While sold out at the winery, these wines may still be available at some retailers.
2017 al basc Albariño
This vintage of our skin-fermented and skin-macerated Albariño spent 7 months on its skins, stems and seeds before we drew off the resulting wine. It shows a deep amber color, with an intriguing combination of fresh grape skin and dried apricot fruit aromas. They carry through on the palate, along with spice notes and a savory tannic structure, present but not aggressive.
The wine is a bit of a chameleon in that it has an oxidative quality, but simultaneously tastes very fresh, thanks to the Albariño’s always present acidity.
The al basc is amazingly flexible with a large variety of food choices. We’ve paired it with fish, meat and cheeses, all of them delicious together.
I suspect that wines like these will age pretty much forever. We’ve had bottles open for weeks that showed few signs of degradation, but rather gained depth and complexity. (I wouldn’t recommend the “bottle opened for weeks” as a regular practice, though. We experiment so you don’t have to.)
100% Albariño, bottled unfined and unfiltered without additional sulfites.
70 cases made.
Mourvèdre “alto” 2016
This new bottling is from a vineyard site on old, deep volcanic soils and an elevation of 2900’. Tightly spaced, head trained vines planted on an old apple orchard just east of Placerville. Whole cluster fermented and aged in a combination of puncheons and tanks. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with a mere 20ppm of sulfites.
The aromatic character of this wine shows what are, for me, classic El Dorado County Mourvèdre plum & citrus peel aromas. There’s a note of freshly tilled soil in there as well, common from these volcanic soils. Plum skin flavors, savory, thyme, mushroom, black tea and a bright acidity. Everything wraps up in a long finish with fine tannins. Suitable for a wide variety of meals.
A worthy addition to our line up, and a more flamboyant cousin to our Cedarville bottling.
213 cases made. 11.7% alcohol. Stelvin closure. 100% Mourvedre.
$26 per bottle. A 20% discount will be applied on purchases of 12 bottles or more (mixed cases ok). Applicable sales tax and shipping costs not included in the price.
This blend of Albariño and skin-fermented Marsanne is a delightful Fall white wine, with crisp, almost spritzy minerality and floral notes from the Albariño, and melon flavors and grape skin from the Marsanne. I love the way it dances on the tongue, displaying its many attributes in a succession of textures and flavors. Each sip is like a new discovery. There’s just enough grip in the wine to make it work with a plethora of classic, earthier Fall dishes.
The Albariño was direct pressed just like our varietal bottling. The Marsanne was foot crushed and whole cluster fermented in open top fermenters for 12 days before pressing, and added to the previously pressed Albariño juice. The wine was aged on its lees until bottling in the summer of 2018. It was bottled without fining or filtration.
Albariño 56% and Marsanne 44%. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
123 cases made.
Syrah “el dorado”
We’ve been experimenting with small lots from various Syrah vineyards in our area, exploring the varied terroirs of El Dorado County. Over the last couple of years we have produced an interesting assortment of Syrah wines from 2015 and 2016. The idea struck us that a compilation of these wines and vineyards would give an intriguing look at our home county. After some fun blending, we’ve put together a single wine that we feel is an accurate overall impression of “El Dorado Syrah”.
This non-vintage bottling embodies Syrahs from both of our two main soils types here in El Dorado - granite and volcanic. The blend shows aromas of black cherry and vanilla, some smoke and meat. There is bold, smoky, savory fruit in the mouth. Definitely some tannins in the finish, some tarry and olive notes, with very pleasant acidity and length. The flavors and textures linger a bit. It’s mesmerizing. This is most certainly a bit of delicious mountain grown Syrah right here!
As this is young Syrah, I’d recommend giving it a little time and air to open up. Pair it with more robust stews and meat dishes, or boldly flavored vegetarian meals.
Whole cluster fermented and aged in a variety of vessels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal added sulfites.
245 cases made. 12.3% alcohol. Stelvin closure. 100% Syrah.
Rosé Alors 2016
Direct-pressed rosé from Syrah, Mourvèdre and Counoise. No added yeasts or enzymes or cultures. Half barrel fermented, half in tank, and combined and bottled in the Spring of 2017. We then stashed the bottles away and let the wine settle and develop until now.
This is an intense rosé. It shows a Sockeye salmon pink color. Aromatically, we have strawberry and watermelon,, maybe a little black cherry, and a hint of anise.
More watermelon and herbs on the palate, blood orange and pink grapefruit, with some roundness and a touch of salinity from the spontaneous malolactic fermentation, all enveloped in beautiful, mouthwatering acidity.
Pairs with a wide variety of foods. But don’t serve it too cold! 55-57F would be ideal.
275 cases made. 12% alcohol. Stelvin closure. Organically farmed, vegan friendly, unfined and unfiltered, very low added sulfites, delicious...all that good stuff.
With each vintage we continue to learn about this fantastic vineyard site on limestone soils, and every year we dial in closer to the voice of the vineyard. The vines sit on very steep east-facing slopes, and are farmed with minimal inputs by Matthew Rorick's crew in Murphys, CA.
The grapes were whole cluster pressed into flextanks for an ambient yeast fermentation and subsequent aging. This year, the fermentation started out aggressively, but then settled down and actually didn't finish until early spring of 2017. The wine underwent a spontaneous malolactic fermentation as well.
In early Summer, the wine was racked off of its lees and bottled unfiltered with 25ppm of sulfites.
In the glass, it shows a green-gold color. Aromas of gooseberry and peach. It is medium bodied with stone fruits, great acidity, and mineral textures in the finish. You can taste the limestone. Absolutely beguiling. They can't quite do this in Spain. Drink now (but past vintages are aging nicely).
241 cases made. 11.4% alc. 100% albariño.
This blend of garnacha and mataro from volcanic soils at 2800' elevation is the companion wine to our previously released Mo-Ma. Whole cluster fermented, and aged in tank and barrel. While Mo-Ma was all about springtime aromas and flavors, the Gar-Ma is all about autumn.
Warm earth tones, pepper and dark, dark cherries. Fairly full bodied, very savory, with more cherry, baking spices, dates on the palate. Very peppery on the finish, the mouth watering acidity and tannins play well together. Gar-Ma feels much richer than its 12% alcohol. If you were sitting in the great room at the Ahwahnee on a cool fall day, with all that fantastic scenery and warm fall light spilling through the windows, and put that in a bottle - this is what it might taste like.
The "Gramenon" of our wines. Drink this wine through the fall and into winter. Eat a nice stew. Life is good.
149 cases made. 12% alc. 74% garnacha & 26% mataro.
2016 Petit Manseng
We also learn more about the peculiar Petit Manseng with every vintage. Native to the Pyrenees, we are thrilled with the qualities the grape shows in California. We are slowly circling in on its "sweet spot", I think, and still scratching our heads over its behavior in the vineyard. It ripens very quickly, yet always retains impressive levels of acidity.
The grapes were lightly foot-crushed and then lightly pressed into tanks for fermentation (wild, of course!). This year's zipped through both primary and secondary fermentation, in stark contrast to previous vintages where the fermentation would lumber on for 6 months.
The wine was bottled without fining or filtration in late Spring 2017. 20 ppm of sulfites were added then.
The wine has a unique signature, showing guava and apricot when first opened. Medium to full bodied, with powerful flavors of lemon curd, lime zest, a very bold but delicious, fruity-driven acidity, and a very long finish. Super bright, and super addictive. I consider it to be the "chenin blanc" of our wines. Drink it now for its vitality and bold expressiveness. Stash away some bottles for 5-8 years and see how it expands your cerebral cortex then (hint: it will).
80 cases made. 13% alc. 100% petit manseng.
This is our first release of this wine. These grapes hail from Matthew Rorick's vineyard near Murphys, CA. The vines sit on an interesting mix of schist and limestone, and our grapes grow in the lower, slightly “cooler” block.
We gave these grapes the classic La Clarine treatment: no SO2, foot crushed and whole cluster fermented with ambient yeasts in open-top fermentors. We pressed off before dryness and let the wine finish in a combination of 600l puncheons and flextanks. The wine was racked once just before bottling, and the wine received 20ppm of sulfites at bottling. No fining or filtration.
The resulting wine shows black cherry, crushed thyme, pear skin and a touch of cocoa. It is medium bodied with a good balance of fruit and savory notes. There are flashes of black pepper, leather and sandstone. It is very lively on the palate, with wonderful acidity. It opens up considerably with air and pairs wonderfully with mushroom risotto. It has the structural backbone to age for many years.
355 cases made.
2016 Al Basc
Our playful experiment in long skin contact wines is yielding some interesting results! After 2015's trial run, we decided to make a larger batch. “Al Basc” is Albariño; the grapes are from the same vineyard as our pure Albariño bottling, but this time we foot crushed them in open top fermenters, with daily punchdowns until the wine went dry. We then transferred the fresh wine, the skins, the stems - everything - to flextanks and sealed 'em up. There, the wine continued to macerate for an additional 8 months. We bottled the free-run juice, unfiltered, without added sulfites.
The 2016 Al Basc shows a cloudy burnt orange color. Big aromas of dried apricot and dried herbs. Also, oddly, aromas of very fresh grapes. Rich, umami, herbal and yet more apricot show on the palate. A long finish, with savory tannins, and a lovely saline note.
This wine should age effortlessly for years? Decades? Forever? Possibly. Please note that this wine will throw a bit of sediment, so decanting is recommended if that bothers you.
57 cases made. 11.4% alc. 100% albariño.
2016 Mourvèdre "cedarville"
Probably my favorite wine we make, just on the basis of it being so damn drinkable young, and so damn beautiful after 8 or 10 years in the bottle. Fabulous organic Mourvèdre grown on coarse decomposed granite soils, yielding a very sexy wine!
Foot crushed, whole cluster fermented in open top tanks, and aged in a combination of tanks and barrel. Bottled unfiltered with just 15ppm of added sulfites.
The cedarville is always light in color. A sort of garnet, plummy red. It shows lots of citrus in the nose, along with plum and granite soil. The earth here speaks. Initially, a medium-light body which gains volume on the palate. Finishes with more citrus and peppery notes. Very long with very fine tannins. As close as we will ever get to "pinot noir" in our wines. The wine just gets more complex with bottle time, but it doesn't always speak loudly, so you gotta listen. Shhhh….peaceful.
138 cases made. 12.7% alc. 100% mourvedre.
One of the advantages of being a Very Small Wine Producer (or VSWM) is we have the ability to quickly change directions when a new idea or possibility presents itself. For instance, last vintage we produced a bit of sparkling wine from some Albariño just because we stared into a fermenting tank a little too long, and wanted to see that in a bottle.
This year, we had full intentions of replicating our sparkling experiment, but a lack of affordable sparkling wine bottles at harvest time sort of stopped that idea in its tracks. So the Pet'Nat version didn't happen, but, ever hopeful, we kept the Albariño wine in a separate tank in case we wanted to make a “traditional” sparkler the next Spring.
But...during the winter, as I was tasting through my various cuvées, I realized that the small lot of skin-fermenting/aging Marsanne that I had would be a really nice compliment to the racy Albariño...
and a new blend was born: 64% early-picked Albariño, direct pressed, and 36% Marsanne, which had been aging on its skins for 5 months.
The One-Eighty shows an intriguing lemon and chalk nose, thanks to the Albariño grown on limestone. It is sleek and juicy, and has a fantastic texture, thanks to the Marsanne, grown on volcanic loam. Full malolactic fermentation gives the wine a roundness on the palate, and then the acids kick in on the finish. Just a touch of tannins complete the picture, and it should play very well with a wide variety of spring and summer meals.
77 cases made. 11.7% alcohol. Unfined and unfiltered.
2015 Rosé Alors!
Our Rosé Alors wine continues to evolve. 2014's experiments with barrel fermentation and extended aging showed a way forward, and in our newest release, 2015, we went all-in.
