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California

Considering California Sparkling Wine

Michael CruseMichael Cruse at Cruse Wine Co. smelling his pet-nat Valdiguie, November 2014

“We really want to make a California sparkling wine with all that entails,” Michael Cruse of Cruse Wine Co, and Ultramarine sparkling wine, tells me. All it entails includes the ripe fruit flavors characteristic of California’s sun, a feature that historically has tended to work against quality sparkling wine in the state.

California sparkling wine remains a difficult category. The California conundrum of too much sun and not enough acidity has so far largely kept it from achieving the balance and brightness in the glass wine geeks love. It’s never achieved the respectability Champagne immediately garners, and wine lovers rarely brag about it.

However, in recent years a shift has been happening. Boutique size wineries all over the state have begun popping open small scale sparkling projects. Last year the Pet-Nat craze coming from France began taking over California wineries.

Pet-Nat style sparkling wine seems more do-able for small production wineries. The approach offers the advantage of far less intervention, little equipment, and far less time to get those bubbles in the bottle than methode traditionnelle style wines. You can turn around a pet-nat wine in as little as a year, versus the several years required by the other approach. But most pet-nat bottlings remain incredibly hard to find. One of the tastiest versions to come from California last year, J. Brix 2013 Cobolorum sparkling riesling, for example, only had 17 cases made. It’s hard to start a quality revolution with such small numbers.

At the other side of the category, methode traditionnelle (that is, the same method used to make champagne) examples rely on far more input from the producer. Thanks to the work and expertise required, many of today’s champenoise style sparkling wines found in the state are made by large scale wineries. Such wineries do successfully churn out bottles but most California examples blend grapes from multiple locations producing wines with the state’s clear fruit expression but little character.

In reality, California has had little of its own sparkling tradition. The closest we’ve come was with the work of Paul Masson on the cool slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Masson’s work with California sparkling wine brought international attention to the category. He was able to continue his work through Prohibition selling his wines for sacrament and medicinal purposes, but after Masson’s retirement, his vineyards shifted to still wine production.

The difficulty with sparkling wine rests in its technical elements. Elevating the category truly to the level of fine wine depends upon an expertise grown not just from transferring knowledge but also in hands on experience. Even the apparently approachable style of pet-nat suffers at the same point it gains popularity. While it seems far easier to make, in truth making clean pleasurable versions depends upon yeast health, numbers, and viability that doesn’t consistently come from simply throwing wine in the bottle.

The improvement of any craft depends on a sense of critical mass intersecting with critical brilliance. Critical mass offers the foundation of interest to support development of knowledge and maintain its momentum. Critical brilliance brings together creativity with the backbone of experience to give it traction. For California sparkling wine, the coalescing of all these elements brings the opportunity of elevating the category to a level that truly means fine wine.

Enter Michael Cruse.

Tasting with Michael Cruse

Michael CruseDiscussing Methode Traditionnelle w Michael Cruse in front of his 2010 Ultramarine Sparkling Wine, Nov 2014

Though it’s only just starting to be released this month, Cruse’s sparkling label, Ultramarine, has already achieved a kind of cult status. That’s saying something as he explains not more than twelve people have even tasted it yet. From those twelve, however, its secured distribution through California, as well as within the tricky New York market.

Cruse’s cult status rests not only in the wine itself, but also his perhaps still hidden influence. Thanks to the underdeveloped history of California sparkling, few in the state could be considered consultants in the category. Those few with the knowledge tend to be secured by larger houses. With Cruse’s experience and custom crush facility, Cruse Wine Co., he’s become the go-to sparkling winemaker for several well-respected clients throughout the state. Over the next several years, sparkling projects Cruse has helped give focus will begin appearing across California.

Finding a Passion for Sparkling

Cruse’s path hasn’t always pointed towards sparkling wine. With an undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cellar Biology, emphasizing Biochemisty, from UC Berkeley, Cruse was certain he’d continue to a PhD. Stepping into research through labs at Berkeley, and UCSF, while also publishing, his path to graduate work seemed certain. Then something changed. He began to recognize others he met doing post-docs in science proved unhappy. Over time, the shift in perspective meant he began wondering if he could apply his love for lab work in another field.

“It took into my mid-20s to realize I could get paid for a real job.” Cruse laughs. Working through a formal education includes its disadvantages. Students rarely or barely earn money during their degree training. Then continuing into academic life, researchers learn to sustain themselves through minimal pay while doing loads of unpaid research under the umbrella of advancing their expertise and education. But for the curious, that same environment supports their passions.

“What I love about academia is that no one is ever telling you that isn’t how you should be spending your time,” Cruse explains. “People are always studying, writing, researching, working on something. I had a lot of kinship with that kind of work.”

When Cruse did make the leap out of academia, the transition wasn’t immediately easy. “Moving into a regular job as a lab oenologist,” Cruse tells me, “I would have night terrors because I didn’t know what to do with my brain.” The continuous problem solving of a research laboratory differed from the more repetitive work in a wine lab but the challenge of the transition eventually led him to his work with sparkling wine.

The mechanics of Cruse’s research work rested in reviving lab techniques established in the 1980s, but forgotten by the end of the last century. “I was in the library,” Cruse says, “looking at transcripts and papers from the 1980s figuring out how they were doing their work so we could apply it.” The library research provided solutions where lab knowledge otherwise failed. Such a lesson eventually became the salve for his night terrors as well.

While transitioning from oenologist, into cellar work, and then to assistant winemaker for red wine wineries, Cruse got curious about sparkling wine. Doing library research on old methods, then applying them to sparkling home wine experiments became his after work project.

“I was in the library looking at books from the 1880s, from before people had these [contemporary winemaking] machines to see how they made sparkling wine.” He explains. In 2010, he would make his first bonded California sparkling wine, the current release Ultramarine.

Natural and Sparkling?

Michael CruseMichael Cruse discussing site and technique, Nov 2014

Through his still table wines, and pet-nat Valdiguie for Cruse Wine Co., it looks easy to describe Cruse’s work as happily fitting with the family of natural wines. He avoids additives, doesn’t cold stabilize, and minimizes or avoids sulfur when the wine will remain stable.

His unsulfured Cruse Wine Co. 2014 Pet-nat Valdiguié is made with an interest in affordability put alongside admirable vineyards. Tasting it, the wine proves to be the cleanest example I’ve tasted of a new world pet-nat, all rose blossom aromatics cut with a leafy, herbal freshness that fills the palate through a delicate foam.

Indeed, with Ultramarine too, relying on older texts as he did, also bolstered his more minimalist approach to winemaking. But there he becomes reticent to describe his approach as natural.

“Sparkling wine is a very techniques driven wine,” he explains. He’s referring to making wine through methode traditionnelle. “Whether you agree with a natural wine approach or not, you’re going to use the same technique.” For Ultramarine, Cruse avoids additives, cold stabilization, and innoculation as well.

“But am I going to use a riddling aid? Yes. Will I add dosage? Yes. A dash of sulfur at disgorgement? Yes. Trying to claim sparkling is a natural wine becomes a stretch.” Still, the wine is undoubtedly unique — single vineyard, single vintage with each bottle hand riddled, and disgorged. When I push him he finally responds, “I guess you could say we’re minimalist.”

Finally, I ask him to further explain his earlier comment about California sparkling wine with all it entails.

“For me, I want the wine to be noticeably California. That doesn’t have to be flamboyantly fruity.” He explains. “It is intense, and flavorful, and strong. That is the site.” He says. It’s an answer that exemplifies the quiet humility he somehow couples with certainty.

Inspired by the grower producers of Champagne, Cruse focuses Ultramarine production on fruit only from the Charles Heintz Vineyard. It’s a site he believes offers exceptional farming for sparkling wine.

The lemon curd and pastry elements of the bubbles resemble flavors found in still chardonnays familiar to lovers of the vineyard. But the graceful long finish, and cut mineral edge speak to a fine wine elegance brought by the hands of its producer. And there we discover the California balance of Michael Cruse.

