Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.

I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!

It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).

A bit of Dulcinea-Sophia in bloom, our Desert Museum Palo Verde

The back label entertainment

I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were

Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

So we did some prosciutto-wrapped canteloupe and I whipped up some fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

The description of the wine on the site mentioned citrus, lemon balm, lemon-lime, and an herbal note of possibly rosemary…so my fish tacos riffed on this.

Fish taco w/ cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs of Atlantic Cod bits defrosted
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • medium to small tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
  • guacamole
  • 1 lime
  • spring greens (or cabbage)
  • rice
  • salsa (I like green salsa)
  • salt
  • pepper

The fish

Cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary
  • Preheat the oven to 425
  • Cut two large squares of parchment
  • place 6-8 thin lemon slices to one side of center on one sheet of the parchment
  • arrange half the cod on top of the lemon slices
  • sprinkle with salt (I used pink himalayan salt)
  • add a grind of pepper
  • top with 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • zest a bit of the lemon on top
  • repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the fish
  • fold up the edges (here’s a video from @Cooksmarts)
  • place both packets on a cookie sheet
  • pop into the oven for about 20 minutes (or less)

The rest

I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.

Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.

You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

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 our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines.  Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details

 

The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel.  These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock.  These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  Soon after they also added Picpoul.  They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50!  In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes.  Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade.  Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014.  Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time.  3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter.  Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year.  Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes

The Adelaida AVA

Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South.  This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees.  In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District.  This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location.  How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen.  For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.

Native Yeast Fermentation

I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation.  Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation.  Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making.  He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”.  During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away.  If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options.  They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well.  They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t.  So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder.  Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.

Use of Foudres

There are few places in California that you will see foudres used.  Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons).  When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room.  As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want.  As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak.  As a result, large wood it the way to go.  With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel.  This gives you more volume to surface area.  The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower.  This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky.  The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.

 

While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines.  So watch for more videos and blog posts.

 

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Wine Pairing: Cod, Clams & roasted citrus avocado salad with a 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. 

Steamed Clams with Butter and Herbs

I was going through our wine selection trying to find a wine that I could find a great pairing to go with. So I went through our Tablas Creek Wines. The great thing about Tablas is that they set you up for a great wine pairing.  They have a vintage chart on their site, so you can see which wines are ready to drink. Tablas Creek does mostly Rhone varieties in the French style, so most of their wines are meant to age. I found a 2012 Patelin de Tablas in the rack in the dining room that was ready to drink and found a recipe and pairing ideas on the Tablas site (yep, they usually have one or 2 recipes to pair with each of their wines, as well as some additional suggestions…it’s really foodie heaven).

There was a fish with fennel recipe and suggestions for citrus avocado salad, fish with tropical salsa and Mussels or clams cooked in butter and wine. We determined we would do the citrus avocado salad, fish with tropical salsa and the clams. We thought we would go to whole foods for a good citrus selection, but since I wanted clams and I wanted them to be easy, we stopped first at Trader Joes.

Foodies might be appalled, but while I wanted clams, I didn’t want the worry of cleaning them, so we picked up a box of TJ’s steamer clams, which are frozen and have an herb butter sauce already. We picked up some frozen Alaskan Cod, a mango, limes, a red bell pepper, a red onion, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, a Minneola, arugula and mint. I had an avocado at home from the farmers market. This was probably a Zutano or a Pinkerton avocado and it was a little different from the well-known Haas. It was smooth skinned and green with a pear like shape with a smooth light flesh.

Cooking

So now it was time to cook. We started by making the salsa, dicing ½ of the red pepper, the mango and ½ of the onion then squeezing the juice of 1 lime over it and seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix this up early if you want and toss it in the fridge to let all those flavors meld.

Next we sliced up our citrus into rings. In retrospect I could have sliced them thinner. They get tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and go in the oven at 425 for 10-15 minutes to roast and caramelize. While they were in there, I tossed my arugula and some fresh mint together and mixed a dressing of small diced red onion and the juice of 1 Meyer lemon.

We started the clams at this point and Michael seasoned the cod. The box of clams went into our preheated pan and then instead of the water called for on the box, I went to add the white wine… only it was red. Silly me…I saw the label and didn’t look to see if it was the white or red Patelin de Tablas. So, Plan B…I grabbed a bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc and tossed in a bit of that.

Michael got some butter (by that I mean almost a stick) going in a skillet and added the cod pieces, these cooked while I sliced the avocado for the salad and pulled the citrus from the oven to top it. Last the dressing of Meyer lemon juice and onion went on.

The Wine Pairing

The fish was plated and topped with our salsa and we were ready to eat! Our wine pairing wasn’t what we originally expected, but we enjoyed the Esprit de Tablas Blanc with dinner and then enjoyed a glass of the Patelin de Tablas after. While the Patelin de Tablas Blanc would have potentially made for a better wine pairing with the mango salsa and with the citrus salad, the Esprit went very well. The difference? The Esprit is a blend of 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc & 5% Picpoul Blanc, where the Patelin Blanc would have been 52% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier, 16% Roussanne & 5% Marsanne. That Viognier would have lended itself nicely to the tropical salsa, but regardless the Esprit was wonderful with it!

The fish and clams were delicious. The salad…the peel and pith were a little bitter. Perhaps if I had sliced these more thinly, it would have soaked up more of the olive oil and been a little sweeter, less chewy and caramelized a little more. It was beautiful though and the mint and arugula were nice with it.

All in all, this was a pretty simple dinner. It took us about 35 to 40 minutes total, but that was with shooting while we cooked. You could multitask and complete the whole thing in about 20 minutes.

So dive in! A fantastic looking dinner doesn’t have to take hours in the kitchen; in fact the best stuff usually is simple and cooks up pretty quick. And even an accidental wine pairing can turn out to be delicious!

À la Vôtre!

In the Vineyard with Steve Beckmen – Shoot thinning

The drive to Purisima Mountain was like taking a step back into my childhood, the curving roads at the top of this canyon reminded me of southern West Virginia, with one dramatic difference…there were vineyards on these hills. WE made this trek during the Spring Vintners Weekend, when we were lucky enough to do a Vineyard hike with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

Located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA this property sits at the north end of the Canyon. From Ballard Canyon Road you drive up and around the Stolpman property to reach the 365 acre property. This estate vineyard is planted primarily with Syrah & Grenache with smaller blocks of Roussanne, Marsanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, Grenach Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard became 100% biodynamic in 2006 and uses a gravity fed drip irrigation system.

The elevations at Purisima Mountain reach 1250 feet. The wind, the fog, the climate all affect the grapes and I had a fascinating conversation with Steve about the “architecture” of the vineyard and how that was still evolving.

We had hiked part way up the Mountain and stopped in the shade of a large Oak tree to taste some wine, have some water and enjoy some snacks. Then Steve pulled us over to the nearest vines and showed us the process of shoot thinning that was beginning to happen all over the vineyard.

The vines here are bi-lateral cordons and they pull off the suckers and try to leave 4 evenly spaced shoots on each cordon. Sometimes you are just pulling suckers (shoots with no blossoms or fruit) and sometimes you are doing some pre-thinning on your fruit this way. The shoot thinning does a couple of things, it gets rid of the suckers that are pulling energy from the vine, it thins out the leaves to allow better sunlight and airflow through the vines and it thins your crop a little to allow your berries to be a little more concentrated. As they thin they also start to train the shoots up into the trellis system above.

Watch as Steve explains:

The Beckmen Winery and Tasting room are not located here at Purisima Mountain, but are one valley over. They have a tasting room on a duck pond with gazebos where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, that is located just outside Los Olivos.

2670 Ontiveros Road, Los Olivos

1-805-688-8664

They are open Daily from 11-5.

You can learn more about the new Ballard Canyon AVA at their new site or on our Ballard Canyon Page here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

Shale Oak – a holistic sense of sustainability

Shale OAK Winery

In researching for our trip to Paso, I came across CellarPass.  Cellar Pass provides online reservations for tastings at wineries.  I found Shale Oak through them and scheduled a 10 am tasting.

