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Red Wines

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The Vineyards of Eyrie

With the 2012 vintage, Eyrie Vineyards bottled separate Pinot Noir cuvées from each of their five vineyards for the first time. They have previously bottled Sisters, and Daphne in select vintages, and consistently offer the Original Vines Vineyard on its own as well.

The warm ease of 2012 in the Willamette Valley brings fruit to the fore of Pinot Noir in a region that readily celebrates notes of cedar and earthiness. It was a year that winemakers easily could have gone for riper, plush styles. For Eyrie, president and winemaker Jason Lett, kept the focus on the vibrant fresh acidity Eyrie is known for, thus allowing the fruit of 2012 to carry liveliness, and show in concert with earth elements, silky texture and ultra long finish.

Refined rhubarb and earth in a mouthwatering and lean presentation describes how I think of the hallmarks of Eyrie Pinot. The combination first drew me to following their wines. Seeing the vineyard designates of 2012 side-by-side layers in fascinating surprises.

Citrus elements lift from the glass in many of these wines, ranging from hints of lime blossom, into grapefruit, and all the way to the nose tickling pith of pomelo. The red fruit includes cherry blossom in some cuvées, and mixed red with white cherry fruit in others. The hallmark rhubarb resonates in some sites with berry fruit, and in others just with cherry.

The great secret of Eyrie wines rests in them staying open for as much as a week, if you can last that long, getting better in the glass as time goes on. The third day sings where the first day is still waking up. I hold high admiration for the life Eyrie shows through in the glass. It’s a shame more wine tastings, or tasting notes don’t allow such time with a wine, to celebrate this side of wine.

The Individual Wines and Vineyards

Eyrie Pinot Vineyard Bottlings click on image to enlarge

In tasting these wines together, it is the energy and muscle that changes most clearly between them. In August, my sister Melanie and I walked the Dundee Hills with Jason, visiting each of the Eyrie vineyards. Following are notes on each cuvée bringing tasting and walking notes together for each.

The Original Vines Reserve

*** The Original Vines Reserve brings such complexity, energy, and pleasing palate tension thanks to those gorgeously knarled, own root vines planted in 1965. The Original Vines Vineyard was the first to be planted by Eyrie founder, David Lett, at 220′-400′ elevation. Hidden mid-hill near the center of the Dundee Hills, the site stands along the bathtub ring of the Missoula flood. As a result, the site shows the greatest soil diversity of the Eyrie vineyards.

Near the top of the hill (where the oldest vines grow, and the greatest varietal variation as well — all the first Eyrie plantings are there) the red volcanic Jory soil that defines the Hills puts a red dust patina on the wines. At the bottom of the slope, in what is called the South Block, it is more of a taupe colored sedimentary earth deposited from the Missoula floods. The vineyard as a whole comes with chunks of Jory coupling alongside sedimentary in a patchwork of color.

The Original Vines Reserve carries lithe ease of strength — neither sinewy nor muscular, neither soft nor too tight. Aromas and flavors bring together rose petal with white cherry, rhubarb and raspberry, and light cedar through a wonderful energizing palate tension, and ultra long finish.

Outcrop Vineyard

* The newest of the Eyrie vineyards, Outcrop Vineyard grows around 250′ elevation planted between 1982 and 2000 by the Eason family, then purchased by Eyrie in 2011. It grows a little under 5 acres entirely of Pinot Noir and stands adjacent to the lower portion of the Original Vines plantings. The Outcrop Pinot brings the most masculine structural presentation of the wines, while at the same time showing the most apparent pink and red berry notes. There is a lot of complexity here with layers of cedar and forest, alongside red cherry and berry, coupled with lime and grapefruit accents. The Outcrop carries an almost sinewy leanness, that expands into incredibly focused length with air.

Sisters Vineyard

*** Sisters Vineyard has consistently offered a beautiful delicacy in its single vineyard bottlings. There is a gracefulness to the fruit from this site that at the same time offers great persistence on the palate. The vineyard itself stands at 200′-360′ elevation, and is the most unique of the Eyrie sites, growing not only Pinot Noir but also a range of varieties not otherwise associated with Eyrie. First planted in 1987, the site originally was known as Three Sisters for its first vines of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Gris. As the varietal collection expanded, the name shifted to just Sisters.

Sisters Pinot is one of those wines I want to enjoy through the course of a day — a languid afternoon with just one bottle. There is so much sapidity here, coupled with floral elements, and that refined rhubarb, all touched by a volcanic patina, and refreshing evergreen accents.

Rolling Green Vineyard

* Up the road, Rolling Green Vineyard was established at 6 acres to Pinot Noir, with a small portion of Pinot Gris in 1988 at 540′-700′ elevation. The sloped site grows from more iron rich Jory soil than seen at the Original Vines site, with worn stones of basalt throughout producing a lean profile of lithe strength, with some of the masculine structure of Outcrop, but more pine, citrus, white and red cherry tension followed by a long saline crunch mineral finish. It tastes like that satisfying moment after a hike, drinking a citrus and cherry margarita on the porch of a cabin in the middle of a pine forest.

