Pinot roads less travelled 6 min read
Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used. -William Shakespeare (Othello)
As we drove up the road leading to Ketcham Estate memories flooded from our first meeting with Mark Ketcham and his famous “savage” method as we were treated to the taste of his inaugural 2005 Estate Pinot Noir at a Healdsburg restaurant. Subsequently I became quite familiar with this winery offerings as the appreciative mailing list subscriber, I loved how approachable and palate-pleasing the wines were relatively soon after release and how well crafted, so I frequently brought it with me to wine tastings and an occasional meal at my favorite restaurant (a memorable pairing with otherworldly pork chop at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc leaps to mind!)
Mark, a larger than life personality with tremendous apatite for finer things in life –luxury cars (namely vintage Ferrari’s), fine dining and fine wines has constructed his business around them. When he first came to take a byte out of Sonoma he surveyed over a 100 vineyards before he settled on what’s now known as Ketcham Estate, a 17-acre vineyard nestled off the Eastside Road. Partnering with Steve and Lisa Rigisich, Pinot Days Founders, and the famed Michael Browne of Kosta Browne fame, Ketcham Estate was born.
Having tasted both 2007 and 2008 recently, I was struck by the stylistic differences between the two… so I was eager to determine for myself why that was the case. It was obvious that both the vineyard and the brand are going through some changes, Michael Browne’s departure as winemaker of record (the production was taken over by Scott Rich and the wines are now being made at Talisman) had initially brought some understandable anxiety. The perils of the current wine market as a reflection of the economy at large have to play a significant role in many agonizing choices of today’s proprietor of any high-end wine. Pinot Noir had catapulted to the forefront of many a palate, swept away by the Sideways affect and with that tsunami many other byproducts of a runaway trend. Those who figured out how to separate the trend from forever are here to stay.
Speaking of seeking… when we arrived Mark was not there, however Adam Fulecky, Mark’s brother-in-law, greeted us with a smile and an immediate vehicle of instant gratification, a great glass of 2008, ushered us into Mark’s garage where the host himself was proudly showing to another pair of guests his perfect vehicle, his prized 1966 Ferrari 275 GTC, winner of many important races and a staggeringly valuable collector’s item.
A few “oohs” and “aaahs” later Adam cheerfully walked us through the vineyard so we could see, touch, pick and get our hands sticky and our feet as dirty as possible. (Note to readers, mind yourfootwear, especially ladies, you don’t want to wear your Taryn Rose of worse yet, Blahnik sandals). Adam runs marketing and sales for Ketcham Estate and has proven to be a quick study in Wine, Pinot and People since his departure from Michigan just a short two years ago. Former auto-motive industry marketing director (do I sense a trend?), Adam was able to seamlessly fit into the wine community, develop ties with both retail and wholesale accounts and increase the brand presence, an impressive endeavor in these challenging economic times.
Incidentally he caught the wine bug… (surprise, surprise) and has partnered up with a couple other winemakers, together they are crafting their first Pinot Port…sh-sh-sh, it is still a Top Secret, stay tuned.
Ketcham Vineyard is planted to a common assortment of Dijon clonal selections, 828, 115, 667 and 777 well as some Pommard in an older block and is a lovely, well-maintained vineyard. Adam got his “christening by fire” during harvest when 16 hour haze-filled days reward was laying very still on the concrete floor while your body curses you loudly in two languages (Adam is fluent in Spanish from his 3 year stint in Argentina) and many a cold beer.
He spoke animatedly about the vineyard practices, the benefits of having a vineyard managers’ residence on site (at the first sign of frost he can run to the rescue in his unmentionables) and the quality of fruit that attracted attention of the likes of Bob Cabral, of William Selyem fame.
We had a wonderful time listening to Adam’s collection of stories and tasting through the Ketcham portfolio… it was great to catch up with Ketcham Estate at this transitional stage, I hope to visit them again after a while and catch up.
2008 Ketcham Estate Russian River Valley Viognier
42 cases made
Lovely and very soft, well-hidden alcohol (14%) and bright, refreshing aromatics.
On the palate lively citrus flavors as well as honeysuckle, white peach, and stone fruit, good acidity, floral undertones, and hints of wild mushroom as the wine developed over the course of an evening… pleasant finish.
2008 Ketcham Russian River Pinot Noir
529 cases made
All the usual suspects are present – raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate. Some spice (nutmeg?), flint and a bit of wet earth. Medium body, pure red fruit dominates, structurally sound, texturally pleasing, all in all a great example of Russian River fruit and a great companion to you and yours…
2008 Ketcham Estate Ketcham Vineyard Pinot Noir
539 cases made
Some VA initially which quickly wore of, then the aromatics clearly came through – primarily red fruit, raspberries, framboise/strawberries, on the palate a little herbaceous with good acidity and minerality, picking up some tar and black cherry notes towards the end. Medium finish. This one will benefit from aging.
2007 Ketcham Russian River Pinot Noir
760 cases made (sold out at the winery)
Broad, deep and sensual with ripe berries and dark cherries mingling casually. Tea leaves, cola, some spice and dry tropical fruit hints, creamy oak, prominent red and black fruit, silky smooth and even some floral notes to add to the picture… well balanced and lively. This Pinot is Russian River all the way with its signature ripe flavors and great texture, earthy and lively with great finish to complement its playful attitude… pour me another glass!
2007 Ketcham Estate Ketcham Vineyard Pinot Noir
420 cases made (sold out at the winery)
Gorgeous – love the opulent dark fruit with sexy spice. Tannins are resolved and supple, good texture and solid mid-palate. European plum, sour cherry, some dark berries, pomegranate and a hint of fig… and that familiar sassafras. This is a sophisticated and immensely enjoyable offering that will delight your palate and complement your meal.