Robert Brittan recently burst onto the winemaking scene forty (40) years ago – yes, 40. While you might not be familiar with his name, I’m certain you’ve heard of at least two of wineries he ran. Stags’ Leap and Far Niente in Napa.
Clearly, Robert has an impressive pedigree in prestige wine making. He was at Stags’ Leap for sixteen years, as both the Winemaker and the Estate Manager, where he garnered widespread acclaim for his Cabernets.
While enjoying both the winemaking and the success, Robert became restless when Stags’ Leap owner, Carl Doumani, sold the estate to Beringer, who eventually sold it to Treasury, one the largest wine companies in the world.
Consequently, he began searching for some new adventures in his wine life. First, he wanted to focus on quality Pinot Noir and he wanted to do it on his own. After a number of years of looking, in 2004 he selected over 100 acres in Oregon, in the Willamette Valley.
This has given him the opportunity to make wonderful Pinots and Chardonnays without manipulating the wine beyond what it naturally offers. As an unexpected bonus, Oregon allows him to have separate vineyard designate Pinots with their individual characteristics.
This effort has been met with enthusiasm and approval from the wine world’s famous critics, such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.
Parker has said, “Brittan’s wines with low pH and firm acidity (without sacrificing flavor) are sure to send bolts of rapture through lovers of great Burgundy.”
Wine Spectator enthuses about his 2008 Pinot, “Supple, rich and focused. A plush mouthful of blackberry and violet with a hint of verbena, wrapped in polished tannins and persisting into a vivid finish. Distinctive and graceful.”
He now “crafts” (his description rather than “make”) age worthy that rival Burgundy but do not require years or decades of cellaring before they are approachable. However, understand that these wines have weight. So even though he keeps them in barrels for a year and then in bottle for another year, he still thinks that they need another year of bottle age to mellow. This is his “bargain” with the consumer – “I’ll keep the Pinot in the bottle on my estate for a year but I ask you to hold it for one more before opening. That way, we’re splitting the holding time.”
Robert Brittan, the wine kid who went from cult Napa wines to the corporate wine world and now luxuriates in fashioning his own creations in his own fashion.
© Carl J. Kanowsky