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.
We continue with the third segment of the Key to Wine Country event held at Presqu’ile Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Held on the crush pad high atop the Presqu’ile gravity flow winery, we had the opportunity to taste wines made by 4 different winemakers, all from grapes grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. After side by sides of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, we moved onto Pinot Noir of which there were 5 to taste.
In this section we taste through the Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir made by Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje as well at 2 Pinots from Luceant Luminesce a 2011 and a 2012.
The Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir was done with whole clusters and spent 18 months in neutral oak. It was fascinating to do a side by side with Kevin Law’s 2011 and 2012 Luceant Luminesce Pinot Noirs. Again all the grapes are from Presqu’ile Vineyard. 2011 was a cooler year and Kevin used 1/3 whole cluster and 25% new oak for this vintage, as opposed to the 2012 which was bigger. The 2012 vintage he went 75% whole cluster and 50% new oak. It’s amazing to see the difference a vintage can make as well as the differences created by the amount of whole cluster press and oak which can impart tannins and other flavors.
Kevin was the lone American on the panel. He jokes when the get to him “I don’t have an accent”. His wines have previously been produced under the Luminesce label but they have had to relinquish that name. In the interim you will see them often listed as Luceant Luminesce as they segue into their new name Luceant. Before opening his label, he spent 7 years as the assistant winemaker at Tantara. He is soft spoken and you won’t find him out on social media. This humble winemaker spends all his time pushing to make greater wines. The differences in his two Pinots were many, but they were both beautiful expressions of their vintage and style.
In our second installment of the amazing conversation at the Presqu’ile Winery Key to Wine Country Event, we move on to a side by side tasting of Chardonnays.
The grapes for these two Chardonnays were again both grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. The Presqu’ile Chardonnay, made by winemaker Dieter Cronje is aged in neutral oak for 18 months. They typically harvest their Chardonnay early to retain the acidity. This is a mix of clones including Dijon clones 95 and 96 as well as the Davis clone 4. They had also been playing with a sparkling program and had some grapes from the 131 and 124 Champagne clones that were included.
The Labyrinth Chardonnay was all from Block B. Ariki Hill ages this Chardonnay in 30% new oak and the wine is fermented in the barrel on the lees.
A little back ground on Ariki (Rick) Hill of Labyrinth…
Ariki hails from New Zealand. While working in the dairy industry he started his winemaking. He found many similarities in handling fragile milk products and grape juice for wine. He pursues balanced wines that feature the region. He currently makes wines from Santa Barbara County, Paso Robles and the Yarra Valley in Australia. Most of his Paso wines are under the HAKA label. You can find more details about Rick and his wines on his website at https://labyrinthwine.com.
When you are a wine geek, there is no place you would rather be than tasting wine with a winemaker. In June, the Santa Barbara Vintners held their 1st Key to Wine Country Weekend. The weekend included multiple events at various wineries, meant to give you an insiders perspective on winemaking in Santa Barbara. Presqu’ile set up an event for Key Weekend, that gave you the opportunity to taste with 4 different winemakers. The amazing thing about this, was that all four winemakers were making wine from the grapes from the same vineyard. A side by side tasting while listening to the winemakers each speak about their wines was wine geek bliss.
This event was held at Presqu’ile Winery on the crush pad at the top of their beautiful gravity flow winery. Past the tables set with glassware and charcuterie were 4 smaller tables, behind which sat our winemakers. Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje, was joined by Storm Winemaker Ernst Storm, Luceant Luminesce Winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth Winemaker Ariki Hill.
The discussion itself lasted a bit over an hour and we have split the conversation into 4 parts. This first section includes an introduction by Presqu’ile owner Matt Murphy, a bit of Santa Maria Valley history from Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and then a side by side tasting of the Presqu’ile 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the Storm Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.
Of note with these wines the Storm 2012 Sav Blanc was done in a mix of Neutral Oak and Acacia wood and was aged on the lees for 8 months. The Presqu’ile 2013 Sav Blanc was done with a wild ferment and aged in a combination of Stainless Steel tank, concrete egg and neutral oak.
And…both of these winemakers are from South Africa.
Michael and I started our Key to Wine Country Weekend with a Vineyard Tour at Riverbench Vineyards with the Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck. We arrived way early (I read 10 am and it was actually 11!) and actually beat Laura, the tasting room manager in. Really it was a happy accident though, Michael had time to take some great morning shots around the tasting room and vineyard and we relaxed in the garden listening to the birds. The birdsong was really amazing.
