I sat down with winemaker Ryan Hodgins a couple weeks ago to taste a couple of his recent FEL Pinot Noir releases. They were very good. My reviews are below but, first, here’s some background on FEL which is a newish brand.
FEL, formerly Breggo Cellars, produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from Anderson Valley. Their estate vineyard, Savoy, is one of the most-celebrated in that region and is used in vineyard-designates from some other top wineries, including Littorai, Failla, Peay and Radio-Coteau. Total production at FEL is around 9,000 cases.
Yountville-based Lede Family Wines acquired the then four-year old Breggo Cellars brand in 2009 and changed the name to FEL in 2014. Lede didn’t buy the physical property. Breggo’s original owners kept that and now call it Lichen Estate. However, Hodgins, who makes the wine for FEL, had the same role at Breggo. He assures me the wine style is unchanged. The wines I tasted with him bear that out and I believe the reputation for quality Breggo had achieved is still very relevant.
While Anderson Valley is one of the coolest-climate AVAs in California, that climate isn’t homogenous and neither are the wine styles. Some producers pursue the coldest sites and/or pick early to create very lean, high-acid, savory-floral Pinot Noir with little-to-no oak influence. Other wineries go the opposite direction, offering round, ripe, fruit-forward wines accented with substantial percentages of new oak.
FEL wines are a happy medium with personalities that will appeal to most every lover of Pinot Noir. That said, their wines do lean toward supple elegance and allow the vineyards to speak.
To establish an estate vineyard and lock in a world-class fruit source, Lede Family bought the Savoy Vineyard in 2011. It’s a 44-acre site located on the right side of Hwy. 128 north of the town of Philo, not far from Gowan’s Oak Tree Fruit Stand. That puts the vineyard a hair over 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean and at an altitude of 200’ to 320’. The Navarro River/128 corridor channels cold air and fog from the ocean, giving wines from the area—known as “The Deep End”— their prized cool-climate personality.
First planted in 1991, Savoy Vineyard is dedicated to Pinot Noir (now about 2/3 of the total acreage) and Chardonnay. Its 34 blocks, farmed as distinct entities, include about six Dijon clones of Pinot Noir, along with Pommard, Calera and a pair of Martini clones. There are also multiple clones of Chardonnay, with an emphasis on Wente and Prosser. Soils range from well-drained, sandstone-derived sandy loam and/or gravel to darker loam on clay with greater water-holding capacity.
FEL does not have a tasting room in Anderson Valley. To try the wines, visit the Cliff Lede Vineyards tasting room at 1473 Yountville Cross Road in Yountville, Napa Valley. They are open daily from 10am to 5pm. Tasting experiences currently start at $30. Appointments are recommended.
FEL Pinot Noir
2014 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 91+ 14.4% 750ml $38
This is an AVA-blend, 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Donnelly, Savoy, Wiley and Ferrington Vineyards. Four clones—Pommard, Mt. Eden, Martini and Dijon—add to the complexity. It aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 42% new. 2,634 cases were made.
This is a classic, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. It’s medium-bodied and fresh on the palate with lovely, moderate texture from fine, chalky tannins. The aromas and flavors are pretty and engaging, but don’t shout. Look for gently tart raspberry and strawberry along with baking spice, vanilla and tangerine that linger juicily. Enjoy now through 2022+
2014 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley 93 14.3% 750ml $70
This small-production—395 cases—Pinot Noir shows the benefits of cool-climate vineyards with moderately long growing seasons. Acidity can be generous and alcohol moderate, yet the fruit properly ripe and enticingly rich.
Another example of elegant intensity from FEL, the 2014 FEL Pinot Noir Savory Vineyard offers aromas and flavors of cranberry sauce, black cherry, orange rind and spice accented by black tea. Body is medium-to-medium+ with very fine, well-integrated, chalky tannins. The flavors ride waves of acidity, creating a very long finish. Ample acidity, fruit and structure mean this wine will evolve nicely for a decade. Enjoy now through 2027.
Copyright Fred Swan 2017. Photos courtesy of FEL. All rights reserved.