4 OMG experiences. No malo and aged 16 months in a cigar shaped barrel that Didier used for his wines. Expressive nose that bursts onto the palate with verve and stone fruit of pear, peach and wonderful citrus acidity and energy throughout a long finish. I don’t drink a lot of SB although I like most with the exception of NZ. Old world with California fruit and expression. Best SB I’ve ever tasted. flirtysmile

2011 Soliste Chardonnay L’Age D’Or, Russian River Valley- Earlier in our trip we were lucky enough to hang with some local burghounds who were kind enough to bring some great wines. I have had very little white burg experience until that night. Our friend brought 2 09’s and 08 and 07 so we could see how vintage can drive the expression of the wines. The favorite of our group was the 09 Carillon Puligny Montrachet Les Combettes. It seemed to combine the fruit from a ripe vintage with the verve, acidity and great balance of White Burgundy. When I tasted the 11 L’Age I grinned like a kid with a new pony. It reminded me of that 09. Juicy expressive fruit wrapped in this elegant package with acidity and just layers that went on and on. It could have been served blind in that flight of Prem Cru White Burgs and easily fought for the top spot. Excellent wine !

On to the pinot’s. The following wines are part of their Mono Clone program. I’m not sure if anyone else is making single clone pinot’s from single vineyards. I found all of these to be incredibly expressive and very different wines. They are a fascinating line up of wines.

2012 Soliste Pinot Noir L’Espérance, Sonoma Coast- Chambolle is my favorite expression of Red Burgundy so when I read in the release letter that Les Amoureuses was the inspiration for this wine I thought how could that be. The wine is Dijon clone 115. It’s ruby red and light in color. The nose as it sits in glass reveals layer of spicy fruit, forest floor and tea. It does remind me of some of the great Chambolle Les Charmes that I’ve had. The nose on those wines were crazy expressive as was this. It then carried all the layers and complexity to the palate with deep layers that were light yet tension filled that danced in your mouth. The finish was long and pure. Outstanding wine. [wow.gif]

2012 Soliste Pinot Noir Nouveau Monde, Sonoma Coast- Much darker wine in color. The inspiration is Pommard meets Corton. Dark fruit and spice with an expressive nose. It’s a velvety on the palate and a touch heavier than the airy Esperance. Dark fruit layers and silky across the palate. Another long expressive finish. Reminds me of some of the Rhys I’ve had with a touch more going on. I can see the Pommard comparison. Very good to Excellent and would have stood out more on its own.

2012 Soliste Pinot Noir L’Ambroisie, Sonoma Coast- We tasted some world class terrific wines on our trip and I have to say this was the wine of the entire trip. Clone 828. I asked Don if Volnay was the inspiration for this wine and he grinned and said La Tache. I’ve only had one DRC, a 90 from Berns( don’t remember which one) and it was way too young and needed hours of air to unwind so could not compare but this is the finest American Pinot I’ve ever tasted. I could not stop grinning at how expressive the nose was and how deep the layers of fruit and flavors were. The finish went on forever. We had a little offline with locals after this tasting and at one point had 28 bottles of wine open. Before things got to hectic I would go back and take more of the Ambroisie and disappear to find a quite spot on the deck. I didn’t need company or food. I just wanted some more time with my glass. It is a brilliant wine. champagne.gif

Don stayed for our offline and pulled out the 10 Sonetara, I believe the 10 Foret( wine that won pigs and pinot) and the 09 Dark Shadows( their ode to Northern Rhone Syrah). All of these were excellent but I did not get to spend as much time with them as the party was now in full swing and the night was on.

A week later and I am still grinning about the wines and our visit with Don. Our group of 4 couples ( mixed between Napa/Sonoma veterans and rookies) were all as moved by these wines as I was. The really interesting part is we all have a little variety in our styles of wines we like but these were universally loved and purchased heavily by the group. These wines are pricey and at the high end of California pricing but in my mind there is no question about the effort and what’s in the glass.


Great notes Fred. Thanks for putting this producer on my radar.

Thanks John. I think your really going to enjoy these wines. Surprised we don’t see more of folks talking about them especially on this board with the love for cool climate cali wines that are more food friendly with lower alc’s.

Nice to see some very similiar notes on the SB and Chard on CT from some well known tasters.

David Bueker/Scott Brunson- these wines have your names all over them…

Just bought a six pack basically on the basis of Fred’s review. These are expensive wines (especially for domestic pinot!) so I’m hoping they are as exemplary as advertised!

