A Story of Special Vineyards and Clones
With every release of Cattleya wines, my love for winemaking grows. Every vintage presents another chance to share the lessons and experiences of my winemaking journey with you and allows one more opportunity to build your trust in me as a winemaker.
If you have been following the evolution of Cattleya for some time now, you might understand the multitude of criteria and thought that goes into the selection of the vineyards for each of my wines. Determining the best sites allows me to maintain control over the vines and to concentrate on them with precision and care as the seasons pass.
The Fall 2021 release is a celebration of our best single vineyard wines, made from grapes grown in some of the most beautiful counties in California—Sonoma and Monterey. In this release you will find four wines, all very dear to me: a Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, the “Call to Adventure”; the “Belly of the Whale”, a Pinot Noir from a dramatic high elevation vineyard at the Sonoma Coast; and two spectacular Syrahs from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
This article will share the fine details of the vineyards from which each of these wines are grown, but it brings me the most pleasure to divulge the details behind my newest Syrah, The Reward, which are not so well-known. I am happy to share with you the story of the “Bibi clone” it was derived from as well as the location of the land where the vines are planted, both which contribute so much to the life and story of the wine.
I began my early years of training in France spending long hours working on the steep hillsides of the Côte-Rôtie appellation alongside remarkable mentors that thought me the art of farming vines one by one. Inspired by that initiation into winemaking, and aided by this wonderful mentorship, my goals as a winemaker were shaped.
Today, I focus my energy on making the best possible wine from vineyards I enjoy working with day after day, year after year.
Ten years later, it was on those same slopes that a great friend and viticulturist shared with me a very special clone (selection massale, really. Meaning, in short, containing more genetic diversity than a clonal selection). I was known by “Bibi” in France, and so he presented me with a bag simply labeled “Bibi”, which held precious grapevine clippings, propagated and prepared for me in the time-honored way by another esteemed viticulturist in Côte-Rôtie.
When I returned home from that trip with the clone in my suitcase, I decided to plant it at 1,400 feet elevation in the southern portion of the Santa Lucia Highlands. It was no easy decision to settle on the place to grow this special gift, but I am delighted to say that it is flourishing at Pisoni Vineyard on land my brother-in-law farms and where my husband is the vintner. Like choosing a clone, selecting vineyard sites is crucial if you are to craft distinguished wine. And here I want to divulge another secret: the method by which I choose my sites.
Bibiana tasting berries of Pinot Noir out of the destemmer. Photo Credit: Chris Andre.
Although hundreds of decisions great and small factor into these choices, they all begin by appraising the location of the land, including its slope and aspect (the direction in which the slope faces). Then I investigate the soil and consider the plant material and the rootstock. I look closely at the planting density as well as the canopy management next. Finally, I consider both the grower and owner’s philosophy.
After harvesting each block from all these very special blocks and vineyards, four wines were born from a fantastic vintage. I’m delighted to share them all with this release.
This year marks the last Call to Adventure vintage. The vintage is a wonderful testament to a singular Chardonnay, one which offers a very pure expression of its celebrated Russian River Valley AVA. The Russian River Valley is a place of almost impossible beauty, where distinct terroirs reign supreme. It was one of the first places I saw the incredible potential to apply my winemaking skills in California, where I heard my own call to adventure. After the fruit was hand sorted, the juice fermented in 30% new French oak barrels where it aged for 15 months.
My 2019 Cattleya Pinot Noir, the Belly of the Whale, provides me with an illustration of the beauty that follows in the wake of hard work. An almost perfect vintage, it is crafted from fruit grown at the Sun Chase Vineyard perched high on a west-facing slope in the southeastern portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA. Painstakingly hand-sorted, the fruit was cold-soaked before starting it’s fermentation and was ultimately racked to 50% new French oak barrels where it aged for 11 months.
2019 Cattleya The Initiation is always one of my very most special wines to make and a reminder of the very first barrel of wine made under this label. These grapes are grown at the Soberanes Vineyard, located in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The vines benefit from the vineyard’s sandy loam soils, which boast significant sub-soil boulders layered into the alluvial fan. The fruit was destemmed at 80%, allowing for 20% whole cluster inclusion and a long and slow maceration that took 32 days total. The wine aged for 16 months in 67% new French Oak barrels.
Sourced 100% from my “Bibi Clone” planted at the Pisoni Vineyards, the 2019 The Reward feels particularly aptly named this year. This block is a small parcel of 250 vines planted at 1,400 feet elevation. The soil is 100% granite, which limits naturally vine vigor. The hillsides, elevation and soil combination are just perfect for these very special vines. And having Mark Pisoni, my brother-in-law and exceptional farmer, watching over this collection of vines makes this wine even more special to me. The fruit was fermented in a large open-top oak barrel for 35 days before we moved the free-run wine it into a new French oak barrel. The result is a powerful wine with aromatics of cassis, cedar, spiced plum and white pepper.