Made of 50% Syrah, 42% Mourvedre and 8% Counoise from two different vineyards plots we farm specifically for rosé wine. The grapes were lightly foot-crushed and pressed directly with a very short time on the skins. We fermented half of the juice in 600L puncheons and the other half in tank. The two parts were combined after 8 months resting on the lees. We bottled the wine early in the summer of 2016, and then hid the bottles away in the back of the warehouse.
Now, after about 9 months of bottle aging, we think the wine is ready for release. We've found that our rosé has been much more “together” after 6-12 months in the bottle, so we've decided to hold the wine back a bit and release it later.
It has a coppery-salmon color and smells of watermelon and pink grapefruit. There's a touch of smoke and spice in there, too. Medium bodied, balanced and lively, it has a nice savory feel and finishes with an appealing herbal note and refreshing acidity.
This is a rosé which works very well with food. Enjoy it with salads and fish, or with grilled veggies and chicken. Or just enjoy it on its own. Rosé Alors!
246 cases. 12.5% alcohol. Unfined and unfiltered.
A lively and delicious co-ferment of 2/3 Mourvedre and 1/3 Marsanne from volcanic soils, this wine is the living embodiment of “glou-glou” idea.
Fermented and aged in Flextank for 5 months, and bottled directly off of the lees, this wine has a beautiful pale cherry color. There are expressive aromas of plum, cherry and raspberry.
Initially lithe on the palate, the wine expands in your mouth and finishes rounder with pepper, stone and herb notes. The long and mouthwatering finish is deceptively complex. After one sip, you will want another. And another. And another.
(Whoops! The bottle's gone!)
This is a wine to drink all spring and summer long.
121 cases. 11.2% alcohol. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.
2015 Piedi Grandi
Always one of our favorite blends, this vintage is composed of 52% Nebbiolo and 48% Mourvedre from a single vineyard on volcanic loam soils. The grapes are foot crushed without destemming and fermented outdoors with no temperature control. No yeast nor sulfur is added. We press after 7 or so days of fermentation, and the wine finishes and ages in Flextank. We do not rack the wine until bottling, which was after 11 months of aging in this vintage. We then further bottled-aged the wine for 7 months before release.
The result is a delicious red blend with a floral aroma, red cherry and a touch of earth. The wine has bright but balanced acids, and a long finish with present, but fine-grained tannins. The nebbiolo supplies the aromas and the structure, and the mourvedre helps fill in the mid-palate with a spicy juiciness.
It's quite a fun blend which will repay some time in the cellar.
122 cases. 12.6% alcohol. Unfined and unfiltered.
2015 Jambalaia Blanc
Composed of fruit from a variety of soils here in El Dorado County, this year's version is quite perfumed, with the Viognier showing prominently. Very floral and with a hint of peach on the nose, and maybe a touch of nori. Nicely balanced fruit and acidity on the palate, with a subtle richness (full spontaneous malo-lactic).
The finish is very southern Rhône-like, full of minerals and fruit flavors and juicy acidity. Pair it with richer foods over the winter, then with lighter fare in the springtime. It's a very versatile wine. It should age nicely for several years (the '11s are quite good right now).
244 cases made. Whole cluster pressed and tank fermented. Aged on the lees until bottling,10 months later, with 15ppm SO2. 13.2% alc.
2015 Syrah “sumu kaw”
The 2015 growing season was a challenge to everyone – budbreak was early, and so was the harvest, in several instances about a month early! We started picking white grapes on August 1st. Fortunately, there were no damaging heat waves prior to harvest, and the altitude of the Sumu Kaw vineyard (3000 ft) helped to moderate the seemingly swifter growing season. We ended up picking our syrah just one day earlier here compared to 2014, on September 4th.
The volcanic loam soils of the Sumu Kaw Vineyard always give expressive wines, and this vintage is no exception. The wine was aged in a combination of 600l puncheons and flextanks, and shows powerful cherry vanilla, raspberry, cranberry, tar and smoke flavors and aromas, with dusty earth and roasted meat in the finish. With great balanced acidity, it reminds me very much of the wines from the northern Rhone valley of France. Graceful and lithe.
Sometimes these wines can fool you, but I suspect this vintage will be a medium-term ager. It is quite delicious now and should reward cellaring for 5-8 years. I can wholeheartedly recommend this wine with cassoulet!
220 cases made.
2015 Syrah “cedarville”
We've made wine grown in the Cedarville Vineyard now for 10 years. We started with their unique Mourvedre, use their mineral-driven Viognier in our Jambalaia Blanc blend, and lately we've sourced most of our Rosé wine (Syrah and Counoise) from some of their northeast facing slopes.
During the 2015 harvest we loved the look and flavor of the syrah grapes so much, we pulled aside a half ton to try a little red wine. Fermented on their skins and stems, these grapes gave us a fascinating expression of Cedarville's decomposed granite soil.
The 100% barrel-aged syrah immediately shows cranberry and cherry in the nose, with a slightly dusty feel. It evolves in the glass, and begins to display savory, meaty, forest floor, and mushroom aromas and flavors. It is medium bodied, with nice acidity and tannins. Lots of minerals in the finish. A very graceful wine, slightly quieter than our Sumu Kaw bottling.
Because we made so very little of this wine, we've bottled it all up into magnums (1.5l). Perfect for a party (dinner or otherwise) and longer term aging. We've had a bottle open in our kitchen for over a week now, and it is still going strong. It will definitely reward patient cellaring, but it is so delicious now...so tempting...
Only 36 bottles made. Very limited! Not available in stores.
2015 al basc
It's been a long time since I made an 'orange' wine, a white wine with extended skin contact. My experimentations with Albariño in 2015 led to this expression of the grape: seven (7) months of skins, seeds, stems and juice in contact with one another!
During his visit here, Eric Texier had suggested to us to extend the contact time to longer than just the fermentation. It appears that one month (or two) gives a very rough wine, but 5 or 6 months produces wines with much smoother structures. So, of course, I had to try this out.
We whole cluster fermented a small bin of Albariño until "dryness", then transferred everything to a small 80 gallon Flextank (aka "the modern amphora"). There, the wine (and the skins and the seeds and the stems) sat.
Occasionally we would sneak a taste. At one month it was pretty fierce. At two months more so. At about six months the wine was really showing well, with incredible flavors and it showed present, but supporting, tannins. At 7 months we decided "it'll never get better than this"* and bottled it, without added sulfites. We bottle aged it several additional months before deciding to release it now.
The wine is amazingly fresh feeling, with aromas of pear skin, pepper and apricot. Quite fruit-filled in the mouth (pear, apricot, quince). Ends on a tannic note, with more pepper and some dried fruit flavors. Try the “al basc”** with richer dishes, salads with fresh herbs, maybe even with a less sweet than usual dessert. How long will it keep? Probably forever, or at least nearly so.
24 cases made. 13.4% alc.
*this is very common in winemaking.
** The name “al basc” came about by accident. I had written AL BASC on the tank, in a rushed-cuz-it's-harvest sort of handwriting. I had meant to write ALBA SC (ALBAriño Skin Contact). Penmanship was never a strong point for me...at any rate, the AL BASC kind of stuck. After checking with some arabic-speaking friends to determine that it, in fact, means nothing at all, we decided to go with it.
2015 FNA (Fiano)
2014's bizarro combination of Fiano and Arneis was really fun (especially if you gave it some bottle age), and we were looking forward to doing it again in 2015. Mother Nature had other plans, however, and she gave us a stretch of poor weather right when the Arneis was flowering. The crop was so light we debated on whether or not to even bother picking it (we did - all 200 lbs of it - and it ended up in the Jambalaia Blanc). The Fiano crop was light, too, but there was enough to work with - almost 80 gallons!
So the 2015 FNA is “all F, no A”, as it were...but a great chance to explore what Fiano can do on high elevation volcanic soils in California's Sierra Foothills.
The wine shows chalky lemon peel aromas and flavors, with pointed acidity, wonderful mouthfeel, and that very appealing touch of bitterness in the finish which I love from Italian wines. It is a wonderful food wine right now, will work with a variety of dishes over the holidays, and I suspect that it will
develop more complexity with some bottle time. It will be fun to revisit this in the Spring, assuming any of us have any left then!
31 cases made. Whole cluster pressed, tank aged on the lees and bottled with 15ppm SO2. 14.1% alc.
2015 Jambalaia Rouge
59% Mourvedre, 21% Marsanne, 15% Grenache and 5% Syrah.
With this vintage of the Jambalaia I feel we have gained some finesse and are getting closer to the vineyard's identity. It often takes me a few years to figure out what a vineyard has to say, and this wonderful little plot of mourvedre, grenache and marsanne on volcanic loam soil is no different. It is just a matter of finding each grape variety's sweet spot for a particular site. Sounds easy, yes, but once you add in vintage differences, crop loads, ripening curves...well, it does get a little complex. Each year is unique, and it takes a bit of experience with a site in order to read the tea leaves, as it were. But I think I am getting closer here.
The Grenache suffered from shatter this year, so yields were way down, but the Mourvedre seemed very happy. We added a touch of Syrah into the blend to make up for the lighter Grenache harvest.
Last year's vintage was a touch tannic for my tastes, at least for near-term drinking, but this year the emphasis is once again on juicy red and blue fruit, mouthwatering acidity, and a touch of tannic backbone. The wine is absolutely delicious now, and should continue to drink well for several years. We like to serve it with grilled meats and vegetables, and any foods with a bit of spice / heat. Like a jambalaya! And don't forget it drinks really nicely with a slight chill, especially on a hot day.
500 cases made. 11.7% alcohol. Screwtop closure.
"Are you lonely tonight?" Our 2014 Elvis was, so we made him a Priscilla...
When the King Fire disrupted our harvest plans in late 2014, we had already picked half of our Josephine+Mariposa blend. We were feeling pretty good about that wine, too, as we had managed to get some of the small plot of Cinsault which grows in that vineyard to go along with our Grenache.
A co-ferment of Grenache and Cinsault is a wonderful thing to smell. Quite lovely.
Then the King Fire struck, and we were unable to harvest the rest of the grapes for the Josephine+Mariposa blend. We were left with a Josephine, but no Mariposa, so to speak.
We were a little upset, for a while, but then the beauty of this Grenache / Cinsault blend began to shine. And our Priscilla was born.
84% Grenache and 16% Cinsault grown on yellow slate soils, whole cluster ambient yeast fermented for 5 days on the skins and aged entirely in Flextank for 16 months, without racking. A small amount (15ppm) of sulfites were added at bottling.
The wine shows wonderful floral aromas, a touch of lavender, and bright red fruits. Medium bodied, with just enough acid and tannin grip, and a long finish with those great mineral notes that Grenache shows so nicely when grown on rock.
A great companion to our more robust and darker-toned Elvis release. A ying to Elvis' yang.
206 cases made. 14.4% alcohol. Screwtop closure.
2015 Circles Don’t Fly They Float
When you stare down into a vat of fermenting Albariño, your mind can start to fantasize...I decided right then that a sparkling Albariño might just be a cool thing. We had picked a smaller quantity a week before our main Albariño pick, intending to use it as an acidity reserve, but as it turned out, it was just about perfect for an experimental PetNat.
One issue was, by the time I decided to go ahead with the idea, the wine was already too dry to work as a PetNat. So we added, a few weeks later, some fresh Marsanne juice to the tank, allowed the
fermentation to start up again, and then bottled it and let it finish in bottle.
We wanted the wine to be lightly petillant, not champagne-like, more like a cross between a cider and a prosecco. It shows aromas and flavors of apples, pears, and spice. Later, a bit of peach makes an
appearance. It makes a nice aperitif wine, but it also works with spicy foods (like Thai). It will make Aunt Tilly very happy at the Thanksgiving table. It is delicious.
59 cases made. Obviously non-disgorged, and bottled without any sulfite additions. Crown cap. 11.5% alc.
2015 Petit Manseng
Our tiny plot of Petit Manseng, located above the town of Camino on volcanic loam soils, continues to impress as the vines mature. 2015 was our biggest crop yet, producing 75 cases of wine.
Deep gold in color, the dry wine shows lime and tropical fruits in its aromas. There's an interesting spiciness here. Racy on the palate with balancing fruit flavors. Petit Manseng always has boatloads of acidity, but here it is tempered by the richness of the spontaneous malo-lactic fermentation.
Finishes long with more lime, and with a touch of stone. It is very expressive and very compelling and very drinkable now. I think it will age very well for many years. Mind expanding stuff.
75 cases made. Whole cluster pressed to tank, with a very long, slow fermentation (9 months!), and then bottled directly off the lees with 15ppm SO2. 14.5% alc.
2015 Mourvedre “cedarville”
The Cedarville Vineyard on decomposed granite soils at 2500' always gives a unique expression of the Mourvedre grape. It is almost Jurassien in feel.
A glowing pale ruby in color, this year's bottling shows floral and peppery aromas, and a hint of cherry. There's an undercurrent of herbs (hops?). Very sleek on the palate, then gaining in volume, with red fruits and a touch of vanilla showing, even though it never went into any new oak at all.
Finish is long and slightly meaty, hinting that this bottling, while delicious now, will evolve positively with cellaring.
124 cases made. Whole cluster fermented, gently pressed, and aged in neutral 600l puncheons without racking. 10ppm SO2 added right before bottling. A lot of flavor at a mere 11.5% alcohol.
We picked these grapes on August 8th from Matthew Rorick's incredibly beautiful vineyard near Murphys, California. The soils there are a wonderful mix of schist and limestone, and the Albariño grows on a steep hillside looking eastward.
We trucked the grapes back to our little winery and set to work at the press. After pressing, the ambient yeast fermentation started quite quickly, and proceeded at a normal pace. However, once winter approached, the yeasts had not quite eaten up all of the fermentable sugars, and the activity slowed to a crawl (but never fully stopped). Malolactic fermentation had completed by this time.
This Spring, as the cellar warmed up again, and the yeasts were able to pick up the slack. Based on regular lab monitoring, we estimate the yeasts finally finished sometime in late May. The wine began to fall clear, and viable yeast counts fell rapidly as well. Finally, in June, we were able to bottle the result.
The wine shows a slightly hazy golden yellow (no filtration or fining). Aromas of herbs and chalk are first apparent, then lemon notes. The aromas have a nice lift. The wine has a refreshing acidity, with tropical fruits, grapefruit, gooseberry and Meyer lemon peel in the finish. The finish is quite tangy and inviting. Go ahead, pour another glass.
Pair this one with lighter fare, salads and the like, also some fish. It also works nicely as an apéritif.
195 cases made. Aged in flextank on the lees for 10 months. Screwtop closure. 12.5% alc.
2014 Piedi Grandi
The return of one of our favorites, and probably the second most subversive wine we make (the first has to be the FNA mash-up of northern and southern Italy).
Because the Nebbiolo crop was down slightly, this time the Mourvedre component slightly out paces the Nebbiolo by a 52% to 48% margin. But the Nebbiolo shines through with all of its racy acidity and bold flavors. Full of tar and roses and spice and mouthwatering acidity.
The Piedi Grandi is delicious now, but past vintages have shown that it can age wonderfully, gaining in spice and aromatic complexity.
This field blend wine was harvested in two passes and blended after pressing. Left without racking for 16 months in Flextanks, and bottled with a mere 15ppm of sulfites.
153 cases made. 13.8% alcohol. Screwtop closure.
A few months ago we fortuitously re-discovered a booklet of drawings by Jad and David Fair called Moods of Elvis . It's an alphabet book of drawings chronicling the A-Z of the multifaceted Elvis' temperament. Jad, as many of you know, is the co-founder of the seminal band Half Japanese and a world recognized artist. He designed our label artwork.
Somehow, for us, “Moods of Elvis” and this wine became intertwined. Like Elvis, this wine shows many moods: dark fruits, licorice, eucalyptus, stony minerality, bright acidity. It's just a bit rough & tumble when just opened, and settles into pure vinous gold with a little air. Just like the King himself, from “Jailhouse Rock” to “Suspicious Minds”. Try this: read “Moods of Elvis”, watch the 1968 “comeback special”, and drink this wine – you'll see what I mean. Perfect together!
As the weather turns cooler, this wine will ably complement many meals. Ready to drink now, it will also reward you with some time in the cellar.
54% Mourvedre and 46% Grenache from stony soils. 14.2% alcohol. 177 cases made. Whole cluster fermented in open top fermentors and pressed into tank for aging. Racked once just before bottling.
2014 Rosé Alors!
This is a special cuvée which wasn't really supposed to happen. We were offered some Counoise grapes shortly before harvest 2014, and I thought they might be a fun addition to our Jambalaia Rouge blend. We waited and waited for the Counoise to ripen, and at the end of harvest decided to just pick it. On September 29, the last day of harvest...
The grapes scored a “massive” 9% potential alcohol, and I somewhat reluctantly made the call to use the grapes for a special rosé. We pressed the fruit into several older, neutral 225l barrels, and let the ambient yeasts begin fermentation. Later, I added a bit of our regular rosé (syrah and mourvedre) to fill the barrels up.
Since we now had a barrel-fermented rosé of some 11% alcohol (the added syrah and mourvedre bumped up the total alcohol), I thought it might be fun to let the wine age in those same barrels, on the lees, for 6 months. Then, when we bottled our “normal/tank aged” rosé bottling, we bottled the Counoise/barrel portion separately.
One of the issues I routinely face is having certain wines ready at certain times of the year. Rosé wines are unfortunately considered to be summer wines, although many rosés drink fabulously throughout the year (and into the next years!). But making wine the way I do often means that fermentations are not complete by the time Spring rolls around. Often, I felt I was rushing my rosé into the bottle.
To add to this, we had recently tasted through all of our past vintages of rosé and felt the wines were much better with a year of bottle age, and often even better at age 2 and 3!
So the decision was made to also age this special barrel-fermented-and-aged rosé for a full year in bottle before releasing it. Turns out that was a good call...
The wine is spicy on the nose and somewhat rounder on the palate than our usual rosé, and certainly more complex on release. Lots of strawberry-rhubarb flavors with a hint of citrus. If older vintages are any judge (and we go back to 2011 with our rosé program), this wine should continue to drink well for several years. Use it like you would any food oriented rosé.
65 cases made. 11.1% alcohol. Screwtop closure.
2014 Syrah “sumu kaw”
We are fortunate to work with several amazing vineyard sites. The Sumu Kaw Vineyard continues to impress us with the characterful wines we produce from there. Something in the combination of altitude (3000'), exposure (ridgetop), soil type (volcanic loam), local climate (pine forest) and farming (expertly handled by the vineyard owners Sheila and David Bush) just adds up to some crazy-good wines.
We picked the 2014 vintage in two passes in September at an average of 23 brix. The fermentations were in open top vats, 100% foot crushed whole clusters, and with no added anything. We pressed off the skins after 10 days for both lots, directly into Flextanks and 600l puncheons. The wine was racked once in late summer 2015 to tanks, and then bottled unfiltered from those same tanks in December 2015. We added 10ppm sulfites at bottling.
The final wine has wonderfully balanced acidity, and the aromas and flavors are classic Sumu Kaw: smoke, meat, herbs. It is quite savory on the palate. Drink now with plenty of time in a decanter (or just do what we do – let the wine unravel a bit in your glass). This wine in this vintage reminds me a bit of the 2008s, so it should age quite effortlessly for the next 10 years or so.
349 cases bottled. Screwcap closure. 14.3% alcohol by volume.
2013 Home Vineyard
In 2013, we tried yet another experiment on our experimental home vineyard. We decided it might be interesting to pick the grape clusters as they get ripe and not all at once, as is usually the case. Instead of picking a whole block at once, we would look at each vine and pick those clusters that were ready that day. So we made something like 14 passes through the vines, sometimes just a few days apart, looking for those clusters we thought to be "perfect".
Some days, we would only pick a single bucket. Those were the short days. Other days would be longer.
The freshly picked grapes were lightly crushed and added to the previous picking, thus sustaining the fermentation out for much longer than our normal 10 days.
This plan resulted in a wine of amazingly harmonious flavors, but with a bundle of very energetic tannins! We aged the wine for over a year in a Flextank without racking. We bottled the wine in January of 2015, and basically tucked the bottles into a corner of our cellar and waited.
Now, a year later, the wine is ready for release. It still shows that earlier energy, but the balance we seek is now there. Lots of great herbal and spice aromas, surprisingly mouth-filling in spite of its 11% alcohol, and backed up with typical Home Vineyard tannins - slightly dusty but smooth. It is delicious and unique.
I have the feeling this wine will near its peak sometime around 2020. Until then, decant and give the wine plenty of air to let the flavors unfold.
288 bottles made. Screw cap closure. 11.1% alcohol by volume.
41% tempranillo, 29% tannat, 22% grenache, 6% syrah and 2% cabernet sauvignon.
2013 Josephine + Mariposa
This year's bottling (70% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre) comes from the same vineyard as last year's, a knoll-top of brown loam soils sitting over yellow slate. The vintage differences are, to me, quite apparent. This vineyard seems to speak it's terroir very loudly, maybe more than other vineyards I work with. Like in 2012, the wine is pretty up-front about itself, showing loads of earth in its aromatics and finish. Unlike the '12s, the '13s seem much more complete and harmonious at this stage than the '12s.
This is not to say that the 2013s will not age. In fact, I'd say they will age as well as the seemingly “tougher” 2012s, and they are going to be more fun to drink over the short term.
For this harvest, we picked in three passes – the first pass was for most of the grenache, and the second (about 10 days later) was to finish the grenache at a slightly higher ripeness level. We wanted to see how ripeness affected the expression of the terroir. The answer? This vineyard shows its terroir markers at both lower and higher ripeness levels, which will make subsequent picking decisions a little easier (hopefully).
The last pick was for the mourvedre, on September 16. All three lots ended up being fermented separately, but combined in tank as they were pressed. All lots were whole cluster fermented and no yeast or sulfur was added. Aging was in a combination of tank and some large (158 gallon) neutral oak puncheons. The wine was racked twice, and a small dose of SO2 was added just before bottling.
Dark plum in color, the wine shows a compelling combo of tea leaf, candle wax and graphite in its aromas. Dark fruits and an underlying chalky note (grenache from slate soils!) show up in the finish, along with a refreshing acidity. It's quite agile on its feet for a wine this size. Drink it now to experience its virility (give it an hour or so of air first); age it a bit to let the tannins resolve for a mellower take. It pairs wonderfully now with heartier winter fare.
366 cases bottled. Screwtop closure. 14.5% alcohol.
A new wine for us, as we finally were able to harvest enough fiano and arneis for a dedicated bottling. The result, a field blend from volcanic loam soils, shows a wealth of aromas and flavors. Herbs, pear, flowers, red cherry, gooseberry and a hint of soil. This wine benefits from some air, so please decant an hour ahead, or just let the wine unfold in your glass. Reticent at first, the wine will deepen over time. Try it with roast chicken, and please don't serve it too cold!
56% Fiano and 44% Arneis. 14.1% alcohol. 65 cases made. Whole cluster pressed into flextanks. Fermentation was long on this one, nearly six months! Was racked once this past Spring and bottled during the Summer.
2014 Petit Manseng
A new vintage of the Petit Manseng, and a slightly different expression from last year's. As you may remember, the 2013 bottling was all about intensity, particularly acidic intensity. This year's, the 2014, shows a subtler, more integrated acidity, which allows the flavors (lime, pineapple, pear, guava, baked apple) to take center stage. All the intensity is there, but a little more in balance. It will be much friendlier to drink in the short term, and yet should, like the 2013 certainly will, benefit from some time in the cellar. Drink chilled, but not too cold.
