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Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the vineyards of Adelaida estate

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the Adelaida Cellars vineyards, July 2015

Last year I fell in love with the wines of Jeremy Weintraub. Though I’d enjoyed his wines from Seavey before, I’d done so unwittingly, drinking them simply for pleasure without knowledge of the winemaker. Then last summer I had the good fortune of touring Adelaida Cellars in the historic Adelaida District on the western side of Paso Robles, enjoying vintages early in its history, then forward again to the first of Weintraub’s. After the visit I continued tasting newer releases of Adelaida wines, and discovered too his own Site Wines label.

Last month Weintraub hosted me again for a unique opportunity to discuss his work across labels, tasting current releases of Site, Adelaida, and an older vintage of Seavey (2009) side by side. What proves central to Weintraub’s approach to winemaking is a quest for intimacy with the vineyard rooted in an eye towards refinement.

Weintraub began consulting with Adelaida’s Cabernet program in 2012 and became winemaker in 2013, moving from his winemaking position at Seavey in Napa Valley that he’d started in 2008. As he began at Adelaida he also started his own small production Site Wines label, focused on vineyards of Santa Barbara County. Weintraub’s experience is extensive. Prior to his work at Seavey he had already worked in both Paso and Santa Barbara County, interned in Tuscany, Central Otago, Martinborough, and Long Island, and earned an MS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.

Seavey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

It is Weintraub’s previous position as winemaker that makes the sense of refinement central to his approach most obviously visible. Prior to Adelaida, Weintraub led the winemaking team at Seavey, one of the most under appreciated estates of Napa Valley. It’s one of those vineyards that reminds us of the very specific value of site, showcasing a quality that surpasses that of its neighbors.

The Seavey’s dry-farmed, hillside vineyards, in the heart of Napa’s Conn Valley, are well-placed to absorb ample sun, delivering dark flavor characteristics and abundant tannin. Yet it sits close enough to the cooling and mineral influences of Conn Creek and Lake Hennessey to also intimate notes of rose, violet, iron and spice, a complexity infused with dusty elegance. Picked to celebrate the wash of acidity possible with the site, vinified for judicious tannin management, and clothed by just a sheer chiffon of oak spice, Weintraub’s 2009 Seavey Cabernet reminds us what Napa Valley does at its best is seamlessness. It’s one of those rare wines that brings a pinching sting to remember, the thought that I might not drink it again.

But, while Weintraub’s time at Seavey clearly showcases the refinement of his approach, it is perhaps in his current work at Adelaida that his talent for it becomes most apparent. When a winemaker is lucky enough to work with a site like Seavey it can be easy to mistake the important synchronicity of winemaker to vineyard as either based all in site quality or all in winemaking. Through his work at Adelaida, a more complicated and varied site than his prior home in Napa, the skill of his craft becomes more apparent.

Established in 1981, Adelaida began farming and planting its own vines in the early 1990s, having sourced fruit prior to then. The site now includes a unique range of varieties from the high elevation Cabernet of their Viking Vineyard, to the steep, rolling knoll of Michael’s dry-farmed, head-trained Zinfandel; the limestone established Rhone varieties that sweep the property, and the swailed chute of historic Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay in the 1960s-planted HMR Vineyard. All together Adelaida’s estate vineyards include 145 planted acres, one-third of which is dry-farmed while the rest is being weened over to dry farming, a shift made in response to the recent California drought and in conjunction with hiring Weintraub.

Adelaida HMR Pinot

Adelaida HMR Pinot from 2013, 2009, 2002, 1995; HMR was planted in 1964 in a distinctly cooler microclimate on the western side of the Adelaida estate

Tasting through vintage verticals of Adelaida wines, most particularly the famous HMR pinot, Weintraub’s shift in quality becomes apparent. Established in the mid-1960s, then purchased by Adelaida in 1991, the earliest vintages of Adelaida’s HMR Pinots have aged beautifully, picked for freshness and woven through with accents of American oak. By the early 2000s, the winemaking has shifted entirely to French oak but also to greater extraction and apparently less age-ability. Then in 2013, like an optometrist flipping the lens in an eye exam, the wine moves into clear focus and the vineyard character reads distinctly, a wine fine-boned and persistent with creamy cherry blossom, and spicy crunch, nice tension and length.

The HMR also offers another revelation.

Adelaida 2014 Gamay

Part of the uniqueness of the HMR Pinot rested in its inter-planting of 51-year old Gamay vines, by far the oldest Gamay in California and an unheard of gold mine hidden in the hills of western Paso Robles. Prior to Weintraub’s arrival, the Gamay had been vinified into the HMR Pinot. By 2014, Weintraub convinced the Adelaida team it was time to uncover their treasure and take the Gamay seriously as its own wine. Borrowing a guiding insight from Cru Beaujolais, they foot stomped their Gamay with 50% whole cluster inclusion. The result is an energetic, pleasantly structured, earthy wine with hints of spice, a wash of minerality, and just enough fruit, with the lifted aromatics of a pretty Brouilly.

Current Release Site Wines

Site Wines 2013 Roussanne, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Red blend

Weintraub’s work in his own project, his small production Site wines, makes clear his ability to read a vineyard. The quality of winemaking for his own label thus confirms the promise of his on going work with the Adelaida estate. In sourcing fruit from a range of sites in a region in a committed fashion, a winemaker is given the best opportunity to get to know the distinct overall characteristics of that region, but also to express most clearly his or her own winemaking aims.  Here, Weintraub has chosen to focus on Santa Barbara County. The result is a collection of five distinct Rhone wines, two varietal whites and two varietal reds and a red blend.

My favorite of the Site wines proves to be one of the prettiest Roussannes in California in both the 2012, and especially the 2013 vintage, sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard of Ballard Canyon. He also produces a Viognier that, in both 2012 and 2013 by avoiding the exuberant aromatics commonly found in California Viognier, masquerades as delicate until its persistent, while still subtle, expression across the palate becomes apparent.  And finally also two concentrated while still mouthwatering Rhone reds, a Grenache from Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon, and a Syrah from Bien Nacido of Santa Maria Valley, plus a Rhone red blend from Larner, each with the promise to age.

The Site wines are delicious and freshly energetic but it is also in speaking with Weintraub about each of these vineyards that his perspective shines. The intimacy Weintraub shows with the sites is impressive and detailed, the insights of a winegrower with as much a love for biology as beauty. The same balance shows in his on going familiarity with Adelaida’s vast vineyard holdings.

Adelaida Current Release Wines

Adelaida Cellars new look: 2014 Picpoul, 2014 Gamay, 2013 Viking Bordeaux blend, 2013 Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet

Weintraub’s winemaking at Adelaida produces a broad range of delicious and drinkable wines, but it is also an enormous estate with a vast range of plantings. In practical terms, such a large site also takes time for any winemaker to know, whatever their depth of talent. It can also mean some of the vineyards’ wines seem to have greater synchronicity from vine to wine through winemaker than others.

While each of the wines of Adelaida today is far more than drinkable, I find that synchronicity most elegantly through Weintraub’s 2014 Adelaida Gamay and Picpoul. While the 2013 Picpoul was a lovely wine, the balance of mouthwatering acidity to pretty fleshiness in the 2014 is inspiring. As paradoxical as it can seem when considering Paso Robles heat, it is the Adelaida whites, especially the Rhone varieties, and lighter reds I find most thrilling. In these I eagerly await seeing how they develop with on going vintages.

Turning to the more robust wines, the recent release of the Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet, the 2013, is not yet showing what it has to offer – currently feeling sweet and simple on the palate as it finds its way through its first years of baby fat while also promising to become more lithe and agile with age. The Viking Bordeaux blend from 2013, on the other hand, delivers an earthy grace that by the third day open is singing, an early indication of where it will get with age.

Speaking with Weintraub about his ongoing intimacy with the estate, I am excited to continue following the development of the Adelaida Rhone wine and Cabernet program. While the Adelaida Estate will never deliver a wine like Seavey that is also its gift. Paso Robles carries vastly different character than Napa Valley. In the respectful hands of a winemaker like Weintraub its a character he’ll continue to hone with refinement.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Walla Walla Retrospective

Norm McKibben

Standing at the top of Les Collines Vineyard, one of the valued fruit sources in Walla Walla, with Norm McKibben, one of the important founders and developing forces of Walla Walla wine

As I’ve mentioned here before, some readers asked if I would compile some of the Instagram photos collections from intensive wine trips made on my @Hawk_Wakawaka account there, and share them here on my site to make the information more readily accessible. With that in mind, this week I’m sharing images from my trip this last summer to Walla Walla. (In the next few weeks reviews from the trip will also be appearing over at JancisRobinson.com.)

The first few days I spent with a group of journalists in preparation for the annual Celebrate Walla Walla event, last year focusing on Merlot. After the festivities were complete, I turned to four days of intensive wine visits digging into the particularities and history of the region. The following photos are a compilation of a few pics from the group travels and then more from the final four days. Together they show some of my activities from the trip and give a glimpse of the region.

