Pinot Noir Wine: Sonoma’s Petaluma Gap VS Burgundy

Is Burgundy wine the same as Pinot Noir?

Before Pinot Noir was an American wine varietal, it was just a very special grape that turned out the most fantastic red wines in the revered Burgundy region of France. Pinot Noir red wines have long been considered the Burgundy region’s most important and noble grape, even though it’s historically a very finicky vine to grow; (thriving in rocky limestone, volcanic, clay, and loam soils) keeping winemakers on their toes for centuries. In Burgundy, France there is no reason to say “Pinot Noir” when referring to red wine from the region as it is legally the only red variety grown. 

Burgundy Pinot Noir is esteemed for its charm and complexity. They are beloved for their red fruit flavors, earthy notes, and elegant structure. Moreover, the Burgundy region’s long dedication to developing their wines by following tradition with a focus on small-scale, family-owned wineries have contributed to the allure of Burgundy wines for centuries. 

And then came California. 

A pivotal moment took place during the 1976 Judgement of Paris when in a blind-tasting event, California wines including Pinot Noir, outperformed a handful of renowned French wines – turning the wine community’s attention West, in a meaningful way, for the first time ever. 

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

Lo and behold, in the mid 20th Century, California winemakers had discovered that when the Pinot Noir grape was raised in the Petaluma Gap (now an American Viticultural Area or AVA) it thrived in many ways that rivaled its original region of Burgundy, France. The Petaluma Gap is a wind gap that acts as a funnel for cool Pacific Ocean winds and fog. This natural air corridor brings cool air and fog into the region which allows Pinot Noir grapes to ripen more slowly and develop complex flavors. Moreover, the brisk airflow helps to keep the vineyards free of disease and promotes healthy grape development. 

Grape-growing regions that are included in the Petaluma Gap are: 

  • Sonoma Coast 
  • Marin County
  • Sonoma Mountain
  • Petaluma

Today the Pinot Noir grapes that are raised in Burgundy are considered “Old World” grapes. Those that are grown in California (as well as Australia, Argentina, South Africa, and Washington, to name a few) are referred to as “New World” grapes. 

Burgundy vs California Pinot Noir

The difference between the taste of Old World and New World Pinot Noir grapes is impressive. Here are some key differences for you to consider: 

Burgundy wines are all about terroir and tradition. Small wineries and unique limestone soil lend concentrated flavors and high acidity to Burgundys that cannot be mimicked in other areas of the world. Most Old World Burgundys are lighter in color because the wine is less concentrated. Winemakers from Burgundy are also modest with their use of oak barrels for aging – which means the wines have far less oak-y spice. Burgundy wines are rich with red and black fruit flavor entangled with the essence of forest floor, spices, and flowers.  

Moreover, the best Pinot Noir from Burgundy will age beautifully for decades to come and are some of the most expensive in the world.   

California Pinot Noirs are bold and audacious. With vibrant richer fruit profiles and bigger oak flavors, California Pinot Noirs stand up and stand out.  You can even find Pinot Noir white wine if you look hard enough. That’s wine made from Pinot Noir without any contact with the skins during production.

Other features of an American Pinot Noir include using cultured yeast during the fermentation process, so wines will be fruitier and crisper. More time aging in oak barrels leads to bolder flavors, too. 

Here’s a tip, though: California Pinot Noirs can call themselves that if they’re made up from at least 75% Pinot Noir grapes. With that, blends are much more common among California Pinot Noirs. (That feels very American, doesn’t it!?) If you want an apples-to-apples comparison, be sure you’re drinking 100% California Pinot Noir. 

In short, whether you prefer Pinot Noir from Burgundy or from the Petaluma Gap is a matter of personal taste. But either way, the drama, charmed competition, and rich histories of both places are involved and enthralling for wine lovers of all knowledge levels. 

Access wines of this caliber in the Cellar Angels Wine Club.

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