Utah Bites

An Outstanding Under-$20 Pinot Noir

Head High Sonoma Pinot Noir would be a slam-dunk to open and enjoy during Memorial Day barbecues with grilled meats, burgers and such.


Earlier this week I got to attend my first group wine tasting in nearly a year and a half. Thanks to the pandemic, wine tastings – like most other social events – were as rare as a decent under-$20 Pinot Noir. Thankfully, at this tasting, I discovered a Pinot Noir that sells for well under 20 bucks and is truly outstanding. 

The tasting was hosted by Utah’s Libation, Inc. and Sonoma’s Three Sticks winery. Three Sticks offers a selection of very high-quality wines – Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rosé that sell here in the $35 to $65 range. I got to taste some of those Three Sticks wines – including Durell Vineyard Chardonnay and Price Family Vineyard Pinot Noir, which were excellent but a bit pricey: $42.49 and $34.99, respectively. However, those wines are priced much cheaper here than anywhere else in the country thanks to Utah’s small winery exemption policy. The same wines at the California winery would cost $65 each for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So you’re getting quite a bargain when you buy Three Sticks wines here in Utah. 

We also got to sample some wines from Three Sticks’ second label, called Head High. Why Head High? Well, the winery was founded by surfers, including Proprietor, Co-Founder and Winegrower Bill Price III, who is a surfer. Head high refers to the height of waves. One surfer might ask another: “How are the waves today?” And the reply, on a good day, might be: “They’re head high, dude!” 

Well, the Head High wines are killer wines at bodacious bargain prices. Again, that’s in part because they sell for less in Utah than anywhere else. Now, it is very difficult to find high-quality Pinot Noir at a price point under $20. A manager at one of the DABC Wine Stores here told me that there are only two under-$20 Pinot Noir wines that he feels comfortable recommending to customers. One of them is Head High Sonoma County Pinot Noir, which sells here for a measly $13.99. Elsewhere the MSRP is $24.99. 

Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty of Pinot Noir out there that sells for less than 20 bucks a bottle. But most of it is swill. Head High is a solid, legit Pinot Noir made from pure, unadulterated Sonoma County fruit. It is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from top Sonoma County parcels that include Gap’s Crown and Durell. Normally, wines with fruit pedigrees like these sell in the $50 to $100 range. 

Earthy aromas with cherry wood and subtle smoke give way to big, dark berry flavors on the palate. Head High Sonoma Pinot Noir would be a slam-dunk to open and enjoy during Memorial Day barbecues with grilled meats, burgers and such. Just don’t tell anyone that you paid well under 20 simoleons for it.



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Food writer Ted SchefflerOriginally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.

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