Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines are made from the same grape; the first name is used in France and the second in Italy. Since Navarro specializes in Alsatian varieties we usually make a Pinot Gris in name and style but in 2006 we made both. Most of Navarro's Pinot Gris is produced from estate grown grapes but we do purchase additional fruit from three other family-run vineyards. We supplemented our own grapes because from 2001 through 2005 the yields on this temperamental variety kept diminishing in every vineyard block. We knew Anderson Valley Pinot Gris made exceptional wine but we wondered if it could ever be profitable with such miserly yields. In 2006 however, unlike the prior four vintages, every grower and every field of Pinot Gris had a bountiful crop and our casks were overflowing. After blending up our usual Anderson Valley Pinot Gris, we still had a matching amount in cask. We even had extra wine leftover from two of the best lots! We normally sell off excess wine to other wineries but these lots were just delicious and the ripe fruit flavors reminded us of Pinot Grigio from Collio.
The layout of Navarro's hillside Middle Ridge vineyard looks like the boot of Italy kicking a soccer ball. How appropriate that Pinot Grigio is planted in the upper half, the same location as Collio. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Pinot Gris fell into disfavor in Champagne and Burgundy because of its inability to produce a reliable crop. It appears we have a similar problem in Anderson Valley today.
In preparation for blending this wine, we tasted eight 2005 Pinot Grigios from Italy. Navarro's 2006 bottling is more like Pinot Grigio from Collio or Friuli. It's full with ripe fruit flavors rather than the lighter, more herbal and lemony Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige.
We blended up a Pinot Grigio style bottling to tide us over until the November release of 2006 Pinot Gris, since the '05 has already sold out. This is a refreshing wine with flavors of white peach, tangerine and a crisp citrusy finish. At $16.00 it's a delightful bargain.
The upper part of the Middle Ridge is steep and the vines usually sit above the morning fog. In Germany Pinot Gris is named Ruländer and produces one of country's richest wines, reminiscent of white Burgundy. Under similar conditions it ripens better than Riesling with higher must weights, typically 2.5° Brix more sugar, but the varietal's modest yield precludes it from being more widely planted.