- January 20, 2015
It was a day like any other. The sun came up as usual. The Earth was spinning near the equator at 465 meters per second like it does as it’s whipped around the galaxy. Americans drank another 400 million cups of coffee as they do every day. I woke up as I do most days, but this day was different than most. It was different because I was going wine tasting while most of the world was working.
I guess technically I was working too, but it sure didn’t feel that way.
We drove up the 101 to Santa Barbara, and the weather was perfect. It was cool and crisp outside like a nice Chenin Blanc from Saumur in the Loire valley in France. There were a few poofy clouds dotting the pale blue sky, and it felt like birds should be flying around with ribbons and confetti while singing show-tunes and dive bombing the cars with heavy artillery! The cars were exploding, people were running for cover, screams filled the streets, there’s rubble everywhere, and I’m trying to pull people from wreckage after wreckage. There are too many of them! I take a hit to my leg, and I’m bleeding out. “Go on without me”, I yell to my friends. They said okay and went off wine tasting as I bled to death.
Waaaaaaaiiiiiit just a minute. That’s not what happened. There was a rabid monkey in there somewhere. Oh yes, I remember now. So, while the birds were attacking, a rabid gibbon who was frothing at the mouth started biting my leg.
Editor: uh, a gibbon is actually an ape not a monkey.
Author: yeah well agree to disagree
Editor: gib∙bon ˈɡibәn/ noun 1. a small, slender, tree-dwelling ape with long powerful arms and loud hooting calls, native to the forests of Southeast Asia.
Author: psh, I’m recanting this very true anecdote, and in it there was a monkey gibbon
Editor: for crying out loud, this story is so not true. Gah! Why did I take this job? I hate dealing with your nonsense. I should’ve become an accountant like my father, sure it’s boring, but I’m so not happy with this idiot.
Author: uh, I can see what you write.
Editor: I don’t care anymore. I quit. Write whatever the hell you want.
Author: I already do.
So, I was in the jungle running from a zebra, and then suddenly I’m back on the 101 cruising at a cool 68mph along the coast. We pull off in Santa Barbara and enjoy some wine at the Santa Barbara Winery, then to Margerum and Carr (I wrote about them in the last post). We jump back in l’automobile and head further north to a jewel of a winery called Melville.
The winemaker at Melville, Greg Brewer, was there and we got to say hello when we were touring the winery. They were bottling on one of those mobile bottling units that is so surprisingly efficient and cost effective that many wineries never buy their own bottling line.
(note the disco ball)
It was a treat to meet Greg. I’ve been a fan of his wines for quite some time. He used to be the winemaker at Sunstone (I’ve purchased many cases of their Merlot over the years), and now in addition to Melville is the winemaker for his own project with Steve Clifton, the aptly named Brewer-Clifton wines. He’s an interesting fellow in that he is also a musician and he teaches French.
Not a week after I met him he showed up at the restaurant I’m a sommelier at in Beverly Hills.
One of the wines he makes for Brewer-Clifton is a Mt. Carmel Pinot Noir. It’s a dynamite wine, although I was sad to see Longoria stop making wine from this AVA. The region has a past that includes nuns, gangsters, Kennan Ivory Wayans, a Las Vegas mogul, and Ron Piazza who has a quarter century lease on the damned thing.
Yet I digress. So we were at Melville and enjoyed some excellent wines. Valerie Wood was our Melville winery experience guide. She showed us the soil types and explained the inter-workings of all the wine. The stellar choices were including but not limited to: Their estate Pinot Noirs from Santa Rita Hills and Verna’s vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Sadly the Verna’s vineyard property has been sold off, but time marches forward, vineyards change hands, panda bears are cute, another marathon is run, mysteries are solved, and then I found two dollars on the ground.
From Melville we traveled to Dierberg/Star Lane and entered the barn on premise with joy in our hearts. Lindsay Weber, our wine ambassador, was one of two putting up decorations. One person operated the fork lift with another standing on the wooden pallet that the fork lift held. It all seemed rather precarious, but no one was injured.
We rounded out the day with some lovely Pinots, a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc, and a yummy Cabernet Franc.
(following run-on is intentional unlike the lean in the leaning tower of Pisa)
What I like to take from this trip is that if you are stuck in a cubicle typing on your computer with a reverberating tap tap tap wishing that just once someone would call in a bomb threat sending everyone home so that you could put your fishing pole and tackle box in your car, amble down the road to a nearby lake, find a cozy spot to unfurl and take off your shoes and socks to feel the earth beneath your feet as you toss the line into the water while you read a book and sip wine from a mug because you’re feeling unpretentious at the moment. So, if you’re stuck in that cubicle and want to be free. Close your eyes, imagine a day of peace and wine, and immediately request a day off.
