Raen Vineyards produce world-class Pinot Noir on California's cool Sonoma Coast. We met the winemaker in London earlier this month to taste their 2021 vintage releases, which were quite new to us. We were immediately taken with the cool, marine-style 2021 Fort Ross Seaview 'Sea Field' (98 points, JS) and the more woodland-influenced 2021 Royal St. Robert Cuvée (97-98 points, JS).
The winemaker was a thoughtful young man, as cool as his wines, with a laid-back surfer-vibe. Only at the end of the meeting did we realise this was Carlo Mondavi, grandson of Robert and son of Tim Mondavi, two Californian wine legends.
It's a good sign that the wines spoke for themselves, the epitome of the cooler style of winemaking we have been hoping for from California for a long time. I have been a frequent visitor since the late '90s and love the area, but have always regretted that the wines often have such high levels of ripeness and new oak. It has taken a while but, finally, coastal areas like the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Rita Hills are making wonderfully fresh, balanced wines.
Climatic zones in California are demarcated by proximity to the Pacific, rather than by how far north or south they lie and Sonoma Coast is quite different from inland areas of Sonoma like Alexander Valley. With endless beaches and headlands, the coastline here feels more Cornish than Californian.
For some years Carlo was the black sheep of the family, making a living as a professional snowboarder, before his return to winemaking. He and his brother Dante spent years searching for suitable vineyards to make Burgundian-style Pinot Noirs. Tasting the 2021s, it feels like they have successfully broken the family mold.
The 2021 Royal St Robert has masses of elegance, floral and woodland aromas and layered complexity, while the 2021 Fort Ross Seaview 'Seafield' Vineyard Pinot Noir is like tasting the essence of the coastline, with a cool austerity and perfumed but high-toned fruit. Despite Burgundian tropes, Raen's wines have a distinctive Sonoma character which we may see more of in time, as other producers explore the terroirs here.
As premier and grand cru burgundy prices rise, the value equation for high-quality Californian Pinot Noir is changing and Carlo's wines suddenly seem well-priced. We will be offering more wines from 'cool' California over the next couple of weeks, but Raen's 2021 Pinot Noirs are a great place to start.
Offered in bond, available May 2023.