Fred - I can’t thank you enough for the kind words and taking the time to post this. The pleasure was entirely mine and was so happy to share our wines with your friends.

First post to WB - hi everyone!

It’s summer weather here in Sonoma County - time for fire pit paella. I’m enjoying a 2013 Soleil Rouge Rosé de Pinot nor in celebration of of a smooth harvest and the time to enjoy it. Cheers!

I completely agree with Fred’s notes. I was introduced to soliste a little over a year ago by one of my many friends with much a much better palate than I. He called me and said you “have to try their wines”. Known him for almost 20 years and he has only done once before with SQN. Have spent time with both Claude and Don and their passion is infectious. And while I was hooked on 09 - 11 pinots the current line up is beyond impressive across the board. I also barrel tasted the 13 pinots a few weeks back and the L’Esperance was other worldly (and the L’Ambroisie was pretty damn impressive as well).

and the whites are also as you advertise!

Don’t stop at the 2012s…


Noah- I think you’ll be very happy. Let us know what you think once you’ve had a chance to try.

Jeff- great story, looks like your friend has a good track record with you.

Don- welcome to the Board ! Plenty of oppty here to contribute to many conversations. We’ll have to leave some time on the next visit next to try the Paella.


I bit really hard on this wine because of this thread. I don’t know who you are. But I have certain skills I have acquired over many years. When these wines arrive, they will be very good. Or, whoever you are, I will find you. And I will kill you.

In other words, thanks. Looking forward to the wines. The only question is whether I will give them the six years from vintage aging they deserve.

Awesome job on those (and all of your) notes, Fred.
I have set Littorai as my stick in the sand, so mabybe I best get on this list. A bit pricey. Funny, a few weeks at this Pinot thing and I am back in Napa Cab $ territory…

I should be more discriminating.


Thanks Mike. They are pricey but they really did hit my sweet spot. If your a Yankees fan you should make a trip down to Tampa. Yankee spring training, Berns and we’ll do a dinner or 2 and clear out some room in my cellar. We also host a Sojourn Spring Release party around that time that is a lot of fun.

George- I hope you like the wines !!


Mike and others in New York- Soliste is doing a dinner and tasting at Piora next week. You can find the details here

Anyone go to the dinner ? Bottles arrived via cold chain this week. Going to give them a few days to settle and then let one rip.

I gave these a week to settle and tried the Narcisse( which I believe is their appellation Sonoma Coast) and the Esperance. I think those that ordered will be very happy. I posted a note on the Esperance in a separate thread. We had 3 hours this time to follow it and it picked up some power and depth as the night went on. Very interested in others thoughts as they get to try these.

The Narcisse was singing after a 2 hour decant. I’d put it up against base Rhys or Littorai etc


Soliste was on my radar in a roundabout fashion: being wowed by Siduri’s Sonatera PN and looking for other producers who worked with the fruit. I finally made it up there for my birthday celebration, in part due to this thread as well as Ryan Zepalta’s insistence that this project is something special.

Don kicked off what was an epic tasting with some barrel samples, followed by what’s in bottle which we tasted outdoors on a lovely Santa Rosa night, serenaded by the droning AC units. [cheers.gif] The wines that really spoke to me were a sauvignon blanc from a cigar barrel that saw no malolactic fermentation. Holy cow was it good- restrained tropical fruit yet still the verve you’d expect from a Sancerre. The second [group] of wines I adored where the entire pinot lineup. Soliste’s vision of bottling a single clone, single vineyard, single cooperage is highly educational and you owe it to yourselves to seek this out if you are a fan of PN. Both the 115 and 828 really sang, tasted more than complete, and were strong advocates for not blending away a sense of origin.

Soliste is an amazing project I will certainly continue to follow, and Don was an exceptional host.

Thanks Rama - I had as much fun as you, it was a pleasure to host you at the winery.

I am 76 years old. I have been drinking California pinot for over 50 years. I thought that the William Seylem wine from the early 80s were the best that California could do. The Soloist wines are better. Worth every dollar. These are rare tasting treats. These are elegant, complex, joyful wines. Thanks for the introduction Don.

Mike- not as much experience with Pinot as you. My first one to make an impression was the 96 Carneros Creek. Been a serious pinotphile though for the last 12 years or so and couldn’t agree more. Great description of the style.