Picture a dewy morning in a strawberry field. The sun is gently peering out from behind the rising blanket of fog, glinting off the water that clings to the green vines. The tangy smell of wet plants, grass, and dirt lingers in the air, and there’s a crisp, fresh feel to everything, as if the world is starting anew. That’s what comes to mind upon opening a bottle of SIMI Winery’s 2019 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) for the first time.
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But that’s not surprising: Wine, after all, should be a reflection of the place where it grows, and the care that’s taken to cultivate each vine. In this case, that care comes courtesy of a nearly 150-year legacy that began with founders Giuseppe Simi and brother Pietro, who produced their first wine under their namesake label in 1876.
Giuseppe’s daughter, Isabelle, took over management in 1904 after they passed away unexpectedly, bringing a woman’s taste to the operation. And that continues in a different form today, with Director of Winemaking Melissa Stackhouse and winemaker Lisa Evich. They both hold years of experience in Sonoma County, home to SIMI.
That brings us to the land. The 100 percent pinot noir grapes were sourced from the Estate Silk Ranch, Dutton, and La Petite Etoile vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Coastal fog, the diverse terrain, and Goldridge soils (a sandy loam with quality drainage) help create a delicate suspension of flavors and aromas in the fruit, which was aged nine months in 92 percent French oak and eight percent in American oak barrels. It tastes rustic, but pointedly so, with oak and gentle tannins providing the perfect foil to the tart, ripe cherry notes, which you can taste right down to the springy stems. Give it some time, and the wine transforms, offering up zingy, dark chocolate tones and spices.
The layered but determinedly bright sensations lend themselves to richer foods, like a Pecorino Romano-laden cacio e pepe. It’s equally good with practically anything barbecued over hot coals, like chicken thighs, sweet potato, zucchini. Heck, grill me a strawberry.