by Fred McMillin
for March 12, 1998

A Sterling Pinot


Prologue

New York Times, July 16,1975—Here in Calistoga on a wooded knoll rising from the floor of the lush Napa Valley is one of the four or five most beautiful wineries in the world. The Sterling Winery, opened in l973, resembles a Greek monastery more than a plant to make wine. ...Overhead, in three separate bell towers, the bells that once hung in St. Dunstan-in-the-East in London peal out over the valley at regular intervals...Production in 1974 was 16,000 cases.

...by Frank J. Prial


The Rest of the Story  

OK. But were the wines as beautiful as the winery? The short answer is that the 16,000 cases grew to 150,000 by 1985 to about 300,000 cases in 1995.

All of this was the brain child of a former British Army officer (Peter Newton) and a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot (Michael Stone). They were among the owners of the Sterling San Francisco paper products firm, scraped together a tidy six million dollars, and the rest is history. They ultimately sold to Coca-Cola, who later sold to the current owner, Seagram.

But Where's the Pinot Noir?
Sterling's extensive vineyards were in the upper, warmer end of the Napa Valley, not ideal Pinot country. Hence, a decade ago Sterling looked south and bought the prestigious Winery Lake Vineyard in the cool Carneros. Success was immediate, the 1986 Pinot Noir vintage drawing raves by the critics. My panel feels the same way about this 1995.


The Wine

1995 Winery Lake Pinot Noir Carneros, Napa Valley
Sterling Vineyards; Calistoga, Napa Valley
100% Pinot Noir
Winemaking—After destemming and gentle crushing, the cooled juice and skins were left in contact for three days before fermentation was started to produce alcohol. This method reduces the extraction of harsher tannins. It's called cold soaking.
Tasting Notes—The cold soak shows. Rich flavors, nothing harsh. A treat with veal, lamb, or a simple smoked-turkey sandwich.
Contact—Angela Freire, (707) 255-7667.
Price—$16 range


Postcript

The Winery Lake Vineyard is for the birds. Some years not only wild peacocks roam the vineyards, but wild geese choose to live on the lake all year instead of migrating to Canada. Note—For the origins of the century-old Winery Lake Vineyard see the Oct. 15,1997 WineDay's "What's the Take on Winery Lake?"


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


 


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