Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wining away the day in the Santa Ynez Valley...

Wes Hagen, pruning
The Goddess of Wine and JD headed for the wilds of Lompoc recently, ostensibly to pick up wine at Clos Pepe, but also to spend a bit of time in the vineyard with that Renaissance man, Wes Hagen and his trusty assistant, Andrew Turner. It was a beautiful day, sunny and breezy, and Wes and Andrew walked us through winter vineyard management and a demonstration of how to prune a grapevine, during which we learned a new word: phloem. In vascular plants like grapevines, phloem is the living tissue that carries organic nutrients, especially, sucrose, to all parts of the plant where needed. So when you prune a vine, you are looking for the center of the cane to be green and alive; this is the phloem, which ensures that the vine continues to live through the winter.

As is always the case, the discussion encompassed grapes, history, philosophy, politics - and how everything relates to winemaking. Wes is at his most passionate and funny when he recounts the history of the world and how civilization was created by beer and wine. People didn't just enjoy the "altered state of awareness" that came from drinking beer, it was also nutritionally superior to every food in their diet other than animal proteins. One researcher even claims that beer was "safer to drink than water, because the fermentation process killed pathogenic microorganisms." Makes sense to me.

The lineup at the Clos
Highlights: 2013 Axis Mundi Rose of Mourvedre. Low alcohol, classic Provence style, crisp. Wes calls it 'session' wine, because you can drink it during long sessions of talk, music, whatever, and your palate doesn't get tired, and neither do you. 2000 Homage to Chablis. Wes poured this library wine from a .375 ml bottle that had been Coravin-ed the day before. From the butterscotch nose to the still crisp finish, this is a wine for the ages. Not for sale, of course. What a treat! 2011 Axis Mundi Grenache/Syrah blend. I love this wine. We drink a lot of it. 2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir. It's like a young Volnay. Gorgeous. So happy it's in the wine club shipment.

We bade adieu to Wes and Andrew and headed east to the brand new tasting room at Pence Ranch. After climbing over a trio (or were there four?) of exhausted Rhodesian Ridgebacks sprawled across the entrance, we entered the charmingly rustic tasting room and discovered owner Blair Pence behind the bar. We introduced ourselves, and Blair led us through the tasting while we munched on bread made by winemaker and local legend, Sashi Moorman. Blair poured his red wines first, saying that we would understand why when we got to the whites.

Blair loves Burgundy and has a distinctly European mindset about making wine. His 2012 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir is concrete-fermented, using native yeasts. An unfiltered blend of multiple estate vineyards, it had good body and a not-too-ripe cherry and tobacco characteristics. The 2012 Fugio Pinot Noir is made from a Pommard clone. This was the first year off these vines, grown in well-drained clay and limestone. Tasty!

The 2012 Santa Barbara County Syrah was SMOKY. Concrete-fermented, then aged in a seasoned foudre (a large wooden vat, popular in France's Rhône Valley, significantly larger than typical oak barrels, often with the capacity to hold more than a thousand liters of wine.) We liked it a lot.

Then Blair poured his 2013 Mt. Eden Chardonnay. I gotta say, I was surprised. Considering it was barrel-fermented and went through full malolactic conversion, it was NOT buttery, having great acid and beautiful fruit. And considering the acid level, I understood why he poured it at the end; the Pinot would have seemed flabby after this Chard.

The view atop Pence Ranch
I told Blair I could drink a lot of this Chard, and he said, "Would you like a tour?" "Of course!" we replied. He topped up our glasses, loaded us into his ATV, and we headed to the vineyards. What a tour! Not only did we get the full description of how completely sustainable the ranch is - reclaiming water, recycling everything, you name it - we traveled deep into the hills, past guest cabins where member events take place, past the horse accommodations and the 'arena' he's building for equestrian events, then up, up, up the hill along a narrow path, barely wider than the ATV, to the tiptop of the ranch. The 360 degree views were gorgeous - we were at around 900 feet, but felt much higher, especially when we had to go back down. I figured, if I died at that moment, at least I had a glass of wine and was in wine country!

We made it safely down the hill, thanked our hosts, and headed over to Los Olivos, primarily just to say hi to some friends, and ended up tasting through the lineup at tercero. Larry Shaffer's wines never fail to please, and his new obsession with bread-making, especially breads that pair really well with his wines, made the tasting even better. I love hanging at tercero, as the set up of the room - and Larry's easy-going, yet ADHD personality - makes for a fun experience where folks from all over are comfortable and happy.

Larry loves his Rhone varieties. He sources his grapes from all over the Santa Ynez region, making approachable, food friendly wines. We're big fans. Highlights of the day include his 2013 Verbiage, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc that is sure to please, and the 2009 Les Deux Comtes, a joint venture of tercero wines and Cabot Vineyards up in Humboldt County. This wine, whose name means 'The Two Counties' in French, is a special blend of Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. This blend arose from the shared passion of Larry and John Cabot (owner and winemaker for Cabot Vineyards) for Rhones. A blend of 72% Syrah, 25% Grenache and 3% Viognier, it's 50% Humboldt County fruit - from Kimberley's Vineyard - and 50% Santa Barbara County fruit - from Thompson and Camp 4 Vineyards. It was aged in older French oak for 30 months and bottled in the Spring of 2012. Only 88 cases were produced in total. It ROCKS.

We walked over to Alta Maria to say hi to our friend, Jim Mann. The tasting room was busy, so Jim poured us a generous taste of the Carbonic Pinot Noir, and we sat on the veranda, sipping wine and chatting to the passers-by, who seemed to think we were cute or something. 'Cause, you know, we are kinda cute.

After a while, we headed to Solvang, stopped in at The Good Life to share a glass of wine with more friends before dining at CECCO. We hit the 101 South at about 8:45 p.m., and were home well before 11:00, as the traffic cooperated nicely. A full, fun day.

It's a good life! Stay tuned for notes on a winery in Paso Robles that was new to the Goddess and JD, as well as stories about the Slow Wine movement (a great Italian tasting), and the new LA Wine Writers group. Cheers!

1 comment:

Michelle Williams said...

We must have been at Clos Pepe in consecutive days. We too enjoyed the 2000 Homage to Chablis as well as each of Wes' beautiful creations! Cheers.