I spent over a month deep in harvest this year here on the West Coast of the United States.
First, I did a journalistic deep dive following the team led by Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman in Lompoc for nine days through harvest getting first hand insight into the winemaking that goes into their three labels – Domaine de la Cote, Sandhi, and Evening Land – and a little bit of Piedrasassi and Combe as well. It was an incredible opportunity to truly see how they make their wines, shadowing the team in every stage of harvest from calling picks all the way through barreling down after fermentations are complete. The first seven days were spent with their team in their winery in Lompoc processing fruit from Sta Rita Hills. Then for two days Sashi and I went to the southern part of Willamette Valley so I could shadow the team there working with fruit from the Seven Springs Vineyard for their Evening Land project. The nine days were non-stop busy with full harvest hours.
After checking out the Seven Springs project, we flew back to Santa Barbara County and I drove from Lompoc to the northern part of Willamette Valley to work as an intern at the Carlton Winemakers’ Studio. More on that later.
I’ll be writing over the next months in a few different ways about my time with Sashi and Raj, but for now, here’s a look back at the Instagram collection from harvest with them and their team to give you a better sense of what harvest looked like. Integral to their philosophy about wine and winemaking is tasting wines from around the world that connect to the wine type or variety they are making, as well as enjoying wines that they admire, so there are also photos of some of those wines we tasted along the way.
It’s hard to find anything on this earth more perfect than fruit farmed by Ruben Solorzano. Here Mt Eden selection (taken directly from the site itself) planted in 1990 own rooted at high elevation in the Mt Carmel Vineyard of Sta Rita Hills. Utterly gorgeous, palm-sized clusters. A total honor to help sort this fruit. #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @sandhiwines @ruben_solorzano_ruelas_
One of the most distinctive Pinots in California: Siren’s Call 2014 planted at 720 ft elevation on the top of a strongly wind blown hill close to the Pacific on the western edge of the Sta Rita Hills. The site hosts own rooted vines planted in decomposed Quartz with a massale selection from Calera, Swan + Mt Eden. Only 14.5 cases made. Savory, energizing and delicate. #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @domainedelacote
After tasting tanks on fermenting and just finished 2016 wines from the three main Domaine de la Côte vineyards, and then barrel tasting the same site assemblages from 2015, finally bottle tasting the 2014s. Memorious. Bloom’s Field. La Côte. Pretty cool to see the commonality and progression. #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @domainedelacote
Topping barrels of 2016 Bloom’s Field. (It is unbelievably satisfying to fill and top barrels, a complete, relatively finite project: an experience I haven’t had in over 15 years since before I entered the life of an academic philosopher. Pretty striking how comforting it is to do straightforward tasks with limits. And that of course gives me all sorts of fresh existential insight and so philosophical life continues anyway.) #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @domainedelacote
View from the top of Siren’s Call at 700 ft elevation in the far western edge of Sta Rita Hills. The site is so wind exposed it was a struggle to stay still enough to take the photo. Growing in decomposed diatomaceous earth and decomposed Quartz, it produces some of the most distinctive Pinot in California, and also some of the rarest. The wind means ultra low yields. The site was harvested and I got to help hand de-stem it Monday (you know, when it was still August.) #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @domainedelacote
And what tender magic is this that flutters my heart even as it ignites my curiosity? Behold: miniature clusters on vines so small they’re almost like bonsai, grown from seeds of Pinot noir. Each plant appears a little different with fruit of various colors – red, white and gris – and all with berries the size of cultivated pearls or even tapioca. 1 acre of 4000 vines, each grown from a different seed, and planted around 275 ft elevation on the western side of Memorious vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills. This is the first year the Domaine de la Côte team has harvested fruit from these vines planted in 2008. Yield? A good size bucket. #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @domainedelacote
This guy right here, Mr John Faulkner? Let’s rename him Patience. Four hours later he’s basically finished consolidation of Chardonnay barrels and answered my literally four-hours worth of questions about each of the winemaking steps from harvest through bottling on both Pinot noir and Chardonnay for Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi. Awesome download session. Now my brain is tired. Thank you for sharing so much time, John! #staritahills #santabarbaracountywine @domainedelacote @sandhiwines
How to keep your perspective real, very, very real? Blind taste six 2011 all whole cluster Syrah (except one) all Northern Rhone (except one) with Raj Parr, Sashi Moorman et al AND announce your assessments on each as you go. Praise God for humility, mentors and jovial fun all mixed together. @sashimoorman @rajatparr
There are clear reasons someone like Raj Parr has risen to such prominence and regard in the world of wine. The wines he has tasted repeatedly at different ages and stages in his life is one. His tasting experience revolves around the finest, rarest and oldest classical wines of the world. The memory he has for what truly seems like any wine he tastes is another. He can readily recount what wine he was drinking in what year and talk easily about how it tastes that time versus another time when he drank it again. The incisive clarity with which he combines these assets of tasting history and memory for it though ultimately deserves the regard he’s gained. It’s a level of insight few have. Last night he let me read through his November 1998 notebook written during his first trip to Burgundy while working as a sommelier at Rubicon as the assistant to Larry Stone. In the back were also loose pages of other wines tasted in the same time period. There I found this tasting note for the 1865 Lafite, a wine he has enjoyed again many times since, and continues to view as one of the best wines he has had in his life. Just his description here of the wine and his response to it captures for me so much about how Raj views wine, what he values in it, what he loves and that coupled with following the Domaine de la Côte crew this week has shined a light into what this Pinot project is about. The conversations with Raj, Sashi and John have been invaluable and their kindness in letting me do grunt work and be part of everything. It’s been a huge honor to have this time and I am super grateful for being given these glimpses, like this notebook, of lives lived in pursuit of beauty, taste, service and excellence. @rajatparr @sashimoorman @domainedelacote
Oregon juice. Fresh pressed juice from Willamette Valley Chardonnay comes in a completely different color than juice from Sta Rita Hills. Willamette’s presses bright orange to SRH’s pale green. By the time they go to bottle the wine turns out all the same color. #willamettevalley @evening_land @wvwines #santabarbaracountywine @sandhiwines @santabarbarawinecountry
Field note observations walking Seven Springs Vineyard compared to southwestern Sta Rita Hills: cluster and berry size are both 1 1/2 to 2 times the size here in Eola Amity as in Sta Rita Hills. Cane size and growth also significantly larger here as are the pedicel of the clusters. Skins thicker here. So more vigor in soils here. Good weather during bloom and fruit set as shown in clusters here this year from later bloom and set timing here in Willamette versus consistently early in Sta Rita Hills. #willamettevalley @sashimoorman @evening_land #staritahills @domainedelacote @sandhiwines
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