met Co Dinn on the first evening in Yakima.
As the party was winding down, and the table emptying out, he came to my
end of the table and introduced himself.
We spoke for quite awhile in the shadows, my shot of the wine I tasted
with him, with attest to that.
been a winemaker in Washington for over 20 years. A UC Davis master’s grad, he worked in Napa
and then came to Washington in 1996.
Since then he has worked with vineyards all over the state to make his
spent 12 years working with Côte Bonneville before diving into his own label Co
Dinn Cellars, where he makes wines of the Yakima Valley and is devoted to learning
everything about this areas soils and climates.
His knowledge is expansive as you will see as he speaks with us.
that Co had spent time working with Côte Bonneville. The Côte Bonneville estate vineyard is Du
Brul Vineyard. It was planted by Hugh
and Kathy Shiels back in 1992 with the winery founded in 2001. Kerry Shiels, daughter of Hugh and Kathy and
the current winemaker at Côte Bonneville joined us for this conversation.
mention that Co was devoted to learning about the climates of the area. Yes, that was plural climates. When you talk about DuBrul vineyard, they
have multiple microclimates within their 45 acre site.
“In distance measured by hundreds of feet or less, we observe different growing conditions and tailor our farming practices to provide for the individual needs of the vine.
Quote courtesy the Cote Bonneville website https://www.cotebonneville.com/vineyard
is recognized as one of the top in the state.
Part 1 – Overview and comparisons
Part 1 below, we begin with Barbara Glover, the Executive Director of Wine
Yakima Valley giving us an overview of the Yakima Valley AVA, it’s sub AVA’s
and some of the surrounding area. She then
turns it over to Co Dinn. Co gives us a little perspective on the size of the
wine region here compared to other regions. He and Kerry move on to a
comparison of Washington to Burgundy and then moving on to talk about the soils
and geology within this region.
Part 2 – Soil overview and Union Gap to DuBrul Vineyard
continues with details on the soils and top soils. They don’t have clay here, the soils here are
gravel or sand. As they don’t have clay,
they don’t have phylloxera. They are
also in a rain shadow. We zoom in and
begin our flyover where Kerry details some of the vineyards that we will be
driving by shortly on our way first to Elephant Mountain and then on to Walla
Kerry mentions the world class vineyard research happening here in the Yakima Valley. She also tells us about the Red Willow Vineyard. They focus on Syrah here and have a replica of the Chapel at Hermitage on the hill at the vineyard. They also are looking deeply into the nuances of the different microclimates of the vines on different sides of their hill. Red Willow is a vineyard and at least 18 wineries source fruit from this iconic vineyard. Our flyover takes us from Union Gap on the western end of the valley discussing areas and vineyards as we travel east. We get to DuBrul Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills AVA, where Kerry takes over speaking of their vineyard.
Kerry gives us a great quote from Bob Betz, Master of Wine
grape would be red if it could. Every
grape would be cabernet if it could, and the best cabernet in the state of
Washington is DuBrul Vineyard merlot.”
Part 3 – DuBrul to Red Mountain
In Part 3 Co continues us east from DuBrul
ending in Red Mountain. This hill is an
extension of Rattlesnake Ridge. Red
Mountain provides excellent structure and tannins and is used often in
blends. This is a southwest facing
slope, not an entire mountain. It is one
of the warmest grape growing region in the state, so the cabernet grown there
always ripens fully.
a little time for questions which got into climate change. Kerry says the hillsides
help to protect them according to most projections, but they are working on water
management. (She goes into some great
details on why this is so)
were clinking, wines were being poured, great conversations were happening, the
weather was perfect and Flavor Camp was about to begin.
Wine Yakima Valley treated those of us who attended the WBC Pre Conference tour to 2 incredible days exploring the Yakima Valley. (You can catch our overview here). This first evening was spent at Owen Roe Winery. We managed an impromptu winery tour with Co-Owner David O’Reilly and now we were on to Flavor Camp.
Yakima Valley is an agricultural region and in addition to grapes for wine,
they also produce apples for cider and hops for beer. We were treated to an in-depth look at these
with Flavor Camp.
will get to hear about the Cider and Hops also, but we are about wine here,
Tour with David O’Reilly
We are at the Owen Roe Union Gap Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. As we climb into the back of the all-terrain vehicle with about a dozen wine writers, David explained that we are about as far West in the Yakima Valley as you can go.
“From east to west there is not a big temperature difference.” David tells us, but Walla Walla, where we would be going the following day, was at 30 degrees the night before, where as Yakima was at 40. The cold air rushes down the valley.
For a bit of perspective, take a look at this Wine map of Washington State, Courtesy of Washingtonwine.org you can see Yakima about at center east/west in the state, with the cascades to the west, compared to Walla Walla to the east.
Here on this map of the Yakima Valley courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org you can see the Union Gap Vineyard all the way west.
This tour would take us through 3 of the distinct soil types on the vineyard and we would taste the flavor profile from each.
Missoula Flood Loess and Bordeaux varieties
We drove up the hill and stepped out at the top, into soft loose dusty soil that immediately covered my shoes. As people walked, little puffs of dust erupted in their footsteps. “Loose soil” is your clue here. This is loess.
David pulls out his altimeter app to check the altitude (we all scrambled to find this app). We were standing at 1199 feet.
Remember those Missoula Floods?
Now it’s time to talk a little soil history. If you read our piece on Montinore, you may have some of this history! If not, you can find it here, where Rudy Marchesi explains the Missoula Floods.
This property sits at the convergence of Glacial Lake Missoula. We would pass the Wallula Gap tomorrow as we headed to Walla Walla. This is where the Ice dam backed up the water, eventually lifting and flooding the valley, creating the Columbia River Gorge and impacting the land and soil all the way into Oregon.
The water here in Yakima came up to about 1150 feet, so the soil we were standing on was above the glacial flood. The soil here are silts (really fine). David pointed out the hillside where you could see the sub soils of basalt and ancient rock that are about 22 million years old.
Soils here on top are shallow making it good for Bordeaux varieties. At the top of the hill where we are standing, they grow their Cabernet Sauvignon. This is clone 47, David tells us, a clone with small berries, this wine retains it’s fruit and has beautiful acid. We are tasting the 2014 bordeaux Blend with is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Malbec blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard block.
