May 7 2014 12:00 AM

World-class sommelier’s Pinot Noirs are pure enchantment

What happens when Emmanuel Kemiji, a world-class sommelier, establishes a winery and gains access to fruit from California´s most highly regarded Pinot Noir vineyards? Miura Vineyards happens.

The U.S.-born Kemiji was raised in Europe and educated at the University of California, Davis, the mecca of American viticultural and oenological education. Emmanuel was the 12th American to pass the master sommelier examination, the gold standard for wine knowledge, recognition, service and education. As the director of wine and spirits for the Ritz- Carlton Hotel Co., he refined his palate by sampling tens of thousands of wines, ultimately deciding to establish his own Napa-based winery focused on producing wine from the most difficult of grapes, Pi not Noir. Emanuel led a sampling of several of these wines during his recent visit to MSU’s State Room.

First up was the 2009 Talley Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the Arroyo Grande Valley in southern San Luis Obispo CountyThe grapes are predominantly Pommard and Dijon clone; unlike most California vineyard land, the soil has a good dose of limestone, a trait shared with the Burgundy region of France, from which Pinot Noir originates. Like the other Miura Pinot Noirs, winemaking techniques lean toward the non-interventionist Burgundian style. Grapes ferment only on their natural yeast with little or no fining and filtering. The Talley Vineyard Pinot Noir is concentrated, showing a full nose, long finish, good depth of flavor and minerality.

Next was a wine from one of California’s most famous and sought after Pinot Noir sources, Garys’ Vineyard, named after owners Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni. The vines in this vineyard have their roots in budwood from Burgundy’s worldfamous La Tâche vineyard, and the quality shows. Coming from a cooler vineyard site, the Garys’ is a bit lighter than the Talley. It presented with delicate and more nuanced flavors in perfect harmony.

The 2009 Silacci Vineyard Pinot is harvested from a vineyard owned by Robert Silacci, a distant cousin of Pisoni and uncle of the winemaker at Opus One. (California winemaking and grape-growing can be a small world.) The Silacci Vineyard is one of the northernmost in the Santa Lucia Highlands, closer to Monterey Bay, and a much cooler site. Grapes grown in cooler sites ripen more slowly than warmer site grapes and tend towards lower alcohol, enhanced aromatics and higher acidity. Grapes from warmer sites, meanwhile, tend to develop more ripeness, leading to higher alcohol, more body and more fruit intensity on the palate. The Silacci was very Burgundian, reflecting a delightful bouquet with both a delineated flavor profile and viscosity on the palate.

Miura also makes a couple of Pinot Noirs that were not tasted, including a Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Williams Ranch Vineyard from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, the coolest viticultural area in California. Expect the Anderson Valley Pinot to be more Burgundian, a bit lighter, more aromatic and tighter, demonstrating elegance rather than power.

Miura also has a Syrah program marketed under the Antiqv2s label. Syrah is one of the oldest known grape varieties, thought to have its origin in ancient Persia. The two Syrahs are from Garys’ Vineyard and Pisoni Vineyard. These wines are more Northern Rhone-style than Australian-style, keeping in mind that Syrah and Shiraz are different names for the same grape.

In the Santa Lucia Highlands, the meager amount of Syrah that is grown has an extraordinarily long growing season before being picked, often in late October or early November. The resulting wine, as exemplified by the 2007 Pisoni Vineyard, is big, concentrated and complex, with a fine acid backbone and overtones of black pepper, dark fruit, earth and bacon fat.

The single vineyard Miura Pinot Noirs are extremely limited production wines, only 111 to 435 cases for the 2009 vintage; expect pricing to be around $55 per bottle. The more readily available Monterey County Pinot (3,895 cases) should be priced around $25, while the limited production Syrah should be available at around $35. Most won’t be on wine shop shelves, but can be ordered by wine merchants through Ken Dagg at Classic Wine Distributors of Wixom.

In Vino Veritas.

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at