2018 New Genre White
Santa Barbara County
I have been working with Grenache Blanc for a few years now, and I love its varietal expression. The Clairette is coming out of the Martian Vineyard, known for growing a few weird varieties over on Alisos Canyon Road outside of Los Alamos, and from the new Santa Ynez Vineyard, which is the most easterly vineyard in Happy Canyon. I’ve only had a couple years with this variety and I am still trying to understand its demeanor. In 2017 it was very aromatic and fruity. In 2018 it made a wine that had the most beautiful, viscous texture that I had ever felt mingling on my tongue. It was that texture that prompted me to marry it with the aromatic fruit in my Grenache Blanc. Currently the wine is an absolute joy to drink.
This 2018 Soulstruck Sauvignon Blanc is from fruit grown in one of the most interesting Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in California; namely ours. I say one of the most interesting because ours is a very cool climate vineyard in an area, the Sta. Rita Hills, that is usually reserved for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. In fact, ours is the only Sauvignon Blanc vineyard currently in the Sta. Rita Hills. As a result, the wine is saturated with beautiful flavors and texture.
In our branding, Soulstruck is synonymous with white wine varietals that touch the winemaker’s soul, in this case the fully flavored Sauvignon Blanc. It’s all about capturing and taming varietals that have lots of definition and nerve. The appellation on the label is Santa Barbara County, which allows us to more broadly source exciting new varietals like Vermentino (Rolle), Clairette and Picpoul, along with Sauvignon Blanc.
In this wine, it’s hard to argue with the beautiful cherimoya and white pear in the nose. With a beautiful texture on the palate to boot, and at this price, it’s another winner.
2018 Rita’s Earth
Sta. Rita Hills
The wine offers characteristics that to me hint at a $50 Pinot, not $25. The Sta. Rita Hills earth is front-stage-center and is enveloped by spicy cherries. On the palate, it has a substantial fruit weight and fine tannins. Yes, this Rita’s Earth Pinot should age well. While it’s a pleasure to drink now, but it should continue to spread its wings over the next few years.
2017 Déjà Vu Pinot Noir
Sta. Rita Hills
As in years past, this 2017 bottling is very dark and rich by Pinot Noir standards. But in this vintage, it’s the complexity that is absolutely uncanny. In the nose, there is almost an extreme presentation of earth with gobs of spice. It’s to the point where if I had to pin a single concept on it, it would be SPECTACLE. There is a sweetness in the nose that is like a baked, almost smoky mocha. I have never smelled anything quite like it. The fruit is identifiably cherries on the nose and palate, but it is enveloped by the beautiful French oak that was hand made for me by my buddy, Jerome Fouailly, in Burgundy. In the finish, there is a density of fruit and fineness of tannin that I find in very few Pinots. For a full presentation of how good this vineyard is, let the wine rest in the bottle for a few years or more. If, before then, your corkscrew calls, it is a rich wine, so you will definitely enjoy it. I recommend at least putting it in a nice big glass so it gets some air and a chance to wake up just a bit. Over the next couple years, decanting it would not be a bad idea.
There is a lot of talk these days about Terroir. Too often I taste wines that are supposed to be terroir driven but there’s really no “there” there. A lot of times those wines are perfectly nice, but they don’t tell the story of soil or specific vineyard location. With this wine, dirt and location are front and center. While the foundation is the soil, part of it is also the farming. Bentrock is farmed by Ruben Solorzano of Coastal Vineyard Care who is one of the best in the business. As for the dirt, Block 3 at Bentrock is arguably the best block of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County. In this wine, it shows.
2017 New Genre Red
Santa Barbara County
In 2016 and 2017, I brought in my first Grenache from some extraordinary new vineyards, and the wines were all quite good. While this gave me a second Rhone variety, in addition to Syrah, it still wasn’t quite enough for me to start comparing myself to the likes of some of my more well-known Rhone-producing colleagues--the Steve Beckmens, Andrew Murrays, and Doug Margerums of the Central Coast. But also in 2016, I stumbled across something that really grabbed my attention. After a phone call from a grower begging me to consider some of his unsold grapes at the end of the season, I jumped in my truck and ran over to the Valley to look at my first Cinsault, Counoise and Carignan. The Cinsault and the Counoise looked like they might only make decent rosé, so I passed. The Carignan, on the other hand, looked promising, and so I brought some in. At that point, I still didn’t really feel like a Rhone guy, but I did feel like I was no longer standing on the outside, looking in. Indeed, I felt like I had opened the door.
I quickly learned a couple things about Carignan that continued to make the whole proposition of this new (to me) grape intriguing. For starters, I found its history and worldwide status to be a bit challenged, if not dubious, at best. Carignan, or “Cariñena” is believed to be Spanish originally. After the grape migrated and was embraced by growers across much of southern Europe, it found its main home in the French Languedoc, where they proceeded to plant square miles of the stuff. It then went on to become one of the varietal culprits in the creation of the “French Wine Lake”, a term that described the gluttonous, decades-long production of millions of cases of cheap French wine. In reading world renowned author Jancis Robinson’s notes on Carignan, you get the feeling that it’s almost an inferior grape, especially if it’s not farmed with the utmost attention to yields. As she describes it, there are very few producers out there who have enough discipline to get a handle on this miscreant grape, and make good wine from it. And that’s when a very interesting concept floated into my head. In a word, OPPORTUNITY. I had some very nice Carignan in my barrels from the 2016 vintage, and it wasn’t even farmed with any great attention to detail. What if we actually paid attention to it? Maybe, just maybe, the Rhone and the Languedoc are simply not the best places in the world for Carignan. Maybe Santa Ynez is.
