Category California

Tasting Wine w the Historic Vineyard Society: Pebble Beach Food + Wine

Heritage Wines of California at Pebble Beach Food and Wine

Pebble Beach Food + Wine Heritage Wines of California panelfrom left: Morgan Twain-Peterson, Gillian Balance, Ray Isle, Tegan Passalacqua

Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine celebrated heritage wines of California on a panel at this year’s Pebble Beach Food and Wine. Bringing together Morgan Twain-Peterson and Tegan Passalacqua of the Historic Vineyard Society, with Master Sommelier and wine educator, Gillian Balance, the discussion offered an introduction to terroir specific vineyards of California through ten wines of Northern California.

Attending the Heritage Vineyard Society panel was a lucky treat. The event was one of the first to sell out for Pebble Beach Food & Wine this year, and the crowd waiting to get into the panel was not only early but pushed against the door waiting for it to open. It was a fantastic panel discussion bringing out not only the value of the ten individual wines (shown below) featured, but also of the importance of historic vineyards more broadly. Following is a look at the discussion and the wines.

The Value of Older Vineyards

To open the conversation, Isle highlighted the point that older vineyards are not just old vines, but plots of land that offer cultural value beyond their simple economic value. Twain-Peterson and Passalacqua have worked with vineyards throughout the Northern part of the state for decades.

Twain-Peterson grew up with the interest through work in wine with his father, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. However, he began his own passion for the work at a young age making his first wine thanks to grapes from a family friend at the age of 5. Though he must have had assistance at such a young age, he selected the type of fruit he wanted himself–Pinot Noir. He now has his own label, Bedrock Wine Co.

After work with wine in South Africa, Passalacqua has spent the last decade with Turley Wine Cellars driving between vineyards throughout Northern California and into the Central Coast, scouting new sites, and managing vine health to then make wine for the label. More recently he has also launched his own already celebrated label, Sandlands.

The depth of experience with older vineyard sites shared by Passalacqua and Twain-Peterson is some of the deepest in the state. Again and again, however, the duo witnessed brilliant older vineyards being ripped out for merely economic reasons. The experience was repeatedly devastating.

Older sites offer more direct insight into any sense of California terroir. As vines age they adapt to the conditions of their site. The adaptation means that their growth and fruit production are unique to the place in which they are grown, not replaceable by simply getting fruit from another site. Younger vines can offer abundant fruit but tend to be more expressive of their variety and clone. As vines age, however, clonal distinctions fade to the backdrop and site expression steps to the fore.

As Isle pointed out, however, older vineyards don’t just contain older vines. Sites in California planted prior to Prohibition still produce beautiful fruit, offering a link through the state’s otherwise broken viticultural history. Many of these vineyards are also still owned and farmed by the families that planted them. Grandchildren that first walked the rows with their now deceased relatives thus maintain a connection with their own history. As the panel emphasized, agriculture reflects culture, rather than just being agri-business.

Many of the older sites that Twain-Peterson and Passalacqua valued were unknown, however. So, when faced with the destruction of one of these vineyards few people even realized what had been lost. Frustrated with the trend, the pair got together with several others, including Mike Officer, of Carlisle Winery, and David Gates of Ridge, to found the Historic Vineyard Society, a non-profit that registers, maps, and raises awareness of older vine sites in an effort to preserve them.

Heritage Wines of California

Heritage Wines of California panelthe ten wines of the Heritage Wines of California, PBFW panel
from top left: Hanzell Ambassador 1953-planting 2007 Pinot Noir; Bedrock Wine Co Gibson Ranch 120-yr old 2013 Grenache; Idlewild Testa Vineyard 2012 Carignane; Neyers Evangelho Vineyard 2012 Mourvedre; Turley 1880s-planted Library VIneyard 2012 Petite Sirah; Turley Kirchenmann Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel; Limerick Lane 1910-planted 2011 Zinfandel; Carlisle Winery Carlisle Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel; Ridge 2012 Geyserville

In choosing the ten wines for the panel discussion, the group selected examples made from vineyards legally established more than 50 years ago, with more than 33% of the planting still containing original vines. Farmers of older sites will individually replace vines with cuttings of the originals as issues develop in particular vines. As a result, older vineyards often reflect a patchwork of ages but with a predominance of original vines, and a root in original vine material.

The first challenge for older vineyards existing today rests in surviving the fancy of economic trends. However, being established at a time with less potential intervention means such sites were also, by luck or intention, established in locations that can genuinely support healthy vines. As Passalacqua pointed out, because of the lack of technological intervention previously possible, older sites represent land genuinely good for grapes. If it was too hard to grow healthy grapes there, the site was going to be pulled out for farming an easier, more lucrative crop.

As the panel explained, vineyards older than 50 years represent access to an older paradigm “before a more recent intellectual and technical shift in vineyard technology.” More than 50 years, ago sites were planted dry farmed with older (pre-trellising) techniques. Such sites, as a result, reflect not only older vines but sites brilliant for vineyards.

The Wines of the Panel

The wines as a whole were impressively vibrant, with complex expression and flavor concentration. The ten panel selections showed a predominance of elegance, with just a few examples of winemaker experimentation or a touch of vineyard funk. Following are notes on the individual vineyards and wines.

Hanzell, Ambassador Block, 2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley
In the 1953-planted Ambassador block, Hanzell grows what is believed to be the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir vineyard in North America. As Gillian Balance explained, the site is “one of the most spectacular vineyards ever seen” offering incredibly low yields and “a benchmark for what great California Pinot Noir should be.” The 2007 carries a beautiful, easy purity of expression offering layers of fruit, earthy-herbal elements with stimulating while delicate tannin, built around a graceful backbone.

Bedrock Wine Co, Gibson Ranch, 2013 Grenache, McDowell Valley
Bedrock sources fruit from the historic Gibson Ranch McDowell Vineyard, featuring Grenache trees more than 120 years old. The vines on the site are head trained but having been largely left to their own devices over the years, vine height is often taller than people. Harvesting the fruit includes ladders, or standing inside the body of the vine itself. As Twain-Peterson explains, he loves the wines of Gramenon, and from Beaujolais, and so chose to use some whole cluster fermentation to call on the characteristics of those wines. The Bedrock Gibson Grenache carries lots of fresh red fruit lift, moving into a purple and violet palate with tons of mineral crunch and pleasing texture.