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To sign up for the Ultramarine mailing list: http://www.ultramarinewines.com/joinus/

For more on Cruse Wine Co.: http://www.crusewineco.com/

***

Next Wednesday‘s column here: “In Defense of Natural Wine.” Post update: Wednesday Nov 12 article will post Thursday Nov 13 due to travel delays.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Somms15 Sommeliers for Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

To open their Top-100 festivities this year, Wine & Spirits hosted their inaugural Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on Monday of this week. The event was designed to seek out, and celebrate the new classics of domestic wine.

As Wine & Spirits editor, Joshua Greene, explained, the last six months have been spent preparing for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt event. Towards that end, five teams of three sommeliers each from around the country were selected. Each team was then assigned to visit a different domestic wine region tracking a particular varietal expression for that region. In traveling the region, they were meant to study the region’s specific viticultural conditions, and then select six wines to represent a coherent picture of the breadth and typicity of their region’s unique terroir. Along with each region’s flight, the sommeliers offered a ten minute informational presentation.

Joshua Greene introduced the event. Following are notes from his introduction, followed by a brief look at each of the flights.

Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

“Sommeliers like competition. They often test themselves, whether in sommelier exams, going to Tex-Somm, or otherwise. We wanted them to do something collaborative. Rather than battle on their own, we decided we would have them work together, and then compete in groups. To win, they would have to work together.

“[In this context,] what does winning even mean? Rather than finding a wine that would be hardest to guess in a blind tasting, [for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] it is about finding a wine that would be the easiest to guess [as from its region] in a blind tasting. We asked them to go out and find the future classics, that really describe the place the wine is from.

“[The Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] is also about travel, and getting to know the place. I got into [wine] because I like to travel. A lot of wine travel you see is more about lifestyle, and expensive. We decided we wanted them to do something more like The Amazing Race.

“While there they would select six wines meant together to be broad, and precise, [expressive of its region]. We’re asking them to show you a really specific connection between the place and the wine. We want them to show you that connection so that when you taste the wine you really feel that connection. We asked them to really think, what is terroir? and what is a great wine?

“Our staff got together and chose five sommeliers we really enjoy working with, and asked them to choose a team of two more, and then choose a specific region and varietal focus.

“We’d like you to think about these wines as you taste, as to where it is from, not do I like this wine?, but where is it from? how it communicates to you as a drinker, as a taster.”

Joshua Greene then introduced the first group from the Finger Lakes. Following are brief notes on the five group presentations.

Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

The quality of wines throughout was impressive. It was a pleasure to be able to taste these, to see the selections chosen to represent each region, and to be included in seeing the work each group had done together.

Sommelier Scavenger HuntJoshua Greene and 15 sommeliers from around the country fielding questions about domestic wines at the end of their Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt presentations

TEAM FINGER LAKES: RIESLING

Matthew Kaner of Covell in Los Angeles, Pascaline Lepeltier MS of Rouge Tomate in NYC, Steven Morgan of Squire Wine Co in Chicago

While viticulture in the Finger Lakes has historically focused on hybrid varieties made into quaffing sweet wines, more recently winegrowing through the area has turned towards crafting serious quality wines in a range of styles. With the oldest bonded winery in the United States, newer producers have the benefit of a wealth of already established geological and viticultural knowledge to draw on in exploring quality wine production. Riesling has risen to prominence as the signature grape for serious wine with a range of possibilities for the region.

The Finger Lakes flight showed good consistency of quality over the broadest range of styles of any of the flights. Due to the vast range of winemaking goals or style choices occurring in the region, this group had the greatest challenge in striking the balance between expressing regional typicity and coherence with breadth. Producers of the Finger Lakes are still exploring the region’s unique signature. That said, the wines all offered distinctive personality, and very good quality at mind blowing value.

* Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling
all stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. a wine with nice clarity, lots of length and “extraordinary personality.” very small production.

* Bellwether 2013 Finger Lakes A&D Vineyard Dry Riesling
ultra small production. captures a nice balance of weight to acid without residual sugar. great mouth watering length.

* Kemmeter 2012 Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling
nice precision, juiciness, and length. clarity, focus, and balancing breadth.

Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the stand out wineries of the region — available, affordable, bring out its personality with food

Hermann J Wiemer 2012 Finger Lakes HJW Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the founders of quality in the region. nice overall balance, with a changeable finish. place along side food for additional balance.

Bloomer Creek 2012 Finger Lakes Auten Tanzen Dame Second Harvest
the wild card of the tasting, a very slow fermentation for additional richness and complexity, with an oxidative style, and a bit of residual sugar. pair with clam chowder to match the fleshiness of the wine, and give the acid something to cut into.

TEAM SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: CHARDONNAY

Ian Becker of Absinthe and Arlequin, Haley Guild Moore of Stock & Bones Group, and Gianpaolo Paterlini of 1760 and Acquerello all in San Francisco

Chardonnay proves to be one of the greatest quality varieties in the incredibly diverse growing region of Santa Barbara County. Though Pinot Noir from the region receives more consistent attention, the potential for quality on its white cousin is very high. The wines selected offered a very linear focus with lots of flavorful fruit expression and mouthwatering acidity.

The team for this flight chose to focus on a very specific style of chardonnay for the region. Within the competition, the Santa Barbara County flight was most expressive of the team’s preferred style, when considering the breadth of styles in the region as a whole. That said, the region’s signature clearly showed through the wines selected, and the quality was very good. This was also the most pleasing, tasty flight of the tasting.

Qupé 2011 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Block Eleven Chardonnay
the outlier of the tasting, the Qupé was the only Santa Maria Valley chardonnay selected, and was chosen out of regard for the heritage it expresses of the region. giving nice citrus curd mixed with olive, this wine offers a oceanic creamy waxy quality familiar of the Santa Maria Valley with tons of mouthwatering length.

Au Bon Climat 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
flinty mixed citrus, with a creamy palate. this wine strikes the balance of restraint, focus, and rich flavor, with tons of juicy length.

Chanin 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
clean, crisp mixed citrus fruit, with a moderately creamy palate and a focus on length

* Tyler 2012 Sta Rita Hills Zotovich Family Vineyard Chardonnay
pleasing reductive tension brings a taut focus to the mouthwatering mixed citrus flavors. nice mineral length

Sandhi 2012 Sta Rita Hills Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
the most linear, and taut of the chardonnay’s shown. all about structure. mouth watering and lightly drying both.

Pence 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
delicate citrus blossom coupled with expressive citrus fruit layered with clay accents on a nervy taut mouthwatering line

TEAM ANDERSON VALLEY: PINOT NOIR

Vanessa Trevino Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club all in Houston

Ranging from a genuinely zone 1 cool climate close to the ocean just into a zone 2 climate a bit inland, Anderson Valley carries the most definitive signature of the region’s tasted. Pinot Noir has risen to prominence as the area’s trademark variety.

The Anderson Valley flight had the tightest, most recognizable expression of regional typicity giving a wash of red fruit, and buckets of mouthwatering acidity throughout. It was the flight in which the region offered the most apparent expression before cellar technique. It was also clear that this is largely due to the area, rather than simply from the group selection, for example.

Drew 2011 Anderson Valley Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir
light carbonic elements on nose, a wash of red fruit through the palate, long mouthwatering finish. wants air to open

LIOCO 2011 Anderson Valley Klindt Pinot Noir
high tone, lifted aromatics, spiced palate. red fruit throughout. lots of length.

