The Pinot Puzzle

They were serving Pepperwood Grove wines at the reception at The Tacoma Club last night and I was a little bit suprised to see a Pinot Noir there, standing side-by-side with the Chardonnay, Cab and Merlot. The reason for my surprise is that Pinot is in short supply these days, so you don’t really expect to find it in a competitively priced line like Pepperwood Grove, which is one of the Don Sebastiani and Sons brands. I saw the wine today at the Metropolitan Market for $5.99.

The Pepperwood Grove Pinot is part of a bigger Pinot Puzzle. People are buying (and wineries are selling) a lot more Pinot Noir in the post Sideways era, but there aren’t that many more tons of Pinot Noir grapes available. Where has the extra Pinot Noir come from?

There are several possibilities. Maybe some of the Pinot that had previously been used in blends (such as generic “burgundy”) is now instead being bottled on its own as a varietal. I don’t know if this is a major factor, however, because I am not sure how much Pinot went into those blends in the first place.

Another possibility is that other wines are being blended with Pinot up to the legal limit to stretch it out. In Oregon a wine labeled Pinot Noir needs to be at least 90% Pinot, but other states have lower limits. I am sure that this takes place and it helps account for the fact that some recent Pinots, while they may taste good, don’t always taste like Pinot. But they sell like Pinot, which is the point I guess.

A third possibility is that the wine might not be exactly what you think it is. It is not uncommon for winemakers to import foreign wines (and bottle them under their own labels) when faced with a shortage. This is fine when the label makes the unexpected provenance clear, but dishonest when the real wine source is hidden or obscured, as it is on some so-called “Chinese” wines, I am told, which contain mostly cheap Chilean bulk product blended with a small amount of China juice. More than one winemaker has got in trouble when customers discovered trickery.

The Pepperwood Grove Pinot is an honest wine. Although I associate the brand with California, the label clearly identifies this wine as Chilean. According to the website, Pepperwood Grove sells both a Chilean Pinot (113,000 cases of the most recent release) and a California Pinot (60,000 cases). That solves the Pepperwood Grove Pinot Puzzle: they imported the extra Pinot Noir to meet the demand. But there still are a lot of mysteries out there, hidden in bottles of wine.

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