Tasting Notes for some of the delicious wines we tried:
2012 Melville “Estate Verna’s” Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
91 points Antonio Galloni
“Vivid ruby-red. Powerful red berry and floral pastille aromas are lifted by chalky minerals and allspice. Silky and expansive on the palate, offering juicy raspberry and blood orange flavors and a touch of candied rose. Picks up a smoky quality on the floral, gently tannic finish, which shows impressive clarity and thrust. According to Chad Melville, his family recently sold their Verna’s vineyard, north of Los Alamos and in the Santa Barbara County appellation, because they want to focus completely on their estate vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. Melville explained that “it just makes more sense to be self-contained, and while Verna’s is a great vineyard, it seems removed from our other sites,” all of which surround the Melville winery on Highway 246 in the sweet spot between Buellton and Lompoc. The pricing for entry-level wines here has always been a gift by design, Chad’s father Ron said, because the Melvilles “want as many people as possible to be able to try the wines.” Maybe they’ll be inspired to check out the higher-end, single-vineyard wines, he reasons, “but [we] don’t want to make people start off at that level.”
2012 Melville “Estate” Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
92 points Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
“Deep, vivid red. Sexy raspberry preserve and blood orange aromas are complemented by white flowers and Asian spices. Silky and round on the palate, with tangy minerality lifting pliant red fruit preserve flavors. Balances opulence and vivacity and finishes sappy, focused and very long, with a suave floral nuance.”
2013 Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
2013 may have provided one of the best vintages to date for Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc. With extremely well balanced yields the time to develop great depth of flavor at fresh, balanced textures was second to none. Toward harvest we were blessed with wonderful weather allowing us to segment and optimize each section of the Sauvignon Blanc. To preserve the freshness of the vintage we utilized a champagne styled press cycle ensuring purity of the juice, even at the expense of yields. Fermented simply in primarily stainless steel, with a small portion in a 1,200 gallon used oak fermenter. Aging time was increased to allow for full flavor development prior to bottling.
What a wonderful 2013 vintage. As a producer all you can ask from Mother Nature is avoiding extremes and enough time to get everything accomplished how you want, but more importantly, when you want. 2013 was exactly that. While a warm, dry Spring advanced the season placing the ripening times in August and September instead of September and October, we avoided the dramatic heat spells that often accompany such advanced timing. This allowed all grapes to be harvested at a time that was correct for that variety, ranch, and specific block. The vintage is emerging as one with tremendous purity and freshness.
The 2013 is unmistakably Sauvignon Blanc. Hints of grassy qualities lie behind citrus rind and guava. The nose hints a great depth of character and the palate delivers. Full flavored, with just enough weight all carried along by freshness that is the hallmark for the variety.
2011 Dierberg “Drum Canyon” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills
“Our newest vineyard is located on the eastern edge of the acclaimed Santa Rita Hills appellation. The Drum Canyon Vineyard was planted in 2005 to take advantage of the hillside characteristics, southern exposure and the extreme maritime influence of the appellation. The combination of clones and soils at the vineyard have allowed us to craft wines of complexity and character. The Dierberg Drum Canyon Vineyard is characterized by fog shrouded mornings, which are followed by a maritime breezes and sun-filled days.”
Our goal is to stand back and usher the fruit aroma and flavor into an architecture of elegant structure. We utilize native yeasts, cool ferments, and a very gentle maceration regimen. Aged in used French Oak barrels for 16 months and bottled April 2013.
Average rainfall coupled with a windy spring set the stage for a long, cool summer. True summer heat didn’t arrive until late August, but lasted through early October. We experienced below-average fruit yields allowing for the development of highly concentrated flavors. No significant heat spikes allowed for a long even growing season.
On the nose, aromas of bright red cherry and lush raspberry mix with lingering notes of cola and cigar. With hints of allspice and persimmon, this round, fullbodied wine shows great acidity that would pair beautifully with seared duck breast and cherry glaze. The soft spiciness of safe lends to a long, elegant finish.
2011 Star Lane Cabernet Franc, Happy Canyon
Star Lane Vineyard has several parcels dedicated to Cabernet Franc. A diversity of elevations supplies a unique set of wines that are selected to make this blend. The fruit is patiently and meticulously sorted and in 2011 was fermented with native yeast and aged 18 months in 35% new oak this wine is starting to show itself. 2011 presented an opportunity to produce a full flavored if more elegantly structured Star Lane Cabernet Franc.
• 2011 started with cool temperatures that persisted into early summer and set the stage for a late season.
• With ripening pushed later into Fall than is typical, we were thankful for the consistent heat and lack of rain in October that allowed for full, if elegant level of ripeness.
• The vintage exhibited how Star Lane’s unique terrior can promote balanced, complex fruit in cool as well as warm years.