In the summers, up here, the sun is up at 6 am and the soils tend to stay warm overnight. They have less of a diurnal (day to night temperature) shift then Red Mountain. Photosynthesis is maximized when the soil is warm so the grapes here ripen earlier and the wine is less tannic and more textural.
We strolled down the hill, creating little dust storms and ending at the block of Cabernet Franc.
Elevation, terroir and matching varieties
David explained the planting method. The soils that are most shallow are planted to the latest ripening grape varieties (cabernet sauvignon), the deeper soils toward the bottom of the hill are planted to merlot, which has big clusters that ripen early. Here in the middle is where the cab franc grows, ripening later than merlot and before the cabernet sauvignon.
Cabernet Franc at Owen Roe
Franc is a favorite of mine and of David’s it seemed. He spoke of this ancient grape, father to
cabernet sauvignon and how it likes cooler temperatures. In hotter years it gets finicky. This end of the Yakima Valley is about 4
degrees cooler than other sites in the valley during the day, but it stays
warmer at night. This gives the cabernet
franc “gorgeous texture and keeps that perfume in the grape”.
taste the 2015 Cabernet Franc. This year
was warmer and the cabernet franc was finicky.
They had to pluck out the green berries by hand from the bunches. The first major heat will shut photosynthesis
down. The 2014 by comparison was very
Bordeaux in style and was chunky and tannic.
Irrigation in the Yakima Valley
We noticed the irrigation drip. Washington is extremely dry and they must irrigate here to keep the vineyard growing. The water here comes from wells from the Ellensberg Formation Aquifer. Due to the soil type, it tends to be slightly acidic. The soils are basic and low in nitrogen so this is one of the nutrients they will add in the winery. (We talk about that in our winery tour)
In so many wine regions we are trained to think of irrigation as bad and dry farming is good. That would be to stress the vines and keep those roots digging deep. Here, with the lack of rain fall, it is necessary.
The region gets only 7 to 8 inches of precipitation each year, and the definition of a true desert is anything less than 10.
The cherries in the valley, David tells us, use 10 times the amount of water as the vines here.
Into the glacial soils & Rhône varieties
Further down the hill we get into the glacial soils where you find calcium carbonate, the white substance we had seen above. These glacial silts have a little deeper soil and give you rock and minerality, the wines are finer than if they were grown in loess & deeper soils, that present as more aromatic and textural.The Oldest soil type here is the Ellensburg Formation, which is old Columbia Riverbed. This predates the Yakima River & the basalt activity. These are actually “anti-clines” that formed through earth movement. The upthrust that we were standing on at this point was at almost 1200 feet. This is not glacial. Anything lower than this was not upthrust, it was just washed away.
is found in high elevations. In Walla
Walla the famous Rocks AVA is all on riverbeds at the Valley Floor.
makes this great for Grenache is that Grenache is cold sensitive, so you want
it high in the vineyard so the cold air rushes down. Sounds counter intuitive, it’s at one of the
highest elevations & yet it ripens early.
Okay…all this talk about soils and wine, are you thirsty now? Search out a bottle of Washington wine, Owen Roe if you can find it, and enjoy our video tour with David O’Reilly.
Washington Tasting room
Open Daily from 11-4 in the Yakima Valley, they do require reservations for more than 8 guests.
They also offer Barrel Room Tastings on the weekends started each day at noon. You can reserve this for a fee on their reservation page. It includes a tour, private tasting, an expanded flight and a cheese and charcuterie platter.
The Union Gap Vineyard and tasting room can be found at 309 Gangl Rd in Wapato WA 98951. 509-877-0454
Oregon Tasting Room
Again open daily from 11-4 their tasting room off Hwy 219 outside of Newberg requires reservations for more than 6 guests. You can bring snacks, or contact them ahead of time and they can have a snack plate ready.
Here they have a Cellar Table Experience that you can reserve to do a more private tasting geared toward your palate. Contact them ahead of time to set this up.
The Willamette Valley tasting room is located at 2761 E 9th St. Newberg OR 97132. 503-538-7778
More to come!
Watch for more on Yakima Valley Wine, coming out soon!
1 : of
or relating to a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic
approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for
fertilizing and soil conditioning, views the farm as a closed, diversified
ecosystem, and often bases farming activities on lunar cycles Followers of biodynamic viticulture not only abstain from the use of chemicals, but also
take a more holistic approach, viewing their environment—the soil, plants and
animals—as a working unity that should be as self-sustaining as possible.— Alison Napjus biodynamic practices
2 : grown
by or utilizing biodynamic farming biodynamic vegetables a biodynamic
I grew up with a Mother Earth News on the coffee table, the Farmers Almanac from my dad’s shelf was referred to for the garden. I do Yoga and believe in chakras. You will find a stone or crystal in my pocket most days and essential oils in my drawer. I have a dear friend who has a house in Hawaii, she and a friend put out gifts for Pele during the last expansion of Kilauea and I am sure that it protected her home. Yet somehow, when I speak with winemakers or vineyard owners about biodynamics, the skeptic comes out in me. I will talk with them about how it is probably the attention to detail in the vineyard that causes the results to be so good. And they ARE good, of that I am sure.
Michael and I had a
discussion about this recently. I value
his perspective, as he tends to be analytical with these things. We talked about the preparations, with cow
manure in a cow horn buried in the ground.
Sounds like a “potion” right? But
you are creating something with the biology in the ground, the micro-organisms
on the site. That’s science. We discussed the leaf days, which I have been
really hesitant to buy into, but they are based on moon cycles. I’m a woman, I believe in moon cycles. Again…there is some science behind it.
Finally we came around to the founder, Rudolph Steiner, and I think I found my answer. I don’t have enough depth of knowledge on him and I am skeptical of one guy coming up with all the answers. (ie, I love Bikram Yoga. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of this style yoga…not so much)
What I will tell you, is that I have yet to meet a biodynamic wine that I didn’t like, and when it comes to the people I have met on vineyards who are growing biodynamically, they are some of my very favorite people in the industry. You can check out a couple of interviews we have done with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek and Rudy Marchesi of Montinore.
But for now, lets get on to a quick
explanation of biodynamics and then move on to the wines!
As the definition at the top
says, this is about a holistic approach to farming that looks at the farm as a self-sustaining
system. It takes organic a step further. These farms work without chemicals and adhere
to a lunar calendar.
