Leslie Sisneros on Murderously Good Pinot Noir

Leslie Sisneros of Murder Ridge Winery

We met Leslie Sisneros at the 2016 Family Winemakers of California Grand Tasting (in the interests of full disclosure, we got into this paid event for free in the hopes that we’d get around to writing something about it or the presenting winemakers sooner than we did). This is a great event, by the way, especially if you’re new to wine. The $75 for the ticket might seem like a lot, but we’ve seen smaller tastings that cost a lot more, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a greater breadth of wines. Plus, you’ve already paid for them all, so you might as well try even the ones you don’t think you like.

But back to Ms. Sisneros, of Murder Ridge Winery. She’s been making wine for over 20 years, but actually fell into making pinot noir.

“It wasn’t my choice,” she explained. “Because I started out at Kendall Jackson and I was assigned the variety. Actually, zin’s pretty hard, too. I guess it’s good when you start out with the hardest wine to make. But I’m always up for a challenge, so I just took it in stride.”

Pinot noir is a notoriously finicky grape and can be very hard to make well.

“There’s all kinds of different pinots,” Sisneros said. “It can go from the lowest priced ones to the premium ones. You’re looking for something that’s fruity and not overly tannic.”

But when you hear people wax eloquent about pinot noir, you’ll often hear them going on about the clone of the grape.

“There’s more people who talk about pinot in terms of clones than any other variety,” Sisneros said. Many grape varieties have their own specific clones, but it’s more of an issue with pinot noir. “It really does make a difference in what clones you plant and where you plant them. It determines the winemaker’s fingerprint.”

She explained that cloning is sort of like taking the natural process of evolution the next few steps further.

“In nature, everything generally mutates so the strongest survive,” Sisneros said. “What the people do is they’ll select a particular plant or several plants in a vineyard. They’ll take a bud culture and they will keep making it genetically the same and it will take generations and generations.”

She said that after individual clone, the other thing that really makes a difference in a pinot noir is where it’s grown.

“You can certainly tell a Russian River pinot noir,” she said. “To me, they’re like night and day. Mendocino pinot is more delicate. Russian River is dark and moody.”

Murder Ridge Winery is in Mendocino County, in a largely wilderness area known as Mendocino Ridge. The winery gets its name from the infamous murder of Joseph Cooper in 1911. Sisneros partnered with wine grower Steve Alden to form the label after having worked with his grapes for several other wineries for whom she’s worked as a consulting winemaker.


4 thoughts on “Leslie Sisneros on Murderously Good Pinot Noir”

  1. Fascinating. My father started a Wine Society in 1970 that now boasts over 200 members. So I grew up not only with a large wine cellar in our house but I got to taste some splendid wines….and went on some great trips to Napa and the Loire Valley with my parents.

    Love this topic. I didn’t learn much from Dad but my husband, luckily, did. I guess when it’s your parents and you’re a kid it’s not cool to listen too closely. I wish I had.

    You go, Anne. This was so interesting.

    1. Thanks, Cathy. I eventually got the wine bug from my parents, too. Okay, I was pretty bored with it until after I turned 21.

  2. I live about an hour away from the Finger Lakes and have gone up there several times in recent years to learn more about wine. Fortunately, Riesling is one of my favorite wines because that is what grows the best. But there is such a difference from lake to lake, and even west shore to east shore – yes indeed, soil and the lay of the land make such a difference. I don’t remember seeing Murder Ridge in our local liquor store (in NY you have to go to a liquor store to purchase wine) but that, of course, doesn’t mean anything.

    1. The good news is that New York is a cooperative state, which means you can have wine shipped to you from California. Murder Ridge is so small, you probably won’t find it in a liquor store. You have to get it directly from the winery.

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