The family owned operation has been growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the AVA since 1992.

I hadn’t expected to open the 2019 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot Noir, the evening I opened it, but it had been a pleasantly long dinner party, full of California Pinots of varying pedigree, and we needed just a bit more. Glancing at the rack, I suspected the 2019 Pfendler would work beautifully: what one wants, there with old friends, is not only a sure thing, but something worthy of contemplation. After a last glass, our guests went into the night full of good cheer.

I vacuum sealed the bottle, and came back to it a day later. My original notes on the wine were confirmed and amplified on the second tasting. A wine this dense and young isn’t bothered by being open a day or two.

Located on the west side of Sonoma Mountain, in the Petaluma Gap, the winery’s roots trace back to 1992 and founder Peter Pfendler, who passed in 2007. Current proprietor Kimberly Pfendler, Peter’s wife, launched the Pfendler Vineyards brand in 2008, continuing the family operation’s commitment to high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This release is the first effort by recent hire Erica Stancliff, and heralds a new era for the winery. Kimberly and Erica met during a 2018 charity blending event, and found real common ground in their views on the region.

“Kimberly’s vision aligns with my own values as a winemaker, and it’s a privilege to work with her and her three distinct estate vineyard sites,” says Stancliff, on the company website. “Her wines reflect the Petaluma Gap’s intensity, while maintaining their acidity and elegant aromatic profile.”

“Elegant” and “aromatic” seem well chosen adjectives for this wine, though I might hasten to add that the combination in the 2019 is not at all shy. Stancliff’s “winemaking practices were gentle,” the press materials note, “applied mindfully to guide the wines into being.”

The 2019 marks the debut of new winemaker Erica Stancliff.

The mindfulness I’d not question: to punch down three times a day during fermentation does not strike me as “gentle,” exactly. But the results speak for themselves. This Pinot Noir walks on the tightrope that defines the best expressions of the grape—it’s utterly pleasurable and rich without being over-the-top. Flavors of raspberry tart are undergirded by a black tea astringency.

The tasting sheet for the 2019 ($55) notes that the grapes “come from Pfendler’s Helgren Vineyard, [at 2,200 feet, above the fog line] the highest of Pfendler’s three estate vineyards… There on the mountain top, it gets the punishment Pinot loves—cool temperatures and sea breeze, but lots of sun.” The makers say the wine is “notably age worthy, and with a bit of decanting … today, the wine’s floral and aromatic notes evolve.”

Indeed, this is a wine worth getting in quantity, to see how it might settle down with a few more years in bottle. There’s a seriousness to it. But do you have a piece of salmon ready for the grill, with perhaps a brush of teriyaki? Find this winner right away.