Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Creaminess, Richness and Sur-Lie Ageing

You ever wonder how your California Chardonnay gets that rich and creamy mouthfeel that you love so much?  Not all Chardonnays, especially the imports, have it.  So why is that?

Well, the short answer and this is way too obvious, is that it's a stylistic choice that California wine makers have concluded the American public likes.  Rightfully.  But there's more...there are degrees of creaminess, some are even evident in the imports.  Moreover there are other white wine types besides Chardonnay that have the same creaminess so just like the wine, the plot here thickens a bit.

But before we go too far down this road lets also acknowledge that some white wines purposely do not have the creaminess we're talking about and that too is a stylistic decision.  If a wine maker wants to showcase a white grape type's essential flavor purity then the creaminess would just obscure what he's after.  Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio come to mind here.

So let's segue now to what I learned from in a post entitled "Sur-Lie Ageing."

Sur-lie ageing is the up-to-six-week period post-fermentation when the young wine is left in a tank with a layer of yeast solids covering the bottom.  The grape solids have long been removed and the yeast at this point is stressed out from having run out of sugars to convert into alcohol.  It is but a shadow of its original volatile self.  This is also the point where in most cases the white wine should be racked because several unfortunate sulfur-related conditions could ensue if care is not taken.  Nutrients have to be added, the temperature has to be controlled, and the lees have to be stirred daily.

So what's happening here?  Yeast cells are filled with liquid protein that become freed when the cell dies (autolysis) and that protein has an unctuous quality that softens and rounds off the hard tannic and acidic edges that a wine naturally has.  If the wine is properly stirred daily the protein becomes suspended in the wine bringing out complementary flavors and aromas of honey, nuts (hazelnut & almond), toast, and spice.  Moreover the now creamy complexity integrates the fruit, oak, tannins, and acidity into a unified whole.  Additionally sur-lie ageing has a reductive capacity which protects the wine from oxidation in its early stages and even promotes stabilization before bottling.

Sur-lie ageing doesn't have to be a six week long process, by the way.  The wine should be tasted daily and stopped when the wine maker thinks it is time.

So while we started this post talking about California Chardonnay, the wine we really wanted to promote was the 2015 Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc which is a wonderful example of a French Viognier blend.  From the back label - "The ageing sur lies gives the wine its aromas and roundness."

This Thursday at 5pm Stefan Germain leads us in a tasting of Jacy Marteau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, St. Emiliano Piedmont Italian Barbera, Little Canyon Ardeche Red Blend, and Chateau St. Seurin Red Bordeaux.  Please join us for the event.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stolpman Vineyards & Ballard Canyon

Stolpman Vineyards is attorney Thomas Stolpman's thirty year project in the Ballard Canyon AVA (American Viticultural Area) which lies entirely within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA which, in turn, lies entirely within the Central Coast AVA.  Stolpman purchased his vineyard land in 1990, planted in '92 and hit his stride in the early 2000's with the addition of two key colleagues, wine maker Sashi Moorman and vineyard manager Ruben Solarzano.

Stolpman Vineyards is a two hundred twenty acre tract with one hundred fifty three of them in sustainably farmed vines.  Ninety three acres are in Syrah with the rest primarily in Sangiovese, Roussanne, Grenache and Marsanne.  Stolpman wines are 90% estate-sourced.

The Ballard Canyon lies to the east of the Santa Rita Hills (AVA) which serve as a buffer to blunt the stronger Pacific winds.  To the east lies the considerably warmer Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA and just to the north lies the Los Olivos District AVA.  Ballard Canyon is a long and narrow, north-south expanse that many recognize as the best AVA in Santa Ynez Valley.

Ballard Canyon prides itself as the only "Syrah-focused" wine appellation in the country with half of all five hundred sixty-one vineyard acres in the canyon planted in that one grape.  Stolpman chose his property for the limestone soils and the drainage they provide and the cool climate featuring the diurnal temperature shifts that are conducive to making rich wines with balanced sugars and acids.

At this writing we plan to taste the Stolpman La Cuadrilla red blend at this week's Thursday tasting.  Cuadrilla means "people of the block" and refers to the talents of those select vineyard workers who have applied their talents all year long in that vineyard.  Those workers earn an end-of-year bonus based on the sales of the wine.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Dave Phinney & Agustin Huneeus

There are some really smart people in the wine business.  Dave Phinney created The Prisoner field-blended red wine in 1998 just before high end red blends became the rage.  Shortly thereafter he created his line of Orin Swift wines which grew in sales to the point where in 2010 he could sell it and pocket a handsome profit which he subsequently reinvested in new wine projects.

Agustin Huneeus is now comfortably retired after one of the greatest of twentieth century wine careers.  Concha y Toro, Seagrams, Franciscan, Veramonte, and  Quintessa are just a few of the Huneeus touchstones over the past sixty years and all turned golden from his touch.  King Midas in the flesh, you might say!

Phinney is currently marketing his Locations wines which are sourced from Argentina, Italy, Spain, California, Oregon, and Washington.  He also owns a couple hundred acres in vineyards in southern France from which he makes his D66 Grenache-based red wine.  He also owns five hundred acres in Napa and Alexander Valley and still being a young man, Phinney is reportedly immersed in grand planning for future wine projects.

Recently a representative from the Huneeus organization stopped by the store to offer tastes of some of the current wines they're offering including Flowers Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Benton-Lane Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  The Oregon wines were good at the twenty dollar suggested retail range and the Flowers were exceptional, especially the Chardonnay, but prohibitive around here at $50+.  Agustin Jr. is now running the day to day operations with guidance from the esteemed old man.

There are now about fifteen wines in distribution here in the Atlanta market that Dave Phinney had a hand in creating.  When he sold Orin Swift in 2010 there were five labels in the deal.  Now at the Orin Swift website sixteen wines are being marketed by Constellation, the current owner.  The Prisoner Wine Company is now owned by Gallo and ten labels are marketed on line.  In the Atlanta marketplace, perhaps ten labels from the two companies are in distribution in total along with the Locations and D66.

So here's the reason for the post: When Dave Phinney sold the Prisoner line in 2010, he sold it neither to Gallo nor Constellation.  He sold it to Augustin Huneeus who paid a whopping forty million dollars for the five labels in the line as it existed at that time.  Phinney was a contractor who owned neither vineyards nor wineries.  The forty million dollars was for just five wine labels!  Phinney had built his sales of The Prisoner and the rest of the Orin Swift line up to 85,000 cases in ten years' time.  Huneeus doubled those sales by 2016 and then sold it to Constellation for 285 million dollars.

The Huneeus representative related this narrative to me.  Now tell me these guys aren't smart!