Sunday, February 27, 2011

Clos Pepe, Cold Heaven and Longoria


Since we were due to pick up our first Longoria shipment of the year, we decided to make a full day out of the trip to Los Olivos. At first we were thinking about heading to the beginning of Foxen, but at Larry Shaffer's (of Tercero and Fess Parker) suggestion we scheduled a tour at Clos Pepe, then worked back towards Los Olivos.

Clos Pepe Vineyard

Bar none, this was the most interesting, thorough and hospitable vineyard tour and tasting I've had the chance to enjoy. Wes Hagen, winemaker and grower at Clos Pepe, leads the tour and is a fountain of information. Tours are only given once a day, at 10:30 AM, and for good reason: it's thorough. We started off with a quick introduction to the sheep, dogs and even chickens on the estate. The sheep are used to mow down the cover crop between rows, which is important for nitrogen fixation. To protect the sheep, a mastiff stands guard against any intruders such as coyotes.

Next we moved onto a brief tutorial on pruning and general background on the vineyard. The vines are cordon trained, meaning there is a permanent, lignified, thick piece of vine running horizontally. The previous vintage's canes are then clipped down to the cordon leaving behind only a spur with a bud on it. On each cordon there are about five spurs, and each vine had two cordons. The vineyard as a whole is oriented with rows running from north to south. Wes Hagen commented that while in the Old World south-facing vines are more typical to encourage ripeness, in California there is ample sunshine. Thus the orientation is chosen to limit exposure such that the fruit can hang longer before it reaches sugar maturity. Wes joked that whenever he comes back from France, he has to forget everything he learns about viticulture. Of course, there was mention of the transverse (east-west running) mountain range due to the peculiar tectonic action in this corner of the world as well the the diatomaceous earth that provides the soil with silica and calcium.

The tasting took place in the Pepe's home--incredible hospitality if you ask me. Wes provided a cheese course--Gouda, (real) Cheddar, Camembert and goat cheese--along with the five wines. Notes are below. All the while Wes provided commentary on a variety of topics. On sulfites, he noted you can't fear them as a winemaker. And while Clos Pepe is farmed organically, he had strong words along the lines of "organic is BS" in terms of the organic movements as a whole. For him it appears organic farming is a means to an end--better wine. But it's not reasonable in his mind to demand all types of farming pursue organic techniques at this point. He also suggested that often it's good to let go as a wine drinker. Geek out when appropriate, but just enjoy it otherwise: "drink like a 5 year old." Another nugget was wine is a craft, not art, like making a chair. This was one of those times where it was great just to sit back and absorb while listening to a very entertaining and informative lecture.

The tour and tasting wrapped up at about 1 PM.

  • 2009 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Very fresh, citrus and white stone fruits. Clean (precise), dry with a long finish. Minerality. Pears on the nose. Took a few minutes to open up--sulfites blowing off, perhaps?

    Fermented in neutral oak, goes through ML and aged on lees. But also has rippin good acidity. I love this style that gets the body and richness with balancing acidity and light-handed oak influence.

  • 2009 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Primary, but open. Plummy, red fruits, perfumed, sage. Some smokey flavor, integrated structure. Complete wine--beginning, middle and end--long finish. Tightly wound at present, though showing well.

  • 2007 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Cherry jam, spice, sage and ginger on the nose. More open than 2009. Structured with integrated oak. Pretty ripe on nose and by flavor, though not heavily extracted or alcoholic.

    Wes Hagen suggested 3-4 years further aging to bring out earthier characteristics.

  • 2006 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Favorite of tasting--seems to be at a really good spot right now. Earthy, mushroom, truffle, floral (rose) and mild spice. Good acidity and core of fruit. Integrated structure, fine tannin.

    Interesting to compare to the '06 Ojai Clos Pepe tasted a few months ago. The Ojai had a more extracted, baked fruit quality to my palate. Supposedly Ojai's was all Pommard clones, but I'm not sure if it was harvested later or treated differently otherwise.