Biodynamics in Winemaking
Rudy Marchesi reminded me in
…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices. …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process.
Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Biodynamic practices have been adapted to growing wine grapes and processing wine. Demeter International is the most recognized organization for official biodynamic certification. https://www.demeter-usa.org/
You can find certification logos on bottles in different forms.
Finding Biodynamic wine
It’s tough! If you are not out in wine country it can be hard to find! In Las Vegas I could not find any biodynamic French wines at the “to be unnamed” wine store that claims to be “total” on the wines is carries. The manager told me that 100% of the people buying wine do not care about biodynamics. After a sharp glance from me, he updated his statement to “only 1 out of 100 customers care”. I did admonish him, that as people in the industry, it was our job to educate people on this subject.
So I searched and finally purchased wine online to be shipped to me. I was lucky to have Jeremy at wine.com who was willing to do the research and provide me with multiple links to wines they had available to choose from. I settled on the Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011 and the Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016.
The bottles arrived and I
found them to be without Demeter labels.
But I had researched and each of the wineries said they grew
biodynamically! Well they are. My love/hate
relationship with certifications comes out here. Running a winery is a busy all-encompassing
business. Certification means extra time
and money that many wineries may not have.
Also, it depends on when they were certified! I checked my Tablas Creek bottles. They were certified in October of 2017, so it
won’t be until the 2018’s are released that they will be able to put the
Demeter logo on their label.
So…while I won’t show you
Demeter logos on the bottles I tasted, I will tell you about the vineyards and
their biodynamic practices. And then…we
will get to the delicious pairings.
Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016
Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France $29.99
This domaine has been in the Fouassier family for 10 generations, with Benoit and Paul Fouassier at them helm. The domaine is 59 hectares of mostly Sauvignon Blanc. Wines are vinified by parcel here to showcase the individuality of the sites. They have members of Biodyvin since 2009.
to them means enchancing the soil and the plant, applying preparations at
precise times and working the soils through ploughing and hoeing.
domaine, just like any other agricultural concern, is considered to be a living
entity. The soils that we work are not just there to support the vine but are a
living environment and a source of energy for the plant, just as much as the
air it breathes.
The 2016 Les Chailloux is 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard with vines between 10 and 35 years old. It spends 12 months in stainless steel. The soil on this vineyard is clay, chalk and limestone and you get the minerality immediately on the nose. Alcohol on this is 12.7%.
lemon puree came out looking decidedly different than theirs, but regardless,
it was delicious and it was an absolutely perfect pairing with this wine. The notes of mineral in the wine reflected in
the cod, the lemon notes of the purée mirroring the wine. It was truly blissful.
noted that after enjoying the pairing and then just sipping on the wine, that
the wine was enhanced by the lingering flavors on his palate from the food.
Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011
Syrah/Shiraz from Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $31.99
About Château Maris
Wine spectator says that “Château Maris is one of the five most environmentally friendly wineries in the world.”
Robert Eden and Kevin Parker bought this vineyard in 1997 with the idea of growing grapes and making wine, in harmony with nature. They knew they wanted to go chemical free, and decided to do a test with biodynamics. They set up two compost piles and treated one with a biodynamic preparation, while the other went without. Testing later, they found the compost treated with the biodynamic treatment had far more living organisms than the one without…and the path was set.
This Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel with soil of clay-limestone and clay-sandstone. It sits at 14.5% alcohol. Tasting notes on this wine noted, tar and smoke on the nose with notes of black currants and black licorice.
The first thing I got on the nose was smoke, for Michael it was blueberries. When I dipped my nose back in I could find a little tar, but it was savory. There were nice tannins. This wine was big, but not too big, kind of a gentle giant. This wine did not feel like a 2011. It’s aging is really graceful. It has probably mellowed, but still is vibrant.
The Pairing – bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets
I again went to the tasting notes and pulled from these for my pairing. I picked up a couple bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets and encrusted them with cumin and black pepper (both spices often found on the nose of syrah). These got seared on both sides and went into the oven to finish. While they were cooking I took some red currant jam, added fresh blackberries, a bit of worchestershire sauce and a bit of anise seeds and slowly cooked it down, to drizzle on top.
We did baby potatoes in butter and herbs de Provençe and a baby greens salad topped with fennel and green apple in a lemon vinaigrette with just a touch of lavender.
The pairings all worked pretty well. The fennel in the salad pulling up those black licorice notes (although I would have lightened up on the amount of lemon). The umami from the tenderloins with the berry sauce went beautifully. This was a delicious and very comfortable pairing.
The wrap up – is it worth it to search out Biodynamic Wines?
That’s a pretty easy yes. Here’s my take on why. When I’m searching for a new wine the possibility exists that I may not like it. Even with scores etc…it’s often hard to be sure of the quality of the wine you are getting. I have never been disappointed with a Biodynamic wine. There may be many reasons for this, the farming is one, the attention to detail demanded by this type of farming is another and quite honestly the vineyard that is determined to do this is committed with time and resources to doing this and that may be one of the biggest reasons that it works so well.
Will it be difficult to find biodynamic wines? Probably to start, but if all of you go out and start asking about biodynamic wines in your local wine shops and restaurants, the market will follow! Businesses will add items that they hear people consistently asking for. So do us all a favor and start asking!
The French #Winophiles
The French #Winophiles are a group of wine writers that gather monthly to together, tackle a subject on French Wine. I am privileged and honored to be a part of this lovely group. This month, the topic was biodynamic French wines. You have seen my take on this, now you can read on, to see biodynamic French wines from a variety of points of view! There will be so many different wines and pairings! And…you can join us on twitter on Saturday morning January 19th as we spend an hour chatting about the wines we tasted and biodynamics and the impact on the wines (as well as the impact on the planet!). Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will be leading the discussion at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.
More great pieces from the French #Winophiles on Biodynamic French Wine
In our conversation with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estates, we asked him about biodynamics. The winery was Certified biodynamic in 2008. Rudy had set this process up while he was still working for the Montinore Estate as an employee.
The Motivation & learning
Pheloxera was what originally motivated him to look at biodynamics. They had so much vine loss and he was looking at how to combat this, instead of just ripping everything out. So he started studying soil microbiology.
When he started out, he was more into organic farming. I would imagine his own garden informed this. But working with the wholesale importer on the east coast, he just kept finding that the biodynamic wines he sold in the French Portfolio, were the wines he liked the best.
