Our wet and cold winter has continued here at Calcareous, and it is a most welcome development for our vineyard. As of March 5th, we have received 26.27 inches of rain this year, well above our annual average of 19 inches. Storms are expected to continue throughout March with the potential to exceed 30 total inches of rain, which would certainly be a record since planting the vineyard in 2002. After a few years of drought, this amount of moisture is most welcome as it recharges ground water, leaches the soils of salt buildup, and gives the dormant vines a healthy start to the 2023 growing season.
In addition to the wet weather this winter, we are also benefitting from the fact that it has remained very cold. It takes a combination of warming nights and longer days to wake the vines from dormancy, leading to bud break. The past 2 winters were so dry and sunny, bud break began in mid/late February. However this year, we are now into March and there is still no sign of it. With the vines still in deep slumber when the snow started falling (for only the second time ever recorded at our Estate!) we were able to enjoy beautiful sights and snowball fights. If this had happened during last year’s early bud break, it could have been a disaster. So all things are looking up, with a late bud break hopefully helping to push harvest back to a more typical September start after last year’s early start in August.
Head Winemaker, Jason Joyce
One of the great intrigues of wine is experiencing how it develops with age. The generally held assumption is that wine requires time and "improves" with age. There is some truth to that notion, but the real truth is only that a wine changes with age and the perception of improvement is laid squarely on your own personal tastes and preferences. The great disadvantage that the general consumer has in observing this arc of change in a wine's life is that they almost never have access to taste a truly young wine. Only the winemaker eats the grapes the day they are picked. Then we get to taste daily as the fermentation process evolves the juice to wine. We make observations as the brand new wine comes off the press and determine what barrels and tanks to age it in. We pay attention over the coming months and years to decide when it is ready to bottle and deem it an acceptable time to show it off in the glass.
The reason we as winemakers age wine before allowing it to be tasted by others is that we are obsessed with balance. The ultimate goal is to show a wine whose features are all in harmony, each adding a piece to a greater whole. When wine is young, the freshness and fruit are overly dominant. The structural elements and more nuanced aromas and flavors feel out of place or are lost in that upfront burst of bright fruit. Thus the ageing process is used to tamp down the overt fruitiness and allow the proper shape of the wine to come into focus.
Even if focus and balance is our ultimate goal, I have always wanted to share what our wine tastes like when truly young. The immense acid and tannin structure of our reds make them especially difficult to enjoy when brand new as all the elements tend to over expose the palate and I even have trouble discerning exactly what their path will be. But with our Vin Gris program, the fruit and acidity of youth is a perfect entry into showing what is at the core of our wines. I decided in 2020 to start bottling a Harvest Rose early each November for just this reason. Like any farmer, you want others to taste straight off the tree or vine before any vitality in flavor is robbed by time. So this wine is meant entirely to be consumed immediately, aging is contrary to the point of showcasing our wines in youth. These wines also act as a physical answer to the question, "So how was this vintage?" The 2021 Harvest Rose, like most of this harvest, showcases fully ripe fruit with great freshness and edge. The mild conditions of late summer early fall did not create any raisins thus no pruney character is hinted at in any way. The bracing acidity demonstrates the backbone these wines contain hinting at age worthy wines, they won't necessarily improve greatly with time, but they will not fall apart either and should remain gracefull for many years. These are exciting wines, and yes, they need some time in my opinion to settle down. The tannin extraction on the reds was a bit over the top so it will be quite a while before I let anyone else have a taste. But with this bottling of Harvest Rose, I would like to peel back the curtain and give you a hint of what is to come!
Some of my favorite quotes about wine making in America go back to almost the very beggining. In Andrew S Fuller's 1867 classic "The Grape Culturist", an early treastie on grape growing in America, his disdain for wine is barely veilded. One that warms my heart is, "For my own part, I could never understand my wine making had anything more to do with grape culture as whisky making had to do with growing corn." But the one that rings really true and I feel should be foundational to every wine maker is , "It is not every one who attempts to make wine that accomplishes it; for every vineyardist does not know how to make wine any more than every wine maker knows how to grow grapes." You will often find wine makers talk about farming, but their soft hands and clean cuticles betray them, so please take what follows with a grain of salt as I don't pretend to be a farmer, but I've learned a few things worth sharing.
