Uncorked Ventures Blog
Last night brought a rather unique opportunity to take part in #winechat with the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. The Association brought together six wineries, who shipped one wine each to ten different wine bloggers, myself included.
I’ll cover the tasting over the next few days, otherwise these entries are going to get out of control rather quickly. I’ll also take the time over the coming weeks to feature each of the six wineries whom were kind enough to share their wine, their story and their time with all of us.
I lived in Santa Barbara for five years and greatly enjoyed my time there, so I’m fairly familiar with the wines and growing regions of the central coast, Santa Barbara in peculiar, but this event was a good reminder for me of the wide range of wines and wine styles being crafted in Santa Barbara County.
To start, I have to say a quick thank you to Bill Eyer of Cuvee Corner, someone I’ve actually worked a day of bottling with in the past as Morgen McLaughlin of the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association for putting this together. As it turns out Morgen comes highly recommended from her time with the Finger Lakes Wine County, where she certainly helped the region gain a following with the wine community, especially in and around New York City. Welcome to California Morgen, there might not be a prettier and easier place to live than Santa Barbara County. I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did.Wine #1: Fontes & Phillips 2010 Sauvignon Blanc: My notes were pretty simple. It’s a solid New Zealand in style (although lighter on the acidity) Sauvignon Blanc that has enough minerality to keep me interesting and make me sure this isn’t a Chardonnay. A good wine. A nice effort at the $15-$18 price point, where you don’t often find a ton of easily drinkable, yet interesting white wine’s. At 112 cases of production, it’s something I’d happy ship. What others said:
Wine #2: Baehner Fournier Vineyards 2012 Sauvignon Blanc One of the reasons people inside the wine industry, as well as consumers love events like this is the opportunity to compare and contrast wines from similar areas. In this case, we have vineyard locations only a few miles apart, but dramatically different wines. My notes show that there is more acidity here. Personally, I like that in my Sauvignon Blanc, but I worry that some of my newer wine drinking customers aren’t accustomed to it. Definitively a Bordeaux styled Sauvignon Blanc, this is a nice effort at under $20 as well. Creamy citrus is listed on the official tasting notes and that’s both a flavor as well as a smell which came through big time. It’s just a great summer wine. I also said:
#winechat it's the type of Sauv Blanc that always seems to do well when we pour it live in person— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
#Winechat From a palate intimately familiar w/dozens upon dozens of NZ SBs this fresh, vibrant Fontes & Phillips'10 SB at $15 is QPR indeed— Palate Exposure (@PalateXposure) July 18, 2013
Wine #3: Palmina Winery 2011 Arneis I’ll have to be honest, when I first received my tasting list I assumed this wasn’t a varietal specific wine, but instead simply a name of a blend. It turns out Arneis is a grape, about to go extinct across the world, with its roots in Italy. After a bit of research, this is the wine I was most excited to try. It isn’t often that we find something truly unique within the wine industry. I said:
Our philosophy at Palmina is not to duplicate what the Italians do, but to offer a Santa Barbara County interpretation #winechat— Palmina Wines (@palminawines) July 18, 2013
Arneis (Our-Nay-Is) is elegant and excellent with food. Lovely pear and citrus #winechat— Laurie Jervis (@LaurieJervis) July 18, 2013
This Wednesday between 6-7pm PST we’ll be one of the 10 official tasters for #winechat.
This week 6 Santa Barbara County Vintners Association wineries have shipped wine to 10 different blogs or media outlets and asked everyone to come together for a virtual tasting.
The wines are:
Imagine Wines 2010 Viognier
Baehner Fournier 2012 Sauv Blanc
Summerland 2012 Sierra Madre Chard
Brewer-Clifton 2010 Gnesa Chard
Fontes & Phillips 2010 Sauv Blanc
Palmina 2011 Arneis
I’ll talk a bit more about each wine including our tasting notes after the event tomorrow evening, but I’m quite excited for the Arneis. Arneis is a Italian wine grape from Piedmont that many Italian vintners have stopped growing over the years because it is so fickle. With under two thousand acres planted across the world, it is without a doubt a grape on the verge of extinction and one that I’ve never tasted in a varietal wine before. Seeing a planting on the central coast says a lot about Palmina and their willingness to take some risks.