Copain 2011 Anderson Valley Kiser ‘En Haut’ Pinot Noir
lots of clarity, tight focus with lots of precise structure but soft red berry and open midpalate

Lichen Estate Anderson Valley Solera Volume 2 Pinot Noir
unique of the flight yet still expressive of the region. red berry fruit with layers and folds of concentration, vintages 2011, 12, 13 blended in solera-type method

Elke 2011 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
bright, crisp red fruit both nose and palate, accents of forest and herb, lots of mouthwatering length

Phillips Hill 2011 Anderson Valley Two Terroirs C&R Pinot Noir
nice cut of red fruit with structural strength, and spiced oak accents throughout

TEAM WASHINGTON: BORDEAUX-VARIETY REDS

Lindsey Whipple of Charlie Palmer Group in New York City, Will Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Mark Hefter of Crush Wine Bar MGM in Las Vegas

The Washington wines selected carried dusty mineral and saline crunch throughout. Five of the six wines grew from Red Mountain, and one originated from Walla Walla. We were also able to taste an older vintage on the final wine. Unfortunately, one of the wines was unavailable for tasting due to unexpected distribution issues.

This was the most challenging flight for me as several of the wines were intensely concentrated, inky dark on the palate. Still, the quality was good throughout.

Avennia 2011 Columbia Valley Sestina Red Wine
funky unusual nose, dusty mineral crunch through palate, bell pepper throughout

* Delille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate
nice acidity, opens and lengthens significantly with air, elegant finished, balanced concentration

àMaurice 2011 Walla Walla Estate Red Night Owl
intense concentrated palate, good tension, lots of length, inky dark

Upchurch 2011 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
highly concentrated, inky dark, challenging intensity

Fidélitas 2011 Red Mountain Optu Red Wine
unfortunately, do to a mix-up with distribution we were unable to taste this wine.

* Cadence 2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
nicely balanced, aged wine with the dancy feet to balance the fruit concentration and dusty tannin. pleasant, beautiful.

TEAM NAPA VALLEY: CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Michael Madrigale of Boulud Sud in New York City, Josiah Baldivino of Bay Grape in Oakland, Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill in New York City

Team Napa Valley balanced their presentation of Napa Valley Cabernet with both valley floor, and differing mountain expressions of the fruit. The wines selected also paid tribute to a range of historic houses well respected for their quality contributions to the development, and sophistication of the region’s wine.

This flight was most successful in hitting the balance of the three elements requested of the sommelier team in choosing their wines — coherence, breadth, and typicity of the region.

Robert Sinskey 2009 Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley SLD Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
concentration, intensity, dark polish

Robert Mondavi 2011 Oakville Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
considered the 1st growth of Napa Valley, Mondavi owns the largest portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard. this is a wine of concentration, polish

* Corison 2010 Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
offering characteristic floral aromatics, and nicely balanced, mouthwatering palate

* Mayacamas Vineyards 2008 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
still ultra nervy youthful wine, pleasing mouth watering length and nice palate tension

* Smith Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
the most distinctive of the cabernets selected, the Smith-Madrone shows refreshing bell pepper aromatics, and ultra mouthwatering length

* Diamond Creek 2008 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
pleasing mountain tannin and dustiness, nice acidity, want to revisit

***

The winning team of the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt will be announced at the Wine & Spirits Tuesday evening Top-100 tasting.

Post Edit: It was announced tonight that Team Napa Valley won the Wine & Spirits 2014 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Congratulations Team Napa Valley!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Meeting Prudy Foxx, Santa Cruz Mountains

In July 2013, The Sommelier Journal invited me to accompany their sommelier Terroir Experience through the Santa Cruz Mountains. There Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticulture, the premier viticultural consultant for the region, hosted us for a tasting, and discussion of some of the unique winegrowing elements of the Mountains.

This weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers’ Association hosted their annual Grand Pro tasting. Fifteen of us were asked to come together to taste and rate 120 total wines (each of us tasted 60, with the wines being distributed through 3 groups) of the region.

To open the tasting, Prudy Foxx guided us through a survey of the varied character of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Following is a portion of what Fox had to share with us. Her discussion focused on three key factors of terroir–climate, soil, and socioeconomic elements.

Prudy Foxx Talks Terroir of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Prudy FoxxPrudy Foxx, July 2013

“When it comes to the idea of terroir, some people mention climate conditions, and soil, and stop there, but I have found over the years there are a lot of human elements that factor in.

“I do believe wine comes from the vineyards. That’s why I spend all my time out there. I took it too seriously.

“Capital investments in the vineyard, how care and maintenance is done, all factor in.

“You have to have healthy soils. There needs to be life in the soil, so the vines can take up minerals, or micronutrients from the soil. Some people call it minerality, but it’s that the vines need to be in live soil to take up micronutrients to grow.

“I am all about vineyard aspects [the angle and direction in relation to the sun of the vineyard slope]. There are so many different aspects in the vineyards here. The San Andreas Fault runs through the AVA. If you look over the appellation, it’s like folds in fabric, all these different folds of land, cliffs, and aspects in all different directions.

“If you look at either side of the fault… you can actually go down to Watsonville, and look at the fault itself. You can see the Pacific plate rubbing up against the North American plate. The fault, and that activity has a big impact on the soils here.

“At the top of the Mountains, you get more rock. Then, as you come down towards the bottom [of the Mountains] there are colluvial soils that have eroded from the top, and mix over alluvial soils near the rivers. So, you get a lot of different soils depending on where the vineyard is, and all those soil differences affect the flavor [of the wine].

“The Santa Cruz Mountains are a series of ridges. On the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains you have close proximity to the ocean, and maritime influence. But then at the top [even close to the ocean] at 3000 ft there is less coastal influence. The fog comes in but below you so you can get a lot more radiant heat. In some of those areas people are trying some Italian stuff because it is just so hot [in comparison to lower elevation within the fog zone].

“Then on the Saratoga Hills side of the Mountains it is generally warmer, and is good for consistent ripening of Cabernet. But, again, it really depends on where you are located, and what direction you are facing. The temperature and conditions will be really different depending on the aspect of your vineyard slope. [Even in the Saratoga Hills side of the Santa Cruz Mountains,] it could be cool enough to grow Pinot Noir.

“The Santa Cruz Mountains is all about hills, and valleys, and slopes, and how the slope really captures light and heat. The direction of the slope influence what light the vineyard receives, and the heat it has to absorb. Different soil types absorb heat at different rates, so influence what the vines receive.

“Grapes can grow almost anywhere, in almost any conditions. That’s why it’s one of the oldest forms of agriculture. But one of the things grapes hate is wet feet. It’s one of the worst things you can do to a vine, wet feet. We don’t have that problem here [thanks to the elevation and slopes].

“There is a big diversity of soils. Some of the higher areas have a mudstone. As they dry out the soil hardens, and turns into rock. At that point it begins to act like clay [just in the sense that] as it dries out it is very hard to re-wet. That is part of why these years after years of drought are hard on vineyards. Areas with those sorts of soils, it is very hard for that soil to get re-wet.

“But then we have areas with red soil, areas that are almost like pure sand, loamy sands, rock…

Shatter occurs [when the clusters get wet from fog or rain during flowering]. Whether it happens depends on the weather that vintage. If it happens, it affects the flavor.

“How you train the vineyard also impacts the flavor of the wine. Cane pruning, versus cordon, versus [other types of training], all impact how the fruit grows, and so also the flavor. Pruning can have an important impact.

“Light levels affect development of anthocyanins and phenolics, [and the thickness of the skins]. When you have a lot of sun exposure, the plant wants a place for all that energy [from photosynthesis] to go. The fruit is a heat sink for that energy. So, sometimes leaving a lot of fruit on the vine in conditions like that can be really important. It might seem counter intuitive because we tend to think low yield is better, but not always. [How much fruit you leave on the vine is part of the overall vine balance, and depends on all these conditions.] When you have too many leaves on the vine, you’re going to get a real green development of underripe flavor in the wine.

“When people talk about making your vine suffer, it is not always a good thing. There are times when leaves are no longer photosynthesizing [because of how the vine is suffering], so the grapes are only ripening [gaining sugar] because they are dehydrating on the vine, not because they are receiving what they need from the vine. [The grape gains sugars, but the seeds are not ripening. It results in wine that tastes overripe and underripe simultaneously.]

