Started in the 1970s by longtime friends Burt Williams and Ed Selyem, this was one of the first “garagistes” in Sonoma County. Using grapes sourced from small vineyards in the Russian River Valley, the original name “Hacienda del Rio” was later changed to Williams Selyem. Experimenting with new techniques and sourcing from the best vineyards in the region afforded the wines such acclaim that they were presold long before release, something that continues to this day. In the United States, there is a 6 month to 1 year wait list to be put on the mailing list to buy wines for release. In 1997, viticulturist and entrepreneur John Dyson and his wife Kathe purchased the Williams Selyem brand that had become too big for the original partners to manage. By that time, annual production was more than 10,000 cases – still small by most industry standards, but much larger than Burt and Ed had ever imagined when they bottled their first few barrels! The new owners brought famed winemaker Bob Cabral on board and the winery really began to take shape. They purchased their own vineyards, including a couple from the cool Sonoma Coast AVA, which allowed them to experiment with Burgundian varieties. They discovered that in the warmer parts of the Russian River Valley, Dijon clones of Pinot Noir ripen too quickly, so they utilize California heritage clones, with thicker skins and longer hang times, instead. Williams Selyem produces single vineyard offerings from their own vineyards as well as from the best growers in Sonoma, leveraging contracts signed over 30 years ago. The wines are still fermented in open-top dairy tanks, like they were in the 70s, using an indigenous Williams Selyem yeast clone discovered from a Zinfandel ferment in 1984. Non-interventionist techniques in the vineyard, coupled with a keen eye on phenolic ripeness, 25% whole-cluster fermentation and aging only in Francois Freres Burgundian oak barrels brought international acclaim to the wines, though they were (and are) almost impossible to find outside the US. In 2009, Wine Enthusiast gave the 2006 Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points, the first North American Pinot to be awarded a perfect score by a major international publication. Today, Jeff Managhas is Winemaker, with Chris Bowland managing the vineyards. Jeff prefers a more subtle, Old-World approach to winemaking and his first wines have been met with overwhelming critical approval.
The Russian River Valley AVA, which lies in the geographical heart of Sonoma, is home to over 15000 vineyard acres and 70 wineries. Fifteen miles long, it winds its way through Mendocino County AVA, Alexander Valley AVA and Healdsburg, before heading out to the Pacific. Warmer than Sonoma Coast AVA, but cooler than areas further inland such as the Alexander Valley AVA, the area’s dense morning and evening fog banks have become synonymous with the region, helping cool the grapes from the warm days. It is this diurnal change that allows for the production of world-class cooler-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as fantastic warmer-climate Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are varied soils within this appellation, but most share large amounts of gravel and some measure of clay.
Sourced from the Laguna Vineyard, the Martaella Vineyard and the Drake Estate Vineyard. 34 acres planted with Pommard and Dijon clones with each 2-acre block of the vineyard irrigated separately.
Pinot Noir—chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France— is grown around the world, mostly in cooler climates. The grape’s tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several viticultural hazards involving rot that require diligent canopy management. When young, wines made from Pinot Noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, Pinot has the potential to develop more vegetal and earthy aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine. Thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lend Pinot to producing mostly lightly coloured, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging.
Grapes were manually harvested and carefully transported to the winery, where they are produced with minimal intervention, including being foot trod instead of machine crushed. Fermentation takes place in oak with punch downs occurring every six hours. The wine is aged in oak (43% new, 57% 2nd use) for 11 months.
Notes of raspberry, dried rose petals and black tea immediately jump from the glass. Potpourri notes combine with dried orange peel to add to the wonderful complexity on the nose, while wood spices and anise round out the aromatics. Flavours of black cherry and smoky herbs come through on the palate with a strong sensation of black tea and citrus peel. This 2017 offering showcases the vintage with a medium-bodied texture and a refined tannin structure, owing to the warm growing season. The grapes were able to achieve full maturity and maintain fresh fruit aromas and flavors with enough acid to frame the palate.