  • 2008 Axis Mundi Syrah Sleepy Hollow Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands

    Meaty/bacon aromas, lavender, round fruit and zippy acidity. Very fruit-driven wine. Tannins not noted, but acidity gives it balance.

Cold Heaven

After the atypically long and interesting tour and tasting--plus lunch by the pond in Clos Pepe's vineyard--the Cold Heaven tasting was a more typical format. However, the wines are anything but typical. Cold Heaven's tasting room is a tasting bar at the front of their winery in Buellton. And by winery, I mean utilitarian space in a small industrial park. Exactly my style!

While Cold Heaven is best known for its Viognier from a variety of SBC vineyards (Le Bon Climat, Sanford and Benedict, Curtis and formerly Vogelzang), Morgan Clendenen's collaborative efforts with Condrieu vintner Yves Cuilleron and the remarkable Syrah should not be missed. Jeb Dunnick's Rhone Report totally nails it when it comes to Cold Heaven's wines, IMO. I'm just a 2nd assenting opinion here. If you like Syrah in a lower octane mold, this is the one to pursue. The 2004 is pretty funky, though, in an old world farmyard sense. The 2003 and 2005 are more spicy, floral and garrigue-laden with a core of fresh fruit.

  • 2008 Cold Heaven Sauvignon Blanc Strangelove - USA, California, Central Coast

    Peaches on the nose, fresh, high acid mouth watering sort of wine. Grapefruit pith on the finish. 50% stainless, 50% neutral oak.

  • 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier Le Bon Climat Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Continues to be favorite in Cold Heaven Viognier lineup. Perfumed, honeysuckle, great balance, medium body with med/high acidity. Combines the honeyed aromatics with unreal freshness and precision. Finishes with a bit of pith. World class stuff, IMO.

  • 2009 Cold Heaven Viognier - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Bigger bodied, lower acidity than Le Bon Climat--from Curtis Vineyard in warmer heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. Floral, spicey and a notion of toast--maybe some SO2? Solid wine, just isn't as racy as the Le Bon Climat.

  • 2007 Domaine des 2 Mondes Viognier Saints and Sinners Sanford & Benedict - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Floral, broadly textured yet finely woven, big, serious and tropical. This is the Viognier if you like Cali style Chardonnay--it's a white wine for red wine drinkers. But it is not overly oaky or toasty, just creamy, and the acidity is really lively underneath it all.

  • 2004 Cold Heaven Syrah Second Sin Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Smelling this immediately takes me to France--leathery/horsey aromas, earthy, tar and herbs. The palate is lively with good fruit and tannin. Definitely of a certain style, let's say just a wee bit Bretty. I suspect if poured side by side with some expensive French N. Rhone Syrahs or S. Rhone CdP it would more than hold its own due to the funk. Alas, I'm looking for something a bit cleaner from CA Syrah.

  • 2005 Cold Heaven Syrah Second Sin Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    The Syrah counterpart to the great Le Bon Climat Viognier. Very similar to the '03 vintage which was flat out one of the best Syrahs I've tasted. Elegantly styled, more fruit driven than the '04. Perfumed with spice and pepper. Firm tannin, lively acidity, creamy texture. Cold Heaven is known as a Viognier house, but the Syrahs are a hidden gem. 13.6% ABV, by the way, and not at all underripe in flavor.

Longoria Wines

This is our only wine club (or mailing list). The commitment is minimal--8 bottles per year--and we get to participate in the various open houses and special events. Plus, the wine is uniformly good to great. Definitely of the fruit-forward style, but with plenty of structure and acidity for larger framed wines. The Pinots are my favorites, and that's the overall consensus as well. Just another bandwagon for me to joyfully hop on, I suppose!

