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Pinot Meunier, Poe Wines, and Van Der Kamp Vineyard


Poe Wines Pinot Meunier from Van Der Kamp Vineyard

Yesterday, Samantha Sheehan, and Shawn Johnson of Poe Wines, and I traveled to the Van Der Kamp Vineyard near the top of Sonoma Mountain in order to pick up Pinot Meunier. Along with just picked Pinot Noir, the fruit has been pressed for rosé.

Following is a look at the beautiful, while obscure variety.

Sam Sheehan with just picked Pinot MeunierSam Sheehan with Pinot Meunier for Poe Wines, September 2014

Years ago a 1er cru Burgundy made me realize wine was special, but a still red Pinot Meunier made me fall irretrievably in love wine. I’ve spent the years since hunting the variety around the world.

Pinot Meunier proves rare in terms of unique bottlings. Its primary home rests in Champagne, where it serves as one of the three legal varieties of the wine, capturing the most acreage of any variety in the region thanks to its easier reliability in cool zones. (Historic plantings of four other varieties are also allowed but uncommon.)

Loading the Pinot Meunier to take down the hillloading the Pinot Meunier into bins to drive down Sonoma Mountain, Sept 2014

Historically in France, Pinot Meunier tended to be planted in cooler areas as a sort of insurance grape, proving able to ripen where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir did not find enough warmth. Thanks to Pinot Meunier budding later, it also buds more reliably than its cousins. As a result, it was at one time throughout Northern France. Today, outside Champagne it remains in small pockets of the Loire, as well as Lorraine along the border of Germany. In France, outside of Champagne, examples of Pinot Meunier are made as either a still red wine, or rosé.

Pinot Meunier can also be found as a still red wine in Germany where it is more often bottled under the names Müllerrebe, or Schwarzriesling.

Shawn checking the Pinot MeunierShawn Johnson getting fruit ready for transport, September 2014

In the New World, Pinot Meunier appears primarily in Australia, Oregon, and California. Historic plantings of Pinot Meunier from the 1860s still produce fruit in Victoria, Australia, being bottled by their owner, Best’s Great Western as an Old Vine wine. Best’s treats the variety as one of its foundational grapes, also bottling a separate Young Vine Pinot Meunier from cuttings planted in the 1970s.

In Oregon, the variety was first established in 1965 when the original vines entered Willamette Valley via David Lett of Eyrie. The still red wines made by only a few producers in Willamette have remained largely under the radar. New plantings have just begun in the Valley, as devotees of the grape have brought a little more attention to the grape type.

Sam and DixieSam Sheehan and Dixie Van Der Kamp, September 2014

California treats Pinot Meunier primarily as a component of sparkling wine, growing it in cooler zones of Mendocino and Carneros. A few very small bottlings of still red wine examples from these sites are also produced.

As one exception, the Van Der Kamp family established the variety on their 1200-ft elevation, 60 acre vineyard-farm in the early 1980s, producing one of the early examples in the state of a still red wine expression. Today they have 3 acres of the variety, planted alongside 22 acres of Pinot Noir.

Martin VanderkampMartin Van Der Kamp, September 2014

Established wine knowledge has it that Pinot Meunier does not age well. However, examples of still red wines from both Oregon and Victorian producers that still carrying vibrancy 20, 30, and even 40 years later would disagree. In sparkling wines, Krug most famously uses ample portions of the variety in its champagne, which is also known to age beautifully.

Pinot Meunier brings higher natural acidity, and more transparent color than Pinot Noir, while also carrying a greater sense of mid-palate fleshiness with flavoral delicacy. In sparkling cuvées, the variety contributes aromatics, apparent fruit, and a sense of body for the style’s acidity. In red wines, both a sense of natural spice, and a light metallic backbone appear.

The inversion layer over Vanderkamp VineyardVan Der Kamp Vineyard, September 2014, morning
(the crazy dark line that shows in the sky between the tree line and the mountains is the morning inversion layer)

As a result of its layered subtlety, the variety shows most beautifully picked with a sense of freshness, with a lighter hand in vinification, and an absence of new oak. Though some producers do make still red wine examples with more work in the cellar and new oak presence, such an approach obscures the pleasantly delicate elements of the variety turning it into a heavier wine.

Thanks to the unique conditions of the Van Der Kamp vineyard, their Pinot Meunier combines the variety’s naturally lifted acidity, with thicker skins and still smooth tannin. The skins offer the possibility of brawn that some producers prefer, while the smooth tannin and juiciness carry the freshness resplendent in the grape.

Putting up prayer flags to mark the start of harvestShawn and Ulysses Van Der Kamp lifting prayer flags to mark the start of harvest, Sept 1, 2014

Inspired by the uniqueness of the Van Der Kamp Vineyard, Samantha Sheehan, and Shawn Johnson work with the Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Meunier for Poe Wines. Last year, they produced a sparkling expression of the variety (still aging in bottle).

They also made a vin gris style rosé in 2013 of both Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. The fresh fruit zing-iness of the rosé proved to be one of the most popular wines of the Poe portfolio. For 2014, Poe Wines again takes the Van Der Kamp Pinot Meunier alongside old vine Pinot Noir to make rosé, pressing the grapes yesterday. The fruit tasted delicious.

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  1. Wonderful job as always, Elaine. Just curious, is the Meunier planted in parts of the vineyard where Pinot Noir would not be successful? I imagine that Meunier commands a far lower tariff…

    • Thanks! Nice, as always to see you here. Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir actually have similar selling price when cropped the same (that is, rosé fruit isn’t the same as red fruit, but if both are cropped for red, for example, they sell the same). This depends on producer, of course. But it also makes sense as they are very similar grapes, that cost the same to grow.

      The Pinot Meunier on the Van Der Kamp Vineyard is planted in what seems to be a slightly more shaded spot that forms a small bowl. The temperature variation is minimal compared to the vineyard as a whole. While it is slightly cooler it can grow Pinot Noir. The four acre area that has the Pinot Meunier includes 3 acres of PM and 1 of Pinot Noir.

      In Europe Pinot Meunier plantings are documented back into the middle ages, so it makes sense that over such long periods planting tendencies would develop, like certain zones that are too cool for PN but do well for PM. In the new world we haven’t had such time for planting style evolution, and so more vineyards are established by taste and interest than by historical climate necessity.

  2. If you can find it, (well worth the effort), you must try Grafen Neipperg Samtrot Qba “Neipperger Schlossberg, Barrique” troken, Wurttemberg. Rick Schofield introduced me to this wine many years ago at an American Wine Society Conference. We were in a session entitled “Germany-Everything but Riesling”. Not knowing what grape was used in the vinification of the wine, as I swirled, sniffed then sipped I began to realize that this wine reminded me of Pinot Noir only bigger, bolder, louder almost obnoxious. It was as if Pinot Noir had a big brother from Jersy. As Rick continued to describe this wine he let us know that Samtrot was a name for Pinot Meunier in the local German dialect. I fell in love with Pinot Meunier that day. I’m still looking for its equal or anything close for that matter.

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