Idlewild, Testa Vineyard, 2012 Carignane, Redwood Valley
Though Zinfandel often takes credit as California’s historic grape, Carignan established itself through the same regions as its spicy cousin. The two varieties complement each other in the glass with Carignan bringing a meaty earthiness to Zinfandels fruit spice. Examples of Carignan can be found on its own as well. The Idlewild Testa Carignane brings elegant richness to juicy dark fruit integrated with a deeper spice and ginger accents. Isle laughingly described it as “bright, zingy, like tap dancer wine.”

Neyers, Evangelho Vineyard, 2012 Mourvedre, Contra Costa County
As Passalacqua explains, the Evangelho stands as a rolling vineyard of blow sand — decomposed granite literally blown down from the Sierra Nevadas. It can be a challenge moving through the site to sample fruit, like walking long distances on a beach. One of the advantages of growing vines in sand, however, rests in phylloxera’s inability to prosper in such an environment. As a result, vines can grow on their own roots giving more direct expression, and greater balance in the final wine. The Neyers Evangelho Mourvedre gives dark fruit, dried maple (no sweetness), and natural spice concentration lifted with clean, fresh fruit and melting tannin.

Turley, Library Vineyard, 2012 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley
The Library Vineyard grows in the heart of St Helena wrapping the back sides of the town library. Planted in the late 1880s, more than 24 different varieties, including some unidentified, grow in the site. In this way, the Library Vineyard is not only adjacent to the town library, but is in itself a library of historic cuttings from around the Napa Valley. The Turley Library Petite Sirah wine is full of concentrated complexity beginning with opaque aromatics and violet perfume, then carrying the perfume into the palate with layers of sarsaparilla, mandarin zest, dark fruit, and natural (not barrel) coffee accents.

Turley, Kirschenmann Vineyard, 2012 Zinfandel, Lodi
Growing in what is known as the Peninsula section of the historic Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi, the Kirschenmann Vineyard showcases the lighter fresh fruit profile offered by the sands of the Lodi region. Passalacqua himself now owns the Kirschenmann Vineyard, having purchased it with his wife directly from the family that farmed it for generations. The Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel carries perfumed red aromatics, rolling into a fresh palate of white and red cherry accented by pink grapefruit spice, white pepper midpalate accents, and suave melting tannin.

Limerick Lane, 1910 Zinfandel Block, 2011 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
In the Northeastern section of the Russian River Valley, Limerick Lane owns their historic Estate vineyard, originally homesteaded and planted in 1910. From the site some of the most respected names in California wine history have made wine, including Davis Bynum, and Ravenswood. Maintaining a block of the original vines, Limerick Lane produces a field blend Zinfandel. The 2011 carries redwood, earthy, and savory black olive notes through a drying midpalate and long finish. Note: though the panel papers named this the 2012 vintage, the wine poured was actually the 2011.

Carlisle Winery, Carlisle Vineyard, 2012 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
Growing on the Eastern Bench of the historic river floodplain in the Russian River Valley, the Carlisle Vineyard proves one of the most varietally diverse sites in Northern California. Thirty-eight different varieties prosper in the site. Carlisle Winery produces a field blend Zinfandel featuring the mix. Carlisle Vineyard is owned by Mike Officer, one of the board members and founders of the Historic Vineyard Society. The Carlisle field blend Zinfandel gives red fruit lift and refreshing pink grapefruit accents carrying forward into a creamy palate with layers of rich maple (no sweetness), cocoa powder, cracked pepper, and touches of loam.

Bedrock Wine Co., Bedrock Vineyard Heritage Wine, 2012 Sonoma Valley
Founded in 1854, Bedrock Vineyard carries rich heritage including the attention of U.S. Generals, a state Senator, survival through Prohibition, and now ownership by what Twain-Peterson refers to as the The Peterson-Deininger-Kenworthy-Burney Braintrust. The Bedrock Wine Co Bedrock Vineyard blend brings together Carignan and Zinfandel with 20% mixed field blend from the property’s historic vines. The wine gives lifted fresh purple fruit integrated with fresh herbal, earthy elements and light pine through creamy flavors on a lean, drying palate.

Ridge 2012 Geyserville, Alexander Valley
Another historic field blend site, Ridge’s Geyserville wine brings fruit from the Geyserville vineyard featuring vines more than 130 years old. The field blend includes Carignan, Zinfandel, and Mataro (aka Mourvedre), a combination classic to the warmer areas of Northern California. Ridge has been making wine from the site since 1966. The Ridge Geyserville spins with perfumed floral notes of cherry blossom, dried rose petal, and forest violet, moving into a touch of forest floor, cocoa, and savory soy elements through the ultra long finish.

***

For more on Heritage Vineyards in California, read Ray Isle’s excellent article: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/the-battle-for-americas-oldest-vines

***
Thank you to Ray Isle, Gillian Balance, Tegan Passalacqua, and Morgan Twain-Peterson.

Thank you to Sarah Logan.

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

Drinking Gewurztraminer: 6 wines, 3 countries

Drinking Gewurztraminer with Matzo Ball Soup

Gewurztraminer Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

This week I couldn’t kick the Matzo Ball Soup craving so Jr and I spent an afternoon making it from scratch. By grating fresh ginger into the Matzo Balls, and using a touch of parsley on top of the chicken broth, the soup worked beautifully with Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer produces naturally pungent, easily recognizable aromatics. The grape naturally generates higher sugar levels, leading to a predominance of off dry-to-sweet styles of the grape, or higher alcohol level dry wines. Acid levels also quickly drop in the variety. As a result, Gewurztraminers readily have a fuller mouthfeel, and oily or slippery texture. All combined, cooler climates do better for the fruit. With lower temperatures, a grape that can tend towards blouse-y flavors and feel maintains greater structural focus, and can more easily hold the juiciness to balance its fuller palate.

Following are notes from six dry examples — two each from Alsace, Alto Adige, and California.

* Elena Walch 2013 Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
Alto Adige in Northern Italy stands as both the origin, and one of the most celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer. Elena Walch offers a beautiful dry Gewurztraminer that lifts from the glass with nicely focused fresh rose aromatics then moves over the palate with ultra juicy crisp length. White nectarine, orange blossom, and light chamomile keep the palate nicely focused, crisp, and well integrated with a slippery mouthfeel. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. I kept returning to it through dinner, and after.

