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Larry Brooks’ Campion Pinot

Larry Brooks’ Campion Pinot

Larry Walker

Larry Brooks was the first winemaker at Acacia Winery in Carneros in 1979, and made wine there for 19 years. Acacia was one of the first California wineries to specialize in single vineyard wines–Pinot Noir and Chardonnay–and Brooks’ wines got high marks from wine critics. He left Acacia because he wanted out of the corporate grind, but he didn’t leave Pinot Noir behind.

He established Campion Wines in 2000 with the sole purpose of making single vineyard Pinot Noir. (“Campion” for Thomas Campion, an Elizabethan poet, and a favorite of Brooks.) Brooks is currently making four Pinots, two from Edna Valley, one from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and a Carneros.

Why Pinot, I asked? Brooks laughed: “Why do you pick your wife or your friends? Just because. And there is never enough good Pinot Noir.”

Brooks took a multi-appellation approach, because Pinot might sometimes not perform well in a single appellation in any given vintage, so he figures this way, he will always have something worthwhile. “Also, I don’t believe there is one perfect area for growing Pinot Noir in California,” he added.

“Right now, my favorite is the Santa Lucia wine. It is an interesting region because it is so compact. There is the same soil, same slope, same weather throughout the appellation. The wines are delicate and perfumed, with herbal notes. The Edna Valley wines are very appealing to the consumer. The fruit is blacker and richer, the wine is more layered. Carneros is all spice and cherries,” Brooks said.

Brooks wines are terroir-driven. “You may not be able to define terroir intellectually, but it is real, and no other wine shows it as clearly as Pinot Noir.”

Stylistically, Campion Pinots are all about balance and harmony. Brooks is not a fan of extraction, believing that balance between tannins is lost with over-extracted wines. “I would rather under-extract than over-extract,” he said.

Brooks co-ferments in many cases with Pinot Gris, no more than 7% to 8%, which he says is an old Burgundian technique. “The Pinot Gris adds perfume, and to hell with the color. It has been said that Pinot Noir needs color like a beautiful body needs clothes,” he said.

He has a very light touch with oak. “Oak can contribute to the consistency of a style, but it is important to remember that the oak itself must be consistent. Winemakers like to talk about all the different coopers they use. In my consulting, I tell people to pick one cooper they like and stick with them.”

Production of Campion Wines has topped out at about 5,000 cases. “It’s a one-man operation and I want to keep it that way,” Brooks said.

He also makes a small amount of wine under the Amethyst label, with Mike Richmond, the founder of Acacia and now the general manager of Bouchaine Vineyards. They make a Nebbiolo, a Muscat and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

But his true love is Pinot Noir. “The thing about Pinot is, you never get bored,” Brooks said.

The wines themselves are remarkably good. I find myself in agreement with Brooks, as the Santa Lucia is my favorite. It is a delicate and supple wine of great complexity. It engages the palate fully, from the opening aromas to the long, echoing finish.

The corporate world’s loss is a plus for Pinot Noir.

(Larry Brooks is based in Napa and can be reached at (707) 265-6733 and by email at: lbrooks@campionwines.com.)

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