Daphne Vineyard

** Established in 1989, at the top of the hill, Daphne Vineyard grows Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier in even darker iron rich Jory than Rolling Green, at an elevation of 720′-820′ elevation. The Pinot Gris from Daphne serves as the core of Eyrie’s Estate bottling. For the Pinot Noir, Daphne vineyard, with its slightly rounder, though still gracefully focused palate has been bottled on its own in select vintages.

Here the vines offer a bit fuller flavor, and exuberance than the quieter grace of Sisters. The flavors come in as mixed red fruits and citrus alongside a touch of cedar and pine cascading into an ultra long, stimulating finish. It’s a wine that can’t help but light you up.

Oregon Pinot Noir

* Bringing together a blend of Pinot from each of the sites, the Oregon Pinot Noir bottling is effectively Eyrie’s Estate Pinot. A little snug on first opening, this wine loves air, showing better with time open. It brings together rose petal with ripe cherry and lime powder accents, on a body of wet rock, light saline, and a red volcanic patina for an ultra long finish with lots of focus.

The 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir is available now. Eyrie is planning a late Fall/early Winter release for the Vineyard designates.

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Thank you to Jason Lett.

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

 

 

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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.

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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/

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

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

A Visit to Noel Family Vineyards
Lisa and Michael Noel
Lisa and Michael Noel, Noel Family Vineyards, Chehalem Mountains, July 2014

We’re sitting together at the farm table looking at family photos. Michael and Lisa Noel’s oldest was married this Spring and I expressed interest in the event. They’ve kindly offered me a collection of snapshots to look through. In the album, I’m struck by the easy closeness of the now-married couple, and the sweetness of the Noel’s son. As I turn the pages I can’t help but comment on how kind he looks. In one photo he stands hugging his grandmother. It’s clear he loves her being there, and she feels comforted. When I look up, Michael is beaming. Lisa and I have gotten almost weepy, our eyes watering.

I’ve driven beyond the pavement of King’s Grade Road on the Western side of the Chehalem Mountains to visit a tiny Pinot Noir planting at the top of the hill, and meet the family behind it. The site is 3 acres, with 2 planted to 6 clones of Pinot Noir, creating what is effectively a field blend of the variety. Noel Family Vineyards relies entirely on the 2-acre site for its fruit. They source from no other growers.

Looking West from Noel Family Vineyardslooking West into Ribbon Ridge AVA from Noel Family Vineyards, July 2014

From the site, the Noel’s garner a perfect view. Facing south near the house, we look to the Dundee Hills, the first planted area of Willamette Valley. At the other side of the property, the vineyard itself slopes west. We stand firmly within the Chehalem Mountains AVA, but look towards the Ribbon Ridge AVA, and the coastal mountains that form the western boundary of the Willamette Valley. Standing in the view, a slight breeze picks up. By the time I leave, it is persistent.

Falling in Love with Wine

Noel Family Photo Album of Valpolicella, 1996a page from Michael and Lisa’s 1996 photo album, trip to Valpolicella

It was 1996 when the door opened to wine for Lisa and Michael Noel. The couple met in college at Carnegie-Mellon, eventually moving to Alabama for work. Lisa’s family, however, originates in Italy, and some still live there in Verona. The local culture of the region relies on neighborhood wineries where table wine comes from refilling the growler at your favorite cellar door.

In the midst of a visit with family, Lisa and Michael accompanied their relatives on an errand to refill the growler with Valpolicella from a local winery. Soon after arrival, however, the winemaker offered an invitation.

“Dip your glass into the vat to get some wine, he told me,” Michael explains. Michael climbed to the top of a ladder, drawing wine from the cement fermenter with his cup. “Then he asked, do you want to come inside the house?” Michael adds. He’s giddy as he describes the experience now almost twenty years old, “We weren’t even wine people at the time but were so excited to go there. I was leading the way [to the house],” he tells me smiling.

The family spent hours together tableside with the winemaker and his family enjoying wine, food, sharing stories. The experience changed their perspective. “It wasn’t even about the wine,” Michael explains. “There we were sitting in his home with him.”

The experience in Italy was a sort of first step to wine. Upon return to the United States they began exploring American wine. In the meantime, work had brought them to Oregon.

“Michael wanted to drink local,” Lisa tells me. Lisa enjoyed wine too but at first wasn’t drawn to the lighter body of Pinot Noir. She’d gotten used to the 1990s style of California Cabernet. “I wasn’t excited about Pinot Noir at first but he was persistent. So we drove around together tasting, and learning about local wines.”

Eventually the passion for learning pushed a more hands-on interest. Michael began making wine in their garage while they also started looking for affordable property they could plant to Pinot Noir. “Michael doesn’t do anything half-heartedly,” Lisa tells me smiling. By the mid-2000s the couple had found their property in the Chehalem Mountains and together cleared the land, and planted vines.

At Home in the Chehalem Mountains

Noel Family Vineyards Pinot NoirMichael unabashedly admits to liking pretty wines. In pairing with a winemaker, and vineyard manager both he sought to develop with them an expression of the beauty he sees in the place they now grow their wine. The result holds.

