A History of Pinot Noir

…God made Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the Devil made Pinot Noir.” -Winemaker André Tchelistcheff on the challenges inherent in making Pinot Noir.

A little bit of History…

The Pinot Noir has a very long and fascinating history. It’s one of the earliest varieties of grape to be cultivated with the purpose of making wine. Specialists agree that native Pinot Noir vines were already present in Gaule, precisely in Burgundy, before the invasion of the Romans during the first century AD.  Surprised by the succulent flavors of Pinot Noir, the Romans coveted this wine for centuries.

In 1395, Pinot Noir becomes the identity of Burgundy. The Duke of the region at this time, Philippe Le Hardy had ordered the planting of Pinot Noir over other varieties such as Gamay.


Characteristics of Pinot Noir

The clusters are compact, small to medium, cylindrical. Its leaf is very low cut.  The spherical berries are small, bluish black or dark purple, the skin is thin. The pulp is not abundant and meltingly soft. Black grape with white flesh, its juice is sweet and colorless, so it must macerate with the skins to turn red.  The color is ruby to garnet… in a word, “burgundy.”  And like the ruby, a great Pinot is rare, precious and uniquely succulent.

Pinot Noir is a capricious grape variety. It requires low yields, perfect health and careful winemaking to express its fruit and elegance. It can only be grown in coastal micro climates.

Alexander Payne’s wonderful film Sideways quote actually put it quite well:

It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know, right?

                                   It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early.

                                  It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected.

                                 No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know?

                                 And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world.

                                And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really.

                                Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”


Since Pinot Noir is a very old grape variety, there are 800 clones, many many more than other varieties.  Over 50 are officially certificated.


The Love Story of Ashton Vineyard for the Pinot Noir

The Ashton Family created the Vineyard more than 44 years ago. This Vineyard situated in Glen Ellen (Sonoma Mountain) offers one of the most beautiful places for growing Pinot Noir in California.

Stephen and Justine Ashton spent two years researching this site which faces East, providing the vineyard early morning sun in the spring and foggy cool mornings in the summer. The sun leaves the vineyard early in the day and Pinot Noir, one of the earliest ripening red wine grapes, benefits from our eastern exposure which provides slow ripening.

Stephen and Justine spoke with the best nursery specialists in California to find the best clones. Today the Vineyard contains 7 clones of Pinot Noir which contribute to its depth and complexity.

Pinot Noir is, without a doubt, the most extraordinary “food wine” pairing with dishes from the beginning of a meal to last bite of cheese and fruit

          Steve Ashton

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