Quite a few years back, I was in a small bar on New Year's Eve overly enjoying the night while being entertained by a bunch of friends and thier one night only formations of Fleetwood Mac and Rolling Stones tribute bands. Since these were one off shows, the song books was limited to mainly the big hits, but that didn't stop me from around mdnight repeatedly demanding my favorite Stones song "Shattered" be played. It came to not avail, but that night and that song always pop into my mind while walking around our Estate Grenache in late spring. Grenache has quite a few quirks that make it stick out in the world of viticulture. Some of these are grape clusters the size of your head. The fact that sunshine acutally makes the grapes skins lose color. But the one that makes things most exciting is its propensity to shatter.
Like I said, I'm not the most viticulturally knowledgable person out there, and I can't truly speak for Grenache, but I think I like its approach to the grape game. Some vines are perfectionists (looking at you Pinot Noir) and seem toconcentrate on producing just a small amount of these beautiful tight little clusters of berries. Like a parent with an one child that devotes all thier attention to. Not Grenache, it seems to go more with the all in approach. Just produce as many flowers as possible and who cares if most of them don't make it, enough will to keep things moving. Thus the giant clusters and the shatter. Shatter is the failure of the flower to properly polinate, so it shrivels on the vine and never becomes a grape. Here is an amatuer photo I took this morning of a post shatter cluster.
All that brown you see are the shattered dreams of a flower that never will grow to be a grape. Yes, I know, it can be a bit sad, and let me tell you, it can get really sad some years as you can lose around 80% of your crop to a heatwave or cold snap during flowering. But this year, the spring temperatures were extremely mild and created an atmosphere that was perfect for Grenache flower pollination, so only about 3-5% of the clusters look like that. The vast majority of the clusters look like this after fruit set.
Those little green berries will swell a bit more each day leading toward veraison, the final step of the ripening process. When all is said in done, this looks to be a pretty big yield of Grenache coming. That is always exciting, as having excess availability of Estate Grenache opens up the possibility of picking a decent amount of it early for whole cluster pressing and forming a more perfect base for our Estate Vin Gris (and maybe even the Harvest Rose). Of course that all reamains to be seen as it looks to be around 105 here 5 days from now so you never know what nature has in store. But so far, things are looking promising for Grenache in 2021.
The final installment of me tasting the Summer 2021 club wines. This time, the 2019 Devil's Canyon Syrah that I'm a bit too excited about. As you can readily tell, I don't really plan these out or have any idea about what I'm going to say. I just start rambling on, I mean look at that crazy look in my eyes here! Maybe I should be more profesional, get a producer and some hair product. Then I could go viral and become a celebrity wine influencer that travels around and speaks at panel tastings and seminars. Maybe I could get some gigs being a consultant. Wow, the power of the internets could transform my life! But then I wouldn't have time to actually make wine and wander around our vineayrds and be present in life... Well, sorry you'll just have to keep watching these unprofesional videos as I think I'll stay being just a normal winemaker. Cheers
For our series on the Summer 2021 Calcareous Club Wines, I go over the 2019 Tres Violet. This blend has evolved quite a bit over the best few years as a conscious decision to make our Red Rhone wines be true individuals. The Tres has become much more Mourvedre and Grenache based, creating a lighter textured wine. Still plenty of Calcaroeus umph in there, so don't expect a light bodied zesty wine. Overall, I absolutely love the 2019 wines and am so excited to finally have people tasting them. Hope you enjoy!
As part of the Paso Robles Cab Collective Cab Camp for Somms, I was on a panel talking about Calcareous soils and diurnal swings and how they make Cabernet from Paso unique. Upon rewatcing, I seem to be brining some "unique" energy here. Been thinking for a while about what are the characteristics of a Paso Cab that make them stand out. What makes them different from a Northern California or Washington Cab. I have my opinions. Overall a fun talk and you get to hear from a few of our neighbors as well besides just being forced to hear me talk the whole time. Enjoy!