100% Petit Manseng. 14.3% alcohol. 57 cases made. Whole cluster pressed and aged in flextanks. The fermentation completed in about 3 months, and the wine rested on its lees until bottling this past Summer.
2014 Mourvedre “cedarville”
The mourvedre from the Cedarville Vineyard continues to bring joy. It is just so unique. You could point to the soils (decomposed granite), or to the exposition (south facing), or to the expert farming (organic, with love and care by owners Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks), but these just don't completely add up to what this wines seems to deliver. Delicious young, and improving with age, this wine seems to have something for everyone. Open a bottle now, but give this one some time in a decanter or glass to open up and display its depth of aroma and flavor. Full of meat, earth, hops and plums. Give another bottle or two some time in your cellar and surprise yourself and your guests. We like this wine with earthier flavored foods.
100% mourvedre. 11.9% alcohol. 135 cases made. Whole cluster fermented in open top fermenters. Aged in tank and small puncheons, without racking, until bottling.
2014 Jambalaia Rouge
This year's wine comes from a single vineyard on deep volcanic loam soils near the town of Camino. Composed of both red and white grapes (48% mourvedre, 37% grenache, 14% marsanne and 1% fiano & arneis), the wine is both light on its feet yet firmly structured. It is also really delicious!
The grapes were harvested over a several week period in early September. We foot crushed and whole-cluster fermented each lot, pressing off after 5-7 days on the grapeskins. Fermentation was carried out in open top bins of various sizes, with ambient yeasts and no added sulfites.
After pressing the wine rested in tank to finish, on its lees, for 6 months. Bottled unfiltered with a small 20ppm sulfite addition.
The wine shows enticing floral aromas, deep red fruit flavors, and a round and smooth finish with enough tannin and acidity to age for several years. The wine also shows more minerality than past vintages, which seems to be a hallmark of the Camino area vineyards.
It's a great wine for summer drinking – just chill it down for 25-30 minutes in the fridge – and enjoy it with most any summer fare. Age it a while and it will become more cotes-du-rhone-like, as the '12 and '13 vintages are now showing. A seriously fun wine.
377 cases bottled. 13.6% alcohol by volume. Screwtop closure.
2014 Jambalaia Blanc
The release of the 2014 Jambalaia Blanc completes our spring/summer-wine trifecta (along with the 2014 Rosé and the 2014 Jambalaia Rouge). Normally we try to release them all simultaneously, but we felt that a few more months of cellar-aging would benefit this white, and we always listen to the needs of the wine.
Once again comprised of viognier (from two different soils – volcanic loam and course granite), marsanne, petit manseng, fiano and arneis (all from volcanic loam). Whole cluster pressed directly into tank without added sulfites or yeasts. Aged in tank on its lees until bottling without fining and filtration. A small dose of sulfites was added at bottling.
This year's version is quite intense on the nose and the palate, with floral and herbal aromas and striking fruit and spice, and finishes with a core of acidity and flashes of minerals. Quite delicious and very well balanced. This wine is great now with lighter summer fare, and should age gracefully into the fall season (and beyond) and work well with cooler-weather dishes (jambalaya, anyone?).
245 cases made. Screwtop closure. Alcohol 13.5%.
2013 Piedi Grandi
This blend of 55% Nebbiolo, 37% Mourvedre and 8% syrah may be the most “nebbiolo-ish” Piedi Grandi yet. We've worked hard with the growers to bring more expressiveness to the nebbiolo via subtle changes in the viticulture. I've also worked at finding the “sweet-spot” in its ripeness curve that will bring out all those wonderful aromatics of which the grape is capable. This has meant learning the particular relationship between sugar levels, acidity levels and flavors.
We picked the nebbiolo just ahead of the mourvedre in 2013, so late in the context of the vintage, but early in a historical sense (mid-September). Whole cluster fermented and without the addition of yeast nor SO2, the nebbiolo and mourvedre lots were combined in tank after pressing. The syrah was added later to provide a bit of “something extra”. It was aged entirely in tank to preserve its character and racked only once, just before bottling. A small amount (15ppm) of SO2 was added then.
The wine shows really beautiful aromatics of flowers and stones. It has a lovely, light plummy spiciness to its flavor, and finishes with a balanced combination of fresh acidity and tannins.
The Piedi Grandi has shown itself to be a quite versatile wine, able to pair with winter fare as well as warmer-weather dishes. Drink now, or age it without worry. Previous versions of the Piedi have developed quite nicely in bottle, deepening in flavor and spice (the 2011 is amazing right now).
161 cases produced. Screwtop closure. 13.9% alcohol.
This might be my favorite version of this wine yet. 89% syrah from a steep north-east facing hillside, and 11% mourvedre from a ridgetop at 3000'. A little deeper in color than the '13, the wine is full of delicious strawberry-rhubarb flavors backed up by a textured, mineral-laced structure.
We lightly foot-crushed the grapes and let them soak for several hours before pressing. The juice was fermented entirely in tank, and the secondary (malolactic) fermentation was allowed to occur. This gives the wine a slightly rounder feel on the palate, which is then backed up by wine's natural acidity in the finish.
We aged the wine for 7 months on its lees before racking, adding 25ppm sulfites and bottling unfiltered. This is one of the more structured rosé wines out there, which helps the wine work with a wide range of foods, from salads to seafood to cheeses to grilled meats and veggies. Obviously a summer wine, but it has always amazed me how well it can age. We've opened several bottles of the 2011 recently, and they are still full of life and really delicious. Set aside a few bottles and check it out for yourself.
218 cases bottled. 12.3% alcohol by volume. Screwtop closure.
Wonderfully fresh and floral in aroma, and clean and crisp in the finish, this is a 100% Albariño. Sourced from a steep hillside vineyard on limestone, a rarity in the our parts of the Sierra Foothills. This was our first pick of the 2014 vintage, on August 15th. The fruit was lightly foot crushed and whole-cluster pressed gently into tanks. Ambient yeasts set to work very quickly (a hallmark of 2014 for us), and the wine was dry within 14 days. Malolactic fermentation completed spontaneously shortly thereafter.
The wine was aged 7 months on its lees. A light sulfite addition was made when the wine was racked just before bottling. Unfined and unfiltered, of course!
We are very happy with the way this wine has evolved. It has enough minerality to work with a variety of foods, and yet is light enough to drink on its own, as an aperitif. Enjoy now and throughout the summer.
124 cases bottled. 13.1% alcohol by volume. Screwtop closure.
2013 Syrah “sumu kaw”
Our 2013 Syrah “sumu kaw” is our first release of the year, filled with dark fruit, herbs, smoke and meat, surrounded by balanced acidity and fine-grained tannins. It is more restrained in tone than the exuberant 2012 (which earned a place in the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 of 2014 list), and I find it to be a bit more “classical”, at least in the European sense. It also seems to be drinking well from the get-go, whereas the 2012 needed some time to come together a bit.
Harvest was earlier than in previous years – we picked the grapes in two passes on Sept 7 and Sept 14, with very minor differences in ripeness between the two picks, roughly 22 brix and 3.48pH. The fermentation was again 100% whole cluster and foot-stomped. No sulfur or yeasts were added. The fermentation took off immediately and proceeded smoothly, and the wine was pressed off after about 10 days into tanks to finish.
After the winter, we racked the wine into neutral 600 liter puncheons, where it stayed until it was bottled (in late November 2014) directly from these puncheons, unfined and unfiltered and with only 15ppm sulfites added. The final wine has 13.5% alcohol by volume.
As mentioned above, the wine is a pure expression of the Sumu Kaw Vineyard's volcanic loam soils and environment, very aromatic and balanced. It should age gracefully for at least the next 6 years (as far back as our syrah data points go) and beyond. It pairs well with more robust, full-flavored foods. It is, for us, a great winter-time wine, evoking food cooked over an open fire on a cold and dark snowy night, maybe after a nice hike through the hills...
326 cases made. Screwtop closure.
2013 Jambalaia Rouge
In 2012 we experimented with blending red and white grapes together, seeking to create a wine lighter in style and friendlier for the warmer months. We called this experiment “Jambalaia”. Jambalaia, the occitan word from which the more known Creole/Cajun word “jambalaya” is derived, means a mish-mash or a mixture of diverse elements. This year, we developed the idea more fully. The result is an upfront, juicy, food-friendly, chillable and gulpable red wine.
The blending of white and red grapes is not a new concept, of course. Many of the world's most famous wines (Cote Rotie or Chianti, for example) can be red/white blends. The idea seems to have fallen out of favor, though. Maybe it is seen as less “pure” to many, although I would argue that Cote Rotie, for instance, has lost much of its classic, ethereal aroma since the use of viognier as a blending/co-fermenting grape has declined.
In our case, I wanted to experiment with the idea of fermenting an entire vineyard (or at least a proportional, representational fraction thereof ) into a single wine. This was our initial impetus for our Home Vineyard; five different varieties, all fermented together if possible, but one resulting wine.
We've come close to this idea elsewhere. Our nebbiolo-based blend, Piedi Grandi, happens to be made from 3 different grapes (in most years) from a single vineyard. The Josephine + Mariposa, a grenache/mourvedre blend, is also from a single vineyard site. (There are some grenache blanc vines out there, too, at the J+M site, so maybe some of that will sneak into future vintages and complete the circle. One can hope...)
I am also interested in drinkability. Sometimes, you want and need a lighter red for summer grilling, for hotter days, or just plain sitting on the deck and watching the sun go down. I think our reds (and whites, too) are fun and interesting to drink young (and reward a bit of patience in the cellar with additional complexity), but they are also, because of where we are, sometimes a bit larger structured. Sleeker wines are called for in the summer.
One answer has always been to drink rosé. Or Pet Nat. Or beer. But red wines should have a place in summer, too. Hence the desire to make this Jambalaia.
As of last year's harvest, I hadn't found the right site to make a single vineyard red/white/whole-monty type of wine, so this version, the 2013, is comprised of 30% syrah, 28% mourvedre, 23% marsanne and 19% grenache noir from several well-known sites around my area. The grenache and syrah are from the Fenaughty Vineyard. The marsanne hails from Sumu Kaw, and the mourvedre comes from the Sumu Kaw, Swansburough, and Ambrosia vineyards. A truly pan-county wine with pedigree!
We aimed to pick for freshness. We fermented everything with ambient yeasts and whole clusters, and pressed the wine off early to avoid harder tannins. The wine was aged in tank and large (600 liter) barrels. It was bottled 8 months later, unfiltered.
The result is really fun. Open fruit aromas with a touch of garrigue lead to juicy, fresh plum flavors, very lively, with a nice balance of texture, fine tannin, acidity, and minerality. One taster commented that it reminded him of a lighter, more approachable Josephine + Mariposa. I'd say that was just about right. Definitely something of a classic Cote du Rhone about it.
Drink this wine now and through the next several years, preferably with a slight chill. About 30-40 minutes in the fridge ought to do it.
2013 Petit Manseng
Quite possibly a native of far southwest France and the Basque region of Spain, Petit Manseng is something of a rarity in California. In France, it is best known for the wines of Jurancon, most notably the sweet wines (the dry wines, Jurancon Sec, are usually made from a blend of Petit manseng and its cousin, Gros Manseng).
We've found a small patch of Petit Manseng in the Fenaughty Vineyard outside of Placerville, and have been working with it for three years now (including this harvest). The learning curve has been pretty steep: first, the grape collects sugar like nothing else I've seen. 30+ brix? Not a problem. Second, it retains its acidity like nothing else, too. 1.2, 1.4 grams per liter? At 30 brix? Not a problem! (By comparison, most other grapes at that ripeness level loose most of their acidity.)
I am not much of a dessert wine kinda guy, so I wanted to make a dry Petit Manseng. With its rapid sugar accumulation and screaming acidity, this was going to be a challenge! Careful monitoring of the grape as it ripens is most important.
