The Pinot family of wine grapes includes more clonal variations than any other grape variety; it is genetically unstable and there are currently six cultivated sub-varieties. The Gris variant was a mutation of Pinot Noir which occurred in a vineyard during the middle ages, most likely in Burgundy. True-to-variety vines are always must be propagated from budwood of an existing vine, so centuries ago a vigneron must have recognized that the fruit from this vine was different and found it appealing; the slightly larger clusters produce more wine and the higher acidity adds zip to the less acidic Pinot Noir. Planting of this grey Pinot expanded and eventually became a major variety in Alsace, Germany and northeast Italy.
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We are careful not to over-irrigate, so Gerardo uses a pressure chamber to measure plant water tension by applying pressure to a leaf and stem in an airtight chamber. The pressure required to force water out of the leaf's stem is equal to the vine's water potential. As soil moisture is depleted, more tension develops in the vine, requiring more pressure to force water out of the leaf.
Manuel, Navarro's cellar master, preparing to rack wine from a temperature-controlled oak oval. After the first five or six years these large casks impart no oak flavors but the beauty of aging in wood casks—as opposed to stainless steel—is the ability to age wines on the yeast for extended periods of time, building roundness and mouthfeel. The ovals on the left are Navarro's oldest; note the oak doors as compared to the stainless-steel doors on the right. Hugel Winery in Alsace still ages wine in an oak cask that was built in 1715.
Skin color at harvest varies. The Gris grapes in the photo above received very little direct sunlight and the berries' skins are dark purple; berries grown in direct sunlight are lighter in color—reddish—and the skins definitely more astringent. We harvest grapes for our Grigio version less ripe than we do for the Gris bottling to mimic the Italian style of higher acidity with refreshing herbal flavors. In order to provide plenty of blending options for this bottling we harvested five vineyard lots with sugars ranging from 21.5° Brix to 24.4° Brix. The wine from each vineyard lot was cool-fermented then aged sur lie in seasoned French oak ovals for five months. The flavors suggest quince, lime and spring rain framed by racy acidity. In the 2019 California State Fair it was judged a Double Gold Medal winner, Best of California and rated 99.
A ripe Pinot Gris cluster on the right and a ripe Pinot Noir cluster on the left. The leaves and the growth of both vines are so similar that fruit coloration is the main characteristic that sets the two apart; even at harvest it can be difficult to differentiate between these two varieties.