Understanding California Nebbiolo in Wine Business Monthly, August 2016
California Winemakers Trying to Make Sense of the Variety in Differing Conditions
In California, a small cadre of producers have been striving to understand the particular needs of Nebbiolo in their home state. Among them are Jim Clendenen of Clendenen Family Vineyards and Palmina owner/ winemaker Steve Clifton, who have worked with the variety the longest.
Nebbiolo’s potential quality is celebrated in the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Along with aging requirements in cellar, the cultivar’s response to very particular soil types and climate conditions legally define quality desig- nations for Nebbiolo in Italy, differentiating from the highest designations like Barolo or Barbaresco, to the broader regional designation of Langhe. Vine age also proves relevant. The variety’s combination of high tannin and elevated acidity tends to be unruly in young vines, showing finer balance as the vineyard ages.
“The most important thing I ever did was learn from the guys in Piedmont,” Jim Clendenen said. He’s referring to his time spent in Piedmont to hone his Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo, which is based in Santa Barbara County. “You don’t have to copy them when you learn from them,” he said. Copying Italian techniques to Nebbiolo has its natural limits with the differing conditions found in California.
While Clendenen made his first Nebbiolo in 1986, planting his own site in 1994 to better control the farming, Clifton began making Nebbiolo in 1997, farming multiple sites in Santa Barbara County for the cultivar. Palmina focuses entirely on Italian varieties, and, like Clendenen, Clifton has spent time learning techniques directly from producers in Piedmont. He also emphasizes that the techniques he relies upon for Nebbiolo differ from those suited to any other variety with which he’s worked, including other Italian cultivars.
California Nebbiolo in the Vineyard
Though the variety arrived in California in the late 1800s, today 162 acres of Nebbiolo are established, according to the latest Grape Acreage Report compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Vineyards growing the grape are dotted throughout California but few existing today were planted before the 1990s.
To continue reading this article check out the August 2016 issue of Wine Business Monthly. The article is available beginning on page 32 of the print edition. Or, if you’re interested in reading the magazine electronically you can find it as a downloadable PDF or in a scrollable format.
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