Uncorked Ventures Blog
Within the fine wine industry there has been some talk of late about clones (specifically when it comes to Pinot Noir) and how they affect growing conditions and the wine which ends up in our glass.
While we understand that for the average member of our wine clubs, clones don’t matter, we thought it would be worth a brief mention in this space.
To start-what is a clone? Unlike Dolly the sheep, a grape clone is simply a grape vine with at least one preferably trait to other vines in the vineyard. That is usually something very simple such as having bud break slightly earlier (or later) or having berries which are somewhat larger. Really it could be any trait which the vineyard owner or winemaker finds helpful.
According to the University of California Davis viticulture department, clones are so incredibly close genetically to the other vines in the vineyard that they are virtually indistinguishable. When UC Davis researchers performed genetic tests on some of the most famous clones in Napa Valley (which they now keep disease free plantings of in their own vineyards, just in case) and found only a few small differences when patterning the genome out to fifty million places.
What does it all mean? From producer to producer, we think there are a wide selection of traits which affect the finalized wine much more than the specific clone which has been selected for the vineyard. Winemaking style, facility and yeasts in our estimation all have more affect on the wine than does a slight genetic difference.
For the average wine drinker, simply put I don’t think clones matter.
It’s small producers, with engaging stories that we believe create the most interest in the wine industry, especially when their wines are at least as good, if not better than the highly marketed names we’re all familiar with. Kenneth Crawford certainly falls into that category.
Started by friends Kenneth J Gummere and Mark Crawford who worked at Babcock Vineyards (a great California Central Coast producer in its own right) the friends wanted to work together to produce the best, small batch production wines they could while utilizing some of the best vineyards in the state of California. As it turns out, despite having worked at Babcock Vineyards for years, it was a few years after the friends began Kenneth Crawford that they were able to buy fruit from the Babcock Vineyard, which is known as one of the top Pinot Noir vineyards in the area.
In many ways, this is the epitome of a classic Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. The vines in the vineyard have matured from their beginnings and are now 20 years old, giving the wines a nice combination of structure and the classic Pinot Noir vulnerability. We liked the overall set of flavors in this Pinot Noir, including its cherry notes and slight hints of spice and earth which are signatures of the Babcock Vineyard during our tastings. Overall we felt our Special Selections club members would enjoy this Pinot Noir and find that despite the incredibly small production of Kenneth Crawford (under 1,500 cases per year in total) that this was a world class Pinot Noir, produced at a fair price.
We’ve probably mentioned before, that at Uncorked Ventures we love companies willing to innovate. Personally, I also have an affection for Italian wine after spending a few weeks there and enjoying the food and wine culture. For those reasons, we always enjoy finding American versions of the Super Tuscan blend.
For those who aren’t aware, a Super Tuscan is simply a blend of wine which includes one international wine choice (typically Cabernet Sauvignon, but you also see Merlot from time to time) as well as a traditional Italian choice which is often Sangiovese or one of its clones.
Ok, so B Cellars in many ways is the exact winery we want to introduce to our customers. Innovative. Family owned and operated. Ambitious. High quality.
Outside of the above examples, B Cellars winemaker also deserves a mention here. Kirk Venge makes the wine for B Cellars and as many within the wine community know, his father Mils Venge is among the most famous and highly acclaimed winemakers in the industry. We think their winemaking styles differ somewhat, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree so to speak.
The B Cellars Blend 24 is an interesting blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Sangiovese, 7% Petite Syrah and 7% Syrah. Scored at 91 points by Robert Parker, we felt the wine was underscored by a point or two because so few Super Tuscan style blends are produced in California.
At Uncorked Ventures, we can appreciate companies which are willing to do things a bit differently. We opened our doors in January of 2010, in the middle of the great recession which was hardly the safest time to sell a luxury good like wine.
Margerum Wine Company started, as so many great wineries do, as a garage project by someone already affiliated in the wine industry. Owner and Proprietor Doug Margerum worked closely with local wineries because he already owned what is the best wine shop in Santa Barbara, Wine Cask.
While many wineries in Santa Barbara and the greater Central Coast winemaking community have taken advantage of the media and commercial hit which is the movie Sideways to sell more Pinot Noir, even if they did not previously produce the varietal, Margerum has avoided the temptation. The winery is well known locally in Santa Barbara for its crisp and clean white wines as well as its red wines made from multiple vineyards. Their Uber Syrah is produced from the best Syrah vineyards in and around Santa Barbara.
The 2009 Chenin Blanc which we selected for our Wine Exploration Club customers in June 2011 was, we thought, a great example of the varietal. This is exactly the type of Chenin Blanc we like to pour for people who tell us, they only like Chardonnay. The higher acidity, nuanced flavors and crisp, clean mouthfeel make it a great pairing with seafood and summer salads. Lastly, with production of 100 cases, it fit well with our mission which is to find great wines, from small producers for our customers.
June 2011 Wine Exploration Wine Club Shipment
It’s a rare event that we can use wine from the same winery in more than one of our wine clubs. This month brought us that chance when we made the decision to include the Woodward Canyon Nelms Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.
So why did we choose to include this wine?
To start, it’s an excellent value. It’s an easy drinking Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State, which we don’t think receives enough credit for the quality of the Cabernet being produced within its borders.
We also thought it would bring up a few aspects of the wine industry which would help our customers make more informed buying decisions in the future. Nelms Road is the 2nd label for Woodward Canyon. For those whom aren’t familiar, a 2nd label is very much a Bordeaux thing, where it is incredibly common. It allows a winery to use some of the extra harvest in good years in order to make more wine, without sacrificing the exclusivity of their brand. It also allows them to pull grapes in from a wider number of vineyards while creating a wine which is cheaper than their original brand, but is meant to give consumers an entry point in regard to price. The idea, of course, is to take customers who would be buying wine elsewhere and get them accustomed to winery and winemaking styles of a major winery and hopefully keep them as customers of the brand as their budgets increase.
In this case Woodward Canyon has taken grapes from its namesake vineyard along with a few other famous and incredibly expensive nearby, while adding some admittedly cheaper fruit to craft a wine generally sold at around $25 per bottle. When their Artist series brand typically sells for around $50 per bottle, it makes sense to have a price point which not only works for a wider variety of customers, but also for a wider variety of occasions.
As you might expect when it comes to 2nd labels, there are some good ones and others which are simply money making ventures for the winery. We think Woodward Canyon does a great job at continuing their winemaking style in their Nelms Road offering and were very happy to include it in our Wine Exploration Wine Club shipment for June 2011. If you’ve never tasted a Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, you might be surprised by what you find,
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