by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Mark and Jeff Pisoni grew up in an agricultural family. Their grandfather farmed fruit in the Salinas Valley in 1952, but their father was determined to grow vineyards and bought a ranch in the rugged Santa Lucia Highlands. Today, he has turned over much of the operation to Mark, the vineyard manger, and Jeff, the winemaker for Pisoni Family Vineyards.
Although you would think that sibling rivalry would lead to disagreements between the grape grower and the winemaker, the brothers say the relationship is as harmonious as their wines. Mark is happiest walking the vineyards and eagerly hands off the winemaking to his brother.
“If you look at my shoes, I’m a real farmer,” Mark (pictured right) said. “We’re very authentic – it is what you get with us.”
Real indeed. In a business that is often driven by rich retirees from big tech or celebrities who lend only their name to a wine, it is refreshing to still see a multi-generational family making wine from vineyard to bottle.
The Pisoni family has embraced sustainability, which has earned them the 2020 Green Medal award for Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership. A two-acre insectary of beneficial insects is located in the middle of the vineyard to enhance biodiversity. That’s pretty cool.
Jeff said the wines showed a remarkable change after sustainability was introduced.
“The wine has more energy, a vibrant natural acidity. The soils are more alive than they ever have been. That’s how I identify that I’m doing the right thing,” he said.
The Pisonis are focused on pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah. The 2020 Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir ($19) is an exceptional bottle of sunshine – watermelon and nectarine aromas followed by peach and strawberry flavors with good acidity. We liked the texture of this special wine, which Jeff attributes to the use of neutral oak barrels. Once a wine made as a lark, the rosé is now a serious endeavor for them. A dollar of every bottle sold is donated to breast cancer aid and research.
We liked the 2019 Lucia Chardonnay ($45), another nicely textured wine with bright apple, pear and citrus notes with a kiss of oak flavors.
Pinot noir is the bell-ringer in the family’s portfolio. The 2019 Lucia Pinot Noir ($45) out-delivers the cost, which, in today’s market, is very reasonable in this category. Black cherries and spice dominate this expressive wine.
Gerard Bertrand is eager to spread the word that Languedoc-Roussillon, despite being the largest wine producing region in the world, is often the most forgotten. He also is a fervent supporter of biodynamic farming, a practice he embodies in an extraordinary effort to create unusual blends that burst with flavor.
Bertrand’s enthusiasm and experience are steeped in history. He started his education alongside his father in 1975 in the vineyards of the Villenmajou Estate in Corbieres. When his father died in an accident in 1987, he assumed management of the estate. His father emphasized an attention to detail, a lesson Gerard has adopted in practicing biodynamic farming.
It was a farming practice he said changed his life. “Biodynamic farming is holistic medicine on a plant.”
He said when he started to make wine he saw so much chemical being added.
“I decided then it was important to change,” he said. He introduced biodynamic practices to two acres and kept expanding it to his entire estate of 2,000 acres. “I saw changes in two years,” he said.
He cited more acidity, freshness, minerality and aging potential as the positive changes.
Bertrand is using the same classic grape varieties, but each property gives the wine its own range of terroir-inspired flavors. His 2017 Clos D’Ora -- a blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre and carignan – is a world-class wine with great complexity but at $250 a bottle, not everyone can afford it.
On the other hand, there is an extensive selection of inexpensive wines that over deliver in quality.
Bertrand’s 2020 Change Sauvignon Blanc ($15) demonstrates the freshness that comes from organic farming. Citrus and grapefruit notes abound in the nose and mouth. The 2020 Naturae Chardonnay ($18) tastes like a $50 chardonnay. Organic, sulfite free, certified vegan and packed with citrus and tropical fruit flavors. It has good acidity but is still lush in mouth-filling texture.
The Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) also over delivers. Certified vegan, it has fresh and bright blackberry flavors.
Bertrand makes a series of rosés that rival anything coming from Provence. The 2020 Source of Joy Rosé, new to the lineup, is a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. “Joy” indeed: expressive red fruit aromas with strawberry and cherry flavors, good acidity and a hint of licorice.
Also new is Bertrand’s Orange Gold, a modern version of Georgia’s famous orange wines. It is an intriguing blend of chardonnay, muscat, viognier, chenin, grenache blanc, mauzac and roussanne. It has exquisite apricot and white peach flavors with a hint of nuts.
Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Thelema Mountain Vineyards Stellenbosch South Africa 2015 ($35). A beautifully crafted cabernet sauvignon that presents ripe cassis and blackberry fruit and a hint of elegant oak from 18 months in French barrels (45 percent new). Try now or age easily for at least 5 years.
Rabble Red Blend Paso Robles 2019 ($16). Crafted from a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah, this well-priced blend offers agreeable ripe berry notes as well as a pleasant cranberry-like tartness that enlightens the palate.
As Sortes Rafael Palacios Valdeorras Spain 2017 ($60). Okay, this wine is expensive but wait until you taste it. One of the best white wines we have tasted this year. It is a 100-percent godello from a frost damaged vintage that lowered yields. Bright peach and citrus notes proceed to a lovely creamy mouth feel and finish. Amazingly good.