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Robin Garr

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WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Robin Garr » Wed Jun 21, 2006 9:57 am

Pinot from where?

In the unlikely event that you think I've been kidding about the intense market pressure on Pinot Noir, the great grape of Burgundy that the movies turned into the next big mass-market thing, here's the most startling evidence yet: Mark West, a Northern California "negociant" (a winery without vines, selling wines that it makes from purchased bulk wine, juice or fruit) is now hawking a Pinot Noir with a California-look label, made from grapes grown on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.

That's a long way to go to get modest wine to be sold in the lower teens, but the demand for Pinot in a globalizing economy obviously makes the numbers work.

Mark West, a producer better known for its California-grown Pinots, makes its wine in a commercial facility in the Sonoma County town of Graton. Its 2004 Pinot Noir is all but indistinguishable from its other orange-labeled products on the shelf ... unless you take a close look at the fine print, "<i>Pinot Noir Appellation Vin de Corse</i>."

The back label provides the English translation, "Sourced from the island of Corsica." The winery Website tells more: "In 2004 a revolution grew out of a desperate need for Pinot Noir. California simply didn't have enough vines planted to meet growing demand. Mark West Winemaker Alex Cose boldly suggested Corsica for our next vineyards, 'The wines have the same fruit and texture as those I make in California.' He had our attention."

Corsica, historically most famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, is perhaps best-known to followers of offbeat regional and country wines for the Cannonau grape, a fruity red variety that locals boast may have been the progenitor of Grenache. It is decidedly not known for Pinot Noir, but - says the Mark West Website - the Burgundy grape was first planted there in 1986, and there are now about 500 acres of it, some in coastal vineyards with a climate not unlike California's Central Coast. That's the source of Mark West's grapes, which are vinified in Corsica in stainless steel tanks, then shipped to California for aging in French oak, bottling and sale.

Upon tasting, it's Pinot all right, although I can't honestly declare it knock-your-socks-off Pinot; shy in the aroma, varietally correct if simple in flavor, it's a decent-enough example of the grape if you've just got to do the <i>Sideways</i> thing.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/mark0617.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Mark West 2004 Pinot Noir Appellation Vin de Corse ($13)

This clear, dark-garnet wine offers a varietally appropriate if rather faint red-fruit aroma. On the palate it's simple but fresh, clean if not awe-inspiring red-berry Pinot fruit with notes of oaky smoke and spice. Made from grapes grown and vinified in Corsica, then shipped to Mark West's production facilities in Sonoma County, California, for oak aging, bottling and sale. U.S. importer: Mark West Winery, Graton, Calif. (June 17, 2006)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Fine with grilled bratwurst and smoked sausages at a summer cookout.

<B>VALUE:</B> Competitive with premium mass-market Pinots in the lower teens, but I wouldn't pay more. Note, however, that I paid near the high end for this bottling, which is available from some Internet vendors for as little as $8.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Ready to drink and safe to hold for a year or two, but not a candidate for cellaring.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
Mark West's Website is primarily a creative but rather sales-oriented marketing pitch for its California wines.
You'll find a sales poster for the Vin de Corse at this link (in Adobe Acrobat PDF format).

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Compare prices and locate vendors for Mark West Pinot Noir on Wine-Searcher.com.
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Dave Erickson

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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Dave Erickson » Wed Jun 21, 2006 10:57 am

I suppose if Siefried can grow zweigelt in New Zealand, and Tom Beckmen can grow counoise in the Santa Ynez, then I shouldn't be surprised that somebody is growing pinot noir in Corsica. All I can say is West must be getting juice at a knock-down price to be able to put it out at fourteen bucks.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by JC (NC) » Wed Jun 21, 2006 11:21 am

Interesting Robin. Did you spy the label yourself or did someone alert you to this development?
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Jay Mazzoni » Wed Jun 21, 2006 11:24 pm

Interested to read your post because I had a similar reaction the other day after purchasing a Heron Pinot Noir on a friend's recommendation. The front label says simply "Heron Pinot Noir 2004". The back label gives the details: It's a Vin de Pays d'Oc "cellared and bottled by Heron Wines, American Canyon, CA, Imported by Heron Wines San Francisco, Product of France". So, at what point does it arrive in the US? Is it already in the bottle when it hits our shores? The French can't be pleased.

