Beau Marchais 2021 Pinot Noir: The Unexpected Ending of a Beautiful Collaboration

Philippe Cambie

These three bottlings of Pinot Noir recently released by Beau Marchais are of a project launched  in 2019 by two seasoned winemakers, Adam Lee of California and Philippe Cambie of France.  Their joint venture brought together the talents of one of California’s finest Pinot Noir winemakers with one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s most illustrious enologists and consultant to more than 80 wineries. Despite his extensive winemaking experience, Philippe never had opportunity to produce Pinot Noir, yet he and Adam Lee jointly crafted outstanding wines that in our opinion exhibited new expressions of California Pinot Noir.

Unfortunately, on December 18, 2021, and just shy of his 60th birthday, Philippe Cambie died of respiratory issues at his home in Ch?teauneuf-du-Pape after reportedly struggling with poor health for many years.  Cambie was best known for producing powerful, ripe and fruity wines, yet concentrated and complex.  His influence on the style of these wines made with Adam Lee is apparent, although as we note below, due to his passing in December, Philippe was not able to contribute to the blending of the 2021 vintage.

The three wines under review have much in common but also exhibit unique features of their terroir.  (One of the wines is sourced from the Clos Pepe Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills and two others  from the Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands.)  These wines are relatively bold flavored for Pinot Noirs and are also high in alcohol despite being sourced from relatively cool climate growing areas. They exhibit relatively dark cherry fruit aromas and flavors with a touch of earthiness which at first suggested a blend with Merlot or Syrah (viz a winemaker from Châteauneuf-du Pape), yet they are 100% Pinot Noir.  The wines also have a silky seductive mouth feel and notable refinement with perfect balance and silky fine-grained tannins.  Philippe always blended for texture and mouthfeel, and these wines are true to his winemaking style.

The team’s winemaking approaches help explain the character of the wines.  For example, in both vineyards, they dropped a lot of fruit with multiple thinning passes, which resulted in yields of only 1.5 clusters per shoot; that in turn fostered fast sugar accumulation and faster ripening.  They used the Gaia yeast at the beginning of fermentation and then added D80 yeast to actually carry out the fermentation process. The Gaia yeast helps prevent the growth of spoilage organisms, which is important with the 45-48 day maceration time.  They also used a proprietary enzyme that Philippe’s lab isolated that provides what the French call “sucrosite” – or the feeling of sweetness without actual residual sugar.

With Philippe passing unexpectedly in December he was not involved in the blending of the 2021 wines.  Consequently, Adam brought Philippe’s good friend Isabel Gassier over from France to help blend the wines. Isabel is part of the Gassier family–her father Michel Gassier was Philippe’s partner in his Halos de Jupiter wines, and Isabel was Philippe’s assistant in the great 2016 CdP vintage. Isabel is a great winemaker in her own right and contributed to the blending of the 2021 Beau Marchais wines.

Sadly, according to Adam Lee, this is the last vintage of Beau Marchais.  The collaboration and synergy between Adam and Felipe Cambie resulted in some wonderful new expressions of California Pinot Noir.

Tasting Notes

Beau Marchais, 2021 Pinot Noir Close Pepe Vineyard Sta Rita Hills ($95) 91 Medium ruby, this Pinot Noir is light-bodied and delicate with a silky seductive mouth feel. Slightly rough on the palate revealing dark red berry fruit with a hint of spice.  Good balance and acidity, with a persistent finish. Slightly alcoholic.  Alc. 15.5

Beau Marchais 2021 Pinot Noir Soberanes Nord Santa Lucia Highlands ($70) 93  Medium dark ruby, the Pinot Noir Soberanes Nord  reveals a soft texture on the palate and is slightly earthy and savory,  Lightly toasted, it offers good complexity and layers of flavor with a smooth texture and light toast with a persistent finish.

Beau Marchais 2021 Pinot Noir Soberanes Sud Santa Lucia Highlands ($70) 93   Medium-dark ruby with dark cherry fruit aromas and flavors. Rather noteworthy differences from same vineyard. This bottling seems riper and denser than the Nord fruit, although, perhaps not as complex and layered.   It’s a blend of grapes from the Soberanes Vineyard and Clos Pepe Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.

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Beau Marchais 2021 Pinot Noir: The Unexpected Ending of a Beautiful Collaboration  
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