Wren Hop Vineyards | Crafting Pinot for Cab Lovers
Google “Wren Hop” and amongst the results is Google’s own description as a ‘Place of Worship’. So you might understand my confusion after looking for directions to a winery that was the top recommendation of Nora Mahan, a well-connected travel concierge for American Express’ destination club Inspirato.
While Wren Hop Vineyards might not be a place of worship in the traditional sense, you might not find this to be such a gross mischaracterization after you visit and taste through their portfolio. To be frank… I’d be surprised if you didn’t find yourself worshiping their Pinot Noirs.
Founded by ad-executive turned vintner James McDonough along with his wine-obsessed father James McDonough Sr., Wren Hop Vineyards was established in 2008 with the acquisition of an existing 10 acre hillside parcel with Northeast facing exposure planted with multiple Dijon clones (bio-dynamically farmed 667, 777, 115 and Swan clones) of Pinot Noir.
The parcel was owned by a retired couple who didn’t even drink wine – though they recognized the the potential in this special parcel that would eventually attract the elusive and secretive bird for which Wren Hop Vineyards would be named after.
As James McDonough Senior’s engineering firm grew and developed, so did his palate and taste for world-class wine. Gone were the days of cheap jug wine – each new business deal was commemorated with the likes of Chateauneuf du Pape or Amarone. The father and son team would take turns sharing in new wine discoveries – eventually leading to discussion of finding their own vineyards site.
Originally from Chicago, the McDonough’s would eventually be drawn to this quietly tucked away paradise located in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley by their mutual love of wine and desire to craft their own ‘grand cru’ wine brand: Wren Hop Vineyards.
Wren Hop Vineyards Daughters of Earth Pinot Noir 2012: Produced from 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Goldrock Ridge Vineyards on Sonoma Coast, it pours a barely translucent, deep garnet red. The exuberant and complex nose reveals a bouquet of pomegranate, sour cherry, rose petal, smoke, anise, herbs and sweet tobacco. The mouthfeel is pure, rich and silky with flavors of raspberry and spicy black cherry further nuanced by notes of forest floor, black tea, tobacco and a measure of well-integrated sweet oak. This has solid persistence with a finish that lingers for 20+ seconds. It’s at once opulent and very finessed. I’m very surprised how elegantly this carries 14.9% ABV – it is so well integrated you would never know it’s that high.
Score: 95 | Price: $68
Wren Hop Vineyards Royalty in Exile Pinot Noir 2012: Also 100% Pinot Noir but produced entirely from the hillside Wren Hop Vineyard Estate in the Russian River Valley AVA, it pours a dark garnet red that registers a few shades lighter than the Daughters of Earth. The nose is rich and seductive with aromas of black raspberry and dense black cherry enveloped in warm brown spices, red flowers, caramelized vanilla and earth. In the mouth, this full-throttle expression of Pinot Noir delivers generous dark fruit in a spicy, silky smooth package with plenty of extract. The toasty fruit flavors are further nuanced by notes of earth, rhubarb and clove. It has excellent length and texture, though was showing some heat when I tasted today (14.4% ABV) – and I don’t recall that being the case when I tasted at the winery. Perhaps more time in bottle or an even longer decant would serve this well. This is a Cabernet lover’s Pinot and if this is what exile tastes like – then send me away!
Score: 93 | Price: $68
It is entirely too often that quality is confused with quality marketing – and I wouldn’t blame you for being suspicious when a veteran advertising executive creates his own wine label with exquisitely executed, award-winning packaging. Luckily I’m here to say that that in this case the exquisite packaging is merely complementary to its exquisite contents.
If you think that $68 is expensive for Pinot Noir, consider that these wines are sourced from top vineyards in an intensively selective hands-on approach resulting in minuscule production numbers (merely 175-275 cases per wine) and see expensive 100% new French oak aging (around 14 months each before bottling). The resulting wines are powerful yet elegant and expressive.
Dare I suggest that Wren Hop’s Pinot Noirs outclass many of the significantly more expensive Grand Cru Burgundies I recently tasted at the Terroirs & Signatures de Bourgogne tasting in Washington D.C.? I do. But don’t take my word for it (or the folks at Google, who have obviously been and loved it!) – schedule a visit yourself and be the only person or group being tended to on this quaint Sonoma estate.
The Specifics | Wren Hop Vineyards
Location: 3701 Mark West Station Road, Windsor, CA 95492
Tasting Fee: $40 | Waived with 3 bottle purchase, per person
Included in the Tasting: A selection of 5 current release wines paired with delicious, bespoke, locally produced cookies by Batch & Barrel.
Wine Prices: $48-$68
Total Production: ~ 900 to 1,600 cases annually.
Appointment Required? A must – and technically visits to Wren Hop are only for mailing list members but e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit – I doubt you won’t want to join the mailing list after your tasting.
Time to Allot: Approximately 75 – 90 minutes
Should You Go? Without a doubt… If you’re a fan of world-class Pinot Noir then you owe it to yourself to visit Wren Hop Vineyards. This tiny property is producing big wines of class and substance and my bet is on it not remaining under-the-radar for too long.
Fun Facts | Wren Hop Vineyards
- The Wren is a very secretive bird that has been the inspiration for much great Irish folklore – it is considered lucky to even see it, and it happens to frequent the Wren Hop estate.
- Russell Bevan is the current consulting winemaker, with Dan Fishman of Donum Estate serving as assistant winemaker with the intent to transition to lead winemaker with the release of the 2014 vintage.
- Jackson Family Wines recently acquired nearby and surrounding vineyards to produce wines under their upscale Spire Collection label.
- Familiar with the hit drama television series Mad Men? Founder James McDonough worked at the marketing firm that inspired its creation.
- After his time in New York, he moved to San Francisco and almost immediately began working on wine-related accounts. He then had an invaluable behind the scene perspective into the working of the wine business.
- While working his day job, James attended classes at UC Davis and the Culinary Institute of America. He totally immersed himself in the wine world before eventually acquiring the site that would become Wren Hop Vineyards.
- Their initial goal was to “…make the best single-vineyard wines from cool weather sites in Sonoma we could find.”
- Their estate vineyard is produced organically with bio-dynamic practices.
- James was told initially told by his printers that his beautiful wrap-around labels could not be done. Since then, the labels have won regional recognition as the best new brand label as well as international acclaim.
- Each vintage the label art and name of the wine changes.
For more information about Wren Hop Vineyards, click here.
**Wines provided as samples for purposes of review. No consideration was received for writing this article.