Hurricane Katrina was certainly one of the tragic event’s in our nation’s history, living in San Diego at the time I remember reading the stories of the people and events of those dark days and hoping that something good could come out of the outpouring of support. For many, it simply meant being helped to find new places to live, from Texas to California.
Presqu’ile Winery is in some ways, an off shoot of that terrible time. Presqu’ile means “almost an island” in Creole, a nod to the ownership’s family deep sense of place and belonging and farming tradition on the Gulf.
Owned by multiple generations of the Murphy family (Matt, Amanda, Jonathan, Lindsey, Anna, Madison and Suzanne) Presqu’ile is definitely a family operation and should continue to be indefinitely. It seems that Matt Murphy has been the driving force here, he is responsible for bringing the love for wine to the family, as well as for his building a friendship with a South African, who would eventually become the estate’s winemaker. For those looking for a wine experience where you meet someone in the tasting room who is intimately connected to the wine and the winery, Presqu’ile offers that opportunity, an opportunity which seems to be dying in California wine.
Of course, an interesting and unique family story is only that, without some good wine to back that up. Presqu’ile is located in the Santa Maria Valley (which we’ve talked about in this space before) and offers some of the most varied terrain and terrior in the state from which to craft wine.
We’ve borrowed their own image for their vineyard location, but really the highlight of the growing region is an incredible combination of sun and cooler breezes from the Pacific Ocean. Wine grapes need a delicate balance these days between sun, which promotes ripeness and cooler breezes and night time temperatures which allow the grapes to regain acidity and achieve a higher quality of wine. Santa Maria Valley has that combination in spades and the Prequ’ile Vineyard is no different. We’ve talked a lot in the past about how wine seems to bring people with different backgrounds, but vineyard manager Jim Stollberg might have the most divergent background for a vineyard manager that we’ve ever seen. Spending time at UC Davis sometimes seems like a prerequisite for winemakers and other winery staff in California, but seldom do we see people with biomedical undergraduate work enter the world of wine. Evidently Stollberg entered Davis with plans to play baseball and spend an awful lot of time in labs, only to find himself interested and eventually working in the world of wine for his company, Maverick Farming.
Since we are in the time of superstar winemakers, we can’t possible talk about a winery and vineyard without spending some time on the man, or woman behind the winemaking decisions. Dieter Cronje holds the winemaker post and is one of the younger members of that select group on the Central Coast. Like Presqu’ile and their grower, he’s something of a maverick. As an example, we’ve run into very, very few winemakers who are willing to use natural yeast. Yeast occurs naturally on grapes and fermentation will occur if you given juice and skins enough time, but you won’t necessarily know how long fermentation will take. That’s part of the allure to commercial yeast, you are adding a known quantity to your winemaking process. Natural yeast throws mother nature right into your wine production, just as it is in the vineyard. We’ve seen winemakers like Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega use natural yeast (we love their wines and the people at Alpha Omega btw) but generally winemakers willing to take those chances have already made a name for themselves and something to fall back on if things go wrong. Now, there’s no real reason that things would go wrong with natural yeast, but it isn’t how you’re generally taught to make wine.
That willingness to experiment is one of the things that we continually hear about Presqu’ile. They experiment in their vineyard and allow their winemaker to experiment with what’s being produced. This is about as natural of a process as you can find, native yeast, no filtering, no fining. Only sulfur is added. As you might expect, this isn’t a winemaking style that you see taught at large scale American winemaking schools or intern programs, Cronje originally hails from South Africa.