Elena Walch 2012 Kastelaz Vineyard Designate Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
On a steep hillside above the village from which Gewurztraminer gets its name, Tramin in Alto Adige, Elena Walch grows the fruit for her single vineyard designate wine. Kastelaz. The site has produced quality fruit for generations. The Kastelaz brings a lighter, rounder focus to the aromatics and palate, carrying white peach, honeysuckle, pear blossom, and chamomile tea alongside light spice elements. Aged on its lees, the Kastelaz gives a creamy, nicely balanced palate. Though this wine offers slightly more residual sugar, it carries nice juiciness, and natural acid levels that bring it in as a dry wine.

Hugel 2011 Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 14.15%
Alsace proves another of the more celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer, with the area regarding it as a signature grape. For Hugel, it is a flagship variety. This dry Gewurztraminer carries cooked pear and lifting almond leaf aromatics rolling into a perfumed white stone and orchard fruit palate accented by chamomile tea. There is nice focus here, pleasing texture, and a long finish.

Domaines Schlumberger 2008 “Les Princes Abbés” Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 13.35
Meant to celebrate the long history of the region, Domaines Schlumberger‘s “Les Princes Abbés” portfolio uses portions of Grand Cru fruit from classic varieties. The aromatics keep a focus on freshness and delicate precision carrying crisp red apple, anjou pear and birch bark from nose to mouth. With just a kiss of sweetness, the juiciness of Les Princes Abbés keeps the wine fresh on the palate.

* Thomas Fogarty Vineyards 2012 Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, 13.3%
Taking fruit from a cool, windy vineyard in Salinas Valley, Thomas Fogarty VIneyards delivers one of the nicest examples of a varietally expressive, dry style Gewurztraminer in California. Giving a touch of skin contact to broaden the palate, and develop textural complexity, the wine delivers very lightly toasted croissant with hints of orange blossom, dried rose petals, and lychee all on a crisp, juicy presentation. This wine brings nice freshness, focus, and length.

Gundlach Bundschu 2012 Estate Gewurztraminer, Sonoma County, 14.5%
Showing off the exuberant side of Gewurztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu‘s 2012 highlights the pungent lychee and oily-slippery mouthfeel typicity of the grape. The nose carries lychee and spice greenery rolling into a flamboyant, perfumed mouth of lychee, melon rind, and lily pollen. The 2012 shows the broad character of a warmer profile typical for the variety. I have to admit the expressiveness of this style is overwhelming for me.

***

Each of these wines were provided as samples.

***

post-edit: I finished this write-up in the middle of the night after a two week run of not-quite enough sleep. My apologies for the creatively varied mis-spellings of Gewurztraminer in the original posting.

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

 

California meets Washington with Jameson Fink

Skype Drinking with Jameson Fink

In the midst of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 Jameson Fink and I became friends. In October 2013, we were able to do a joint wine trip through Dry Creek Valley. We have other joint trips planned for this upcoming year. It’s one of the gifts of wine blogging — you can develop genuine friendships with people you might not have met otherwise.

In the midst of our tour of Dry Creek in 2013, Jameson suggested we find a way to collaborate. Ultimately, we decided to begin by sharing quick visions of our respective states. He’d select two wines from Washington. I’d choose two from California. We’d send them to each other, then via Skype taste, drink, and talk through the four wines.

Following is Jameson’s write-up from the experience. Over on his site, Wine Without Worry, you’ll find mine later today. Here’s my write-up over on Jameson’s site: http://jamesonfink.com/washington-meets-california-with-elaine-chukan-brown/

***

Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink, Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

Hi there! I can’t believe I’m talking over/invading Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews for the day. You might remember me from such adventures with Elaine as “Touring Dry Creek Valley with Jameson Fink”.

The Washington Wines

So what wines from Washington State would I send Elaine’s way? Well, I knew I wanted to send her a couple weird bottles. And by weird I mean distinct and unusual in the most satisfying of ways. So I contacted the folks at Whidbey Island Winery and they were nice enough to send each of us a couple bottles for consideration.

Ferry to Whidbey Island Winery

ferry ride to Whidbey Island Winery, photo by Jameson Fink

I definitely wanted Elaine to try something from the Puget Sound AVA. While the vast majority of grapes for vino in Washington come from east of the Cascade Mountains (think Walla Walla, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, etc), there’s some cool stuff happening much closer to Seattle. Therefore, a bottle of 2012 Siegerrebe was dispatched to California.

This Puget Sound white wine is intensely aromatic. Elaine commented, “I’m drinking it through my nose.” (Not literally. I was watching her via Skype so I can confirm this was just a figure of speech.) It’s light and refreshing, clocking in at a summertime porch-pounding compatible 11% alcohol. If you like the intense aromatics of Gewurztraminer and Moscato but without the oiliness and/or sweetness, get a bottle in your fridge, posthaste! And when you’re hungry, pair that Siegerrebe with anything full of veggies and herbs. Like fresh rolls. (But skip the peanut sauce.)

Whidbey Island Vineyards

Whidbey Island Vineyards

The accompanying red wine from Whidbey Island Winery was their 2011 Lemberger. This bottle, unlike the Siegerrebe, is filled with grapes brought in from Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley. Lemberger is a grape that, because of its unfortunate name, doesn’t get the love it deserves. WHERE IS THE LEMBERGER LOVE?!?

This wine reminds me of what would happen if a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel swiped right on each other’s Tinder profiles. It’s fairly light on the palate but finishes with some brawny spiciness. This bottle would be really intriguing with less new oak as the Lemberger has enough going on to not need that flavor boost. I’d be curious to try it with neutral oak or perhaps nothing but steel. But if you find Zinfandel too monolithic, Lemberger awaits with a more gentle approach followed by an emptying out of the spice cabinet. Outstanding BBQ/outdoor grilling red.

The California Wines

So, what of the California wines sent my way? I was really excited to see (though not to type, jeez, what a long name, here goes) a bottle of 2011 Varner Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block. Phew! So thirsty. I’m a huge fan of the Santa Cruz Mountains, like Ridge Monte Bello (DUH!) and the wines of Mount Eden Vineyards, who make killer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and one of my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons from anywhere IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Anyway, back to the Varner. I love California Chardonnay and I ain’t afraid of oak on it, either. What makes the Varner notable is its exquisite balance between fruit, oak, and acid. How balanced is it? It’s more balanced than a seal with a beach ball on the tip of its nose being cheered by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch snacking on popcorn with a judicious amount of organic butter and native yeast.