The third issue with the grape is yield. The berries are quite small, the skins are very thick and the seeds are quite large. There's not much room in the berry for juice! We've found about 80%-90% of normal juice yield can be expected.
So, in 2013, we harvested 3 bins of grapes from the vineyard, at 23.1 brix, 2.9 pH and 14.1 g/l acidity. Three bins, with normal grapes, would weigh in at about 3000 lbs, and yield about 225 gallons of juice. Our three bins of Petit Manseng weighed 1875 lbs! Our juice yield after pressing? 130 gallons.
Some of the juice went straight into the Jambalaia Blanc blend, but we kept 80 gallons separate. The wine took nearly six months to ferment, ending up at 13.5% alcohol. The wine rested on its lees until bottling in August 2014.
It is a very intense wine, full of exotic fruit aromas, a medium body, and spicy, pineapple and lemon peel flavors. The acidity is prominent, but nicely balanced. The wine needs food, preferably food with some fat in it. We have had it and enjoyed it with hard cheeses (avoid soft cheeses) and grilled salmon. I suspect it would pair well with pork belly (update: confirmed!). There's lots of room to experiment here.
How will it age? That's anybody's guess, but I suspect, based on how well Jurancon Sec can improve over time, that this wine will age well.
2013 Mourvedre “cedarville”
There is no other wine in our portfolio with which I so strongly identify. It was the first wine we made (at least commercially, in 2007), and it still continues to inspire me even today. It is, along with the Sumu Kaw Vineyard Syrah, a wine which defines La Clarine Farm.
It is for me classic – balanced, full of fragrance and flavor, it ages gracefully. And its production is classic, too. Made from a small block of vines, it is always limited in quantity. We foot-stomp and whole-cluster ferment the grapes without any additions (no sulfur, no yeast, no acids). We let the wine age in old, large format french oak cooperage, without racking, until bottling. We add a minimal amount of sulfites at bottling, no more than 20ppm.
This vintage is slightly more restrained than the 2012, but no less friendly. It has an expressive nose, spicy fruit flavors (particularly plum right now), nice acidity and a long, open finish. In a word – delicious!
2013 Mourvedre “ambrosia”
I've been looking for another mourvedre vineyard to work with for a couple of years now. It's been difficult to find the right combination of soil and plant that seems to express itself in an interesting way. This vineyard, the Ambrosia Vineyard outside of Swansboro (El Dorado County), seems to fit the bill.
Quite isolated, these vines sit on similar soils to our Josephine + Mariposa vineyard – yellow slate underneath a brown loam. The vines are bush trained.
The wine shows a completely different side of the mourvedre spectrum when compared to our Cedarville bottling. Fermented in the exact same way as the Cedarville, the vineyard differences really shine. Where the Cedarville is light and quite feminine in nature, the Ambrosia is darker, masculine and muscular. It shows a classic mourvedre nose – earthy and brambly. It is broad and structured, with a long, minerally finish.
Where the Cedarville reminds me sometimes of the Jura, at least in spirit, this Ambrosia bottling reminds me of Bandol.
2013 Jambalaia Blanc
The newly renamed Jambalaia Blanc (previously known as “the white blend”) is composed of 59% Viognier, 24% Marsanne, 10% Petit Manseng, 4% Fiano and 3% Arneis. Direct, whole cluster pressing, ambient yeast fermentation, no added anything (until a small dose of sulfites at bottling), and aging sur lie in tank have yielded a wine with wonderful aromatics, nice richness (thanks to the completed malolactic fermentation), and an intriguing intensity in the finish (thanks to the Petit Manseng). And, at 12.7% alcohol, you sure can drink a lot of it!
This is quite a complex wine, and it seems to be able to stand up to pretty much any food we've tasted it with. I believe it is going to age nicely, too; last year's version is singing right now, about a year after it was released, and I feel this vintage is even better.
245 cases made. Screwcap closure.
2012 piedi grandi
Another red blend, this time from deeper volcanic soils. Composed of 54% Nebbiolo, 42% Mourvedre, 3% Syrah and 1% Semillon, this wine never fails to make us smile each year. From its rather serendipitous origins, it's become one of our favorites for spring- and summertime dining (and drinking).
Ambient yeast fermentation, foot stomped whole clusters, no sulfites added until bottling (and just enough then to protect the wine from the stresses of bottling) and aging entirely in tank help to give this wine a juicy and pure personality.
Intensely aromatic, lighter in body but full in flavor, with a tannic / acid backbone so typical of nebbiolo, this wine pairs well with a variety of dishes. Its versatility is what makes it so much fun. The wine gains complexity with air, and becomes spicier with time in the bottle (the 2010, for instance, is quite nice right now). Try, if you can, to hold on to a few bottles for future exploration!
The rosé is comprised of 74% Syrah and 26% Mourvedre, both grown specifically for making rosé. The syrah comes from a north-facing parcel on coarse decomposed granite, and the mourvedre comes from deeper volcanic loam. Both were picked early to preserve freshness and pressed directly into tanks without any additions, where the ambient yeasts worked their magic. Later, a secondary, spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred, which helps to round out the middle of the wine nicely without compromising the fresh acidity in the finish. A small amount of sulfites were added at bottling.
This year's version seems dominated by the mourvedre (at least right now) – the wine shows a lot of herbal, earthy, mineral and grapefruit tones. This is definitely not a tutti-fruity rosé! It clocks in at 12.1% alcohol, so it's a pleasure to gulp down with seafood, grilled chicken and other summertime foods. I would suggest you hold onto a few bottles for Thanksgiving...if you can.
148 cases made. Screwcap closure.
2012 josephine + mariposa
In the summer of 2012, as we walked through the Fenaughty Vineyard in El Dorado county's Apple Hill area, ace-grower Ron Mansfield and I discussed vines and wines and the sort of things I was looking for. I told him of my increasing interest in vineyard specific blends, how I felt that often a blend is a more complete picture of a particular soil and site. I explained that I was looking for vineyards which can express themselves through whichever variety (or varieties) were planted there. Which varieties were there was (almost) of secondary importance. In short, a great site with the right grapes.
Ron kept mentioning a vineyard in a “town” called Swansboro. A quick lookup on my phone revealed Swansboro to be, apparently, the intersection of two roads. He told me of a vineyard with grenache blanc, grenache noir and mourvedre, plus a few other scattered patches of interesting varieties. The soil, he said, was particularly interesting.
We met a week or so later to drive to Swansburo. Down an old, one-and-a-half-lane road into a steep canyon, over the coolest one-lane, wooden suspension bridge I've ever seen, and back up the other side of the canyon to a small vineyard perched at the top of what looks to be an old lava cap. Head-trained grenache and mourvedre vines. Loamy soil with bits of yellow rock poking up here and there. My soils app identified the site as sitting on the Josephine/Mariposa Complex. Gravelly loam underlaid with yellow slate.
We walked through the vines. It was one of those experiences when you just know this is a special place. Down at the bottom of the vineyard was a huge pile of rock that had been cleared when the vines were planted. Crumbly, yellow slate. Yes!
Without hesitation, we reached an agreement on getting me some grapes. I was most interested in the grenache noir, and I took a little mourvedre, too, to see what it was like.
Once the grapes were delivered, back at La Clarine Farm, we foot stomped both lots and let them ferment. Wonderful aromas. We pressed them after 8 or 9 days into older 600 liter demi-muids, again keeping the grenache and mourvedre separate. We instantly felt we had something special going on – the aromas and flavors were quite different than what we get from our more normal soils here, decomposed granite. We were also amazed that the grenache and mourvedre shared more similarities than differences (I probably couldn't tell them apart in a blind tasting), again leading us to feel that this vineyard site was indeed special.
After a few trials, we decided that blending them together made the most complete picture. The final blend is 72% grenache and 28% mourvedre. The aromas are classic, old-school grenache – pure, high-toned fruit, some dried herb, and wet, chalky stones. The wine is certainly full-bodied, but surprisingly light on its feet. The mourvedre adds its structure to the blend. The finish wraps itself around you in a bear-hug of minerals and fine tannins. Again those stoney flavors! This wine seems to have the balance, energy and structure to age gracefully for many years. Think of Collioure, or Priorat before all the new oak salespeople showed up.
Give the wine plenty of air and time to unravel itself. Try it with robust winter fare; we can't wait to try this with a cassoulet.
280 cases made. Screwtop closure. 14.6% alcohol. Racked only once and bottled unfined and unfiltered, with a small 20ppm sulfite addition.
2012 home vineyard
Thanks to a generous 2012 vintage (at least in the sensual sense), this new release of the Home Vineyard is the most forward version yet. We farm our home property in as minimalist fashion as possible, allowing the native, natural vegetation to grow between the vines. We don't fertilize the vines, preferring to allow the course granitic soil to “be what it is” and to experience this “is-ness” in the finished wine. We also use a minimum of treatment against the more common maladies of grapevines: occasional sprays using natural sulfur compounds, along with homeopathic treatments, seem to help combat powdery mildew and insect issues. These sprays, and the biodiversity we promote in the vineyard, seem to allow the natural balance of the ecosystem to prevent anything from getting too far out of balance. Those of you who have seen the vineyard can attest to the fact that it barely resembles a vineyard at all! But the wines it produces are very special.
This year's blend is composed of 35% Tempranillo, 28% Grenache, 21% Tannat, 13% Syrah and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% whole cluster fermentation, ambient yeasts, gentle basket pressing, no sulfites added until bottling, aging in neutral, thin-stave small oak barrels and hand bottling help insure that this is as true an expression of site and vintage as possible. The wine shows great concentration, herb-tinged and savory textures, and tremendous depth of flavor. Drinking nicely now, it has the tannic and acid structure to age quite gracefully for years to come.
The downside to this natural viticulture is the fact that yields are insanely low (at least from an economic viewpoint). There are only 453 bottles of this wine to go around, and it will sell out very quickly (in a matter of hours in past years), so if you have interest in tasting this, please do not delay!
2012 Syrah “sumu kaw”
Although I love change and surprise in my winemaking and wines, it is sometimes comforting to know (at least approximately) what you are going to get when you open a bottle. In fact, I would say that the most enjoyable bottles are those with some sort of reference point. A place on which to grab, whilst exploring the “unknown”. Sometimes, that “handle” is simply the grape variety. Sometimes it goes deeper than that.
The most interesting vineyards are those which provide something of an anchor. They have a consistency about them, a fixed value on which vintage variation can dance around. That interplay between vineyard and vintage is a fascinating one, and we have enough vintages under our belt to confidently say that the Sumu Kaw Vineyard is one such vineyard.
I've always believed Sumu Kaw to be an exemplary syrah vineyard. The elements of elevation (3000 feet), location (in the middle of a pine forest), exposition (ridge-top) and soil composition (deep volcanic loam) come together here in a nearly perfect combination. With thoughtful farming and careful treatment in the cellar, it is possible to “make” a really superlative wine here.
The soil, in particular, seems to lend everything grown here amazing aromatics. These syrah grapes always gives meaty and smokey tones, with dark fruit, and our choice to ferment these grapes with 100% whole clusters adds an intriguing herbal note to the wine. These notes are always present - one year may show more of the herby character, like 2010; the next may show intense smoke (like 2011).
This release, the 2012, has all of the “comfort” notes there in a remarkable balance. Add in the rather intense structure of this vintage, with the tannins and acidity playing off each other, and the experience is quite attention-getting. Yet, nothing sticks out too much, nothing is lacking. It's all in there for you to explore.
It's a blast to drink now, all up-front and primary, and it seems to need a good 6-8 hours of air to start to show its potential. It will certainly repay a few years (5? 6? 10? more?) in the cellar with deepening complexity and depth of flavor.
345 cases bottled. Aged in 600 liter demi-muids, racked once, and bottled under screwcap with a single 20ppm addition of sulfites. 14.2% alcohol.
