2012 Albariño, Riverbench Vineyard — Santa Maria Valley
Albariño is a white aromatic grape that has been cultivated for centuries in northwestern Spain; in Portugal, the same variety is known as “Alvarinho.” In Spanish, Albariño (alba + riño) translates as the “white wine from the Rhine” and is believed to have been brought to the region by Cluny monks on the invitation of Spanish Emperor Alfonso VII in the 12th century.
Albariño/Alvarinho is a small-berried, thick-skinned grape variety borne on small, tightly packed clusters on upright vigorous vines. Comparatively speaking, this variety produces more seeds per berry than other grape variety which can contribute astringency and bitterness to wines if the fruit is not handled gently.
Some have speculated that Albariño is a relative to Riesling but genetics do not support that theory. Modern genetics show Albariño to be a parent to Caiño Blanco as well as having genetic relationship to Loureiro and Godello, all of which are white grape varieties considered indigenous to northeastern Spain and Portugal.
Albariño and Alvarinho are extensively cultivated along both sides of the Minho River that separates Portugal to the south from Spain to the north. Albariño is probably most recognized as the white grape of the Spanish Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) region of Galicia’s Rias Baixes in northwestern Spain. In Portugal, Alvarinho grows in the Vino Verde region in the northern section of the sub-regions of Moncao and Melgaco along the Minho River; this region is considered the original homeland for the production of 100% Alvarinho wines.
The climate of northern Portugal and the Galicia region of Spain experience the highest amount of rainfall for both countries. The high rainfall of the area makes the landscape lush and green which has led to the descriptor “Green Spain” for Galicia.
The popularity of Albariño/Alvarinho in this region was no doubt driven by the thick skins of the variety being able to withstand the rain and high humidity of the region. Wines produced from the variety tend to be fresh and full-bodied with high acidity and complex aromas of white peach, citrus fruit blossom, jasmine, passion fruit and melon. These wines tend to have a flinty, mineral finish.
In the Vineyard
Our 2012 Albariño comes from an across-the-river vineyard—the Riverbench Vineyard. This 2.5-acre block was planted for Kenneth Volk Vineyards in 2006 as part of a new vineyard development adjacent to the entrance of Rancho Sisquoc Winery.
Ken observes, “I had a strong feeling that Albariño would do well at this site. The cool maritime climate of the Santa Maria Valley and sandy gravel loam of the site are similar to the conditions of those regions where the best Albariño/Alvarinho are grown in Spain and Portugal. I was surprised that the variety had not been previously planted in the area considering the cool climate reputation of the Santa Maria Valley.”
At the Winery
The 2012 growing season featured our second harvest of Albariño, The fruit was handpicked and gently whole-cluster pressed prior to cold settling for 72 hours. After racking off its juice solids, the clean juice was fermented at 48° with several cultured aromatic yeast strains. A very slow fermentation took place over six weeks and, at 5° brix, the tank jacket temperature was raised to 65° to provide conditions conducive to a complete fermentation.
Following fermentation, the wine was periodically mixed to keep the yeast cells in suspension to impart more texture to the mouthfeel of this wine. Malolactic fermentation was discouraged both by the wine’s low pH as well as its cold storage temperatures.
In the Glass
This lovely wine has aromas of ripe white nectarine and Mandarin oranges with floral aromas of hawthorn and jasmine. On the palate, the wine is fresh with bright acidity yet retains a supple texture. This delicious wine recently received “Best White Wine of Show” at the 2013 Central Coast Wine Competition.
This wine can be served with a variety of foods—in its homeland, it would traditionally be served with the bounty of the ocean. Try it with fish, shellfish, lightly-herbed chicken dishes, or this salad of Kodiak Scallops in lime from The Fiddlehead Cookbook.
Scallops in Lime Salad
2010 Tannat, Bella Collina Vineyards — Paso Robles
An ancient grape variety that originated in northeastern Spain’s Basque region, Tannat is probably best known for the dark wines of the Madiran region of France. Tannat typically is 40-80% of the area’s red wine blends frequently accompanied with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
In the 1800s, Tannat was first brought to the Americas in Uruguay by Basque immigrants where the variety was called “Harriague” after vintner Pascal Harriague who popularized the variety in that country. Tannat was brought to California by Basque dairy farmers who settled in the Sacramento Valley in the late 1800s. Most modern plantings in California resulted from the efforts of Tablas Creek Vineyards and Nursery who imported the variety from France via Foundation Plant Materials Services (FPMS in Geneva, New York) where the cuttings were quarantined and tested for pathogens prior to the release of bud wood to Tablas Creek Nursery in the 1990s.
