Keith Rutz likes to think of himself as a modern-day cave man. The first thing he did when he started his small Sonoma winery was to dig a cave deep in the Russian River Valley. This cool, humid cavern - the 95 percent humidity is a result of a high water table and clay soil - is where all of Rutz's wines are made and aged. Unlike the glamorous cellars of Napa, which might host swank black-tie dinner parties, Rutz's cave is all about wine. It's somehow appropriate that Rutz pronounces his name "roots."

Rutz concentrates on just two Burgundian varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and his wines are made in the old-fashioned style, with minimal handling. The humidity reduces evaporation, meaning that the barrels don't have to be topped off as frequently, resulting in less exposure to oxygen. The Martinelli Vineyard Pinot is one of Rutz's three vineyard-designated reds. It's lush and smooth with bright black-cherry fruit and lovely structure that segues into a long, ripe, and balanced finish.


Gary Farrell was one of the first Russian River Valley winemakers to make a specialty of Pinot Noir after discovering the grape's potential in this region in the late 1970s. Farrell became winemaker at the local Davis Bynum and Rochioli wineries in the 1980s, but his first release under the Gary Farrell label, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the 1982 vintage, went on to become the most awarded Pinot Noir in America.

Farrell is a soft-spoken guy who is low on bluster and big on talent. In spite of producing Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Merlot, Farrell still prefers to make - and to drink - Pinot Noir. He works closely with his growers and contracts grapes from some of the valley's best vineyards, including his old friends at Rochioli, where he sourced the fruit for this beautifully intense 1999 Pinot. It's got gobs of luscious black cherry backed with lively acidity and a lingering finish that goes on and on.