D-Day at Dunstan 5 min read

Dynamic-300x200It was finally here, the Dunstan Launch Party that I have been looking forward to.


Chris Towt and Ellie Phipps Price are consummate hosts as their 4th of July gathering has clearly demonstrated. I was excited to be small part of their inaugural event – the launch of the brand all of their own.


For those of you familiar with Sand Hill Durell bottlings, there is obviously some continuity in terms of vineyard source, winemaking team (vineyard manager Steve Hill 1980-present; Don Van Staaveren, winemaker 2002-present), etc. however the fruit itself comes exclusively from the Durell Vineyard Ranch House Block, a very special site. My understanding is the fruit from that block will not be sold to any other producer and will be used only for the Dunstan label. Ranch House Block includes roughly 5 acres of Pinot Noir and 3½ acres of Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is planted to Wente clone, and the Pinot Noir is a combination of Dijon (lovingly referred to as “sweetheart”) clones – the somewhat typical selection of 115/667/828 with some Calera and Swan to balance it out.


Why Dunstan Label?


Clearly highlighting the fruit source has a lot to do with the new Brand. Chris Towt and I spoke extensively prior to the event, when I first tasted the wine at the Pinot Days about a “sense of place” and how excited he was to partake in the journey of “translating” this very notion from soil to glass.


There is a great story behind the label itself that showcases Chris and Ellie’s love of horses, with a great “lucky” twist to it… go find out for yourself at www.dunstanwines.com


On to the wines, briefly:


2009 Dunstan Rose of Pinot Noir – fantastic (and sold out at the winery), great summer sipper with true character and grit. Fabulous aromatics, a true crowd pleaser.


2008 Chardonnay – signature stone fruit, sophisticated, nuanced citrus. Fresh and breezy, with the underlying steely vivid minerality. Hints of toasty oak, medium-bodied, substantive yet refreshing mouthfeel. Tasted several times over a three month period with consistent impressions.


2008 Pinot Noir – I was struck by its authentic varietal character showcasing opulent black fruit, hints of spice, layered mid-palate and a long satisfying finish.


Chris and Ellie also generously offered the 2007 Sand Hill Chardonnay that I thought showed very well.


Descending into the (Wine) Dungeon, Dunstan-style


There were some steps involved, if you wanted to dip your palate in some Vineyard History, the root cellar steps that is. If you managed to keep your head on your shoulders (low beam), you were rewarded with a vertical retrospective of 2004-2007 Sand Hill Pinot Noir.


I must say the 2004 was a pleasant surprise that showed clear longevity and stamina (you’ve heard “location, location, location” chants by your realtor, well, for Don van Staaveren it is “patience, patience, patience”), 2006 was in the thinking faze (it never quite opened up for me), 2007 was a great example of a generous vintage, but it was 2005 that stole my heart, just a little. Lithe, elegant fruit, great concentration, lovely paced finish. I risked a head injury and went back for seconds…


After all that, I must admit that my favorite after all was 2008 Dunstan. Much like a confluence of three different AVA the wine seemed to be a reflection of terroir, but also somehow a team effort of a partnership with the special site via winemaking and the deep friendship and mutual affection that was evident between Chris and Ellie. If you have not guessed already these two are a couple and it appears their romance certainly brought some unique quality to the wine, it was a beautiful example of what California Love Affair is about. Gobs of fruit, great mid-palate, lingering finish. Did anyone say “hedonism?”


It is worth a mention that the hosts went out of their way to hire a professional chef to create food pairings with each wine. Richard Haake of Winery Chefs, http://www.winerychefs.com did the honors. I was quite enamored with mushroom tortellini with porcini broth paired with 2007 Sand Hill… the earthiness of the broth infused with the “king” of mushrooms really did the “trick.”


Below is the full menu for the event:


Crostini  with Eggplant Tapenade


Spanish Pork Skewer


Paired with 2009 DUNSTAN Rosé


Rock Shrimp Sandwich with Gravenstein Apple Slaw


Paired with 2007 Sand Hill Chardonnay


Mushroom Tortellini with Porcini Broth


Paired with 2007 Sand Hill Pinot Noir


Heirloom Tomato, Caramelized Onion, Cured Black Olive and Thyme Tart


Paired with 2008 DUNSTAN Chardonnay


Spoons of Coq Au Vin with Potato Puree


Paired with 2008 DUNSTAN Pinot Noir


Artisan Cheese Board featuring local cheeses with seasonal accompaniment.


Love, Lifestyle and Living Out Loud


Wine represents many things to many people, but most prominently perhaps a “lifestyle,” a notion that is brought up regularly in many wine-related discussions.


By any measure Chris and Ellie have a great lifestyle, filled with not just work and a smorgasbord of obligations, but with friends, hobbies/passions, social causes that are near and dear to their hearts and of course the centerpiece of the aforementioned gathering – guardsmanship of the Durell Vineyard.


Although Chris had no prior formal background in wine, and learned mostly by osmosis, he talks with great enthusiasm of all things wine and clearly caught the “bug” we all know all too well. He recognizes what a special place Durell is and clearly wants to pay a tribute to its riches, to tell a story framed by a single block that was nurtured for decades by this incredible piece of land. Collaboratively, Chris and Ellie managed to capture what is so important about the vintner’s role – make the kind of wine that is an interpretation all your own, make it distinct and individualistic but always in the context of honoring the land that gave you an opportunity to create that signature imprint.


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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