Spanish Springs Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County
In my notes for the 2016 version of this remarkable wine, most of the conversation had to do with me trying to wrap my brain around one of the most perplexing and mysterious wines I had ever made. You see, Grenache is not supposed to be, well, humongous. It’s supposed to be a lighter, more user-friendly version of a grape that wants to be soft, with hints on the palate of strawberry and cherry. Once in a while you find one with nice concentration, and you proclaim something like, “Cranberries!”
In 2016, my Grenache from the Spanish Springs Vineyard didn’t look right at the crusher. As the stems were being torn out of the clusters, the resulting juice at the bottom of each bin was jet black. Confused, I ran to the phone to tell the grower he had delivered the wrong grapes. After he confirmed that it was, beyond a shadow of a doubt,
100% Grenache, I spent the next hour staring at the stuff, trying to comprehend how uniqueness could go so wild.
In the end, I realized that what was unfolding right in front of my eyes was one of the most interesting winemaking opportunities that I had ever seen. In an effort to understand just how high this new bar was being raised, I decided not to manipulate the juice in any way. The subsequent beast was bottled as-is, and for the first time in my career I recommended that if you could wait 10 years to pull the cork, that would be advised. I even went so far as to state that 20 years wouldn't hurt it one bit, and ultimately I concluded that if there would be a push for anything in the future with this fruit, it would be in the direction of harnessing such raw power—in a word, refinement.
This 2017 bottling is still redolent of things like toasted cassis, smoke, kirsch, forest floor, herbs, orange peel, and cardamom seed. But this year the phenomenon is sewn together with just a bit more finesse. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying at this point that this wine is elegant. It's just that with the right food (think venison with a heavy reduction sauce of some kind, or strong enough cheeses), the wine is rewarding now. I still would give it 5 years ideally; I don't think 10 years is imperative. Will it go 20 if you want? No doubt. The wine is still a structural enigma, and in the arena of Grenache, remains in a category all by itself.