I first met James MacPhail in February of 2011 in his small yet well designed winery located behind his home, near Healdsburg in Sonoma. Others had told me of these beautiful Pinots, but I remained skeptical of the accolades. That skepticism was blown away in about 10 minutes. Predominately a producer of single vineyard Pinot Noir, James and I sat for over two hours sampling the wines and discussing the nuances of each. More than just being a great winemaker, James is smart and fun to hang with. I became more than a fan that day…maybe a devotee.
At that time James split his time between making his own wines under the MacPhail label and working as the winemaker for Hess Collection’s single vineyard Pinot Noir label, Sequana. James told me he enjoyed the freedom Hess allowed him to create artful wines with the same attention to detail as his own. The relationship must have remained strong, since Hess acquired the MacPhail label later in the year. James continues as winemaker for both.
James’s offerings from the 2009 vintage are as strong as those of 2007. What about 2008 you ask? Well, it seems that many of his vineyards were close enough to the raging fires of that summer to absorbed the smoke flavors (smoke taint) thus producing inferior wines. James refused to bottle that year at significant cost to his small winery. That shows however, his strong commitment to quality.