This stunning tasting room is off of 46W on Oakdale road. The winery released it’s inaugural vintage in May of 2011, and opened their tasting room later that year.  This winery was built to be sustainable and the building is LEED certified.  At least 1/3 of the wineries energy needs are supplied by the solar photovoltaic panels on the building. The redwood used on the building is 100 year old reclaimed wood from Vandenburg.  All the items in their gift shop are repurposed items.

The owner Al Good was raised in Virginia and is an entrepreneurial farmer.  He has developed a holistic approach to the agriculture business.  The sense of land stewardship is what drives Shale Oak.  Their winemaker Curtis Hascall is in his early 30’s and grew up in Watford England.  He graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in food-science.  He worked with Consulting winemaker Kevin Patrick Riley before coming on board with Shale Oak.  Consultant winemaker Kevin Riley is well know in Paso and consults for several wineries as well as owning and running Proulx with his wife Genoa. His adventure style shows in the wines.

Before we began our tasting our pourer got us each a small glass of a palate cleanser called evo that was developed by a couple for their senior project at Cal Poly.  The pH is the same as wine, so it is better than crackers or water.  Our tasting began with the 2011 Sui.  Sui is the second element in Japanese philosophy and represents water, fluidity, magnetism and suppleness.  This blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Grigio is bright and clear with honeydew melon and a nice minerality.  We next moved on to the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I know…Cabernet as the first red on a menu?  Seems a little out of order doesn’t it?  But this is  a lovely approachable soft cab with just a little petite Verdot.  The Cab has a very interesting nose.  It is deep rich and smoky.  On the palate it is lighter bodied almost with a Pinot Noir mouth feel, but still a very deep nose.

The 2009 Syrah had berries on the nose and was meaty and smoky on the palate.  This is a fruit forward new world style wine.

The 2009 Petite Sirah has a sense of caramel, this is a bigger wine, but very approachable.  You get violets on the nose.  Unlike many Petite Sirahs this is not heavy or inky.  It has great aromas and flavors but is lighter on the palate.  They once did a pairing of this with an ice cream with a caramel ribbon (yum).

The 2009 Petit Verdot is dry but not as dry as a typical Petit Verdot.  You get a burst of raisin with this.  This one sits at 16% alcohol but is not hot.

The Cabernet and all of their whites are grown on their Pleasant Valley Vineyard on the East side. Here on the property by the winery they grow Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel.  The Zin is young and not producing much yet so they supplement their Zin by buying fruit from Willow Creek Farms right down the road.  Willow Creek is owned by Kevin Riley.

Their white wines are aged in stainless, and the reds in oak.  Their 2012 Zin is currently aging in New Oak.

The tasting room is stunning with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows on the front, clean lines and a sense of peacefulness.

They have a beautiful patio where they have music on the last Sunday of each month.  They sell wine by the glass and encourage people to bring their lunch and enjoy the patio.

Really this place is stunning and the wines were really wonderful.

If you need a little Zen time, this is the place to come.  Bring a snack, get a glass of one of their wines and relax and rejuvenate on the serene patio with the beautiful water features.

Zaca Mesa at 40

Zaca Mesa Sign

 

Zaca Mesa WIndmill foggy Morning

Zaca Mesa WIndmill foggy morning

This weekend Zaca Mesa Winery will celebrate it’s 40th birthday.  This winery has quite a bit of history.  The property was purchased by a group of friends in 1972 and the vineyard was planted in 1973 and they have been sustainably growing grapes in Santa Barbara ever since.  The winery itself was built in 1978 and expanded in 1981.  By the early 90’s they had determined that Rhone Varieties grew best on the property.  They were the first Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995.  They are down to the last of their original owners and have been family owned for about 25 years.

Their first winemaker was Ken Brown who has since gone on to start the very successful Byron in Santa Maria.  The rest of the list of previous winemakers continues to look like a who’s who of Santa Barbara & Paso winemakers including: Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Daniel Gehrs of Daniel Gehrs Wines, Clay Brock of Wild Horse, Chuck Carlson of Curtis and Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines.

Their current winemaker is Eric Mohseni.  He started his career in wine retail then worked at Edna Valley Vineyards in 1997.  It was there that he got hooked on winemaking.  He started at Zaca Mesa in 2001 as the enologist worked up to Assistant Winemaker, then Associate Winemaker and finally took the reins in July of 2008.