Or, as Elaine more elegantly put it, this Chardonnay has “rich flavor with so much graceful movement.” Can I get avian on you? Let me paraphrase what Elaine went on to say. The Varner, which develops in a most intriguing manner in the glass, is like a great blue heron with a weirdly elongated form that moves in ways you don’t expect it to. You can’t compare it to other birds because they are the only ones who move like that.

This wine gets a Clive Coats-ian “very fine indeed”.

Next up? The 2012 Wind Gap Syrah Sonoma Coast Majik Vineyard, which also, like the Varner, proved to be magical in the glass. Like a conjurer. It has a very minty, menthol-y, eucalyptus-y, pine needle-y nose and was very earthy yet extremely light on first sip(s). Its a wine that really needs significant time to open up. I gave it a double-decant about a ½ hour before we began but give it hours to properly plump up or stash it in your cellar for a few years. It certainly gained steam throughout the course of the evening.

What makes this Syrah distinct among all of the offerings from Wind Gap? Elaine deems this bottling from the Majik Vineyard to be “the most aromatic and a little strange.” And strange in the way I described weird earlier. As in intriguing! And not intriguing in a way where you are choking down tiny eye-dropper sips while looking for the exit door. More of a “yum I want more” or “I’m sticking around for this rollercoaster…OF FLAVOR” kind of intrigue. Elaine channeled Alaska when describing this wine, likening it to “tundra berries grown in peat”. (Note: Whole Foods does not carry these. I asked.)

Thanks to Elaine for the fascinating and fantastic wines and letting me blather on all over her blog which, like the Varner, is very fine indeed!!! I look forward to our next adventure via Skype. It won’t be a California/Washington exchange, but rather a theme based on a style of wine we both hold near and dear. Elaine, would you care to make the announcement? Drumroll, please….

OH HOW WE LOVE ROSÉ! That’s what we’ll exchange next time — we’ll each select a favorite still rosé, and a favorite sparkling to send to the other, then Skype.

Cheers!

***

Thank you to Pax Mahle for providing the Wind Gap sample.
Thank you to Jameson Fink for being awesome.

 

Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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

Tasting Grenache with the Rhone Rangers

West Coast Grenache Noir

This recent weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted their Spring event featuring the largest U.S. Rhone-focused tasting in the country, the induction of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas into their Hall of Fame, and two educational seminars. The second seminar focused in specifically on West Coast North American iterations of Grenache Noir, looking at the work of eight winemakers from distinctive regions, and moderated by Luke Sykora of Wine and Spirits Magazine.

Grenache Noir Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

In selecting Grenache as a focal point, the seminar turned its attention to characteristics of the world’s most planted Rhone variety. Depending on site and winemaking style, the grape offers a medium bodied wine ranging from bright red juiciness with supple tannin to more weighted fleshiness and darker red-to-purple flavors.

Though the variety is prone to dropping acid, it can offer a wash of flavor with lots of juicy flow when picked before acids drop. The tannin of the variety too tends towards the lighter side, analogous to Pinot Noir in tannin presence. Many winemakers take advantage of the characteristic to offer more delicate expression, but in good Southern Rhone tradition blending with even a touch of other varieties such as Syrah can increase the heft of the final wine.

In selecting the wines for the panel, the Rhone Rangers Educational Committee chose to pick wines from distinctive regions. Though Grenache proves to be the world’s most planted Rhone variety, its development in California and Oregon vinification is still in its earlier stages. As a result, a number of the wines shown represented the first vintage of working with the grape, even from experienced winemakers.

Bob Lindquist of Qupé opened the panel expressing his affection for the variety. He brings a wealth of experience with Rhone grapes from Santa Barbara County to the table. As example, because Grenache varieties are prone to oxidation their aging before bottling needs to be carefully considered. However, as Lindquist discussed, Grenache does better texturally with some slow oxygen exposure. With that in mind, it is rare to see Grenache aged in Stainless. Most winemakers choose oak, though some are also starting to use concrete, to allow for slow air exchange.

The delicacy of Grenache favors neutral oak. However, making the point about the importance of site, Chris Cameron of Broken Earth on the Eastside of Paso Robles explained that, with the warmer temperatures of their region, small portions of new oak help showcase more flavor complexity in the wine.

The Rhone Rangers Grenache Panel Wines

The panel showcased well-made examples of Grenache from a range of growing conditions. Half of the wines presented as still quite tight in their presentation currently due to age, thus wanting more time in bottle or more air before drinking. Following are notes for each of the wines.

Quady North, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2012 Grenache “Bomba”presented by Herb Quady (95% Grenache 5% Syrah)

From Southern Oregon, the Quady North Bomba offers a rocky rusticity with lots of palate tension moving through a long juicy finish. The wine is quite young right now wanting more time in bottle to open but showing structure that speaks well for its future expression. The aromatics give dark cherry musk moving into a brighter palate with the full range of cherry elements–red cherry, cherry blossom musk, branch and leaf oil–all accented by hints of pink grapefruit oil. The palate is tight right now but carries a pleasing tension, and good juicy length.

Mounts Family Winery, Healdsburg, CA, 2011 Grenache Estate
presented by David Mounts

Using fruit from Dry Creek Valley, the Mounts Estate steps out of the glass with a mixed red fruit carbonic lift moving into a darker fruit palate. The wine is still tight on the palate wanting more time in bottle. It moves from smashed red cherry and raspberry blossom into floral musk accents on a line of cracked pepper and a perfumed, lightly drying finish. The nose right now is rather singular and lightly cloying, but there is a nice textural element to the moderate tannin and good tension through the palate.

Campovida, Hopland, CA, 2012 Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyards
presented by Sebastian Donoso

Their first vintage working with Grenache from Mendocino, the Campovida Dark Horse Vineyard brings an integrated fruit-earth-floral aromatic forward into the palate. The wine offers both red cherry and blossom, with floral powder notes showing through a savory cracked pepper mid-palate and accents of pink grapefruit zest. The wine is still tightly focused in its presentation but gives a nice juiciness to tannin balance and good length.

