Starting the day driving north on the 101 to the Santa Maria Valley is never a bad thing. This section of roadway is lined with vineyards. Before you get to Santa Maria you take a right and drive out to the gates of Presqu’ile. Through the gate you see the expanse of rolling vineyards, you pass the Italian Villa of the vineyard next door and come up to the top of the hill where you find the elegant and modern Presqu’ile Winery and tasting room. Chances are you will be greeted by the winery dog as you walk in through the parking lot. Outside there are terraces overlooking a small amphitheatre, all set with comfortable seating perfect to curl up in with a glass of wine. The tasting room has a glass wall that slides open to make it open air during the day and as you look out when it’s clear you can see the ocean in the distance. The Tasting bar is spacious and dotted with bowls of seasoned pecans that came, like the owners the Murphy Family, from Mississippi.
“Presqu’ile” is the Creole word for “almost an island”. The Murphy family retreat on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi held the same name. Yes “held”, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to this place where the family had gathered for generations. So the family headed west to find a 200 acres of property in the Santa Maria Valley. Two generations of Murphy’s are now here and this new Presqu’ile has become the new gathering place for the family.
After we gathered in the tasting room, our group was escorted to the Key to Wine country weekend event, “Taste Through the Vineyard: Explore Wines Sourced from Presqu’ile Vineyards Produced by Different Winemakers”. We were led back through the barrel tunnel. Cut into the side of the mountain this barrel lined tunnel is climate controlled (mostly naturally) and makes for a memorable entrance to the winery. We got into a shiny stainless steel elevator. I felt a little like I was going to a secret base in a James Bond film, but rather than heading to an underground laboratory, we headed up. The doors opened and we entered the sunlit crush pad. Glasses twinkled in the sunlight on sleek modern metal tables, set at the center with a thick wooden block abundantly piled with delicious charcuterie. At the front, just before the railing down to the tanks in this gravity flow winery, there were four smaller tables, each again bedecked with glasses and wines and behind them sat our four winemakers.
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.
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.
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.
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.