Noel Family Pinot are lovely wines both characteristically Chehalem while also their own — pretty, delicate with integrated, and distinctive spice elements, carrying nice tension and depth, all about red fruit, and a Northern forest aroma and flavor held in fine boned balance.

With the abundance of the 2012 vintage, Michael and winemaker Todd Hamina decided to satisfy Michael’s curiosity and work with new coopers. The result generated Noel Family’s classic Estate style Pinot Noir, alongside a special vintage bottling named, Night. Night carries a darker core, aroma and palate profile compared to the Estate, bringing in light blue and black fruit accents, with a bit more apparent tannin, and strength of presence. It’s a wine for wine lovers still finding their way into Pinot, and pairs well with stronger food flavors like truffle accents or funky cheeses.

To taste the wines, the three of us sit around the table of Michael and Lisa’s home enjoying food and family photos. They designed their table as a center piece to the home. It’s in homage, Michael explains, to their early experience in Italy. We’re surrounded on two sides by windows, some looking south to Dundee, the rest west to Ribbon Ridge. The windows were largely added to the home during renovation — the table, surrounded by windows, to be shared in appreciation for the advantages of growing local.

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For more information on Noel Family Vineyard and Wines: http://noelfamilyvineyard.com/

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Thank you to Michael and Lisa Noel.

Thank you to Jill Klein Matthiasson.

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

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Shake Ridge Ranch

Shake Ridge Ranch

visiting Shake Ridge Ranch, May 2013

In 2011 three different young winemakers began working with Tempranillo from Shake Ridge Ranch for the first time, producing three distinctive styles of wine– John Lockwood of Enfield Wine Co., Evan Frazier of Ferdinand Wines, and Jessica Tarpy of Gather Wines. In each case, the winemakers bring to their project an already impressive range of winemaking experience.

Shake Ridge Ranch hosts more than 46 acres under vine in a range of varieties and styles that celebrate the high elevation, warm days and cool nights of the region. The area receives ample, clear sun exposure giving good flavor and tannin development for warmer climate grapes, as well as a cooling breeze and evening temperature drops that keep acids in balance.

Shake Ridge Ranch also hosts a variety of soil types, solar aspects, and drainages allowing for differing expressions of fruit depending on planting location. Taking advantage of such conditions, viticulturist and vineyard manager, Ann Kraemer, has planted Zinfandel, as well as both Iberian and Rhone varieties via multiple training methods. One such example is Tempranillo planted in both head-trained, and VSP methods in multiple spots on the property.

Tempranillo from Shake Ridge Ranch

Characteristics of Tempranilloclick on image to enlarge

Shake Ridge Ranch proves an opportune locale for Tempranillo. The elevation, soils, and climate bring healthy structure to the fruit’s flavor and juiciness balance.

Viticulture for Tempranillo proves tricky as the vine is both pest and disease susceptible, and the fruit suffers under humidity. Many of the newer clones (though Tempranillo is not so clone resplendent as many other grape types) have tight clusters that mildew easily in wetter conditions. The variety also readily absorbs potassium from soils, thus quickly gaining high pH levels that give a fat belly-no spine feel to its wines. Many New World examples have not yet found prime growing conditions thus losing structural focus and the pleasing rustic backbone available in Old World exemplars.

In Rioja, Tempranillo can be blended with Garnacha, Graciano, and Carignan with Tempranillo serving as the main component and structural backbone to Garnacha’s fruit, Graciano’s juiciness, and Carignan’s color and heft (there the variety is called Mazuelo). Old World Tempranillo, then, is more often found in blend. Still, examples of younger single varietal Tempranillo can also be found made in a clean fruit, no oak style. In the New World, when blended, Tempranillo is more often brought together with French varieties such as Merlot or Mourvedre to suit the fruit focused palate. As a result, finding stand-out New World single varietal examples can be trickier.

Shake Ridge Ranch: The Tempranillo Project The Tempranillo Project: Shake Ridge Ranch

tasting The Tempranillo Project with the winemakers, February 2014

The Tempranillo project John Lockwood, Evan Frazier, and Jessica Tarpy began in 2011 offers interesting insight into the potential for varietal expressions of the fruit in a New World context.

Tasting them side-by-side-by-side also brings into focus the coupling of winemaking and site. The three wines each carry the mountain-rock crunch and mineral length offered by Shake Ridge Ranch, for example. Each wine also offers a purity of aromatics. Yet, the three wines also beautifully differ in style and fruit expression.

For me, part of the interest in the wines also comes from the way the three labels’ winemaking backgrounds so clearly carry forward in not only the wines themselves but the winemaking choices brought to bear. Where Lockwood utilizes some whole cluster fermentation, Frazier and Tarpy de-stem all their fruit, for example. All three winemakers here use ambient yeast.

Picking times and vineyard block choices also reflect their own particular views of winemaking. Shake Ridge Ranch includes three distinct blocks of Tempranillo. Beautifully, each winemaker approached Kraemer about the fruit separately, each selecting the block he or she wanted without conflict with the other winemakers’ preferences. Though the choices had not been discussed together in advance, they each got to work with their first choice fruit.

Following are notes on the three wines in alphabetical order by label (which happens to also coincide with picking times from earliest to latest).