The other thing I learned about Carignan is that when it is good and concentrated, it’s very distinctive. Its varietal character is punchy, and it can really make its presence felt in a blend with other Rhone varieties.
Finally, what Carignan does for me is it allows me to poke my finger in the eye, just a bit, of the GSM paradigm. Today, if you are a Rhone producer, it’s almost your duty to make a GSM (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre). Without one—with or without an added pinch of Counoise or Cinsault--you’re just really not legitimate. Honestly, I think a lot of GSMs are excuses for what to do with a bunch of mediocre, if not insipid wine from a grape that is notorious for making such: Grenache. Question: what do you do to salvage Grenache? Answer: blend in a bunch of darker Syrah, and add a third grape, Mourvedre, so that the triad starts to walk and talk like a Rhone blend. Well, you know me, I don’t always like to run with the pack. And in this case, if my galvanizing agent is a miscreant grape that the rest of the Rhone world is down on. . . Perfect! All of a sudden, I have an enigmatic way to construct a dreamy, concentrated Rhone blend that has fully captured my attention, and I know, after one taste, it will capture yours too.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a new genre. While it has a Rhone demeanor to it, it does not have any Mourvedre. It’s a GSC, and keep in mind that accompanying the Carignan is some of Santa Barbara County’s best Syrah from Rancho Sisquoc. (That’s right, the Syrah in this blend is essentially Upper Crust.) And the Grenache that we are sourcing from Peake, John Sebastiano and Spear vineyards are all perfectly farmed. Each is very robust in its own right, and is now part of a synergy that can only get stronger as these young vineyards mature.
After making a nice but experimental wine in 2016, this 2017 Galvanized Synergy is quite good. After your tongue digs through all the dense layers of the blend, it finishes with a succulence that rides the youthful tannin long onto your palate. While this cuvee should age gracefully for years, it is rich enough to drink immediately. Pair it with all meats or tomato based stews, pizza, fried chicken; that kind of stuff. It will definitely stand up to some seasoning.
2017 Ocean’s Ghost Pinot Noir
Sta. Rita Hills
Within my Terroir Extraordinaire portfolio, Ocean’s Ghost has been the moniker for my best Estate Grown Pinot Noir for, gosh, probably 15 years now. For those of you who have followed its evolution, you know that there has been a string of great wines. So, it’s hard for me to just come out and say this one is the best I have ever made. But there is something about it that makes it very special. I think part of it might be the vintage. 2017 was a very good year for Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills. If you are in the Terroir Club, you have already received Radical, Appellation’s Edge, Microcosm, and Slice Of Heaven. If you have put your cork screw to any of these cuvees, you know what I am talking about. Part of Ocean’s Ghost is also an expression of my new Integrated Nature farming, which leads to a harmony between the fruit and the forces of nature. And part of it is always the soil, which, like many of the soils along Highway 246, is no doubt the sandy remnant of an old ocean sea bed from eons ago.
Aromatically the wine is similar to past years, but if anything, there is a bit more jamminess to the fruit. Along with its signature Highway 246 garrigue, there is also a beautiful toastiness which is again related to some of the finest French oak barrels that money can buy. The wine is actually delicious now. Unlike Déjà Vu, which is a spectacle that is still trying to sort itself out, Ocean’s Ghost this year is a big, structured Pinot that is very pure and integrated right out of the gates. My guess is that it will still be lovely in 15 years, if lots of bottle bouquet is your thing.
2017 Block 15 Cabernet Sauvignon
Santa Ynez Valley
This year’s bottling sports the bold new label that Lisa has designed, and the wine has characteristics that make it comparable to some of the finest wines in Bordeaux. Heady, dense, cassis fruit defines the nose with spices that are in the realm of tobacco leaf, with a touch of ceder. Not for the faint of heart, it’s very rich on the palate, but should age really well with its ample, well placed tannins. The oak employed was French, with an emphasis on robust toasting, and there is a beautiful balance between firm structure and elegance.
2017 Upper Crust Syrah
Rancho Sisquoc Vineyard
Santa Maria Valley
This 2017 bottling continues to lend itself to this principle. As I study it here, in my glass, the opaque, purple liquid offers up heady aromas of black fruits that are like an entanglement of cassis, flowers, and a spice that strikes me a bit like cumin. Not for the faint of heart, its structure is for the long haul, with beautifully palate-coating tannins that are perfectly woven into the fabric of the fruit and the overall mouthfeel. Its central theme has always been concentration, which is a good thing, because I have too many things, too many varieties going on as it is. If I am going to create a place in my portfolio for a Syrah, it has to spectacular and built on power. It’s location, location, location, along with Sisquoc’s well-executed farming, a combination that coaxes out the true nobility of Syrah and keeps my head and heart in the game year after year.