The Sonoma County Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Wines of James and Kerry MacPhail’s Tongue Dancer Wines

James & Kerry MacPhail

James and Kerry MacPhail established Tongue Dancer Wines in Healdsburg in 2012 with a focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  They source grapes from premier vineyards located throughout Sonoma County, from the West Sonoma Coast and Petaluma Gap to Dry Creek Valley and Chalk Hill.  This wide variety of growing conditions from Pacific marine to warmer inland climes (see climate map at bottom) along with differences in soils, clones and viticulture gives James the opportunity to craft different, terroir expressive wines. We’ve regularly reviewed these wines, including in our in-depth reports on Sonoma County.  In this article, we review the current releases of Tongue Dancer wines.

James MacPhail learned winemaking on the job at Quivira, Merry Edwards, and Gary Farrell wineries, and in 2001 established his own winery MacPhail Family Wines, which he subsequently sold. He later built Grapewagon Custom Crush in Healdsburg, where he makes his Tongue Dancer wines. He is also makes wines there for ten other wineries, including Sangiacomo and The Calling, sourcing grapes from a large number of vineyards in Sonoma County.

Grapewagon Custom Crush

With his long experience making wine in Sonoma, James can source grapes from distinctive vineyards.  His Pinot Noir comes from vineyards like Putnam near Annapolis in the West Sonoma Coast, Terra de Promissio Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap, and Lakeview Vineyard in Green Valley.  The Chardonnay comes from Bacigalupi (first planted in 1964 and famous for providing grapes for the Grgich Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the Judgement of Paris), Pratt Vineyard in the Santa Rosa Plain, and Tolmasoff (equally famous for its roses–flowers, not rosés) just outside Healdsburg in Dry Creek Valley.

James’ winemaking style is what one would call non-interventionist.  He harvests and sorts by hand, uses ambient yeasts for primary fermentation, ferments in oak barrels for Chardonnay and open top stainless steel tanks for Pinot Noir, and uses a judicious amount of lightly toasted new oak for aging.  He describes himself as a barrel “geek”; this year he’s working with 27 different coopers.He does inoculate for malo and adds acid when necessary.  His Pinot Noirs are full-flavored and show generous fruit, and his Chardonnays have superb balance and beautiful mouth feel.


Tongue Dancer 2021 Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard Frost Ranch Russian River Valley ($50) 94  Made from Bacigalupi’s Old Wente clones, this is a beautifully crafted Chardonnay that displays the refinement we’ve come to expect from this vineyard. It reveals lemon and orchard fruit and a hint of slivered almonds on the nose and is full in the mouth with bright acidity and clean flavors, finishing with an attractive crispness. Old Wente Clone sourced from the sandy loam soils of the Frost Ranch parcel of the Bacigalupi Vineyard. Hand-picked and hand sorted on Sept 4, then whole cluster pressed to barrel with 100% malo and weekly battonage through primary fermentation and aged 14 months sur lie in 20% new French oak. pH 3.36, 14.1% alc.

Tongue Dancer 2022 Chardonnay Magnolia Montrachet Dry Creek Valley ($59) 93  Made from the “suitcase” Montrachet Clone, this wine offers a superb, straight focus and firm, almost crunchy mouthfeel. It opens with scents of lemon, lychee and minerals that convey a sense of crispness and progresses to tropical lemon curd-guava flavors and a long, fruit rich finish. Sourced from the gravel and sandy loam Tolmasoff Vineyard located just south of Healdsburg. Hand-picked and hand sorted in the field on Aug 30. Whole cluster pressed to concrete for fermentation and 11 months aging with full malo and weekly battonage through primary fermentation. A superb, unwooded California Chardonnay from young vines. pH 3.34, 14.1% alc.

Tongue Dancer 2021 Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard Vine Hill Russian River Valley ($65) 94 Light yellow straw. Aromas of honeycomb, beeswax, and yellow apple. Broad and weighty on the palate with a creamy texture, quite bright acidity, and some phenolic grip. Drinking beautifully now. Mt. Eden, Robert Young and Clone 70 sourced from the Pratt Vineyard located in the Vine Hill neighborhood of the Russian River Valley; hand-picked and hand sorted in the field on Sept 3, whole cluster pressed to barrel with weekly battonage through primary fermentation, 100% malo, and aged 14 months sur lie in 25% new French oak. pH 3.36, 14.5% alc.   Location of Vine Hill—near Forestville?