Walla Walla Wine

Let’s do this…

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Myles Anderson

Myles Anderson helped found the Walla Walla Community College Center for Enology + Viticulture in 2000 after serving as part of the local wine industry since the 1970s + making home wine since 1978. “The first release of Merlot from Walla Walla was in 1981 by Leonetti Cellars. The first significant planting of Merlot was made in 1980. That was Seven Hills Vineyard. They call it the Old Block now. Leonetti + Seven Hills still make wine from it. […] In 2001, the Wine & Spirits Guide identified 12 Merlots from the United States that were the best of the best. Four came from Walla Walla. Each of them the fruit came from Seven Hills. […] Merlot from Walla Walla has had astonishing recognition and it’s been one you can count on.”

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Tero Estates

Seven Hills Winery

“We are standing here in the original Cabernet block in the area [Walla Walla]. The old Cab block was planted in 1980. The old Merlot block in 1982. 4 acres of each. This was the first commercial sized grower, the first intentional commercial size vineyard in the area. It was two farming families that had been out here for generations, mostly farming wheat. That took a lot of guts + vision because it wasn’t obvious back then putting in Bordeaux reds. It was quirky. Now here we are 20 years later + it works. There is a lot of knowledge now but back then there were only a few wineries but we have continued by relying on that same original cooperative nature.” – Casey McCellan owner-winemaker of Seven Hills Winery on the Oregon side of Walla Walla

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L’Ecole Ferguson Vineyard

Marty Clubb of L’Ecole stands in front of a wall of fractured basalt on the western edge of his 1500 ft elevation Ferguson Vineyard in the Oregon portion of Walla Walla. At the top right of this photo you can see a peek of where the vineyard starts + how shallow the wind blown Loess soils are on top of the basalt bedrock – a few inches to 2 ft in depth. “I was really nervous about planting here because these are very thin soils on top of fractured basalt. It is a rough growing environment but also extremely windy here. We planted those first rows to Syrah to help. Syrah can take the wind. Many of the wine regions of Washington are built on this series of ridges. They are the lifted buckles of compressed basalt from 15 million years ago. The younger soils are mostly worn off. If magma cools quickly the rock fractures. That is why we always say this is fractured basalt. If you look at this wall it is like a wall of tightly fit puzzle pieces. But what does basalt become when it breaks down? Oxidized red iron dirt. The vine roots can push inside because the basalt is fractured but also the movement from plate tectonics over millennia has created red dirt between the seams of the fractures. So the roots are digging between the fractures + accessing the soils from between the seams.” – Marty Clubb

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Woodward Canyon

Rick Small established Woodward Canyon, the 2nd winery in Walla Walla, in 1981. In the last 6 yrs he has planted the North Ridge blocks relying entirely on organic farming. He will make the 1st wines from the site this year. Thanks to the wind blown Loess + silty soils plus cold winters phylloxera has not come to the region. Less than 1% of vineyards are planted to rootstock. “If someone would have said 10 yrs ago that I could grow grapes organically out here I maybe would have argued with them a little bit. But now having done it for 10 yrs I think it’s possible. […] All of this Wente Chardonnay is own root but all of my Bordeaux reds are on rootstock. I think I need at least 10 yrs before I know anything [about how the rootstock is working]. I think climate change is going to be a bigger problem for any of us farmers than phylloxera or leaf role virus or anything like that.” – Rick Small

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Leonetti Cellars

Loess Soils

Walla Walla: the Loess is real (and all over my feet).

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Walla Walla Community College Culinary Program

Walla Walla Merlot

Walla Walla Merlot? Here’s a tip: find the best in a cool year, wait 15 to 22 years + enjoy.

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Heading Out on my Own

I found my Walla Walla rental car wrapped inside a Cracker Jack box.

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Serra Padacci Vineyard

Cayuse Vineyard

Gramercy Cellars

Norm McKibben

Norm McKibben of Amavi + Pepperbridge wineries started working w + establishing vineyards in Walla Walla at the start of the 1990s. He quickly became one of the largest suppliers of grapes in the region also serving on the board of the region’s Wine Commission + as a founding member of the Oregon Wine Board. “I planted the first grapes at Pepperbridge in 1991. There were 40 acres [of grapevines] in the [Walla Walla] Valley at that time, including Pepperbridge. I was growing apples + decided to plant grapes. I planted on Whiskey Ridge [up in the hills outside of Walla Walla]. It didn’t work. Then I started planting grapes in the Valley at Pepperbridge. I sold grapes to a few wineries – Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole + Andrew Will on Vashon Island. There weren’t that many wineries here at the time. When their wines came out + said, Pepperbridge Vineyard, more people started calling asking for grapes + it grew from there. I didn’t plan it. It probably sounds silly but I learned the most from the vineyard [on Whiskey Ridge] I tore out because I called every expert I could. Everyone said, tear it out, but I got a lot of advice.”

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Seven Hills Wines

aMaurice 

Model A Gathering

Somehow I happened into the middle a Walla Walla Model A show. Cool!

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Waters 

Geeking out on site specificity vs blending w Waters Syrahs, Rhone white + red blends.

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

The Famous Camel

The Walla Walla Notebook

The Walla Walla Notebook: it’s every page full, folks. I’m pooped. Thank you to everyone for such an informative week!

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

For the Love of Wine

Alice Feiring For the Love of Wine

My great grandfather died in the Spring. He was buried in remote Alaska. At his request, we clothed him in the gilded robe he wore as reader for the Russian Orthodox Church, a role he prided himself in, assisting the Priest during service.

His funeral was held in the Orthodox tradition. Incense burned during prayer and filled the air with the scent of amber and smokey beeswax with blossoms. At the graveside, Aleut and Yupik women from the oldest generation sang prayers in a language whose words I couldn’t understand. The tones of grief, and spiritual hope were familiar to me. We lowered his coffin and threw clumps of dirt on top. The first handfuls from the family hit the lidded metal box with echoing thumps.

My grandfather’s part of remote Alaska has long been an intersection of Alaska Native and Orthodox traditions. By now the two are so intertwined I have a hard time telling them apart. Some of my stories of Alaska Native life I cannot distinguish between traditions of the Church or traditions of the people. For my family the two were the same.

This is the way with older ethnic cultures, an inter-braiding of traditions that is the texture and life breath of every day. It’s a layering and complexity that differs from newer cultures like the mainstream United States. In a global economy we are greeted by flavors and imports from around the world. It’s a dynamic process that means our culture can seem complex, but the difference is a matter of what we hold onto and live through daily life, versus what we greet as yet another flash of another something new.

Alice Feiring‘s new book, For the Love of Wine: My odyssey through the world’s most ancient wine culture, offers us intimacy, albeit in the temporary way of a well-invested traveler, with a long-standing culture. Through her writing she shares an intricately inter-braided world, the culture of Georgia in which food, wine, farming, friendship, Orthodox religion, mysticism, a turbulent long-term and recent history, economic struggle, the effect of totalitarian politics, resilience, its grief and its stamina all weave as the textural richness of everyday life. In this way, her writing in this book is brilliant. At the same time, it also feels new.

Feiring brings to her writing on Georgia a simultaneous freshness and refinement that surpasses that of her previous books. Through it she has not lost the self-certainty and sense of righteousness that can flare in her other writing when she stomps against the homogenizing force of industrialized winemaking or the dumbing influence of globalization. It is that here the love that fuels her willingness to fight has deepened and we are seeing Feiring even more honestly than before. It is through her judicious use of memoir to deliver the story that we discover our intimacy with the place of which she writes.

For the Love of Wine follows Feiring through a series of visits in Georgia. Chapters, loosely speaking, showcase a different producer and a different region of her discovery. Each installment, then, becomes a kind of character study of the producers of Georgia, as well as Feiring’s travelogue, at the same time that she delivers facts on the country’s history and winemaking. Finally, each chapter ends with a recipe.

The recipe: it’s a move that in most cases, when used as a chapter endnote like this, becomes the marker of a less serious book. A moment when we find the writing is charming, and leave it at that. But Feiring pulls off the risk. Here in the recipe chapter-close the stories she tells us become tangible. We as readers peer through the distance into the meals she shares with winemakers and their families, and then are invited into the experience by seeing how to make the food they ate. In most cases wines to pair are also suggested, either by implication via the chapter’s content or directly. Whether we choose to execute the dishes or not, Feiring has, in a sense, offered us a way to bridge the gap of distance. The winemakers have not just poured her their wine, and shared their stories, they have given us the warmth of their own traditional recipes. And here I find an implicit tension in Feiring’s writing.

By sharing the culture of Georgia, Feiring seeks to help preserve it. In this way, she mobilizes a kind of cultural jujutsu using the force of globalization — writing a book that will be read internationally, encouraging international distribution of artisanal wines, inspiring international tourism by sharing insights of a unique place — to help make the winemakers’ economy strong enough to support its own local aims and afford its long-standing traditions. Where her writing before has rallied against the homogenizing force of globalization, here she has found a means to use that power for the sake of what she believes in.

