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Kathleen Inman pours her Klopp Vineyard Pinot for me to taste

GRATON, Ca. – There is nothing like talking to winemakers, winery owners, and vineyard managers/owners to really learn about wine.

Ted Klopp, Kathleen Inman, and Merry Edwards bring all the components together to make some of California’s Russian River Valley’s best Pinot Noir.

Klopp pulls a barrel samle for us to taste.

Thursday morning I tasted the wines of Merry Edwards, who has an almost cult-like following for her small production Pinot Noir and almost magical Sauv Blanc. The next visit was with Kathleen Inman at Inman Family Wines. Then in the afternoon Ted Klopp shared a couple of hours talking about grape growing and working with winemakers to make the best wines possible.

Our first stop was at the Merry Edwards winer at Graton. Ron Hayes, who  has worked with Edwards for nine years, poured the wines and shared his considerable wine knowledge. The entry level Russian River Valley Pinot ($42) was nicely balanced, medium to light bodied Pinot. The Meredith Estate Pinot ($57) was the powerhouse of the lineup. It had bold Pinot fruit, a smooth mid-palate for powerful wine, and a lingering finish. The 2009 Klopp Ranch Pinot ($57) had a little less power but a longer finish – my favorite of the line up. We tasted an Olivet Lane Pinot ($60) that was similar in elegance and style to the Klopp.

Ron also pulled a 2007 Tobias Glen Pinot ($54) to show the wine’s aging ability. He suggested the entire lineup would age nicely for up to 10 years. The Tobias was also a winner with a soft balanced Pinot palate with a very Burgundian mouth feel.

Obviously, these are not value wines. This is boutique wine made by one of California’s most honored, recognized, and darn best winemakers. The product proves it. Edwards has a reputation for meticulous attention to detail. In our afternoon visit to Klopp, he talked about Edwards frequent visits to the vines to check on growth, taste fruit, and give Ted all the feedback necessary worth of Pinot Noir at these prices.

The second stop Inman Wines with owner/winemaker Kathleen Inman. A charming host and winemaker/grower concerned about sustainability and the environment, poured her lighter style Pinots for us. We tasted several of her wines and a couple of those choices in the 07 and 08 vintage. She buys grapes from Ted Klopp and grows her own in the adjacent Olivet Grange Vineyard. I liked both styles and but found the Klopp Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot a bit more to my taste. The fruit was slightly bigger but all of her Pinots were well made with silky mouthfeel an a beautiful finish. Inman’s Pinots all sell at the $56 price point.

I liked Inman for her modest and practical approach to running a winery. She farms with sustainable methods, adds very little sulfite and only if necessary. She’s not interested in being certified, she’s interested in making wine the right way and taking care of the environment. She built her winery and small tasting room using totally recycled materials. She could have had the building certified for it’s unique use of materials, like recycled car steel, for the siding but again didn’t want to pay the thousands of dollars for certification. The point for Kathleen is simply to do things the right way.

Talking grapes and wine with Ted Klopp

Klopp was generous, knowledge, and funny during our two-hour afternoon visit. A native of the Midwest and Wabash College graduate spent most of his career in higher education at Marin College in California until changing lifestyles.

He bought the ranch north of Graton and inherited apple and pear trees. Neighbors, consultants and friends told him he would be ‘crazy’ if he didn’t plant vines. He took their advice and now supplies multiple wineries. He makes a little wine at home himself we sipped while sitting on a nice porch with a beautiful vineyard view.

Klopp loves that Merry Edwards comes by regularly to check the crop. He appreciates Inman’s questions about his farming practices.

I have enough material for stand alone newspaper columns on Klopp and Inman. I hope to have those up in the very near future.

Late in the afternoon we visited Arista Winery near the river and tasted through their very well done Pinot Noir. We didn’t think much  of the wine made from the Russian River Valley fruit but loved the Russian River valley line and one line made with grapes from Mendocino County.

Rochioli, an iconic name in California Pinot, was not disappointing though some might be a bit put off if they don’t know about the winery in advance. They make some of the best high end Pinot in the U.S. They only pour three wines in the tasting room. We tasted Chardonnay, a nice Pinot Rose’, and a single Pinot Noir. Most of their Pinot Noir wines are reserved for club members. It’s a club that has a long waiting list just to BUY their wines. It’s not Pinot for today or tomorrow – it’s a bottle you buy and put a way a couple of years to enjoy at it’s best.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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