Last Saturday I attended the Califermentation 2016 tasting at Terroir wine bar in San Francisco, where 20+ producers with a natural wine profile presented their wines.
My impressions were somewhat similar to what I have experienced previously in European tastings of natural wines. There are many wines with very strong personality, but quality is somewhat uneven. My overall impression were positive and it was a great introduction to the natural wine movement in California.
When evaluating the wines you have to respect that many of the producers have started their production the last few years and when it comes to quality and finess it is not fair to compare them with 3rd generation Burgundy producers that have 30 vintages with the same vineyards under their belt. Many of the producers at an event like this have only produced a couple of vintages and are still experimenting with new grapes, methods and vineyards.
An important difference compared with many natural wine makers I have met in Europe is that most producers here source the grapes from growers. I find this a bit problematic since everyone seems to agree that the most important work of winemaking is made in the vineyards. Still my impression is that many of the producers I met have a rather close cooperation with the growers and they have a good influence on the work in the vineyards.
Some other short observations from the event are:
- There were less wines with brett then I expected and have experienced in similar events previously.
- These wines were much more energetic and with better acidity than many of the wines I previously have tried from California.
- There is a treasure of old vines in California. This was perhaps not news to me, but it was an important reminder that you should search beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir when looking for quality wine in California.
I did not make extensive notes about each wine I tasted, but the following are som short comments per producer.
Black Trumpet Wine
Rather thick and intense Syrah wines with an abundance of dark berries, but also a good acidic backbone to ensure the wines do not get heavy.
Donkey & Goat Winery
A rather juicy Pinot Gris with a slight oxidative style and a rather broad citric acidity. They also presented a Syrah and Merlot wine, both with a rather dark fruit but also a very present and driving acidity.
Enfield Wine Co.
Their Chardonnay had a good juicy character on the nose and palate but there was a slightly oaky bitterness in the finish. The acidity had clear notes of grape fruit. They also presented a Pinot Noir with a rather energetic style dominated by the acidity and some young red fruit.
I only tried their Chardonnay, which had an oxidative character and notes of grape and oranges on the palate. I would have preferred more acidity in this wine to give some tension.
Haarmeyer Wine Cellars
I only tried a Chenin blanc pétillant that had a very soft profile and lacking acidity.
Their Pinot Noir had some slight brett notes on the nose but on the palate it showed nice red fruit and a good acidity. I also tried their Grenache Mourvedre and Syrah mix and their Alturas which is only Syrah. The latter was my favourite, showing both bright fruit, an earthiness, minerals but also a very vibrant acidity. Very interesting wine.
I only tried their Rousanne and Marsanne blend that had a rather broad fruity nose with a fresh expression. On the palate it was more fruit driven and with a very soft acidity.
Hobo Wine Co.
Good and well balanced wines. Their Chardonnay had a racy acidity, good personality and showing nice fruit notes on the palate. The Pinot Noir was rather fruit driven but not without layers and complexity. They also presented a Syrah wine with fresh fruit and nice perfume on the nose.
They presented two white wines, one blend and one Grenache Blanc, both showing a rather fresh but dense fruit that was well balanced by the acidity. The Grenache Blanc had some oak notes on the palate. The red wines were based on Merlot and Primitivo (zinfandel) and both had a rather energetic and driving acidity but also a pure bright fruit.
Their wines had a profile with rather bright young fruit and a vibrant acidity. There where also some rather green notes in the Cabernet Franc and some green peppers in the Cabernet Sauvignon.
They offered a fresh and mouthwatering Albarino wine and two versions of their Barbera, one with and one without SO2 added. The Barberas had great fruit and acidity on the palate but a slight brettiness on the nose. They also had a blend of Merlot, Barbera and Petite Sirah that was rather dense and had some notes of ink.
Les Lunes & Populis
I only tried their Chardonnay and the Rose based on Carignan. My favourite was the Chardonnay that had a rather complex expression with, racy acidity, minerals and fresh mouthwatering fruit notes. Very charming wine. The Rose also had a fresh expression and with a slight strawberry note on the palate.
Methode Sauvage Wine Co.
This producer presented wines base on the Loire grapes Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. I was impressed by their wines that had good balance and precision but also personality. There was a clear connection with the wines from Loire.
Old World Winery
A producer based in Russian River Valley where they own and cultivate their vineyards themselves. Their wines showed great intensity on the fruit and acidity. My favourite was their Syrah wine named Flow. It had dark and dense fruit but also a precise acidity.
Ruth Lewandowski Wines
They presented a white Grenache Gris from old vines and with a oxidative style. This wine had a strong personality and for me it would require some food. They also presented a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon with a rather dense and dark fruit.
The Scholium Project
Presented two well balanced wines from very old vines of Cinsault and Zinfandel. I was surprised to notice that the Zinfandel was my favourite, showing a rather dense fruit core that was carried well by the acidity, resulting in a powerful yet fresh wine.
Presented a fresh and forward Chardonnay dominated by its acidity, and two red wines, one Syrah and one Cabernet Pfeffer, also with an energetic acidity but also with bright fruit notes.
Stirm Wine Co.
This producer focus on Riesling wines and presented three wines from 2015 and one 2014 for comparison. I was impressed by their wines that showed great fruit notes, good personality and a rather careful but good acidity. I was also happy not to find a dominance of petroleum notes which I feared from a warm region like California.
Unturned Stone Productions
Presented two vintages of a wine based on a Bordeaux blend. Both wines had a rather youthful character and would probably integrate better with time. There are green paprika, cedar, black fruit, but also a racy acidity and some grippy tannins. These wines and the producer will be interesting to follow.
Presenting one Carignan and two Cabernet Sauvignon wines. I liked the two Cabernet Sauvignon wines very much and they showed a rather dense concentration on the fruit, some green paprika and a mouthwatering acidic expression.
There were a few more producers represented but unfortunately I did not get to taste them this time.
Finally I would also like to say thanks to the Califermentation team and Terroir for a great tasting.
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