Radio-Coteau: Old World Techniques with New World Fruit

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Radio-Coteau: "Broadcast off the hills"
From the moment I tasted Radio-Coteau's 2006 La Neblina Pinot Noir they've been one of my favorite producers. That wine was so pure, so completely free of off notes - it was amazing. But in tasting more bottles of their wines since then I've come to learn that bottle wasn't anything out of the ordinary for Radio-Coteau. That's just what they do. They're absolutely one of the most reliably outstanding California Pinot Noir producers I've found.


But the really special thing about them is that they're freakishly both terroir-driven and fruit-forward. Kind of like a guy who can hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. Terroir-driven in philosophy, fruit-driven naturally by virtue of being a California producer who allows the fruit to speak for itself. As proprietor Eric Sussman describes it: Old world technique with new world fruit.


I met with Eric at the Radio-Coteau winery in Sebastapol recently. The facility, like its owner, is no-nonsense and focused on producing the absolute best wines possible. There's no public tasting room. No tasting room at all really. Just a small office, wine production facility, tanks, a cellar room and a bottling line. 

Everything has a purpose. There are no frivolous expenditures. Even the bottling line - unusual for a winery with just 4,000 bottles of annual production - needs justification (it allows them to bottle at just the right time rather than when they happen to have rented the equipment).

They say starting a winery is a great way to turn a lot of money into a little money. I get the sense that Sussman is fully aware of the pitfalls of excess and is focused on guiding Radio-Coteau in a profitable direction. I also feel he could sell his wines for a lot more than he does - his Pinots go for $45-$60 - if he priced his wines in line with their quality. Radio-Coteau's wines aren't cheap but in my view they are a tremendous value.
Radio-Coteau proprietor Eric Sussman (left), me (Robert Dwyer) right
While I was getting a tour around the winery I was peppering Sussman with questions. "What's the primary fruit source for La Neblina?", "How do you get such purity of fruit in your wines?" My goal is always to establish connections between what I've found that I like and discover the common elements between them.

Sussman described his philosophy as being "no intervention". No fining or filtration. That sounds great in theory but there's a million different things that can go wrong between the vineyard and the bottle. It was amazing to learn this especially since I've always found their wines to be, first and foremost, incredibly pure, brilliant, and clean. It takes great fruit and clean winemaking practices to deliver on the no intervention mantra and Radio-Coteau does it brilliantly.
"Barrel" tasting
Broadly speaking the wines are produced from free-run juice and see 30-40% new French Oak in barrels with no toast. The Pinot for examples sees 15-16 months in oak with no racking. The Syrah is aged in 500L barrels, the Pinot in 225L.

2013 County Line Rosé
Like many wineries Radio-Coteau also produces wines under a more affordable label. Theirs is called County Line.

We started off with the 2013 County Line Rosé which was recently named the Number One California Rosé by The New York Times. The wine is copper/salmon in color and checks in at just 12% alcohol. It's not produced in the saignee method, but rather more like a still brut rosé would be produced if that makes sense. The wine is delicious and refreshing with crisp fruit and firm acidity. At about 1,300 cases produced snatch some up if you can find it in the $20 range.

Next up was a unique wine in the RC portfolio - the 2013 Radio-Coteau Platt Vineyard Riesling. 12.6% alcohol with nice bracing acidity balanced with round golden mouthfeel. Compared to German Riesling this would probably be called halbtrocken (half-dry). Very nice stuff. Around $30.

The 2012 Radio-Coteau Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay is golden with a tinge of green in the background visually. Aromas of white peach and white flowers pair with a round mouthfeel to provide an appealing experience.

After tasting the whites we transitioned to reds and back to the County Line label with the 2013 County Line Pinot Noir. Although prior vintages of this wine haven't blown me away this one was solid and has me excited about 2013 California Pinot Noir. Totally legit all around.
Next up was the 2012 Radio-Coteau Pinot Noirs. I mentioned to Eric that I've been, on average, disappointed with the 2012 California Pinot Noirs I've tasted. They lack the brilliant fruit I've adored in prior vintages like 2009. He indicated there is resistance throughout the wine production chain to dropping fruit (which, if done appropriately, maintains fruit concentration but reduces yields). This resistance persists even with per-acre contracts. With 2013 being another high-yield affair right on the heels of 2012, it was easier to come to terms with the need to thin crops.

See: 2012 California Pinot Noir Falls Short of Expectations

The first Radio-Coteau Pinot Noir we tried was the 2012 Radio-Coteau La Neblina ($45). The La Neblina ("the fog") bottling is the closest thing there is to an appellation Radio-Coteau Pinot Noir, though the grapes are almost entirely from the Hallberg vineyard of late. That in itself was fascinating to me since Gary Farrell's Hallberg Pinot Noir is also an amazing wine. Scherrer also produces a Hallberg Pinot Noir I'm told - I'll have to check that out. The 2012 La Neblina is outstanding (I'd rate it 90-91 points) but for me it doesn't yet rise to the level of prior vintages like 2010 and 2011 that I've rated 93-95 points.

Next up was the 2012 Radio-Coteau Alberigi Pinot Noir ($60). I've found a distinct orange peel quality to this bottling in past vintages, which is rather common in California Pinot Noir, and it's here again in this 2012 Alberigi. It comes off as just one component in a greater wine her and is quite successful. 92 points for me.

The 2012 Radio-Coteau Savoy Pinot Noir ($60) is a very successful bottling. Powerful acidity and flavor with bright appealing fruit. 91 points.

I found it interesting that Sussman previously spent time at Dehlinger. Definitely check them out too if you like this style of wine. Another terrific producer.

From there we tasted a couple Syrahs:the 2012 Radio-Coteau Las Colinas Syrah ($40 - fresh with great purity of fruit) and the 2012 Radio-Coteau Timbervine Syrah ($50 - very Rhone-like with smoky/gamey notes, savage on the nose with peppery garrigue notes).

Oh - one more wine. Earlier this year I posted a tasting note on CellarTracker for a quirky wine: The 2011 Radio-Coteau Robert's Block Zinfandel. I was really looking forward to trying a Zinfandel from Radio-Coteau after enjoying so many of their Pinot Noirs, especially since I consider Zinfandel to be a variety that's hard not to like when made well. However, the 2011 Robert's Block was rough affair.

A couple months later I got a call at home from Sussman to talk about the wine. He explained that Robert's Block is a cool climate take on a grape variety that's usually produced in warmer areas. He said I wasn't alone in raising an eyebrow about that particular bottling but others enjoyed it. I have a hard time getting behind that wine's dusty vegetal notes so it was with great trepidation that I tasted the 2012 with Sussman but no fear - the 2012 Radio-Coteau Robert's Block is a delicious comeback. Much riper than the 2011 and very enjoyable.

Conclusion and Recommendations


Radio-Coteau's Pinot Noirs have been some of the most reliably outstanding I've discovered. If you were to come over to my house and ask me to share an example of my absolute favorite style of wine there's a good chance I'd reach for a bottle of Radio-Coteau Pinot Noir.

They just shared their fall release with those on their mailing list. If you're not on it, I'd highly recommend signing up. I usually go for a few bottles of La Neblina and mix in a few other bottlings. This time I'll probably go for a bottle of their Riesling and one or two other single vineyard Pinots.

Photo credits: John Corcoran

Question of the Day: Have you tried Radio-Coteau's wines? If so what are some of your favorites?

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