Tongue Dancer 2022 Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard Irwin Lane Russian River Valley ($49) 93  Taciturn nose of citrus, lychee and wet gravel. Firm, attack and suave mouthfeel with orchard and tropical fruit flavors and a weighty mid-palate. Long fruit and mineral like finish. Clones 69 and 72 harvested on Aug 30; barrel fermented with full malo, battonage through primary fermentation, and aged 11 months sur lie in 25% new French oak. pH 3.3, 13.75% alc.

Pinot Noir

Tongue Dancer 2023 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma County ($) 92 Medium copper salmon. Opens with fragrances of red berries and cherries. Crisp on the attack with nicely concentrated red fruit with light herbal and mineral notes on the palate. A cleanly focused rosé with real flavor and vinous substance, finishing long and rich. 14.3% alc.

Tongue Dancer 2022 Foxtrot Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) 92  Medium-light red. Harvested early from a warm site in a warm vintage, this wine surprises with its freshness and purity of flavor. Relatively light in color and weight, it reveals red cherry fruit with a light earthy, tea note. Silky with good focus on the palate, finishing dry with late arriving acidity. Dijon 115 and Pommard 4 harvested on August 19 from a single vineyard in the Chalk Hill sub-AVA of the Russian River Valley. Aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. For early drinking. 14.2% alc.

Tongue Dancer 2021 Pinot de Ville Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($69) 93  Light red. Red cherry and raspberry aromas with a hint of underbrush. Silky on the attack with a red fruited palate. Shows beautiful purity and a clean, focused finish. A collection of Heritage clones planted in 2006 and hand-picked on Oct 1; destemmed and given 5 days cold maceration in open top fermenters. Battonage every other week for 3 months and aged 14 months sur lie in 33% new French oak. pH 3.62, 14.5% alc. This series began in 2014 with a different model Cadillac on the label each year; the 2021 shows a 1947 Cadillac de Ville.

Putnam Vineyard

Tongue Dancer 2021 Pinot Noir Putnam Vineyard West Sonoma Coast ($75) 95  Medium red. Brambly nose of dark red berries. Firmly structured and beautifully delineated with layered flavors of rich fruit wedded to savory elements with well-integrated toasty oak. Rich extract on a very long finish with fine-grained tannins. Hand-picked Dijon & Heritage clones sourced from the 500? elevation, very low yielding Putnam Vineyard with Goldridge and Sandy Loam soils. Small berries are gently destemmed, given a 5-day preferment cold maceration, fermented with native yeast, and aged 18 months sur lie in 17% new French oak. pH 3.48, 14.5% alc.

Tongue Dancer 2021 Rambling Fox Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($75) 95  The Rambling Fox Pinot Noir is a blend of fruit from two vineyards at the extreme northern and southern ends of Sonoma County, but both vineyards share a strong marine influence. Dark red in color, the nose evokes dark cherry, black tea, and spice. It’s firmly structured with dark fruit, vibrant acidity, and dry tannins that argue for giving it some aging. Excellent phenolic richness on the finish. Clones 828, 115 and 777 sourced from the Putnam/Lofty Vineyard  (a part of Putnam that sits at 1000’, above the inversion layer, and is accessible only by 4WD) in the West Sonoma Coast and the Terra de Promissio Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. Gently destemmed, given a 5 day cold maceration, and battonage every other week for 3 months. pH 3.46, 14.5% alc.

Tongue Dancer 2021 The Sly One Pinot Noir Lakeview Vineyard Green Valley of the Russian River ($59) 94  Medium ruby red. The Lakeview Pinot Noir begins with a spicy bouquet of black raspberry and dark cherry and a light sous-bois note. The palate is generous with excellent concentration, an almost viscous texture, and savory and spice notes complementing dark fruit. Rich extract on an almost unctuous finish. A gorgeous wine. A suitcase clone (La Tâche) sourced from the Lakeview Vineyard with Goldridge sandy loam soils located in a warm pocket of the northwest portion of  Green Valley. Hand picked and hand sorted in the field on Aug 31, then gently destemmed, given 5 day cold maceration, battonage every other week for 3 months, and aged 18 months in 33% new French oak. pH 3.56, 15.4% alc.

Source : https://i-winereview.com/blog/index.php/2024/06/15/the-sonoma-county-chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-wines-of-james-and-kerry-macphails-tongue-dancer-wines/