Anthony Austin’s roots go back to the very early days of California wine… literally. His ancestors were granted a homestead in 1881 in Sonoma County, and are said to have planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Russian River Valley.
After attending U.C. Davis’ viticultural school, Austin became a protege of the country’s most highly regarded winemaking master, Andre Tchelistcheff. In 1975 Tchelistcheff recommended that Brooks Firestone hire Austin as winemaker at his newly formed Santa Ynez Valley estate. Austin overcame an admitted Northern California prejudice to accept the Santa Barbara County position. The advice paid off. Brooks and Anthony made winemaking history when Austin’s 1978 Firestone Chardonnay took the first “world-class” award ever earned by a central coast winery: the coveted London Double Gold Medal.
In 1981 Tony left Firestone (where he had been vice-president) to do his own thing: he formed Austin Cellars. Preferring to use fruit from several growers, he proceeded to produce wines from carefully selected vineyards in Santa Barbara County. He believed that with this freedom of choice came a greater latitude for the winemaker to create great wine. He further held that a small winery can succeed only by producing “artistic” wines. So, he focused his aesthetic flair on bringing out the best in each varietal he vinted.
Many authorities consider the aristocratically elegant, velvety red wines produced from Pinot Noir, the best in the world. Austin does not make a Pinot Noir every year. “I only make it in years when I really like the grapes,” explains the free-spirited winemaker. Truly a challenge, this grape seldom realizes its glorious potential outside its native soil, France’s renowned Burgundy district. A fickle mistress, responding dramatically to soil and weather conditions, this thoroughbred vine’s fruit and flavor differ with each new harvest.
This example has a brilliant light-garnet color and an unmistakable “Pinot” nose. If you would like to know what Pinot Noir smells like, this is it. The texture is remarkably rich and smooth in the mouth: full, but not heavy. Classic plum and raspberry flavors pervade all. The finish is nice and clean, dry, with just a touch of tannin.
Serve at room temperature with roast fowl or Cantonese-style pepper steak.
Cellaring Notes: Drink now thru 1992.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper