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.