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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.

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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.

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

Skype Drinking with Jameson Fink

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

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

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

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Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink, Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

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

The Washington Wines

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

Ferry to Whidbey Island Winery

ferry ride to Whidbey Island Winery, photo by Jameson Fink

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

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

Whidbey Island Vineyards

Whidbey Island Vineyards

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

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

The California Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

***

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

 

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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Tasting Nagy Wines with Clarissa Nagy

Nagy Portfolio

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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Tasting Cowan Cellars

Over lunch a couple weeks ago I was able to taste through the current portfolio of Cowan Cellars’ wines with Jim Cowan, and his wife Diane Arthur. The couple spend harvest and Fall in Sonoma, then travel East in winter to be closer to family.

Jim Cowan’s route to winemaking began circuitously via online friendships with wine lovers. Then in 2006, in the midst of a visit in Sonoma, Cowan discovered Steve Edmunds needed help making wine at Edmunds St John winery and found himself working the cellar alongside an icon of California wine. The experience helped Cowan realize he could begin making his own wine. With surprise connections to vineyards and fruit along the way, and help from friends in finding harvest housing, Jim and Diane credit synchronicity and their friendships for finding their way into wine.

Following are notes via drawing and text on the current portfolio.

Cowan Cellars 2013 Portfolioclick on illustration to enlarge

Cowan Cellars portfolio of wines carries crisp, clean fruit with floral under currents expressed in taut structural focus. Where the saigneé of Pinot Noir softens the mouth feel, it focuses the fresh herbal lift, and keeps the juicy length. It’s a crisp, fun, tasty focus for rosé. As the Sauvignon Blanc dances in layers of tropical forest, white grapefruit with citrus blossom, and faint back hints of crisp quince without sweetness, it spins up the juicy tension, giving a clean, lean focus white.

The two skin contact wines — a Ribolla Gialla from Russian River Valley’s Tanya Vineyard, and a Sauvignon Blanc named Isa, heralding from Lake County fruit — are both beautifully balanced giving the textural interest and lengthening sapidity that can come with macerated ferments, while lightening the touch enough to make the style approachable and pleasing. The flavors and aromatics in both lend themselves to savory Fall foods, and invite Thanksgiving considerations (especially on the Isa).

Turning to the reds, the Pinot Noir takes a red currant herbal element alongside notes of feral forest floor and hints of bay leaf to give a clean wine with nice tension. The two Syrah vintages we tasted generate the most excitement in me. I’m a sucker for a good Syrah, and these give genuine vintage contrast not only arising from age differences that show in young Syrah. The 2010 is nicely open and ready to drink now with blue violet notes throughout, a pleasing spritz of feral musk, and the deepening aspects of cooler Syrah tension — tobacco, touches of tar, and a chocolate finish. The 2011 comes in tighter right now, opening with air in the glass to dark fruit way in the finish after more lifted aspects of tobacco flower, jalapeno spice hints, cocoa powder and red dust accents. I’m digging the length.

Each of these wines were tasted alongside food progressing through stages of a meal. These wines were a pleasure to enjoy with food.

***

Thank you to Jim and Diane.

Cowan Cellars wines are available here: http://cowancellars.com/wines/

To read more on Jim Cowan’s own account of how Cowan Cellars got started: http://blogs.gangofpour.com/cowan-cellars-beginnings

More on Jim and Diane in a future post.

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

1

Tasting Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Bien Nacido Syrah

Randall Grahm and his Bonny Doon Vineyards are known for their help in instigating efforts to insert Syrah in the California psyche. The grape had been planted in the state in small quantities in the 1800s (with some of those old vines still growing in Mendocino), but was left largely ignored and unrooted until well into the 1980s. Grahm helped carry the banner for Rhone varieties along with a few other early founders. That said, still into the 1980s there was not much happening in California for Syrah, and to this day (as much as some of us love it), it’s still a rather underplanted grape when compared to the contemporary giants of Cabernet and Chardonnay–the two varieties that dominate vineyards in the Western state. Today, Grahm makes several vineyard designate Syrahs from different regions of California, one of my favorites of which is the Bien Nacido.

