Planted by Dick Graff on a southwest-facing slope on limestone and decomposed granite soils, the vineyard lies within sight of the Pinnalicitos, near the East entrance to Pinnacles National Monument. At some 1800' elevation, we picked the 2014 vintage from this venerable vineyard starting at 1am under the stars of the Milky Way and the Perseid Meteor showers, to a soundtrack provided by three separate packs of coyotes.
We are tremendously fortunate - on many levels - to have known and worked with George Besson Jr. and his exceptional vineyard for twenty years. George's grandfather purchased the vineyard in 1922 [it was planted in 1910] from reputed bootleggers. We are honored to continue the long legacy of a commitment to the wine and spirits business at this property.
These non-irrigated vines, planted on their own roots, sit on a rocky gentle slope just low enough to disqualify it for the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Walking through the vines with George, one senses his deep affection and respect for the land and the vines, and his belief in man's subordinate role to nature in determining the ultimate quality of the grapes grown there. As a consequence of the age of the vines, the lack of irrigation, and the conservative farming practices, the quantity of grapes grown there is quite small - rarely if ever over 2.5 tons/acre, and roughly 2 tons/acre in 2010. Thankfully, Georges Junior and Senior [who still lives in a house surrounded by the 11 acre vineyard] prefer the company of old vines to new neighbors or a vacation home in the tropics, as they appear committed to keeping these geezers producing for a long time to come.
We love the crisp, aromatic, tangy rosés of Provence [and the lifestyle that affords one the chance to drink them in their native habitat]. So, given the opportunity to work with this head-pruned, non-irrigated, organically farmed cinsault vineyard planted in 1886, as Gustav Eiffel was still putting together his controversial tower in Paris, we started putting together a not so controversial plan for our Provenéal inspired Vin Gris. Grapes from one section of the vineyard typically end up in rich, raspberry coulis scented red wines. We take our grapes from a small section which yields more floral, botanical notes of violet, lavender and spice, ideal for crisp, dry rosé. Farmed lovingly by Kevin Phillips, this 128 year-old cinsault shines in our Vin Gris complemented by George Besson's Grenache and Kevin's neighbor's rolle. Since 2012, we have also begun making a small quantity of red cinsault from this venerable vineyard.
A shade below 1000m in the Sierra Foothills (or Footh Hills as the late, great Utah Phillps had it) this bright, high-toned grenache serves as one of the pillars of our Vin Gris. The snow-capped peaks of the High Sierras in the distance have the same effect on us as they do on the fruit, contributing coolth and refreshment to us both.
In Santa Ynez, the Jurassic Park Vineyard sits atop the playground of the dinosaurs of the Jurassic era. These days, pumpjacks swing wildly all around the perimeter of the vineyard, pumping black gold from deep underground and funding adult playgrounds in Beverly Hills. Our bounty is perhaps less remunerative, but no less precious. Planted in 1978, the age of this Chenin vineyard qualifies it as "old" in Southern California. We treat it gently, ferment it with native yeasts, and keep it company through the winter. Coming Summer 2014
The 2013 Chenin Blanc in barrel
On a south-facing slope perched at 300m elevation in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Lilo Vineyard opens to an unobstructed view to the South over the Monterey Bay. Planted a dozen years ago on a complex mix of schist, shale, and sandstone soils, the slope is quite steep, and yields can be stunningly low - 0.99 ton from all 4.5 acres in 2011. Just above the fog line, this is viticulture on the edge of possibility - a site fully exposed to late frosts at bud break and spring rains that can affect flowering and every torment the weather coming off the Pacific can bring. In short, exactly the kind of marginal climate that is called for to coax the layered, subtle perfumed spicy best out of that most fickle of varieties, Pinot Noir.
Up on a bench on the Western edge of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, with the Santa Lucia coastal range providing a rain shadow and shelter from the intense late-afternoon sun just to the West, the ancient Italian grape varieties of Malvasia Bianca and Muscat Canelli have found a fitting home in the New World.
San Bernabe is home to a great number of grapes - red and white - but we have found that this particular part of Monterey County is highly suited to aromatic varieties.
This specific selection of Malvasia - brought to America in the early 20th century from Calabria in Italy's far south - seems to relish the warm days and cool nights here. Planted in the same time period in an adjacent vineyard block, Muscat Canelli here reaches its full potential of expression while retaining the natural acidity, freshness we vibrancy and perfume we so esteem.
A pair of photographs of the vineyard from the same vantage point in late morning sunlight, and then again at the approach of dusk provide a visual illustration of the marine influence on the vineyard.
This large diurnal temperature variation [the difference between daytime highs and nighttime lows] is due to the dramatic effect of the natural corridor formed by the Santa Lucias to the West and the Gavilans to the East, drawing a mass of cool air and fog southward from above the cold, 3,600m deep waters of Monterey Bay.
Just offshore lies a deep underwater canyon as large as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. As no major river presently lies at the head of it, it is theorized that the canyon came into existence millions of years ago as an ancient outlet of the Colorado River before it found its way to the Gulf of California.
Malvasia Bianca in sunlight, Santa Lucias in the background.
Malvasia late afternoon, same viewpoint, cooled by fog.
Muscat Canelli and John, Summer 2012
11,000 acres comprise the Spur Ranch, founded shortly after turn of the last century. Along with herds of Black Angus and a handful of hungry Zebras, there is a limestone bench here at the Southern end of the Gavilan range with some very interesting mourvèdre planted at 300m elevation on the south side of Chalone peak, which we put to good use as a component for our Vin Gris.
St Georges Pinot
The St. Georges hails primarily from a site just below the start of the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, planted to a variety of selections of Pinot there, a shy 50' too low in elevation to qualify it for the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Carefully farmed by the Saints George Jr. and Sr., and planted in a mix of decomposed granitic and sandy loam soils, these 25 year-old vines produce Spinal Tap Stonehenge-sized berries on very small clusters. Our preference is to avoid fire-breathing pinots, and with this vineyard we find once again that the native yeast does a fine job for us. With the 2012 vintage, for the St Georges we are complementing the original site's fruit with a little pinot from higher up in the Santa Cruz Mountains proper.
St Georges Zinfandel
Planted by a bootlegger in 1922, this ungrafted old vine zinfandel has been under the protection of the Besson family, de père en fils for the past ninety years. Nestled up against the Eastern edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, morning and afternoon sun and marine-moderated night here permit full expression and flavor development without requiring raisination and ruination by fire-breathing degrees of alcohol.