Pinot Noir

Difficult Grape, Great Wine

by Phillip Holland & Melvyn Master

Young Pinot Noir Grapes

Young Pinot Noir grapes budding out on the vine

Most of us – whether our pocketbook allowed it or not – have gone down the rabbit hole of Pinot Noir at some point in our wine appreciation journey.  While your first Pinot Noir may have been a simple, light, and fruity number from a big name California winery, at some point someone gave you a glass of fine Pinot from Burgundy, California or Oregon and everything changed in an instant.

Mature Pinot Noir grapes

Mature Pinot Noir grapes ready for harvest

It was magical – remember? It was at once delicate and brooding, a blend of subtle flavors that were more than the sum of their parts; almost ethereal. So why doesn’t every producer make wine like this?  You’d certainly drink Pinot Noir every night if so, right?  If you asked your friend that introduced you to that first amazing Pinot experience and how much they paid for the privilege, you’d understand why.  Pinot Noir, and especially Burgundy from France, is some of the most expensive wine on the market.

The reason is because Pinot Noir is one of the hardest grapes to grow in the wine world.  A combination of factors makes this finicky grape a farmer’s headache during the growing season.  Pinot Noir’s thin skin, tight clusters and late ripening all combine as obstacles.

Pinot Noir grapes ready for pressing!

Pinot Noir grapes ready for pressing!

The skin of a Pinot Noir Grape is one of the thinnest in the vineyard.  This thin skin imparts less color and tannin than sister varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. It also makes it extremely susceptible to damaging temperature fluctuations while on the vine, easily ruining the grapes before they are ripened – and that’s if it doesn’t fall to disease due to its tight clusters!

Pinot Noir does much better in cooler climates and often does best in sites that don’t experience abundant sunshine throughout the year.  Since it doesn’t see the amount of sun that counterparts in places like Spain and Italy see, it takes much longer for the Pinot Noir grapes to ripen fully and be ready for harvest.  So the grapes stay on the vine longer than most, and every day is a gamble with finicky Pinot Noir.

As a result of all these factors, Pinot Noir can be very light in body and color and as a result many of the lower priced Pinot wines on the market are blended with other bigger darker varietals such as Zinfandel or Syrah. This may make a better looking wine but it is NOT pure Pinot Noir.

At Master Wines, we make two different Pinot Noirs – one from California, one from France.


Both wines are 100% Pinot Noir.

Our “Mission Grove” Pinot Noir from California features a blend of grapes from two separate regions – 60% from Clarksburg, 40% from Monterey.  This allows us to capture the best of both terroirs without breaking the bank – cooler average temperatures in Clarksburg allow a nice, even ripening profile; more sun in Monterey gives us a boost in fruit concentration that the American market prefers.

Our French Pinot, Le Charmel Pinot Noir, comes from a traditionally cooler area of the Languedoc right against the Pyrenees named Limoux.  In this case, we mitigate the cooler temperatures and sunlight with advanced pruning methods that allow more sunlight to reach the grapes and leaves underneath the top canopy, ensuring adequate ripening throughout the growing season.

In both cases, we use modern methods of wine making to extract the most flavor from our grapes, giving you a Pinot Noir that drinks far above its modest price tag.

While we know our family wines will never compete with the Burgundy blockbusters, we’d be happy to share our favorites with you.  We hope you continue to enjoy Pinot Noir no matter the price point, as there are always values to be found in the world of wine!