[…]

“Terroir includes climate, the temperature, the rainfall… all of which vary depending on the time of the year. It includes the soil, which is part of the infrastructure, and the drainage of the vineyard. It impacts the texture, the minerality, the chemistry of the wine. There are also the socioeconomic aspects of the vineyard. [How the vineyard is planted, or pruned is part of the infrastructure of the vineyard, and is a matter of labor in the vineyard.] Some of this is a matter of what you can afford, your capital investment, and also of how you take care of your workforce, if they can afford to live and work there all year. [The capital investment in the vineyard, how much equipment is needed or used, the labor, how hand intensive the work is, the growing, the farming. All of this factors into yield. Yield can vary in some elements by vintage.] All of these are elements of the terroir.”

***

Thank you to Prudy Foxx, and Megan Metz.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Truchard Vineyards & Winery

Truchard Vineyardslooking towards the fault line that runs through Truchard Vineyards
— each hill contains a different soil type, and grows a different grape variety

One of the first to plant in North Carneros, Tony Truchard began establishing his Truchard Vineyards in 1974 at a time when others thought growing vines in Carneros might be crazy. Even more unusual, his thirst was for Cabernet. He remains to today one of the few people growing the variety in the area. Consistently 10 degrees cooler than the heart of Napa Valley where Cabernet thrives, people at the time believed Carneros wasn’t warm enough to ripen grapes.

Planting his first vines on his own by hand, Truchard persisted thanks partially to the inspiration of his neighbor, Frank Mahoney, who had already established Carneros Creek Vineyards near by. Mahoney was among the first to bring drip irrigation to the area, a technology developed for reclaiming the deserts of Israel, and today used through California wine country.

Beginning first on a 20-acre parcel, the disadvantages seen by others in Carneros would become an advantage for the Truchards. With the lack of agricultural promise, neighbors offered their parcels to Truchard for purchase. Buying land as he could afford it, today Trucard Vineyards grow over 200 planted acres on 400 contiguous acres all north of the Carneros Highway.

While South Carneros proves flat and entirely clay pan, North Carneros rolls with hills and fault lines. The fault line that cut through Truchard Vineyard has pushed such a range of soil types that along the retaining pond each hill includes a different soil type, and thus also a different grape variety. In volcanic ash they’ve planted Syrah, in clay Merlot, clay with limestone a mix of both Bordeaux and Burgundian varieties, in sandstone they also grow a mix of grape types.

Today Truchard is considered one of the premium growers of Carneros, with 12 different planted varieties including Zinfandel, Tempranillo, and Roussanne most unusually, but also each of the 5 Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. Most of their fruit sells to quality producers, but they also produce their own wines under the Truchard label.

Truchard Wines

Truchard WinesMost incredibly, Truchard has avoided raising wine prices. Today, Truchard offers some of the best quality for cost in Napa Valley. While the label does include two reserve level wines (available to wine club) coming in around $75, the remainder of their portfolio ranges between $25-38. Finding a quality North Coast Pinot Noir, or a Napa Valley Cabernet at those prices is almost unheard of.

Truchard wines offer nice mouth watering acidity, vibrant flavor, and pleasant clean fruit throughout. They are wines with easy presence — nicely balanced, well integrated, stimulating and never forceful. The standouts in yesterday’s tasting include the 2013 Roussanne, 2010 Tempranillo, and 2011 Zinfandel. That said, any of these wines would do well at the table. Following are notes on the current portfolio.

* Truchard 2013 Roussanne, Carneros Napa Valley $25
Pretty, lifted aromatics are followed with vibrant acidity through a creamy palate of light (not sweet or heavy) almond paste, citrus blossom and curd with a delicate white pepper finish. The 2013 Roussanne will age nicely, but is beautiful and yummy now.

Truchard 2012 Pinot Noir, Carneros Napa Valley $35
Offering pretty, bright red aromatics the 2012 Pinot Noir carries forward with a nicely focused, mouth watering palate of raspberry bush and cranberry. This is a nicely balanced wine with a taut, lean, and pleasing palate.

* Truchard 2010 Tempranillo, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Both nose and palate here carry red, and red violet fruit alongside pretty rose and violet elements, and a hint of molasses throughout. The palate is wonderfully mouthwatering and fresh, with polished tannin, and an ultra long finish.

* Truchard 2011 Zinfandel, Carneros Napa Valley $30
A unique Zinfandel offering high tone red fruit and mixed exotic spices, the Truchard Zinfandel offers wonderfully mouth watering acidity, easy tannin, and an ultra long finish. This is a yummy pizza and pasta wine.

Truchard 2010 Merlot, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Keep an eye out for the 2011 Merlot as the 2010 is already almost sold out. The Truchard Merlot carries the recognizable blue fruit and flower midpalate of Merlot filled out and lengthened with nicely the integrated herbal traction of Cabernet Franc. It’s a nicely balanced, and surprising combination for California Merlot.

Truchard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros Napa Valley $38
Giving screaming good value, the Truchard Cabernet hits that balance of doing well with age on it and drinking well now. Carrying black currant, a touch of pine, and refreshing red and green bell pepper this wine has tons of flavor without over extraction on a nicely structured frame.

Truchard 2012 Syrah, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Wanting the most time in bottle, and the most air upon opening, the Truchard Syrah brings inky dark aromas and flavors through a perfumed musk and pine lift. The same carries into the palate touched throughout by an ashen patina carrying through an ultra long taut finish.

***

Want to read more on Truchard Vineyards?

Check out Tom Riley‘s article for the San Jose Mercury News here: http://www.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play/ci_26078260/napas-truchard-caves-goats-winning-chardonnay

Thank you to Mathew Fitch. CHEEEESSSSE!!!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Visiting School House Vineyard

John Gantner, JrJohn M Gantner at School House, July 2014

It’s a hint of old Napa — a vineyard far up Spring Mountain set down a slope behind an old house. There are no signs inviting visitors, or announcing the name. It’s the site of School House Vineyards.

What is now School House Vineyards began as an 1800s 160-acre homestead, the School House just at the top, including tens of acres of vineyards. By the late 1930s, the last generation of the original homestead was ready to be closer to healthcare in town. Electricity didn’t reach the site until the late 1950s.

“My father purchased this in 1940. He wanted land in the Mayacamas Range.” Owner John M Gantner explains of his father. “It took him three years to find this place. He believed to make good red wine you should be in the mountains of the Mayacamas, not on the valley floor. At the time, acreage up here wasn’t worth anything. No one could afford to keep hillside vineyards in operation so it went to forest.”

Some of the original vines would be recovered on the property after establishing deer fencing, and clearing extra growth. The vines would prove to be an old vine mixed-blacks Zinfandel planting that has since served as the School House Mescolanza Red Blend.

Nancy Walker and John M GantnerNancy Walker and John M Gantner

School House Pinot began thanks to the experimental history of the Valley floor. Friends of Gantner, the story goes, had established Pinot vines with cuttings brought back from Romani-Conti in Burgundy. Valley floor temperatures proved too high for the fruit, however, so the vines were pulled out. John’s father believed, however, the mountain’s cooler temperatures would do well hosting the variety. In 1953, John’s father took cuttings before the vines were removed to plant on Spring Mountain.

“I dug many of the holes,” John explains. “My dad put me to work.” He laughs quietly. “I didn’t have much to say in it.” The Pinot remains to this day dry farmed.

IMG_1504“He made the first wine in 1957,” John says of his father. “We’ve made a Pinot Noir every year since.”

School House Pinots age beautifully. Earlier this year over dinner with friends we enjoyed a 1974 with still-vibrant, focused red fruit and forest. Over lunch this summer, Gantner and his wife Nancy Walker shared both a 1998, and 2002, both expressive of vintage with pure mountain fruit.

Chardonnay would be established in 1968 with cuttings from Stony Hill, though it wouldn’t be labeled and sold as a School House wine until 1991 when Gantner and Walker would take over the property from his father. Before that the family would make the white only for themselves.

