In 2007 my esteemed colleague, Ken Brown, and I decided to split two spectacular blocks of Pinot Noir at the newly planted CalPERS vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills. In a nutshell, these blocks were chosen for their stunning viticultural characteristics. To Babcock Pinot Fans, block 14 at the Rita’s Crown Vineyard was christened Slice OF Heaven, while at the Radian Vineyard, blocks 40 and 41 became Radical. By 2010 we began to taste the first incredible wines from these tiny sections, and I immediately became more bullish on these vineyards in general.
My only regret, I was kicking myself for not having stepped up to claim some vines at CalPERS’ third vineyard called Bentrock. With some of its blocks already being snapped up by other wineries, I hastily drove over to the vineyard one day to see if I could identify something interesting that might have fallen through the cracks. I stood at a high point in the middle of the vineyard looking outward to see if anything grabbed me. I called the grower only to find out that the only block still available was block 9, the one I was standing in! There was nothing particularly interesting to me about block 9 at that moment, but after walking through it and spending some time there, I started to get this really good, indescribable feeling.
With the Bentrock Vineyard being slightly further east than the Radian Vineyard, this now gives me a straight line of terroirs along Santa Rosa Road in the cool western end of the Sta. Rita Hills. To the east is Je Ne Sais Quoi section, then as you go west we have Radical in the middle and Appellation’s Edge at the boundary of the appellation. Put another way, this gives me a line of tour’d force terroirs that are producing amazingly concentrated Pinots. All three are layered and seductive, but at the same time are dramatically different in their personalities; the result of three different soils.
Bentrock’s block 9, “Je Ne Sais Quoi”, does not permeate a winemaker’s consciousness like the dramatic throne that is Appellation’s Edge. Its rocks are not the visual phenomenon that they are in Radical. You don’t feel like you are going to have a heart attack every time you take cluster samples like you do in The Limit. It is not a stands-alone section; it is nestled in the middle of the greater Bentrock Vineyard, essentially contiguous with a few of the other blocks. It is a gentle hillside and the vine rows are fairly short. Its rocks, if you can find any, are fairly nondescript. The terroir here is more about the influence of a micro-climatic centrality within a Botella Clay Loam soil that is now known in the Sta. Rita Hills for prompting Pinot Noir to sing. And while we only have one wine (2012) from this site at this point, can the future be any different than the expression of its first vintage; dark fruits, flowers, earth, meat, spice?
While Je Ne Sais Quoi did not jump out at me at first glance, it’s wine certainly does.