2012 Mourvedre “cedarville”
2012 was an interesting vintage in that it seemed, early on, to be one thing (aka very much not 2011), and yet the wines are developing into something a little unexpected.
After 2011's cool weather, 2012 seemed to be a return to normal for California. The weather was picture perfect for grape growing, with warm temperatures and none of the summer rains which made 2011 so challenging for some vineyards. Disease pressure on the vines was easily handled. The crop load was good. The late summer provided ideal ripening conditions.
You can never be sure of what a harvest will bring, but in August or so I start to get a sense of what is going to happen (wine-wise). Of course, the “vintage-learning-curve” really kicks in once you start the actual harvest, but just beforehand you get a feel of where things are going to go.
One of the games I play at this pre-harvest stage is pulling a card from my deck of “Oblique Strategies”, a set of cards by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Each card contains a simple, yet thought-provoking instruction, and are used to solve creative problems (originally for music and painting, but applicable in a wide range of circumstance). You are encouraged to follow the spirit of the card, even if you cannot immediately see a direct connection to your problem. The first card I pulled said: “Make it more sensual”.
Fair enough, I thought. That should be easy in this vintage. So I pulled a second card: “Discover the recipes you are using, and abandon them.” This, together with the first, seemed like an interesting way to go.
So we tried. Mainly, we changed the way we handled fermentations, shortening the time on the skins for the reds, working the must a lot less, one punchdown a day, pressing earlier and letting them finish fermentation in tank or barrel. By changing a key procedure up front, we figured we'd be slightly altering the trajectory of the wines thereafter. And we did, I think, for the better.
The reds all showed a brighter character, slightly smoother, a little less rustic. My initial impressions were of forward, easy drinking wines that will make a lot of people happy.
Later on in the wines' developments, that impression changed (hence the “unexpected” note in the first paragraph). The wines suddenly took on weight, the structures emerged, and the unique characters of the wines became apparent. Soils and sites started to speak. Tannins were a little finer perhaps, but present nonetheless.
A good example is this wine, the 2012 Mourvedre from the Cedarville Vineyard. Since the proprietors went to fully organic viticulture in 2010, the wines have changed a lot. They seem brighter than before, more nuanced, less brooding and more joyful. Great flavors are now there at lower ripeness (alcohol) levels now, which is always welcome. Acids are higher (also welcome!). The decomposed granitic terroir seems to speak a little louder now.
Right out of the fermenter, this wine showed lots of bright, cranberry-like flavors, very smooth, friendly, but somewhat mono-toned. Now, after aging 12 months in puncheons, the wine is full of complex herb notes, a structure built for aging, and wonderful acidity (which makes the wine pair so well with food). It still has that very friendly feel about it, welcoming you, but now that is backed up with depth. It grows in the glass. It has something to say. It's a wine you can explore.
Very limited. 118 cases. Bottled without filtration using screwcap closure. Two light sulfur additions (one over the summer and one just before bottling).
2012 White Blend Nr. 1
Here, finally, is the White Blend Nr. 1. We had doubts, at times, that this day would ever happen, but the wine gods (or whatever) have smiled upon us, and we are proud to release this intriguing wine.
A blend of Viognier (47%), Marsanne (41%), and Petit Manseng (12%), this wine shows more weight and richness than its sibling, White Blend Nr. 2. It displays a beautiful and subtly floral nose, some mid-palate richness, but retains a mouthwatering acidity. A wonderful wine to end out the warm Summer months and transition to more robust, cooler weather cuisine.
The Viognier comes from a East-facing slope of fairly old wines, planted in the mid-1990s. This plot seems to avoid the typical California overblown Viognier notes; instead, the wine is floral and wonderfully sleek. This part was pressed directly to tank.
The Marsanne comes from a plot nearby, facing north-east. This small planting has interested me for the past few years, as it shows subtle herbal notes in the wine. The grape skins tasted delicious, so we gave them 24 hours of skin contact before pressing, adding the juice to the Viognier.
The Petit Manseng has a story of its own: While visiting famous El Dorado grower Ron Mansfield one day, he causally pointed to several rows of young vines and said, “those are Petit Manseng”. If I had been sitting, I would have fallen out of my chair.
“Who”, I asked, “get those grapes?”
I could not say “yes” quickly enough. “I'll take it all...Please!”
And so, a few weeks later, I picked up my harvest from these young vines – all of 800 pounds. Very small berries, very thick skins, large seeds, not much juice. Those 800 pounds yielded a mere 50 gallons of juice, fairly high in sugar and with screaming levels of acidity. We fermented this lot separately from the Viognier/Marsanne, intending to produce, perhaps, a White Nr 3.
Fermentations started off quickly, seemed very active, and then...nothing. The ferments simply slowed down and stopped at about 2% sugar. Confident that they would restart, we continued on with our harvest...
Harvest was soon over, and both cuvées were quiet. No real activity to speak of. So, we added a small dose of SO2 and racked the wines from their lees. Winter was fast approaching; we basically put the wine “to bed” for the time being.
Jump ahead to May 2013: it's alive! Slowly at first, then with more vigor, the stubborn yeasts finally completed the job during a heat wave in July. What was once a concern has become two tasty white wines. After much thought, and some blending trials, we decided to blend both lots together. The small addition of the Petit Manseng just seemed to complete the other wine, producing something greater than the individual parts, adding a richness and wonderful acidic “zing”.
Kermit Lynch, in his book “Adventures on the Wine Route”, described a cuvee at Domaine Tempier which took four years to complete fermentation. Lucien Peyraud advised his sons to simply wait – the wine would be ready when it was ready. It turned out to be one of the most impressive wines ever produced at Tempier.
I thought a lot about this story over this past winter. I'm glad I had the patience to wait. The result is well worth it.
155 cases made. Bottled without fining or filtration. Screwcap closure with Saranex liner..
Our second rosé release, primarily sourced from syrah (62% of the blend) on a north and east facing granitic slope in Fair Play. These syrah grapes are perfect for what we are trying to do – they ripen, but just barely, with great flavor at lower sugar levels. We've added a bit of mourvedre (18%) from nearby Pleasant Valley, and a touch of semillon and viognier to boot.
The grapes were lightly foot trodden and left on the skins and stems for two or three hours before being pressed. No SO2 was added. The fermentation was spontaneous (as was the secondary, or malo-lactic, fermentation). The wine remained on its lees until racking shortly before bottling, and we then added a small dose of sulfites just prior to bottling to ensure stability.
This rather unorthodox combination of grapes has produced a wonderfully colored, mineral and acid-laced rosé wine, perfect for Summertime. The color is similar to last year's version, with just a touch of blue to the color thanks to the syrah. The aromas are rather elegant, more mineral and earth-driven than fruit-driven. There is a distinct remembrance of blood orange. The finish is crisp, and present enough to match a variety of dishes, but the wine would do well as an aperitif, too, on a hot summer's day.
156 Cases produced. Stevin closure. 12.8% alc by vol
2012 White Blend Nr 2
Sometimes, you have an idea about how things are going to turn out, and then it ends up turning out completely differently. In these cases, you can either try to forcibly change things to suit your vision, or you can just let things fall where they may and enjoy the outcome.
Case in point: I like to mess around with white grapes. Sometimes, I give them varying lengths of skin contact. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes, I like to take grapes that are strange to me, and see what happens to them in the winery. I did all of this during the 2012 harvest, and have ended up with three distinct white wine blends. It just worked out that way.
Someone smarter than me would realize that putting out 3 different whites might be confusing to people, diffusing the “brand” a bit. Well, I don't make brands – I make (or try to make) interesting wines. Sometimes, a lot of them.
So, here you go: The first of three probable white wines (the other two are, at this moment, still fermenting), my “White Blend Number Two”. 50% Semillon from Amador County and 50% Viognier from El Dorado County.
Both lots were picked early to maximize freshness. The viognier was loaded directly into the press, without any SO2 addition. The semillon was foot stomped and allowed to begin its fermentation (also sans SO2) on its skins before being pressed off several days later. Both lots were blended together after the fermentation had finished, and rested on the lees (there was no lees stirring) until just before bottling. The wine then received its first and only small shot of SO2.
There is an interesting interplay between these two varieties. The semillon, from northwest facing deeper loamy soils, is fairly racy and full of herb aromas (I always get a note of anise from it), while the viognier, from courser granitic soils, is light and mineral driven. Together they make a wine that is both full of flavor and crisply refreshing, with enough body to stand up to stronger flavored dishes. We like it with middle-eastern styled fare.
110 cases produced. Stelvin closure. 12.2% alc by vol
2011 Piedi Grandi
The first thing you will notice on opening this blend of 55% Nebbiolo, 31% Mourvedre and 14% Syrah, are the intense aromatics. Extraordinarily floral, with a hint of citrus peel and rose. This wine is heavily marked by the Nebbiolo, in a Californian/Foothills sort of way. Granite soils and crystalline wine. Medium bodied, with a wonderful interplay of savory fruit and juicy acidity, and just the right amount of tannins to give the wine a very gulpable structure. A fabulous pizza wine. And another really cool John Cage quote on the label.
This wine is probably best consumed in the near(er) term – its just too delicious not to drink today!
A wine for the here and now.
13.2% alc. Screwtop closure. 126 cases (1512 bottles) made.
2011 Syrah “Sumu Kaw”
If you've been following us over the past few years, you know we are very fond of the Sumu Kaw vineyard. It produces red wines of wonderful aromatic complexity, and the Syrah is always particularly interesting. Simply put, it's a great place to grow Syrah. Most vintages give us wines with an interplay of herb, smoke and fruit, and, as it is turning out, great aging ability.
In 2011 we handled the grapes as we always do - whole cluster fermentation, foot treading, ambient yeasts, one racking, aged in old oak puncheons and tank, no SO2 until bottling. We knew pretty early on that this year's version was going to be special, but the vintage seems to have turned up that herby-smokey thing up all the way to, well, 11!
When opened, this 100% Syrah is all about smoke, meat, roasted herbs (rosemary in particular). It's like a liquid version of cooking over a campfire. The fruit is well hidden at first, but emerges with some air. It has great structure, driven by the acidity. It is fresh and alive, and reminds me somewhat of a good Loire Cabernet Franc.
Two hours in, the wine really finds its voice. After a few more hours, the wine turns extremely savory in tone, showing a beef broth note, more herbs, and a very long finish.
Caro and I are really excited by this wine. It recalls an old school (and I mean 1970s & 80s style) northern rhône red. I would imagine it will age rather nicely over the next 6-8 years, at a minimum.
Screwtop closure. 12.4% alcohol. 236 cases made.
2011 Sumu Kaw Vineyard Mourvedre
This is the first time we've bottled this fruit separately. In the past, we've blended it into the Sumu Kaw syrah, or we use it in our Piedi Grandi blend. This year, however, the quality was high enough to stand on its own. It shows all the familiar characteristics of Sumu Kaw fruit: very aromatic, with an herbal undertone and forward flavors.
This mourvedre, at 12.4% alcohol, was actually one of the first reds we picked in 2011. The crop level was way down (which may have contributed to the increased flavor concentration) and the grapes seemed ready surprisingly early for mourvedre, a notoriously late ripening variety.
It shows all the classic markers of the grape (earthiness, some leathery/dried leafy tones) in a forward, (all too) easy drinking package. It is a wonderful introduction to the style of the vintage. It is delicious!
81 cases bottled. Screwcap closure.
2011 Cedarville Vineyard Mourvedre
This was actually the last red we picked in 2011. We loved the flavors early on, but waited (and waited) for a bit more maturity. And waited. The vines held on for a long time, then the canopy showed signs of failing, and we just had to pick on October 27. Final sugar reading? 19.6 brix!
It became immediately apparent that this wine was going to be something special. The aromas from the fermenters was incredible, and the wine from the press on November 8 (at dryness) was already quite drinkable. Malolactic fermentation bubbled along all winter long.