Nancy laughs briefly as we discuss the Chardonnay. “The thing you learn from making wine,” Nancy tells me, “is you don’t place blame. Everybody makes mistakes.” The couple decide to share an example.

Gantner had traveled previously in China, but in the early 1980s decided he needed to return to the region. He wanted to see Tibet. Harvest had finished but Chardonnay was still finishing in barrel for home wine. Living in San Francisco at the time, Walker drove up the mountain to check on the wine only to discover the bungs had been pounded in too tight, and the wine had exploded over the entire garage.

IMG_1503In 2006, they would also establish Syrah, these vines in partnership with Pride Mountain who takes half the fruit. Gantner would break the rules, establishing the vines with irrigation, but then returning to dry farming once the roots were established. School House keeps the few rows of Grenache and Mourvedre mixed in to bottle as a Syrah blend.

Gantner hands me a bottle to take home and sample. It’s a beautiful, lean while expressive, fresh and savory Syrah, lightly grippy, and mouth watering with the long finish of pure mountain fruit.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

2

Tasting Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet with Alder Yarrow

As part of the VH1 Storytellers series, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson record an acoustic album together. For classic country fans, like myself, it’s a beautiful moment bringing two of the greats together. In the liner notes Cash explains how sitting side-by-side with Nelson on stage, Cash couldn’t help but envy Nelson’s picking ability. He plays fine guitar.

In the world of wine blogging, I’m no Johnny Cash (he’s one of the best, most soulful that ever was) but I do think it’s fair to call Alder Yarrow our Willie Nelson — prolific writer, writes notes for the best (Jancis Robinson as the wine world’s Patsy Cline-one of the finest country voices in history?), one of the longest blogging careers at the top.

Still, why the comparison?

The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers’ Association invited Alder Yarrow to participate in an exclusive appellation tasting of Cabernet. He was kind enough to extend the invitation to me. So, this past weekend the two of us sat side-by-side tasting through 53 Cabernet library wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sitting there side-by-side with Yarrow, I couldn’t help but admire his wine note ability.

Keep an eye out for Alder’s write-up on the tasting at his site Vinography (here: http://vinography.com/). He is likely to post thorough-going notes for the wines, as well as his overall assessment of quality for the variety in the region. Speaking with Alder after it was clear our views overlapped around a number of aspects, and diverged in others. I’ll let him share his own thoughts when he chooses to post them.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA

Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernetclick on image to enlarge

An AVA since 1981, the Santa Cruz Mountains was one of the first appellations to be defined by its mountain topography. The San Andreas fault carves the region running roughly diagonal up the middle north to south. Acreage within the appellation rises to the highest peaks around 2600 ft. but, importantly, not all acreage within the overall area count as part of the AVA. Instead, the boundaries descend to around 800 feet on the Eastern side, and 400 feet on the coastal, with valley floor properties falling outside the region. Fog articulates the limits of the lower elevations — the appellation grows above it.

The Santa Cruz Mountains count as their own unique region. The AVA stands below what we call the North Coast, and above what the TTB describes as the Central Coast. Though they often get lumped into the Central Coast in wine review discussions, the mountains technically, and climatically prove separate. The Mountains also fall outside the San Francisco Bay appellation. Effectively, then, the Santa Cruz Mountains rise as islands on their own above the fog — from the Bay to the East, from the ocean to the West, between the North and Central Coasts.

Historically, the area has produced some of the most important wines of California. Paul Masson began growing sparkling wine on the western slopes, eventually inspiring Martin Ray to produce the first varietally specific still wines at what would become Mount Eden. Later, in the 1960s, Paul Draper would help rediscover what we now call the Ridge Monte Bello site, growing wines that would compete against the best of Bordeaux.

Variety in the Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains wine growing region includes around 1300-planted acres. The vineyard totals separate into fairly even quarters, with Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay encapsulating three, and mixed other varieties taking the fourth.

After our tasting we enjoyed lunch with Paul Draper. As he explains, historically houses with vineyards on the eastern side of the San Andreas fault such as Ridge, Woodside, and Kathryn Kennedy grew Cabernet, while domains on the western side such as Thomas Fogarty or Varner grew Pinot. Chardonnay has done well throughout. Mount Eden, along the center line of the AVA, has long grown all three.

Overall temperatures certainly factor in to the historic placement in plantings. Generally the eastern side tends to be warmer. However, thanks to the folds and faults of the mountains, an incredible variability of microclimate dominates the appellation. More recently people have begun identifying warmer pockets on the western side as well so that today Cabernet is planted throughout the AVA.

Tectonic activity produces soil richness. With its multiple plates, the Santa Cruz Mountains offers a lot of soil diversity as well. Ridge, for example, sits atop some of the only limestone in California, while Varner rests in mixed loam over rock, and other areas depend upon decomposed rock, or clay.

Thanks partially to its remoteness — its harder to build direct roads in mountain terrain — the Santa Cruz Mountains have predominately held smaller producers. One of the effects of size, however, includes greater variability in wine quality. In an area not dominated by large name houses, it becomes easier for anyone to enter the industry, buying a few grapes to try out making wine. That sort of situation also often means producers with less connection to overall trends or styles of the wine world. So, while some of the best of California owe their heritage to the mountain AVA, the region as a whole does not currently meet that benchmark.

Cabernet Tasting from the Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet

the line-up of 53 Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets

The library tasting consisted of 53 Cabernets (blend and varietal) from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The producers were invited to select bottles from their library collection in order to show their wines across vintages, and with some age. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards selected four wines from the mid-1980s. With the exception of two newer projects, all other producers selected wines from the mid-2000s. Left Bend, and Lexington are both younger projects, and as a result presented wines since 2010. During lunch Draper also opened a 1985 Ridge Monte Bello.

Because I expect that Alder will likely present thorough-going notes for the wines, I am going to share overall impressions from the tasting. Alder’s insights through wine notes are reliably good.

Post Edit: Alder Yarrow’s write-up on the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet tasting has just gone live. It’s excellent. Check it out here: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2014/10/bay_area_bordeaux_tasting_sant.html

Overall Impressions of Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernet

Throughout, the wines carried a sense of persistent and vibrant acidity, with a stimulating presence. The Cabernets also consistently held a line of aromatic, oily-tree forest ranging from eucalyptus, to pine, to cedar, often showing pine alongside one of the other two. The fruit notes varied through a range of dark fruits and creamy violet in the younger wines, or red currant and rose in the older wines, however, the wines throughout showed a note of sour or bing cherry.

Faults appeared in around a handful of wines, though never through an entire portfolio. In each case we opened a backup bottle to check whether or not it reduced to bottle variation, or a winemaking issue. In a few portfolios where there were not necessarily faults, cellar quality was problematic. Due to proximity to fog, disease pressure can be an issue within the Santa Cruz Mountains. However, the loose bunches of Cabernet tend to mitigate such issues for that variety.

Considering that the overall fruit quality was good in more than half the wines, it was disappointing to discover a predominance of oak that cloaked or obscured the fruit. In many cases, oak use in the wines was difficult. It is clear that there are high quality sites within the appellation for Cabernet. With the amount of work that goes into farming such fruit, it is a shame to see site quality obliterated by woody character. The issue tended to be a matter of over-oaking wine, but in some cases appeared to be also a question of oak type with wood spice standing disjointed to the fruit.

Stand Out Examples of Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet

Five individual wines in particular stood out for quality in the tasting.

* The Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard 1985 Bates Ranch Cabernet, 12.5%, showed nice vibrancy with a lot of life, offering floral and berry aromatics alongside a pleasing mid-palate through finish of red and dark berry, eucalyptus, and pine with hints of molasses and tobacco. The wine carried still strong, though not aggressive tannin, and a long lightly drying finish.

* The Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard 1986 Bates Ranch Cabernet, 12.5%, offered wet tobacco, eucalyptus, and floral aromatics, followed by a creamy mid-palate of violet cream, and integrated berry with eucalyptus and pine. The tannin to acid balance was pleasant and well executed, coupling with pleasing subtlety of flavor throughout.