Feiring is not naive to the gamble.

Integral to the tone of the entire book is the intricacy of grief. For the Love of Wine is dedicated to her brother, who we discover early in the text has been diagnosed with cancer. Through the course of Feiring’s travels we come to know the story of their relationship, and follow the progression of his illness as she comes to know it herself. At its first introduction, the inclusion of such a private matter comes as a starkly personal incursion in the midst of a book apparently written about wine. But as the story continues, the feeling of Feiring’s grief begins to echo the bass note harmonic that thrums in the background of any such long-standing culture.

A people that have survived wars, famines, epidemics, and colonization by an outside power forever hum in their song the chord of grief. It becomes not a mere burden but an even inspiring part of the culture’s life force. Inspiration — the sixth stage of grief after acceptance, when that bass note harmonic thrums us, not loose, but back into living. Feiring’s willingness to let us grieve with her, then, actually helps us more readily recognize the feeling of Georgia.

Ultimately, it is here in the thrum we find Feiring drinking in her love of wine. For it is the thrum that makes wine more than merely part of a meal. We see this in the Christian tradition where communal wine becomes the blood of Christ thus offering us new life through the forgiveness of sins. Or, as Feiring points out, in Jewish tradition, where wine serves as the blessing in a meal “from weddings to births” (43). Or for Georgians, where “the strength of the Georgian wine” rises from “the blood of […] ancestors” (21). In each case as we raise the cup, or in the case of Feiring and her friends, the Georgian horn, we enjoy not merely wine, but a drink that contains tradition, friendship, forgiveness, blessing, food, history, elixir.

***

For the Love of Wine
My Odyssey through the World’s Most Ancient Wine Culture
Alice Feiring
Hardcover
2016
208 pp
19 recipes, 22 illustrations, 1 map
978-1-61234-764-6
$24.95

This book was received for the purpose of review from the University of Nebraska Press. 

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

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I am Yup’ik

ESPN.com has just shared an excellent short film, I am Yup’ik, about the importance of basketball in remote Alaska.

As some of you know I originate from Alaska. I grew up migrating between Anchorage in the winters to attend a mainstream school, and Naknek on the western coast in the summers to commercial fish for salmon. In the winters, villagers would fly into Anchorage for the basketball tournaments. It was our chance to see our relatives from throughout the state. My father and brother-in-law would also fly back to Naknek for the regional tournaments. They played on our cousin’s team.

For Alaska Natives, basketball isn’t just a sport. It’s a way of life. The western coast of Alaska thrives on basketball.

I am Yup’ik Includes glimpses of village life and the most insightful line I’ve seen anywhere explaining what it means to be Alaska Native. It captures a core principle I was raised with as an Aleut and Inupiat, and that is central to healthy Native life. As an Alaska Native your contribution is the most important aspect of who you are. Whatever you do, “You do it for the community. You do it for the elders. You do it for the ancestors.”

The following short film, I am Yup’ik, is one of the most insightful looks at Alaska Native life I’ve seen anywhere. Enjoy!

Great thanks to ESPN.com for sharing this movie, and to those that made the film. It was healing to see.

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Paso Robles

Walking Ambythe Estate with Phillip Hart

walking Ambythe Estate w Phillip Hart, July 2015

While the history of Paso Robles wine sits with Zinfandel and its associated hearty red varieties, such as Petite Sirah, its contemporary fame begins with Cabernet Sauvignon established in large plantings from the 1960s through the 1980s, and turns more recently to the varieties of the Rhône. Across varieties, the region is known for producing ample wines – wines with a profound concentration of flavour almost regardless of cellar technique.

The region’s single-vineyard wines that so clearly offer site expression even at higher alcohol seem a blunt reminder that terroir can make its presence felt even over 14% alcohol. As Turley’s Paso Robles’ winemaker Karl Wicka points out, to achieve an approachable balance of acidity to alcohol to flavour to tannin from any of their single-vineyard Zinfandel sites without having to intervene in the cellar demands additional hang time. Vines of the Central Coast – not only in Paso Robles but also in the other subzones of this part of the state as well – tend to hold on to their acidity. Winemakers are left, then, waiting for acidity to drop to a palatable level even while sugars climb. Wines from the deftest winemakers can offer harmony of expression.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 67 Rhone wines, and then 46 other varieties. Both of these articles appear behind a paywall. 

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

The links are below. 

Paso Robles Rhone varieties: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/paso-robles-rhne-varieties

Paso Robles Other varieties: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/paso-robles-other-grape-varieties

To read more on Paso Robles, check-out this the [free-access] photo (accompanied by in depth captions) collection from an 8-day research intensive visit I made this summer. Between the photo collection + the write-up at JancisRobinson.com there’s a wealth of info on the region. 

Here’s the link for the photo collection: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2016/02/01/8-days-in-paso-robles/ 

Cheers!

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Santa Barbara County Wine Country

At the top of Tierra Alta with Sonja Magdevski, John Belfy and Greg Brewer

As previously mentioned, some readers asked me to compile some of my Instagram photos from intensive regional visits here for easier access. This last week I made a three-day return to Santa Barbara County to do follow-up visits with a few producers I have had on going conversations. This summer I also traveled the region for eight days focusing most specifically on the Ballard Canyon sub-zone. With the dynamic intersection of varied soils, climate variation, changing terrain, etc, it is an interesting area for me to spend time tasting and wrapping my head around. I learn a wealth of insight every time I manage to walk a vineyard in Santa Barbara County (SBC).

Following is the Instagram photo collection from my eight days in SBC this summer, followed by photos from the recent three days. The timing also happens to coincide with a collection of tasting notes from Santa Barbara County that were just published on JancisRobinson.com. Between the two — the tasting notes and the photos here — there is a ton of information about SBC.

Thank you to those that have been following along there on Instagram and asked me to make the images available here!

If you’re interested in keeping up with my persistent wine travels and tastings, you can find me on Instagram as @hawk_wakawaka. Cheers!

First Stop Santa Barbara Wine Country: Casa Dumetz & Babi’s Beer Emporium


Deovlet Wines


Duvarita Vineyard: West of Santa Ynez Valley & Sta Rita Hills (that is closer to the ocean)

Rain storm in Santa Barbara County.

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

 

Heading into Ballard Canyon: Tierra Alta Vineyard


Stolpman Vineyard

Peter + Jessica Stolpman standing in some of their Syrah growing at Stolpman Vineyards in the Ballard Canyon AVA of Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara. The earliest vineyards came to Ballard Canyon in the mid-1970s establishing a melange of varieties unsure of what would work. The Stolpman were the first of the second wave to plant in the small + distinctive region beginning at the start of the 1990s. Their plantings helped establish Syrah as the superstar of Ballard Canyon thanks to the work of early winemakers Ojai + Sine Qua Non, who in turned also secured the reputation of Stolpman Vineyard. In 2001, the family decided to also launch their own Stolpman Vineyards label. Today Peter + Jessica lead the management of the project working w Ruben Solorzano as lead viticulturist, Maria Solorzano as Vineyard Foreman + Sashi Moorman as Head Winemaker.

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Ruben Solorzano’s farming is highly regarded as much for its success in growing distinctive quality fruit as it is for his highly intuitive understanding of the vines. Here, on a narrow hillside planting of Syrah on Stolpman Vineyard, Ruben explains the benefits of their planting the vines w meter-by-meter spacing w the vines head trained, every other at an opposite angle leaning towards its neighbor so every two vines meet at the top to form a point. The unusual planting produces dappled sunlight while also creating a more insulated canopy since the vines effectively protect + shade each other. Only leaves face outward w the bulk of the vine inside the two-vine pyramid. As a result, the vine as a whole gets less direct sun exposure but with still ample photosynthesis. The result is less water stress thanks to less heat stress + more flavor development at lower sugars. Brilliant.

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Beckmen Estate Purisima Mountain

Steve Beckmen established his Beckmen Vineyards label in the early-mid 1990s initially making wine from a 1980s planted site in the recently proposed Los Olivos AVA while also sourcing fruit to get to know other vineyards through Santa Ynez Valley. After getting turned on to fruit in Ballard Canyon + really loving its distinctiveness (especially in the Syrah), he began looking for land to plant in the region. He began planting his Purisima Mountain Vineyard in Ballard Canyon in 1996, establishing it mainly to Syrah but also Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc + Sauvignon Blanc. Today, Steve leads the farming of the site himself with Demeter certified biodynamic practices. Sitting on the Northside of Ballard Canyon, Beckmen Vineyard (like Stolpman) grows almost entirely from Linne Clay mixed through w limestone gravel + sitting on limestone. Here we look South across Ballard Canyon from the very top of Beckmen Vineyard at 1200 ft elevation.

