Cool Climate Wines Make for Better Companions
The above shot was taken in September at the Eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley, while I was driving up to the winery in Santa Maria during crush. I live in Santa Barbara and have to drive over "The Pass" on the 154 to get up to where we stomp grapes. What I love about the drive is that every day it's a lesson in microclimate. On my way northwards I pass through so many of them it's astonishing.
The weather on one side of the hill is often the complete opposite of the weather on the other side. One thing that makes Santa Barbara County one of the best place to grow grapes in the world is this abundance of microclimates. It also one of the coolest climate wine growing regions in the state. It often surprises people when they hear this. After all, SBC is hundreds of miles south of Napa Valley, so how could it be cooler?
What makes SBC so unique is the east-west direction of the valley that opens to the cool Pacific Ocean. Napa doesn't have that (and is why I frankly don't like many of their wines - but more on that later). Even coastal Sonoma, while also a cool climate region, doesn't have the kind of opening to the west that Santa Ynez and Santa Maria have. And that is what makes Lumen so cool. It's the fog, dude. It's also the way the rest of the day goes, too. The fog generally clears around midday, then you get a couple of warm hours of sunshine until the afternoon sea breeze kicks in and cools things down again. There couldn't be place better suited to ripening Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Driving over The Pass always gives me an idea of what the day is going to be like in the Santa Maria Valley. If the fog is all the way at the eastern edge of the valley, I know the day will be cooler, because the fog will clear later. If the fog starts closer to Los Alamos, the day is generally a warmer one. But the fog during growing season is almost omnipresent. And this is hands-down the BEST climate for going cool-climate grapes in the world, in my opinion.
So what is so special about cool-climate fruit, you may ask? Well for one, it tastes better. The flavor profiles of Santa Maria Valley are completely distinctive from that of Santa Rita Hills, for example. Often you can taste the difference between two Pinot Noirs made by the same winemaker from vineyards that are just a few miles from one another. And hey, variety is the spice of life, right? Secondly, cool-climate fruit has better acid. (Yes, so did my friend in college, but that's not the kind of acid I'm talking about.) Acid is the backbone of any wine. It is present in all grapes but diminishes as the days grow hotter and the fruit ripens. In places where the fruit ripens very quickly due to excessively high temperatures, acid can drop faster than sugars go up, and you end up with a flabby wine. It will taste like raisins and overripe fruit, but can't stand up to a good plate of food. It will be fat and jammy, but honestly, not all that interesting. Like a boring date.
What a lot of wineries have to do is acidify. Yes, that's right, they add acid to the wine so that they can mask the fact that the grapes didn't have enough when they were harvested. But we at Lumen don't have to do that. Our wines come from cool-climate vineyards, and their natural acidity makes for a stunningly fresh, gorgeous, and food-friendly wine. Both our 2012 wines come entirely from Sierra Madre Vineyard, which has always been known for having a very high natural level of acid. Plus, we tend to pick earlier than other folks, so we end up with a wine with great structure, slightly less alcohol, and more character. And that, my friends, is the kind of wine you want to drink with a good meal or share with friends. It is also the kind of wine that makes for long-term aging, if that's what you're into.
I have grown to be less-and-less of a fan of warm-climate wines as my palate has progressed. I used to love big, jammy Napa cabs. But I realized that I couldn't eat steak every night, and that Pinot Noir matched up so much better with so many more of the meals I liked to eat. Also something like a lighter-style Grenache, or even a rosé - these are the wines I now most frequently gravitate to. Now most of my Napa cabs are collecting dust in my cellar.
Lumen has just hit the open market and is taking off like a rocket on launch day. The wines are amazingly affordable for the price, so please get them while they last, and share our story with your friends.