Selections for July 2017

Stolpman x 2

2012 STOLPMAN PETITE SIRAH – Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County

It’s difficult to maintain focus in an industry where there is so much that is good, so much to know, and so many potential relationships to start then foster.  The idea of something new always being on the horizon is irresistible to wine lovers.  For retail to thrive novelty must be allowed, but a sense of continuity must also be maintained.  We want you to get to know a particular place featuring a particular producer making particular wines, and to preserve that awareness by repeatedly carrying that same product.  You follow?

And so we choose Pete Stolpman, or he chose us – or you, based on your continuing approval, chose us both.  Pete and The Wine Steward have a good thing going on; something well worth the maintenance of focus on one great brand from one great place.  His family owns a beautiful property in Santa Barbara County.  At one time it was represented as “Santa Ynez Valley” on its bottlings, but more recently the Stolpmans helped spearhead the drive to name this special locale more site-specifically.  As of just a few years ago, “Ballard Canyon” may now appear on the labels of Stolpman and its small but proudly regional group of neighbors. 

While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive just west of here in the Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area, the slightly warmer Ballard Canyon AVA is largely planted to Rhone varietals.  Of those, Syrah tops the acreage list.  Stolpman bottles several Syrah renditions from its place.  We will show these and many other beautiful Stolpman-derived wines when Pete visits once again in November, but in the meantime let’s have a look at a different (albeit related) variety, Petite Sirah.  This grape is represented by just six acres in Ballard Canyon, versus nearly three hundred acres of Syrah.  It is the “son” of Syrah and Peloursin, the result of an inadvertent cross-pollination in a French nursery in the 1860’s.  While we identify it as a Rhone varietal, most of southern France has removed its plantings.  The early admiration for its resistance to mildew faded as winemakers decided it didn’t make a very interesting wine.  California is now Petite’s main proponent, but even here it occupies but a minor market niche. 

No matter:  This one’s a great foot forward for the grape.  The deep ruby / maroon color virtually glows.  The perfume encompasses both blackberry cobbler and a pleasingly aggressive pencil lead vibrancy.  On the palate, freshness and juiciness keep the sense of decadence barely in check.  The tannins one anticipates from Petite Sirah are certainly present, but the pleasurable fruit richness accommodates, almost necessitates, them. 

Our relationship with Pete and the size of the order we could give him (your numbers matter!) result in a price much lower than the winery itself asks for this bottle.  We hope you’ll recognize the goodness of this rare Petite Sirah from a good friend and come back for more!

In Praise of Grenache

2012 STOLPMAN GRENACHE – Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County

We have carried this wine before, but never at this price.  Your club numbers and Pete Stolpman’s chance to get not one but two of his wines into your bag accommodated a big wholesale discount dispensation.  A wine we sold for nearly $35 is now, rarely and temporarily, far less.

Grenache is the workhorse of France’s Southern Rhone; the base of nearly every Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend.  Its presence in Spain, Italy, Australia, and many other wine realms amount to its being the most planted red wine variety in the world.  Its challenge:  A bigger berry and a thinner, lighter-colored skin, making for a more delicately colored wine (one reason for the common Syrah adjustment).  Its attributes of sweet perfume and charming berry and cherry fruit easily compensate, and a great Grenache will also feature more intriguing nuances such as tobacco, white pepper, wood smoke, and dried herbs.  Because of its delicacy and fragrance we often identify this wine as “The Pinot Noir of the Rhone.”

Grenache is also subject to weak, even watery flavors when relentlessly irrigated and over-cropped; its yields can be prodigious.  The thoughtful grower must restrain the vine to achieve the beautiful character you’re discovering in this example.  Two tons per acre or less is often the needed yet economically unfeasible take.  The price of California real estate combined with this varietal’s low crop requirement make great Grenache an expensive delicacy.  The strength of the relationship between Pete Stolpman and The Wine Steward helps make this lovely wine a bit more attainable. 

Indulge in this with a Pinot Noir-style glass.  Serve at cellar temperature.  Consider pork roast as a food mate!       

See you in November, Pete!