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Farming Grenache can be an incredible challenge. It likes to throw tight, very big clusters + lots of fruit but it also has rather sensitive skin compared to other Rhone varieties. Its tight clusters make it easy to get rot. It’s big clusters and lots of fruit make it harder to ripen but if a vine has too little fruit it likes to develop high sugars (which means high alcohol). Its sensitive skins make it prone to sunburn or color bleaching. As a result, vine balance + farming Grenache can be incredibly tricky. Even so, some of the most beautiful wines in the world are from Grenache. Here, Steve Beckmen has found Grenache on his Ballard Canyon Beckmen Vineyard thrives head trained w a low fruit zone. The bushy canopy shades the fruit + the challenge of growing in low vigor limestone w a daily cooling wind keeps cluster sizes generally low. Lower fruit zones in the right conditions also mean less stress on the vine + less water need.

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Jonata Estate Vineyard

Jonata winemaker Matt Dees takes me on a walk through Jonata Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. Planted at the start of the new Millennium, Jonata Vineyards proves unique for Ballard Canyon. It is the only Estate in the appellation focused on Bordeaux varieties, while also growing Syrah. The sandy soils of Jonata behave very differently than the Linne Clay north of Jonata. Sand includes significant drainage. In the case of Ballard Canyon, the sand also allows ripening of Bordeaux varieties where the clay would not. One of the advantages of clay also restricts its potential varieties. Because clay absorbs + holds moisture readily, it also absorbs Ballard Canyon’s cold night time fogs from the ocean. As a result, vineyards in clay take longer to warm in the day + also lock in more humidity. The ample drainage of Jonata’s sand allows the vines to receive the ambient temperature change at night without elongating the cold + humidity in the morning after the fog has cleared. With the slightly warmer + drier conditions, Cabernet Franc + Cabernet Sauvignon ripen on the site. The sand gives them ample while melting tannin while the cool nights give them mouth washing acidity. What is fascinating to me tasting Jonata wines is how utterly Jonata while still distinctly Ballard Canyon they are. That is, the site, Jonata Vineyard, has a unique recognizable signature in the wines while still carrying the character of the AVA. Jonata was planted by John Belfy + today is farmed by Ruben Solorzano.

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Saarloos & Son Watermill Ranch

Touring the Watermill Ranch, Saarloos + Sons’s terraced, dramatic hillside Ballard Canyon site, on ATV-quad (my favorite) w Keith Saarloos. The Saarloos family purchased the property originally to be Apple farmers as the site was previously planted w apple trees but after discovering the challenges of the apple industry they switched over to wine grapes in 1999. Farming the site themselves, the Saarloos have chosen to cultivate Syrah + Grenache. The vineyard grows between 750 + 1150 ft with a cold air drainage along the bottom that pulls cooling wind coming over the hills at the Northern boundary of Ballard Canyon through Saarloos + into the Southern half of the small AVA. Being in the Northern portion, their site rests in Adobe type clay, which carries tons of water holding capacity + cools the fruit further into the day. Windmill Ranch includes the most dramatic rolling hills of the appellation, which Keith describes as “like farming on a roller coaster.”

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Rusack Vineyards

Steve Gerbac has been part of the winemaking team for Rusack in Ballard Canyon since 2003 + leading it since 2012. Rusack Vineyards grows at the upper boundary of the Southern half of Ballard Canyon just below where the appellation becomes more predominantly sand. The vineyards grow between 600 + 700 ft in elevation well within the cooling fog + potential for spring frost or winter freeze. As a result the site has proven not quite warm enough for Sangiovese or Cabernet Franc but very good for Ballard Canyon’s signature grape, Syrah. The site does also still grow Merlot, Petit Verdot + Petite Sirah, as well as a fresh balanced Zinfandel. The Rusack site was previously home to the first vineyard in this area of the Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon Winery established in 1974. That first vineyard in the area was planted to a melange of varieties both warm + cool climate. When Rusack was established the vineyards were replanted. However, thanks to the historic winery location, today Rusack offers the only winery + tasting room in Ballard Canyon.

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Steve Gerbac, head winemaker of Rusack, has been keeping a steady hand at Rusack while also doing small scale experiments to shift the style towards greater freshness + clarity w still plenty of flavor. I asked him to talk about how he has approached exploring the change while finding balance w making a change over time. He offered some examples in the winemaking process. Here is some of what he had to say. “We’ve been shifting the wine style [at Rusack] in the last couple years to doing less to the wines. We’re bottling our first unfiltered Chardonnays now. You have to really change everything from how you grow the grapes to when you pick them to not filter the wine. You kind of have to rethink everything from the beginning or you run into trouble. You just do what you can + clarify the wines as you can [before bottling]. We’ve started fermenting Syrah [differently]. I don’t really like fermenting one clone at a time anymore. I pick [a few together] + co-ferment. I think it adds complexity. We’ve been playing w stems in Zinfandel + Petite Sirah. It’s a lot of little things that aren’t that much on their own that add up to a lot. I’d always been against stems coming from a [particular view of a] Pinot background. Now just a little bit here + there. I still don’t want to be able to pick it out in the finished wine but I don’t want to pick it out any more than I do any other thing either. It is just to add a little range + aromatic lift.” – Steve Gerbac

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While Rusack’s primary Estate rises from the soils of Ballard Canyon, they also farm, own + bottle wine from the one + only vineyard on Catalina Island of the coast of Los Angeles County. The site grows utterly distinctive Chardonnay, Pinot Noir + especially unique Zinfandel grown against the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Recently Rusack has been able to harvest fruit from cuttings of Zinfandel taken from Catalina Island now grown in Ballard Canyon. Tasting the two Zinfandels side by side is remarkable for how utterly distinct they prove to be. One concentrated, dense, + charismatic w the power of a life on the Pacific Ocean. The other dusty, mouthwatering + zesty like the terrain of Ballard Canyon. The Catalina Chardonnay is deceptively delicate, an almost lacey body of flavor somehow still powerful + mouthwatering w tons of length. The Pinot all savory + wild w windy freshness + saline crunchy length.

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Larner Vineyard

Standing at around 700 ft at the highest point of the Larner Vineyard property w Michael Larner we survey the Southern stretch of Ballard Canyon. The Southern portion (which include both Larner + Kimsey Vineyards) are within direct exposure to the cooling afternoon wind that blows off the Pacific across the extended east-west running Santa Ynez Valley. North of Larner, Ballard Canyon runs North-South still receiving an afternoon wind but at a different angle along the canyon floor, which is a bit protected by the Canyon’s more exposed hilltops. Michael’s professional training as an academic geologist served in researching the conditions of Ballard Canyon to prepare a petition for AVA status, which was approved in 2013. As Michael explains, the relatively small AVA shares in calcareous bedrock, which appears as fractures of chalk in the southern portions (more available to vine roots) + becomes more compressed into limestone in the northern portions. On the surface, sand occurs to varying degrees throughout the AVA, with it appearing as virtual beach sand in some sections or mixed w clay in others. Calcareous rock or gravel increases, mixed into the clay, in the northern sections. The result of the calcium rich bedrock + surface soils of Ballard Canyon throughout the wines of the region is a dusty floral lift followed by elongated mouth stimulating palate tension + sapidity across a range of wine styles.

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Larner Vineyard Producer Tasting

Getting to taste a mix of primarily red Rhone wines from across vintages (as well as some crisp aromatic whites) of Ballard Canyon over the last few days + previously, it is fascinating + delicious how clearly Ballard Canyon distinguishes its wines. While many of its varieties successfully grow elsewhere in Santa Barbara County + of course beyond, the Ballard Canyon signature appears across winemaker + wine type whether white or red. That said, each site too seems to prove distinctive from its neighbors while still recognizably Ballard. On red wines, the sandy soils + cooling winds of Larner seem to offer a concentrated, often opaque, core of earthy fruit flavor rubbed through w resinous forest notes in a structure of supple to melting while persistent tannin + a wash of balancing acidity.

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One of the Realities of Summer-time Vineyard Travel

I decided to go for a fresh tartan look.

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The Vine Whisperer of Ballard Canyon: Ruben Solorzano

Dohmeyer Vineyard

Standing in the North of Ballard Canyon next to Dohmeyer Vineyard looking South across the Vineyards of the region w Ruben Solorzano. From the spot it is possible to look the full length of the Santa Ynez Valley from Happy Canyon to the East to Santa Rita Hills in the West + here Ballard Canyon in the middle. It is hard to over estimate the role Ruben Solorzano has had in shaping the quality of wines from Ballard Canyon. He has farmed all but a couple of sites in the appellation. More than any other viticulturist I have been lucky enough to travel with, Ruben’s work is consistently lauded + admired by the producers he farms with as well as other viticulturists of the region. He began farming in Santa Barbara County in 1989, starting at Stolpman in Ballard Canyon in 1994. Since he has helped establish Larner, Kimsey + Boa Vista while also farming Jonata, Rusack, Dohmeyer + others. While his work is centered in Ballard Canyon it also extends to sites throughout the county.