Bien Nacido is a vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley relied upon by some of the country’s top winemakers including (to name only a few) Manfred Krenkel, Maggie Harrison, Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenen and others. Bien Nacido was established in 1973 by the Miller family, and to this day includes some of the original, own-rooted vines, a wealth of grape varieties, avocado trees, bio-dynamic practices, and a beautiful Santa Barbara County landscape.

This year, 2013, marks Bien Nacido’s 40th anniversary. The official commemorative event was held in August, with the entire year of 2013 standing out as recognition of two generation’s work by the Millers. With that in mind, Randall Grahm sent me a 5 vintage vertical of his Bien Nacido Vineyard X-Block Syrah to taste, and celebrate the site.

Congratulations to Bien Nacido, and the Miller family on your anniversary! Keep up the good work!

Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Bien Nacido, X-Block Syrah Vertical

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Syrah Vertical

click on image to enlarge

Bonny Doon’s Bien Nacido Vineyard’s Syrah comes from their X-Block, a portion of the vineyard biodynamically farmed, and split annually by Bob Lindquist of Qupe, and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards.

Though Grahm has been working with the X-Block Syrah since the mid-1980s, it was not until 2005 that he began bottling a vineyard designate for Bien Nacido, though there were a few earlier small bottlings as well. The bulk of the Bien Nacido fruit Grahm blends into his Le Cigare Volant, and his Syrah “Le Pousseur.” As Grahm explains, the wine from the X Block has gotten better as both he and the vineyard have gotten to know the fruit. He is quite excited about how the 2012 is showing, and says he’s happy so far with the 2013 as well.

The site offers a balance of cool climate Syrah structural characteristics with a bit more lush flavors. Bonny Doon’s rendition gives a silky mouthfeel, and nice balance on drying grip tannins to long juiciness, with the proportion shifting by vintage. The site consistently offers variations of the classic Syrah smoked meat note, as well as the more floral side of white pepper.

As Grahm describes, the X Block also highlights the Miller family’s, and the Bien Nacido team’s willingness to tend closely to the winemaker’s needs. They have worked with Grahm to modulate issues of vigor and ripeness variation, as well as develop biodynamic practices for the section. “The current regime is very easy to work with and really a pleasure.  They have been open to the idea of biodynamic farming, and really make it their business to give the customer precisely what he/she wants.”

***

Thank you to Randall Grahm.

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Meeting Idlewild Wines

Idlewild Wines 2012 Collection

click on image to enlarge

With inspiration of Piemontese, husband and wife team Sam and Jessica Boone Bilbro launched Idlewild Wines with the 2012 vintage.

As they describe it, Sam and Jessica are both fans of texture and acidity. What is found in their wines is a marriage of delicacy and strength. As a portfolio, the 2012 wines express pretty floral aromatics with a driver of acidity and persistent tannin. Sam credits Jessica’s winemaking with a talent for holding onto delicacy, while Jessica points out the ways Sam pushes her to take her approach to the edge of what she’s used to.

An example can be seen in their Cortese (my favorite of these 2012 wines), an intensely uncommon grape for California vineyards. After locating the fruit, the couple decided to take a couple tons and just see how it developed. Wanting to make something more than the typical Cortese, Sam researched the grape’s treatment in Piedmont. Eventually, he located an obscure Italian text describing three winemakers using skin contact techniques in their approach, something Jessica hadn’t used in the same way on whites. They split the fruit into two lots, putting one on skins for 10 days, and the other straight to press. The straight to press lot brought acidity and drive, a linear presentation to the fruit, while the skin contact added texture and depth with ripe, almost musky flavors.

Sam and Emilia

Sam and Emilia checking fruit in Foxhill Vineyard, Mendocino, August 2013

Sam and I travel to the Mendocino, and Fox Hill Vineyard to walk through the fruit. In the Cortese parcel, he explains the difference in sun exposure between bunches. One side of the row receives more consistent light creating riper, darker skinned clusters that go into the skin contact lot to express the walnut and apricot flavors given by the sun. On the more shaded side, greener clusters go right to press for incredible juiciness. The blending of these two lots creates a showcase of Jessica’s expression of delicacy with depth.

