MacPhail Departs From Namesake Winery

By Robert Whitley

May 10, 2016 5 min read

HEALDSBURG, Calif. — We've seen this act before: Richard Arrowood sells Arrowood. Gone. Gary Farrell sells Gary Farrell. Gone. Richard Sanford sells Sanford. Gone.

The latest disappearing act involves James MacPhail, the well-regarded pinot noir specialist who sold the MacPhail winery to Hess about a year ago.

During a recent visit, as I tasted the latest MacPhail releases at the small winery behind his house in the Russian River Valley, James casually let drop that this month would be his last as the winemaker at MacPhail.

"The parting is amicable," he said, though he did intimate there was a disagreement over the direction of the boutique winery, which has earned a stellar reputation for often-brilliant small-lot vineyard-designate pinot noirs and chardonnays, primarily from the Russian River and Sonoma Coast appellations.

His life as a winemaking consultant begins almost immediately. MacPhail's first gig is with a winery currently under construction in the Sonoma Valley.

"I can't say the name at this point, but they're bringing in (renowned Napa Valley winemaker) Philippe Melka to oversee their Bordeaux program, and I will be responsible for their Burgundy program," said MacPhail.

In the meantime, he and his wife Kerry are launching their own new label, Tongue Dancer. "We chose that name because the wines we enjoy most dance on your tongue," said MacPhail.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Bisol Cru Prosecco CARTIZZE, Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, Valdobbiadene, Italy ($50) — Bisol is arguably the leading producer of prosecco, and its Cartizze DOCG, made on the only vineyard designated a cru in the Valdobbiadene district, is the finest prosecco in Italy. While it would never rival Champagne for structure and depth, it is as impressive as it gets in the world of prosecco. Intense on the nose, with notes of white flowers, pear and peach, it delivers elegance and balance on the palate. It is extremely dry and impressive through a very long finish. It is worth every penny! Rating: 96.

ROAR 2014 Pinot Noir, Garys' Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands ($52) — If there were such a thing as a grand cru pinot vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Garys' Vineyard would no doubt head the list. This remarkable vineyard never misses, despite the fact that multiple winemakers make each Garys' vintage. The 2014 is stunning, showing ripe red fruit, sweet baking spices and soft, supple tannins. Rating: 96.

Black Kite 2014 Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands ($48) — Black Kite Cellar's 2014 chardonnay from the Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands illustrates the spectacular potential of chardonnay in this district. Complex and showing layered aromas of lemon oil and pear, with notes of oak spice, this is a brilliant chardonnay that is rich and balanced, delivering power and elegance at the same time. Rating: 95.

Jordan Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($55) — From an exceptional vintage, the 2012 Jordan is an impressive wine that delivers layered aromas of blackberry and cassis, with a woody note of cedar and a hint of oak spice on the finish. Beautifully balanced, it combines power and grace, and is likely to improve with age over the next 15 years or more. Rating: 95.

Byron 2013 Pinot Noir, Julia's Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley ($45) — From one of the best pinot noir spots in Santa Barbara County, the Byron from Julia's shows a note of wood smoke and spice on the nose that carries through on the palate. The tannins are nicely integrated, and the finish long and seductive. Rating: 90.

Joseph Drouhin 2014 Brouilly, Domaine des Hospices de Belleville, Beaujolais, France ($23) — This Brouilly has the distinctive floral nose of some gamay. Slightly light-bodied with a delicate red-fruit nuance, it nevertheless shows a firm grip on the finish, indicating it is a Beaujolais that will hold — and likely improve — for up to five years. Rating: 89.

Joseph Drouhin 2014 Fleurie, Domaine des Hospices de Belleville, Beaujolais, France ($26) — With a gorgeous nose of cranberry and violet on the nose, this Fleurie shows exceptional potential, but disappoints a bit on the palate. The tannins are quite aggressive, masking the inviting aromas of cranberry and cherry. But it has every right to improve as the tannins soften over time. Rating: 88.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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