Riverbench Winery Patio
Riverbench is located in the Santa Maria Valley on Foxen Canyon Road. The vineyard established in 1973 planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made a name for themselves as growers of these varieties. In 2004 the property was purchased by a group of local families, who shortly thereafter began producing their own wine. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they now grow Savignon Blanc and Albarino. The majority of the fruit they grow is still for other wineries and winemakers. The Albarino is for Kenneth Volk who is just a stone’s throw away.
Rawley just took over for long time Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg this year, but he’s part of the family (he’s the son of owner Randy Hermreck) and he has extensive farming experience and a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, and from our walk with him, you can tell he has a great love for these vineyards.
Vintage 2014 Grapes
Rawley started by walking us out to the Chardonnay block out front. Block 37 was one of the original blocks and these vines are indeed 41 years old. The style of trellising here is known as California sprawl. This is a Simple Curtain two-wire vertical trellis and is typically used when the anticipated vine vigor is moderate to high. There is a wire for the cordon and a higher wire that is for the foliage support. The rows here are at 12’ spacing. They do a beautiful Blanc de blanc sparkling wine from some of this Chardonnay.
Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench
We headed across the driveway to the back of block 38 to look at some of the Pinot Noir planted there. Here the trellises are Vertical-shoot positioned and Rawley showed us how the upper wires could be repositioned. We talked about frost protection. They did a little frost protection this year as a preventative measure, but luckily did not have any frost. They use oils and mixed chemistry to keep mold and mildew down and luckily this area never gets warm enough to have to worry much about mites. They do have gopher issues and have Owl Boxes and Raptor Perches. Owls make for great rodent control. You put up the boxes and the owls fly in. 1 owl will catch 1 gopher per night which really helps keep the gopher population down. Owls are not territorial like raptors, so you can put up multiple owl boxes without a worry.
We talked a little about handpicking as opposed to machine picking. Labor is becoming very hard to come by but the machines require a certain amount of space between the rows and they run a quarter million each. The machines are usable year round with attachments for picking, disking, spraying, mowing, and pre-pruning. Rawley watches the machines all the time over on the other side of the river up on the bench at Kendall-Jackson. As for how they harvest: they basically shake the berries off of the stems, so this doesn’t work for winemakers who want whole cluster presses or stem inclusion. The berries are shaken onto conveyor belts and then into baskets.
9000 plus plants
The front area of the block by Foxen Canyon road had been pulled out and was scheduled to be replanted the following morning. Rawley took us around back to show us the 9000 (yes 9000) baby vines that were waiting to be planted. I have seen dormant vines before waiting to be planted, grafted onto their rootstock, but this was new to see green potted vines. They all had green wax around their centers to protect the graft. Rawley’s nursery guy had designed a new kind of pot for the baby vines and convinced Rawley to try some in these new containers. Rather than being the short square pot like the kind you get on your vegetables at the nursery, these new pots were tall and thinner. They had holes on the sides, which kept the roots from growing out through air exposure. These new pots allow the tap root more room to avoid “j-root” (when the root reaches the bottom of the pot and turns back up). Rawley will see how they do compared to the other pots! We actually stopped by the next morning to watch as they were planting these vines.
Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax
At this point it was time to grab Sadie, Rawley’s black Labrador and head into the back garden to put wax seals on some Pinot bottles. This evidently is Rawley’s job. Each bottle of Pinot from Riverbench has a wax top and is hand-dipped. It’s a simple but focused process and Rawley demonstrated before he let me have a go. You begin with what looks like a crock pot filled with the melted wax. Hold the bottle with your thumb over the center of the label and dip the bottle into the wax at a 45 degree angle. Make sure to allow the wax to reach the point on the neck of the bottle where the wine would come to when the bottle is standing upright. When you pull the bottle out, begin spinning the bottle and the excess wax will start to drip back into the crock pot. As you continue turning you gradually get the bottle to completely vertical. When it is done dripping you plunge it into a bucket of water to cool it and seal it. It was pretty fascinating and concentrating work, and I decided that Laura would have to put this bottle aside for me to purchase after lunch.
Picnic and Tasting
Laura then brought out lunch for us to enjoy with Rawley & Sadie on the back patio. We started our tasting with lunch with the Blanc de Blanc which is a lovely dry sparkling wine and was refreshing after our walk. We enjoyed the 2013 Rosé, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Pinot Noir and finished with the 2013 Reisling. Paired with the salad & sandwiches as we listened to the birds and talked Rodeo with Rawley it made for the perfect lunch.