Enfield Wine Co. and John Lockwood

John Lockwood

walking Heron Lake Vineyard in Wild Horse AVA with John Lockwood (the vineyard Lockwood uses for Enfield Chardonnay), May 2013

“One of the things about making Tempranillo is there are no rules, but then there is the challenge of making all these decisions.” — John Lockwood

John Lockwood heralds from experience working with Ted Lemon at Littorai, and Ehren Jordan of Failla bringing with him, as a result, rootedness in the vineyard, and interest in whole cluster fermentation.

In selecting to work with Kraemer to make Tempranillo from Shake Ridge Ranch, Lockwood explains her continual attention in the vineyard proved crucial alongside the quality of the site itself. As Lockwood describes, he has found that as much as various viticulture choices like going organic, for example, matter, it is actually the amount of time and attention the vineyard manager gives to the site that shows most in the final quality of the fruit. His vineyard sites, then, are chosen based on his trust in the farmer’s loyalty to their land.

In making Tempranillo, Lockwood has experimented with levels of whole cluster fermentation varying each year not only proportions for stem inclusion but also length of macerated ferment. The idea has been that in having such an open field for Tempranillo, by trying different approaches he can discover which he prefers. Whole cluster fermentation, for John, offers textural interest and another level of sophistication for the final blend. In 2013 he bottled portions of the 100% whole cluster Tempranillo on its own both because of its appeal, and out of curiosity for how it will age compared to his blend with de-stemmed fruit.

John and I have been able to taste the individual whole cluster versus de-stemmed lots side-by-side and then blended at different points through multiple vintages. The whole cluster element brings a fresh floral lift to the wine without over doing the tannin structure.

The block:
John’s block at Shake Ridge offered a light crop of first fruit in 2011, having been established in 2009. The spot grows on a sloped North facing aspect, with slight Western exposure, in the Quartz Mountain area of Shake Ridge which shows both chunky quartz and blue schist through mixed loam. The vines are head-trained.

The wine:
Enfield Wine Co. 2011 Tempranillo, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador
Enfield‘s 2011 Tempranillo brings a lithe fitness to fruit and fresh-herbs spice, cocoa, and long-lined mountain crunch. The wine opens into light strawberry blossom (without sweetness) on the nose and rose cream with winter violet accents through the mid-palate. There is a pleasing red fruit aspect coupled with stoniness throughout this wine that together give a pleasing earthy prettiness.

Ferdinand and Evan Frazier

Evan Frazier

tasting the full history of Ferdinand Wines w Evan Frazier, August 2013

“There is something especially useful about staying focused and trying to learn something by digging the 6 ft well, rather than 6 1-ft wells.”  — Evan Frazier

Having launched Ferdinand Wines in 2010 with Albarino, while working as well with Kongsgaard Wine, Evan Frazier was introduced to the Tempranillo of Shake Ridge Ranch in 2011, and choose to make it his label’s red wine focus.

In selecting the two Iberian varieties to circumscribe Ferdinand, Frazier describes the project as keeping focus in order to learn more deeply about his wines. He describes his desire to work with Kraemer in a similar fashion, while also focusing on her viticultural gravitas. “I try to work with people that are really great growers, that I can also learn from and try to pick things up. When I met Ann I thought, what can I learn from her?, and then I decided to steer Ferdinand to Albarino and Tempranillo, two noble Spanish varieties.”

What Frazier has learned includes looking to old Rioja to glean vinification insights. Though the wine of Rioja arises from blending, the model can still offer guidance in varietal expression. Borrowing from technique he’s learned with Kongsgaard, Frazier de-stems all fruit as it comes in. He then treats the wine like a Rioja Reserva, giving it at least two years in barrel unless the wine itself indicates a need otherwise.

In 2013, Frazier was able to start working with Tempranillo from the Sonoma side of Mt Veeder also growing at higher elevation. We were able to taste the two lots side-by-side. The two wines carried distinct fruit expressions, with the Shake Ridge wine offering a more powerful presence, and clear tannin expression. By comparison, the Sonoma fruit came in more delicate with lighter tannin.

The block:
Evan’s block at Shake Ridge comes from the Quartz Mountain section, having been established in 2009, and offering a light first crop in 2011. The section grows on a lightly sloped Southwest-facing aspect with a cool air drainage running over rocky soils. The vines are planted VSP.

The wine: Ferdinand 2011 Tempranillo, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador
Ferdinand‘s 2011 Tempranillo offers a velvety nose that runs through the lean-bodied palate carrying alternating layers of rich flavor and fine-tuned focus. Savory herbal elements couple with red fruit, light forest musk, and smooth cocoa-espresso lines. This wine moves with a silky tannin grip, lots of length, verve, and a lightly drying finish.

Gather and Jessica Tarpy, and Andrew Shaheen

Gather Wines

Jessica Tarpy and Andrew Shaheen pouring at Shake Ridge, May 2014

“[Through wine] I have the opportunity to [...] explore the realm of winemaking and viticultural practices with a notion to increasingly simplify the process, while continually making better and better wines.” — Jessica Tarpy

Bringing to Gather Wines (the label she and husband Andrew Shaheen just launched this month) experience in both viticulture and vinification with Favia Wines, Jessica Tarpy was among the first to work with fruit from Shake Ridge Ranch. Favia began purchasing fruit from Kraemer’s site as soon as it came online in 2005.