By Spring of 2012, we had one of the most unusual mourvedre wines I've ever tasted. Lighter in color than most years, lower in alcohol (11.7%), but big in flavor, it's a wine you could very easily drink a lot of, if there were a lot. I jokingly started calling it my version of Beaujolais, and it does have a lot of similarities to a good cru Beaujolais, but with sort of a “mutant beaujolais” feel to it.
51 cases bottled. Screwcap closure.
2010 Syrah “sumu kaw”
The Sumu Kaw vineyard in El Dorado county's Pleasant Valley continues to offer stunning syrah grapes. They embody everything I look for in syrah: lifted aromatics of pepper and herb, sleek blue/red fruit flavors, superb tannin/acid balance, and a welcome touch of meatiness.
This year turned out especially good, in spite of (or maybe because of?) the year's growing difficulties. The syrah seemed to have skirted all of the “fun” events of the season – the snow, the rain, late heat, etc.- giving us some beautiful fruit to work with. It is also a testament to the growers' skill (thank you Sheila and Dave!).
The grapes were picked in early October and were fermented without destemming for 14 days in a single open top fermentor (yes, with ambient yeasts). The grapes were foot crushed throughout the fermentation period, then basket pressed into old, thin-stave barrels to finish. After about 1 year, the wine was racked into tank (its only racking), and 16% sumu kaw mourvedre was blended into the syrah to help flesh out the palate a little. The wine was aged a further 7 months before bottling (and given a 15ppm dose of SO2 at bottling).
The resulting wine shows rather spirited herb and loamy soil aromas, with sage, pine needles and red cherries. It is medium bodied with some meaty, smoky flavors, some tar, and present but smooth tannins. Finishes with more herbs and cherry notes. Not a shy wine, and it should gain in complexity over the next 3-6 months, and age for many years. We recently tried both the 2008 and 2009 sumu kaw syrahs, and they are still very youthful.
210 cases made. Screwtop closure.
It took me quite a while to come around to the actual making of a rosé, though the idea has been in my head for years. For me, rosé is quite a balancing act in terms of wine. It should have pretty aromatics, like a delicate white. It should have the mouthfeel of a fresh, young, gulpable red wine. It should be very pleasing to the eye, not too dark. And, it should be dry.
This is not so easy to achieve. There are a lot of pretty bad rosés on the market, and many more mediocre ones. Far too many are made using a method known as saignée, which means some juice is “bled” from tanks containing grapes for making red wine. For me, it is a compromise which yields a clumsy sort of pink wine and takes away aromatics from the red wine, too. The best way to do it, I think, is by directly pressing red grapes like a white wine. Generally, my favorite rosés are made this way.
The best rosés have that aforementioned balancing act down cold, as it were. They are delightful to drink, either as something refreshing on a warm summer's day, or as part of a great meal. A good rosé is a versatile wine with a lot of different foods.
So, after doing the brain exercises about this, I took the plunge in 2011. This wine was made from grapes (2/3 syrah and 1/3 mourvèdre) specifically set aside for making this wine. Picked at sugar and acid levels appropriate for a white wine, the grapes were foot crushed and pressed some 12 hours later. Fermentation was in tank and a few old barrels using ambient yeasts. Malolactic fermentation occurred spontaneously, and lends a rounder, richer feeling to the wine. Acid levels are just about perfect in my opinion. Alcohol ended up at 12.7%. It is dry, light in feeling, but substantial enough to work well with many foods, from roast chicken to thai to fish courses. Drink nicely chilled over the summer, but save some for Thanksgiving, too.
90 cases made. Screwcap closure.
2010 Home Vineyard
Our last 2010 red release, from a difficult vintage. We lost much of our tempranillo to poor weather at flowering (it snowed!), and overall our yields were down. It remained very cool throughout much of the growing year, and the tempranillo was unfortunately hit again in spots by powdery mildew. A late summer heat spell complicated matters further – the sudden onrush of heat burned some of the more exposed clusters, further reducing what we could use in the final wine. Somehow, we were able to pick at pretty much normal / desired sugar and acid levels. Acids remained strong, giving the wines of 2010 a great liveliness.
We started picking the grapes in late September, first tempranillo and syrah together (co-fermented) and the grensche/tannat/cab portion together (also co-fermented) a few weeks later. Nothing was destemmed and the fermentation was with ambient yeasts, lasting about 10 days. The wine was pressed directly into a small tank and aged there, with one racking, for 16 months. The wine got one small dose of SO2 (5ppm) once during aging, and another small 15ppm dose at bottling. No oak, new or old, was used during the aging period.
This year's rendition of the Home Vineyard is weighted toward tannat (28% of the blend), giving the wine a deep color and a stony, mineral quality. There are also flickers of campfire in the wine, which is a typical trait of tannat wines. Syrah (24%), Tempranillo (24%), grenache (22%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2%) round out the blend. It encapsulates our total farming and winemaking philosophies of no intervention (anywhere) unless absolutely needed.
My tasting note from January 27 (just after bottling):
Pepper, sweet middle eastern spices, licorice, crushed thyme, beeswax, smoked meat. Nori. Black cherry flavors, dusty tannins, fennel notes, more smoke and pepper in the finish. Touch of earth/granite. Savory. Lip-smacking acidity. Tannins are pretty subdued (for a Home Vineyard). Pretty easy to drink now, but will age well.
The resulting wine is very, very good, but the downside is that there are only 192 bottles in total. I am offering this wine first to you before the remaining bottles will go to a few lucky customers in the trade. There is a 4 bottle limit, but I can combine it with the 2010 syrah and still offer a 20% case discount.
2010 Piedi Grandi
a sierra foothills red blend
This, our second red release from the amazing 2010 vintage, has quite an unusual backstory. Several, actually.
I had been eyeing the several small rows of nebbiolo at Sumu Kaw Vineyard for several years. The vines grow along the road between the gate and “my” block of syrah. The look of the clusters on the vines, dark and small berried, appealed to me, but the idea of actually fermenting this grape, with its storied history (and somewhat sad history in California) and mysterious aura (similar to that of pinot noir) was intimidating to me. So much could go wrong...
But then again, why not? What would I have to lose? So I bit. The vineyard owners and I agreed on a price for a small quantity of nebbiolo for the 2010 vintage. I would try it.
Around harvest time, in mid-October, after checking brix and acid levels, we agreed to pick. Then came the phone call. One section came in at close to 24 brix. The others, though, were at 19 or so. What did I want to do?
Not particularly wanting a high alcohol nebbiolo, I chose to take 50% at the higher brix, and 50% at the lower number. I'm sure some heads were being scratched on the other end on the telephone line, but I got what I wanted. Good looking fruit at a reasonable ripeness level.
After foot crushing the fruit (more about that later), the fermentation was slow and curious (the weather by then had turned quite cold and I ferment outside). The color was a surprisingly light hue of red, but the aroma was reassuringly nebbiolo-like. By mid-spring 2011, I had my “finished” nebbiolo. But I wasn't done yet...
About this same time, I had been reading a book called Conversing with Cage, a collection of interviews with the late avant-guard composer John Cage. I've always found Cage to be a fascinating character, full of wit, capable of confounding, and most certainly someone who stretched the boundaries of music.
So, with Cagean ideas in my head, and several barrels of nebbiolo, I hatched my plan...
I would, using Cage-inspired chance operations (which were inspired by the I Ching), blend together a wine. The ground rules were simple: I would toss coins to see which 2010 wines in the cellar I would blend into the nebbiolo (everything except the Home Vineyard was fair game), toss more coins to determine the percentages, and (most importantly) I would not taste the wine during this process. I would taste the final result after the blend. No going back. Of course, this could all go very wrong...
It didn't. The resulting blend, 56% nebbiolo, 30% syrah, 9% mourvedre, 2.5% viognier and 2.5% roussanne, is quite unlike anything I've ever “done”. I certainly wouldn’t have come up with this blend on my own. I am excited by the results, though!
It's full of aroma – herby, garrigue, floral, spicy aromas. I can pick out a bit of tar in there, too. The core flavors are black cherry, maybe a little pomegranate, and the wine finishes with amazing acidity. It would be great with foods with some fat in them, from a juicy steak to charcuterie. It could work with stronger flavored fish, too, like mackerel.
About the name: One day, Johnny Vino (not his real name) asked us if we wanted help stomping some grapes. On picking day, John showed up with his wife, his two daughters and some of the kids' friends in tow. Never have a lot of grapes been so well stomped. The kids had a blast, and Caro and I got to sit back and watch.
Later, after the blending was done, Caro and I struggled to find a name for this wine, dreaming up and tossing out at least a dozen incarnations. Our friend Sally (her real name), on learning how the wine was made, came up with the end result, and it fits perfectly. Not only does it invoke the italian roots of the primary grape, but it pays a small homage to the folks who did one of the most important parts of winemaking at La Clarine: foot stomping the grapes.
So Vino family, this wine's named for you and your piedi grandi!
115 cases made. Screwcap closure with saranex lining.
2010 Mourvèdre “cedarville”
Our new release is the 2010 “cedarville vineyard” mourvedre. It exhibited extraordinary perfume right out of the fermenter, with moderate tannins and perfect acidity. The wine has been beautiful, a joy to drink, from very early on, and I decided to bottle the wine “early” to capture as much of that beauty as possible.
Gorgeous aromas of red fruits, flowers, garrigue and earth combine with fresh plum and spice flavors and a sleek, smooth finish with plenty of freshness. I've joked to some that it's my take on burgundy, but those aromas and flavors really have more to do with the vintage and the organic farming methods of the folks at Cedarville than any of my insignificant contributions to the wine's fermentation (heck, all I did was stomp on the grapes!).
If you are interested in how much finesse and nuance a red from the Sierra Foothills can show, try this wine. It's already wonderful now, and I cannot wait to see how it develops.
74 cases made. Screwcap closure.
2010 White Blend
This year's wine is composed of 43% viognier, 37% roussanne and 20% marsanne from several Amador and El Dorado county vineyards. Picked on September 27 & 28, 2010, the viognier was crushed and pressed after 24 hours of skin contact, and the roussanne portion was gently direct pressed. They were blended after pressing and fermented with the existing ambient yeasts. The marsanne, picked October 11, was fermented completely on its skins (24 days), again using native yeasts. Later, all the components were combined and left on their lees, without racking, for 7 months. The wine underwent a complete secondary fermentation, and was aged entirely in tank. No sulfur dioxide was added until just before bottling (20 ppm), and the wine was bottled without fining or filtration.
The result shows an interesting floral / yeasty component, along with hints of anise and apple. With some time and air, white peach notes emerge.
The wine is fairly rich, yet structured. with herbal traces, and finishes with loads of mineral notes and just a touch of tannin. It has a very “natural” feel to it. It is flavorful and refreshing, and very versatile with food. I suspect this wine could age for several years (it seems to improve over the course of 3 days after opening), but why wait? Or, try some now...and try some later.
185 cases bottled. Natural Cork closure.
2009 Home Vineyard red blend
A field blend of tempranillo (46%), grenache (20%), syrah (13%), tannat (20%) and cabernet sauvignon (1%), and farmed naturally, the 2009 Home Vineyard is, in a word, fun.
As usual, ambient yeasts are at work here, lending, along with whole cluster fermentation and basket pressing, a spicy and generous wine. Aged in a old, thin-staved neutral french oak barrel, it was racked just once, and given its only light dose of SO2 at bottling.
Obviously, with this sort of field blend we are not talking about varietal characteristics – we are dealing with the vineyard site. Showing great length, deep flavors, and a strong structural backbone (those La Clarine tannins! Think crumbling granite!), this wine just unfolds in the glass. Wild sage. Dark fruits. Energy. Fun. This wine will age.
That’s the good news. The bad? There's not very much of it. 306 bottles. It will go very quickly.
I have not made a more complete wine from our home vineyard. Ever. It is a truly happy wine, from a happy vineyard (and a resulting happy winemaker).
