Tuesday, April 29th 2008
It was the middle of April, and I was late for my tasting appointment at Au Bon Climat (ABC) and QUPE. The winery is well off the beaten path, and as its bucolic setting eases one’s stress, its rural roads work in opposition to that soothing effect. The road construction, slow farm equipment, and nearly invisible road signs combine to assure you can’t make up lost time.
About fifteen minutes after leaving Hwy 101 the thought "I must have missed a turn" persists for several minutes regardless of reassurances from re-checked directions. If you can find a moment to notice the grape vines around you, you’ll see they are in just second or third leaf, well behind vines in most other areas – testament to the cool temperatures that prevail in the Santa Maria Valley. Which is why the cool Santa Maria Valley AVA is so well known for Pinot Noir and Burgundian Chardonnay.
Eventually you come to the instruction on your printed directions, and pull into the driveway of the winery seen in the photo above. This winery turns out to be Tantara, just down the road from ABC. Fortunately, the Tantara folks are well accustomed to sending the directionally challenged farther down the dirt road to ABC/QUPE.
Once inside the facility I saw lunch preparations underway in a well-equipped commercial kitchen. This is a daily occurrence at the winery and it seems a wise one both for the commraderie it builds, the chance for cross-functional dialogue, and the fact that no other food is available for many miles.
Jim Clendenen was in town the day I was there, very capably managing chef duties for his crew of a dozen or so. We were all seated around a wooden table that must have been 25 feet long, hewn from a single piece of wood about four inches thick (partially visible in the photo here).
Though the photo is small, Jim Clendenen’s niece Marisa (the red head in the green top) is also visible. Marisa is learning winemaking at Jim’s elbow and in her degree program, while getting retail sales experience at Tastes of the Valleys, where you can see her on Monday’s (more often during summer break). Not surprisingly, nobody does a better job representing the ABC/QUPE wines.
While at the winery, we opened over a dozen wines and enjoyed them with a wonderfully spicy Mexican dish Jim had been hankering ever since a disappointingly bland meal at Bobby Flay’s new restaurant in New York two days prior. I was fortunate enough to be the only "Trade guest" that day, able to enjoy an hour of uninterrupted conversation with ABC’s Jim Clendenen and QUPE’s Bob Lindquist. Between these two winemakers and their various projects, there are easily more than 50 different wines produced at this facility. We tasted a scant handful:
Rose, ($14). Grenache (90%) and Mourvedre (10%). Louisa Lindquist, Winemaker. Picked at 21-22 Brix – in other words, grapes grown and harvested with rose in mind. Many roses are a by-product of making a red wine more concentrated (saignee). Such wines are from grapes picked at the higher brix (sugar content, a measure of a grape’s ripeness) appropriate for a red wine, and can be lifeless and dull unless acidulated.
Verdad Albarino – Though this wine is in very limited availability, I’d like to bring it to you, and we are checking on this possibility.
Marsanne ’07 (12% Rousanne). A nice wine. We’ll likely make this available in our wine shop this summer, where you can try a taste for a few measly bucks.
Roussanne ’05 BN Hillside Estate X Block ($40) This rich mouthful is one of my favorite wines from Bob Lindquist. A meal in itself, it provides an attractive alternative for lovers of big Chardonnays, but great structure keeps this wine from crossing over to the dark side of cloying, instead keeping it interesting and inviting one back for another sip. The acidity also makes it age-worthy – it is now approaching its prime.
Syrah ’05 Bien Nacido Hillside This wine, being released this fall, is perhaps Bob Linduist’s best known wine. Watch for my announcement later this summer – we’ll be hosting Bob at a release party at the Tastes of the Valleys wine shop.
Los Olivos ’06 Cuvee ($25). A delicious blend of Syarh, Mourvedre and Grenache. Watch for this wine in a future shipment of Maya’s Selections!
"X Block Syrah" ($75) Every winery has a wine like this. The Winemaker’s pet project. Never quite ready for release. With a label that is never quite right. If and when it gets released, I’ll look forward to providing it. It will be worth waiting for.
Au Bon Climat
Skin & Bones ’06 Riesling. Crisp, mouth-watering and refreshing, with 6.8 TA. A fun and interesting take, more Austrian than German in its inspiration.
Flowers & Beads ‘06 Sauvignon Blanc (Summer of Love “40 years on”) $18. This fun wine was produced as an homage to the 40th reunion of the Summer of Love.
’06 Pinot Noir, Sanford & Benedict $50, ’06 Pinot Noir, Talley Rincon $40 and ’05 Pinot Noir, Los Alamos $35 (impressive value! This wine will appear in our August shipment of "Miles’ Pinot Selections"). All of Jim’s wines are built to last, and his pinots tend to blossom after a few years of bottle age. The ’06 wines were a bit young for me, though their potential was already evident. I eagerly await their maturity. Buy now and hold.
The ’05 from the Los Alamos Vineyard was drinking quite nicely, and is a current recommendation. These wines can be purchased and tasted in the coming months at our wine shop in Solvang, where the ABC/Qupe wines are always available for tasting.
Bricco Buon Natale, ’00 Nebbiolo/Barbera $18. This wine is an amazing value, which often happens when a legendary winemaker produces a great wine from little-known grapes not currently on the radar of most wine buyers. Watch for this wine in a future shipment of "Jack’s Selections"!
Dave the Wine Merchant
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