MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2005
wine pixies

Elliot Essman at 14
The author aged 14.

MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2005 Tasting Notes

When I was a kid, I was constantly being likened to Stanley Livingston, a young actor my exact age, who played the character Chip Douglas on the long running (1960-1972) sit-com My Three Sons, which started Fred MacMurray as everybody's most lovable dad. I recall I once even signed an autograph “Chip.” Later, I went through a phase where my physiognomy was said to resemble that of actor Michael Keaton, though I never got to the autograph stage on that one. I am still frequently asked if I am related to comic actress Susie Essman (from HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm), but this is understandable since we do look alike.

But back to Fred MacMurray. By the time MacMurray achieved fame with Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), he already owned his ranch in Sonoma County. MacMurray kept the property working with various crops for the rest of his long life (he died in 1991), raised his children there, and specified that the ranch be kept intact after his death. The Gallo family bought the property in 1996 as part of a careful plan to expand into artisanal wines. The bridge between the two families seems to be working; the ranch is as beautiful as ever, and Kate MacMurrary, the actor's daughter, is the current spokesperson for the winery.

The ranch is located in the cool-climate Russian River area of Sonoma. Winemaker Susan Doyle, an Australian, concentrates on only three wines, three Pinots to be exact: a Pinot Gris, the Russian River Pinot Noir (featuring estate fruit), and this $24 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which brings in fruit from Carneros and elsewhere in the county.

The wine is a mainstream Pinot purple, bringing a nose of orange blossom, floral spice, and a fine touch of earth. The effect is clean and direct. The aromatic fruit is led by a nose-tickling raspberry, with a little deeper red fruit along the lines of plum.

The medium-bodied wine is tangibly dry, though fruit ripeness can fool the palate here. As with the nose, non-fruit sensations speak first: violet, sweet oak, vanilla. The fruit is raspberry, cherry, some new cranberry, but there is also a touch of citrus, almost orange, which I don't often find in red wines. Clove and floral spice back this all up.

The wine has forceful acidity, a shade higher than medium level. This adds to a decided tang, bringing the wine into the “perfect with food” camp. I enjoyed the Pinot with a steak salad. The food and wine combination was effective, but the experience was marred somewhat by my inability to stop humming that theme melody from My Three Sons.


Verdict: Fresh and clean
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Pinot Noir, as any winegrower or winemaker can well attest, never comes easy.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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MacMurray Ranch Winemaker Susan Doyle
Winemaker Susan Doyle

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