Richard Longoria is pretty old school. He's one of the originals in Santa Barbara County of the same generation as Jim Clendenen, Adam Tolmach and Richard Sanford. He's also very proud to have learned under Andre Tchelistcheff early in his career. But he's a quiet, unassuming sort of vintner, so he tends to fly under the radar, especially with the rapid growth in the post-Sideways era.

  • 2009 Longoria Pinot Grigio - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    See previous note. Varietally on-target, and priced fairly. One for sipping on a hot day or with the right food pairing.

  • 2009 Longoria Pink Wine Cuvee June - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Same experience as with my previous note. Watermelon and strawberry. But doesn't have the gum numbing acidity I look for in a rosé. Plenty of juicy fruit, just feels a little flat to my taste.

  • 2008 Longoria Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Loved the '07 vintage of this cuvee; this is just as good. A bit more acidic and lighter in weight with cranberry and cherry flavors. Mushrooms on the nose. Medium body, fresh, structured with fine tannin.

  • 2007 Longoria Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills

    Seems to be opening up. Shows mushroom and a definite spiciness. Full bodied and rich. Complex with firm structure. Plenty of fruit here, but not showing the baked edge to it I found in the '06. This looks like it'll get really good soon.

  • 2008 Longoria Tempranillo Clover Creek Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Big ripe fruit, but also tannic and tightly structured. This needs several years to unwind.

  • 2007 Longoria Syrah Alisos Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Huge structure! Tannic and acidic with dark fruit (berry, cassis) and complexing pepper and licorice aromas. Alisos isn't a truly cool climate vineyard, but isn't hot, either--this sits in that middle ground between the two poles. Big and ripe, yet structured and savory. Needs 3-5 years to unwind, I'd wager. Sometimes this bottling has a slightly porty feel to it; this is really chiseled. 6.9 g/L TA, 3.57 pH, 15.1% ABV.

  • 2009 Longoria Albariño Beso del Sol Clover Creek Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Delicious dessert wine with honeyed aromatics. The real quality here is lively acidity with a lighter texture than a typical sticky. 11.9% ABV, 12% RS (~120 g/L RS) and 6.6 g/L TA with 3.36 pH. Apparently the result of a heat spike roasting the fruit, but only enough so that it raisined a bit then developed with further hang time. A fortuitous accident of nature it seems, and just the sort of dessert wine I like.

All in all, a great day in the valley. I'll miss it when we move!


Jeff said...

Cool post. I feel lame for almost never getting to wine country. We live so close to Santa Barbara, and yet, we've never really managed to make it out to any of these interesting wineries. That's a shame. You've piqued my interest though. Maybe I'll be able to rectify that soon.

Did I hear you say you're moving? Just curious, where are you off to?

Cabfrancophile said...

You should definitely take a trip up here. Definitely folks like Wes Hagen would be right up your alley. Palmina might also be a good one for you, and the Lompoc "wine ghetto" is only getting bigger now.

I'll be moving to NM. No more CA wine country, and really there will be less wine in general I think. Not sure if I'll be maintaining the blog regularly at that point. I'm kind of at a plateau as far as self-education where there's plenty to learn still, but the marginal gains are much smaller compared to volume consumed and time applied. I'll definitely check out the NM wine scene with an open mind, though.

BTW, did you see HFF got a new swanky gig at Huffington Post?

Jeff said...

Yeah, I did see the Huffington Post thing....interesting. I'm not sure how I feel about the Huffington Post. Not really my favorite read, that's for sure.

I'm in a similar place with wine. I know enough to know what I like, and beyond that, it's difficult to get a Tiger to chance his stripes so to speak. I was thinking about maybe stopping at post 500.

New Mexico has to be cheaper than Santa Barbara...Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both supposed to be really cool. My fiancee's parents really like the balloon festival, and my little brother likes it enough in Santa Fe that he drives there once a year or so from Denver. I've never been, but I'd like to.

There's Gruet too...but I've heard mixes things about them.