Ok, ok you probably want to know something about the wine. First, given their process, it isn’t surprising that these are among the most food friendly and restrained wines that you’re going to find in the Santa Maria Valley. Pinot Noir is the requisite star of the show here and Presqu’ile offers both a Santa Maria Valley blend, as well as a number of single vineyard choices. For the wine enthusiast inside me, I love the variety of vineyard choices, even when the vineyards are only a mile or two apart. The differences in vineyard and block sites are evident, especially when comparing their estate vineyard and the Rim Rock which adds some other interesting aspects to a high end Pinot Noir discussion because it is fermented in cement and comes in via whole clusters.
Additionally, if you’re a big fan of Pinot Noir on the Central Coast, 100% of the Rose grapes are from Pinot Noir. The Presqu’ile Pinot is a buzzy and rounded version of Rose that should appease even those who don’t usually drink pink, assuming they find it on a warm enough day.
As you might expect the estate also crafts a range of Chardonnay’s as well as two different Sauvignon Blanc choices. One other wine of note though is their Syrah, which is currently sourced from the outstanding Bien Nacido Vineyard. I thought this was an interesting wine on two levels. First, it was really good. Second, it is one of the few Syrah’s in California that you can find being made from a single clone and within a single vineyard. In this case, it’s clone 99. Clone 99 has become something of a catch phrase of sorts in the Santa Maria Valley when you speak with growers. It grows slightly larger berries than other grapes, as well as offering a good yield per acre. It’s also one of the better known Syrah clone’s around these days, with widespread plantings internationally. I think those wide spread international plantings are especially important given the chances being taken by Presqu’ile on the yeast side-they need clone’s with as much available information as possible.
Chasing the Vine
Every so often, we run into a new, engaging and interesting wine blog. Since we know our readers and customers are often fascinated with all things wine and we’re typically limited by the whole running a small business thing, we like to share our finds in this space.
In this case, we present: Chasing the Vine.
Written by Lauren Mowery, reportedly a reformed (wording is my own) lawyer in New York City, there are a few things that we really enjoy about Chasing the Vine. First, it’s fun to get some greater geographical perspective. New York City is clearly one of the food and wine capitals of America and it’s location puts Lauren closer to Bordeaux and Burgundy than Chile, so there is a definite international (non South American division) focus of her blog. We’ve greatly enjoyed her entries on cool climate Australian wine, as well as her stories on South Africa (a region we’re bullish on).
Additionally, as a wine start up we can appreciate her experience within the wine industry which includes a stint at Gilt Taste as well as her column over at the Village Voice (it’s a fun free newspaper originally published from Greenwich Village and in many ways the precursor for many of my favorite weekly’s here on the west coast including the San Diego Reader and more recently the East Bay Express).
Overall, it’s just a fun blog and one filled with interviews of people within the world of food and wine. Hearing what winemakers have to say is always fun, but the chief’s and other people who help the sale of wine offer a different and important perspective as well.
We hope you’ll check out Lauren’s work.
Over the past few years, New Zealand is a destination that’s grown in terms of acceptance among normal international tourists, while also becoming a more sought after destination for wine drinkers specifically.
So why are wine drinkers flocking to New Zealand?
To start, the wine world has undergone a dramatic change of late. The rich and dense Cabernet Sauvignon’s that made California famous have become passé. Instead wine drinkers are looking for more complex and interesting wines from cooler growing environments. New Zealand in a way is an ideal cool growing environment because of its unique geography that most people simply aren’t aware of. Since New Zealand is actually two islands (let’s be honest, Americans don’t do wonderfully well at geography), there is an incredible amount of influence from the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean on grape vines planted near the coast on either island. While people generally only associate New Zealand wine with crisp white’s and Pinot Noir, there are warm enough vineyards to produce a range of other world class choices, some of which we’ll talk about below. Vines on both the north and south islands benefit from long summer days, but also the cooling affects of the ocean as well as the cooler night’s that you’d expect from the world’s most Southern vineyard sites.
