What's the story these days with Varner pinot noir?

I became an instant fan of these guys with their knockout '04 Spring Ridge Hidden Block pinot noir. The '05 was also impressive but in a needs-more-time kind of way. Then I think they missed a vintage or something and I haven’t heard much buzz about them the last few years. Got to thinking about them again and searched around, now I see they have some '07s out, but under the “Neely” label instead of Varner. Anyone know what the story is here? What’s the difference between the two labels? Anyone have any experiences with the '07s to report?

I also liked the 2005 Varner Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Hidden Block, though I had the same impression that it needed more time (wish I had another bottle or two). The 2006 was released as simply “Spring Ridge Pinot Noir”. Apparently they weren’t satisfied enough with the quality to release it under the Varner label. I tried it and agree with their decision. I don’t know the story on why they decided to release the 2007 Hidden Block under the Neely label.

As Frank said, '06 was declassified. To me it’s a hot, raisiny bitter f’up of a wine (but some people seem to like that).

The Neely family owns the Spring Ridge Vineyard. The Neely Chard release is a blend of the 3 blocks that the Varners bottle separately - a blend of the 3 completed wines to whatever percentages they think tastes best for the given year. There are 2 blocks of Pinot, with a different clone in each. Under the Varner label I’ve only seen Hidden Block (clone 115). I’ve only seen Picnic Block (clone 777) offered on their website. Under Neely, the Holly’s Cuvee is a blend of the two. The Picnic Block is actually two sections - one was grafted over from Gewurztraminer (which made some stunning wines, but not were not profitable to grow. Bob Varner was managing the vineyard long before Jim came on board and they started making their own wines.) and the rest was planted later.

I got some '07, but haven’t tried it. We tried some barrel samples of '09s earlier this year. The Hidden Block samples were really impressive. I’d say best Varner Pinot yet, except I shouldn’t count out '07 and '08, which were great years here. The Picnic Block samples were dark and brooding, but showed a lot of complexity. It’ll be interesting to see how it comes out. The '05 Neely was pretty underwhelming when young, but came around well, and this is showing much better than that did.

Thanks for the info. So this suggests there are '07s under both the Varner and Neely label but the wines (or component wines) are the same?

I have both. They’re both Hidden Block. They do use a variety of barrels, so they could be a little different or could be the same. Good question.

Well, seeing as I bought them at the same place and the Neely was $2 more, I’d guess that it was a blend of barrels to the Neelys’ tastes, a la the Holly’s Cuvees.