Santa Barbara, day 2
Still in Santa Ynez, with the Big Temperature Warmup scheduled for today. Yesterday I visited and tasted with Matthias Pipping, the winemaker at Grassini, who’s also doing his own thing with Sanguis. Terrific and compelling wines. Then over to Nick DeLuca at Star Lane and Dierberg wineries, in Happy Canyon. From there to Doug Margerum at Happy Canyon winery as well as his own brand, Margerum. I’ll have a Happy Canyon piece on Wine Enthusiast’s website shortly, so will just say that these folks are betting on Bordeaux varieties, and they advance their case, for me personally, every time I do a little tasting. But they still have their work cut out for them, and I said so.
It’s not always easy saying things to a winemaker that aren’t flattering. They’re human; I’m human; it can be awkward. But if they ask, then in the spirit of candor I must answer. We all see things from our unique vantage points, and it can be helpful to see yourself, and your work, from another person’s point of view. Of course, what you do with that feedback is up to you.
Lots of talk about the vintage. Like I wrote yesterday, people down here in Santa Barbara don’t seem as worried as they do up north. Lots of talk, too, about social media. Where’s it going, what should they do with it, what’s it worth. But mostly we talked about grapes and winemaking.
The subject of “natural” arose a lot. What is a “natural” vineyard? Is it one in which you use no herbicides or pesticides? In which your canopy management techniques are held to a minimum? Is an old-fashioned head-trained vine more natural than a trellised vine? No easy answers. The wines I appreciated yesterday were the more “interventionist” ones. I know we’ve visited this topic before, and undoubtedly will again, but if the object of a wine is to be delicious, then the winemaker should do whatever it takes to make delicious wine! I just don’t understand applying an ideology to winemaking.
It struck me also that you can be ideological about not acidifying, but if you’re picking your grapes really ripe, in order to attain flavor, then the natural acidity is going to drop, and the resulting wine — no matter how much flavor it has — is going to be heavy and lifeless if you don’t acidify. We also talked about watering down. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re overweight, then you go on a diet. Again, when ideology trumps pragmatism, the wine suffers.
This morning I am suffering from a surfeit of gnocchi and Doug Margerum’s M5 Rhone blend, both of which I had too much of last night at Grappolo. I ate at the bar, which is a cool place to watch the frenzied chefs do their thing, throwing pizza dough, flaming things, and avoiding crashing into each other with the finesse of dancers.
Today, much excitement. My big, “secret” interview, a visit with Bill Foley at Lincourt, tasting with Chad Melville, then a get-together with Sashi Moorman out at the wine ghetto in Lompoc. I’d more or less dropped contact with Sashi for a few years, until he started making the fantastic Pinots at Evening Land, so it will be nice to pick things up.
I’m very glad about our new system at Wine Enthusiast wherein Virginie Boone will be tasting most of inland California, freeing me up for the Coast. I’ll be able to travel more and focus in on what some of these coastal winemakers, like Sashi, Matthias, Nick and Doug, are doing, with their own small brands as well as the brands they consult with.
Finally, I want to highly recommend a new book: “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine,” by Mark Oldman. Don’t think it’s for beginners just because he phonetically spells out how to pronounce words (e.g., Faiveley = FAVE-uh-lee). There’s terrific basic information here about grape varieties and regions, and Oldman is one hell of a good writer.
Have a good weekend!