Miner Family Wines, 2012 Grenache, Hudson Vineyards
presented by Maura Christoffers

The Miner Family showed their Grenache sourced from Hudson Vineyard in the cooler Napa region of Carneros, the first crop yield year for the fruit. The wine gives soft red cherry with wild pink rose through a spiced and mint lift aromatic carrying forward on the palate with a light cherry powder mid-palate and clay finish. The wine offers an easy acid-tannin balance, and long finish.

Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play, CA, 2010 Grenache, Sharon’s Vineyard
presented by Greg Baiocchi

With fruit from a small, high elevation planting in El Dorado county region of the Sierra Foothills, the Baiocchi Sharon’s Vineyard gives the nervy tension characteristic of granite slopes. The aromatics here offer feminine perfumed lift with accents of green chili. The palate offers a smooth powdered cherry blossom and cracked pepper mid-palate with powerful flavor, strong structural tension, and a round floral finish. There is a ton of presence to this wine, with textural tannin and plenty of juiciness to keep it moving through a long finish.

* McCay Cellars, Lodi, CA, 2011 Grenache
presented by Michael McCay

My favorite of the wines on the panel, the McCay Grenache offers a sense of completeness that makes it ready to drink now with a distinctiveness that stands out within a line-up of Grenache. Showing alpine strawberry and wild cherry throughout, on the palate the wine gives the suave tannin of a sandier site with nice juiciness. There is a beautiful flavor-to-feel balance, and nice palate contact-to-movement dance, that both carry through with lots of delicate (without being weak) prettiness.

* Qupe, Los Olivos, CA, 2011 Grenache, Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard
presented by Bob Lindquist

Growing their fruit in Edna Valley, Qupé‘s Sawyer-Linquist Vineyard offers nice complexity with ease and a great focus on grounded juiciness. This is a nicely made wine giving lifted perfume of red cherry tree, touches of strawberry, and menthol accents carrying forward into a light pleasing palate with ruby grapefruit peel and integrated fruit spice through a long juicy palate. This wine is full of mouthwatering flavor.

Broken Earth, Paso Robles, CA, 2012 Grenache Estate
presented by Chris Cameron

From the warmer side of Paso Robles, the Broken Earth Estate carries the most overt accessibility with a spiced finish of the wines on the panel. This Grenache focuses in on the pinker side of red fruit aroma and flavor carrying red berry candy powder elements through the mid-palate and accents of ginger powder with light clove touched by black pepper through the finish, all on a body of melting tannin and juicy length. I have to admit that this wine is not my style as its focus stays more on sweet (not sugary) pink-red fruit flavor but it is a well done example of its type.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers, and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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

 

World of Fine Wine Issue 43

Varner and Neely Wines in World of Fine Wine

World of Fine Wine

The current issue of World of Fine Wine, Issue 43, has been released. Included is an article by me on Varner and Neely Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I couldn’t be happier.

I have massive respect for the magazine, and its editor Neil Beckett. The publication consistently produces top quality work from the best writers around the world. To be able to go in depth on the work Bob and Jim Varner are doing with their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir labels, Varner and Neely, is a huge honor for me. I have so much admiration for them as people, and for what they’re doing in wine.

In a bit of synchronicity, one of the pivot stones of my philosophy career, Charles Taylor, turns out to have an article in the issue as well. He’s written there on Heraclitus and Kant in relation to the aesthetics of wine (to think I believed I couldn’t joy-geek any harder…). It’s a strange surprise to travel the distance from writing my undergraduate honors thesis on his work, to then being at the same professional institution as him (McGill), to now sharing the table of contents in a wine magazine. God has a good sense of humor.

If you don’t know World of Fine Wine, check it out. It really is an excellent magazine. I’m thrilled to say I’ll have more upcoming work in their pages as well.

If you have the chance to read the article, I’d love to hear from you.

***

Carla Rzeszewski, Jr, and I first visited Varner together, thanks to the introductory efforts of Dan Fredman, and a further recommendation from Jon Bonné. She and I spent a lot of time talking about their wines after, and those conversations came with me through the other visits and tastings I was able to do with the Varners. In many ways I wrote the article for Carla–she was the original motivation–to celebrate those conversations we shared. Love to you, Carla.

Thanks to Kate McKay for the magazine photo.

Thank you to Steven Morgan, Kelli White, and Nick Antignano.

***

Varner Wines: http://www.varnerwine.com/

To read more on Varner:

Jon Bonné’s article in Decanter, 2011: http://www.varnerwine.com/varner_press_2/Decanter_September_2011.pdf

Jon Bonné’s article in SF Chronicle, 2008: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Bob-and-Jim-Varner-3268043.php

Richard Jennings, 2012: http://www.rjonwine.com/chardonnay/varner-santa-cruz-mountains/

and my personal favorite: RH Drexel’s interview with Varner in Loam Baby: http://www.loambaby.com/v1.html

Cheers!

 

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project

The Lodi Native Winemakers

Lodi Native Winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, Michael McCay, Tim Holdener, Chad Joseph. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

Propelled by an idea of Randy Caparoso, six Lodi winemakers have produced and released the Lodi Native Project, a collection of six different Zinfandel wines made from six separate heritage vineyards of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The winemakers include Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Layne Montgomery of m2 wines, Michael McCay of McCay Cellars, Stuart Spencer of St Amant Winery, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Vineyards & Winery, and Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines.

What defines the collection rests in technique. The wines are individually made using only ambient yeast fermentations, in neutral vessels, without the addition of anything beyond sulfur, without alcohol reductive techniques, and avoiding fining, or filtering. The wines, in other words, are produced with minimal intervention. The goal is to offer the best expression of the vineyards themselves.

The Wealth of Lodi Vineyards

Weget Vineyard w Chad Joseph and Layne Montgomery

Standing in Weget Vineyard, Zinfandel planted in 1958, Mokelumne River AVA Westside, with Chad Joseph (left) and Layne Montgomery, July 2013. Photo courtesy Randy Caparoso.

Lodi offers some of the highest concentration of quality old vine material in the state of California. As vines age through vintages, they adapt their growing patterns to the conditions of their site, becoming more responsive to the intersection of factors–soil type, water availability, drainage, mineral content, sun, wind, and humidity exposure, etc–unique to their environment. The result yields fruit expressive through aroma, flavor, structure (and even color and size) of its peculiar vineyard.