Asking them to describe what they see in their own wines, Sam responds. “The drive is acidity, or tannin in the case of the Nebbiolo, but texture gives interest and a little tension.” In this description the pair find the sort of relationship they seek to express through Idlewild, something that can even be seen in the label’s name–a sense of contrast, two distinct, even opposing, pieces working together.

Jessica and Hudson

Jessica and Hudson talking Idlewild, June 2013

This sense of contrast with harmony can be seen in Jessica’s account of her own winemaking as well. “As much of a control freak as I am, I’m not as a winemaker. I make wine very much by feel.” The control comes in at the beginning–making sure tanks or barrels are clean, that the press has happened properly, but the rest occurs through what Jessica describes as listening. “When I stop, and really learn to listen to gut and intuition, it’s more real. The wine feels right.”

***

Thank you to Sam and Jessica. Nice to spend time with you Emilia and Hudson!

These wines were tasted through multiple visits over the course of the summer and fall.

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

4

The California Syrah Tasting

Syrah Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

Last week two of us got together and tasted through recent vintage small production Syrah from all over the state of California. The wines were selected based primarily on tastings done in the last year, and also a few through recommendations.

The purpose of the tasting was to gather leaner style, quality examples of Syrah from throughout the state but all primarily from smaller production producers.

The wines were not tasted blind as part of the purpose was to gain insight from vintages and regional information. The wines were tasted initially in order organized first by vintage, and then by alcohol level. They were then re-tasted in varying arrangements over the course of the two days following.

While many of these wines showed quite well, the stand out of the tasting for me was the Wind Gap 2009 Sonoma Coast. Others that showed especially well are marked below with an * asterisk.

Following are notes on the wines arranged by region.

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

One of the unique features of Santa Barbara County is the incredibly varied climate terrain of the region allowing for differing growing capacities within close proximity. From genuine cool climate along the coast to higher temperatures with large diurnal shift a bit inland, the region offers to a grape like Syrah a full range of potential styles.

SANTA YNEZ

The Santa Ynez appellation stretches all the way from the cool climate starkness of the Sta Rita Hills, through the proposed limestone banded Ballard Canyon, and into the warmer heights of the Happy Canyon AVA. As a result, Santa Ynez AVA showcases the fullest arch of growing conditions for the county.

Focus in Sta Rita Hills has tended towards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, however some producers are also growing Syrah for a cool climate expression of the fruit. Unfortunately, no wines from this area were represented. However, Zotovich, and Samsara are two examples from the area worth checking out.

BALLARD CANYON

Ballard Canyon is not yet recognized as a distinct sub appellation of Santa Ynez but it offers characteristics that merit the designation. While Santa Ynez Valley carries the East-West valley orientation unique to the larger region, Ballard Canyon rests in a mountain formation that buds North from the mainline of the valley, producing distinct climate conditions from the rest of the valley–not quite as windy as Sta Rita Hills, not quite as hot as Happy Canyon. Ballard canyon is also a mix of intensely sandy sites and limestone bands not common to the rest of the area.

* Casa Dumetz, Tierra Alta Vineyard, 2011, 14.5%

The lighter style of Casa Dumetz’s 2011 Tierra Alta Syrah offers feral edges to a pretty floral focus. The wine is juicy and quaffable with just enough drying grip to accentuate its flavors. The core carries dark stone fruit, with purple exotic flowers and spice all touched by earthy accents and a hint of toast. This is a very juicy, wild while pretty example of Ballard Canyon Syrah.

* Goodland Wines, Ballard Canyon Red, 2011, 14.7%

The Goodland Wine’s Ballard Canyon Red comes in with big shoulders on a deft frame. This is a whole lot of wine without being heavy. It opens into intoxicating dark fruit refreshed by citrus zest accents and touches of cardamom, carrying leather and hints of diesel all on a body of smooth tannin with long line juiciness. The 2011 Ballard Canyon Red is primarily Syrah with just a touch of Grenache.

LOS ALAMOS

Not yet recognized as a certified AVA, Los Alamos stands circled by mountains North of the Santa Ynez Valley, and South of its sister Santa Maria Valley — the three broadly distinct zones of Santa Barbara County. Locals are working on achieving appellation approval for Los Alamos. The area is another of the cool zones of the county as the winds from Lompoc lower temperatures. It also hosts the most planted vineyard acreage of the county, many of them under smaller ownership, with bigger companies coming in more recently.

