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Quite recently, and in further alignment with Jacques' vision, the winery has thrust itself with vigor in a direction beyond mere site-specific planting, to one that is nothing short of environmentally sustainable and ecologically symbiotic. Spearheading its "Green Initiative," winemaker Mike has led an entire team of vineyard workers and cellar staff in taking the estate through its second year of certification by the California Certified Organic Farmers, with the ultimate goal of being officially granted an even more rigorous biodynamic status. Even with pest management being an issue of grave concern in the raising of vines, the vineyard team at Michel-Schlumberger remains dedicated in its collaboration with the local ecosystem by eschewing herbicides altogether, in favor of only organically approved spraying. To address the otherwise destructive burrowing of gophers underneath the vines, nature herself is made to shoulder the burden through the implementation of one technique that, as a city dweller, I found unexpected and fascinating: tall landing posts strategically distributed throughout the vineyards, from which predatory birds readily swoop down on the pesky rodents. No fuss, no muss. And even when such practices fall short of their intent, rather than impulsively reverting to mainstream, tried and true — but environmentally destabilizing — methods, Mike and his team seize those opportunities to more finely tweak their sustainable practices, with continued patience and greater determination, never losing sight of their pledge to the environment.
"I'm not sure we can make a big, fat, juicy gumball without compromising the style of what grows naturally here."
As we descended from the steep hills on which the seemingly countless rows of vines held firm, we headed along the last of the winding trails back to the winery. Mike and Jay invited us inside for what turned out to be a relaxed wine tasting on a secluded corner of the cool, tiled terrace behind the main tasting room. There, waiting for us, were bottles from the currently released portfolio: the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Chardonnay, along with the proprietary Deux Terres, the reserve Cabernet. As we all sat down together, I tasted the wines one by one, while listening to our winemaker share his experiences as the cellar master of Michel-Schlumberger. What immediately struck me, in tasting these wines, was evidence of an old world influence in the winemaking. Among the reds, I found an unexpected restraint of fruit that tended towards the soft and feminine, almost demure, but which was counterbalanced with a prominent backdrop of bright acidity and ripe tannin. This was coupled with aromas and flavors that were unmistakably meaty and earthy — qualities we rarely find in the wines of California, let alone in Sonoma. At a time when hugely extracted, high alcohol, palate-fatiguing wines are consistently rewarded with high marks in the press for their flamboyance of fruit, it was a pleasure to taste ones that were decidedly atypical in their food-friendliness. "I'm not sure we can make a big, fat, juicy gumball without compromising the style of what grows naturally here," Mike said in response to my observations. It was a testament to the winery's dedication of staying true to its role as steward of the land, and acting as our liaison for the rich story it has to tell. And how inspiring it was to lay witness firsthand to the fruitful interconnection of it all. Needless to say, the visit left a long, lingering finish on my palate.
To have a taste of the Michel-Schlumberger experience yourself, contact C. Milan Communications or visit Michel-Schlumberger online. In addition to its Green Tour, the winery offers to the public a number of other personalized tasting and touring options, all by appointment.