Wine review: Sinor-LaVallee is Mr. Pinot

November 2, 2011


When I first moved here almost ten years ago, I did not see wine as approachable. Maybe the stigma with wine came from things I may have seen in TV or movies, perhaps picking up a wine list here or there, and not being able to pronounce half the words on the page, or even listening to people who “know” about wine talk about it.

Needless to say, and even though I knew it wasn’t, wine felt unapproachable.

I’d like to think I drink and appreciate wine like I a normal person. Yes, I swirl, smell, and sip (because it is necessary), but I won’t pontificate adjectives or ramble off a bunch of descriptors just for the sake of being able to hear myself talk. I have a morning radio show for that. Sometimes my most prolific response to a great taste of a wine may simply be an odd sound followed by some gibberish. Really, like you, I know what I like, and in the end, what we like, is all that matters.

What? You don’t know what you like? Then stay tuned.

My approach to wine and the point with The Cork Dorks radio show is to be approachable. We’ve been called everything from a “non-snooty wine show” to a, “beer drinker’s wine show,” which I take as a compliment. My whole premise is to not let what I know about wine ever become more than what I want to learn about wine. Make wine approachable, cause it is baby, and it’s waiting for you.

I wanted to highlight a winemaker who’s out of the box approach and understanding about his wines has a lot of parallels I hopefully see coming from this regular piece.

Mike Sinor, or “Mr. Pinot” as I affectionately refer to him, is the winemaker for Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita. There he makes all the standards, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cab, blends, and more. The one wine he does not make, Pinot.

That he makes himself on his boutique project called Sinor-LaVallee. Sinor-LaVallee (pronounced SIGH-nur Luh-VAL-lee) is a combo of his last name and his wife’s maiden name. The label is a soft tan color, with the enlarged fingerprints of his family as the background for the label. At first you don’t notice that the background are fingerprints, and yes when you find out, it’s always the kind of,  “I’m staring at a box of puppies,” reaction. “Awww!” So Sinor’s already got me sucked in.

So how did Sinor, who grew up in Visalia, get to be known as “Mr. Pinot?”

Sinor said, the mission was simple, “Grow the finest possible grapes at superior local vineyards and put our soul into each barrel.”

Sinor has made lasting business relationships and friendships that not only allow him to secure grapes from a certain vineyard, but from certain individual rows and plants, that he oversees. So for Sinor-LaVallee’s Talley-Rincon Pinot Noir, he has secured an acre all his own. He oversees it, chooses when to pick, and how to process.

A lot of growers will tell you, “Once it hits the concrete, it’s out of my hands,” but with Mike Sinor, he’s only just begun.

Sinor often talks about wine offering a “sense of place,” and there is no better varietal that gives a clearer window to where it came from than Pinot Noir.

Putting his mantra to the test, I placed three glasses in front of him, all Pinot Noirs. I asked him to smell all three and correctly identify which wine came from which vineyard. Needless to say, this guy knows Pinot. 100 percent spot on.

Nowhere does his talent for growing and wine-making shine more than the 2008 Anniversary Cuvee. It is a Pinot Noir that combines all the vineyards he uses. The name celebrates his marriage to his wife Cheri, and the process is special because it is made in the old-style of 100 percent whole cluster fermentation.

Even though Sinor-LaVallee makes only between 200 to 300 cases a year, and there currently is no tasting room, you can easily find Sinor-LaVallee in the north country at 15c in Templeton, Gather Wine Bar in the village of Arroyo Grande, or at

Mike is one, but one of many, whose attitude, story, and path to winemaking are just as appetizing and savory as some of the wine he bottles. Hopefully combining these two, the wine, and the story, will make this whole wine thing more approachable.

Adam’s Top three picks from winemaker Mike Sinor:

2008 Sinor-LaVallee Anniversary Cuvee Pino Noir – Not your typical pinot, a little more wild, 100 percent whole cluster fermentation, gently made, and you taste it.

2008 Sinor-LaVallee Talley Rincon Pinot Noir – The best example of Sinor’s mantra of “sense of place.”  Sinor picked this acre in the Arroyo Grande Valley specifically for its quality and consistency.  It’s a text-book pinot, but there’s nothing typical about it. Elements of smoke, red fruit, and a little of that smell you love when the pavement is kind of wet. Earthy 2.0.

2010 Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc –  Intensely bright with citrus when you smell it. If only hotels could bottle this nose for shampoo. The taste is more than clean, almost shiny. Nice balance of fruits throughout. The kind of wine you want to build a porch for, just so you can sit on it while you drink the wine. Best part: tastes at least like a $25 bottle wine. Great value at $14

Adam Montiel is the executive producer and co-creator of the The Cork Dorks radio show heard Mondays at 5:30 on The Krush 92.5 fM. He also hosts a weekday morning show on Q104.5 called Up & Adam In The Morning. Contact Adam: or Twitter: @AdamMontiel