What really makes a great wine?
Before I share my insight on what makes great wines, let me share something in particular that made 2015 a unique and memorable vintage—for me personally. Lucas Richard Pisoni, my new son (and my first child) was born in the spring, when the vines were just awakening for a new beginning. He has certainly added another rich dimension to Jeff’s and my personal lives, as having a child naturally interweaves with our winemaking. More importantly for you as a wine lover is to know that in California vineyards, 2015 brought us the earliest harvest on record—if not for all time. This early harvest started for me on August 20th, and thus is the reason for this later-than-usual release of my red wines. Running a small wine operation, I naturally have plenty of work to do around the harvest season! Hopefully, the timing of my red wine release will also coincide with your Holiday celebrations.
The cliché is true: quality in the bottle begins with impeccable fruit. I can’t say enough times that this really is the secret to exceptional wines. It’s much like many chefs who will tell you the secret to their food is the freshness of their ingredients. My respect goes to the growers. So, I’ve invited two growers who contribute much to my Cattleya wines, to tell us why the vineyards I have chosen to be single cuvées for my red wines are so special. They’ll explain how their caring and knowledge contributes to Cattleya through the fruit they grow.
First, let’s talk Pinot…
Anne Moller-Racke has more than 30 years’ experience with growing grapes. The Donum Vineyard, located in the Sonoma section of Carneros, is a special place. Anne began sharing her love for this site with me when I was winemaker at Lynmar Estate. Later she agreed to sell me the minuscule, but so appreciated, amount of two tons of fruit annually, used to make wine for my own Cattleya label. She has always described with love and passion the beauty and qualities of this vineyard — especially the West Slope. In Anne’s words:
“This block is one of my “Grand Cru” blocks. When I started Donum, I thought every block could become grand cru quality, but I learned that is not so. West Slope consistently delivers this caliber of fruit, elegant and powerful with lots of complexity. Carneros fruit always has a spice component that I don’t find in my Russian River fruit. This adds to the complexity and layering in the wine that I have come to love so much. Cheers.”
Lucky me! Each year I get to work with the gorgeous Donum Vineyard fruit that receives so much loving attention throughout the growing season.
And secondly, let’s talk Syrah…
Mark Pisoni co-manages The Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. The vineyard is a joint venture between my husband’s family, The Pisonis, and Gary Franscioni. These two families are serious farmers, each farming in the same region for generations. They know this land, and work exceptionally hard to bring out the best from it. The fruit they sell is all contracted for, with waiting lists! Fortunately, in 2006 the Pisoni Family and Gary Franscioni planted an additional vineyard that I was able to begin sourcing fruit from. These 38 acres make up the Soberanes Vineyard.
There is a tiny 2.8 acres of Syrah vines at the Soberanes Vineyard. They’re planted to a French selection massale (meaning a genetically diverse selection as opposed to a specific clone) brought to California by John Alban. The Syrah vines are planted on a steep hillside that is very challenging to farm. The soils are lean, gravelly and composed of river rock. It is a cold-climate and Syrah struggles to ripen each year — it is sometimes harvested as late as the first week in November. The vines are farmed exclusively by hand and numerous passes are made through the vines each season by Mark and his vineyard team—to visit the needs of each vine. Mark comments:
“I love working with Bibiana for two reasons: First, she has extensive experience working in the Northern Rhone area, which means she really understands Syrah, as well as the challenges of growing it in a cold climate. Second, Bibiana’s background gives her both unyielding integrity and respect for grapes. She sets her sights not only on the best quality, but what is the right thing to do—for the grapes, the environment, people, etc.”
As I continue striving to find the best vineyards sites in California, I hope this vintage will bring as much joy to your wine experiences as it does to mine. Enjoy it during the holiday seasons, or set it down in the cellar. It will definitely be a long-lived vintage.
Making wine continues to be a passion and a dream come true for me. Thank you for supporting my journey. I could not continue doing so without you.