Sip Tripper

Carneros & Its Gift of Pinot Noir

Donum Estate proves pinot noir connection to Burgundy

On the heels of a heatwave and mid-pandemic, with no wine country harvest parties to attend, I set up my bistro table on my shaded front patio and welcomed my friend Mary Anne to a socially-distant virtual winetasting featuring key staff members of Donum Estate (Donum is the Latin word for gift, and pronounced dawnum). I received my wines a few days prior to the YouTube live event, plus a large coffee table book (available for purchase at the winery: $125) explaining the acquisition and building of Donum Estate, located north of San Pablo Bay -- in Carneros. The winery will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2021, hopefully in a safer world.

Carneros is the wine country region that shares two counties: Napa and Sonoma, and Donum Estate is in Sonoma. Its owners Mei and Allan Warburg make a note in the book to stress the fact that “this is a winery with a sculpture collection” – not the other way around. The property does have a vast global collection of about 20 sculptures worth a tour, but I digress. Let’s stick with the virtual tasting.

Before Mary Anne arrived, I pulled out two small plates and added slices of a tomato I picked from my patio garden, and on each slice I slathered a layer of pesto I made earlier with the basil from the same garden. I added a few green figs plucked from my property’s tree and filled a small bowl with potato chips. Mary Anne arrived with a marguerita pizza in-hand – perfect pairings for four tastings of pinot noir -- the varietal grown to excel in Carneros. We were primed and ready for the virtual tasting that began with a glass of single vineyard 2019 Donum Estate Rosé of Carneros Pinot Noir.

First things first: the label, which is an image of the vineyard with a heart sculpture titled “Love Me” by Richard Hudson, 2016. You can’t tell from the label, but the sculpture is stainless steel and visible from various sites on the estate. As the show began, Dan Fishman, winemaker since 2012 (and since 2001 in some capacity) explained the salmon-colored rosé, with intent, is not a sommelier approach to rosé (one block specifically grown for rosé and aged in neutral French oak barrels!), yet, to my palate, it is quintessentially Provencal – but made with pinot noir. It’s light, fresh and offers a complex bouquet of fresh orange blossoms and peaches – so refreshing on this warm, late summer afternoon. Sold as a 6-pack: $270

During the talk, I also learned that Donum Estate produces a blanc de blanc sparkling. Ooh la la. And as of 2019, the vineyard began the process of becoming 100 percent organic and completed this mission in 2020. Oh, and it was mentioned that the White Barn Block was recently harvested and looks good.

For wine club members who signed up for this virtual tasting, they were lucky to have tasted a 2013 pinot noir and a few more that I did not have on-hand.

But what I did taste was a 2016 Carneros Pinot Noir with a label to depict the Chinese Year of the Monkey – made from the following clones: 35% Pommard, 25% Donum Selection, 22% Dijon 667, and 18% Calera. A burst of Bing cherry and plum dominated my palate, and I would have preferred to cellar this bottle for a few years before opening. $85

One of my favorite wines of the four I tasted – hands down – the 2017 Carneros Pinot Noir was surprisingly phenomenal to drink now, but could easily be laid down for a while. It already presented complexity, and if I could best describe it on my own palate – it was like sipping the utmost luxurious deep red licorice. $85

Listening to Chef Aaron Leroi discuss food pairings made me hungry, so it was time for a slice of pizza, but my taste buds craved duck confit. That’s how rich the final wine proved to be. This was a 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. If you haven’t tried pinot noir from Russian River, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s incredible. Layers of character, great tannin structure that would easily cut through the fat and richness of duck confit. The tasting notes for this wine include one that resonates with the quality I tasted: boysenberry panna cotta. Indeed. $85

If you'd like to follow the gift that keeps on giving, Donum Estate will offer a YouTube live virtual tasting of reserve wines on September 26.

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. Sip Tripper, may be reached by email: