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Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

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

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

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

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

Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

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

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

TEAM FINGER LAKES: RIESLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: CHARDONNAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM ANDERSON VALLEY: PINOT NOIR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM WASHINGTON: BORDEAUX-VARIETY REDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM NAPA VALLEY: CABERNET SAUVIGNON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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Truchard Vineyards & Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truchard Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Want to read more on Truchard Vineyards?

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

Thank you to Mathew Fitch. CHEEEESSSSE!!!

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

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Visiting School House Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Walker and John M GantnerNancy Walker and John M Gantner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

***

Thank you to Jason Lett.

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A Visit to Antica Terra w Maggie Harrison

Jr acting normal in Antica Terra Vineyardwith Jamie, Maggie, and Rachel at the top of Antica Terra, July 2014

It’s early evening at the end of a full day of wine tasting. Jamie Goode is driving, my daughter, Rachel in the back seat. I am trying to help navigate our way through country roads where street numbers do not show clearly. We’ve driven past our destination.

A half mile on, Jamie finds a driveway where we can turn around. As we turn, I’m scouting the horizon hoping to spot where we are headed in order to confirm the proper turn. Then, atop the hill high above us, I see it, and I can’t help but call out pointing. “Oh my god! Is that where we’re going? Look at that vineyard!” It’s Antica Terra high atop the hill. The vines clutch to steep slope side almost glowing in evening light. I make a phone call, and Maggie Harrison drives down the hill to meet us. We’re climbing the dirt road into Antica Terra.

Maggie Harrison, Jamie GoodeMaggie Harrison and Jamie Goode near the top of Antica Terra, July 2014

In the late 1980s, near the top of a hill in Eola-Amity, two New Yorkers paired up and planted Antica Terra vineyard to Pinot Noir, the steep, rolling slopes a call to complexity and concentration in the cooler reaches of Southern Willamette Valley. In 2005, after a few years making wine themselves, the pair decided to sell the site to a trio of friends, that would then also bring in Maggie Harrison as partner and winemaker.

At the time, Harrison was happily installed at Sine Qua Non in Santa Barbara County, working as assistant winemaker to Manfred and Elaine Krankl, while also making her own celebrated Syrah, Lillian. The Antica Terra team offered Harrison the winemaking post but she had no interest in moving. Wanting to convince Harrison, the Antica Terra partners chose to act covertly, asking her to visit the site simply to advise on viticulture for the upcoming season, hoping a glimpse of the vineyard would change her mind.

She flew to Portland, and with one of the partners, drove the length to Amity along suburban then country roads. Not until, but immediately upon arrival to the vineyard hill she knew. Within minutes, she tells us, she stepped behind one of the giant oak trees on the property for privacy, and called her now-husband to tell him, “we’re moving to Oregon.”

We’re standing at the top of the vineyard as she recounts the story. “This place has something to say,” she tells us. We’re looking into vines impossibly small for their age, but the canopy across the original sections is consistent and healthy. Harrison is explaining her attachment to the place in her characteristic humility. “I don’t know that I’ll be the person to best capture this place in the long run, but I had to work with it given the chance. I wanted to be part of it.”

Maggie Harrison, Jamie Goode, and Rachel walking the slopes of Antica TerraMaggie, Jamie, and Rachel walking the slopes of Antica Terra, July 2014

Harrison’s work with Antica Terra has helped deepen vine health too, thus bringing greater overall balance to the vineyard. While the original owners put in ample work establishing and cultivating the site, by 2006 there were still some sections they’d not been able to bring into total balance.

Standing near the top of Antica Terra, Harrison would look out over the top of the vines and see stress bands running the vineyard, waves of yellow leaves blowing through the canopy. The difficult sections did not seem to correlate with any particular element of planting — it wasn’t consistent to clonal type, vine age, or training method. No one knew for sure what was happening.

Harrison took an unconventional approach to treating the stressed portions of the vineyard initially. “It was like standing there with a sick kid. I needed to do something. So, I would walk the rows and put a teaspoon of molasses at the base of each vine.” Harrison explains. At Sine Qua Non, Harrison and Krankl collaborated for years with Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher. “Kracher told me molasses had the most available nutrients for the vines, so I tried it. I don’t know that it helped, but it was something I could do.”

The approach, while surprising, illustrates Harrison’s ideas of intention. Whether the molasses itself assisted the vines or not remains unclear, but the time walking and tending the vines one-by-one everyday gave Harrison insight into the site.

Antica Terra at Sunsetview from the top of the hill at Antica Terra, July 2014

As Harrison walked the vineyard she tracked the range of the stressed sections, and apparent soil changes. Eventually she placed flags in what turned out to be 38 spots where the team would later attempt to dig soil pits. Bringing in the backhoe gave insight. Topsoil proved less than 18″ in most spots, with vine roots clutched together in a ball above bedrock. Stress bands showed through those sections with shallow roots anytime temperatures rose too high. The roots had no way to find their water.

Though the decision was difficult — Harrison’s preference is to leave soils largely as found other than planting — they chose to rip ground down the middle of each row to a depth of 5 and a half feet. “It was horrible at first.” She admits. In ripping the ground to gain greater long term access for the roots, the roots that were in place were cut. “After a while though we started to recoup the vineyard.”

At the same time, the Antica Terra team chose to go organic. The initial change from conventional to organic farming is not easy. Vineyards tend to hyper-react initially to the change, over-growing weeds or fungus, taking a year or two to adjust depending on site.

Harrison’s view of going organic parallels the response to shallow soils in the vineyard, it’s a philosophy tempered with utility. “I believe in making a choice, saying, here is my intention. At the same time, I reserve the right to do whatever needs to happen to preserve the vineyard.” She explains. “So, in 2006, I said, we are going to go organic, unless I am going to lose the entire vineyard. Then, we’ll need to talk.” Though it was hard at first, the gamble worked. By 2007, the team was successfully farming organic.

Antica Terra Pinot NoirMaggie Harrison showing a Pinot Noir cluster in Antica Terra, July 2014

The promise of concentration and complexity spotted by the original owners of the site, proved true. The vines from Antica Terra produce few clusters, all of them small, with lots of hens and chicks throughout. The clusters tend to predominately hold berries without seeds, evidence of the challenged conditions growing in bedrock. The 2014 vintage, Harrison explains, offers the highest fruit production she’s seen from the site since 2006, though walking the rows with her, it’s clear the cluster count is still low compared to lower elevation plantings.

The reduced seed count offers an advantage in the cellar for Antica Terra wines. Seed tannins tend to be harsher than skin tannins. With fewer seeds present per cluster (and these clusters that often hold thicker skins) Antica Terra Pinot can expect still ample tannin presence, but worry less about tannin bitterness.

In the cellar of Antica Terrain the cellar of Antica Terra, July 2014

Beginning in 2009, Harrison bottled some of the Antica Terra vineyard fruit on its own. Back in the cellar, we’re tasting from the 2011 Antikythera, Antica Terra’s Estate Vineyard Pinot noir. It shows the dark concentrated elements of the vineyard cupped with multi-colored fruit edges, and a light dust patina. Though the wine is not lacking in fruit, fruit doesn’t seem to be the point. Instead, it’s a wine of elegant strength, with a core of precision and a lifting, lifting long finish.

***

For Jamie Goode’s write-up on the Antikythera: http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/oregon/the-lovely-antikythera-pinot-noir-2011-antica-terra

***

I’ll be writing more about Antica Terra wines in a future post (I’m kind of crazy for the 2012 Aurata Chardonnay — and listening to Maggie’s views on Chardonnay proves interesting).

***

Thank you to Maggie Harrison.

Thank you to Jamie Goode.

Thank you to Michelle Kaufmann.

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.

***

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

***

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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This write-up appears as a follow-up to a previous article on Santa Barbara County wine growing.

Santa Barbara Wine Country

For more information on over-arching growing conditions for the region, such as climate and weather patterns, please see that article, which appears here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/05/20/understanding-santa-barbara-county-wine/

Santa Maria Valley

Driving South through California on Highway 101 the sand dunes begin to appear as the road comes closer to the ocean. By San Luis Obispo (SLO) county (home to Paso Robles, San Simeon and its famed Hearst Castle, as well as Morro Bay) ocean succulents, and cypress dot the roadway, growing from sandy loam of the seascape. The highway hugs ocean through Pismo Beach, then cuts inland again lifting over a slight climb in elevation, through the drop on the other side. You’ve arrived in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Maria Valley proves the second oldest appellation in California, after Napa Valley, and includes some of the oldest contemporary vineyards in Santa Barbara County (SBC), as well as some of the most distinctive Chardonnay plantings in the state. However, the area has received historically less attention for wine than its Southern siblings such as the Sta Rita Hills.

The Agricultural Richness of Santa Maria Valley

The Northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County, the land formation as well as the appellation of Santa Maria Valley include sections of San Luis Obispo county. From the North, it is the San Rafael Mountains that circumscribes the Valley floor, and the intersection of the Santa Maria River with the water flowing through North Canyon from Twitchell Reservoir that marks the SLO-SBC border. Bien Nacido Vineyards, for example, sits just inside the North-western edge of SBC while its strawberry fields on the flats sit just inside the South-eastern rest of SLO.

Santa Maria Valley proves one of the most agriculturally diverse, and active regions of North America hosting a range of berries, avocado, spinach, beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and even a cactus nursery. With avocado entering the region in the 1870s, this section of California quickly became the primary supply for North America. It still hosts (one of) the largest groves in North America.

Grape growing through the region reaches back to the 1830s, with more contemporary vineyards being established beginning in the 1960s, many of those early own root vines still giving fruit. As a result of such agricultural diversity, the area includes one of the more residential farming communities in the country, with farm workers able to remain year round as they rotate between crops.

Local cattle ranching and indigenous beans find focus through the tradition of Santa Maria BBQ. It appropriately claims the title of Best BBQ in the West, offering a local-oak fired tri-tip that proves more spice-rubbed than sauced, coupled with a side of pinquinto beans. The beans stand as a reminder of the relevance of land formations in agricultural development. The small pink morsels originate from and grow only within this area of the Central Coast.

Winegrowing Santa Maria Valley

SMV map

click on image to enlarge

Santa Maria Valley AVA offers the only valley in North or South America with unhindered ocean influence. No hillside formations rise within the center line of the appellation to shade or shield portions of the valley floor. The mouth of the valley opens to the Pacific, with the West-East narrowing funnel of the region cut by the San Rafael Mountains to the North, and the Solomon Hills to the South squeezing together near Sisquoc. The center of the valley is defined by the open pull of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc river bench.

The shape of the valley generates a clockwork regularity of fog at night through morning, then wind by afternoon. It is the wind that balances disease pressure from the ocean humidity. Open valley floor also means temperatures average one Fahrenheit degree warmer per mile driven East. Some slight nooks along the river bench, or canyon formation along the Northern mountain and Southern hills offer variation.

Considering Soils

Soil variation within the valley can broadly be cut into four types. Along the Northern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River colluvial soils cover slope sides giving rocky freshness to grapes grown throughout. Moving towards riverside, soils become unconsolidated as mixed alluvial soils appear from old wash off ancient mountain rains.

Bien Nacido, for example, grows vines from hilltop, through slope-side, and into the rolling flats approaching Santa Maria Mesa Road. The absolute flats they reserve for other crops. Walking the midslope vineyards of Bien Nacido offers a mix of rocky soils rolling into Elder Series, and then finally sandy loam near the bottom. Bien Nacido, and Cambria (growing directly beside Bien Nacido to the East) both contain a mix of colluvial and Elder Series soils, with some dolomitic limestone appearing near the tops of slopes, and shale in mid-slopes further East in the Valley. By riverside, soils are entirely unconsolidated giving a mix of some Elder series, and some sandy loam.

Across the street from Bien Nacido, the soils change, becoming unconsolidated alluvial soils. Rancho Viñedo grows in entirely unconsolidated soils, Pleasanton Clay Loam. In broader context these sorts of unconsolidated soils are often treated critically when it comes to grape growing. After rains soils like Pleasanton Clay Loam act like cement, as the soils do not absorb water easily crops grown in such ground tend to flood. However, in a region where rain is rare, thanks to the rain shadow effect of the San Rafael Mountains, such concerns become almost irrelevant. The rare cases when flooding does occur in the region come from ocean storms hitting so hard and fast the question of soil has little to do with the result. Flooding would have happened anyway.

On the Southern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River soils dramatically change. The Western portion of the appellation rises from ancient sand dunes, once part of the sea floor. Sections of the valley, then are almost pure sand mixed through in areas with silt from mountain erosion. The South-western quadrant of SMV moves from almost pure sand, into sandy loam as you travel North-east, or silty loam as you move into the Solomon Hills.

Sections of the newer Presqu’ile Vineyard, for example, appear as incredibly sandy giving a sense of suave tannin to red wines. By the time you reach the Dierberg planting a touch closer to the river, however, it has become more sandy loam. On the plateau of the Solomon Hills North of Cat Canyon, overlooking the valley, Ontiveros Ranch grows in unconsolidated silty soils.

Moving East along the Southern side of the river, the valley squeezes closer to the river bench, and the ground changes to predominately mixed cobbles and rocky loam. Riverbench Vineyard, for example, includes blocks on rocky clay loam, approaching Foxen Canyon, or more rocky plantings approaching the riverside.

While the North-eastern section of Santa Maria Valley contains a predominance of colluvial soils and Elder Series from the Mountains, sandy soils appear mixed throughout Santa Maria Valley with some sections of these vineyards including sandy loam.

Though the valley’s soils can be described through four major types, and the region’s climate has an overall sense of regularity, throughout the appellation there are subtler distinctions within sites that must be expected. As examples, thanks to the ocean influence salinity plays unexpected while sometimes significant role in vine vigor. Slight rolling character in what might seem an otherwise flat vineyard site can create slight air pools that change growing temperatures for vines in those sections. Individual vineyards, then, have significant internal variation.

Establishing Santa Maria Valley Wines

Modern day viticulture appeared in Santa Maria Valley in 1964, with the planting established by Uriel Nielsen in what is now the Byron Winery and Vineyard facility. The area benefits from the cool climate of SMV while hosting the slightly warmer day time temperatures that give darker red fruit in comparison to plantings on the Western side of the Valley.

In 1972, Louis Lucas and Dale Hampton would establish what would become the famous Tepusquet Vineyard, simultaneously pronouncing the great viticultural promise of the region shown through the cool climate, the ocean influence, and the water availability even in desert conditions. The Tepusquet Vineyard now stands in the Cambria Winery and Vineyard facility at the Northern side of the Sisquoc River.

Soon on the heels of the Nielsen and Tepusquet plantings, in 1973 the Miller brothers would begin one of the most influential vineyards of the valley, Bien Nacido. The site would establish itself as what was at the time the largest certified nursery-service-plus-vineyard in the state. By maintaining soil testing on a regular basis and ensuring the health of the vineyard through FPMS certification, Bien Nacido could not only generating crop for area winemakers, but also vine material for future regional vineyards.

These three early vineyards served as what were essentially viticultural test plots surveying what grape varieties, clonal types, and rootstocks could prosper in the region. Figures such as RIchard Sanford, while known more for his original plantings in Sta Rita Hills, also played key roles in helping to identify the appropriateness for Pinot Noir in the region, the valley’s signature variety.

Other vineyards, such as SIerra Madre originally planted in 1971, would prove influential for their later replants. Santa Barbara County includes a long history of influence on the more well-known Napa and Sonoma counties. Well established winemakers known for their North Coast wines utilized grapes grown in SBC to blend and bring added dimension to their North Coast wines. Off paper, then, SBC’s grape quality has been long established.

In the 1990s, however, that reputation was backed up by a series of purchases from big name wineries such as Robert Mondavi, and Jackson Family. In the 1990s, Robert Mondavi took interest in the Sierra Madre site, and decided to use portions to graft newer Pinot and Chardonnay clones in order to study their viability. The unique quality of the site became inspirational force for a range of winemakers both within the region and without. Mondavi’s clonal changes predominately remain within Sierra Madre, some of which offer fruit unlike that seen anywhere else in the state.

Newer vineyards such as Solomon Hills, or Dierberg both planted in the 1990s, and Presqu’ile in the 2000s, expand insight on ripening in SMV. Set near or on the Western boundary of the appellation, each receives cold air, and afternoon ocean wind bringing ultra cool climate focus to their fruit development.

Pinot Noir of Santa Maria Valley

Pinot Noir proves Santa Maria Valley’s signature grape. The valley’s signature marks its Pinot with red fruit character integrated through with the classic blend of Chinese Five Spice and tons of juicy length. The subtle complexity of this flavor study, coupled with the region’s mineral tension, and juiciness give it a profile distinctive from its Pinot Noir neighbors to the North and South.

Within the appellation, soil and temperature changes give fine-tuned distinctions to wines grown from different vineyards. Fruit from the South-western quadrant, for example, consistently carries the suave tannin of sandy soils, and a brighter red profile than the wines of the warmer North-eastern section. The sandy soils have also shown the ability to manage a high portion of whole cluster during fermentation to good effect.

With older vineyards such as Bien Nacido still showcasing own-root original plantings of Pinot Noir, now inter-planted with comparatively younger grafted vines of the same vine material, SMV also offers unique opportunity for winemakers to experiment with fruit from older and younger vines grown side by side. At Byron, sections of the original clonal and rootstock experiment planting are maintained allowing winemakers there the opportunity over decades to separately vinify fruit by clone-to-rootstock combination.

The best Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley has also proven its ability to age well. The subtlety of the valley offers its Pinots what is an almost brooding even while red fruit character, that turns outward again as it ages giving slightly older examples a beautifully surprising energy and lift.

Chardonnay of Santa Maria Valley

While Pinot stands as Santa Maria Valley’s best known variety, some of the most distinctive Chardonnays of California herald from the region. Unique clonal material grows through SMV offering distinctive flavor profiles from vineyards such as Sierra Madre.

The underlying Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay character shows up as Meyer lemon curd on toasted croissant with a long ocean crunch finish. Depending on area of the valley you can imagine that profile dialing down towards more mineral at the Western-reaches, or up towards riper in areas like Cambria. The ocean influence often gives a distinctively pleasing saline crunch or slurry to the white wines, in some of the cooler and sandier vineyard sites it verges into olive.

The mineral presence plus ample juiciness of the fruit give a lot of room for successful oak integration, and/or more reductive character. The two techniques give breadth and length of presence to the juiciness of the region’s fruit without having to dominate its flavor.

Other Varieties of Santa Maria Valley

Rhone varieties appear in small but successful portion through Santa Maria Valley. Most famously, Syrah has done well through the Northern-middle portions of the appellation with producers like Qupe bringing attention to the quality possible from the grape grown in the valley.

At the furthest Eastern side of SMV, Rancho Sisquoc grows a range of grape types successfully producing the range of Bordeaux varieties in warmer pockets near the close of the SMV funnel, as well as unexpected successes such as Riesling and Sylvaner.

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Heritage Wines of California at Pebble Beach Food and Wine

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

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

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

The Value of Older Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage Wines of California

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

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

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

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

The Wines of the Panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Sarah Logan.

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

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This interview originally appeared here April 1, 2013. Because of recent events it seemed appropriate to repost it today.

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Touring the Vineyards of Chateau La Barre

for Annemarie, and Jeremy

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climate meter at Chateau La Barre Vineyards

It’s warm when I arrive for the visit of Chateau La Barre. The weather is a relief for the region after fog and cold for several weeks. The area is known for its continental climate but can also get hit with bouts of severe chill due to the mountain influence from the North. Though the Vosges range is in the distance, it still weighs influence on the vines.

My visit to the winery is unusual, as the Chateau owner is known now for his privacy. He’s resistant to interviews but offered to meet me finally in recognition of his family winery’s up coming tricentennial. Owner and vigneron, Jean-Luc Picard, treats his vines now as an homage to his ancestors.

His invitation to meet arrived with a short but direct explanation: We’re not going to talk about his previous career. It’s the Chateau we’re there to discuss, and, though he’d rather avoid interviews, he respects the work of his family and wishes to celebrate their accomplishments. Prior to retiring to his homeland of France, Picard had had a distinguished career as a fleet Captain, but now he sees that recognition as a distraction from the work he’s trying to do for the region.

Meeting the Picards

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inspecting the vines with Jean-Luc Picard

Before I have the chance to sit, Picard ushers me out to the vineyard. It’s the vines he wants to show me. The Estate’s recent developments are exciting, thanks in part to Picard’s archaeological and historical interests as well.

Winemaking hadn’t been part of Picard’s imagined retirement. He’d grown up in the vineyards with his father Maurice teaching him vine maintenance but Picard’s passions took him away from home. With his older brother Robert devoting himself to oenology, Picard felt free to follow the decision of a different path. The traditions of the Picard estate would rest in his brother’s family.

Then, almost three decades ago tragedy struck when a winery fire killed both Picard’s brother, and nephew, Réne. The loss was devastating, and the future of Chateau La Barre seemed uncertain. Robert’s widow, Marie, was able to keep the winery operating successfully until a little less than 10 years ago when she fell ill. Around the same time Picard was first considering the possibility of retirement. With the news of Marie’s illness, and clear counsel from his friend, Guinan, Picard decided to take some time in France. Then the visit led to an unexpected discovery.

We’re standing in front of a special section of vineyard Picard wants to show me. What’s unique is that the grapes are entirely pale and green skinned, an ancient variety known as Savagnin. The region has been dominated by red wine production for centuries, more recently practicing in traditional techniques of wild yeast fermentations, and aging in neutral oak barrels. As Picard explains, the style is one resembling one of the oldest winemaking styles in France, with the most delicate of grapes, Pinot Noir.

Generations ago Chateau La Barre was instrumental in helping to restore the style, once called Burgundy, through the work of Picard’s great grandfather, Acel. Though the approach was met with resistance initially, ultimately, the family was lauded for their efforts to return to less interventionist winemaking based on the grape types that grew best on the land, requiring less use of fluidized treatments, and more reliance on the vines own unique ecosystem.

Prior to Acel Picard’s efforts, it was more common for wine to be made with the use of replicated nutrient intervention. Acel’s view, however, was that such an approach created less palatable, and less interesting wine. So he scoured the historical records for evidence of older techniques. In doing so, he found ancient texts left from devotees of an ancient religion known as Christianity in which it was believed that God spoke to them through the vines. Though Acel refused the more mystical aspects of the religious views, he found the vineyard practices of the texts insightful, and adopted the technique of tending and selecting individual vines, followed by simple winemaking. Chateau La Barre’s wines soon became known for their earthy mouth-watering complexity.

Picard’s own work builds on the efforts of his great grandfather to return to older techniques but in researching archaeological sites of the region, as well as ancient texts, Picard discovered a subtle mistake in Acel’s efforts. While Acel worked to restore red winemaking traditions known to Haute-Saône, he actually restored techniques native to an area of France slightly afield from the region. La Barre, it turns out, does not rest within the old boundaries of the ancient wine region of Burgundy, but instead a political shire of the same name. Picard himself does not believe this historical reality lessens the importance of Acel’s efforts, it just changes their tone slightly, but he does want to see what can be done to explore the winemaking traditions that really were found closer to La Barre centuries ago.

Enter Vin Jaune and the Ancient Varieties

Jean-Luc Picard standing in his Eline Vineyard

Through archaeological work Picard preformed a sort of miracle. He was able to locate still intact seeds from ancient vine specimens known once to have covered this region of France, Savagnin, as well as seeds for the red variety that had once covered the wine region of Burgundy, Pinot Noir.

Before the destructive effectiveness of the technology was properly understood, Thalaron radiation was tested as a soil cleaning technique during the last agricultural age. The bio-effects were irrecoverable with vineyards throughout the Vosges zone being destroyed and then unplantable for a generation. As a result, a collection of indigenous grape varieties were believed to be lost, including Savagnin, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Once the soil recovered well enough to replant large interests in inter-global varieties took over and any attempts to recover the original grapes seemed over.

During the Restoration period scientists attempted to re-engineer Savagnin as well as other ancient varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but Savagnin proved too susceptible to geraniol instability to engineer. When funding for the project was cut, efforts to restore Chardonnay were deemed the least advantageous and ultimately only Pinot Noir vines were genetically manufactured.

Through intensive research Picard was able to find a cave in the Vosges range containing ancient wooden vessels that proved to have a few small seeds inside. Through similar research he also located similar containers in the area of Gevrey-Chambertin within which he located Pinot Noir. Chardonnay and Cabernet remain extinct.

With the seeds Picard was then able to develop new plantings of both Savagnin and Pinot Noir, and restart sections of his vineyard with them. It is the area with these plantings he has named Eline. It is this he wants me to see.

Thanks to Picard’s efforts we now know there is significant difference in the flavor and aging potential of wines made from the engineered Pinot Noir versus the naturally grown variety. Picard has also discovered evidence from old electronic documents known as The Feiring Line: The Real Wine Newsletter of unique vinification techniques known as vin Jaune that were once used for the grape Savagnin. Through further study he has already discovered the steps to make vin Jaune and is five years into the aging of his first vintage.

I ask if we can taste his Savagnin but he explains it has only been under veil for a little over five years, and needs at least another year before he’s willing to show it. The veil, he explains, is how vin Jaune is made. It’s a film of yeast that covers the surface of the wine and helps it age slowly. When the wine is done it will be named Ressick, he tells me, for a planet that aged too fast.

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Thank you to Jean-Luc Picard for giving so much of his time.

Thank you to Annemarie for suggesting the interview.

Thank you to Jeremy Parzen for having the background to hopefully get it.

Happy April 1, Everybody!

Copyright 2013 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/

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Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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