* Ridge 2005 Monte Bello, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 13.4%, while still quite young, offered a nicely integrated wine of strength with elegance. Sour cherry comes together here with both red and black currant alongside Monte Bello’s characteristic eucalyptus, and still apparent oak baking spice. The wine wants a lot more time to develop and deepen, but is structurally beautiful now.

* Mount Eden 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 83% Cabernet, 14% Merlot, 1.5% Cabernet Franc, 1.5% Petite Verdot, 13.5%, carried creamy aromatics of cedar integrated with dark fruit, carrying forward to a creamy mid-palate of black currant and cassis, cedar, hints of butterscotch, and a pop of hot pepper heat through a long drying finish. I’d love to taste less wood here, but for the most part the spice knits well with the wine.

* Kathryn Kennedy 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.2% proves to be riper in style than the other stand out wines of the tasting, but carries a seamless presentation. Graceful aromatics of creamy spice, and violet carry forward into elegant tannin with flavors of sour cherry and dark fruit accents, creamy ginger, and violet. I believe this wine will continue to increase in elegance as it ages.

I am also interested in keeping an eye on the two newer projects — Lexington, and Left Bend.

Lexington offers good quality right out of the gate, which is no surprise considering its pedigree. Tommy Fogarty, and Nathan Kandler have been developing the site for quality fruit, and make beautiful wines through their other label Thomas Fogarty. They poured both the Lexington Gist Ranch 2011 Estate Cabernet, and their blend, the 2011 Apex (which in 2011 proved to be almost entirely Cabernet). Both wines are nicely done, and Apex carries a lightness, with less woody character to it I find exciting.

The Left Bend wines currently show a lot of new oak, which is challenging. However, I mention them because the 2010 and 2011 wines appeared to have pleasant fruit quality. My hope is that new label==new barrels, and that as the winemakers develop they will shift to letting the fruit more clearly shine through.

***

Post Edit: Alder Yarrow’s write-up on the Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet tasting has just gone live. It’s excellent. Check it out here: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2014/10/bay_area_bordeaux_tasting_sant.html

If you are interested in tasting more Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets, Premier Cruz will be happening in early November, and this year focuses on Cabernet. Tickets are already on sale.

For more information: http://scmwa.com/event/premier-cruz/

***

Thank you to Megan Metz, Marty Mathis, and Alder Yarrow.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

2

Jr Makes a Movie: Go Jr!

This summer Jr, aka. Rachel, had a heck of a summer. It started first with a month on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska working with a life long friend of ours. She then joined an OMSI summer camp for two weeks making a documentary in the California Redwoods.

Along with her team of three other high school students, Rachel filmed a documentary on burl poaching in National and State parks. She conducted the primary interview with Ranger Jeff, as well as filming, editing, and planning with her team members for the rest of the film.

Check it out!

 

Burl Patrol from NW Documentary on Vimeo.

What do you think of the movie? Feel free to let Jr know through comments here.

Cheers!

0

The TTB Extends Comment Period on the Proposed Expansion of the Sta Rita Hills

Map of the Current SRH AVAmap of the current Sta Rita Hills AVA, the proposed expansion would be in the Northeast

Late last week the TTB announced it was extending the comment period for Notice No. 145, Proposed Expansion of the Sta. Rita Hills Viticultural Area until December 5, 2014. The extension allows more time for individuals to compose and submit responses to the possible expansion either for or against the proposal.

The TTB granting the extension is unsurprising since the comment period previously coincided exactly with harvest through the region, which would make interested parties ability to submit commentary more difficult.

The proposal for expansion comes as a result of a petition submitted by Patrick Shabram on behalf of John Sebastiano Vineyard, and Pence Ranch in March, 2013. If approved, the expansion would extend the current Sta Rita Hills AVA to the East by an additional 2,296 acres. The Sta Rita Hills Winegrower’s Alliance has come out as unanimously opposed to the proposed expansion.

In response to such proposals, the TTB opens a comment period in order to gather information and perspective from interested parties. Comments are needed in order to legitimate or refute information relevant to possible expansions. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at (1) how the TTB process works in such matters, and (2) what counts as a useful or effective comment within the TTB process.

TTB Basics: Understanding the Purpose of the AVA

The TTB serves as a regulatory board for the United States Government, within the United States Treasury. As such, the TTB operates to regulate legal strictures around alcohol and tobacco. One of the matters that the TTB supervises is the establishment, or expansion of American Viticulture Areas (AVAs).

The purpose of the AVA, for the TTB, rests in informing consumers the origin of the wine. Towards this end, the U.S. AVA system takes into account factors that would impact viticulture, but not the wines themselves. This is unique compared to many European models for wine appellations. Many appellation systems outside the United States, Europe being a prime example, also regulate stylistic choices, and/or varieties grown.

U.S. AVAs, however, are defined based on the unique geographical conditions of a region that affect viticulture, and then classify that growing region in relation to an appropriate geographical name. In other words, an AVA is meant to articulate growing conditions unique to a specific place, and to name it in a way consistent to the place. That is, if there are multiple areas with the same name, the TTB will ask the people that submitted the proposal to generate a new title that can be distinctly identified from the other areas that have similar monikers, while still unique to the area being named.

As a goofy example, the Simpsons would have a hard time creating a grape growing region named “Springfield” since there are so many other areas with the same name. They’d have to create a name for the region that could not be mistaken for any of the other Springfields. For example, within TTB practices it would be unsurprising for them to use a name such as “Springfield of the Simpsons.” (What on earth would wines from there be like?)

Another current example relevant to the overarching region of Santa Barbara County can be found in the Happy Canyon proposal, a sub-AVA approved within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Because there are regions elsewhere also known as Happy Canyon, the TTB asked for the proposed title to be modified in a way that would clearly show it to be unique to Santa Barbara County. The approved sub-AVA name, then, became Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

TTB Process: The Purpose of the Comment Period

Importantly, the TTB serves as a regulatory board, not an investigative one. What that means, is that when the TTB receives a proposal for the establishment or the expansion of an AVA it does not investigate the accuracy of the data submitted. That is, it does not go out and do additional data gathering, nor does it do additional research of the region.

The TTB assumes the information submitted in a proposal is in essence accurate. What it will consider is whether or not the data submitted offers sufficient evidence to approve the proposed AVA, or expansion.

Because the TTB is not an investigatory board, when considering new proposals it opens a comment period to allow interested parties to submit additional data, and insight that might give valuable perspective on the proposal itself, and whether or not the evidence submitted is sufficient to approve the proposal.

In other words, the comment period is an important aspect of legitimating, or negating the worth of a proposed AVA, or its expansion.

What Counts as a Useful or Effective Comment?

The comment period is designed simply to allow supporting, or negating information and perspective in relation to a particular proposal. Comments submitted that speak to anything outside the specific proposal are effectively irrelevant to the process, and will not be considered in relation to the proposal. In other words, critiques of the TTB itself, or the AVA system, or other AVAs, etc, are irrelevant to the comment period of a specific proposal, and need to be submitted elsewhere.

Useful or effective comments, then, directly address the evidence within a particular proposal, and the question of whether or not such evidence sufficiently fulfills the requirements for establishing or expanding an AVA.

What are those TTB requirements?

The TTB American Viticulture Area (AVA) Manual states exactly what is required to submit a complete proposal for AVA expansion. The requirements for expansion closely resemble the requirements for a new AVA.

Here is the list of requirements as stated within the TTB AVA Manual itself (pg 5-6 w further explanation in sections VIII and XI).

