And now, on to something completely different! This year marked the 7th edition of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, which I will heretofore call the Wine Whatever Conference to avoid any confusion about who attends, what we do and what happens during it.
Arriving in the area several days prior to the conference to take care of some family obligations, and a general need to run away and hide, I arrived in Los Olivos before my #QPB
(more on that later) and found myself with some time to wander before the pre-pre-conference got under way. Not knowing where I should taste, I texted my friend, Tercero
winemaker Larry Schaeffer, who told me (warned them?) to head over to Alta Maria
, on main street in Los Olivos. Little did I know that this would be a very popular stop on this day!
As I walked in, I noticed the info sign welcoming the Wine Bloggers. I wasn’t quite sure how to break it to them, that they were in for a wild and crazy weekend, but Stephanie was excited to share the wines, and tell me a bit more about their methodology. As luck would have it, winemaker Paul Wilkins was in the house, and I was able to spend some time learning about his philosophy on winemaking for both Alta Maria, and his own label, Autonom. I was also able to taste through the Native9 wines, a special project of viticulturist James Ontiveros. But more on that later!
Alta Maria specializes in small production, artisan wines, with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cool climate of Santa Maria Valley. Alta Maria also focuses on making wines in the most environmentally friendly way possible, with organic and sustainable practices, including making the place and the people who are part of the process, sustainable.
Winemaker Paul Wikins as a third generation farmer, who fell in love with wine when he attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Vitculturist James Ontiveros has deep roots in California, with a long hitsory of farming in California – his ancestors were Mexican land grant recipients, and while Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard is not part of the original family holdings, it does represent the long history in the area. Together, Paul & James focus on the unique Burgundian style of Alta Maria, along with personal (and collaborative) projeccts of Autonom and Native9. Together, they strive to make appellation specific and terroir driven wines. It was hard to pick out my favorites, but here are some of my highlights:
- 2012 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay – 80% stainless steel, 20% neural oak. Aged sur lie, this high acid bright white wine had lush lemons, fresh lemonade, and a hint of fresh cream. The intense mineral finish had a touch of kumquat. This is what California chardonnay should be! Somewhat of a comeback kid, with the 2011 and 2010 harvests being botriyticized, this wine is primarily made from Block W in Bien Nacido Vineyard. These 40 year old vines are still going strong.
- 2011 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir – 40 year Pommard vineyard, 100% whole cluster fermentation lends itself to the best kind of funk possible. Luscious, with savory meat and bacon fat but a zingy finish.
- 2010 Native9 Pinot Noir – a classic in the making, made from a blend of 8 clones planted in the Rancho Ontiveros vineyard. This property is high on a ridge in Santa Maria Valley, and this dark, juicy baby opens up to baking spice, dried cherry and black pepper. The 8 clones in the field give it a very savory and herbal edge, while maintaining the core of Pinot Noir flavors.
- 2010 Autonom Red Rhône Cuvee – Knowing that I am a Rhone Head, I was very excited to taste these wines. While I had enjoyed all of the Burgundian varietals, the Red Cuvee, made of 80% Syrah, and 20% Grenache. While each vintage is unique, this bottle had the inky depth of a Syrah with the juicy pop of cherry that Grenache brings.
- 2010 Autonom Grenache – yes, I admit it. I love Grenache. I might even run away with it. This is no exception to why I love this grape so much. Planted in 1964, the Nielson vineyard in a warm corner of Santa Maria Valley, and the more recently planted Thompson Vineyard makes up the balance of the blend. Bing cherry, green fig, hibiscus, tobacco leaf. A sweet and savory treat in your mouth.
- 2010 Autonom Syrah – Speaking of fun, come meet the Syrah. As the name indicates, the Law of Proportions Syrah blends two vineyards (63% Thompson, 37% Laetitia) from very different terroirs. The resulting blend is mostly warmer climate (Thompson) but with the depth and richness of the cool climate fruit. Dark purple plums, cigar box, blackberry jam.
Suffice it to say, I bought more than a little wine while visiting Stephanie & Paul! I am looking forward to revisitng them soon, and seeing how the wines develop in my glass…and my cellar.If you are heading down to Los Olivos, be sure to stop in and say hello!