Younger vines, on the other hand, grow instead with the vigor of their variety. Not yet adapted to the demands of their vineyard location, younger vines produce grapes with resounding fruit flavor, but not necessarily showcasing the elements unique to their growing location. For wine lovers hoping for the taste of a place, then, such potential rests in older vineyards. In a state dominated by vineyards twenty years of age and younger, Lodi’s older vineyards could be understood as viticultural wealth.

However, Lodi commonly gets underestimated by wine media who take the region to produce only overripe mass market wines. Misperceptions of ripeness depend partially on misunderstandings about Lodi climate. As part of the central valley of California, Lodi is taken to be far warmer than it actually is, perceived to match temperatures of growing areas south like Modesto. In actuality, Lodi benefits from the Sacramento-San Joaquin RIver system, or California Delta. The Delta forms a gap in the coastal mountains that pulls cool air from San Francisco Bay over the growing regions of Lodi keeping the area cooler than the rest of the Central Valley. As a result, Lodi day time highs average similarly to mid-to-St. Helena Napa Valley with a cooling breeze hitting daily by mid afternoon.

Wanting to find a way to help improve awareness of Lodi’s quality vineyards, Caparoso brought together the six winemakers to develop a project that would become Lodi Native. Together the group focused in on the question of how to best express the wealth of Lodi vineyards. Towards such ends they agreed upon working with older sites utilizing minimal intervention winemaking techniques. The result is a collection of six distinctive Zinfandels offering juicy while crystalline focus on the character that is Mokelumne River.

The Lodi Natives Project: the taste of Mokelumne River

Marians Vineyard Mohr Fry Ranch

Marian’s Vineyard, planted 1901, Mohr-Fry Ranch. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

The Mokelumne River appellation of Lodi gives a distinctive disposition to its wines. The fine grained soils of the river valley bring a suave character to the tannin ranging from the texture of a voluptuous slippery silk to melt away shantung. The cooling influence of the afternoon breeze offers ample juiciness. Together its a structure that is definitively Lodi.

Moving from East to West along the river appellation the flavors markedly shift. The Eastern half of the AVA showcases ultra fine sand to silt soils that give lifted, pretty red fruit and flower character brushed through with a natural baking spice and light musk element I taste as a range from clove to ginger.

Moving West, the appellation approaches the Delta, with water tables coming closer to the surface as a result, and soils shifting to just a touch more fertile sandy loam. The result is an earthier component to the wines, often giving a loamy essence throughout, sometimes verging on a loamy funk. The fruit tends darker in comparison cut on the edges with a hint of celery salt thanks to the Delta influence.

The Lodi Native Wines

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2012

click on image to enlarge

These are six nicely crafted wines that each give focused expression of their site. The minimalist approach is new to many of these winemakers but in each case they executed the methodology to positive effect. These are clean wines. Together the collection offer crystalline insight into the character of Lodi’s Mokelumne River appellation giving pure expression to the vineyards. Separately they each carry the juiciness of wines to drink with food, and the medium to medium-light body that allows them to work on their own.

Westside Mokelumne

The three wines from Westside Mokelumne–Weget, Soucie, and Trulux Vineyards–offer the celery salt edge with loam elements ranging from mere accents to integrated loaminess characteristic of the Delta influence.

Of the three, the Weget Vineyard farmed by the Maley Brothers and vinified by Chad Joseph gives the most singular focus on fruit with a definitively red lift to the aromatics and palate characteristic of carbonic notes. The red fruit aromatics and palate are touched through by blood orange peel, and faint savory spice. I’m super curious to see how this wine will continue to develop. As it is now, the Weget carries the strongest focus on freshness of the collection with those carbonic elements rising from the glass. There are edges through the wine, however, that hint it will deepen in character and develop further complexity with time.

The collection’s Soucie Vineyard, made by Layne Montgomery and farmed by Kevin Soucie, shows the strongest influence of the Westside funk with the loam elements deepening into loamy musk. At first sniff the funk can be surprising but with air it dissipates and integrates into the overall wine. The wine, however, shows up too with lots of juicy lift and pure fruit expression so that the dark earthy elements are paired alongside red juiciness. This wine likes air as the pairing of elements can then open and swirl together.

Michael McCay makes the Trulux Vineyard bottling of the collection giving a wine focused on earthiness accented by floral aromatics and fruit flavors. The fruit and flower show up deepened by evergreen forest and loamy touches throughout and accented on the finish by dried beach grass and celery salt. This is a nicely focused, nicely balanced wine with lots of juiciness and a shantung textured tannin melting into juicy length.

Eastside Mokelumne

The Eastside wines of the collection–Marian’s, Century Block, and Noma Vineyards–showcase the lighter presentation, pretty fruit elements characteristic of that portion of Mokelumne River vineyards.

Marian’s Vineyard, farmed by Jerry and Bruce Fry and vinified by Stuart Spencer, rests on what would be the center line between East and Westside Mokelumne. However, the site showcases the soils more typical of Eastside plantings. The wine offers perfumed, concentrated fruit of an old vine planting with lots of juiciness balanced by light tannin grip. Light clay notes and musk lift appear in the wine and the fruit characteristics mix blackberry pie (without sweetness or jammy character) and red cherry with clove. This wine shows off the naturally concentrated while still lively flavor of old vine fruit.

The Century Block Vineyard bottling, made by Ryan Sherman, offers lots of red and dark cherry with light plum (no sweetness) fruit concentration spun through with natural (not oak) dark cocoa, touches of red currant, and perfumed musk leading into a talcum finish. Though this wine carries lots of red fruit, the fruit is not the focus. Instead those fresh red elements come in clothed with evergreen and dry cocoa bringing a sense of rusticity to the wine.

The miniaturized vines of the Noma Ranch bottling, vinified by Tim Holdener and farmed by Leland Noma, offer lifted fresh red cherry with black cap and sour dark Morello integrated with natural fruit spice and touched by perfumed musk. The brilliance of older vines shows here as the Noma bottling turns out to have the highest alcohol level of the collection but carries it in good balance with lovely juiciness, concentrated flavor, and easy lightly drying tannin.

