Sandhi Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict 2013
324 cases produced.
So to start, 95 points Wine Enthusiast.
I considered ending the newsletter right there and grabbing a bottle to share with a friend.
But, I thought I should tell the whole story, since you’re here and all……..
So the big draw here is that the vines for the Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay are from 42 year old Chardonnay vines, in fact, the first plantings of any type in the Sta. Rita Hills. You’ll notice that there’s a couple of bottles in this Reserve Wine Club shipment that are benefiting from old vine status.
Before, you start looking for old vine labels to help find good wines….unfortunately there are no rules or regulations about when wineries can use the designation. People within the industry seem to agree that somewhere around 30 years of age vines start behaving like old vines, however some less scrupulous vintners will attach an old vine label to the front of a bottle, after 5 years of age. Given the highly constrained nature of wine…..you’d think some government agency would come up with a set of archaic and formulaic rules on this stuff, like immediately.
Ok, so there’s the short sales sheet pitch on the wine, here’s the part that I find more fun. Sandhi Wines is a project between winemaker Sashi Moorman, along with Rajat Parr (the former wine director for Michael Mina’s restaurants) and finally, Charles Banks who owned Screaming Eagle.
I think the two business guys need little introduction, so I’ll stick to Moorman & then circle back to Parr, who is probably the most interesting guy in the room. We originally ran into Moorman’s work at Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Ynez. We found Syrah’s from their Estate Vineyard, where it’s hot, to have a sense of finesse and more acidity than we previously expected out of the region. There’s a sense of restraint that is evident in Moorman’s wines from the property that simply isn’t present at other adjacent projects. Plus, Peter Stolpman who runs the place is one of the best in the business, he’s been nicer to us, given our purchasing levels, than he ever needed to be.
Moorman’s place here makes sense, Parr is known for founding a wine tasting called “In Pursuit of Balance”. Quite humorously, the first two years we were open, I applied for trade tickets to the event….and was denied.
We’ve grown a bit since then and I’ve attended the past two years. It’s a fun event with a certain predisposition toward wines that are focused more on acidity than they are fruit. The catch phrase of course is “a sense of place”.
While I agree with the general premise & this is a style of wine that I personally would choose to drink on a regular basis, I do want to take a moment to point out a few things in regard to the whole balance vs fruit debate.
Personally, I think it’s a terrible idea to have to choose only one style of wine.
Secondly, some areas of California are simply hotter than others. Should we only be drinking Sonoma Coast Pinot and never a Napa Cabernet? I haven’t met a single actual real consumer that thinks that.
While I agree with Parr’s line of thinking, one bottle which sticks out in my mind was a Caliza Syrah. Caliza is pretty much a one man show, not far from where this Chardonnay was made and they couldn’t be more different. That Syrah clocked in at a shocking 16+% alcohol level. But, it was one of the best bottles that I’ve had in some time & I remember both the conversation that flowed while we drinking it, as well as where we were (sitting in my brother in law’s back yard). That’s what is suppose to happen with a great bottle, right?
Lastly, we’re all products of our environment and Parr is a Sommelier by trade. Part of being a Som, is that you’re pairing wines with food.
Do you always eat while you’re having a glass of wine?
In Europe, most statistics show that to be the case. In America, not nearly as much. That colors our attitudes toward wine in general, but also toward certain stylistic viewpoints. I know in our house, a bottle is often open during cooking and then during the meal itself.
Ok, so why the Sta.Rita Hills. The Hills are in Santa Barbara County and anyone who has spent time there knows one thing, the fog is almost always around. Seriously, there are summer days that the weather seems perfect…hitting 80 at noon. At UCSB, we’d go into class and come out 50 minutes later to barely be able to find our bikes because it was so foggy, so quickly.
The locals say that at about 4pm every day….the ocean “turns on the ac” and the fog belt rolls in.
If you’re growing something like this Chardonnay, then you want it both sunny and cold. At least at night, so the grapes can retain their acidity.
The older than usual grapes also mean that there is going to be a finesse and complexity here that won’t be apparent from a younger vineyard. To put the age of these vines in perspective, Grgich Hills in Napa Valley puts out a “Commemorative” bottle of Chardonnay every year to celebrate the Tasting of Paris in 1976. The average age of the vines is 20 years.
Signorello is another Napa Valley Estate with older Chardonnay vines. From what I’ve heard, these are likely the oldest vines in the Valley that have been planted to Chardonnay. They average about 30 years in age.
That brings up a point-as vines age, how does that effect the wine that is produced?
The first thing to realize is that for the first 5 years or so (10 if you’re at a really high end estate) the fruit is either trashed, or sent into bulk wine.
After 25-30 years (notice how few if any vines are older than this?) vines start producing less fruit. Most growers will discard the vine at this point and replant it-it simply is not economically feasible for them to keep the vines, as they continue to age, yield will continue to decrease.
That is, of course, unless they can get more cash for the fruit on hand. At some point, it becomes almost impossible to pull out the vines. I’ve seen that transition happen with vines in Napa in regard to some Old Vine Zinfandel, as well as, with the Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault (one of the most expensive vineyards to source from in California, it happens to be in Lodi…a testament in itself to the power of patience in the wine industry), which has an average vine age of something like 125 years. These days, can you imagine someone actually planting Cinsault across their entire vineyard?
Enjoy the old vine Chardonnay. It’s a special wine and one that will certainly end up on everyone’s list of the top 100 for the year both because of the people behind the wine, but also the quality of what ended up in the bottle.