At the time there were only a few books available and only two places in the US that had training. He found a tiny college in NY state teaching a course. This was just 1 class per month for 5 months and then a 5 day intensive. He took this information and tried it out and had tremendous results right away.
…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices. …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process.
Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Biodynamics the practical and the mystical
I expressed my skepticism regarding some of the practices. I have never been one to believe in “leaf days”,
Rudy told me a story about his home garden. He always planted fall vegetables. Two weeks before the recent solar eclipse in 2017, he planted his fall endives. He planted a second row on the day before the eclipse. He had read that you shouldn’t plant anything for a few days around an eclipse, but he needed to get them in. The first row was beautiful. The second row only had 15% germination.
Rudy says that big events are significant. They don’t pick on black out days. They have to prune from January 1st to March 20th and it’s all got to be done. So they don’t take days off, blackout, leaf day or not. With racking and tasting they just watch to see if it makes a big difference.
80% of wine making is done in the vineyard anyway. It’s all about the quality of the fruit you get. I think that’s why, it’s perceptible but not understood, why biodynamic wines have that certain something that’s…. you put them in your mouth, they’re lively they’re interesting, they’re there, they have a presence. What is it? You can’t measure it. There is so much in life we can’t measure anyway you know, so it’s some sort of life force that we are creating in the vineyard in the farm to begin with. That translates through the vineyard to the fruit and to the bottle. And that’s what I think it is. You can’t measure that. You can taste it!
Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
There is more to come…
We will have more with Rudy…he took us to the cellar after this to do some barrel tastings which were delicious and fascinating. In the meantime feel free to check out the rest of our conversation with him:
Vista Hills was the setting for the “Uncommon Wine Festival” that we’ve been talking about so much. This years was the 9th annual and before heading down there we had a chance to speak with Dave Petterson, Vista Hills Winemaker about the festival and how it got started.
The Uncommon Wine Festival at Vista Hills Vineyard – The Mega Mix
The day itself was spectacular, not too hot, not too cold. The vineyards were beautiful, the wines were flowing, there was even a group on horseback that stopped by the festival, before continuing their ride through the vineyards. And of course there were makers of “uncommon” wine there to talk and taste with. Enjoy our Mega Mix of the day!
While we couldn’t catch Dave during the festival, we did have a chance to taste a few of his “Uncommon Wines”
2017 Fool’s Gold Blanc de Noir
100% Pinot Noir, this blanc de Noir gets pressed and gets no time on the skin, which allows for this lovely light coppery color. They fement it with a champagne yeast. They only made 121 cases of this wine.
The grapes come from their newest vineyard block that was planted just 10 years ago in 2008. Block L sits are around 720 feet. This is all Dijon clone 115.
2016 Rumble Seat Pinot Gris Rose
Rumble Seat 2016 Pinot Gris Rosé from Vista Hills
They call it a Pinot Gris Rosé, but it is really made in the style of an Orange Wine. You can’t find this on their site anymore. It is incredibly popular with their wine club and disappears quickly. Luckily, we snagged a bottle at the festival. As with all their bottles, it comes with a story.
Rumble Seat 2016 Pinot Gris Rosé from Vista Hills label detail and story
2017 Duchess Pinot Noir Rose
Duchess 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé from Vista Hills
This wine is truly “Uncommon” the nose is cotton candy. Not what I normally look for in a wine, but…it was weird and fascinating. So, yeah, we left with a bottle of that too. Here’s it’s story.
Duchess 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé from Vista Hills label and story
The day was truly spectacular and the opportunity to meet and speak with all of these winemakers was once in a lifetime, well, until next year and the 10th annual “Uncommon Wine Festival”.
Take a visit to our page filled with all the fabulous winemakers that we met at the Uncommon Wine Festival filled with photos and interviews.
Vista Hills Sign
A group on horseback stopping through at the Uncommon Wine Festival at Vista Hills
The “Treehouse” at Vista Hills
Winemakers setting up for the Uncommon wine Festival at Vista Hills
Looking up at the “Treehouse” at Vista Hills
Made to order fusion food truck
A spectacular selection for lunch from the Fusion Food Truck
Tasty bites to pair with the wines at the Uncommon Wine Festival
We wish everyone at Vista Hills all the best and thank them for creating an Amazing Event with the Uncommon Wine Festival, as well as for creating beautiful wines and a magical place in the “Treehouse” to taste them.
Leah Jørgensen makes wines from grapes in southern Oregon, primarily from the Rogue and Applegate Valleys. In our previous post (link here) we discussed the soils of the region. Now we get into the grapes she is growing and why the climate in Southern Oregon is good for these grapes.
Oregon-Wine-Map-Southern-OR-AVA Courtesy of Oregon Wine Board
You’re making wines that are mostly from Rogue River Valley?
Rogue and Applegate, correct.
So much further south than this. How is the climate different there?
Well for one thing, there is this perception that it is so much hotter down there, but you just have longer days of heat, that’s the biggest difference than when I compare it to the Willamette Valley. And then the other thing is, the elevation, the valley floor starts at around 900 foot elevation, so by the time we get to some of our vineyards you get some decent elevation right? So that means in the evenings it cools off quite a bit in the vineyards. So when we think of things like acid and sugar ripening, you get the long days you want for ripening that is necessary for grapes like Malbec and Cab Franc, but then you also get these cooler evenings that give off this wonderful balance of acidity with the fruit. So when we pick we get…Cab franc just naturally has high acidity, so we’re just getting everything we want out of this particular fruit in Southern Oregon.
Are they growing a lot of Cab Franc in Southern Oregon?
There is not a lot of Cab Franc grown in Oregon in general, but it is still one of the most widely planted varietals in the world. I even have some statistics in here from a report, the first official Cab Franc report* I’ve seen that we’ve been mentioned in and she kinda gives every question you’ve ever wanted to know about Cab Franc, about the plantings, including the plantings that are, I think it was based on 2010, so I know there has been more planted since then. So when they do the next grape consensus I guess in 2020 they will see a bit of a jump. But there is not a lot of it to be honest. I have to search for what I want to grow, but the growers I work with are also onboard with what I’m doing so they will plant more for me. Which is great.
So you work really closely with your growers? So you are really in touch with what’s happening during the season.
Yes, exactly, so I’m in it.
For down there, when do you run into bud break and when do you end up doing harvest? Is the season longer there?
It actually usually starts earlier than up here for the whites and then for reds, just because these grapes require a little bit longer time on the vine, I make my wine at Raptor Ridge Winery so while they are bringing in their Pinot Noir, it’s great, we don’t butt heads on timing, my stuff’s coming in a little bit later. My Cab Franc and even my Gamay, up here in the Willamette Valley is a late ripener, so that comes a little bit later. Which is interesting, comparing the Willamette Valley to Southern Oregon, Gamay is one of our last picks, which is Willamette Valley. It comes in after our Malbec, which would technically be our last pick.
*We happen to be big fans of Pam Heiligenthal and Enobytes and if you like getting geeky about wine The Cabernet Franc Report is an in depth and thorough look at Cab Franc as it is grown around the globe.
And join us back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles as we continue sharing our conversation with Leah (Yes there is more. Next we talk about her Sauvignon Blanc and her use of Acacia barrels for white wine)! And don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
“One who eschews all cultural values, pure hedonism”
On a side note Merriam-Webster tells us that the term originally meant “freedman” when it appeared in 14th-century English and evolved to include religious and secular freethinkers in the 1500s. Freethinker…that pretty well describes Alex Neely.
We met Alex at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hills Vineyards, an event that would seem to attract and showcase freethinkers in the wine world, so Alex was right at home.
Alex Neely, Winemaker
We spoke with Alex about how he came to wine making.
“I used to purchase wine for a fancy food store and I was a cheese monger as well. I decided to go into wine production, so I called up the guy whose new world Rieslings I respected the most and that was Barnaby at Teutonic. So then I’ve been with Barnaby since 2014, as his assistant and helping run the vineyards, and then I’ve been making this label at Teutonic since 2015. Started out with just some rieslings, and then just started getting some Dolcetto this past year in 2017 and I’m not too sure what the next year will hold but, we just keep adding on.“
The name Libertine Wines comes from the definition above and was shaped by his time at Reed College
“I majored in religious philosophy and mysticism and minored in hedonism”
We all laughed at that. I was thinking back to college and figured, I kinda minored in hedonism also, but then…after reading about Reed College, I’m not sure it was a joke. Regardless, the wines he makes are an homage to that opulence.
“It’s how I live my life, I eat, drink and smoke whatever I care to and don’t worry about it.”
This stuff is new!
You won’t find this everywhere. Alex just started releasing these wines about 3 months ago.
“I’m very new on the scene, but I’ve been hitting the market pretty hard, so we are in about 20 different places in Portland right now, but that’s it, I just sell in Portland right now. And then things like this, I’ve been to a couple, this is I think my 3rd group event, and then I’ve done like a whole bunch of other random tastings.”
Art on the Labels
The labels will catch you. They are the type that definitely draw your eye in a line-up of bottles. Attracted to art that speaks of the wine and the story, his labels are unique and evocative. From Carravaggios to psychedelic artists, you won’t forget these bottles.
“My wife helps me out as well she was an art history major at USC. So I’ll find some goofy picture online and she’ll tell me what it is.”
2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rosé
2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rose
We started off tasting his 2017 Dolcetto Rose. The fruit comes from the Sunny Side Vineyard down by Enchanted Forest. This vineyard in near Salem and sits off of Sunnyside Road near Rogers Creek. The elevation is a little over 660 feet and the vineyard sits on a slight slope facing south west. Soils here are Jory and Nekia. (Information from everyvine.com)
This rosé is foot stomped and sits in the cold room to soak on the skins for 2 days. He then presses it off and it ferments with wild yeast. It goes into neutral oak with just a tiny bit of sulfite as a preservative. It’s unfiltered and unfined.
The label on this is “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” by Carravaggio.
“And the legend has it, you’re not supposed to harvest Dolcetto until after Saint Matthews Day, so once I discovered that, I ran to my calendar and I was like s*^t, should I harvest this? Luckliy it was two weeks after, so all set. I really like that he was the master of Chiaroscuro and I really like the contrast of the red against the black.”
The 2017 Acid Freak Rose
Libertine 2017 Acid Freak Rose
This wine was a bit of an accident, but a happy one.
“So I had a half barrel of Dolcetto rosé fermenting and there’s not much you can do with a half barrel once it’s done ‘cause it will oxidize. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but then I was pressing my Riesling off, it was late at night, I had filled up my holding tank and there is still about 30 gallons left in the press pan and I said “screw it” I’ve had Riesling from Piedmont before, so I just pumped it into the Dolcetto barrel, they finished fermenting together, and then I liked it so much, I threw another barrel of each at it prior to bottling.”
With a wild yeast ferment in neutral oak, it again is unfiltered and unfined. Just 71 cases were produced.
It is a familiar contradiction in the glass. He says “Gentle yet rough. Soft yet hard. Strange yet familiar”. It’s all that. I left with a bottle.
The artwork on this bottle came from him Googling “psychedelic picture”. This picture popped up by the artist Larry Carlson. The picture really embodied the wine for Alex so he contacted Larry and bought the rights.
2016 LaVelle Vineyard “Botrytis” Dry Riesling
Libertine 2016 Lavelle Botrytis Dry Riesling
This wine is a botrytisized skin contact Riesling. It’s funny to hear a winemaker gushing over fuzzy gray grapes, but nobel rot will do that to you.
“So this particular year it came in with super pretty fuzzy gray noble rot, just perfect stuff.”
He found out about the botrytis from the guy growing the grapes, who asked what he would like to do with it. Alex, unafraid, told him to let it go as long as it looked pretty, he was happy with it. Botrytis has to have the right conditions, so this doesn’t happen every year and Alex was happy to have the opportunity to play with this. It hung a bit longer and developed nicely, then his wife and he footstomped the grapes and let them sit in the cold room for 5 days. It went into the press, fermented and sat in barrel for 8 months. At the time of this tasting it had been in bottle for over a year.
This wine has a beautiful nose and then surprising acid on the palate with a little tannic grip from the skin contact.
The artwork for both of the reislings is “The Triumph of Bacchus by Cornelis de Vos”. Alex came across this painting right after he decided on the name Libertine. ” I feel it embodies the true baroque opulence and pure hedonism of the Libertine. It is also a fun Rorschach Test as people tend to project their own personal views upon it. ”
2015 LaVelle Vineyard Riesling
This wine is also from the La Velle Vineyard, which is the oldest Vineyard in the south valley, 40 minutes or so North West of Eugene. The Riesling sits at the top of a hill at about 700 foot elevation.
This wine is the same vineyard, the same blocks as the 2016 “Botytis” Riesling. 2015 was a hot year and Alex wanted a slow cold ferment, but their production facility at that time was in the middle of the woods and without a cold room. As a result it fermented outside through the winter, with Alex checking it monthly. He definitely got a slow fermentation, it took 6 months to finish. It then sat on the gross lees in neutral oak for another year and a half. At the time of tasting it had been in the bottle for about a year. It has the big rich style typical of 2015 vintage and a tiny bit of residual sugar, with great acidity.
On the beauty of honoring the vintage
“So the two (Rieslings) are drastically different because of the year. I’m very vintage driven, I’m like let’s let the year shine through, everybody is like “Let’s let the soil shine through”, but there are a lot of other components going on. I mean I could put a bunch of additives in there to make them all taste the same year after year after year, but where’s the fun in that? My lob would be boring as hell.”
Chris Hammell is the Vineyard Manager for Bien Nacido Vineyards. Bien Nacido is located in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. This vineyard is distinctive. Once you have tasted a Pinot Noir from grapes made from Bien Nacido, you don’t forget it, and forever more you will be able to pick out a Pinot made from these grapes. But…during this episode we will be talking about Syrah from this renowned vineyard.
Bien Nacido is a little magical. When you drive out there, you find little to let you know that, that is where you are. If you happen to get the secret directions to one of the bi-annual BBQ’s at Au Bon Climat, you will drive out through part of the vineyard. Au Bon Climat & Qupe have their shared winery on the vineyard.
Bien Nacido is owned by the Millers, who have been growing grapes here since the 70’s. They primarily grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Syrah. But its history goes back much further. It was part of a Spanish land grant back in 1837, given to Tomas Olivera. He sold it in 1855 to Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who was his son in law. Ontiveros raised horses, cattle, sheep, grew grains AND grapes for wine. The vineyard is 900 acres of the over 3000 acres of Ranch, and as Wendy mentions below “It is considered the most “vineyard designated” vineyard in the world”.
Chris spoke on two wines made from Bien Nacido Grapes. The first is a 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah made by their winemaker Trey Fletcher, who joined them to start the wine making side of the business in 2011. Before that, Bien Nacido was a vineyard that did not make wine, but sold their amazing fruit to some of the most distinguished wineries and winemakers in California, including; Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach, Gary Farrell, Paul Lato, Sine Qua Non and Bob Lindquist of Qupe.
Episode 3 Part 1: Chris Hammel,
Vineyard Manager Bien Nacido Vineyards speaking on the Bien Nacido 2012 Syrah
Qupe 2011 Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah
Bob Lindquist has been making Syrah from Bien Nacido for 30 years. We heard him speak at last years Seminar – Zaca Mesa University. Here is the video from the segment with Bob and Jim Clendenen. http://wp.me/p2UhpO-2cQ which includes the story of how Jim got Bob fired and hired over the Kinks. Bob Lindquist is a Syrah legend in Santa Barbara.
Chris had the 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah. This was Bob’s 30th consecutive bottling of Syrah and the coolest vintage he had ever seen.
Episode 3 Part 2: Chris Hammel
Vineyard Manager Bien Nacido Vineyards speaking on Bob Lindquist and the Qupe 2011 Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah
Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/
The Transcript (with a little more than the video)
Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): We are now going to move to the north. The northernmost AVA in Santa Barbara County is the Santa Maria Valley home to the renowned Bien Nacido Vineyards, first planted more than 40 years ago. In 1993 and 94 Bien Nacido planted the “Z” Block which is where all Bien Nacido’s Syrah is sourced as well as Qupe’s Hillside Vineyards, Paul Lato’s Syrahs, Sine Qua Non sourced fruit there and other big names. And we are happy to have with us today acclaimed vineyard manager, Chris Hammell of Bien Nacido, where he custom farms more than 600 acres for dozens of wineries. It is considered the most “vineyard designated” vineyard in the world, meaning, Chris masterfully juggles a huge customer base (Pete Stolpman: For the next 5 minutes Chris Hammell will juggle) He has the muscles to do it, right.
Today we taste two wines made from fruit grown at Bien Nacido. We will start with the 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah made by the Estates winemaker Trey Fletcher. Chris works hand in hand with Trey. I don’t know if they actually “hold hands”. Chris, tell us about the grape growing and the winemaking philosophy at Bien Nacido.
Chris Hammell: Well first of all, I would like to say that it’s really nice to be up here, with you guys and with these panelist. Santa Maria is kind of a unique spot, a little on the cooler side. I applaud what these guys are doing in Ballard Canyon and although I have kind of a love hate relationship with the AVA concept and system, I kinda don’t want it there unless it’s pure and like my AVA, I say mine because they don’t let me off the farm very often, the Santa Maria Valley, you can see these strange straight lines that are like arbitrarily drawn by county divisions going up and down hills that really leave one somewhat disillusioned if you’re a purist. I’ve been a tremendous fan of the Ballard Canyon area, the people and the wines and quite particularly the Syrah coming off of there. That’s AVA done right. And I’m a huge fan of White Hawk. Also of the region where Chad is, where he and his family have Melville right down here off of the 246. So pretty sweet for me to be up here. I love these wines and I love Syrah and to see them in a line up like this is a big honor. Back in the late 2000’s Nicolas Miller part of the family who I work for, that owns Bien Nacido, he decided he wanted, for whatever reason, to do an estate project. He recruited this guy named Trey Fletcher, an up and coming younger wine maker, full of talent and vision and we converted an old dairy barn, in the middle of the vineyard to be the winery. He gets free run to do what he wants with Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay and Syrah. So this is his 2012. I don’t know how techie we should get and as Wendy said I’m the vineyard manager so I’m just basically farming these two wines and they are kind enough to let me present them. Unlike, Michael who kind of does for his project he kind of sees both sides. But I’m around enough to know, and I pay attention enough to know, kind of what these guys are up to. Trey’s philosophy would be since he doesn’t have to really pay for the grapes, he drops them to like a ton per acre. That just stays between us, okay? (to Michael filming in the back) You’re a good editor right? He drops them really low, because we think, especially in climates like Bien Nacido for example, which is sometimes, in some years, especially in 2011, pushing the limits as far as getting the variety of Syrah to a ripeness, to potential alcohol ripeness and phenolic ripeness. And so we typically see yields that are very low, either from nature or from us going in there and basically lowering the crop down to make sure that we can achieve the ripeness that in most years that the winemakers are looking for. So he’s the guy that will shoot for maybe 13%, which as Pete was mentioning, that kind of coincides with this trend that I’m seeing of a little more elegance a little more what people would call arbitrarily balance. Basically a shift from, how ripe can we go to, stylistically what really turns these winemakers on. Who are some of their fans, that they are trying to emulate throughout the world. In 2012, 13, 14 and pretty much 15, we had the luxury of basically choosing ripeness. So Trey is pretty much a Pinot & Chardonnay guy, pretty much a second shot at doing Syrah, where he is fully in control. You see a wine that is probably about 13.1, probably 30% whole cluster, probably about 30% new oak, and this is something that we’ve seen him in the last few years change to a larger format barrels for whatever reason, but these would all be in the standard burgundy 228 liter, normal barrels that we all see everywhere. This would have been in barrel for about 18 months. Pumpovers, punchdowns both and his big thing in fermentation other than managing it responsibly, has to do with tannin, especially at the end. He is going, I can’t speak to how he does it, but he’s obsessed with tannin management. Whether he gets it right, you guys can be the judge. That’s his big thing. He loves making Syrah, he considers personally, Bien Nacido to be a better Syrah vineyard than Pinot. He thinks the magic is Syrah and Chardonnay for him and for the styles that he likes to do. I’m not supposed to go on record with that either. (Michael LarnerS: that’s why they don’t let him off the ranch very often) Why did I get smaller pours than everybody else? It’s like a conspiracy theory. He’s pulling out all the stops to do what he can. He’s super inspired by Northern Rhone, Cornas which is pretty in vogue these days. His Sommelier buddies like it. I think he’s doing an awesome job and I’ve learned alot from him, both in the vineyard and in the winery. I love the wine. Santa Maria wine is super distinct. Not always so user friendly right off the bat. Especially they don’t show so much fruit, they show herbs and spice and hopefully everything else nice. I don’t know why I have two wines too.
WTS: We are staying with Chris here, but I wanted to mention that Bien Nacido has a tasting room in Los Olivos. Larner has a tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store, I forgot to mention that earlier. Our next wine #4, we are sticking with Chris here, because he also farms the Hillside Syrah at Bien Nacido for Qupe. The next wine is the 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Vineyard Hillside Syrah. This vintage has special meaning for Qupe’s winemaker Bob Lindquist. 2011 was his 30th vintage and his 30th consecutive bottling of Syrah. He told me 2011 was an extremely cool vintage, one of the coolest on record and probably one of the coolest Bob had seen in 37 years of making wine on the central coast. It was a very small crop 1.3 tons an acre in Z block where this Syrah comes from. Harvest was late. Bob remembers taking his son trick or treating Halloween night and then picking this Syrah the next morning November 1st. And Chris was out there picking this Syrah that you are about to taste. (Chris: All by myself) Single handedly. Chris tell us what is it like to work with Bob and you probably, after all these years know exactly what he wants, right?
Chris Hammell: Yeah, more and more. First of all if I start talking so much and then Larry Schaffer starts mad doggin’ me, just give me some kind of sign, cause I can’t really see him. You guys know what I’m talking about. Bob is a true pioneer it’s interesting, Syrah is still kind of finding it’s place and is still kind of young in a sense. With Pinot and Chardonnay we had all these people, an amazing kind of group of winemakers, more or less the same age coming from the same philosophy and it was amazing. We didn’t have that as much with Syrah. You had Bob Lindquist and probably a couple others. You see on this panel, myself excluded, a second wave of pioneers. All of us look up to Bob a lot. I’m not a name dropping guy, but I went to France and we got, for some reason, invited to go see Jean-Louis Chave, who’s like the most famous Syrah guy in the whole world, by everyone’s admission pretty much. He’s a really nice guy and we’re in the cellar throwin’ it up with Jean-Louis Chave the 22nd. Honestly, he’s like the 22nd Jean-Louis. And he says, he speaks perfect English almost without any accent, “Hi Chris, thanks for coming. How’s Bob Lindquist? I love Bob Lindquist.” And then half the conversation was about Bob and not Chave and the amazing legacy that they’ve produced. He’s a legend and this is the second time, interestingly enough that I’ve been able to talk about his wines in front of a group. I spoke with him on the way down and he’s the most gracious wonderful person that one could meet. Many of you probably know him and if you don’t, seek him out today and get a chance to spend time around a real legend, who makes fantastic long lived wonderful wines. He’s never really changed his approach. It’s an honor for me. What he was telling Dayna and I on the way down was, reminding us of this strange vintage that was 2011, which despite the extremely low yields, Is Larry doing…is he..okay,(WTS: He’s good). We had to pick on November 1st because of the rain. I think it was like 22 and a half brix, and he’s kind of a low 23’s guy. There can be differences, so you taste some notes that are leaner and this and that. Interestingly enough, what Bob does and he was fine that I shared this with you, that’s kind of unusual, is he’ll take let’s say 10% right off the bat of the juice before it’s started to ferment and he’ll put it in brand new Francois Frere heavy toast barrels and make it like a rose, but that’s after cold soak so it has some extraction already. And then he’ll take all or a portion of that at first racking which is about a year later, and blend that back into the wine. It’s like a style thing, which I think is pretty cool. He’s done it all along and still does. Also, this wine, even in a lean year like that, for whatever reason, he has about 35% full cluster, of that 90% that he did ferment on the skin. And then the whole Cuvee ended up being, because of the short crop and probably he had a lot of new barrels, who knows, about 65% new Francois Frere heavy toast. Bien Nacido’s, probably all these wines frankly, it seems most years to be able to withstand, that’s a bad word, it makes it seem like using oak is not good, but everybody talks like that for some reason. But, it can integrate and it can be pleasant. As Pete was saying, these wines can be extraordinarily interesting with age. Because we’re friends with Bob and his winery is on the vineyard where we live, we’ve been able to try countless numbers of old Qupe Syrahs and whites, frankly and they can be just extraordinary. It’s fascinating, but the best years of this wine are probably in the future. Thank you guys.
