The 2013 Pinot Noir Upper Picnic is endowed with a real sense of explosive energy that elevates it in this range. The flavors are dark and intense throughout, but it is the wine's center and overall depth that are most compelling at this stage. Still quite primary, the Upper Picnic could use a few years in bottle to enter the sweet spot. The Upper Picnic offers a compelling interplay of intensity and freshness. These own-rooted vines were planted in 1981. I have to admit, my most recent tasting with Bob and Jim Varner was bittersweet. The Varners have ended their collaboration with the Neely family, so the 2013s are the last wines the Varners made in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That is a real loss to the region and the wine world more broadly, as the Varners made stunning Chardonnays and Pinots from these sites. The Varners have moved to Santa Barbara County, where they are making a new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the El Camino and Los Alamos vineyards respectively. Both wines deliver superb quality for the money. The Santa Cruz Moutains wines remain reference points for what is possible in these mountain terroirs; namely rich, phenolic Chardonnays and intense Pinots. (AG)
Much more floral and perfumed than the Picnic Block release, the 2013 Pinot Noir Neely Upper Picnic gives up gorgeous complexity in its dried flowers, baking spice, framboise and forest floor aromas and flavors. Medium to full-bodied, with lovely fruit, no hard edges and a seamless, lengthy finish. It will shine for upwards of a decade. The big change at this reference point estate is the splitting of the partnership between the Varner and Neely families, and the Varner brothers will no longer have access to the Spring Ridge Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where they've worked since the early 2000s. Going forward, this team will focus on their contracts in Santa Barbara County, where they've also worked for the past three years. Few winemakers do Chardonnay and Pinot Noir better than brothers Jim and Bob Varner, and I've no doubt this estate will continue to be one of the stars of the Central Coast. (JD)
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