Road 31 Pinot Noir a Popular Choice
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 5
By Kenneth Friedenreich
“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”
When Judy Garland spoke this line in the 1939 Wizard of Oz to her intrepid, if ratty dog, she was not commending the state for its amenities. Although through the course of the story Kansas comes to resonate the charms of hearth and home, at the point Garland deadpans this line we in the movie house would more likely agree with this plucky girl that Kansas is No-Where’s-Ville.
So it would appear any place in Kansas associated with a boutique California wine is an anomaly. Road 31 runs along farmland in southeastern counties of the state. Wine labels with numbers printed on them aren’t too unusual. An Oregon Pinot Noir is called “503” that is coincidentally the primary area dialing code for Portland and beyond. The popular blend, Cain Five originates because of the sources used in making it. In Carlton-Yamhill Seven of Hearts Wines are inspired by the house cat, Seven, who in turn is the “Seven of Nine” android model in one of the evergreen Star Trek television series.
There are, to my knowledge, no wines name for the serpentine Pasadena Freeway, or Interstate 5 – less a blend of sources than a mass of fumes, rubber and steel. There is a Haywood made Runway Red that like Dorothy intends to fly into the air leaving Kansas and most everything else behind.
But the farm road in Kansas has like Auntie Em’s cottage been transported to the Technicolor fields and vineyards of California’s Napa AVA. Kent Fortner produces one varietal in small lots—pinot noir—a temperamental grape whose best expressions arrive from Burgundy, with names like a Grand Cru Gervey Chambertin or Eschaeux. Their repute demands top dollar; you may find a vintage or two on a restaurant wine list at above $700 for a 750ml bottle. That is a steep road to hoe for any bottle of wine.
Road 31 has its truck, too. Fortner inherited his grandfather’s 1966 pickup and it is the emblem of the winery – durable, industrious, and unpretentious. “I am winemaker, wine merchant, office manager and salesman,” Fortner says. “I make just enough wine to be hands on everything.” This amounts to about 50 barrels of juice sourced from four blocks on two vineyards separated by the Napa River near its mouth into the bay.
Fortner allows the vintages to age in their barrels stored in shallow caves he rents.
Road 31 Pinot Noir sells out quickly. Producing 800 cases that are well regarded confers a cult of scarcity cachet on each year. The wines I sampled in 2009 and 2011 have the mark of the same hand; however, I found the recent vintage more balanced and complex, a supple expression of Pinot cherry and spice with just a little oak and just enough of the dirt that good Pinot Noir always seems to draw upon. I tasted a little of each before letting the bottles stand for about 20 minutes. They open up nicely. Road 31 is certainly worth your effort, although I think Fortner’s own effort is more a labor of love. And it tells.
To learn more, contact Winecrafter/Truck-Owner Kent Fortner, Road 31 Wine Co., Napa, CA, www.road31.com