Syrah…it’s a fairly well known grape. It is the “S” in GSM the great Rhone Blend. It can also be masterful at subtle changes and some not so subtle. The 2016 Wine Seminar at the Vintners Spring Weekend was a time to dive into the varied sides of Syrah with a panel of owners, winemakers and growers in the Santa Barbara Region. Wendy Thies Sell did a masterful job moderating as she and the winemakers guided us through the variations on the wines of this grape varietal.
Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah
Peter Stolpman, Managing Partner at Stolpman Vineyards.
Peter is the son of Tom Stolpman, who sat in the crowd for this seminar. The Stolpman Vineyard is located in Ballard Canyon and they have a tasting room in Los Olivos. They are lucky enough to have famed Vineyard….Ruben and Sashi Moorman as their winemaker.
Michael Larner, Owner & Winemaker at Larner Vineyard and Winery
Chris Hammell, Vineyard Manager at Bien Nacido Vineyards
Larry Schaffer, Owner & Winemaker at tercero wines
Scott Sampler, Proprietor & Winemaker at the Central Coast Group Project
Mark Horvath, Owner & Winemaker at Crawford Family Wines
Chad Melville, Owner & Winegrower at SAMsARA and Melville
With the panel before us and 8 glasses of Syrah from around the region, we dug in.
Ballard Canyon Syrahs
Ballard Canyon AVA has self identified as Syrah Territory. Peter Stolpman speaks of the 18 varieties of grapes they tested. “Syrah chose us” he says. This variety grows and expresses extremely well here, so well that –% of the vineyards here are planted in Syrah. This AVA has 17 Vineyards and 8 Grower/Producers.
We sampled the 2013 Originals Syrah from Stolpman Vineyards and the 2011 Estate Syrah from Larner Vineyard and Winery
Santa Maria Syrahs
When you think Santa Maria and in particular Bien Nacido, you probably think Pinot Noir. Don’t tell, but Chris Hammell says that their winemaker believes Syrah to be the finest grape they grow there.
Chris brought the 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah as well as a 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah.
Los Alamos Valley Syrahs
While not yet an AVA, the Los Alamos Valley is pumping out some beautiful fruit. Both of the Syrahs we tasted came from White Hawk Vineyard which is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley in Cat Canyon.
Larry Schaffer from tercero wines brought his 2011 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah and Scott Sampler of the Central Coast Group Project brought his 2012 “Names” White Hawk Vineyard Syrah.
Sta. Rita Hills Syrahs?
So probably even more than Santa Maria, Sta. Rita Hills is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay country. But yes, Syrah is grown here also and expresses itself in a very elegant way.
Mark Horvath of Crawford Family Wines had a 2014 Zotovich Syrah. Zotovich is in the unsexy center section of the Sta. Rita Hills, the flat part without any hills. Nonetheless the fruit from this vineyard is consistent and beautiful. Chad Melville brought his 2012 SAMsARA Melville Syrah grown at the Melville Vineyard.
We will be posting the entire Seminar in Episodes. Watch for the first with the Introduction with Moderator Wendy Thies Sell and the conversation with Peter Stolpman.
While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties. In this part of the interview we talk about Biodynamics and the Tablas approach, the similarities and differences between the Tablas Creek wines and the Chateau du Beaucastel wines and the Tablas Creek Wine Library.
More on Tablas Creek Vineyard to Come
This is part two of our series, we will release additional segments where we discuss native yeast fermentations, the use of Foudres (1200 gallon barrels), as well as aging wines. We do a walk through the vineyard to look at the new acreage as well as Scuffy Hill where they grow their field blend. We look at the soil, the biodiversity in the fields and then explore the winery and it’s barrel rooms, before Jason talks us through how they create their blends. There is also Part 1 on the drought, dry farming and head pruning if you missed that. So stick with us…there is lots more to come.
This is the fourth and last section of our conversations with the winemakers at the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country event held by Presqu’ile. This event brought together 4 winemakers all making wines from the grapes from Presqu’ile Vineyard. This final section finishes out the last 2 Pinot Noirs of the 5 that we tasted.
These last two wines were both 2012 Pinots one from Labyrinth by Wine Maker Arki Hill and Storm by Winemaker Ernst Storm. The Labyrinth Pinot Noir was made with whole clusters in neutral oak. The Storm Pinot Noir came from a small block at Presqu’ile that only produced 1.3 tons total that vintage. Ernst did 30% whole cluster and a 6 day cold soak. Fermentation was 14 days on skin and then 10 month in barrel on the lees.
Ernst Storm of Storm Wines is a believer in wines expressing a sense of place. You find a place that produces fruit with depth and balance then the winemaker just guides the grapes. His South African roots gave him a balance between new and old world styles in winemaking. He believes in being gentle with the grapes, basket pressing using gravity flow to move the wines and only fining and filtrating when absolutely needed on the white wines.
If you enjoyed this series and would like to enjoy an experience like this for yourself, check out the Santa Barbara Vintners site and watch for more of their amazing upcoming events. Santa Barbara County is a haven for wine geeks, not wine snobs. People here are relaxed and down to earth and more often than not you will run into the winemaker in the tasting room. If you are fascinated by wine and are looking for people to have interesting conversations about wine and winemaking and who knows what else…this is the place to be.
There are many ways of telling what a vine needs in the vineyard. On our visit, Michael took us into the Syrah at his Vineyard in Ballard Canyon and spoke to us about how the vines communicate with them. “We think of the vines as living beings” Michael says. The vines he says will tell you if they are happy, you will see them with tendril and shoots straight up reaching for the sun. You can tell by their vigor that they are happy and that they are getting enough water. When the vines are stressed the tendrils will droop and the leaves will turn away from the sun, because they don’t want to photosynthesize.
In addition they have moisture probes at varying depths and they can see how fast the roots are taking the water. If the vines are unhappy they can push the water deeper to get to the feeder roots and the tap root.
The leaves will also show you in different ways if they have potassium deficiencies or if there are nitrogen problems.
“The vines will tell you what they need” Michael says, “It’s up to us to read it and learn it’s language”.
The happy Syrah he grows here at Larner Vineyards is sold to other wineries in addition to making his Estate Syrah. But only the estate Syrah will be in the new “Ballard Canyon” bottles. You can stop by and taste his Syrah in Los Olivos at the Larner Tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store.