Renee and I headed out to California at the end of August to work harvest for the third straight year at Scholium Project. Since most fruit is delayed this year we had time in between working harvest, and the many dinners and parties to visit several wineries. Our first visit was to Wind Gap (we also visited Hirsch Vineyards and Rhys - notes to come). Pax and Ryan could not have been nicer. It was the beginning of harvest and a very busy time yet they spent over two hours with us. After an extensive tasting where we tasted everything in bottle and barrel we hung out with Pax, Ryan and his wife Pam and the Arnot-Roberts gang who share the facility with Wind Gap for lunch.

An awesome group of people making some of the best wine in California.

THE wines – I think these are VERY important wines. Pax and a few other producers have consciously chosen to lower alcohol levels and the results are impressive. They are making great wines that are balanced, ripe (to a degree) and are still able to display the uniqueness of their individual Terroir. The wines have energy, are pure, go well with food and most importantly ARE California wines.

2008 Yuen Central Coast Chardonnay

Approximately 50% James Berry and 50% Brousseau. I was very excited to learn about the James Berry component as I loved the White Helix James Berry Chardonnay. The 07 Brousseau is also one of my favorite Chardonnays so I was eager to try this.

Bright, murky golden color. Not quite as cloudy as the 07 Brousseau. Extremely balanced with enormous minerality. Pure and fresh. The wine completed malolactic fermentation so it is a full-bodied wine but not over-the-top.

2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Again very fresh, clean with lots of chalk and minerality. Lots of energy and pure Chardonnay expression.

The Chardonnays are fermented in concrete and steel which I think gives them an interesting texture and dimension. I also think the minimal use of S02 gives them energy and freshness.

2008 Pinot Gris

20% Skin Fermented. Pure, mineral, floral, slightly viscuous with bright red fruit characteristics. I really love both the 07 and the 08 Pinot Gris – it would be interesting to see a 100% skin fermented experiment next to the 20%.

12.5% abv.

2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Woodruff Vineyards Pinot Noir
Awesome and shocking!! 12.5% abv!!!

I was expecting to like the Chardonnays since I have had the 07s and of course knew the Syrahs would be good but the Pinot really shocked me – it reminded me of a light bodied Jura Pinot Noir (A style and region I love).

Very light see through color yet explosive aromatic profile. Lots of perfume and pure Pinot character. Beautiful tart cherry with just the right amount of earthiness.

2007 Sonoma Coast Syrah

2% Viognier
100% whole cluster

Explosive nose of bacon fat and pepper but balanced and not too ripe or over-the-top. Great tannins and incredible structure.

2007 Castelli-Knight Ranch, Russian River Valley Syrah

30-40% New oak
100% whole cluster
The soil is orange clay

Lots of perfumed aromatics. Violets. Minerality. Some bacon fat. Pepper! Herbs. A hint of menthol. Extremely complex and balanced.

2007 Griffins Lair Sonoma Coast Syrah

Floral, spice and bacon. Very intense and a slightly larger profile than the Castelli-Knight.

2008 Booker Cotes du Rhone Blend (Barrel sample)

100% whole cluster

The Grenache comes through loud and clear. Carmel, perfume, lots of fruit. Explosive. Some violets.

2006 Nebbiolo West Paso (Barrel sample)

Intense dark and brooding wine. Massive. Exciting experiment that will be interesting to follow over a very long time because this wine needs some age.

Also tasted a pure Mourvedre that will most likely be used in a blend that was amazingly funky – I loved it on its own but I am sure I would be in the minority.

Overall an amazing array of profound wines….

Pax is sharing the Arnot-Roberts space in Forestville? good for them both!

I was a huge fan of his Syrahs as well Robert. Pure and high energy is the perfect description. Pax is a really chill guy too. Sounds like you had a great trip, next time we’ve got to catch up.


Great notes, Robert! Do these wines carry the same alcoholic heft as his efforts under the Pax label? I’m hoping that these Wind Gap wines are a little more restained and better balanced.

Robert, thank you. We, too, had the Woodruff Vineyard pinot noir and it was delicious. Not bad, huh!

I do appreciate the wines here and did send in my order tonight. As Pax applies his creativity to these sites and the wine making process, I am going to follow it and support it.

Great post! Wow, Pax has gone to varietal heaven with the new label, adding Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Nebbiolo to the Rhone stable and the Wind Gap site mentions a Cab, too. Sounds like an incredible and diverse line-up. I just tasted a 08 Woodruff Pinot at Big Basin… coincidence? Pax and Bradley must have both tasted something they liked from that vineyard.

Mark – the Wind Gap wines are decidedly low in alcohol in comparison to some of his earlier wines at Pax Wine Cellars, and actually in comparison to just about anything else on the market – 3 of the 5 wines in the first release were under 13%, with only the Grenache over 14 (actually at 15.5%). I don’t know about this 2nd round of reds.

Now, some cuvees in the later Pax Wine Cellar vintages weren’t brutes either: the 2005 Alder Springs, for example, was really well balanced as well as being complex with strong, precise flavors in a medium sized frame. The Majik Vineyard Syrahs were super low in alcohol IIRC near 12%, and rather savory. So I think this is an expanded trend made possible by site selection and generally favorable weather, but I also think Pax wasn’t stuck in a stylistic box anyway, even as most of his wines have had a lot of structure and and many of them a lot of body. Wind Gap seems like an iconoclastic laboratory of wine, and I love his choice of terroir. I expect great things from this winery in the future.

Mark - the wines are very restrained and balanced.

Scott - Love Bradleys wines and look forward to trying his version of Woodruff. I attended his last dinner in NY and was impressed with his Pinots.