In considering the launch of their own label, Shaheen and Tarpy saw Tempranillo as the perfect fit. As Shaheen explains smiling, “I courted Jessica with Tempranillo, with old Rioja.” The fruit, then, carries personal significance for the pair.

Tarpy’s respect for Kraemer’s viticultural knowledge, however, also stood at the fore of their decision. Kraemer and Tarpy had hiked the ranch together, and worked multiple vintages through Favia to bring in fruit. Having such thoroughgoing knowledge of Shake Ridge and Kraemer’s talents in farming, Tarpy knew beginning Gather in partnership with Kraemer’s vineyard would be ideal.

Kraemer works with winemaker Ken Bernards to produce her own Tempranillo for her label, Yorba Wines. Tarpy and Shaheen already knew they consistently enjoyed Kraemer’s Yorba Tempranillo, so when fruit from the same block became available they jumped at the chance, and Gather was born.

Shake Ridge Tempranillo is co-planted at varying proportions in each of the blocks. Tarpy and Shaheen enjoy the extra juiciness offered by the Graciano and so choose to co-ferment the varieties together keeping the focus on lifted acidity for the final wine.

The block:
The original planting at Shake Ridge Ranch, Gather’s Tempranillo heralds from a block established in 2003, with a small first crop in 2005. Growing in deep but well-drained, very rocky soils of Josephine loam, the East-facing slope carries cool air drainage towards the bottom of the slope, and low vigor throughout. The vines are planted VSP.

The wine: Gather 2011 “Decimo” Tempranillo, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador
Gather‘s 2011 Decimo Tempranillo offers rustic elegance — the soul of a wine raised properly that has decided to move to the mountains for life on the land. Lifting from the glass with both red and blue fruit aromatics, the palate is simultaneously giving and well-focused carrying dried brush edges of garrigue on well-integrated spice and mocha through tons of juiciness and a dark rock, ironstone mineral line. Light accents of raspberry petal lift the palate and accentuate what is otherwise only a lightly-present fruit focus.

***

For more on the wines:

Enfield Wine Co.: http://enfieldwine.com

Ferdinand: http://ferdinandwines.com/

Gather: having only just launched, Gather does not yet have a website. However, the wine is available via Acme Fine Wine. Because the wine is so new, it is not yet showing on their website. Instead, call Acme directly to purchase, or for more information: http://www.acmefinewines.com/

POST EDIT: Gather Wines DOES have a website: Here’s the link: http://www.gatherwines.com/

***

For more on Shake Ridge Ranch: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/05/13/shake-ridge-ranch-winemaker-tasting-2014/

***

Thank you to Jessica Tarpy, Andrew Shaheen, Evan Frazier, John Lockwood, and Ann Kraemer.

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

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

2

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

 

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.

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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

Tasting Sta Rita Hills with over 200-yrs of Winemaking Experience

On my recent visit to Sta Rita Hills, Greg Brewer and Chad Melville were kind enough to organize and host a round table with a few other winemakers of the appellation for me. As a result, I spent several hours tasting and talking with Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Bryan Babcock, as well as my hosts. Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi was also included, and unfortunately unable to attend at the last minute. She sent wines in her stead.

To say the occasion was a genuine honor for me would be an understatement. The figures sharing their wines represent the very founders of wine in Santa Barbara County both in terms of literal first plantings, as well in being the sculptors of its development and future since. It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of this group’s presence in the region. To prepare to meet with them the thing it was most pressing for me to do was take a moment alone to calm the hell down. I was excited, and deeply grateful. Once there they were, of course, one of the warmest groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste with.

One of the special aspects of the tasting was that every person sharing their wine was also a grower-winemaker, making wines from Sta Rita Hills while growing their own vineyards, and having worked with many locations throughout the region. Such an approach offers unique insight into the qualities of a place.

Babcock Winery

Babcock WInesclick on image to enlarge

Bryan Babcock grows along the Highway 246 corridor of Sta Rita Hills, while also sourcing fruit from the appellation’s edge in the Southern Sweeney-to-Santa-Rosa-Road stretch. For the tasting he brought a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from a band just inside the Southwestern AVA boundary where Radian Vineyard (within the Salsipuedes Vineyard) carves the slopes of the Western line. “I like tasting that expression of edginess as you venture to the Western edge [of the Sta Rita Hills],” Babcock explains. Radian Vineyard pushes as close to the Pacific Ocean, and its cooling influence, as the appellation allows. Fruit, then, grows at the boundaries of ripeness with Chardonnay not always developing enough to turn into wine. Wines from the region, as a result, carry the incredible tension and mineral focus of such an oceanic influence, while still offering the undulating flavors from so much solar radiation. Cooler climates that still show higher UV levels can ripen their grapes’ flavor while keeping the structure taut.

Babcock’s “The Limit” Chardonnay carries an intriguing interplay of elements with there being no question of flavor ripeness, and round lifted aromatics, on a wine showing a persistent palate presence without heaviness. There are also long mineral lines throughout that give the wine a sense of crunch and complexity. “The Limit” was also my favorite Chardonnay of the tasting.

