Uncorked Ventures Blog
Coming in this month's Special Selections shipment is the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir from the famed Savoy Vineyard. We thought our wine club customers might enjoy learning about what made us select this wine while also hearing a bit about the vineyard, winemaker and owner which wouldn't fit in our regular monthly newsletter.
Chronicle Wines has a relatively simple premise, show off the outstanding vineyards and terrior of the North Coast of California. Many of these famed vnieyards are both sustainably and organically farmed.
Chronicle is owned by Mike Hengehold, himself a veteran of the wine industry both through birth (his dad owned a vineyard and he grew up in wine country) as well as pedigree, having run Luna Vineyards for close to a decade. We've found that having supportive ownerhsip is incredibly important, but having a supportive owner who understands the wine industry creates an incredible environment.
The winemaker at Chronicle is James McPhail who is also a California native and boasts family ties in Marin County to before the turn of last century. James has made a name for himself at previous wine stops including Sequana Vineyards which has produced a solid run of 90+ point Pinot Noir's many of which priced under $40. What interested us about James wasn't as much as his pedigree in winemaking, but instead his varied set of life experiences. Not to be too corny, but Pinot Noir moreso than any other varietal gives me a sense of place. Having a winemaker who grew up in Sonoma County and who appreciates that sense of place based on years of travel, was an interesting combination. Of course, the long history of producing great Pinot was pretty interesting as well.
Lastly, the most important part of the wine: The Savoy Vineyard. Originally planted in 1991, clone densities have needless to say changed some over the years, but there is about 30 acres of Pinot Noir currently planted. Located in Anderson Valley, the vineyard is slightly warmer than its neighbors because it is protected on two sides, one by a mountain and the other by a small naturally occuring rise. Littorai has made a name for itself as a wine label almost exclusively from this vineyard site, which many winemakers during our conversations count among the ten most important in California for Pinot Noir.
Overall, we simply thought that the 2009 Chronicle Pinot Noir Saovy Vineyard was an excellent, excellent wine. It is heavier on darker fruit than many other Pinot Noir's you'll find in California, but keeps a sense of elegance and grace at the same time.
Why try and explain our tasting notes, when we can let the professionals at Wine Enthusiast do it instead:
"The grapes obviously were well grown, as this wine shows a particular intensity of red cherry fruit, as well as minerality. The acidity is just about perfect, the tannins brisk and fine. Yet it’s too young to offer full enjoyment. Cellar this polished Pinot Noir for 4–6 years to let it change in interesting ways." Cellar Selection
As a vintage, 2009 was an unqualified success. It was a year where we achieved physiological ripeness in Anderson Valley at lower brix and lower potential alcohols. This was the result of a moderate spring and summer, punctuated by a few stretches near harvest when temperatures hovered in the 90's.
Is that too direct?
I think anyone who orders wine from us, or has tried to send a wine gift basket to a friend has dealt with the alcohol shipping laws in the United States. Yes, they're a mess and yes they are constantly changing. Both of those pose their own unique set of challenges.
A recent Governor's veto stopped one of the most egregious over steps we've seen in a while.
The distributors argued that wineries should be, in effect treated as franchises.
Having grown up with my parents owning a Dairy Queen franchise, I can't exactly tell you what my response was to this, but let's just say that I don't see the two equally.
A winery is a supplier for a distributor. A franchise is an independently owned version of a larger store. I don't think the difference is hard to see.
In any case, the problem with the whole argument is that a winery would in essence be locked in to the first distributor that they work with.
I think most of us are glad that these type of laws are getting thrown out left and right. In this case, it took some independent thinking in the state capitol instead of a court case, but the result is just as satisfying.
I know I've talked about it before and I think distributors do a nice job in many markets, but the entire industry, including distributors themselves, would benefit from greater consumer choice.
We've all heard the saying, right? Lies, damn lies and statistics. Seeing the following chart made me think of that, given that we're lumping all $20+ into the "luxury" category I can't see how else to explain it.
One thing we've found with Uncorked Ventures and our wine club members, the folks buying Wine Exploration Club shipments differ in some important ways from those buying Special Selections memberships. I don't think that lumping them together is giving anyone a realistic look at the wine market, although it's fun to think that 19 of the top 20 "luxury" brands come from California, it is entirely dependent on how you define luxury.
It’s one of the giant problems in the wine industry, grapes grow faster at warmer temperatures and grow more consistently (both good thing for winery owners) but the resulting wine usually isn’t very good.
There in lies the real challenge facing the industry, can you find a range of wines which happily grow at warm temperatures, but produce a higher quality of wine?
We know that Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Pinot Noir don’t react well to consistent 100 degree heat-that’s how we end up with so much almost undrinkable jug wine at grocery stores and drug stores across the country.
I saw a story the other day in an agriculture magazine about how researchers at UC Davis and bringing in native grape varieties from warmer European climates and are trying to plant them in the incredibly warm San Joaquin Valley in California. While our traditional grapes do not do well in those climates, might other choices from warmer parts of Europe like Spain, Greece and Italy fare better? It seems reasonable to think so and it’s an exciting project. More cheap and drinkable wine would be a good thing as the industry continues to expand.