  • For an expansion of the boundary, substantive evidence for how the name of the existing AVA also applies to the expansion area;
  • For a petition to modify a boundary to expand an existing AVA, substantive evidence that demonstrates how the area affected by the proposed change has distinguishing features affecting viticulture that are the same as those of the existing AVA;
  • For a petition to modify a boundary to reduce the size of an existing AVA, substantive evidence that demonstrates how the area affected by the proposed change does not have distinguishing features affecting viticulture that are the same as those of the existing AVA;
  • A detailed explanation of how the boundary of the existing AVA was incorrectly or incompletely defined, or is no longer accurate due to new evidence or changed circumstances, with reference to the name evidence and distinguishing features for both the existing AVA as well as the area affected by the proposed boundary change;
  • Appropriate USGS maps with the proposed change boundary clearly shown on them; and
  • A detailed narrative description of the entire proposed new boundary line using USGS map markings.

For a proposal to be considered complete by the TTB, each of these elements must be addressed within the proposal. That is, they are required. The current comment period for the proposed expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA is meant to allow interested parties the chance to address the question of whether or not the way those elements have been addressed is sufficient to approving the expansion. In other words, the application itself is complete. The question at hand is whether or not it sufficiently argues for its request to expand the AVA.

How to Write a Useful or Effective Comment

What counts as relevant information within a comment? Effective comments contain evidence that supports or negates (one or the other) any of the requirements. Evidence can include, but is not limited to: weather data, soil information, vegetation changes, geographical features. Evidence can be presented through expert opinion and analysis of data information, and also through anecdotal testimony. In either case though, the comment should directly address the elements relevant to the petition itself.

Both experts and non-experts are invited to comment to the TTB during a proposal comment period. In either case, what is important is that one testifies to things within his or her experience in relation to the requirements of the petition.

For those that are interested in submitting a comment to the TTB in relation to either legitimating, or negating the proposed expansion of the Sta Rita Hills, then, there are three key questions that should be addressed, each of which addresses at least one of the requirements listed above.

As shown in the TTB AVA Manual, any proposal must show that:

(1) The area proposed for expansion can be appropriately understood in name as part of the region that the original AVA name denotes.

In this case, it must be appropriate to call the additional 2,296 acres of the proposed expansion part of the area “the Sta Rita Hills.” To put that another way, it should be apparent that “Sta Rita Hills” is still the right name for the proposed expansion area.

(2) The area within the expansion is the same as the area within the current Sta Rita Hills.

That is, the distinguishing features affecting viticulture within the already established Sta Rita Hills AVA must be the same as those within the proposed expansion area.

In other words, any commentator that wishes to support the proposed expansion can submit information, or testimonial providing evidence for the similarity of the 2,296 acres being like the region already established as the current AVA.

Any commentator that wishes to negate the proposed expansion can submit information, or testimonial providing evidence that shows the differences of the 2,296 acres from the region within the established AVA. Again, similarities or differences can rest in weather, climate, temperature, soil, and vegetation, as well as overall geographical features.

(3) The area within the expansion area is uniquely distinct from its immediate surrounding areas.

This requirement demands a little more explanation.

The area proposed for expansion should be distinct not just only from distant regions, but from those areas immediately outside the proposed expansion boundaries. In other words, where the boundary is drawn should not be arbitrary, or even approximate but instead definitive of the unique geography of the growing area.

Comments submitted should either support or negate the differences of the area immediately within the proposed expansion area, to those immediately outside the proposed expansion area.

The Sta Rita Hills-AVA, however, is a sub-AVA. That makes this requirement a little more subtle. That is, the Sta Rita Hills are considered distinctive enough to merit being their own sub-AVA, while still generally congruent with the overall conditions of the Santa Ynez Valley as a whole.

Similarly, the other two sub-AVAs currently within Santa Ynez Valley — Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara — are both considered to be distinctive enough to merit their own sub-AVA statuses, while still generally congruent with the conditions of Santa Ynez Valley as a whole.

In the case of the Sta Rita Hills expansion, then, the proposal must show that it is distinct not just from the other sub-AVAs within the Santa Ynez Valley, such as Ballard Canyon, or Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara have already been proven to be appropriately distinctive enough from their immediate surrounding areas to merit their own sub-AVA statuses. Similarly, the Sta Rita Hills has already proven to be distinctive enough from the other areas of the Santa Ynez Valley, and thus carries sub-AVA status.

The result of this is that because Ballard Canyon, for example, is an already established sub-AVA, it has already been shown via that sub-AVA proposal and approval that Ballard Canyon is distinct not only from Sta Rita Hills, but also the areas immediately East of the Sta Rita Hills, such as Buellton Flats. That is, Ballard Canyon is already shown to be distinct from not only Sta Rita Hills, but also the proposed expansion area.

It would not be uniquely insightful, then, for the current expansion proposal to simply show that the proposed expansion area is distinct from Ballard Canyon. Instead, it must show that it is distinct from the rest of the area known as Buellton Flats, and from weather in places like the town of Buellton. Otherwise, the currently proposed expansion boundaries would seem to be arbitrary.

What the expansion proposal must show, then, is that the proposed expansion boundaries are not arbitrary, nor even approximate of a distinctive zone that is the Sta Rita Hills. Instead, the expansion proposal must show that it is uniquely different from the portions of the Santa Ynez Valley immediately outside the proposed new boundaries.

The comment period is an opportunity for interested parties to provide evidence approving or negating the strength of the submitted proposal for expansion around each of these three questions — appropriate name, similarity to the established Sta Rita Hills, and distinctiveness from immediate surrounding areas.

Studying the Issue and Submitting Commentary

If you are interested in submitting a comment in response to the Sta Rita Hills expansion proposal, you now have until December 5, 2014.

If you submitted a comment during the previous comment period opened when the proposal was first submitted in March, 2013, you must submit a new comment within the current comment period for it to count within the current comment period.

In commenting, provide evidence from your experience on any or all of the three pertinent questions of name, similarity, and difference. You can also consider reading the petition submitted requesting the expansion, in order to provide clarification of its strengths or weaknesses in relation to these question.

***

To read more on the TTB requirements, take a look at the TTB AVA Manual: http://www.ttb.gov/wine/p51204_ava_manual.pdf

For the original proposal of expansion submitted March 2013 by Patrick Shabram: http://www.ttb.gov/foia/petition-establish-expand-sta-rita-hills-american-viticultural.pdf

For the original 1998 Santa Rita Hills proposal (the name was changed to Sta Rita Hills in 2006 due to name similarity with a winery in Chile): http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=TTB-2014-0007-0006

To read the evidence as submitted in the proposed expansion: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-08-07/pdf/2014-18705.pdf

For the notice of expansion of the comment period until Dec 5, 2014: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-09-03/pdf/2014-20929.pdf

For more on the argument both for and against expansion of the AVA as understood by representatives of each side: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/08/06/an-in-depth-look-at-the-proposed-sta-rita-hills-ava-expansion/

***

To see current comments on the proposed expansion: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=TTB-2014-0007

For relevant notices of proposed rulemaking, including links on the original proposal for expansion, to current comments, and how to comment: http://www.ttb.gov/wine/wine-rulemaking.shtml

To submit your own comment: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=TTB-2014-0007-0001

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

4

Poe Wines Pinot Meunier from Van Der Kamp Vineyard

Yesterday, Samantha Sheehan, and Shawn Johnson of Poe Wines, and I traveled to the Van Der Kamp Vineyard near the top of Sonoma Mountain in order to pick up Pinot Meunier. Along with just picked Pinot Noir, the fruit has been pressed for rosé.

Following is a look at the beautiful, while obscure variety.

Sam Sheehan with just picked Pinot MeunierSam Sheehan with Pinot Meunier for Poe Wines, September 2014

Years ago a 1er cru Burgundy made me realize wine was special, but a still red Pinot Meunier made me fall irretrievably in love wine. I’ve spent the years since hunting the variety around the world.

Pinot Meunier proves rare in terms of unique bottlings. Its primary home rests in Champagne, where it serves as one of the three legal varieties of the wine, capturing the most acreage of any variety in the region thanks to its easier reliability in cool zones. (Historic plantings of four other varieties are also allowed but uncommon.)