2012 Tannat grapes going through verasion (color change).
Tannat bears large clusters of thick-skinned, medium-sized berries. A vigorous variety on most root stocks, Tannat grape clusters have very strongly attached pedicels (the branching jack stem that attaches grape berries to the main stem of a cluster). These firmly attached pedicels are not easily removed by stemmer crushers and no doubt contribute to the high tannin content of Tannat wines when not meticulously de-stemmed and sorted.
Tannat is often produced as a single varietal wine in California although a number of wineries use it as a blending component to bring structure to more well-known varietal bottlings. Tannat can produce extremely dark and tannic wines and is capable of long aging.
In the Vineyard
Bella Collina Vineyards is located on the west side of Paso Robles and is the only location from which we source Tannat fruit. The 2010 growing season was cool overall, but we were still able to achieve a high degree of physiological ripeness in our Tannat.
Hand harvested fruit was de-stemmed and partially crushed into 1.3-ton open-top bins. This wine was aged for 28 months in a mixture of French, Hungarian, and American oak cooperage prior to preparation for bottling.
In the Glass
Our 2010 Tannat has aromas of black fruits and peppercorns and barrel spice. On the palate, flavors of ollalieberry, logan berry and blueberry lead to lingering fine-grain tannins on the finish.
This wine is best enjoyed with rich foods that can stand up to the tannins. In its Iberian homeland, Tannat is often enjoyed with lamb and wild game. Try this lamb preparation from Julia Child and Jacques Pépin from Julia and Jacques’s Cooking at Home.
Julia Child’s Slow-roasted Leg of Lamb
2008 Tempranillo, Starr Ranch Vineyard — Paso Robles
Tempranillo—the most recognized red wine grape of Spain—produces wine in a wide variety of styles from robust and tannic to supple fruit-driven red wines to vibrantly, beautiful rosé wines. The name Tempranillo derives from the Spanish word “temprano” which translates to “early.” This name appropriately describes one facet of Tempranillo for it is one of the earliest grapes to ripen during harvest.
In the Vineyard
KVV has produced several vineyard-designate Tempranillos from Starr Ranch, located off Chimney Rock Road just past the Adelaida school house in western Paso Robles. The Tempranillo at Starr Ranch is planted on a steep hillside slope with the rows oriented up and down the hillside. The row orientation was selected to maximize solar exposure as well as for the safety of the tractor drivers. Ken notes, “I get a vertigo sensation when looking down from the top of the hill on some rows of this vineyard similar to what I experience when facing down a black diamond ski slope. I’m a terrible skier.”
The soil depth, texture, and water-holding capacity changes dramatically from the top of the slope to the bottom. The hilltop is white calcareous fractured rock and mud stone with a soil depth of 18-36 inches while the toe of the hill has weathered calcareous gravel mixed with an iron-oxide soil with a top soil depth of 6-10 feet.
These rocky, infertile soils are good for grape growing but the variation of soil depth makes for a very uneven growing habit and ripening of fruit. The top of the slope can ripen two to four weeks sooner than the bottom of the vine rows. This lack of uniformity requires several staggered picking dates for optimum quality versus picking an entire row all at once.
The fruit for our 2008 Tempranillo came from the upper third of the vineyard rows. The 2008 growing season started off fairly cool through the middle of July only to have the heat come on strong. There were several episodic heat waves of triple digit temperatures that caused a rapid transition in cane lignification and cluster ripening.
At the Winery
Harvested by hand, the fruit was transported to the winery in an insulated refrigerated truck. The fruit was de-stemmed with minimal crushing into 1.3-ton open-top bins. While filling the bins with fruit, dry ice was layered with the fruit for cryo-extraction and to encourage several days of cold soak prior to the start of fermentation.
A Saccharomyces cerevisiae bayanus yeast strain from Valencia, T73, was used to inoculate the bins. This Spanish yeast selection produces high amounts of glycerol and fruit esters with warm-climate Tempranillo.
The cap of the fermenting must was punched down frequently to promote extraction of color and flavors from the skins of the fermenting must. After ten days of active fermentation, the bins were drained and the must was basket pressed. Press wine and free run wine were combined and settled in stainless steel for several days prior to barreling down.