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Kimsey Vineyard

Overlooking Kimsey Vineyard in the Southern most stretch of Ballard Canyon w Ruben Solorzano. Kimsey grows a little bit cooler than vineyards to the north in Ballard Canyon. The site sits between 400 + 500 ft in elevation, lower than other vineyards of the region. In the southern most reach of the canyon it is perhaps the only current planting not partially protected by a hill to the west. As a result, the daily ocean wind blowing east through Santa Ynez Valley moves through the vines of Kimsey w regular direct influence. Thanks to the lower elevation, ambient temperatures are lower + thanks to the wind, vines are cooled even further. Planted in 2006, the vineyard architecture has benefited from the accumulation of viticultural knowledge gained through all of the previously established sites throughout the Canyon. Planted primarily to Rhone varieties, particularly Syrah, Kimsey includes a selection massale field blend of each of the clones of Syrah planted throughout Ballard Canyon.

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Boa Vista Vineyard with Ruben Solorzano & Jeff Newton

 

The Fog of Ballard Canyon

 

Sonja Magdevski checks her rows at Tierra Alta

 

Casa Dumetz Wines

 

Goodland Wine

 

Potek Wine

Potek Winery Grenache + Syrah from Tierra Alta Vineyard == Delicious. Enough said.

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Kimsey Wine

 

Site Wine Co

 

Combe

 

Santa Ynez Valley with Jeff Newton

The Santa Ynez Valley proves to be one of the most nuanced + diverse regions of any I have visited. I’ve returned to it again + again over the last several years + always find more to learn + appreciate. This trip I have focused primarily on the Ballard Canyon AVA, an incredibly tiny appellation half between Sta Rita Hills on the western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley + Happy Canyon on the eastern. What Santa Ynez Valley as a whole shares is tons of fruit clarity w mouthwashing acidity. Whatever style a producer takes to their winemaking, that acidity is there to water + water + water your palate. It allows a huge range of styles to work. Coastal Vineyard Care, started in 1984 by Jeff Newton (shown here), farms sites throughout the Santa Ynez. Earlier this week Jeff Newton + I were able to spend a day driving sites the length of the Valley from the town of Lompoc (west outside the AVA) all the way to Happy Canyon. What a fantastic experience + perspective. Here, Jeff + I walked the rolling hills of Lindley Vineyard on the western boundary of Santa Ynez Valley + Sta Rita Hills. The site (like much of the area) sits in a bird fly over zone + so is kept netted. We walked the rows + checked fruit bent over as shown here. With its proximity to the ocean + wind, the site produces tiny berries + clusters giving lots of natural fruit concentration well framed by its structure. It’s a site at the edge of ripening – it’s the edge where many of the best wines are made.

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Samsara Wine

Chad Melville started making wine under his Samsara label in 2002, initially focusing on Rhones from what is now Ballard Canyon + now making Syrah + Pinot from Sta Rita Hills + Grenache from Ballard Canyon. In his 20s, Chad spent a year on the road in Africa + India making his way essentially through the kindness of strangers, staying in the homes of people he met along the way. The experience deepened his appreciation for community + connection through those sorts of direct experiences. Through Samsara, Chad produces small lot wines each foot stomped + slowly basket pressed for a sense of vibrancy, energy + incredible purity. The wines are special. The name Samsara comes partially from his experience traveling + the renewal process that happens again + again in the cycle of vines.

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Richard Longoria

Rick Longoria has worked w over 50 vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County from the length of both Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley + between. He has been the first to work w fruit from a huge list of iconic sites including Stolpman in Ballard Canyon, Buttonwood in Santa Ynez Valley, Sweeney + then later his own Fe Ciega in Sta Rita Hills + so many more. His intuition on the marriage of variety to site has helped encourage new plantings through the region + he has helped start + develop now well known labels throughout the region. It is hard to over emphasize the role he has played in Santa Barbara County wine serving as one of the region’s first winemakers + making wine still today through his own Longoria label. Beginning his work in wine in 1974, Longoria began his work in Santa Barbara County wine in 1979 serving as winemaker at both J Carey Cellars + Rancho Sisquoc simultaneously. Later he would help bring acclaim to Gainey, consult at Rusack + finally turn his attention full time to Longoria Wine in 1997 after starting it in 1982. Longoria wines begin w tenacious purity in their youth + age into some of the most beautiful wines I have had anywhere. Here Rick shows me his Fe Ciega Vineyard off Santa Rosa Rd in Sta Rita Hills. Today only Qupe + Ojai also make Fe Ciega Pinot Noir. For both it is among the best of their vineyard designate Pinots.

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Longoria 2000 Pinot Noir made w the first fruit of Fe Ciega Pinot (originally named Blind Faith Vineyard). Beautiful.

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Palmina

Having spent time in Northern Italy Steve Clifton felt he recognized conditions in the Santa Ynez Valley hospitable to a range of Italian grape varieties. By 1995 he was able to find growers willing to plant Italian varieties in Santa Ynez for him to launch his entirely Italian variety focused label Palmina. In doing so, Palmina became the first Italian-variety-only label in California post-Prohibition. Eventually he would also instigate the first post-Prohibition Italian-only vineyard in the state. This summer Palmina celebrates 20 years having not only succeeded as a winery for 2 decades but also effectively paving the way for newer labels also focused entirely on Italian varieties to succeed. While the earliest vitis vinifera plantings in California included high proportions of Italian vines, after Prohibition vineyards shifted to a French focus. The Cal-Ital movement of the 1990s consisted entirely of producers that only dabbled in varieties like Sangiovese while primarily making wines like crowd pleasing Cabernets. In only few parts of the world do the two grape types grow happily side-by-side. Cal-Ital wines from the 1990s faced at least 2 significant issues: (1) the Sangiovese was planted in the wrong place + (2) producers didn’t know how to work w the grape on its own terms. Critics skewered Cal-Ital wines as a result + consumers turned away from Italian wines made in California. By the year 2000 it became almost impossible to sell wines of California made w Italian descent fruit. Steve persisted developing new ways to connect w buyers + somms around the country hosting blind Nebbiolo tastings w top Italian producers included. Palmina stood up. In the meantime he also happened to befriend highly respected Barolo + Barbaresco producers from Piedmont that mentored him while also lauding his work. Over time, Palmina successfully built strong relationships w wine lovers, winemakers + members of the wine industry effectively eroding the barrier to US grown Italian varieties. (He’s also just fucking cool. Congratulations, Steve + Chrystal on 20 years. So psyched for you.)

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The Return to Santa Barbara County in February

Byron Wines

In 2001 winemaker Jonathan Nagy began making wine at Byron Winery in the Eastern side of Santa Maria Valley. At the start, Byron made single vineyard wines from sites throughout the Santa Maria. In a few years the Byron program would shift to an appellation focus. In 2013 Byron relaunched their single vineyard program beginning w iconic sites of the SMV. Here Nagy describes the unique growing conditions + best blocks of the historic Nielsen Vineyard. Planted in 1964, Nielsen is a founding site of Santa Barbara County wine, the first commercial vineyard in the region. It sits on bench land above the Santa Maria River + here in Nagy’s favorite block is fed colluvial soils, decomposing rocks + elder-series soils from the foothills that border the vineyards Northern side. The persistent cold Pacific breeze through the Valley intensifies flavors, thickens skins + encourages smaller, concentrated clusters. The nightly fog helps keep a guaranteed wash of mouthwatering acidity in the wines. Santa Maria Valley offers a hallmark savory spice character in not only its Pinot but also its Chardonnay. In returning to a single vineyard focus Nagy is getting to showcase the unique character of the Valley’s iconic sites, here at the Nielsen, down the road in Julia’s Vineyard + at the also-historic Bien Nacido.

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In 2014 Jonathan Nagy was able to take Byron Winery’s return to single vineyard wines into the Sta Rita Hills. Raised in Santa Maria Valley, Nagy got his start in wine in the North Coast (after first working in tasting rooms in Santa Maria) + didn’t expect to return to his home region. Eventually though he found himself called back to making wine from Santa Maria. His winemaking career since has primarily focused on finding the elegance possible from the savor-spice of his home valley. However, when he started at Byron 15 years ago, the facility was also working w Sta Rita Hills fruit for another project. Making those wines Nagy saw the intensity offered in Santa Maria’s sister appellation. In guiding the single vineyard program to Sta Rita Hills as well, Nagy + his assistant winemaker Ryan Pace (shown here) are able to work w iconic sites throughout Santa Barbara. The rolling terrain of Sta Rita brings power, tenacity + a black tea flavor to the Pinots of the region. Inundated w a nightly fog + daily cold Pacific wind, the wines of Sta Rita include mouth clenching acidity. Thanks to the varied aspects + protected pockets vs exposed slopes, the vineyard expressions Nagy is exploring w Sta Rita Hills carry a regional expression across a distinctive range. Here the Byron duo stand near the top of John Sebastiano Vineyard, at the Eastern boundary of the appellation, the site is a warmer spot in a cool region. Byron now also bottles single vineyard designates from the iconic challenge of the steep sloped Rita’s Crown + the moonscape variations of La Encantada along the AVA’s Southern boundary.

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Bien Nacido Vineyard

Geese + ducks also help w controlling the cover crop at Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. (Seriously.)

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True Believer, Hammell Wine Alliance

Tasting through a vintage vertical, 2011 through 2014, of Chris + Dayna Hammell’s Hammell Wine Alliance Grenache-based wine True Believer, along w the 2015 True Believer rosé + 2014 Syrah. Chris has been managing the Bien Nacido + Solomon Hills Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley for 2-plus decades working w the top winemakers in Santa Barbara County + beyond to deliver farming excellence for a huge range of winemakers’ goals. Over the years he continually returned to a spot at Bien Nacido that he believed would be perfect for Grenache. When he + Dayna decided to launch their own label they planted the site to a head-trained Grenache-based Rhone field blend that they now coferment to make their wine True Believer. (Insider secret pro-tip: the 2013 is something special. It carries a harmonious complexity of savory herbs, earth + spice w profound density on a body of supple tannin + mouthwatering length. The rosé is the savory freshness you enjoyed in your dreams.)

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Casa Dumetz Grenache 

 

Sashi Moorman

Walking the steep slope of Domaine de la Côte w Sashi Moorman in the far western portion of the Sta Rita Hills on the Southern side of the appellation. Santa Barbara County continues to call me back again + again seeking to understand the complexities of the region for just that reason, the complexities. More than any other region I have studied Santa Barbara County offers massive variation of soil, of climate, of slope, of elevation, of aspect. As w wine in all of the United States, the region is young but in its intersection of profound variation across so many factors it includes the possibility for true distinctiveness. As Moorman explains, it is such distinctive he believes shows in the Sta Rita Hills. His + Raj Parr’s Domaine de la Côte project one such example, a high density planting in the extreme portions of a cool climate w soils that seem to give the happy mid-zone of reducing vigor while offering enough life to avoid hydric stress.

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Baby Sheep

 

Solminer Wines

 

Tatomer 

 

Lo-Fi Wines

 

Site Wine Co

 

Habit Wines

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

The Santa Barbara County Collection

From JancisRobinson.com… This is the first of a series of articles about the exciting wines of Santa Barbara County. 

Santa Barbara County (SBC) wine country lies within geographical features unique to North and South America. A coastal mountain range runs north-south along the entire west coast of the Americas. However, in one location, halfway down the length of California, the range makes a brief turn east. The vines of SBC, then, sit within the only transverse mountain ranges of the two continents. One frames the wide, open Santa Maria Valley and the other hugs the north and south borders of Santa Ynez Valley, within which also sit the Sta Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellations. Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, as a result, face the Pacific Ocean open-mouthed, unprotected by a mountain barrier. Both therefore receive a wash of maritime influence through nightly fog and a regularly timed afternoon wind. The combination also keeps SBC wine country relatively cool. In most of the county, then, cooler climate varieties do better, though the further east (or inland) one goes, the warmer it gets. As a result, some warmer-climate varieties dot the region as well. [See Elaine’s beautifully drawn map below.]

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Over on JancisRobinson.com, this piece continues in a series of three articles that survey the wines of Santa Barbara County via (1) Chardonnay, (2) Pinot Noir, and (3) the Rhones of Ballard Canyon. You can check out each of the articles in full there at JancisRobinson.com. The links to each of the three articles are below. 

Santa Barbara County: kicking off with Chardonnay: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-kicking-off-with-chardonnay

Santa Barbara County: Pinot Noir: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-pinot-noir

Santa Barbara County: Ballard Canyon’s Rhone varieties http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-ballard-canyons-rhne-varieties-wip-tc

Later this week I’ll also be sharing the Instagram collection from the in-depth trip I did to Ballard Canyon this summer as we saw here last week from Paso Robles. 

Cheers!

7

Paso Robles

In July I spent 8 days doing intensive wine research and tasting in Paso Robles. Along the way I shared updates from my visits with producers via Instagram.

Some readers asked if I would please compile the collection and share it here on my blog in order to make the information more readily accessible. With that in mind, following are the Instagram photos from my 8 days in Paso Robles, minus a few short videos shared there. The captions as posted to Instagram are typed here directly below the associated image to make them easier to read.

I update my wine travels and local tastings regularly to Instagram, as shown below. If you’re interested in keeping up with it there, you can follow me on Instagram where I post as @hawk_wakawaka.

Cheers!

Let's do this…

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Eberle

"I made my first Barbera in 1978. I planted it myself. I got the cuttings from UC Davis. I really don't know what clone it was but it is what is mostly planted around here. It was planted, indexed and heat treated at Davis so it is clean. That was at the Estrella [River] property [the vineyard + winery Gary Eberle started in the late 1970s before then planting Eberle in the 1980s.]. […] Mr Mondavi, certainly in this business, was my biggest mentor. He taught me how to sell wine. I couldn't tell you why but we just hit it off. I learned so much from that man. You can make the best damn wine but you better be able to sell it if you want to have an impact in this industry." – Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery is considered the Godfather of Paso Robles wine having been one of the early founders of fine wine in the region and an instigator of the original 1983 AVA. Though his flagship wine is Cabernet Sauvignon he has won multiple awards for his Barbera. This summer he was recognized with a Wine Lifetime Achievement Award by the California State Fair, an honor he shares with his mentor, Robert Mondavi, the award's first recipient.

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Ambythe

Pomar Junction

Father + son team Dana + Matt Merrill farm vineyards all over Paso + make wine under the Pomar Junction label from their vineyard of the same name. "My dad is part of the Central Coast Vineyards team. We were one of the first 12 wineries in the SIP sustainability pilot program built by the Central Coast Vineyard Team. It's recognized by the TTB + means you've been checked by a third-party auditor." Matt explains. I ask Dana about his work on Paso water concerns in relation to the drought. Dana has spearheaded efforts to create a collaborative board of agricultural + residential members to work on long term solutions for water conservation. He responds. "We don't have really big water problems right now. We do have a general trend of wells dropping. We don't know if the drought is going to continue. We have enough constructive notice + time to do something."

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Clayhouse

The First Wine Labeled with the Paso Robles AVA

Kenneth Volk

Discussing the different growing regions of the Central Coast cannot be done more thoroughly than w Ken Volk. I ask him when he moved to the region + how he got started in wine. He answers. "I moved to San Luis Obispo in 1977 to attend Cal Poly. I made wine from Rancho Sisquoc grapes in 1977 as a home winemaker. Then I had the opportunity to do an internship w Edna Valley Vineyards in 1978 + 1979. After, I started Wild Horse. I purchased the property, planted vineyards, then bonded the winery + had first crush in 1983. We were mostly working w red grapes from Santa Maria Valley + Paso Robles. At Wild Horse we did a lot of blending warm + cool climate grapes. That worked well for us. People liked it." – Ken Volk served as the first president of the Paso Robles Grape Growers Association, which started in 1981. He was also one of the signatories on the original Paso Robles AVA that was recognized by the TTB in 1983. In his winemaking career he has made wine from around 74 varieties from throughout the Central Coast. As he explained, he recognizes the idea of noble varieties but it is in people being willing to work with grapes + travel w them that we found those. Today the Kenneth Volk winery is located in Santa Maria Valley where Pinot + Chardonnay are his flagship wines but he also works w Italian + French varieties from throughout the central coast.

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The Falcone Family

Luna Matta Vineyard

"We're certified organic because we really believe in it. We believe the property should be better when we leave it than when we got it. All the hilltops here [on Luna Matta Vineyard] are a little different. There are so many soil changes. That's part of what's exciting about [farming in] Paso. You can kind of do anything." – Stephanie Terrizzi manages Luna Matta Vineyard in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles, which has 36 planted vineyard acres, 40 acres of walnuts, 2 acres of olives, 1 acre of sage + a pear tree. John Ahner + Jody McKeller planted the site in 2001 to Rhone + Italian varieties (+ just a smidgen of Tempranillo) with a focus on biodiversity. Their bees this summer are busy making honey from indigenous plants such as Toyon.

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Giornata 

"In Italy, there is enough heat the focus is really not on extraction. In France there are techniques for more extraction [because of the differing climate + varieties] but in Italy I have never seen anyone cold soak. The climate [in parts of Italy] is more like California. [It has the heat and sun. Our goal is] to express the site, the variety + the vintage. The best way to do that is to pick when the fruit is in balance + really on the early side. I look a lot at acidity numbers in fruit. This isn't just a low alcohol/high alcohol debate. We really want the grapes to hit that perfect edge of ripeness, the window, and it's a really small window. Stephie [Terrizzi] has done a lot of studies on physical ripeness. When to pick is the biggest decision that we make cause we use all natural yeast + no enzymes." – Brian Terrizzi owner-winemaker of Giornata w his wife Stephanie focuses entirely on Italian varieties grown in Paso Robles. Their first commercial vintage was 2006.

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Clos Selene

Aaron & Aequorea

Adelaida Cellars

"They seen what was coming. They got hooked up w John[Munch to start the Adelaida label]. I was just out here clearing land + doing what I needed to do. John came to me + said, what's the worst piece of ground you got? And I thought of that piece [that is now Adelaida's Lower Viking Vineyard] cause I hated that piece down there. [laughing] It was all poison oak. We didn't rip it. We didn't even have a tractor. And then we were worried about how many rocks we'd pull up. You know, it [vineyards in the Adelaida District of Paso] was all new. This one guy took great care to plant a vine right on top of a big rock. [laughing] He placed soil carefully up all around it. That vine is still there. That was 1991." – Mike Whitener has served as the Adelaida Ranch Manager for 40 years. His father was Ranch Manager before him. Mike was born, raised + has lived his life in the Adelaida District. As he explains, he's left several times but always wanted to come back.

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Alta Colina

"I got this concept that I was going to grow wine + make wine back in 1970. It was a long hill ahead but fortunately when I retired I had this little bundle I could use to get started to do it. But in that time period I had these phases where what I was drinking changed. In the 1970s I was a Cab guy. Then I got into Grenache + for about ten years I was a Zin guy + then I moved to the Central Coast + discovered Rhones. At the time I started planting this vineyard that's just what I was drinking. It also seemed like the Rhones were the best fit soil + climate wise + some of the best wines I drank from Paso were Rhones." – Bob Tillman shares how he fell in love w growing + making Rhone wines in the Adelaida District of Paso. Here we sit near 1700 ft beneath an oak tree at the top of the Grenache + Syrah block tasting older vintages of his Alta Collina red wines.

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Lone Madrone

Tasting an 8 vintage vertical, 2000 to 2007, of Lone Madrone Cabernet from York Mountain just west of the Paso Robles AVA.

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The Oldest Coastal Live Oak on the West Coast

Halter Ranch

Resource Conservation

Tablas Creek

James Berry Vineyard

Saxum

The Feet of Vineyard Travel

For @clarecarver: feet darker than my face from summer vineyards + filthy from the decomposed rock of west Paso Robles.

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Fossilized Whale Bones

Zenaida Cellars

Pelletiere 

Ranchero Cellars

The Templeton Gap

A quick drive towards the Pacific through the Templeton Gap. Such a refreshing stop in the ocean wind.

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A Little Goat

Monte is busy telling me all about life in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles.

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York Mountain Winery

Just west of the Paso Robles AVA sits the York Mountain AVA, both recognized in spring 1983. The high elevation York Mountain appellation today includes only one winery, Epoch Estates, + a handful of vineyards. However, the York Brothers, who the AVA is named for, established a winery near the top of York Mountain in 1898. The wood beams they harvested from the old Cayucos Pier. The bricks they made by hand on the mountain. Their York Mountain Winery stood + operated until the 2003 San Simeon earthquake that shook Paso Robles. Today, Epoch Estates own the original York Mountain Winery property + is in the process of restoring the original winery building using the old wood beams + bricks + stone fireplace through restoration + reuse efforts as shown here. The building once finished will be used as the Epoch tasting room w museum + educational components on the history of the region included throughout.

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Epoch Estates

Tasting through the current portfolio of Epoch wines as well as a vertical of Epoch Ingenuity red Rhone blend 2009 to 2013.

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Paderewski Vineyard

So many Hawks soaring the foothills on the westside of Paso. One of my favorite things to watch them circle + soar.

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Pesenti Vineyard

Ueberroth Vineyard

Amadeo Martinelli Vineyard

The Turley's newest property in Paso Robles, the Amadeo Martinelli Vineyard (no direct relation to the cider or the Sonoma gang), hosts dry farmed, head trained Zinfandel planted in the early 1920s in what is now known as the Templeton Gap District of Paso Robles. The vines are inter planted w a mix of cherry, pistachio + even a pear tree. The site includes a historic winery + the unique features of what was once clearly a self-sustaining farm: chicken coops, a root cellar + more. Though the site receives daily cooling breezes from the ocean it sits above the frost zone common to Paso Robles. 2014 is the first vintage from the site for Turley. From barrel it offers the great promise of a Turley Zin with a creamy fresh mid palate, dusty persistent tannin + enlivening acidity. Showing notes of fresh + dried cherry w chocolate + pepper accents on a snappy spine it's a delicious addition.

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Ancient Peaks Vineyard

Villa Creek Maha Vineyard

Soren Christensen

Anonimo

Hearst Ranch Winery

Ledge Vineyard

Bella Luna

Getting ready to taste through the red wines of Bella Luna.

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A Full Week

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2

The Masters of Wine Residential Seminar: Australia

Australian Wine

The Annual Masters of Wine Residential Seminar has been taking place this week in San Francisco. The residential seminar serves as the yearly in-person training and educational intensive for the first and second year MW students, as well as the opportunity to spend time with a whole bunch of MWs. People travel from all over the world to attend.

This weekend Mark Davidson led an in-depth seminar on Australian wine for the group. He serves as the Education Director for Wine Australia, the general marketing board for wine from across the Australian continent, as well as part of the MW program. Mark and the MW program were kind enough to invite me to attend the seminar and following walk-around tasting.

The initial seminar included ten wines selected to represent first the classics of Australian wine followed by still evolving newer styles. A walk-around tasting of at least fifty other excellent examples was then available.

Australian Wine: History, Evolution, Revolution

While I was familiar with most of the producers presented in the ten-wine seminar, having current vintages and the ten together was an exciting opportunity. The tasting showed how special wines from Australia can be carrying remarkable life in the glass.

Following are notes on the ten wines.

FLIGHT 1: History

Brokenwood Oakey Creek Semillon 2009, Hunter Valley, New South Wales 11% $32

A classic of Australian wine, Hunter Valley Semillon has no counterpart in the world. Even Semillon from elsewhere in Australia carries a distinctly different expression than the wines of Hunter Valley. It also offers a conundrum of expectation: though the region includes high temperatures, the wines consistently offer intense freshness, and tenacious acidity. 

Fresh, invigorating aromatics followed by a juicy and focused palate of mouthwatering acidity. Notes of Meyer lemon, honeysuckle and just a kiss of creme brûlée carry through an ultra long textural finish. Bone dry and delicious.

* Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2010, Eden Valley, South Australia 12.5% $32.99

Australian Riesling is decidedly dry in style. It is the rare exception that includes enough residual sugar to bump into the off-dry category. Unlike the classics of Germany, producers of the Australian wine are emphatically against the idea that their wines include petrol notes and have done extensive viticultural and cellar research to try and insure against the characteristic. 

Fresh, succulent, and focused aromatics. A palate of mouthwatering acidity tumbled through with chalk, quartz, stones and subtle, textural flavor. Notes of honeysuckle, chalky-white peach and a hint of lime. Pretty, delicious, and will age a very long time.

One of the stand-out wines of the tasting for me – I love the freshness and texture of The Contours. 

* Cirillo 1850 Grenache 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia 13.8% $84.99

Growing what have been documented as the oldest Grenache vines in the world, the red grape is one of the under-regarded classics of Australian wine. From the best producers, Australia’s old vine sites yield concentration, earthy spice, and loads of mouthwatering acidity. South Australia offers a sense of completeness from this grape without blending. 

Perfumed and elegant with melting tannin, mouthwatering acidity, and a silky mouthfeel. Vibrant and energizing. Notes of bramble, savory mixed fruit, and earthy underbrush, this wine continued to evolve giving ever more delicious flavors in the glass. Delicious with a long, mouth-quencing finish.

One of the stand-out wines of the tasting for me – I kept wanting to go back to drink this wine. 

Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia 14% $54.99

Known for its terra rossa soils, Coonawarra brings that red earth patina to the flavors of its reds alongside a tendency for supple tannins. The region is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Its maritime climate offers just enough warmth to soften its tannins and the seaside freshness to keep a wash of acidity on the palate. 

Perfumed and spiced aromatics with a zesty palate carrying an even density of fruit and just a whiff of what Mark describes as “eucalyptus honey” (a pleasant lift in the wine). Savory mixed fruit braid with firmness of tannin with a pleasing backbone of acidity.

Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia 14.5% $190

Barossa Valley has been documented with the oldest Shiraz vines on the planet, as well as some of the oldest soils. Shiraz is a classic of the region, historically vinified with a distinctive spice of American oak, in recent decades producers have shifted to the sweetness of French. 

Sweet-spiced with light toast accents throughout, offering a long mouthwatering line and lightly drying tannin. Notes of vibrant mixed fruit and a perfume lift showcasing the smoothness of 35% new French oak.

FLIGHT 2: Evolution & Revolution

** BK Swaby Chardonnay 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5% $55

The Swaby Chardonnay was the stand-out wine of the tasting for me.

Impressive, nuanced, and delicious. BK strikes an impressive balance of freshness tempered by noble sulfide, of gunflint cut through giving fruit. It is somehow almost precious while also sinewed. This wine opens nicely with air carrying lots of life in the glass and a kiss of spice so well integrated you could almost miss it. Best of all, it is just truly nice to drink.

Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Pinot Noir 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 14% $60

Aromatic and fine-boned, delicate and zesty. Fresh, floral aromatics of rose petal and rose cream carry into the palate with notes of savory, zesty underbrush. Energizing and fresh with supple tannin and mouthfeel. Lots of length.

Jaume Like Raindrops Grenache 2014, McLaren Vale, South Australia 14.2% $50

Unexpected and fresh. Snappy red fruit cloak a beast of savory spice. Wildly aromatic, juicy, fresh, and quaffable. Charming and unconventional. Delicious.

Luke Lambert Syrah 2012, Yarra Valley, Victoria 13.5% $55

Fresh fruit and perfumed accents – juicy blackberries just cut from the bush and served alongside peppery bacon. Long mouthwatering finish and supple tannin.

Grosset Gaia 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia 13.9% $79

Aromatics of fresh-peeled white birch bark and crushed leaves tumble into a velvety mouthfeel and a long, lean palate. Elegant while edgy and energizing. Fresh with a lightly drying finish and just a hint of caramel.

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1

The Olive Sea of Salento

We’re standing on a second floor patio near the town of Guagnano looking out over a sea of olive trees. Guagnano, in the north of the Salento peninsula of Italy’s Puglia region, grows olive trees in waves. Every few miles there is a sea break of grape vines.

Later that evening we’ve sat for dinner at the brand new Bros. restaurant in the old-town center of Lecce. After the aperitivo we’re offered durum-wheat bread with emulsified olive oil. Puglia is also known for its bread. The two offer a perfect marriage – the almost-rustic nuttiness of the durum wheat spread with the oil’s fine balance of bitter, sweet and peppery; bread and oil each an integral aspect of the peninsula’s food-culture, heritage, and economy.

Puglia produces around 40% of Italy’s olive oil. The region includes over 60 million olive trees. It serves too as one of the country’s economic leaders in olive oil export (as well as for its almost-rustic brand of wheat). In Salento, the southern half of Puglia, small home farms of olive trees are a family’s livelihood.

100 year old olive trees

100-year old olive trees in Salento

Known as Puglia’s gold, the olive oil industry includes a heritage dating back millennia. A half-million trees in the region are over 100-years old, and live trees still producing fruit have been carbon-dated to over 1000 years. Near the town of Ostuni the oldest tree of Puglia stands with a girth of 15 meters, an irreplaceable vessel of cultural history.

In Salento, these elder trees are regarded with a kind of reverential magic. The size and shape of their trunks prove so dramatic it is believed if you stare into the curves of their bark you’ll eventually see signs of your future, like an arborist’s version of reading tea leaves.

We finish dinner. The next day we wake and drive south to the tip of Salento.

Driving the Salento peninsula olive groves wash by in wave after wave of green. Suddenly the Ionian Sea appears rich blue on the right. We are in the southern half of Salento. The olive groves begin to thin.

The Rise of a Crisis

Though the tip of Salento has long served as one of the concentrations of family grower-producers of olive oil for the region, today the farmers are struggling. In 2013 a strange illness first appeared in the trees. Since, they have continued to die.

As a result, the landscape of southern Salento has changed. Areas once floating in green are now barren, scarred by the sharp cut remains of trees that couldn’t be saved by aggressive pruning.

In a neighborhood of small family farms we pull over the car. The trees along both sides of the road are dead. In such areas families have lost tens of thousands of dollars in annual income. Slowly the farmers are excavating the dried up trees to use for wood, or simply burning them. In a region dominated by agriculture, farmers struggle to find new sources of income. The loss of industry affects the overall economy, also impacting the livelihood of those not growing olive trees.

Olive trees affected by leaf scorch

olive trees in Salento struck with leaf scorch

When the crisis appeared in 2013 farmers began to notice that the outer leaves of their trees were suddenly turning brown. Branches would turn so quickly the leaves and fruit would fail to fall as plants do for autumn. Instead, the leaf scorch, as it is called, marks the tree permanently. Initially farmers attempted to prune scorched branches to save the tree but illness would spread.

A New Illness

What was discovered was a bacterium never before found in Europe. Scorched trees consistently test positive for Xylella fastidiosa, also the cause of Pierce’s disease in grapevines. The bacterium in the olive trees of Salento is identical to a strain of Xylella with its origins in Costa Rica. As a result, it is believed ornamental coffee trees imported to Europe without proper quarantine invited the illness. Once infected, Xylella forms a sticky mucus inside the tree’s lymph system blocking the flow of liquid through the tree. Scorched trees essentially die of a kind of fast dehydration that starts in the branches, then takes over the entire tree in an illness called Olive Quick Decline Syndrome.

Though Salento olive trees showed the first known outbreak of Xylella in Europe, since the Salento outbreak the bacterium has also been found in almond trees and ornamental plants in Salento, in mulberry on Corsica, and ornamentals in mainland France. The strain in France differs from that in Salento and neither matches the one we know infects grapevines.

The neighborhood where we pull over is in the area of Salento where symptoms of the olive crisis first appeared. If you know where to look, it is still possible to purchase olive oil made from groves in this part of Salento, though production is reduced.

It is difficult to estimate the disease’s impact on overall olive oil production in the region due to the variable nature of olive harvests. Salento has lost potential volume from affected trees, but even so, the 2015-16 harvest overall is better than the disasterous 2014-15 vintage. Due to a combination of factors, including weather and more normal pests, yields in last year’s harvest were extremely low. Still, it was estimated that the Xylella outbreak would cost the region more than $225 million in 2015 alone. In areas, like this neighborhood, hardest hit by the outbreak many family farmers have permanently lost their crop.

Slightly north, we stop to visit a grove of 100-year old trees. Walking the grove it is clear how the trees gained a reputation as soothsayers. The trunks stand twisted, and braided in decades of growth. The trees also show signs of leaf scorch.

The caverns left by olive trees removed

a grove of caverns where infected olive trees were pulled,
in the distance the 100-year old trees have leaf scorch

Beside the old trees a grove of caverns appears, massive holes left in the ground from 100-year old trees affected by Xylella and pulled out in an attempt to save their neighbors.

The Science Crisis

In another grove trees are hung with white flags and political posters. Graffiti reads “Xylella Mafia,” an allusion to local mistrust of the science behind the illness, and of the government’s handling of the situation. Many believe the olive decline to be the result of a conspiracy launched to benefit the olive oil industries of other countries. As olive oil supply has reduced, the global price of olive oil has increased but especially in region’s unaffected by the Xylella crisis. Some even believe scientists caused the illness by design.

Last month local officials blocked the eradication of affected trees while also placing the scientists working to fight Xylella under investigation. They are accused of spreading the disease.

The EU continues to demand trees be pulled, fearful the illness could spread across Europe. Xylella in the form of Pierce’s disease has been studied for over 100 years. Even so, today the only known solution is to remove affected plants.

Locals dependent on olives for livelihood as well as millennia of cultural history and identity have resisted the EU’s demands. Puglia’s olive oil industry is among the oldest arborist traditions on the planet. Environmental activists and some farmers have fought to preserve the 100-year old groves, afraid that the trees will be pulled and then a cure found, the loss of a region’s cultural legacy. The anti-science activism has angered still others who believe the illness could have been stopped if affected trees had been pulled as originally planned.

a pesticide zone in Salento

an experimental pesticide-use olive grove in Salento

In the meantime, some farmers at the Xylella boundary are experimenting with heavy pesticides in an attempt to kill the bugs that serve as a primary vector for the spread of Xylella. Food scientists fear such chemicals work against one of the ultimate goals of saving the trees by contaminating the resulting oil with pesticides. The bacterium itself does not affect the fruit. At the same time organic farmers are exploring other measures.

Scientists are working to develop new technologies. Researchers working on Pierce’s disease in the United States have been experimenting with the use of phages, anti-bacterial viruses they introduce to diseased vines to fight infection. Some suggest the approach could be developed for trees as well. So far attempts have been unsuccessful.

We return to Lecce to rest before departing the next day. In the morning we are handed a gift. One of Salento’s top arborists has brought each of us a bottle of olive oil. It is oil, he explains, made from the remaining trees at the tip of Salento.

***

To read more about the olive oil crisis in Salento, check out this article in the New York Times from spring of 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/12/world/europe/fear-of-ruin-as-disease-takes-hold-of-italys-olive-trees.html?_r=0.

Cathy Huyghe gives a photographic view of the region’s olive trees along with information about the current situation at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/cathyhuyghe/2016/01/14/olive-trees-in-crisis-disease-impacts-southern-italy-photo-essay/#5edf949b279351064a342793

Or you can keep up with international news regarding the situation via the Xylella news feed at olive oil times: http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/tag/xylella-fastidiosa?page=9

You can keep an eye on the crisis via Cantele winery’s US blog here: http://canteleusa.com/?s=xylella&submit=Search The updates available here often look at perspectives from those local to Salento.

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