***

The Lodi Native Wines are available as a complete 6-pack collection sold in wooden box. For the Lodi Native website: http://www.lodinative.com

For Reed Fujii’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140309/A_BIZ/403070305/-1/A_BIZ04

For Fred Swan’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://norcalwine.com/blog/51-general-interest/871-lodi-zinfandel-goes-native

***

Thank you very much to Randy Caparoso, Chad Joseph, Layne Montgomery, Michael McCay, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, and Tim Holdener. The Lodi Natives group invited me to taste these wines with them through early stages beginning in July 2013, as well as to join in discussion of the project. I very much appreciate being able to see the development of the project, as well as the wines. Thank you.

Thank you to Alex Fondren, and Rebecca Robinson.

Thank you to Wine & Roses.

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

 

A Taste of Nagy Wines

Tasting Nagy Wines with Clarissa Nagy

Nagy Portfolio

click on image to enlarge

Focusing on two whites and two reds, Clarissa Nagy offers wines with a focus on fresh aromatics, clean fruit presentation, with tons of juiciness. Nagy’s touch as a winemaker is wines with a lot to give through a delicate presentation moving with a heart of strength.

While also making Syrah from Los Alamos, her Nagy Wines showcase the style of Santa Maria Valley — pretty and feminine floral fluit notes carrying an integral spice element on a body of juicy mineral length and easy, while present, tannin. The wines throughout are beautifully clean, and fine, with lovely concentration, expressive while retaining that delicate touch.

Giving crisp and fresh floral aromatics with a hint of wax, Nagy’s 2011 Pinot Blanc moves into crisp, fresh length through the palate. The wine offers a vibrant stimulation of citrus through the mid-palate rolling into touches of wax and white pepper on the finish, with a seaside mineral crunch throughout.

Nagy’s 2012 Viognier carries mixed floral notes coupled with a present and mouthwatering citrus element and mineral crunch that bring a dynamic balance to the wine.

The reds from Nagy are my favorite. The 2010 Pinot Noir gives nicely open, pretty aromatics with wild edges touched by sea sand. The palate carries a pretty balance of juiciness and length to light tannin traction, giving the integrated spice room to touch the mouth. The fruit here is clean and juicy.

I really enjoy Nagy’s 2010 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. The site produces incredibly tiny berries and low yield, with Nagy taking fruit from a hillside section. The combination leads to an inky, almost brooding Syrah lifted by Nagy’s utterly clean, fresh fruit focus. The wine hits the balance of lightness with genuine concentration on the nose brought into lots of juiciness and length on the palate. This Syrah is all red rose with mountain violet, dark rocks, and sea sand texture with a Shawarma core, that touch of bbq crackle spice that brings something to chew on. It’s a natural spice integral to the fruit itself.

***

The Nagy Wines website: http://nagywines.com/

***

Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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

A Quick Look at 3 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays

I am traveling and as a result, relying on a different scanner than usual. The color quality of the drawings posted here, then, are different than I would normally expect. Please excuse the change.

***

Three Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays

Last week I took the full 7 days to focus on a cleansing diet, eating only vegetables for the duration. By the end of my week without wine, sugar, salt, or coffee I’d stopped craving chocolate chip cookies, and realized the thing I looked forward to tasting again was finely crafted chardonnay.

Chardonnay at its best is an almost perfect grape. Grown in the right location, made with the right hands, it gives a balance of fruit expression on mineral drive, with light phenolics and juiciness for days that is hard to argue with. (In fact, good chardonnay obliterates argument as it hums through your mouth with juicy joy.) The grape’s recent history of shame cannot cover over the potential for the genuine beauty it offers.

Santa Maria Valley, in the northern portion of Santa Barbara County brings together the ripening flavor potential of ample UV exposure with a climate that carries a persistent inland wind, and daily fog movement, as well as unique soils. The result is lean focused, mineral-laced chardonnay with a presentation moving from floral through fruit on juicy juicy length.

Recently I was able to taste through a number of Santa Maria Valley chardonnays. Following are four of my favorites from three labels.

Falcone Family Wines

Falcone 2012 Chardonnayclick on the image to enlarge

The Falcone Family Wines focuses their winemaking primarily on fruit from their own Templeton Gap-influenced property in San Luis Obispo. However, they also make one chardonnay from the Sierra Madre Vineyard of Santa Maria Valley. The site carries unique clonal plantings for California. The Falcone Family’s chardonnay celebrates the uniqueness of the site, bringing long mineral lines to a wine with layers of flavor on a clean, focused and juicy palate. The citrus aspects move through the whole range of blossom, to zest, accented by smooth nut notes, all cascading through mineral length.

Paul Lato Wines

Paul Lato 2010 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Paul Lato Wines offer focused intensity humming on the rich side of finesse. His Santa Maria Valley chardonnay deepens into savory notes with age, holding onto its core of vibrancy and length. His “le Souvenir” shows off the advantages of the Valley, also drawing on the unique Sierra Madre site, bringing both a lot of juiciness and sapidity through an ultra long finish. The flavors are surprising as they give notes of olive leaf and lemon salt touched by hints of beeswax. The mineral crunch throughout couples with juiciness to keep the palate watering through a long finish.

Riverbench

Riverbench 2012 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Clarissa Nagy stepped into the winemaking at Riverbench with the 2012 vintage. She brings to Riverbench her talent in winemaking, with her wines consistently carrying a delicate presentation moving through a heart of strength. Nagy’s wines celebrate the structure and juiciness of Santa Maria, while also bring the focus to the Valley’s pretty flavors. The Estate and Bedrock chardonnays bring a slightly different style focus to the Riverbench fruit, with Bedrock focusing in on the clean, lean juiciness offered by stainless steel fermentation, and the Estate giving the textural, ultra light toast touch possible with barrel fermentation. Both wines are beautifully made, with the focus on a range of feminine citrus elements and lots of length.

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

Considering the Role of Vine Age: #IPOB SF 2014

A Look at the Idea of Vine Age

The morning at In Pursuit of Balance began with a fascinating seminar on Vine Age, facilitated by Alder Yarrow. The panel proved particularly special for its participants, and their wealth of experience both in winemaking, and with vineyards that have helped define the possibilities for California terroir, including the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir vineyard in the state. The panelists included Michael McNeill of Hanzell, Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson, Adam Tolmach of Ojai, and Pax Mahle of Wind Gap.

