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Learning to dance with pinot noir

How does one choreograph pinot noir?

Greg Morthole, winemaker of Rodney Strong Wine Estates, says it's tricky.

“Making pinot noir is perhaps a little more of a sophisticated dance, as the classy grape wants to show you a few moves, even as you are attempting to lead,” Morthole said. “Sometimes it steps on your toes. Sometimes pinot seems to not take direction very well.”

Morthole is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Davis Bynum, 2011 Jane's Vineyard Garfield Block, Russian River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Noir at $55.

It's a standout — tangy with explosive cherry/berry fruit and notes of herbs, cinnamon and pepper. It has bright acidity and a lingering finish.

In 2007, the Klein family, which owns Rodney Strong Wine Estates, purchased Davis Bynum's brand, and Morthole's job is to produce Davis Bynum and the Rodney Strong reserve and single vineyard wines.

These wines are produced at Healdsburg's Rodney Strong winery in the Artisan Cellar, an area once referred to as “a winery within a winery.” Here, boutique winemaking is in full swing, with smaller batches of wine pampered by Morthole and consulting winemaker David Ramey.

“I make the wines with David Ramey's consultation, but I also listen to Davis Bynum's perspective, his historical accounts of winemaking and grape growing, with particular attention on pinot noir,” Morthole said.

Bynum, now 88, was the founding vintner of the brand and has referred to himself as “a living relic.”

Bynum made the very first single-vineyard Russian River pinot noir back in 1973 from the Rochioli vineyard; this harvest marks the 40th anniversary of that historic event.

Morthole considers himself lucky to be following Bynum's lead, particularly because he wasn't always certain of his path.

“One evening I had an absolutely sleepless night thinking about my life, all the wines that I had tasted and enjoyed, and what I really wanted to do,” Morthole said. “I was certain, at some point in the darkness of that night, that I had to find a path that would lead into winemaking. I couldn't wait to wake up and get going, but it was one of the longest nights of my life. ”

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