A combination of one-, two-, and three-year old thin-stave Bordeaux cooperage from Seguin Moreau, Demptos and Vicard was used to age this wine. Racked once in March 2010 barrel-to-barrel with counter-pressure nitrogen, this Tempranillo was aged for 18 months in cooperage prior to preparation for bottling.
In the Glass
Wines from this hilltop planting tend to be more tannic and brooding than other Tempranillo vineyards that KVV sources fruit from and requires longer bottle aging for the wine to come around, but the long term payoff is delicious.
After 2.5 years of bottle aging, the tannins of this dark garnet red wine have softened and the finished wine presents aromas of ripe fig, black plum, barrel toast, and cigar box.
On the palate, firm tannins support flavors of black fruits, cocoa, and mocha. This limited production wine is being featured only to our Cellar Door Club members.
This big Tempranillo pairs nicely with a traditional dish of pork chops and prunes from Penelope Casas’ The Food and Wine of Spain.
Pork Chops with Prunes
2010 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Cuvée — Santa Maria Valley
The 2010 growing season was the coldest on record in the Santa Maria Valley. It was very different from the warm 2013 vintage which we are preparing for now. Without a doubt, climate change has imposed its influence in different and disturbing ways in the recent vintages.
For most of the country, 2010 was a year of record high temperatures but here in Santa Maria, we were wearing sweatshirts and jackets for most of the summer.
The 2010 growing season presented a strong La Niña climate pattern as well as the coolest year of the current Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) cycle we have been experiencing here in the eastern Pacific since 2002.
The cool conditions directly resulted directly from the unusually cold ocean temperatures around the Santa Barbara coast line that year. The cold ocean water was the result of an extended upwelling season that lasted to the middle of August.
The cold temperatures and constant north-westerly winds were not conducive to grape flowering and created irregular fruit set. In many cases, berries on the same clusters set weeks apart from each other.
Ken recalls, “I did not like what I was seeing. The vineyards appeared as bad as the US economy in July 2010; I was scared about how the vintage would turn out.”
Fortunately, a moderate consistent warming trend began at the end of August and in first two weeks of September: this warming trend came at the right time to turn things around for the 2010 growing season. The only benefit of the small crop was that it allowed the fruit to ripen under these last-minute favorable conditions.
In the Vineyard
Our 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Cuvée is a blend of three of our favorite nearby vineyards with just a touch from the northern reaches of the Central Coast: 28% of the fruit comes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard, 38% comes from the Garey Ranch Vineyard, 32% comes from Sierra Madre Vineyard (all these vineyards lie in Santa Maria Valley) while a dollop of just 2% comes from the Enz Vineyard in Lime Kiln Valley in San Benito County to the north.
One of Ken’s early mentors in the winemaking business was the late George Muldar of the El Paso De Robles Winery (where Castoro Winery’s tasting room is today).
George was an eternal optimist and found the good in everything. At one point, George observed to Ken that “some of the best wines came from the ugliest grapes.” Ken recalls, “In 2010, I found some solace in George’s words, for these grapes were not rotten or under or over ripe, they were just unattractive.”
At the Winery
Each vineyard lot was handled separately and a combination of small open-top fermentors and closed-top tanks were used. We used a selection of new, one-, two-, and four-year old cooperage from Trust, Francois Fréres, and Boswell for aging this wine.
The cool growing season produced fruit with extremely high malic acid in our Santa Maria Valley vineyards. The conversion of the malic acid to lactic acid by Leuconostoc Oenos bacteria in this wine results in its very round, supple and, creamy mouthfeel.
In the Glass
In comparison to most of our Santa Maria Cuvée Pinot Noirs, this wine is more earth-tone than fruit-tone. This rich wine has aromas of forest floor and humus that provides an earthy foundation for the red and black fruit.
Our 2010 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Cuvée has the distinction of being judged “Best of Class” at the 2013 Central Coast Wine Competition as well as receiving a four star gold medal (a.k.a., a unanimous gold by all panel judges) at this year’s Orange County Fair.
This rich Pinot Noir can be paired with a wide range of dishes from seared peppered Ahi, pasta with wild mushrooms, Asian spice-rubbed meats and grilled or braised vegetables. Consider trying it with this rich preparation of grilled salmon.
Grilled Salmon Fillets