Loading the Pinot Meunier to take down the hillloading the Pinot Meunier into bins to drive down Sonoma Mountain, Sept 2014

Historically in France, Pinot Meunier tended to be planted in cooler areas as a sort of insurance grape, proving able to ripen where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir did not find enough warmth. Thanks to Pinot Meunier budding later, it also buds more reliably than its cousins. As a result, it was at one time throughout Northern France. Today, outside Champagne it remains in small pockets of the Loire, as well as Lorraine along the border of Germany. In France, outside of Champagne, examples of Pinot Meunier are made as either a still red wine, or rosé.

Pinot Meunier can also be found as a still red wine in Germany where it is more often bottled under the names Müllerrebe, or Schwarzriesling.

Shawn checking the Pinot MeunierShawn Johnson getting fruit ready for transport, September 2014

In the New World, Pinot Meunier appears primarily in Australia, Oregon, and California. Historic plantings of Pinot Meunier from the 1860s still produce fruit in Victoria, Australia, being bottled by their owner, Best’s Great Western as an Old Vine wine. Best’s treats the variety as one of its foundational grapes, also bottling a separate Young Vine Pinot Meunier from cuttings planted in the 1970s.

In Oregon, the variety was first established in 1965 when the original vines entered Willamette Valley via David Lett of Eyrie. The still red wines made by only a few producers in Willamette have remained largely under the radar. New plantings have just begun in the Valley, as devotees of the grape have brought a little more attention to the grape type.

Sam and DixieSam Sheehan and Dixie Van Der Kamp, September 2014

California treats Pinot Meunier primarily as a component of sparkling wine, growing it in cooler zones of Mendocino and Carneros. A few very small bottlings of still red wine examples from these sites are also produced.

As one exception, the Van Der Kamp family established the variety on their 1200-ft elevation, 60 acre vineyard-farm in the early 1980s, producing one of the early examples in the state of a still red wine expression. Today they have 3 acres of the variety, planted alongside 22 acres of Pinot Noir.

Martin VanderkampMartin Van Der Kamp, September 2014

Established wine knowledge has it that Pinot Meunier does not age well. However, examples of still red wines from both Oregon and Victorian producers that still carrying vibrancy 20, 30, and even 40 years later would disagree. In sparkling wines, Krug most famously uses ample portions of the variety in its champagne, which is also known to age beautifully.

Pinot Meunier brings higher natural acidity, and more transparent color than Pinot Noir, while also carrying a greater sense of mid-palate fleshiness with flavoral delicacy. In sparkling cuvées, the variety contributes aromatics, apparent fruit, and a sense of body for the style’s acidity. In red wines, both a sense of natural spice, and a light metallic backbone appear.

The inversion layer over Vanderkamp VineyardVan Der Kamp Vineyard, September 2014, morning
(the crazy dark line that shows in the sky between the tree line and the mountains is the morning inversion layer)

As a result of its layered subtlety, the variety shows most beautifully picked with a sense of freshness, with a lighter hand in vinification, and an absence of new oak. Though some producers do make still red wine examples with more work in the cellar and new oak presence, such an approach obscures the pleasantly delicate elements of the variety turning it into a heavier wine.

Thanks to the unique conditions of the Van Der Kamp vineyard, their Pinot Meunier combines the variety’s naturally lifted acidity, with thicker skins and still smooth tannin. The skins offer the possibility of brawn that some producers prefer, while the smooth tannin and juiciness carry the freshness resplendent in the grape.

Putting up prayer flags to mark the start of harvestShawn and Ulysses Van Der Kamp lifting prayer flags to mark the start of harvest, Sept 1, 2014

Inspired by the uniqueness of the Van Der Kamp Vineyard, Samantha Sheehan, and Shawn Johnson work with the Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Meunier for Poe Wines. Last year, they produced a sparkling expression of the variety (still aging in bottle).

They also made a vin gris style rosé in 2013 of both Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. The fresh fruit zing-iness of the rosé proved to be one of the most popular wines of the Poe portfolio. For 2014, Poe Wines again takes the Van Der Kamp Pinot Meunier alongside old vine Pinot Noir to make rosé, pressing the grapes yesterday. The fruit tasted delicious.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

5

A Look at Napa Valley

Visit Napa ValleyRachel and I walked downtown Napa yesterday taking pictures. A room from the second floor of the building that held Carpe Diem, a restaurant that hosted a bitching locals’ night making wine bottles half-off on Tuesdays, now sits on the sidewalk below. The roof dangles over it. Around the corner the County building is closed, unable to issue permits to people needing to do home repairs after the earthquake, because the County building itself suffered too much damage.

Mixed between such scenes are long stretches of businesses already open. Owners of restaurants and wine bars in downtown Napa after the earthquake discovered red wine streams rushing their hallways, and cellars feet deep in glass. In merely three days they’ve already cleaned. Losing days for a small business isn’t an option.

Along 1st, Oenotri opened two days ago with its seasonal menu, and a full bar. Their food is excellent. They’re known for their cocktails. One block over, the brand new Cadet Beer & Wine Bar re-launched last night. The hand-crank prosciutto slicer is turning. Most of the wine list (awesome wines from all over the state) are still represented.  Two blocks down, Backroom Wines shop already has its bottles shelved and ready for sale. Wines by the glass are also resuming.

As much damage as has happened in Napa Valley, and it is significant, the biggest cost and long-term damage could come from loss of tourism. Harvest in the Valley proves the most important time of year not only for the wine it produces, but also the tourism revenue it generates. Numerous businesses are reporting reservation cancellations for weeks from now. Images seen in the news and online have convinced some the Valley as a whole is a demolition zone.

But, structural damage to the Valley has occurred in pockets centered primarily in South and Western Napa. With only few exceptions, wineries are still operating and open for business. Even wineries that have gotten ample coverage from damage to infrastructure, like Trefethen, and Hess Collection are ready for tasting room appointments. They’ve simply changed the building they’ll be pouring and hosting in.

Napa Valley does need help. Speaking with businesses hit hardest by the earthquake several things are obvious. It is small businesses, and everyone’s employees that have suffered the most devastating losses. Many larger wineries are providing time off, and assistance to employees who lost homes. Small businesses, as mentioned, can’t afford to close. They need the transformative strength of consumer buying power.

Here’s how to help.

1. Buy, and drink Napa Valley If you can afford it, don’t just pop open bottles of Napa wine you already have in cellar. Order bottles of Napa wine from your local wine lists, wine shops, and through online stores. Winery business models depend on bottles being sold through multiple channels. That means, every purchase you make of a Napa wine, even when not directly from the winery itself, will help keep that winery operating.

2. Eat, and drink Napa Valley If you are anywhere within proximity of Napa Valley, find a day you can drive up and enjoy a meal at any of the restaurants in the area. Everyone in the Valley suffers from loss of tourism revenue. Your visit to the Valley, anywhere in the Valley, makes a difference. As mentioned, downtown businesses in particular need your help. Restaurants along 1st, and also along Main are open. Oxbow Market is also open.

3. Stay Napa Valley If you had a trip planned for Napa, keep those reservations. Everything you need as a tourist is still here. The wine industry is still cranking through harvest. The harvest experience is yours to be had. The truth? Everyone in hospitality is going to be happy to see you. You can expect service friendliness to be up a notch. Driving through the Valley there are few visible signs of earthquake damage. The Valley is beautiful.

4. Community Contributions As mentioned, it’s employees, and individuals in the Valley that have been hit hardest. Many people have lost homes. Some are in homes without water. The Red Cross has provided temporary housing. The Food Bank is feeding people. Aldea Children & Family Services is providing counseling, and crisis relief for people affected by the earthquake. All of these groups can use your donations. Following are links for how to donate.

Aldea Children & Family Services http://www.aldeainc.org/get-involved/donors

Napa Valley Food Bank http://www.canv.org/donate.html

Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter https://www.redcross.org/quickdonate/index.jsp

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com