The 2021 harvest was near. I called my winemaking partner, Lane Tanner, and asked her to find as many neutral oak barrels as we could gather - we had to accommodate extra fruit coming in. The quality in this new, mysterious vineyard was just too good to pass up.
I dubbed the vineyard ‘The Wild King,’ after seeing what it produced after being allowed to grow, unfettered, unpruned, and unwatered, for more than a year.
There was more fruit hanging than we could handle in our little winery, so I threw some feelers out to a few of my winemaker friends; to see if anyone was interested in getting some last-minute Pinot Noir at a bargain price. Every single one of those winemaker friends, after they came to look at the fruit in person, said yes. Ryan Roark, Gavin Chanin, Jessica Gasca, Mike Roth, and Ernst Storm were all on that lucky list. The most memorable visit of that bunch was with Gavin.
“This just turns everything we think we know about viticulture on its head,” he exclaimed excitedly. “We spend all of this money on the best vineyard management practices, year after year, and then we come across fruit like this that came from doing nothing. It blows my mind.”
The challenge, as I saw it, was how to maintain the vineyard going forward. If I continued to leave it unpruned, eventually the vines would overgrow the rows (maybe within a year), and the vineyard would become basically unmanageable. You already could not drive a tractor down the rows, which means it would be nearly impossible to carry out normal practices such as composting, mowing or weed control. Even hand-harvesting would become completely impractical at some point.
The reaction from every one of the vineyard experts that I queried was a whole lot of pondering and head-scratching. Not one of them had ever heard of a successful vineyard practice that excluded pruning. They all recommended pruning during the coming winter and going back to a more conventional farming method.
At home one night I explained to my wife, Kali, that I had to figure out a different way forward. “I don’t want to go back to normal,” I said, “I want this vineyard to produce fruit like this again.” I wondered aloud who I might call on who could think outside the box.
And then it came to me: Randall Grahm.
For those of you who don’t know Randall, a brief history. Randall graduated from UC Davis in 1979 with a degree in Plant Sciences, where as he states it, he developed a “single-minded obsession with Pinot Noir.” He purchased a property in Bonny Doon, a neighborhood in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and planted vineyards. His wines, produced under the Bonny Doon label, were hugely influential on the burgeoning California wine business. Randall was an early adopter of biodynamic practices, and earned the nickname the ‘Rhone Ranger,’ having been largely responsible for the introduction of Rhone varieties to the American public. I have known Randall loosely for many years (my father was a co-conspirator, and a huge fan, in times past), and I figured there was no better person to ask to think outside the box than he.
Randall arrived on a cool August day and I toured him around our young plantings, then took him down the hill to see the wild vines. We walked the rows together while he looked curiously at the small bunches and plucked berries off the vine and popped them into his mouth, spitting seeds at pace with his steps. “Remarkable,” he said, more than once. After many long minutes, I explained my conundrum. He smiled.
“What you have here,” he said, “is the classic battle between winemaker and winegrower. One wants quality and the other quantity. The trick is to find the balance where one can make a great wine, and still make money growing the fruit.”
I agreed, but expressed that it still did not answer my question: what should I do with this vineyard going forward, and even more importantly, next year? I guess I was hoping to get some definitive answer from the guru, as though he had the answers to one of the wine world’s greatest puzzles. He was quiet for some time, and then started to offer some suggestions. His greatest piece of advice was to not to be afraid to experiment. He also suggested I connect with a few other people in the industry that were pursuing alternative vineyard practices, and he gave me some names.
We took Randall to dinner at our restaurant, Pico, and had a wonderful meal, punctuated by much wine philosophy and many ‘Randallisms.’ After Randall said his goodbyes, I didn’t feel much closer to an answer, but woke up the next morning with the semblance of a plan.
I decided to divide the Wild King Vineyard into blocks, and experiment with each block in a different way. One section would be pruned traditionally the coming winter, while another block would be allowed to continue another year of wild growth. I would also experiment with watering. Some sections of the vineyard would be watered on a regular schedule, while others would not be watered at all - to simulate the way that the vineyard was farmed the prior year, and to see which, if not all, of the techniques were what made the most difference. One way or another I am determined: to again produce the magically wild fruit that we came upon in 2021.
Next up: The Wild King Ascends into Madness
- Will Henry
I was always a believer that being wild was a good thing - to a point.
Be it a confrontation with a bear on a remote surf trip in British Columbia in January, or a night spent adrift on the open ocean in a boat that had lost its engine, wild is exciting, invigorating, and makes us feel that much more alive. Unless, of course, it gets so wild that it puts our lives in true jeopardy. There is often a fine line.
I never thought that I would have the opportunity to draw this line of comparison with viticulture, but then again, life offers many interesting twists and turns. In the summer of 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, we were planting a new vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley - the Warner Henry Vineyard - named after my late father. My attention was entirely focused on what is to become our first estate vineyard, tending the young vines and making sure they became healthy adults, and learning to become a farmer day by day. But just down the hill from this new vineyard, a new chapter was unfolding - one which would teach me much more about farming than I had bargained for.
The workers commented one day that there was a vineyard on the way up the hill that had not been pruned the year prior, and bud break had just occurred, meaning that the time for pruning had come and gone. Vineyards are pruned for many reasons, most importantly because it allows for farming practices to occur more easily, and promotes vine health, vigor, fruit production, and vineyard longevity. Leaving a vineyard unpruned is a big no-no in standard agricultural practices, because it can lead to many more problems down the road. The workers asked if I knew what was going on with that vineyard, but I did not. The owners are my neighbors, but I had never met them - and while I had not seen anyone working the vines for quite some time, I was focused on my own baby vines.