As Babcock explains, he has a sort of prejudice for the Western Edge of Sta Rita when it comes to Pinot Noir, as he believes the extremity of the location gives its wines a marked sense of provenance — a windy, climactic extreme. Babcock’s “Appellation’s Edge” Pinot Noir shows off the red fruit and flower-black tea character that speaks of Sta Rita giving a juicy, jaw-pinching acidity to open followed by that pleasing drying black tea finish.

Longoria

Longoria Wineclick on image to enlarge

With his own vineyard planted along the Santa Ynez River on Sweeney Road, Rick Longoria has been making wine in the Sta Rita Hills since the 1970s, beginning his Longoria label in the early 1980s. He also sources fruit from other older vine locations in the appellation. In selecting wines for the tasting, Longoria brought an elevation Chardonnay from the famous Rita’s Crown location — a low vigor stretch at the top of the South-facing slope above Mt Caramel — as well as a Pinot Noir from his Fe Ciega Vineyard.

Rita’s Crown shows a different version of Babcock’s notion of appellation’s edge, not due to literal map boundaries, but instead growing conditions. The vineyard perches along the top ridgeline in what is otherwise the map-center of the AVA at an elevation between 650 and 900 ft, making it one of the highest plantings in the appellation. Longoria’s Chardonnay carries delicate sea fresh aromatics with cedar accents on nose and palate overlaying light toasted croissant, lemon blossom mid-palate, and a lemon marmalade finish. The wine shows that classic Sta Rita Hills character possible with a deft hand — strength of flavor with still a sense of delicacy.

Longoria’s Fe Ciega Pinot Noir came in as one of my favorites of the tasting showing an even more distinctive expression of wine with an intense strength housed in elegance. The wine still comes in taut as 2011 is right now young for the region, but is readying to open to nice flavor.

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards

Alma Rosa Wineclick on image to enlarge

Richard Sanford has witnessed the full arc of Sta Rita Hills, planting the first vineyard in the area along with Michael Benedict, the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. “From a regional perspective seeing a lot of younger winemakers dedicate themselves to the region is very cool. It’s an indication of a new wave of quality development,” he comments. In considering the strengths of Sta Rita Hills he emphasizes too that while the area is touted for its quality Pinot Noir, it was originally the quality of its Chardonnay that brought people to the area.

Sanford’s wine selections showcased a sense of refined delicacy with genuine presence that resembles his own calm character. His Alma Rosa El Jabali Vineyard grows near the Western edge of the appellation, planted by Sanford in the early 1980s. The Chardonnay gives a smooth mouthfeel moved through with delicately attenuated flavor into a long finish, coming after equally subtle aromatics.

Sanford’s Pinot Noir comes from his other Alma Rosa vineyard, La Encantada, which stands as one of the cooler sites in the region. The Pinot Noir hovers through layers of flavor offering light herbal aromatics moving into raspberry and blackberry bramble. The palate carries forward with a nice balance of juiciness-to-grip and a real sense of persistence and concentration.

Brewer-Clifton

Brewer Clifton Wineclick on image to enlarge

Together Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer began Brewer-Clifton in the mid-1990s, helping to preserve and improve the health of various vineyards around the appellation as a result. In the more recent trajectory of their venture, the duo have chosen to devote their efforts solely to vineyards they own or on which hold long-term lease. The difference affords them control over farming and clonal choices, as well as the opportunity for them to keep year-round employees. The economic sustainability of this approach is one of the impressive aspects of their business.

Brewer brought a Chardonnay from their own 3-D Vineyard, planted in 2007 by Brewer-Clifton to a mix of clones and California heritage selections. (In the Brewer-Clifton program as a whole, 2011 represents the last year of any purchased fruit, as with 2012 they were able to step entirely into relying only on their own vineyards.) The 3-D Chardonnay carries Brewer’s attention to letting a region’s assets speak through a sort of point-counterpoint interplay. With the ripe flavor readily given through California sun, Brewer keeps a structural tension on the wine to bring precision, and a nipped edge to the fruit. The wine comes in richly flavored, while simultaneously tight, opening finally to a softened feminine lushness.

The Machado Vineyard represents Brewer-Clifton’s devotion to stem inclusion. Planted by the pair in 2008, the clonal selection was chosen based on Brewer’s decades of experience experimenting with whole cluster on vineyards throughout the Sta Rita Hills. Thanks to his previous experience, they were able to plant Machado entirely to vines he has seen easily carry the benefits, without the overt challenges, of stems during fermentation. The Pinot shows of vibrant red and dark red character on a lean, mouth watering black tea palate with mixed floral, hints of citrus, and a touch of Italian herbs with lavender offered throughout.

Bonaccorsi Wine Company

Bonaccorsi Winesclick on image to enlarge

As we talked through the Bonaccorsi wines, the group celebrated founder Michael Bonaccorsi’s dedication to winemaking through the region. He was devoted to exploring the appellation, and learning quality winemaking alongside those that had established their knowledge of the area. After Mike’s death in 2004, his wife Jenne Lee has continued making the Bonaccorsi wines while exploring the wine potential of the region. Originally, the Bonaccorsi’s intent had been to make wine in the Russian River Valley, but after getting to know the wines of Santa Barbara County in the 1990s they recognized an intense quality potential to the lesser known region that compelled them to invest instead in the Sta Rita Hills.

