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Gap Year

The wind's the thing in the Petaluma Gap

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Approved in December and effective Jan. 8, the Petaluma Gap is the North Bay's newest American Viticultural Area (AVA). The question now is, will wineries add this rookie appellation to their labels rather than sticking with the tried-and-true Sonoma Coast AVA, out of which it was carved?

"We will do so with pretty much every wine we can," says Tom Gendall, associate winemaker at Cline Family Cellars. Perhaps best known for its Zinfandel and Rhône-style blends, Cline also makes cooler climate varietals from estate vineyards in Carneros and the southern Sonoma Coast, where the influence of ocean breeze and fog during grape ripening contributes to the quality of wine for which the Petaluma Gap is known. The key to the Gap is that its vineyards are first in line to get blasted by that wind and fog.

According to Gendall, who completed wine studies in New Zealand and has worked with Gap vineyards for seven years, that means the "cool Carneros" is actually significantly warmer. At harvest, "Carneros is anywhere from to two to four weeks earlier than Petaluma Gap," Gendall says. "And that translates to style."

Generally speaking, the style also contrasts to Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. "Russian River is very big and opulent, whereas I find Petaluma Gap has more restraint, more tannin, more mineral flavor and earthiness with that longer hang time," says Gendall. While the fruit may not be as bright, it's infused with notes of char, bramble and forest floor. "I definitely find that I prefer that extra characteristic—it's still got that fruit there, but it's got that extra complexity."

Cline's 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($20) fits that description well, cloaking its fruit under earthy, woodsy spice, with ginger, coriander and clove suggesting a mulled wine character—but without the "cooked" note. Velour-textured tannins mark a satisfying, quite dry finish. This is a good value for Pinot Noir, which is grown on 75 percent of the new AVA's 4,000 vineyard acres.

Notably, Chardonnay is neck and neck with Syrah for second place, at 13 percent vs. 12 percent of grapes grown in the AVA, respectively, while Cline's 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris ($15) hails from the paltry 1 percent of "other" grape varieties grown there. This quite young wine shows young wine aromatics of white grape press cake, a sort of nutty mélange of unsalted peanuts and white table grape crushed on Melba toast. Because it's a fruity yet saline refresher without apparent barrel age, I'd rather call it a "Pinot Grigio"—but, like the Gap or the Coast, they're also free to call it either way.

Look for Cline's upcoming single vineyard series wines from the Petaluma Gap.

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