Dunstan Wines first crossed my radar screen at the 2011 Pinot Days event in Santa Monica California, where 100+ premium wineries pour their latest and greatest. Even among all the stellar participants, Dunstan were way at the top of the list, besting many producers I love and had been anticipating tasting for weeks (not naming any names.)
I remember from that tasting that their Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir was absolutely lovely, managing to be both spicy and elegant all at once. But the real revelation was the Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, that Chris snuck out from an ice bucket behind the bar (These were PINOT days after all) recognizing a kindred spirit, probably because I mentioned my familiarity with the Durell property from Kistler (an extravagance I will allow myself occasionally because their chardonnays are apparently made of equal parts grapes and angel’s tears.)
As much as I enjoyed the pinot, the chardonnay was absolutely amazing. In the same league as the Kistler, at a far more accessible price point ($40.) This lead me to believe there had do be something going on with those grapes. So, The Mister in tow, we went to investigate, and catch up with Chris again, almost two years later, on his blessed turf.
Looking out from the porch onto the Durell Vineyard with a glass of the 2010 Dunstan Durell Chardonnay in hand is one of those beautiful moments that I want to be able to conjure whenever I’m stuck in hellacious rush hour traffic on the 101 or the guy across the street decides to indulge in some early Sunday morning chain saw tree trimming.
The Vineyard itself spans three Sonoma appellations: Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros offering a perfect balance of Sonoma Valley sun and Pacific Ocean breeze. It also happens to be a breathtakingly beautiful location, even by the standards of an area that specializes in “Kodak moments.”
The 2010 Dunstan Durell Chardonnay is the third vintage (2008 was their first produced from vines planted in 2005.) Even so young it displays great balance. Rubbery and buttery like a Montrachet with a flinty slate back and plush, voluptuous mouthfeel. This drinks like a chardonnay of double the price. And, like I say, there are winemakers out there who are doing just that. The Dunstan folks aren’t hoarding all this precious juice for their own label, they also sell to the aforementioned Kistler as well as Chasseur and Gloria Ferrer, among others. The Durell grapes also go into a vineyard designate at Auteur Wines, where their brilliant winemaker Kenneth Juhasz struts his stuff.
As much as I hated to leave that view, Chris was eager to show us more. We went back inside their lovingly restored guest house where he gave us a tutorial on soil, which doesn’t sound very interesting, but it is eye opening to see the differences in the dirt from whence your favorite quaff has sprung.
His eyes lit up and his smile broadened when I noticed a recent magazine cover featuring his lovely wife and business partner, Ellie, a U.C. Davis Viticulture and Enology graduate, animal welfare and environmental activist, equestrian, mother of two, oh, and if that’s not enough, she had the great foresight to purchase the Durell Vineyard from the man himself, Ed Durell back in 1998. Ed had wanted to use the land to raise cattle…his loss, our gain.
As we tucked into the 2009 Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir, their second pinot vintage, I had to ask about the meaning of the horseshoe on the label. Well, it turns out that not only did Chris and Ellie first meet on a horseback ride, but, when they were doing one of their first plantings, they discovered an old rusty horseshoe buried in the soil. The name Dunstan is not a family name but refers to St. Dunstan, the blacksmith of legend who nailed new horseshoes onto The Devil’s hooves (this devolved into a long digression where we all tried to figure out why The Devil needed shoes to begin with, why he needed to outsource the work, being The Devil and all, and questioning how a U shaped shoe would even fit on a cloven hoof…and you thought all that soil talk was geeky!)
Anyway, The Devil found the shoes to be painful and begged Dunstan to take them off (Again, he’s The Devil, you’d think he had some shoe removal skills…apparently not.) Dunstan agreed on the condition that Old Scratch never darken a door that displayed the horseshoe overhead. There’s another myth that involves Dunstan pulling The Devil around by the nose with hot tongs, but I, once again, digress. As for “up or down” on the horseshoe itself, for those of you in the market for guaranteed Devil-proofing, apparently it’s two points up in a “U” shape, to keep the luck inside dontcha know?
Okay, enough with my Satanic tomfoolery, back to the wine…
The 2009 Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir had a nose full of tar and roses, dark black cherry fruit and black tea with a long, lingering cracked black pepper finish. It was, in a word, fantastic.
They also make a rosé that’s only available as a mailing list allocation as well as a second label, Pip, that’s currently distributed in 13 states as well as served in restaurants (including the delicioso Rosso Pizza in Santa Rosa!)
As we rose to leave, Chris had one more surprise left in store. We went out to the old dairy barn which he’d converted into his own mad scientist’s wine lab. He was brewing up his own blend of cab-merlot made from Bismark Mountain and Rutherford grapes he’d scored in exchange for some cases of his own fabulous stuff (this in addition to running a winery and his own e-commerce company. Where do these people get the time?) He gave us one of his unmarked bottles to try. We haven’t popped it yet, but if those grapes were worth multiple case of Dunstan, it’s sure to be fantastic!