306 bottles made. Vino-seal closure.
Oh, the 2009 vintage! For earlier ripening varieties and vineyards, 2009 brought us wines with forward flavors, grace and balance.
For later ripening grapes, like mourvedre, the year was a little less kind. Rain, and subsequent problems that rain can sometimes bring, necessitated strict selections of clusters in the vineyard, during fermentation, at pressing and during elevage. Part of the crop was pretty useless to us (for making wine, anyway. Great for the compost pile).
It was a frustrating time, to say the least.
The final result, after careful blending, is a non-vineyard designated wine containing fruit from both the Cedarville Vineyard and the Sumu Kaw Vineyard (about 50:50). The Sumu Kaw portion brings upfront fruit and length. The Cedarville portion shows a more delicate structure and is very floral.
Together, they give a wine quite different to the 2008 version, yet intriguing nonetheless. This wine is going to be fascinating to follow as it ages (it changes quite rapidly in the glass). It reminds me a little of what Frank Cornelissen is doing on Mt. Etna. A little.
I'm quite excited about it.
612 bottles made. Vino-seal closure.
2009 Syrah “sumu kaw vineyard”
Our second Syrah release from the Sumu Kaw vineyard. This time we've blended in a small amount of Viognier and Mourvedre into the mix, and the resulting wine has an intriguing depth, with minerals and thyme in the nose, a savory, almost meaty quality on the palate, and a generous finish with plenty of backbone. Not quite as rough and tumble as the 2008 version – this one shows a little more elegance without losing that Foothills character.
While the growing year had its ups and downs, once we picked and foot crushed the fruit, this syrah behaved beautifully in the cellar. Fermentation with ambient yeasts neared completed in about 14 days, and the wine was pressed off the skins and stems directly into old french oak barrels and puncheons to finish. The wine slowly worked its way through secondary fermentation until June of 2010. No sulfur was added, nor was the wine racked until bottling (unfiltered) in October 2010. We added 20ppm sulfur dioxide at bottling to prepare the wine for this process and subsequent transport.
(We are not anti-racking or anti-sulfur. We evaluate each wine as it is and act accordingly. In this case, the wine never needed racking and never needed a sulfur addition during aging.)
This syrah shows the vineyard and vintage remarkably well. The exuberant aromatics and purity of flavor are the signature of Sumu Kaw vineyard fruit. This wine always has some baby fat upon opening, so we'd recommend giving the wine lots of air, which seems to help bring the structure out. A partial bottle holds for days, and just seems to get more interesting. We like the up-front nature of this syrah. Enjoy it now with your favorite, more robustly flavored meals.
Alc 14.4%, pH 3.77, TA 7 g/l, RS .15 g/l
175 cases made. Vino-Seal closure.
We recently received this wonderful “review” from world-famous wine writer Alice Feiring. We love this as a template for the future of tasting notes:
2008 Mourvedre “cedarville vineyard”
This is our 2nd mourvedre release from the Cedarville Vineyard. Vineyard owners Susan Marks and Jonathan Lachs are committed to growing great grapes and we are lucky to get their entire crop of mourvedre. The vigilance and work they put into their vineyard is reflected in the clarity and purity expressed in the wine.
This mourvedre, while full and flavorful, avoids the excesses of the 2008 vintage. I think we got the harvest date pretty much perfect this year: the wine shows a great combination of minerals, earth and dark fruits, all unencumbered by oak or imbalance. There are no rough edges here. The acidity holds up nicely, and the finish is long and mineral-driven.
The cellar particulars should be becoming familiar – whole cluster fermentation, native yeasts, no new oak barrels, minimal SO2 use at bottling.
I suspect this wine will follow the emerging La Clarine Farm pattern for this vintage – it is fairly fat and rich right now, but it should shed that baby fat over the next 5 to 6 months (see our '08 syrah, which is really starting to show its stuff now). So, enjoy it now for all of its youthful exuberance, and/or hold it a bit to reveal its expanding nuances over the next few years.
Vino-seal closure. 78 cases made.
2009 Viognier “orange”
This one is for the wine-geeks, I guess. I have a love/hate feeling about
viognier – the aromas are so beautiful, so appealing, but most often the wine suffers from too much alcohol, too much bitterness in the finish
(lots of tannin in those grape skins) and too much flab. Its a hard grape
to grow and vinify, and I have had my share of “almost there” viogniers. The grape really shows the fine line between success and, well, not success.
Last Fall I found myself with the sudden offer of some viognier (from the Sumu Kaw vineyard, where we get that fantastic syrah we make). I knew immediately that the grapes would be of top quality, and the idea struck me that to make wine from this difficult grape, I should just stop fighting it and let the grape completely be itself. That meant (for me, in this instance anyway) fermenting this white grape like a red wine. Like we ferment all of our reds - whole clusters (stems and all), foot stomping, natural yeasts. Let's extract all that great aroma from the skins, all those tannins, and let's see what happens. Let's press it at dryness and age it
in a neutral vessel. Let's bottle it without filtration and with just a pinch of sulfites.
Here's what happened: The color is a beautiful, slightly cloudy yellow-orange. The aromas, dried apricot and herbs, are extraordinary and pure. The textures are rich, full of nuance, and balanced with a tannic kick in the finish. The acidity holds it all together. If you were blindfolded,
you'd swear it was the most aromatic red wine you've ever tasted. It may be the most unusual and interesting white wine I have ever made.
We've tried it with a wide range of food parings, from paella to pork to fish to cheese, and this wine's versatility amazes us. It has the guts to stand up to some pretty stout fare. Please decant if you feel it necessary, but we find the very fine lees in the bottle enhance the textural
qualities of the wine.
I like it a lot.
56 cases made. Vino-seal closure.
2009 White Rhone Blend
This co-fermented blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne has turned out to be quite intriguing. It shows an interesting interplay of floral and fruit scents (I get pineapple in particular) in the nose with a savory, almost saline minerality and a reinforcing acidity at the finish.
It is a compelling and complex combination which will complement a wide variety of foods.
The grapes were sourced from two of the best farmed vineyards in Amador county's Shenandoah Valley, picked and pressed together and partially fermented in tank and in neutral barrels. The wine was allowed to undergo full secondary fermentation (I really like the complexity and textures this brings) and rested on its lees until bottling. I gave the wine
a light filtration for clarity, which really brought out its gold-with-green color. It was not cold stabilized nor fined, and was bottled with a
minimal dose of sulfites for stabilization (for you techies, it was less than 2g per hL).
64 cases made. Vino-seal closure.
2008 Home Vineyard red blend
2008 proved to be one of the most difficult years in recent memory for grape growing. A severe frost in late April pretty much destroyed our crop. We lost at least 90% of the young vine shoots, and many younger vines were killed back to ground level.
Amid this carnage, we still managed to harvest a very small crop of exceptional grapes. This wine, a field blend of 50% tempranillo, 16% tannat, 20% grenache, 10% syrah and
4% cabernet sauvignon, was picked over a four week period, in three passes. We foot stomped the whole clusters without any sulfur addition and let the fermentation proceed from there. Our depression over the circumstances lightened as the wine's aromas filled our cellar. By the time we bottled it, some 18 months later without filtration, we were very happy indeed.
The resulting wine is a exemplary illustration of our natural farming and winemaking philosophy – no single variety dominates. A slightly closed nose of spice and herbs is followed by sharply delineated flavors, crystalline acidity (thank you tannat!) and a dusty, mineral-rich, almost chalky finish (ironic, as there's no limestone in our soil). There's lots going on here, and this wine craves air. Two or three days in, the aromas start to open, and the structure begins to reveal its granitic origins.
Unfortunately, there is very little of this wine to go around. Like 120 bottles worth. That's how hard hit we were. This is the best wine I've made from our vineyard (yet). It will reward cellaring; if past vintages are any indication, this wine will be firing on all cylinders in 3 or 4 years time. It is a beautiful surprise after a difficult growing season.
Alice Feiring: ” a leather shop rubbed in harissa with a subtle hint o plum sauce...might be the most exciting CA vin for me, ever.”
10 cases made. Vinoseal closure.
2008 Syrah “sumu kaw vineyard”
Fermented on the stems and with ambient yeasts (which only finished their job in June of 2009), aged entirely in neutral barrels, and bottled with minimal sulfur, this is about as honest a representation of the growing year and the vineyard site as you will find. No new oak, no designer yeasts, no fining, no filtration.
Just syrah. Pure and focused flavors.
Sumu Kaw means “place of the sugar pines” in the local Maidu Indian language, and it is indeed a vineyard surrounded by tall pines. Situated on a ridge-top at about 2900 feet, the vineyard is meticulously farmed by owners Sheila and David Bush. Their care and attention to detail is what helps set this fruit apart from so many in the Sierra Foothills.
The resulting wine accurately reflects the vineyard – very penetrating aromas of pine, resin, tar and thyme give way to loamy notes and pure, vivid fruit flavors. The acidity holds your interest and the finish is long, savory and tannic, forming a backbone and structure around which the wine's flavors and textures can work and evolve.
While many other syrahs are built to be “ready now”, this bottle only hints at its future potential. For near-term drinking, I'd recommend decanting hours ahead of time, or better yet, let the wine evolve in your glass for a while. We find the wine really begins to shine on the third day of an open bottle. Put a few bottles away, and the wine should develop even more complexity and those lively tannins will mellow a bit. I'd only be guessing, but 5 to 6 years in the cellar will not do this wine any harm.
Reference points? Think Fonsalette Cuvee de Syrah crossed with an old school Cote Rotie.
Just 93 cases made. Vinoseal glass closure.
Jon Bonne (SF Chronicle) wrote, via Twitter: “La Clarine turns to Syrah with 08 Sumu Kaw. intriguing stem notes and compelling fierceness. Syrah in a Travis Bickle moment.” (We’re pretty sure he meant before the mohawk and mayhem...)
Alice Feiring mentions us in her year end “contemplations” of her most interesting wine encounters of 2009. http://tinyurl.com/ykguz8d
2008 Grenache Blanc
Late during the 2008 harvest, the opportunity arose to experiment with some Grenache Blanc from the Galt/Lodi area. Never one to pass up such "experiments" (plus, the grapes were very well grown), I gently pressed the fruit directly into 2 older barrels and the fermentation started. From then on, the wine "did its own thing". Primary and secondary fermentation finished about mid-November at 13.7 % alcohol and 100% malolactic, and the wine rested on its lees until bottling directly from the barrel.
Twist-top closure. 48 cases were made.
The result is a pretty, pure example of the variety - very floral and fruity in the nose, with just a momentary impression of oak, and dominated by an intense minerality in the mouth. It reminds me of liquid stones. The finish is fresh and lingering, with a touch of tannins (hey, this is Grenache, after all!). It pairs very well with our cheeses, fish,
pasta and maybe even oysters.
2007 "Cedarville Vineyard" Mourvedre
As we were waiting for our young vines to produce a crop size worth an official release, Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks of Cedarville Vineyards approached us with the idea of us making wine from their small plot of mourvedre. They had never found a place for the wine in their already excellent line-up. Might we want to take a stab at it?
The fruit was harvested on October 12, 2007. The grapes were crushed and fermented at Shenandoah Vineyards, as our facility had not yet been bonded and licensed.
The ambient yeast fermentation created a wine which is quite different than the standard Californian norm - it is racier and more focused, with an excellent tannin/acidity balance. The alcohol was lower than expected at 14.1%. The flavors are nuanced and tend less toward overt fruitiness and more toward minerals and spice.
It reminds me of a solid red from the Roussillon region of France.
After aging in neutral oak barrels, the wine was bottled unfiltered at our winery
using the new Vino-Seal glass closure.
74 cases were made.
We suspect this wine will age nicely for the next 3-5 years. Pair it with some of our aged goat cheese,
especially the Sierra Mountain Tomme, a medium-rare steak, or roast goat or lamb.