The center piece of the discussion came in distinguishing between three general age ranges of vines.

Young vines have yet to adjust to their site, and as such show a lot of exuberance in their growth and crop production but not a lot of balance with the conditions offered by the particular site. As Matthiasson explained, with young vine vineyards a lot of work is done to mimic appropriate adjustment to the site — reducing crop size, dealing with canopy growth, removing excessive shoots, etc. Matthiasson likes to say because these younger vines haven’t gone through multiple vintages yet, it’s as if they don’t have memory of various climatic conditions effects on their growth, and thus how to respond to them. In the panel, he compared young vines to a teenager — they have a ton of exuberance but not a lot of self-control. By ten years these vines tend to have reigned in their excessive growth somewhat and as a result express some innate responsiveness to the place in which they are growing.

Matthiasson elucidated the issues with young vines pointing out that by definition they have shallower roots. As a result, they have less physical potential for handling stress in their environment. As a result, Matthiasson said, “you can really hurt a vine letting it do what it wants when it’s young.” From a viticultural point of view, then, a lot of work goes into maintaining young vine vineyards. Looking at it from the wine side, there are also flavoral differences. The panel agreed that younger vines tend to be more fruit focused in their flavor expression.

Most of the panel overtly prefered old vines for the complexity and completeness they show in the final wine. In considering the differences, Mahle described wine from old vines, compared to young, as “less overtly fruity with more umami, more broad and expansive.” He went on to clarify that when comparing the two really “the picture is completely different. It’s fascinating to me. It makes wines more interesting. [Old vines wines are] more reserved, and broad, less extroverted.”

Tolmach, however, emphasized that there is value to be found in wine from young vines as well. He distinguished the expression of the two vine ages. In Tolmach’s view, wine from young vines tend to give “a little more linearity and freshness” while older vines offer “a little more breadth.” He stated too though that he believed farming adjustments could be made to help young vines mimic the qualities of old vines. Tolmach also said that it is not only the farming that needs to differ between old and young vines. Picking times must also be adjusted. More recently he has also begun to treat the two differently in the cellar.

Mature vines, on the other hand, have adjusted to their site and hemmed in their vigor to a more reasonable balance with what they can support thanks to the nutritive conditions of their environment. After ten years, vines have become more steady. However, the panel agreed that the move from young to mature vines doesn’t simply happen guaranteed at the ten year mark, and in fact is likely older.

Tolmach emphasized that when a vine moves into a new “age group” depends largely on the particular vineyard. That is, the overall health of the vines, the climate and soil conditions of the place in which it is grown, and the farming all factor into the overall development of a vineyard. Maturity happens when a kind of stasis occurs in the vines — their growth and crop development have come into balance with the nutritive conditions of the site. To put it another way, mature vines express healthy opportunity for that sites production levels. They are no longer overly exuberant to the point of damaging themselves, and they are not yet hampered by disease or excessive impediment.

The advantage of mature vines is that they are more self-regulating. As McNeill emphasized, however, the important point in these discussions comes with distinguishing mature vines from old vines. There is a tendency in the California wine industry to begin to pull vines a little after the twenty year mark. However, one of the implications in the panel discussion was that twenty years would not be adequate to claiming “old vine” status for a vineyard. The simple reality, then, is that there are few old vine vineyards in the state simply due to current farming practices. Further, because of the AXR rootstock disaster of the 1990s, most vineyards that could potentially have slipped by now into old vine status were pulled and replanted to new rootstock. (Interestingly, Mahle works with still healthy AXR vineyards for some of his wines.)

When considering when we can begin to count a vineyard old, Mahle clarified that the question proves site specific as well. Building on Tolmach’s point about stasis in mature vines, Mahle added that “when vines hit that stasis they are also very site dependent.” That is, the kind of balance seen in mature vines shows their healthy understanding of what the site can offer them for growing potential but that same balance also indicates that the vines’ growth has become dependent on the particular conditions of that site. In other words, how vines grow in one set of growing conditions differs from how it would grow in another. What counts as the balance of a vine is site dependent. As a result, what counts as old vine proves site dependent as well. Thus, a particular age number is not adequate to claiming a site to be old vine.

Thanks to the complexity of old vine wines, there is an easy fetishization that occurs for old vine vineyards. However, such sites tend to be rather peculiar in their growth patterns and as a result demand mostly hand farming, and more specific attention. McNeill stated that vine care in old vine vineyards is best left with highly knowledgeable crew with not only ample experience, but experience with those particular vines.

With this in mind, Matthiasson pointed out that health is what distinguishes old from mature vines. He clarified that by the time vines are moving from mature into old vine status “they tend to have a lot of problems.” Contrary to the shallow root conditions of young vines, old vines tend to have incredibly deep roots, which, to put it simply, means a huge distance from the bottom of the roots to the top of the vine. While we tend to talk about deep roots as an asset, at the same time such distance means genuine vulnerability. Matthiasson points out how much can happen underground to damage or pinch off such roots.

Along with root issues, old vines have also been getting pruned annually for much longer. Matthiasson states that those pruning cuts act as scars that impede water flow through the vine. Older vines have more impediments. Pruning sores also open the vine to virus and disease. “Old vines are just eeking along dealing with being old,” Matthiasson says.

However, these conditions are precisely what support the complexity found in old vine wines. Matthiasson states, “We already know that vines need struggle to develop complexity.”  By the time a vineyard is old, each vine has become not only deeply expressive of its site — it has enough of what Matthiasson calls vintage memory to know how to respond to varying climate and soil conditions — it has also become utterly unique compared to its neighboring vine.

McNeill agreed with Matthiasson’s account while emphasizing what has gone well with old vine vineyards. “By virtue of having old vines, there is something there. The thing about old vines is that someone got it right, whether by luck or by brilliance.” If the vineyard is intact and healthy, someone “got good budwood that grows well, and survives.”

***

To watch portions of the discussion (technical difficulty lost part of it):

Part 1: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/44748020

Part 2: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/44748473

***

Thank you to Alder Yarrow, Michael McNeill, Steve Matthiasson, Adam Tolmach, and Pax Mahle.

Thank you to Jasmine Hirsch and Raj Parr.

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