Vin de Pays d'Oc is in the extreme southern end of the Rhone Valley, just west of Provence - an area I wouldn't consider hospitable to PN (of course, I wouldn't consider Corsica hospitable, either). What gives?
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Hoke » Thu Jun 22, 2006 1:44 am

The French can't be pleased.


Really? I bet the French who sold the juice/wine to them were very pleased, Jay.

Keep in mind that in this general area disgruntled growers who continue to over produce and expect state subsidies for the overproduction or they drive tractors through McDonalds, commit arson in the villages, and block highways until they get what they want are not overly concerned with qualite, and they don't care much about fraternite either, unless it's their own fraternite. :^)

Methinks you attribute far too much nobility to the French farmers. growers and businessmen.

So, at what point does it arrive in the US?


Well, let's see: it could be they made the wine there, bottled it, labeled it and shipped it, all by arrangement.

Or it could be that they made the wine in bulk and shipped it in giant bladders to a huge storage/bottling plant in American Canyon (Fred Franzia's operation, for instance, is in American Canyon), and had it bottled there. And maybe labeled there, or shipped somewhere else to be labeled, if that makes any difference.

It might be (and I suspect it is) the case where someone simply makes the different arrangents in the supply line, and it eventually shows up with the Heron label (or whatever) on the bottle. You might even wonder who owns the Heron label????
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Steve Edmunds » Thu Jun 22, 2006 2:00 am

Cannonau is, indeed, Grenache, not just a progenitor. Corsica is home to some of the best wines being made anywhere. The whites, almost all (if NOT all) from Vermentino, are among the most compelling to be found. The reds made from Nielluccio (a close kin to Sangiovese) are astoundingly good. i'm not sure that growing Pinot Noir in Corsica is a worthwhile pursuit, considering what they've already got.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Rahsaan » Thu Jun 22, 2006 6:34 am

i'm not sure that growing Pinot Noir in Corsica is a worthwhile pursuit, considering what they've already got.


I was wondering myself when this stuff was planted and how much pinot noir was in Corsica, as I don't imagine it qualifies in any of the AOC? And it doesn't seem very necessary..

Someone brought this West pinot to a dinner party one day, and I must say I was pretty bored, I think Robin is being kind, but we had the 03, which perhaps was less personable than 04 :)
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Robin Garr » Thu Jun 22, 2006 9:15 am

Rahsaan wrote:I was wondering myself when this stuff was planted and how much pinot noir was in Corsica


According to Mark West, it's 1986 and 500 acres. Not a lot.
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Robin Garr » Thu Jun 22, 2006 9:17 am

JC (NC) wrote:Interesting Robin. Did you spy the label yourself or did someone alert you to this development?


I spied the label myself, JC ... that bright-orange color made it hard to miss, and the "Vin de Corse" under "Mark West / Sonoma" kind of leapt out at me. I didn't bring high expectations to the wine ...
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Rahsaan » Thu Jun 22, 2006 9:24 am

According to Mark West, it's 1986 and 500 acres. Not a lot.


Wow, but that is relatively early, I guess there is always some natural curiosity about different grapes floating around
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Re: WTN / WineAdvisor: Pinot from where? (Mark West '04 Vin de Corse)

by Robin Garr » Thu Jun 22, 2006 9:25 am

Jay Mazzoni wrote:So, at what point does it arrive in the US? Is it already in the bottle when it hits our shores? The French can't be pleased.


Jay, Hoke has given you chapter and verse on this, including the mixed emotions that the French must feel. As he said, the product could come over in a variety of forms, but probably sending over unprocessed fruit is unlikely. The Mark West comes over as partly finished wine, and chances are the Heron does too; given that the Mark West goes into barrel on the California end, it's almost certainly shipped in bulk containers - it would be inefficient and even silly to bottle it, then pour the bottles back into barrels here.

Vin de Pays d'Oc is in the extreme southern end of the Rhone Valley, just west of Provence - an area I wouldn't consider hospitable to PN (of course, I wouldn't consider Corsica hospitable, either). What gives?


More precisely, Languedoc covers pretty much all of France's Mediterranean coast from the mouth of the Rhone west to Spain, including Montpellier. Provence extends along the coast from the Rhone east to Italy, including Marseilles, Nice and Toulon. I believe the VdP d'Oc incorporates much of Languedoc, not just the bit near the Rhone. It's a broad and diverse region, and I wouldn't argue that Pinot Noir couldn't be grown there (or in Corsica), given how widely planted it is around the world. But certainly neither Languedoc nor Corsica is known as a great Pinot Noir region.

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