OFFLINE, WITH MIKE OFFICER
winery owner/winemaker Mike Officer took the long drive
down from Santa Rosa to San Juan Capo to answer in-person
for the outrageous quality of his wines. Once again, many
thinks to Frank and Jill Murray for their hospitality, in
opening their doors (well, some of us had to force our way
in) to some of the usual suspects, along with some nice
started by describing his journey from home winemaker to
5,000+ case production all within a few short years, and
delved into some of the vineyard descriptions in his lineup.
I was happy to hear that he's going to develop the Rhone
side of his "portfolio of wines" with the depth
that he already has in Zinfandels.
desire to keep buying the fruit from these 80-96 year-old
vineyards is testimony to his love for Old Vine Zin. Given
what he has to pay per-ton for the fruit to keep the vineyards
from replanting to another varietal... well, it's like keeping
a '56 Austin Healey ready for the road - it's a labor or
had a pretty big lineup, furnished to a large degree by
Mike. Other attendees brought some older selections to augment
the tasting. One of the interesting things Mike brought
was the '04 Bennett Valley Syrah -- in both filtered and
an unfiltered versions. The wines were unmarked, so the
idea was a comparison to see which of the two we preferred
- blind, as it were. The unfilered edged out the filtered
Three Birds - about 70% Grenache-based GSM. Very nice
aromatics and flavor profile - red raspberry, and some nice
meaty tones. Nice balance, softens a bit on the finish.
Two Acres - about 85% Mourvedre-based field blend, with
Petite, Valdigue, Alicante, and Mondeuse. Very nice blend
of red and black fruit, this wine is still going strong
on flavor and balance. Very tasteeeeee!
Two Acres - fascinating floral quality to the nose,
and even more ramped up on the flavors of the '98.
Zin - Riebli Vnyd, Sonoma Co - vnyd planted in 1910,
with about 6% Petite. At 16.1%, you needed a few swirls
to really get the the heart of the fruit. Lots of clove-scent
boysenberry and blackberry fruit, chewy mouthfeel and very
Zin - Dry Creek - nice old viney quality - kind of sappy
wild cherry/raspberry. Still beautifully balanced, and silky
Zin - Rossi Ranch, Sonoma Valley - this was my ZOTN.
Super concentration, smooth, packed with jammy dark fruit,
smooth fine-grained tannins on the long finish.
Mondeuse - lighter in color than its siblings, this
has a slightly floral tone and red fruit to the nose, lots
of mid-palate feel, smooth and a slightly tannic back end.
I was surprised to hear that this was also know as Refosco,
since some Refoscos I've tried were massive.
Syrah - Dry Creek - brighter and more high-toned than
I expected, with silky red fruit, juicy acids, and excellent
balance. Cries out for food.
Syrah - Dry Creek - really nice aroma of espresso, meat,
and tarry scents. Loaded with smooth blackberry fruit, light
touch of bittersweet chocolate on the long finish.
(unfiltered) Syrah - Bennett Valley - blackberry compote
nose. Dark and smooth on the palate, lo-o-o-ong smooth lip-smacking
finish. I definitely preferred this over what we were to
find out was the filtered version.
(filtered) Syrah - Bennett Valley - blackberry compote
nose - not too dissimilar to the unfiltered version, except
maybe a perception of some red fruit. Dark and smooth initially,
the acids seemed to pick up a bit more on this one from
mid-palate on, and the finish seemed a bit bitter to me.
Zin - Carlisle Vnyd - (the vnyd formerly known as Pelletti
Ranch - planted 1927) hints of dried fruit initially, but
nice old vine sappy wild raspberry comes on after some swirling.
Zin - Carlisle Vnyd - lots of red raspberry and boysenberry
throughout. The mouthfeel was more about elegance, than
power, with the slightly brighter fruit gliding along through
the long finish.
Zin - Carlisle Vnyd - gutsier fruit, nice sappy raspberry
and dried floral notes. Smooth, refined, and delicious.
Zin - Carlisle Vnyd - if the '02 was the velvet glove,
this was the iron fist. Big framed, packed with ripe boysenberry
and the faintest touch of herbs, yet silky on the palate,
well-balanced, and smooth finish
Zin - RRV (100% Feeney Vnyd) - for me, spice was the
hallmark of the Zins from this vinyd. A little funky at
first, the nose opens up to dried strawberries and currants.
Spicy mouthfeel, lots of red and some black fruit, elagant
mouthfeel, balance and finish.
Zin - Tom Feeney Vnyd - bigger and darker in fruit than
the '98, smooth on the palate, very nice balance and finish.
