JOHN W. HAEGER
North American Pinot Noir
University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2004, 445 pp.
Reviewer: Domenic V. Cicchetti
In a hedonistic description of Pinot Noir, Haeger quotes Joe Fleishman writing in Vanity Fair magazine: “At their best, pinot noirs are the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” It is a true pity that the same varietal has also experienced far less than adequate oeno- logical coverage until now. Filling the void to overflowing, Haeger’s masterful text stands as a veritable gold standard in the field. Using the wines of Burgundy as a historical benchmark, and launching point, Haeger traces the historical development of Pinot Noir and the initial challenges it presented to North American wine makers. They mistakenly treated the varietal in the same manner as other red wines, notably among them Cabernet Sauvignon. As Haeger is quick to point out, the mistake here was that Pinot Noir, vis à vis other reds, is generally appreciably lower in tannins and notably higher in acidity. Once these fundamental differences were taken into account, the development of acceptable, good, and exceptional Pinot Noirs was well underway. And the trend continues uninterrupted. The book is encyclopedic in its coverage, namely: a comparison of Burgundian and North American Pinot Noirs; the broad areas of production in California, Oregon, and Canada: , in California, the Southern Central Coast, the Greater Salinas Valley, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Los Carneros, the Russian River Valley, and the True Sonoma Coast; in Oregon, the famed Willamette Valley; the Okanagan wine producing area that lies just beyond the American-Canadian border, about half way between the Continental Divide and Vancouver; and the Greater South Shore of Lake Ontario. These regions comprise over 95% of North American Pinot Noir. The remaining areas include the Pacific Pinot Zone in California, that lies to the north of San Luis Obispo; the Southwest, also in California; and, finally, the Mid-Atlantic States that include Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Each of the major wine regions is described meticulously in terms of its history as well as its terrain, terroir, and general descriptions of the vineyards therein. In a final part of this section of the book, Haeger compares the various major regions in terms of Size, Climate, Growing season, Soil content, Altitude, and the wines that are produced in each. There is also a very informative section on the development of Pinot Noir clones both in Burgundy and in North America. As Haeger puts it, the cloning of grapevines (here, Pinot Noir, in particular, although it is part of a more general viticultural issue) “…developed as one by-product of a more fundamental interest in growing healthy vine plants capable of producing commercially viable quantities of good fruit, in the face of growing threats from viral and other diseases.”
Individual wine regions are described in detail, each replete with maps and the specific or individual wine making practices, as well as the profiles of six dozen key producers; in addition, information is provided about: the varietal as developed at each of the wineries; extensive and detailed tasting notes of each of the multiple vineyards belonging to the winery; the wine growing and winemaking processes; upcoming Pinot Noir producers or ones to note in the future; finding enjoyable Pinot Noirs; and a delightfully written and very useful guide to the successful pairing of Pinot Noirs with food. One great challenge is pairing Pinot Noir correctly with seafood dishes. Haeger agrees with the notable Chicago chef, Charlie Trotter, that adding meat, meat stock, or mushrooms to the preparation serves to make the dish more Pinot Noir “friendly.” In summary, Haeger’s treatise on North American wine is a must read for oenophiles the world-over. As such, it serves the dual purpose of a very enjoyable piece of prose; as well as being a most valuable reference source for information about the history and vicissitudes of North American Pinot Noir.
Domenic V. Cicchetti