North Coast Pinot Noir

Williams Selyem

Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2016

David T

I would be remiss as a Sommelier if I didn’t pay homage to a Winery co-founder, Sonoma pioneer & legend, Burt Williams, who passed away this week at 79 due to complications of Parkinson’s.

For those of you that see my posts, soon after I fell In love with wine, I/we started traveling to as many world wine regions as we could. It was at that point, I fell in love with producers. For many, they just sip wine and like or love it. If my posts reflect anything, they hopefully convey a love and homage for producers.

It is a daunting challenge financially & a labor intensive investment to start a winery. Producers that do it well, do it out of love & passion. Somewhere around 50% is completely out of their It is a tremendous undertaking, hard work and why I have ultimate respect for producers and Burt is the rule, not the exception.

Williams Selyem has been a favorite Pinot of ours for sometime. We really enjoy them at 10 years plus in bottle. At that age, they take on a preferred Burgundian style. They long age effortlessly, beautifully and show so much more with that kind of time in bottle.

The nose reveals; ruby, dark cassis, blackberries, black raspberries, raspberries, both black plum & plum, boysenberries, blue fruits, pomegranate, Provence herbs, tree sap, charcoal notes, soft, savory meats, mint/eucalyptus, limestone, volcanic minerals, dry, powdery rocks, Lipton tea, mixed dark berry cola, dark, red, blue, purple flowers laid on top of distinctive Williams Selyem violets.

The body, this young is full & feels well extracted. The structure, tension are still big and need to round out. The length & balance are headed to the right place. Ruby, dark cassis, blackberries, black raspberries, raspberries, both black plum & plum, boysenberries, blue fruits, pomegranate, cherries, strawberries, Provence herbs, tree sap, pronounced dark spices with plate heat, chocolate cake w/ light frosting, clove, nutmeg,, cinnamon stick, some vanillin, charcoal notes, soft, savory meats, mint/eucalyptus, underbrush, limestone, volcanic minerals, dry, powdery rocks, Lipton tea, mixed dark berry cola, dark, red, blue, purple flowers laid on top of distinctive Williams Selyem violets. The acidy is near perfect. The long finish needs time but is; delicious, well balanced, elegant, falling into dark spice as it sets.

This will continue to improve over the next 15 years plus.

I didn’t know Burt personally but, I have enjoyed his craft & legacy over the years. I will leave this post with what the winery sent out this week in tribute. They’ve done it far better than I could.

We are deeply saddened to announce that Burt Williams, founder of Williams Selyem, passed away yesterday due to complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Burt, along with co-founder Ed Selyem, started out with a few tons of free grapes in the 1970s. The two friends didn’t set out to produce wines for anyone but themselves, and they surely never imagined that their humble experiment in home winemaking would spawn a cult-status winery of international acclaim. Together, they set a new standard for American-made Pinot Noir, and elevated Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley to among the best wine growing regions in the world.

Born in San Francisco in 1940, Burt and his family moved north to Sonoma County after his dad passed. Upon graduating from Sebastopol High School, he went to work as a printer for the San Francisco Chronicle.

A self-taught winemaker, Burt found his way with the aid of many winemaking books and study of old-world winemaking techniques. In the early days, the winery had little money to spend so they improvised and used old stainless-steel dairy tanks for fermentors—a tradition we still carry on today. He was always fascinated by the terroir of the Russian River Valley and believed that the grapes grown here could make wines to rival the best in the world.

In 1992, Burt quit his day job to focus solely on the winery. After much success, he passed on selling to a few suitors, then made the decision to sell the winery to our current owner, John Dyson. Burt set a particular standard for whom they were willing to sell the winery to. The first condition was that the buyer must already be on the mailing list. The second condition was that the buyer must already be in the wine industry. “Kathe and I were really very lucky to be chosen by Burt and Ed. Kathe had joined the mailing list in the early 1990s and I already owned a winery in New York and a vineyard in California. We saw that as a true sign of Burt’s dedication to maintaining the quality of the wine and the business,” said John Dyson.

After the sale, Burt stayed in the wine industry and purchased a vineyard in the Anderson Valley, where he grew Pinot Noir. We made a vineyard designate from his grapes, called Burt Williams’ Morning Dew Ranch, until he sold the vineyard in 2015. Burt Williams was a pioneer of the industry and stayed a true friend of the winery. He visited the winery many times a year and was always interested in current goings-on. He would often come to events and pour wine and even sign bottles for customers. John Dyson said Burt once told him, “I have to say, John, I’m so delighted we sold to you. We could never have done anything like this ourselves and you really helped make what we started live on.”

Burt’s influence on the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, and Pinot Noir winemaking in general cannot be overstated. He was considered a trailblazer in the industry and is credited with helping put Sonoma County Pinot Noir on the map. He was also an influence on, and a mentor to, an entire generation of winemakers. VP of Winemaking Jeff Mangahas said, “Burt had a profound impact on my way of thinking of winemaking and it was some of his early wines that fueled my interest in the Russian River Valley. It is truly an honor to be the steward for Williams Selyem wines today and continue to make wines in the spirit of Burt.”

We will all miss Burt greatly.

Burt is survived by his wife Rebecca, two daughters, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Photos of; Williams Selyem, two photos of Burt & the “Morning Dew Vineyard” that I hope he is walking and producing heavenly vintage from in his hereafter.
— a day ago

Eric, Deborah and 26 others liked this
Eric Shanks

Eric Shanks Premium Badge

Hanging onto mine as long as possible
Peter van den Besselaar

Peter van den Besselaar Influencer Badge

Good post. Fine tribute!
Stephen Pierron

Stephen Pierron

@David T Well said sir and excellent tribute! I have not had the opportunity to try their Pinot Noirs, but hope to very soon. Starting one's own winery is no easy feat - I'm always glad to see others recognize the sacrifice and truly appreciate all aspects of wine much passion goes into it. Cheers!


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A tasty and interesting Pinot Noir from Napa Valley. Never had one from Napa, actually.

Showing cherries, strawberries, wood, raspberries, chocolates, vanilla, spices, cola and peppercorn.

Medium plus in body with medium acidity. Soft and elegant with nice complexity.

Easy drinking with a nice mouthfeel. Balanced with nice acidity.

Would age nicely in the next 5 years.

Good for parties. Good by itself or with food. A nice porch wine. I had it slightly chilled which was great.

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90 points.

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