All the wines here are estate bottled and grown.  They don’t buy or sell grapes.  They have about 750 acres of which 244 are planted with grapes.  20 acres are newly planted with Syrah.  They sit about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Northern portion of the Santa Ynez AVA.  Soils here are mostly Chamise loam over gravelly beds of silk and clay so the soil is well drained.  Many of their vineyards are up on a high mesa at 1500 feet.  This gives them lower high and higher low temperatures.  The more consistent temps allow for slow consistent ripening.  The height also causes higher UV radiation, which makes the grapes smaller, and thicker-skinned giving them increased color and phenolic compounds, which can provide more flavor to the wine.

Zaca Mesa glass

Zaca Mesa glass

As to “sustainable” there is a “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing” developed by the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.  It spells out “practices that are sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain.”  Zaca Mesa is sustainable using organic products, conserving energy and working efficiently to reduce waste.  They farm only one-third of the acreage leaving open space for wildlife and preserving ground water.

Zaca Mesa was the third stop in a little trilogy we were doing in Santa Barbara, the day before we had tasted at both Au Bon Climat and Qupe.  We rolled in early on a Friday morning and watched the coastal fog roll through the valley coming in from the North.  The property is beautiful with huge trees greeting you as you walk from the parking area to the tasting room.

It was the beginning of a busy weekend for them as they had their wine club pickup party happening the next day.  We rolled up and were the first guests in the tasting room.

Now onto the tasting!

  • 2010 Estate Viognier.  This wine received 91 Points and was the Editor’s Choice in Wine Enthusiast Magazine in the Feb 2013 issue.  The nose is very Viognier but on the palate it is dryer than expected and has lots of lemon lime.  It has the body of a Viognier but is crisper and brighter on the palate with a bit of minerality.  This wine starts out in stainless steel and then transfers to new oak after about 3 months.  $16
  •  Z Blanc.  This wine was not on the tasting menu but we managed a taste.  It is a blend of Grenache, Roussanne and a little Viognier.  The grapes for this were hand harvested, fermented and barrel aged for 10 months.  This had minerality and a little oak and would go great with shellfish.  This has great layer of flavor.
  • 2009 Estate Roussanne:  Michael does not normally like Roussanne.   There is some flavor in there that he usually finds off-putting.  This Roussanne has great weight and viscosity in your mouth. It is aged sur lee so it is mellower.  Michael didn’t mind this Roussanne.  Wine Enthusiast liked it and gave it 93 point in the February 2013 issue.  $25.
  • 2009 Estate Grenache Blanc:  A little brighter than the Z Blanc Blend with a bit more mineral, but less depth then the blend (obviously). $25
  • 2010 Estate Mourvedre:  This was smoky with a beautiful nose.  First I got smoke then blueberry.  It was cool on the palate and had a long finish.  I could have kept my nose in this glass all day.  $35.
  • 2008 Estate Z Cuvee: This GSM Blend is mostly Grenache (68%) with 18% Mourvedre and 14% Syrah. Lots of blackberry with big fruit on the nose.  This will cellar for another 7 years.  $20.
  • 2008 Estate Z-Three:  Another GSM with 51% Syrah, 37% Mourvedre and 12% Grenache.  This was a really wonderful blend (my favorite here) Loads of blackberry with a little blueberry from the Mourvedre and then a touch of raspberry from the Grenache.  This again will cellar for 5 or so more years.  Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points in their February issue.  $42.
  • 2009 Estate Syrah:  I got blackberry, smoke, salted meat and a little bit of dried herbs.  Bigger tannins that lightly coat your palate and the roof of your mouth but not your teeth.  Warm on the back of the palate without being hot.  Yeah, this would be perfect with rack of lamp in rosemary and garlic.  This is great now and can cellar for up to 10 years, if you can keep from drinking it before then.  $25.

 

After our tasting we wandered up on the hill to where they have a small picnic area overlooking the winery and vineyards.  I could have strolled the grounds all day and maybe gotten Michael to play me a game of chess on the oversized chess board outside the tasting room, but….we had to press on to our next tasting! (Coming up next…Talley!)