Sitting across from Chad Melville while sipping a Samsara Pinot Noir, and the biggest question in my mind is, why haven’t I tasted these wines before? It’s no secret that I have become a fan of the new style of cool-climate, terroir-driven Pinot Noir from California. Samsara, which is a Sanskrit word for the repeating cycle of birth, death and life (or reincarnation)—this could have been a great band name—also applies very nicely to Chad’s project.
If the name Melville sounds familiar to you, it’s because of Chad’s father Ron Melville, who started the very successful Melville winery, which Chad continues to work for as their National Sales Manager. Melville is best known for pioneering the category of high-quality Pinot Noir and Syrah without the lofty price tag. The wines are really quite good.
However, for Chad Melville, a drive to blaze his own path took form in 2002, when he and his wife created Samsara. It was a passion project to be sure, which you understand the second Chad starts to speak about their goals and principals. He went on to explain, “We stayed small on purpose…” which really hits home when you consider Chad’s background with Melville and how easy it would have been for him to recreate that dynamic.
Instead, Samsara is all about a focus on micro-terroir, as Chad sources from individual ¾ acre blocks within each of his vineyards, vintage after vintage. This may keep the production down, with only 125 cases of each wine in his portfolio, but it also allows him to gain an intimate knowledge of the vines, soil and climate. The long growing season coupled with that ever-ripening Californian sun is perfectly contrasted by these cool-climate sites with cold winds which whip around the vines.
Whole and partial cluster fermentation with native yeast is a big part of the equation here, with 50% of stems for the Pinot and up to 100% for the Syrah. To many, this seems like a new fad in California, but not so for Samsara. The stems here add gorgeous exotic notes to the wines’ bouquets and tantalizing textures on the palate, while contrasting the naturally ripe fruit. The single vineyard Pinots see from 20-25% new oak, yet it’s not even perceptible here; instead these wines speak of the earth from which they came.
As we moved through the selections, I could see Chad’s eyes light up with the tilt of each new glass. It’s obvious that this is still a passion project for him—though one which has certainly succeeded. I have officially added Samsara to my A-list of California Pinot Producers.
On To The Tasting Notes:
2012 Samsara Pinot Noir – The nose was wonderfully perfumed with floral red berry fruit, olive, smoked meats and minerals. On the palate, it entered soft and round yet firmed up quickly to display gorgeous, focused red fruit. The finish lasted long with a distinct note of tart raspberry with a hint of savory herbs. (90 points)
2011 Samsara Pinot Noir Las Hermanas – The Las Hermanas was thrilling on the nose, a perfect example of the new Californian Pinot Noir, showing red berry with exotic floral tones, green pepper, dried orange peel, and a hint of marine salinity. On the palate, it displayed bright, focused fruit which fleshed out into silky textures as it traveled across the senses with herbal and mineral hints adding depth. The finish was long and palate-coating with a bitter twang, a pull of tannin and acidity which made the mouth water. This was a pleasure to taste and my personal favorite! (93 points) Morrell
2011 Samsara Pinot Noir Melville Vineyard – The nose showed darker berry fruits with a savory, almost meaty note followed by chalky minerals. On the palate, I found rich, ripe red fruits with herbal, mineral tones and a slight steely note. It was long on the finish with a dried berry note that was contrasted by brisk acidity. (91 points)
2009 Samsara Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard – With a few extra years in bottle, the 2009 Turner vineyard showed beautifully dark and almost sensual aromatics of rich crushed berry, sandalwood, burnt butter and a hint of pepper. On the palate, it displayed rich red berry, moist soil and floral undergrowth with gripping, masculine textures which added a sense of completion to this dark and savory beauty. The finish was smooth, slowly melting from the senses with hints of spice, dark fruit and floral tones. (92 points)
2011 Samsara Syrah Verna’s Vineyard – The nose was at first reluctant, yet it blossomed with time in the glass to reveal dark red fruits and floral tones with spice, hints of pepper and minerals. On the palate, it was rich and vibrant with a mix of crushed blackberry, savory herbs, smoked meats and rich bakery crust. Its vibrancy continued through the finish with a twang of acidity and lingering notes of dark fruit and floral tones. (92 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido