A Pinot Noir Worth Buying By the Case

Castle Rock Pinot Noir, 2014
Mendocino County, California, $12.99

Castle Rock Pinot Noir got my attention a month or so ago when I found a bottle on sale and decided to give it a try.

For $10.99, I expected a California Pinot Noir like many in that price range, drinkable, but bland and mass produced without much attention to detail. I was pleasantly surprised and felt like I was drinking a wine much higher on the price chain.

Pinot Noir grapes are tricky to make good wine out of, and it’s even harder to make wines that get the most out of the grapes and develop their potential for complex flavors and aromas.

With Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir, winemaker Eric Laumann has produced an elegant, medium-bodied wine full of delicate floral aromas and red berry flavors that linger into a smooth, long finish. It tastes like it should cost $10 or $15 more than it does.

Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir has garnered national awards and has been recognized regularly by national wine writers for its excellent value. Recently, Wine Spectator gave the Pinot Noir a score of 88 out of 100, and noted that it is a wine that should be purchased by the case and stocked for everyday drinking.

Greg Popovich, not to be confused with the outspoken NBA San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, started Castle Rock in 1994 with the idea of making high-quality wines at affordable prices.

He has succeeded according to a 2014 article in Advisor, an online wine industry publication.

“Twenty years and nearly 5 million cases of wine later, the winery has never compromised on either its quality principles or the affordability of its wines, which are typically sold at retail at prices in the range of $9 to $15 a bottle,” the article says.

To meet his goal, Popovich came up with an unusual, yet simple, business plan: Don’t own anything.

Popovich, who has more than 35 years in the wine business and a strong marketing background, and his partner and chief operating officer, Chris Noble, have long-term contracts with about 40 high-quality grape growers in California, Washington and Oregon. They lease state-of-the-art winery space in three locations such as the Francis Ford Coppola facility in Geyserville, Calif., where Laumann oversees the crushing of the grapes and the aging of the wine.

The company employs 11 people. The savings in overhead is used to keep wine prices down and quality high, Popovich says on the company website.

The formula appears to be working, and Castle Rock is approaching the production of 1 million cases a year and becoming one of the 20 largest wine companies in the country.

Laumann joined the company a couple of years ago, bringing 30 years experience as a winemaker with such companies as the Kendall Jackson Winery, Chalone Wine Group and Bonnie Doon Vineyard. Apparently, his presence is being felt. Recent reviews of the company’s wines have noted that the offerings have gotten even better.

Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir is produced from grapes grown near the headwaters of the Russian River in northern California, an area with a climate that’s similar to the Burgundy region of France, where Pinot Noir was first established. Summers are warm in the fertile river valley, springs are cool and the falls are crisp, all conditions that are ideal for growing Pinot Noir, the company’s website says.

My wife, Sandy, and I had Castle Rock Pinot Noir recently with a spicy chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, and it was an excellent match. The website notes that Pinot Noir is food friendly and suggests trying the wine with Italian basil sausage and lentil soup with roasted garlic or with orange and herb marinated pork tenderloin grilled on a cedar plank. Pinot Noir is a good choice for meals with lots of different dishes, so think of pairing it with winter holiday feasts or summer potluck gatherings.

Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir is widely available, the company produces more than 80,000 cases, and it frequently goes on sale. This is a wine that’s good to have on hand for every day as well as special occasions. It’s a great bargain that will impress your wine-savvy friends.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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