Jenne Lee offered two vineyard select Pinot Noirs for the tasting. The Bentrock Vineyard rises from a rolling Northfacing bench on the Western side of the appellation, offering a cooler sun exposure to benefit the Pinot Noir. The wine carries intensely mineral focused strength and concentration that opens to red and black red fruit with roasted black tea notes throughout. The wine is powerful while accented by delicate juicy flavor and rose petal lift. Intriguing complexity.

The Fiddlesticks Vineyard, along Santa Rosa Road, shows off a more open presentation in comparison carrying red fruit and rose focus showing up in a mix of potpourri and fresh floral elements alongside raspberry leaf and black tea, with a mineral crunch through the finish.

***

Thank you most especially to Chad Melville, Greg Brewer, and Sao Anash for organizing the tasting.

Thank you very much to Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi, and Bryan Babcock. It truly was my honor to have time with you and your wines.

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

6

The Highway 246 Corridor, Sta Rita Hills

The Highway 246 corridor of Sta Rita Hills acts as a funnel pulling fog and cool air from the open mouth of the ocean into the length of the Santa Ynez Valley. It’s a unique spot for California. A place where the continent turns, creating uplifts of rock, and also the only East-West running valleys on the Western coast. The relevance of that occurs in differing diurnal and weather shift than the rest of the country, where fog must curl over the peaks of a mountain range to reach the inner valleys. Sta Rita Hills sits exposed.

The pivoted orientation coincides with geological variation as well, not just in the sideways valleys and mountain ranges, but in the rock and soil formations throughout. Sta Rita Hills itself stands unique for US AVAs, distinctly differing bands of soil side-by-side within a coherent climactic zone. While the Southern portion of the appellation brings together marine shale and diatomaceous earth, the Northern part, along the Highway corridor, couples ocean sands with clay, blending in tumbled rocks, and dashes of white calcium.

The Melville Vineyards and Winery

Chad Melville

Chad Melville recounting his family’s vineyard history

Melville Vineyards and Winery grows along the Highway corridor producing wine through an entirely Estate fruit program of 120 planted acres. The property unites three vineyards that together represent the variations of the corridor — vines reaching through gritty ocean sands in portions, then rising from more nutrient rich and water holding sections mixed with clay and pebble, finally too growing along the lift to, and top of a mesa.

The Melville project operates as a family enterprise. The family had been farming in Knight’s Valley near Calistoga when they found the opportunity to move to an about-to-be established Sta Rita Hills. The possibility afforded them the chance to create a fresh project, bringing with them the knowledge gained from previous experience, and access to a newer range of clonal material for California. In establishing what would become an Estate-only program, the family decided to plant a range of vines, bringing together California’s heritage selections with the new-for-then Dijon clones, establishing 16 clonal types across the property. The blend would afford greater range in the eventual winery.

From the Melville Vineyard and Wineries inception, Greg Brewer has served as winemaker for the project, working alongside the family to develop the Estate wines. Chad Melville, who along with his brother Brent planted large swaths of the vineyards by hand, and Greg Brewer met with me to tour through portions of the vineyard property, and then taste through the Estate Pinot Noir.

Stems and Oak: Talking with Greg Brewer and Chad Melville

Greg Brewer

Greg Brewer discussing his work with a cohesive vineyard and winery team

In working with Melville fruit, the team focuses on micro-fermentations designated by clone and block, allowing for greater awareness of site particularities, and a fine-tuned sense of blending potential. They also integrate stem inclusion throughout developing ferments with a range of percentages from no stems to all stems in order to secure a pleasing textural, structural balance in the final wine. As Brewer explains, stems give architectural security for a region that offers clear fruit. Melville tends to hover around a 1/3 stem percentage in their Estate Pinot, and over time has removed use of any new oak.

Asking Brewer about these choices in winemaking, he explains it in terms of priorities. “When we really commit to an Estate program, that brings the attention to how we make wine in the vineyard.” Brewer tells me. With all the fruit coming from its own vines, an Estate program has to rely on its own vineyard practices. There is no opportunity to supplement their fruit. Brewer continues, “To do that, it’s important to not commit to our own prejudices on how the wine is treated in the winery. Instead, the fruit should all be treated through an equal lens, to get an equal interpretation, to really show what the fruit is.”

Brewer explains that over time, they realized that use of new oak, even in small percentages, was covering over the fruit expression. So, they switched to only neutral oak. He is careful to point out, however, that their decision is not a dogmatic or political claim. “The question of oak is not a priority in our scheme,” he explains. “The Estate is a priority. The vineyard is a priority. Our decision about oak just comes from those.”