Martian Ranch Red Shift Syrah, 2011, 13.5%

Martian Ranch Red Shift brings together Syrah with just under 5% Viognier for a lifted opening to the wine. With very little SO2 addition, this wine also shows the slightly pert elements that can come from such an approach. The combination gives a bright red top note integrated into a light touch presentation of red fruit, with accents of cocoa powder and cracked pepper, and hints of greenery through a long juicy finish. This is a distinctive, fresh focus wine, with quirky edges of interest.

Fess Parker, Rodney’s Vineyard 2010, 14.9%

The Fess Parker Rodney’s Vineyard draws on all estate fruit. It comes in as the richest style of the tasting, showing perfumed aromatics with potpourri, baking spice, and a touch of smoke ash on a full polished frame. This is a well executed example of a ripe style wine, reaching towards an expression like Zinfandel.

Big Table Farm, White Hawk Vineyard, 2010, 15.1%

While housed in Willamette Valley, Big Table Farm sources their Syrah from the historic White Hawk Vineyard of Los Alamos. The 2010 carries a rich presentation of flavors giving blackberry with chocolate liquor poured on top rolling into cinnamon, touches of cocoa and some tobacco. Bramble comes through on the long finish. The tannin is velvety, picking up through the finish. This is a rich wine that relaxes as it opens.

SANTA MARIA

At the Northern part of Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria generates a unique flavor profile, tending to generate more fruit presentation than its siblings to the south. One of the older planted areas of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria also offers pockets of older and even own rooted vines.

Ojai Vineyard, Solomon Hills Vineyard, 2008, 14.6%

Ojai Vineyard‘s Solomon Hills Syrah offers a restrained expression of a ripe style, giving lots of flavor with a central focus. The juicy red fruit here couples with olive, savory herb, and Italian sausage showing smooth tannin, and a touch of heat on the palate, through a long finish.

FOOTHILLS

The Foothills wine country of California reaches from El Dorado County into Amador and Calaveras carrying mountain fruit and high country spice notes and lots of rocky minerality. The region has proven especially good for growing Rhone grapes, with wineries beginning to house themselves there in the region more recently.

EL DORADO

Northern most of the three counties mentioned above, El Dorado county has a high concentration of Rhone variety vineyards featuring both red and white grapes. The area hosts the large diurnal shift that ripens fruit while holding acidity.

* La Clarine Farm, Sumu Kaw Vineyard, 2011, 12.4%

The lightest style wine of the tasting, La Clarine Farm‘s Sumu Kaw Vineyard brings a refreshing, lifted approach to the grape giving one of the more distinct wines in the line up. The wine showcases a carbonic lift with refreshing accents of dill, touches of jalapeno, hints of mandarin and mixed olive, dancing with red fruit. The wine is strange, intriguing, and refreshing with wild edges and a long finish.

Skinner, El Dorado, 2009, 14.8%

The not yet released 2009 Skinner El Dorado is a well made, well balanced wine that wants time, and air to open. Though initially closed, by day 2 the wine had opened into an expression of subdued fruit flavored by pine forest, black tea, and spice with a long finish showing a healthy tannin, acid balance, and lift. Both of the Skinner Syrahs noted here are wines made for people that appreciate deft work with oak integration. I hope to taste this wine again with more age.

Skinner, Stoney Creek Vineyard, El Dorado, 2009, 14.9%

The Stoney Creek Vineyard gives a slightly more earthy focus to the Skinner profile. Not yet released, this wine will continue to evolve with age, and wants air to open and integrate. The wine offers subdued red cherry and red fruit with pine, and tobacco, giving hints of juniper and spice accents. The wine is well balanced, and well made with polished tannin, and balancing acidity. Again, this style is made for people that appreciate fine work with oak integration. I hope to taste this wine with more age.

LODI

A cooler zone of the central valley, Lodi offers the rich sun exposure of its valley location with cooling influence from the Delta breezes. The sandy-silty soils that dominate the Mokelumne River sub-AVA, combined with the temperature range of the area consistently generate present while softened tannin in its reds. The attention in Lodi tends away from Syrah with only a few producers bringing specific attention to the variety. Fields Family, noted below, and Kidder Family Wines are two examples of Syrah from Lodi to keep an eye on.

