Monday, October 5, 2009

2001 Clos de la Tech 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Pinot Noir

There's an old saying that you can make a small fortune in the wine business, provided you start with a large fortune. As the founder of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., TJ Rodgers started with a fortune larger than most.

In 1994 Dr Rodgers planted a 1 acre 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Vineyard in the grounds of his home in Woodside, with the aim of making "the best Pinot Noir in the New World". He emulated some of the practices of his favourite Burgundy producers with tight vine spacing and manually treading the grapes, as well as sourcing the same barrels used by Romanee Conti. Following a couple of unsuccessful vintages that he termed "cycles of learning" the first commercial release of Clos De La Tech was in 2001 from the 1999 vintage. It was sold exclusively to his friends, primarily other Silicon Valley CEOs.

That year the winery began their expansion plans, first planting a 3 acre 'Domaine Valeta' vineyard to the east of Skyline Boulevard in Los Gatos. This was followed by the purchase of a 160 acre plot of land off Langley Hill Road, close to Fogarty winery, with the aim of installing one of the largest and certainly the most high-tech vineyards and wineries in the mountains. Despite opposition from local residents three large caves have been blasted into the hillside. Millions of dollars have been spent preparing the rugged hillside for viticulture, including the design of a custom 'tractor' that can traverse steep slopes at an angle.

As of yet, Clos de la Tech does not have a permit for a winery on the site, so the wines are all made on a custom crush basis at Domenico's winery in San Carlos. Just 100 cases are made each year of the 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers', and less than 50 cases of the 'Domaine Valeta'. The most recent release of both wines is from the 2003 vintage. While I've yet to see a review from any of the major publications the wines got positive reviews by Rusty Gaffney on his Pinot File site.

When the 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' was first launched it caused something of a stir on the internet discussion groups with its price tag of $101.50; this made it one of the most expensive wines in the AVA behind Ridge Monte Bello and Kathryn Kennedy, and by far the most expensive Pinot Noir. Similarly the debut release of 'Domaine Valeta' was priced at $81.50. While we are used to seeing high priced first releases, these typically are Napa Cabernets from 'rock star' winemakers and vineyard managers; flashy, concentrated and heavily oaked wines that inevitably garner high scores from the critics. Domestic Pinot Noir on the other hand has generally resisted price inflation with only a handful of producers commanding triple-digit prices. In fact while there are several semi-cult releases that can fetch large sums on the auction market most of those are priced under $100 on release (and have long waiting lists).

I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle of the 2001 release on closeout at K&L for the far less eye-watering price of $30, and finally broke it out last weekend for the benefit of some fellow local wine enthusiasts. The presentation is striking; the neck of each bottle contains a real silicon chip embedded in the wax (the chip changes with each vintage), the foil has the winery name printed around it in the style of Romanee Conti, and each bottle is individually numbered.

2001 Clos de la Tech 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Pinot Noir
Quite dark in colour for a wine that aspires to emulate a Burgundy. On the nose there's cherry and star anise, with caramel showing more as the wine opened.
There is good cherry fruit; fairly low acidity and the tannins are soft. A slight 'green' hint and a longish peppery finish. 90. Worth what I paid, but I can't imagine anyone who stumped up the original release price being too happy with the value.

Notwithstanding the deep pockets - not to mention the hubris and enthusiasm - of its owner it will be very interesting to see whether the winery can yet live up to its own hype and produce truly world class wines from this already world class region.