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The Best of 52 Weeks – And the Winners Are…

December 30, 2010 The Press 1 Comment

So as promised, the best of 52 Weeks with California wine. In most cases, it was hard to select winners. I had so many great experiences over the year that it was hard to say the what is listed below were the best. But you have to pick someone. And the winners are…

Best Interview

A tie!

Nick de Luca – Dierberg & Starlane (but now with Ground Effect Wine Co.)

Nick has traveled the world, crashed a lot on his bike, and made a lot of good wine. He reads turn of the century gardening books and is said to have a pretty killer bocce ball court at home. He is also one of the nicest people I met this year and an incredibly talented winemaker.

I love vineyards, the research side of learning about vineyards now that I am into all of the arcane gardening textbooks. You know what it is; it’s really just the psychology. I love selling people grapes because I love walking the vineyard with them and trying to understand what they’re seeing. I see the world this way, and that grass is green, but what does green look like to you? Are you seeing something I would call blue?…It was Don Blackburn who said, ‘wine business is people business’. When you start to consider people are a part of your terroir, it changes everything…it’s the people, it’s the psychology.”

Victor Gallegos – Sea Smoke

Victor would be one of the other nicest people I have met in the past 52 weeks. He makes wine at Sea Smoke and for his own project in Spain. He has an infectious laugh and charming smile. The conversation was great and I have to say, I was a bit biased after spending a beautiful afternoon drinking Pinot with him on the top of a hill overlooking Sea Smoke. It is a fantastic place.

“This is probably one of the least likely places to produce great Pinot Noir. No really.”

“Let me qualify that,” Victor began. “Let’s say you’re a guy with money and you love Pinot Noir and you’re looking for a place where you are going to start your passion project and you were taking Burgundy as your benchmark. If you started comparing Burgundy to here, this looks like a spectacularly bad idea. Let’s start with the fact that Pinot Noir is a cool climate grape. Burgundy is that. Burgundy is at the latitude of the Willamette Valley. Right here, we are standing at the latitude of Tunisia, so that’s strike number one. Second, Burgundy is a pretty wet place in addition to being cool. We’re in the middle of a semi-desert called Southern California. Then, if that weren’t bad enough, [you have] all the solar and day length of being at the latitude of Tunisia, and in this instance (Sea Smoke), you are all south facing and at elevation. So it doesn’t look like a bright idea at all. As Wes (Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe) has told you, the big mitigating factor is Pt. Arguello and Pt. Conception which sparing the plate tectonics lesson, creates the Santa Ynez Range so you get this funnel. That’s what makes what would otherwise not be a Pinot Noir region a Pinot Noir region…Kudos to Richard [Sanford] for figuring it all out.”

Best Winemaker

Adam Tolmach – The Ojai Vineyard

I had a lot of good wine this year, but none better or more genuinely crafted than Adam’s. From stunning Rhone reds to crisp bright Riesling, everything he works with is at the highest level of varietal expression. For something really special, try some of his older vintages, age does these beauties well.

“My inspiration has always been France…They have been making wines for years and years so you have to look at that, and see what that sense of balance is, and what that means for the wines and grab all of that and try to make the best possible wines. For me, some of the wines that are absolutely fascinating are from forward thinking people that kind of have their little Californian style almost. I am kind of looking at that melding of California and European stuff, but mostly French because I am a real fan of the Rhone north and south and Burgundy.”

Most Promising Brand

Municipal Winemakers

Dave Potter is a bit like Bryan Cranston’s character Walter White in Breaking Bad. He is smart, savvy, and knows how to cook up batches of wine that leave people jonesing for more. But it isn’t the good juice that is going to make Dave a wine superstar, it’s his insane brilliance for marketing.

“With my back labels, I try to put a lot of information on it”, he explained. “I almost take it like…when you are a kid and you are eating cereal and you just stare at the back of the cereal box for the whole breakfast. It’s kind of the same idea, the bottle is on the table the whole time you are eating dinner, it’s kind of nice to pick it up. How long does dinner take…an hour? You have all this time.” The idea is not a new one. “I’m not going to take credit for it, that’s Ridge,” he explains. “They’ve always had labels like that, where it’s like: ‘I was walking in the vineyard in late October and I knew, that 1976 was going to be a vintage to remember’, you know? It’s cool. There’s something intimate about the winemaker sitting down and just jotting down a couple thoughts of…the year, how he made it, and what his impression of the wine is.”

Best Vineyard Experience


Jordan holds a special place in my heart. For starters, they threat me like a long lost friend, but to be honest, they treat all of their guests like that. I had the immense priviledge of staying at Jordan in the early Summer. Aside from the warm welcome from John Jordan and Lisa Mattson and the rest of the staff, I had no better time this year than spending an hour or so by myself walking their glorious vineyard early in the morning. The vineyards are incredibly sustainable and the balance between farming practices and nature is simply stunning.

“We have become better stewards of the land,” John says. “There has been an enormous list of projects that cost a fortune, but they had to be done.” Projects range from a new energy efficient roof to future plans to meet the wineries energy needs with solar power. One such project was an extensive soil mapping study conducted by Brent Young, Jordan’s Viticulturalist. By analyzing different soil types, their nutrient composition and water retention abilities, Young and Jordan’s Vineyard Manager Dana Grande can customize their farming practices from block to block and even on specific rows. John explains that with the help of GPS equipment they can now determine “down to within two feet what drains where in the different soil types.” That detailed level of information allows them to customize their farming techniques row by row. The result is a more efficient use of water and reduced electricity use. Cover crops can also be adjusted for each block or row, thus putting the proper nutrients back into the appropriate soils.

Best Overall Experience

Dierberg & Starlane

I had Nick de Luca up for best interview, which he tied, best winemaker, and Dierberg & Starlane up for best vineyard experience. I guess I like Nick. I don’t know how to sum it up other than to say that this was the afternoon that made over my mind that I wanted to work with wine. The vineyards, beautiful. The conversation, fasinating. The wine, delescious. Nick recently left Dierberg & Starlane (which also has the Three Saints brand) to pursue his own project, Ground Effects Wine Co. While I was shocked to hear of his departure, I am excited to try what he does next. It would no doubt be fantastic.

Favorite Story

Bonny Doon – Slaying the Beast

When writing about Randall Grahm, there is a lot to write about, so much that I wrote two stories about him and Bonny Doon. I really love “Slaying the Beast” though because I pushed myself so much on it. It’s over the top, but hey, so is Randall! Bonny Doon was one of my best personal discoveries last year and I am excited to see what Mr. Doon builds in the near future. My ponytail is off to you sir!

“I don’t want to make wines to specifically pander to consumer’s tastes. I won’t ever, ever, have anything like a focus group. I would never make a wine that I didn’t prefer, imagining that the customers would prefer it. If I did that, all would be lost.”

“I enjoy [marketing], but it’s like, I could imagine enjoying crack cocaine too. It’s too easy for me to kind of get trapped in marketing world and focus too much of my efforts in that realm and not enough in the other (winemaking).  On the other hand, for me it’s very hard to always know how to use my time. When you need to sell wine, when you must sell wine, it’s hard not spending more time thinking about how to sell more wine.”

So what will next year bring? It’s almost time to find out.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Randall Grahm. Randall Grahm said: Thanks to @wkelterer for Best of 52 Weeks – Favorite Story, "Bonny Doon – Slaying the Beast." […]

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