Fields Family Wine, Estate, 2011, 14.2%

The Fields Family 2011 Syrah carries sun kissed red fruit with red floral accents that open into saffron, light smoke notes, and distinctive spice hinting towards bbq. There is a hint of sweetness to this fruit, but not too much. This is a restrained expression of ripe flavored fruit that has smooth tannin and a long finish, with well integrated acid and alcohol.

NAPA VALLEY

Napa Valley has only a recent history with Syrah, as the valley’s history has been rooted in Petite Sirah, and more recently Cabernet. However, the valley offers a unique range of growing conditions for the fruit from hillside to valley floor locations. The wines focused on for this tasting come from the cooler zones in the Southern portions of the valley.

SOUTHWESTERN NAPA VALLEY

* Jolie-Laide, Phoenix Ranch, 2011, 13.8%

Jolie-Laide comes in with a strong focused palate on good structure and a nicely executed wine. The wine offers delicate aromatics with red-violet fruit focus and a grilled Italian sausage core accented by hints of smoke. There are nicely smooth tannins throughout with a pleasing juicy balance. The flavors here have traction on the palate coupled with good movement.

MT VEEDER

The cool climate mountain appellation of Mt Veeder is influenced by the cooling temperatures and breezes coming up from Carneros, and the rustic qualities of the sub-appellation’s soil and elevation.

Lagier-Meredith, Mt Veeder, 2009, 14.3%

The mountain fruit of Lagier-Meredith give the leanest profile of the Syrahs tasted, with a pretty nose showing refreshing canteloupe elements, coming in with dark fruit, pine forest, olive tapenade, and cracked mixed pepper on the palate. There is nice tannin presence here moving into a short finish. This is a polite, and pretty Syrah with strength and quick focus.

COOMBSVILLE

At the Southern end of Napa Valley, Coombsville benefits from the cool winds blowing from the ocean across San Francisco and San Pablo Bays before hitting the mountains at the Eastern side of the sub-region. Thanks to the lower temperatures, the area supports slower ripening periods for an expression unique to the Valley.

Enfield Wine Co., Haynes Vineyard, 2010, 13.7%

A pleasing focus for Napa Valley Syrah, Enfield Wine Co generates a savory expression of the variety coming in with olive, and bramble through a body of rhubarb, hints of blackberry, and a surprising spice melange. The wine is full of mid palate aromatics showing off dried rose and violet, and a touch of bark on the finish. This is a juicy wine with a long finish.

* Enfield Wine Co., Haynes Vineyard, 2011, 12.6%

The 2011 vintage of Enfield Wine Co bring a sharper focus to this already well made wine showing off pencil point tannins coupled with nicely balanced juiciness. This is a wine that excites me with its savory components that spin through with floral and red fruit opening into blueberry, and hints of cocoa powder. The lean opening, uncurl into mid palate aromatics, and move into a long lightly metallic finish.

SONOMA COUNTY

One of the largest countries of California, and the largest of the San Francisco Bay region, Sonoma County offers massive variation. With the market focus on Pinot Noir, the truth is many of the sites that might grow Syrah quite well instead grow its cool climate companion from Burgundy. Still, there is a range of quality Syrah from the area, and Rhone grapes do quite well through many of its districts.

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY

Two Shepherds, Saralee’s Vineyard, 2011, 13.5%

Saralee’s Vineyard is known for its cool temperatures and fog influence generating structurally focused reds and juicy whites. In the overall line-up, the Two Shepherds’ Syrah most clearly shows the challenges for ripeness generated by the cooler vintage of 2011 with the aromas and flavors of the wine showing as less developed, or under-ripe overall. The aromatics are a touch volatile with hidden fruit expression, while the palate opens to blueberry and blueberry leaf with touches of brown sugar all in a delicate, acidity focused presentation.

SONOMA COAST

One of the largest appellations within Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast has come with controversy over its size. More recently, however, the challenge has been met with the generation of sub-appellations more expressive of the genuine sub regionality of the AVA. Examples include “West of the West” AVAS such as Fort Ross-Seaview and a proposed West Sonoma Coast AVA.

