A New Pinot in Town: Cru Wines

cru winesI, like so many others, am in love with pinot noir. Its finickiness, its ability to reflect its roots and deliver varying styles remind me of, well, me (in a cute, lovable way of course). One thing I’ve noticed in my nine years of writing about wine is that the best pinot comes from boutique wineries. It’s not that larger entities can’t make good pinot (Erath, Bogle, La Crema) it’s that making good pinot on a large scale requires steadfast patience, a trait many large, profit-hungry companies don’t possess. This grape is belligerent to grow, difficult to make and expensive to produce. It resists any attempt at mass production, thus smaller batches generally turn out better juice.

So it’s cool when I discover a new, small pinot-loving (well, worshiping) winery like Cru Wines. I literally stumbled across them at a tasting event in Monterey, California. And now their bottles have finally arrived in my home state of Florida, so it was high time I reached out to Cru’s winemaker, Ken Post, to hear his vision of pinot’s future.

Ken believes in “terroir” (what is this?) or a “sense of place” for each plot of land, so Cru buys all their grapes. Every vineyard and wine region expresses a different flavor in the grapes (even, in my experience, from row to row within a vineyard), and this buying habit allows Cru to focus on the winemaking process and be choosy about their fruit. Their pinot noir grapes hail mostly from Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara and from Monterey, two less expensive yet under-rated regions. This practice allows people like me and you to afford the juice.

Cru is the pinot and chardonnay branch of a family of wineries called Mariposa Wines, and Ken makes all their wines (other brands are blend-focused Carmichael and region-focused Yosemite View). But pinot remains his favorite, mainly because it’s the most challenging. From the vineyard to fermentation, you have to be “spot on”. He says it’s a “delicate wine to work with. But that’s what makes it exciting. You have to babysit it 24/7… it’s a not a wine you can turn your back on and, because of that, you develop a love affair with it.” So pinot is the damsel in distress of vino… no wonder so many men are gaga over it.

I asked Ken if he thinks the post-Sideways pinot obsession (and the subsequent, offensive hike in cost) has run its course. He convincingly believes pinot noir has settled down in terms of price due to the economy… wineries are struggling right now so few can afford to be greedy. In other words, he thinks it’s a pinot buyer’s market.

One of the things I like about Cru is that they don’t aspire to be huge. 20,000 case wine production is their goal; they’re at 10,000 now (to give a comparison, Kendall Jackson produces almost two million cases). A respectable number that should allow high quality to reign. And with good people who care, it shouldn’t falter.

Currently, Cru Wines (and their brethren) are available for sale in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, North Carolina, Oregon, New York and California. If you don’t see them on the shelves, ask for them by name and a friendly indie retailer can hook you up with some of their great stuff.
Found in Tampa Bay at: The Grapevine at Westchase and International Cellars in Oldsmar.

Cru 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Light-bodied and juicy, cherry, cranberry and slightly earthy. Just a touch of vanilla from the French oak with easy-going acidity and mild tannins. Sweetness = 1 (out of 10). 3.5 stars. $35-ish.

Cru 2007 Montage Pinot Noir Central Coast Medium-bodied, loaded with red cherry, cranberry and laced with vanilla cream. Not too earthy but oak influence is definitely evident. You’ll experience the tannins but they’re not super noticeable. Well balanced, quite delicious and fantastic juice for the price. Sweetness = 1 (out of 10). 4 stars.  $20- ish.

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