At the time Melville began, ideas of stem inclusion were less overtly discussed than they are today. With that in mind, I asked Brewer and Melville to discuss what led them to taking the approach, something that could have seemed a bold move in the mid-1990s. Brewer had worked with mentors already at the time that relied on stem inclusion in their Pinot Noir. In meeting with the family to develop the house winemaking approach he brought samples of wines ranging in stem use. It turned out that tasting blind they all preferred about one-third stem inclusion.

Melville nods then elaborates. “In this area we have more opportunity to get stems ripe because we have a longer growing season, more exposure to the elements, and well-draining soils. Our house philosophy really is ‘use what you have.'” He explains. In thinking through a wine, one can consider the idea of flavor, on the one hand, and its architecture on the other. Between flow expressions of tension, texture, and mouthfeel. Use of oak offers one possible way to create an architecture-flavoral link in a wine, generating oak-tannin structure but also oak flavor. If your goal, however, is to use what you have, apparent oak would show as something imported from the outside. Stems become a different way to generate a similar linkage but offering a different sense of structure, mouthfeel, texture, and flavor often more integrated into the fruit than oak.

Tasting with Greg Brewer and Chad Melville: Melville Estate Pinot

Melville Estate Pinot Tastingclick on image to enlarge

After touring portions of the vineyard, getting dirty digging in sand, then clay loam (god, I love dirt), we return to the winery and begin a tasting focused first on six components of the 2013 Melville Estate Pinot Noir, then on three vintages of the Estate Pinot — 2012, 2008, 2004.

The first flight separates wine by clonal material, and vineyard location. The stem percentage stays the same across at one-third. The soil and clone changes. The common factor turns out to be a sense of bright redness, the wines hum at a higher register, hitting the soft palate with lifted red fruit. As we move from more clay (in Logan’s block) to more sand (in Anna’s and Sandy’s), however, the wines also become more structural, more taut.

The second flight keeps the vineyard site — atop the mesa in a sandy-clay loam with rocks — and clonal material — clone 114 — constant, while the stem inclusion changes moving from de-stemmed, to one-third, to 100% percent. The wines each contain clear architecture, but where the destemmed fruit carries a lightly syrup belly, the wines with stems offer more movement, filling the mouth with flavor while simultaneously cleansing the palate. Unexpectedly, the destemmed fruit feels darkest in the mouth, with the wine becoming progressively brighter the greater the stem percentage. The final wine, with all stems included, integrates flavors, architecture, and tension so thoroughly my mouth feels simultaneously desirous and confused. I want to drink it. I have little ability to describe it.

Finally, we taste through three vintages of the Estate, each separated by four years of age — the 2012, 2008, and 2004. The exercise has worked. Unsurprisingly, the components can be recognized as echos through the Estate bottles, along with other elements not tasted through the samples. The contrast shows off the skill of wise blending, while also the necessity of developing a balanced Estate. Where the components offered focused moments of energy and interest, the Estate pours as expressive, dynamic, complete.

The 2012 comes in sea fresh, with clean and lifted aromatics of red cherry and pure fruit, followed by black tea, and a nip of dry (not sweet) caramel in the mouth. It rolls through with a calm, comfortable tone carrying notes of roasted rice tea, and pepper integrated through cherry and berry followed by orange peel and darker fruit accents.

The 2008 drinks almost trembling on the palate, a kind of expressive delicacy with persistence to the wine. The flavors are clean, aromatic, there are accents of fermented cherry through the fruit, and accents of mandarin peel with a long savory, and black tea line.

The wines age easily, the 2004 still so vibrant and young in its energy it could readily age for years. It is my favorite of the three showing the most obvious mineral edge, along with dried plum blossom, dried lemon peel, and a blend of colored fruits–plum, blue, purple, and red berry–centered around a red cherry core that hums savory throughout.

***

Thank you to Greg Brewer and Chad Melville.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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

5

Drinking Eyrie 2000 Marguerite Pinot Noir

In the year 2000, one of the founders of a U.S. American wine region celebrated the birth of his first grandchild by creating a special cuvée of Pinot Noir from the best of his vineyards. He named the wine Marguerite, for his granddaughter.

A large part of my admiration for wine rests in the way heritage, creative expression, agricultural abundance, and dedication all coalesce, dancing together in one bottle–the glass poured, then, also bringing together the best of our senses with our intellect. In the most beautiful wines the power of such intersections shine lit from the glass–unspoken and alive on the palate, enlivening too the heart of the person enjoying.

The Eyrie Marguerite

click on illustration to enlarge

In the year 2000, in recognition of the birth of his first grandchild, Marguerite, David Lett reserved a special Pinot Noir cuvée from the best of his vineyards. This year, Jason Lett released the wine.

The Eyrie Vineyards Marguerite carries an elegant and beautiful nose atop a delicate palate. It’s a wine that rests in subtlety, that does not exert itself but instead opens over time, gaining richness and life over the second, and on into the third day.

The wine dances with homemade beef and mushroom broth, caramelized peaches, and spearmint coupled by accents of rose petal, blueberry bramble, and herbal lift on a frame of easy reverie. This is a wine that rests in this world and reflects easily into the next. It does not concern itself with tradition, yet arises from it. It knows itself too well to convince you. The love is already there. It was made from it.

***

Thank you to Jason Lett. This is one of the wines I give thanks for this holiday season.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.