Bodega Rancho, Que Syrah Vineyard, 2009, 12.4%

Located at the far Western edge of Sonoma Coast, the Que Syrah Vineyard offers a genuinely cool climate focus for Bodega Rancho opening with a tidal wave of super juicy fresh blackberry and blackberry pie including faint accents of baking spice, alongside touches of olive brine and bramble through a medium-long finish.

** Wind Gap, Sonoma Coast, 2009, 12.6%

The “hey baby” of the line-up, it was difficult to take notes on the Wind Gap 2009 Sonoma Coast. I wanted to just sit and drink it. It’s drinkability surpasses its flavor profile. The wine comes in with savory juicy olive notes accented by bark and forest spice, moving with blackberry bramble, cherry skin, and fresh oregano. The wine has beautiful flow into super clean violets on an ultra long finish. Wind Gap wins.

Anthill Farms, Peters Vineyard, 2009, 13.5%

Anthill Farms Peters Vineyard hints at carbonic elements with opening accents of red lipstick, lifting into olive tapenade on the nose, followed by a smooth palate presentation of blackberry and bramble, wild berry flower perfume, and spice. This wine carries a nicely focused palate followed by a short finish.

Baker Lane, Estate Vineyard, 2009, 13.6%

The 2009 Baker Lane showed poorly in the line-up, with the wine presenting as chunky, falling apart in the mouth after opening. There were characteristics of tomato leaf, and delicate floral notes, with cherry pie spice and apparent tannin. Having had this wine previously, I am willing to assume bottle variation is the culprit here.

* Anthill Farms, Campbell Ranch, 13.9%

Anthill Farms Campbell Ranch showcases fruit from the new Fort Ross-Seaview AVA giving violet and bramble focused aromas and flavors, accented by the same lipstick note of their Peters Vineyard, and touches of olive tapenade with spice. This is a well balanced, savory while pretty wine showing pretty top notes, a good tannin-juicy balance, and a long savory finish. Nice value here.

* Failla, Estate Vineyard, 2009, 13.9%

Also housed with the new Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, the Failla Estate Syrah showcases the strength of the Western Sonoma Coast character. The wine comes in with a lot of confidence without the puff ripeness of arrogance. A nicely subtle, well-balanced nose shows a touch of olive, mountain flowers, and forest floor, rolling into a big rocky palate with savory fruit, a touch of cigar, and a long spice finish. This is a wine that wants to age showing well executed structure of currently tight tannin.

* Arnot Roberts, Clary Ranch, 2010, 12.2%

Arnot Roberts draws on the restrained elements of a cool site in Clary Ranch and produces an alluring, slightly strange Syrah that wants a lot of air to integrate. This wine shows off the ingredients of Thanksgiving in the American Southwest — aromas of bramble and honey glaze ham with clove potpourri, moving into a palate of under ripe peppercorn, hatch chili, with ground black beans and a touch of sweet corn. Give this wine some time and it’ll pull you in.

Arnot Roberts, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, 2010, 12.5%

Griffin’s Lair proves a distinctly different site for Arnot Roberts Syrah. The nose offers aromas of clay and wet soil, with red cherry blossom and pine bark, moving into wet cherry tobacco and smoke on the palate through a long finish and present tannin. This is a lean focused wine carrying earthy flavors.

Bedrock Wine Co., Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, 2011, 14%

Bringing in 11% Viognier and using 60% whole cluster, Bedrock creates a savory expression of the Griffin’s Lair VIneyard. The wine offers floral aromatics of cherry tobacco, alongside the savory-sweet spice of Italian sausage. They move strong into the mouth, and relax through the mid palate into a juicy finish with plenty of tannin.

***
Other regions not represented and worth checking out include Mendocino and Santa Cruz Mountains. From Santa Cruz Mountain, Martin Ranch Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah is a stand out.

***

The following wines were given as samples: Ojai Vineyard, Anthill Farms, Skinner, Fess Parker, Big Table Farm, La Clarine Farm, Jolie-Laide, Two Shepherds, Bedrock Wine Co., Fields Family, Goodland Wine.

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