One region which makes some great wine and also doubles as a great tourist destination is Hawke’s Bay. Hawke’s Bay is located on New Zealand’s north island’s eastern coast. The area is known for its majestic beauty as well as a focus on a local food and wine culture. To us, it reminds us a lot of Sonoma closer to home here in California. The region is home to New Zealand’s oldest farmer’s market, the world’s largest colony of Gannet’s (it’s a huge sea bird with a wingspan of 6 feet or so) as well as one of the best and most extensive Art Deco building collections in the world. There’s plenty to do outside of food and wine for visitors, but we’ll stick to some of the lesser known wineries that we’ve run into and what we like about them in this space, as well as the winery which might be the standard bearer in the region:
Alpha Domus: Owned by the Ham family since 1991, the winery uses only its own estate vineyards to produce their range of incredible wines. On the high end they produce a cool climate Bordeaux styled blend called AD the Aviator which has been consistently rated at 90 points and above by major wine critics, while being touted for its expressive aromatics as well as its firm balance between fruit and tannins. On the white wine side there are Chardonnay choices (please note, this isn’t going to be the big oak driven Chard’s that made Napa famous, but a more austere and light oak style that is the driving style of New Zealand Chardonnay) as well as a Semillon . Of note for American drinkers is the Noble Selection white which in essence is a late harvest (dessert wine) Semillon. Given the uptick we’re seeing locally here in San Francisco with sweeter wines, this is the type of wine that could easily find a home on the cocktail and dessert path in the city.
Mission Estate Winery: In a story which is quite familiar to those of us living in California, Mission Estate Winery was originally opened by a group of French Missionaries who planted vines in order to have something for sacrament as well as, table wine. As you might expect, the history of the estate gets rather complicated from there (as it should with a 150 year old history) but Mission Estate continues to be Hawke’s Bay’s oldest winery. With a high end price of around $40, these are approachably priced and likely under priced given the quality. The Antoine red blend combines a traditional Bordeaux approach with New Zealand fruit and is really a stunning example of traditional French winemaking style with locally available grapes. There is a lighter texture to this wine that simply isn’t possible in other parts of the world, almost a finesse to the Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Paul Mooney was once a geophysicist when combined with a family tradition of making wine in Bordeaux, makes a couple of good reasons why he makes a more acidic and less fruit driven wine than many of their neighbors.
Tironui Estate: Located literally next door to Mission Estate (much the same way that Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles shares a border with the famed James Berry Vineyard yet only charges a fraction of the price for its wine) Tironui Estate is owned by a family currently living in Malta, but with roots in New Zealand. We wanted to mention Tironui in this space because of that connection (the area has already been proven when it comes to winemaking great results are coming), but also because Tironui’s story helps to tell the story of what the wine industry might look like as time goes by. Oregon has complained recently of California’s buying wine in their state, just as California winemakers complain of new Chinese ownership of vineyards in Napa Valley.
It’s a global world in general and as we become more “flat” ownership may very well be more driven by heritage and dreams rather than current location. It’s already happened during an age of the jet set consulting winemaker whose name ends up on the label, perhaps for only a few days of work while others spend every day in the cellar and in the vineyard. As I have family living in South America, this style of a more global world of wine is a good thing.
The last time we saw a surge of globalization in the wine world, we saw Italian vintners accept modern winemaking techniques and bring their wines to their rightful place among the wine elite after a decades long struggle for consistent quality. I hope that ownership stakes like the one we see at Tironui benefit not only their namesake winery in New Zealand, but help bring winemaking and grape growing back to Malta. If you aren’t familiar Malta is an island in the Mediterranean Sea just south of Sicily. That’s pretty much prime grape growing real estate, if there’s any land left over on a small island space and like most Mediterranean islands, there are native grapes to the area just waiting to be explored.
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