It was a beautiful fall morning in San Francisco, warm enough to enjoy an iced coffee at an outdoor table in Union Square. I was taking in the sights and sipping my coffee when I heard a woman ask, “Do you mind if we share this table?” I looked up and replied, “Not at all, please do!”
The couple sat down and unfolded a San Francisco map. As they began studying it I couldn’t resist asking where they were visiting from. “Santa Barbara.” came the reply. They had come to the city for a wine tasting, as had I. Even though we were attending different events, we couldn’t believe the coincidence and had a delightful conversation about wine.
Come to find out the couple are partners with others in Windrun Vintners & Négociants in Santa Barbara. The company was founded in 2010 by Lance Mason, working with winemaker Ken Brown. In addition to Mason, the partnership now also includes Mark Oliver and Scott Burns. All have been part of the local wine scene for years. It was Scott and his wife who shared that table with me in Union Square.
A negociant, in the context of wine, is a merchant who purchases grapes, bulk juice or finished wine from other vineyards. They can bottle the wine under their own name either as is or after blending with other wines.
This practice first began in the French region of Burgundy. The term itself is derived from the French word for merchant.
Windrun specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Together with their winemaker Ken Brown, who is well known in Santa Barbara County and has been making wine there since 1977, they select wines to be blended and finished in a style reflective of the variety. After nearly 40 years of winemaking in Santa Barbara County, you can bet Brown has made many connections with growers and vintners in the region.
Scott described their style of Pinot Noir as elegant and more old world than new world in style. That sounded appealing to me, and before they left the table we exchanged business cards and Scott extended an offer of tasting samples, which I happily accepted.
That warm fall weather has now transitioned to the cool of autumn, in fact the days are now positively brisk. With the change in weather I began to think about what I might want to pair with the trio of Pinot Noirs Scott sent us. Two of the wines we received were described as lighter than the third. I wanted to prepare a dish that might match with all three, and decided on chicken cacciatore which I served with gemelli pasta.
2012 Windrun San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir — light ruby-garnet color in the glass. Give this wine some time to open up and you will be rewarded with earthy, berry bramble aromas that clearly identify it as Pinot Noir. Cherry and cranberry flavors combine with smooth tannins and a light body to produce a wine that is elegant and well balanced. 13.6% abv. $23.
This wine was sourced from cool-climate Edna Valley and was lovely to sip. It is the most elegant and delicate of the group.
2013 Windrun Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir — light ruby in the glass with dusty, earthy and berry bramble aromas. Flavors of riper cherries and brighter, red fruit combine with earthy, mushroomy flavors and even a bit of spice. All of these flavors are supported by smooth tannins. 14.1% abv. $23.
This wine has an interesting combination of flavors. It isn’t the biggest of the group but, to us, it has the most complex flavors of the three. According to the technical sheet, this wine is a blend of five Pinot Noir clones. Fermentation took place in stainless steel with aging in new and used French and American oak for 6 months.
2013 Windrun Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir — medium ruby in the glass with dark berry and earthy aromas. The flavors follow the aromas with dark berry fruit, damp earth, mushrooms and berry bramble. The flavors finish with tart fruit and tannins that have a bit more grip and texture. 14.3% abv. $33.
This wine is the darkest and biggest of the group but still made in a restrained style. It’s really juicy and delicious. Sourced from the Lafond Vineyard, and also a blend of five Pinot Noir clones, the wine was fermented in open top tanks with wood aging for 10 months in neutral oak puncheons (500-liter barrels.)
The Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir paired best with our chicken cacciatore. They were a perfect match for the hearty flavors of the chicken stew. The elegance of the San Luis Obispo Pinot Noir was lost in the flavors of the chicken cacciatore. A better pairing might have been pork medallions in a creamy mushroom sauce. But, all was not lost. We found it paired nicely with the warmth of a fire in the fireplace after dinner.
Relationships in winemaking must be especially important when making wine as a négociant. Establishing the provenance of wine you purchase, blend and bottle as your own is essential. Surely, that depends upon relationships with other winemakers and are established over time. I would think a highly-regarded winemaker working nearly forty years in a region would be in just such a position. Add a group of owners with many years of experience in the same wine region and I think you have the recipe for successful winemaking. That certainly seems to be the case with the wines we tasted from Windrun Vintners & Négociants.
Delicious wine, made in a restrained style and at a good value. That’s what these three Pinot Noirs from Windrun Vintners & Négociants demonstrate to me. I’m so glad Scott and his wife asked to share a table with me on that brilliant morning in San Francisco’s Union Square. Thank you for the interesting conversation and the delicious samples of your wine.
Their wines are distributed nationally and available on their website. Assuming you are of legal drinking age, and live in a state that allows wine to be shipped your door, their wines can come to you. One way or the other, I hope you find these wines from Windrun Vintners & Négociants.