Zin - Tom Feeney Vnyd - back to elegance, with a very
smooth and soft (in a good way) mouthfeel.
Zin - Tom Feeney Vnyd - bolder than the previous two,
with a chewy and spicy dark fruit, a touch of mint or eucalyptus,
and spicy finish.
RITA HILLS ROUNDTABLE
what we hope will be the first of several "spotlight"
interviews on AVAs, Jay Selman and I sat in on a Sta. Rita
Hills roundtable discussion on March 5th. We had asked Rick
Longoria, Peter Cargasacchi, and Wes Hagen if they would
be willing to be interviewed in a discussion setting, with
no particular agenda, other than talking about the Sta.
Rita Hills - its history and its current popularity as a
special place for growing Pinot Noir.
arranged with Rick Longoria to use his winery in Lompoc
as the setting for the roundtable. Everyone had brought
along some wine, and Rick's wife Diana had supplied some
cheeses and bread, so we were all set to dig in - oh, and
talk too. We started about 10:30am, and figured we might
end up with about 1 to 1-1/2 hrs of recording, but, by 1:00pm
we were still at it. What a treasure trove of info these
discussed the origins of the AVA, and Wes recounted how
he basically de-constructed an previous proposal that was
successfully reviewed (you wouldn't want to copy one that
didn't get approved), and used it as a foundation
for the Sta. Rita Hills. By the way, the "Sta."
is purposely used in the title of the AVA, rather than the
spelling "Santa." The reasons have to do with
another "Santa Rita," and it was felt best to
just abbreviate the "Santa" portion to avoid future
discussed how the boundaries were formed, using topographical
and climatological references around the region. They also
secured support for the AVA from their colleagues in the
larger surrounding Santa Ynez Valley AVA, an important step,
since this wasn't so much a secession as it was an effort
to recognize the uniqueness of this area's influence from
the maritime climate.
discussed the terroir of the region, the methods of winegrowing,
the site contribution to wine and its varietal character,
and finally everybody's favorite subject - clones. (What
- that's not your favorite subject?) We also dabbled in
discussing the currently controversial "ripe fruit"
issue, as well as alcohol levels.
talked about the "old days," from Rick's working
with Andre Tchelistcheff, through the early influence of
the iconic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, to the current
levels of experimentation in the vineyard to refine growing
methods and define the meaning of Sta. Rita Hills fruit.
Wes even wondered aloud if the Sta. Rita Hills were more
suited to Chardonnay than to Pinot Noir. But, there's no
denying the economic power of Pinot over Chardonnay - at
least by the ton.
and had had a blast just listening to the conversation,
and we hope you will too. Look for the series in multiple
parts on GrapeRadio,
coming in the next few months.
OF PINOT NOIR - JOHN HAEGER
author of North American Pinot Noir, John Winthrop
Haeger spoke at the opening of 2006 World of Pinot Noir,
an annual symposium held March 3-4 in Shell Beach, California
Titled "Pinot Noir 102," John's talked along with
his Powerpoint presentation of why and how Pinot Noir -
especially New World, is gaining in popularity, despite
its relatively small acreage. In fact, lots of Pinot Noir
never gets labeled as such - rather it goes right into sparkling
wines or Champagne.
thinner skin than Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, Pinot Noir
has half the tannin as most red varieties, and is considered
to be among the most "site-expressive" - relative
to terroir. It commonly grows in much cooler climates than
other reds, and usually right alongside many white varieties.
not unusual for PN to silmultaneously be earthy, yet fragrant,
and musty, yet fresh, possessing a "huge organoleptic
bandwidth." Interestingly, it is more likely to taste
different than it smells, with more animal or decay notes
that other reds. PN also apparently offers more tactile
sensitivity to the palate, expressing more elegance than
large frame. Besides statistical information, some of the
other things mentioned were equally interesting - for instance,
I didn't know that oregon required a wine to be 90% varietal
to be labeled as such (California is 75%).
particular parent varieties have been identified for PN,
but Pinot itself is one of the parents of Gamay, Chardonnay,
Melon, Aligote, and Auxerios. It also turns out that although
Pinot Noir is only 4% or all the red grapes crushed, it
is grown in almost every wine-producing country in Europe,
as well as on every continent except Antarctica. Spreading
Pinot Noir is apparently credited to the Cistern monks,
because after the 14th century PN appeared in Germany, Switzerland,
Austria, and Italy - finally arriving in the New World probably
the 19th century - of course, that was probably via "suitcase."