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Regarding the Roussanne, that's a variety that we love as well, and we think many other people in the United States would like it if they'd heard about it yet! A lot of people have tried it — because it's the main variety of [white] Chateauneuf-du-Pape — and just not realized it. Plus, you don't see it that much in the U.S. It's such an aromatic and very pretty white wine with a very nice mouthfeel. It's a wine that we get great responses on, even though when you see it sitting on a shelf you may not recognize it by its name.
Finally, we have a rosé made from the Syrah we source from the Fiddletown vineyard. It's a dry rosé made very much in the style of Southern France. And it's a unique wine. I mean, there are other producers doing that in the United States, but we do ours barrel fermented in neutral oak where it spends some time on the lees for several months. It's neutral oak, so it doesn't impart any oak flavor, but there are other things that barrels do for a wine, and that's what we're trying to achieve. What's kind of neat is that it takes on a bit of a salmon hue after it's been in the barrel for a little while and the mouthfeel is little rounder. Overall, it's a more complex wine than a lot of other bright rosés that come out of a stainless steel tank after just a couple of months. And there's nothing wrong with those wines, but that's what a lot of rosés in the United States are made like. Ours is something that's actually more similar to the wines of the south of France, even though those wines, of course, are unique in their own ways. But the idea was to produce something like that. Shala and I have spent some time in the south of France, and when you go there you see all these beautiful salmon-colored rosés in the villages, so we thought it would be something unique and interesting for us to do. You're probably picking up a theme here. Being so small, we want to produce wines that are something unique. As a small producer, we can't make a wine that is just like any Chardonnay you might find on a store shelf — that wouldn't satisfy us and it wouldn't satisfy the people drinking it either. So, certainly there are personal reasons for the wines that we produce, but I think there are also reasons that people who taste our wines would respond to.
NM: Now, let's focus on the vineyards from which you're sourcing your fruit. First off, you've got contractual agreements with these growers, correct?
KL: We do, yes. We have specific blocks within the vineyards that we work with. We don't just show up in the fall and ask about what they have; we actually have specific areas that we know we're going to be getting fruit from. And fortunately, we've got fantastic growers all very personally involved in getting out there in the vineyards and doing the work that needs to be done. The good thing with these growers being so talented and so established is that we don't really have to fix problems in the vineyards. Some winemakers you hear about spend all this time in the vineyard fixing things that might be going on. Each one of our growers has been so nice to work with; we haven't had to deal with those kinds of problem issues, it's always about good stuff. When we go up there, it's more about questions and suggestions than it is about taking care of problems. The other thing is that we work with other winemakers. In Santa Lucia Highlands, we actually split that block with Sasha Verhage from Eno Wines. We go down to that vineyard together at times — and that's great because it's a really nice collaborative effort, in that case, of being able to be down there and talk about things that are going on.
NM: How did you decide on those specific vineyards, and to what extent are you part of the decision-making that goes into raising the vines whose fruit you're sourcing?
KL: It's different with each vineyard. We started working with the Fairview Ranch Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) because one of the wineries that we'd been working with had already been working with that vineyard. And so, like a lot of winemakers, when we were working with those other wineries, we got the chance to produce a small amount of our own wine. We got to really experience several vintages of that vineyard before we ever produced our own wine from it, and certainly well before we produced any commercial wine from there. So we've really seen that vineyard evolve from year to year. Having had that experience helped us to make decisions about how we may want to work with that vineyard — which clones or what percentage of the clones we may use from there, when we would pick, how procedures and challenges are handled in the vineyard. Those things are primarily in the hands of the grower, but we certainly have input into some of those processes because we're working with growers who, in the end, want good wines made out of their vineyards just as much as we do. It's very much a two-way relationship; we're very thankful that these growers are so talented and at the same time there are winemaking things that are different but go hand in hand with the growing.