Californian Pinot Noir and Barbera from 1977


In the late 1970s, during the height of the American wine boom, Sebastiani was the volume leader in the wine production for Sonoma. Sebastiani was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani but it was his son August Sebastiani who saw the winery through Prohibition and the rise of the California wine industry.  Much of the production was jug wine but premium wine was produced as well.  The general emphasis on varietals meant that the Barbera and Zinfandel offerings were regarded with popularity which is precisely why I opened the 1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California.  This was among the last vintages produced by August Sebastiani who passed away in 1980.  August Sebastiani did not fully adopt stainless steel nor French oak rather it was his two sons who began the transition to modernity in the 1970s.  You can imagine August Sebastiani’s hand in making this wine for there is nothing modern tasting about this bottle of Barbera.  It smells and tastes of sweaty leather, though is sweeter in the mouth.  It reminds me of the 1960s Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignons.  It is quite forward until it fades so drink rapidly once you pop the cork.

Buena Vista Winery is another historic winery in Sonoma but it predates Sebastiani by some 50 years.  When General Charles de Gaulle visited America in 1960 he was served both French and American wines with his meals. For his meal of roast fillet of beef with truffle sauce he was served Buena Vista, Pinot Noir.  This is quite amazing given that in the 1960s and 1970s Pinot Noir was considered “difficult and temperamental” to grow in California. Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, concluded that in California this varietal  produced less “Pinot characteristics”.  Pinot Noir ripens early and given the widespread warmth and sun of California very few areas were regarded as suitably cool enough for proper ripening.  After tasting through several dozen Californian Pinot Noirs, he concluded that while the 1968 Buena Vista was a “very good glass of wine” it had less of the Pinot Noir characteristic he looked for.

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I pop and pour most old wine which I have not drunk before.  In retrospect I should have decanted the 1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma.  This is a robust wine that with air shows more blue fruit and substantial structure evocative of the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon.  This may not be surprising for John Winthrop Haeger writes in North American Pinot Noir (2004) that between 1969 and 1971 Buena Vista planted 84 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon near Pinot Noir.  I followed the wine over several hours and in the process, kicked up a fair amount of sediment which contributed to a loss of focus.  I have the suspicion that my mishandling did not allow this wine to show its best.  I will be sure to write about the next decanted bottle.

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1977 Sebastiani, Barbera, Proprietor’s Reserve, Northern California
Alcohol 12.6%.   There is an aromatic nose of sweaty leather.  In the mouth is a big wine of sweet flavors, leather, and supportive oak.  It is evocative of other Sebastiani wines from the 1960s and 1970s except that it faded within one hour.  ** Now.

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1977 Buena Vista Winery, Haraszthy Cellars, Pinot Noir, Cask 22, Sonoma
Alcohol 12.5%.  The color is a medium, cranberry garnet.  The nose is sweet and sweaty, evocative of sweet, old wood.  In the mouth is a soft start before menthol fresh flavors supported by a fine vein of acidity. The old-school flavor becomes bluer with air, taking on body with a good, ethereal finish.  It is a fairly substantial wine which still has supportive, dry structure that coats the gums.  It tastes like a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  **(*) Now – 2022.

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