Mourvedre is an interesting grape type for a number of reasons. To start, almost every wine drinker has had Mouvedre in a wine they’ve tasted, although only a small portion have ever had a varietal specific Mourvedre.
The reason for that is quite simple, from its beginnings in Spain (according to most genealogical histories, in the Catalonia region along the Spanish/French border) but more importantly in the Rhone Valley of France, Mourvedre has been a blending grape.
It’s often including with Syrah and Grenache in GSM blends, some of which have become increasingly famous within the wine world, especially with a GSM being named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2010. That specific wine was a Saxum effort from the famed James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles. Wine critic Robert Parker counts the James Berry Vineyard among the top five in the state, in effect calling them one of California’s Grand Cru’s. The simple fact that Mourvedre is given plantings in such an important vineyard says something about how the team at Saxum feels about the grape and its long term prospects.
In any case, Mourvedre is set to gain market share. To start, it’s a relatively easy grape to grow and it reacts well to warmer temperatures which are becoming a larger and larger concern for vintners. There are a number of reasons for its performance with warmer temperatures, not the least of which is an extended hang time, which helps to allow the grape to gain higher sugar levels and therefore higher alcohol levels. While there is always going to be debate about appropriate levels of alcohol in wine, no one can argue the amazing consumer and critical success being enjoyed by high alcohol California wines. Plus, as temperatures warm alcohol levels increase.
As you might expect, great Mouvedre’s are still relatively difficult to find. In some ways, it’s still a cult grape among the winemaking community. Given that the entire set of Rhone varietals was virtually extinct in California in the mid 1980’s until the Rhone Rangers saved them, there is still plenty of room to grow,
Some of our favorite Mourvedre’s and Mourvedre blends:
Saxum: Personally, any conversation about great Mourvedre has to start here for a number of reasons. Saxum makes a variety of Mourvedre and GSM choices from a number of local Paso Robles vineyards, when you can get your hands on them, they’re one of the best American examples of the varietal. A recent Los Angeles Times article had a great quote from owner and winemaker Justin Smith “"Mourvèdre is great here," says Saxum owner-winemaker Smith. "Ever since the beginning, when we used to bottle things like Syrah as a varietal, we would throw Mourvèdre in it. As we learn more about it viticulturally, we're increasing the portion of it. It has texture and weight and ripeness. It's a great foil for Grenache, which is high-alcohol and high-acid in this area. Mourvèdre is lower in acid and alcohol, so they really work well together."
Terry Hoague: Yes, this is the former NFL star turned winemaker. While the winery itself doesn’t specialize in Mourvedre, Saxum uses some vineyard space to grow the grape so the potential is obviously there. Their “5 Blocks” Syrah seems to be increasing its Mourvedre component on a yearly basis, with the wine now containing more Mourvedre than Grenache. Hoague crafts some of the most delicate wines in Paso Robles and is likely a winery which will continue to hone and expand Mourvedre production in the future.
Qupe Wines: Owner and winemaker Bob Lindquist is a legend in the Santa Barbara wine scene, largely responsible for the good standing of the warm climate AVA’s in and around Los Olivos and Solvang as well as the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley. In any case, Qupe does produce a range of GSM blends from a variety of vineyard sites. If you want to compare how Mouvedre affects a wine blend, this is a nice place to start since Qupe generally produces a varietal specific Syrah as well as a blend from each vineyard site. Opening both bottles will give you a really good idea about the depth of color and dark plum flavors often imparted by a well grown Mourvedre. Qupe also makes wines at high enough production levels that they are generally available at fine wine stores across the country.
Quivira Vineyards: Quivira is among the most environmentally conscious wineries you’ll find anywhere. From biodynamic farming practices to keeping pigs, chickens, bees and yes even a few turkey’s on the property to make sure the estate is sustainable over the long term. While Quivira has been long focused on Zinfandel, one of their most unique and interesting wines is a Wine Creek Ranch Estate Mourvedre. It’s one of the few true estate produced Mouvedre’s in California from a well known and respected winery. Production is smaller as you might expect at only 300 cases per year, but this is a really, really nice intro into the grape at a surprisingly affordable price point of $32.
Ridge Vineyards: I think everyone who drinks wine consistently knows Ridge by now, starting with their outstanding results in the Judgment of Paris so many years ago. The winery doesn’t make a varietal Mourvedre every year, but when it has in the past the grapes have been from the famed Monte Bello vineyard. That alone makes a Ridge Mourvedre worth looking out for. As a side note, Ridge along with a few other California vintners sometimes refer to the grape as Mataro, it’s French name.
McCrea Cellars: Doug McCrea has been incredibly nice to me since the beginning here at Uncorked Ventures although we’ve yet to feature one of his wines. He’s considered most responsible for bringing Rhone varietals to the state of Washington and he certainly deserves credit for making an affordable Mourvedre ($28). He’s also said numerous times that he thinks, long term that Mourvedre shows the most old world character of those Rhone grapes grown in Washington further speaking to his high opinion of the grape.
We hope this has helped to answer some of your questions about Mourvedre. It's an interesting grape that's well worth the time to get to know, especially given the likely increasingly numbers of plantings coming in the future.
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