I hate to dampen my general wine know-it-all credibility, but the last time I was in France, the Euro was just an exchange unit. The Franc was still the currency of notes and coins. My joy for and impression of the French was greatly increased upon receiving my first 50 franc note. What a country, the Little Prince right there in my hand. For whatever reason, my country would never embrace Max on the 50, and I feel we suffer a bit for this. A culture that embraces the importance of its artistic contributions right along with the political is a grand and confident culture indeed.
This image did its job, and I tracked down a different book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry at an English language book store and learned why France would hold this author in such high regard. I was forever changed by a quote I found in that book. A quote that I would suspect came from Japan or Sweden, but in fact was French. “Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.” Translated in the book I read as “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This hit home with my own fledgling design esthetic and is still with me now when I consider making white wine.
I get a lot of surprised looks and disagreement when I tell people during conversation that I feel making white wine is much harder then red wine. I don’t mean physically harder, as minus the punch downs, whites are quite a bit less taxing on the body. But as for making decisions that must be correct, whites are much more demanding. I’m not the type of winemaker who will go on and on about how my immense cellar skills will take terrible fruit and craft perfect wines. I am of the firm belief that the ceiling for the quality of a wine is set the second you pick it. My experience is that my chief responsibility as winemaker is to not allow the wine to weaken in my hands once I have taken on stewardship from Mother Nature.
With red wines, you can get away with not perfectly timing your pick. You can adjust the length of cold soak and fermentation based on the ripeness level of skins, seeds and stems. You can hit your wine over the head with oak to fill holes in the nose or palate. You can just let the fruit hang for a long time in the vineyard and call it your “big, heavy, ripe style” and no one bats an eye. Whites are not so. White wines are like an ink on paper painting or calligraphy, if your lines are not skilled and beautiful, there’s no distracting with pretty colors to hide this fact. Any mistake made in the vineyard or cellar is plain to see, smell and taste. White wines, and roses for that matter, are a stripping away of everything that is possibly superfluous, leaving only the purest form of the wine behind.
Because of this I take immense pride in our white wines here at Calcareous. In particular, I stress over our white Rhone blend more than any other wine. After years of trying various varietals, I have narrowed the blend down to a yearly mix of Viognier and Marsanne. The Viognier sees no oak, as it is settled, fermented and aged in stainless for its life in the cellar. The Marsanne sees a single new French oak barrel, the balance being fermented in barrels used at least two times before filling with Marsanne. The two components are kept separate until a blending takes place a month before bottling.
This month we released our 2009 Viognier-Marsanne blend, and I could not be prouder of the wine. It took home Double Gold at the San Francisco International, then popped up last week on Steve Heimoff’s top ten of the week posting (the second straight vintage of our flagship white that Mr. Heimoff has so blessed). I also could not be prouder of Paso Robles in general. The creation of more serious white wines coming from the area is as bold a declaration of vineyard and cellar quality as any other critique. In last month’s Wine Spectator article on exciting new California Whites, Paso Robles was probably the single region getting the most acclaim. Local white wine champions like Caliza, Denner, Tablas Creek, Terry Hoage and Villa Creek were all rightly given their due for showing we here in Paso Robles have more up our sleeve than just powerhouse reds. So enjoy the summer months with these fine examples of our craft in its purest form.