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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!

  1. Hmmmm… it’s “natural vineyards” now??? Not heard that topic raised before. Is burying a horn full of cow$hit in a vnyd “natural”?? Seems pretty unnatural to me.
    I would guess a Fukuoka-farmed vnyd is about as close to natural as you can get. Has AliceDeiring, the definitive authority, weighed in on this topic yet???

  2. Chuck Hayward says:

    Steve says: “Again, when ideology trumps pragmatism, the wine suffers.” That may be true but more importantly, it is the consumer that suffers even more!

  3. There is no such thing as a “natural vineyard”. Grapes, in the wild grow up trees as part of the understory, attempting to get a few tendrils above teh canopy to produce grapes and reproduce. Not sure I’d want make wine from these “wild tree grapes” (although I am certain someone with creativity could come up with an awesome name for it). Thus, once you plant a vineyard with the inent to make wine — you are doing an intervention (thus, no such thing as non-interventionalist either). At that point, I’d personally like to see farmers and vintners do as little as possible to make the best possible wine with the least possible impact on the evironment but I do not think you can specifically prescribe a one size fits all approach for this.
    As far as your trip — how are teh 09 Santa Barbara Rhones shaping up?

  4. I think Andy makes a strong point, and one to consider when we start getting ahead of ourselves with labels. I am all for keeping vineyards as close to “natural as possible, primarily from the stand point of minimizing environmental impact. But we have to be realistic that agriculture by default changes the natural use of the land, no matter of conscientiously applied. Nick de Luca of Dierberg and Starlane to summed it up this way in a conversation on the matter:

    “My basic theory is; terroir is an unplanted field and then everything you do to it from that point forward obscures the terroir. Farming is an unnatural act, anything you do in the vineyard. So the whole idea is to reduce as many of those factors as possible, you take it down to only the things that make the wine taste better.”

    I can’t think of a better way to put it.

  5. Are you going to Zaca Mesa? Are they still there? They used to make some good wines. Syrah. Z-cuvee

  6. gdfo, I didn’t go to Zaca Mesa but you’re right, they make really good wines.

  7. Thanks for the props, Wayne. “Natural Farming” is a minefield, but one through which I proudly walk. When the dust finishes being cleared by the rain this vintage and we all have our grapes in the barn, the vivacity of an authentic vineyard, one farmed in accordance with the rhythms of nature (and I don’t mean burying a horn full of turd–way too activist for my tastes) as opposed to one farmed against them will shine through in the wines. This is the ideal vintage for a natural farmer. In the words of the late Fukuoka-san: “If we throw Mother Nature out the window, she’ll come back in through the front door with a pitchfork.”

  8. Ha Ha Ha! Was glancing at ur blog, as I have long enjoyed you, and was briefly searching for some info on MaMatthias Pippig of Sanguis. AND THERE I READ IN BIG LETTERS; “I have never understand applying a ideology to winemaking.” REALLY??!! REALLY?? Like not thinking about what I eat?! Jesus…

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