Anthill Farms: Masters of California Pinot Noir

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  • By Amber Hatfield, CSW
Anthill Farms: Masters of California Pinot Noir

Take a walk through the 2017 releases from Anthill Farms with an in-depth look at the vineyard sites used and the process behind some of California's most amazing Pinot Noir.

   I have a confession to make: I am not a champion of California Pinot Noir. I find them to be too extracted, too sweet, and too bold compared to the Pinot Noir I love from places like Oregon, Chile, and New Zealand. (All Pinot Noir from France is exquisite, so I am excluding it from my lineup.) I believe Meiomi destroyed the reputation of California Pinot Noir, and I still stand by the fact that when it was first released it had other grapes and additives in the wine to pump up what the winery thought were desirable characteristics. When winemakers do this - add extra 'stuff' - to a wine, the cheat the consumer out of understanding what he or she likes, and frankly, that is just not fair. 

 

   Around the time I started 'hating' on California Pinot Noir was when a friend introduced me to Anthill Farms. I was prepared to not like the wines. In fact, I was absolutely committed to not liking the wines. For those of you who know me well, this should be no surprise, as I am steadfast in my beliefs and more stubborn than I like to admit. I trusted my friend though - and if she said the wines were worth trying, then I knew it meant the wines were worth trying. 

 

   Anthill Farms had been open for almost a decade at this point. Founded in 2004 by three friends who'd met while working at Sonoma's acclaimed Williams Selyem. They were producing around 1,000 cases of wine a year, which was a huge jump from the 200 cases they made the first year they were open. I started reading voraciously about the winery, the people, the vineyard sources, and their mission... I was entranced. Biodynamic farming? Focus on terroir? Low intervention winemaking? All of these things sounded too good to be true to me in a time (2013) when I felt surrounded by over-produced, stagnant, commercial wines. Natural wines... the way they should be... it felt like a dream.  

 

   I set up a time to taste through the 2012 lineup. The tasting was not a life changing experience for me, but I can look back and pinpoint that it was a moment that changed my professional trajectory for the better. The wines weren't dazzling or extravagant, but they were authentic and real. It was as if there was honesty in these wines that I wasn't seeing in a lot of wines produced in the United States at the time. I ended up spending well over $1,000 on the single vineyard Pinot Noirs and became an evangelical supporter of this "new" style of wine.

 

   I am proud to support the work of wineries like Anthill Farms, who strive to leave the world a better place through sustainable and conscious methods of farming and production. I think that they are able to offer consumers terroir in a way that you don't really see outside of Europe. In each glass is a chance for us to reflect upon the year, the place, and the people who crafted this elixir that will never be duplicated. 

 

   Alright... that's enough from me. I am pleased to announce the arrival of the 2017 Anthill Farms Pinot Noirs. This year we were able to purchase a limited amount of wine from three single vineyard sites: Campbell Ranch, Harmony Lane, and Peters Vineyards. Only 15 cases of each of these wines made it to Virginia, DC, and Maryland. We've listed reviews from Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media below, as well as more detailed information about each of the vineyard sites.

 

2017 Anthill Farms Campbell Ranch Pinot Noir, 93 points from Antonio Galloni of Vinous

"A wine of total sensuality, the 2017 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch brings together many of the elements that make the Anthill Farms Pinots so compelling. Sweet, pliant and enveloping, with lovely aromatic top notes, the Campbell Ranch has so much to offer. Pomegranate, blood orange, mint and rosewater give the 2017 a slightly exotic flair. There is so much to look forward to."

This vineyard is located a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, near the tiny town of Annapolis, and is farmed by Steve Campbell. At approximately 750 feet above sea level, it sits right at the boundary of the marine layer, ensuring that the cool, coastal climate delays ripening well beyond the warmer vineyards to the east. The two-decade-old vines grow on sandy, low-vigor Goldridge soil, which helps reduce yields to near two tons per acre.

 

2017 Anthill Farms Harmony Lane Pinot Noir, 93 points from Antonio Galloni of Vinous

"The 2017 Pinot Noir Harmony Lane is one of the more open-knit wines in this range. Sweet red cherry, kirsch, rose petal and spice give the Harmony a distinctly exotic feel. Soft curves and silky tannins are nicely complemented by underpinnings of salinity that give the wine a lovely sense of proportion."

The ridge in between Graton and Occidental is known by several names—Occidental Ridge; Stoetz Ridge; and, perhaps most commonly, Harrison Grade, after its principal roadway. Harmony Lane occupies a three-acre site of fine Goldridge soil just below this ridgeline at about 800 feet. This elevation puts the vineyard right at the edge of the marine layer: the fog laps the vineyard like a shoreline, creating a dynamic warm-and-cool environment that creates wines of elegant bearing and tight precision.

 

2017 Anthill Farms Peters Vineyards Pinot Noir, 92 points from Antonio Galloni of Vinous

"The 2017 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard is very pretty, if a touch ethereal. Crushed flowers, dried red berry fruit and dried flowers are all nicely lifted throughout. Perfumed and airy, the Peters is perhaps just a touch fragile, its considerable beauty notwithstanding."

Randy Peters and his father-in-law, Tom Mukaida, farm this vineyard outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. The southern slopes of these hills form the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, which rushes cool, marine air from the Pacific Ocean inland. The vines, a mix of Pommard and 777 planted over thirty years ago, produce grapes that ripen unusually slow due to the oft-present morning fog.

 

2017 Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 92 points from Antonio Galloni of Vinous

"The 2017 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) is a gorgeous wine that captures all the best of the Anthill Farms style. Pliant and generous, with tons of bright and saline energy, the 2017 is a wonderfully complete wine. Freshly cut flowers, chalk, mint and white pepper give the 2017 its striking freshness and nuance. This is such a pretty wine in its peer group. In a word: superb."

This appellation is widely described as “sprawling” as it encompasses half or more of the county. Our fruit comes from two of the coolest, most coastal parts of this appellation: the low coast, west of Sebastopol on the edge of the Petaluma Gap; and the high coast, the first or second ridge inland from the ocean farther to the north. These sites are united by the direct influence of the Pacific‘s cool, marine air, delaying ripening well into October.

 

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   The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is available now for $45. The single vineyard Pinot Noirs are available now in very limited quantities for $60. We will be packaging up a few four packs (one bottle of each release) and offering them at a special discounted price of $185. Reach out to us soon if you'd like to purchase any of these wines. They will not last long!

 

PS - Anthill Farms has a special connection to Virginia, as two of the founding members got their start in wine here in our great state while studying at UVA.