I finally was able to enjoy half of a Friday (my non-class day). So, I went to the wine store and picked up some 2003 Cotes-du-Rhone, 2001/2002 Bordeaux, and several other economically priced oddities that found their way into my basket.
The best discovery? Ciardella Vineyards 2000 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. At $5.99, I took a chance and bought 3 bottles. Last night, E & I had one and I'm about to go back and buy the rest of their supply. Apparently, Thunder Mountain used to use grapes from the Ciardella Vineyards. For whatever reason, they don't anymore.
My guess is that the Ciardella family decided to make their own Pinot. Light, true to the Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot (less earth, medium fruit, not too acidic), and delicious, I'd say they did a decent job. But, given that the Thunder Mountain pinots were selling for $24 in 1999, it seems that the Ciardella family didn't market their product effectively. I wouldn't pay $24 for this wine, but I'm cheap. I will however pay $5.99--in fact, this may be the highest quality $6 wine I've had outside of Europe.
Woo Hoo for grape-growing families that strike out on their own.