Fast forward a few months, and I was driving up our road, and noticed that this wild vineyard was holding a lot of fruit. Out of curiosity, I parked the car and walked a few of the rows. What immediately caught my eye was that the fruit zone - usually confined to a few feet in height around waist-level - was from below my knees to above my head. What was even more remarkable was the fruits’s quality: never before had I seen such tiny berries, on such tiny clusters. This was the kind of fruit that any winemaker dreams of working with, and that seems to elude us no matter how hard we try to farm for it.
|I started making some calls and tracked down my neighbors who own the vineyard: Doug and Victoria King. I met Doug and Vickie on a cool summer day at their home, and they explained the vineyard’s history. They planted it in 2009, on advice from David Addamo, a nearby vintner and neighbor who just a year or so later went bankrupt and left the area. The following owner of the Addamo property, Randeep Grewald, made a deal with the Kings to continue farming it - for a fee, of course - and then to purchase the fruit after each harvest. “The problem was,” explained Doug, “I lost money on it every year.” Then came 2020, and Grewald stiffed the Kings for all of the fruit that the vineyard produced that year.
Doug is a savvy businessman, and finally he had had enough. “I just turned off the water and called it quits,” he said. “I wasn’t going top spend another dollar on it.” So for an entire year, it received no care whatsoever: no fertilizer, no spraying, and most remarkably, no water.”
I made a deal with Doug to harvest the fruit (lucky me!), and to lease the property and take over vineyard management for the years to come. So by complete happenstance, this new vineyard leap-frogged our new planting to become Lumen’s first estate vineyard. Was wild a good thing? It certainly was in 2021. But what about 2022 and the years beyond? Stay tuned for the rest of the story. Up next? The Coming of Randall.
- Will Henry
Some of the greatest discoveries of mankind were made by accident.
Perhaps the best known (and beneficial) was made by scientist Dr. Alexander Fleming, who went on vacation for a few weeks and returned to see that his petri dishes had overgrown with mold. His discovery: penicillin. Other examples of benign errors include potato chips, plastic, Play-Doh and, drumroll… Viagra. I wanted to say something cute about wine and viagra, but think I will just leave that one alone.
Lane Tanner has been making wine for forty years, but she just might have made a discovery recently that will highlight her career. It all started a number of years back, when she was throwing a dinner party and making Thai food. At the end of the evening she had a heap of leftover ginger and didn’t know what to do with it. As Lane is a notorious miser, she wanted to figure out a way to preserve the ginger to use at a later date, but freezing it never seemed to work. She had an unfinished bottle of Chardonnay on the counter (also from the party), so she grabbed a container, dropped the ginger inside, and covered it with wine. Into the fridge it went, and slowly moved its way backward behind other items as the months went by.
A year later, Lane was cleaning out the fridge and was surprised to rediscover the container. Out of curiosity (something Lane is never short on), she opened it up and poured out the wine into a glass. Remarkably, the wine, now with a hint of ginger, was a fresh as the day that the cork was pulled.
The antioxidant properties of ginger root have long been known, but until this day, no one had thought to use it in wine to prevent oxidation. Perhaps, thought Lane and I, it could be used in place of sulfites to make a so-called ‘natural’ wine? In 2019 Lane we launched our first experiment and made a single keg of wine later dubbed ‘The OG,’ after Orange-Ginger, which was a skin-contact Pinot Gris combined with ginger-infused Grenache Blanc. The experiment was a whopping success. The OG is still tasting fresh and beautiful to this day.
The following year, Hey Ginger Chardonnay was born. We are now proud to release our second vintage of this fascinating wine, which only has three ingredients: Chardonnay grapes, fresh ginger, and yeast. The Chardonnay is sourced from old vines in the Goodchild Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley and picked at low sugar (and high acidity), giving it even more stability in the bottle. We macerate the fresh ginger and place it into giant tea bags, which is then dropped into the tank of wine during fermentation. The result? Think Chablis with a slice of ginger. And let me tell you, there is no better accompaniment to Asian cuisine.
This year I finally got up the guts to submit the wine for critical review. I was worried that the wine establishment would balk at anything but grapes going into a precious bottle of vino. I sent samples to the Wine Enthusiast, albeit with an explanation of our technique, and waited a few months to receive our review. Much to my delight, it was awarded 90 points and Editor’s Choice. Bravo! Let the ginger revolution begin!
We are offering Hey Ginger Chardonnay at only $25 per bottle for the next two weeks. Get some while you can. And better yet, build your order to six bottles or more - of any Lumen wines - and we will spring for the shipping.
- Will Henry
There’s a lot of geeky stuff on the back of a Lumen bottle - wine-geeky stuff. So why is it there? Not only are the basic facts listed - vineyard source, AVA, variety, clone - but also we share the pH, TA (titratable acidity), and Brix at harvest.
What, you may ask, is the significance of all that techie mumbo-jumbo?
All three of these data points help a winemaker see what kind of balance the fruit has, and ultimately, what balance the finished wine will be. This can mean the difference between a wine that tastes flabby (too little acid), to one that tastes too jammy (overripe, often which comes with flabby), or one that tastes too bitter or green (sugar too low and/or acidity too high).
pH and TA are both measurements of acidity. Think back to chemistry class and you will remember pH - it is a general measurement of acid vs. base balance in an aqueous liquid. pH of 7 is balanced - neither acidic nor basic. Grape juice (and hence wine) is generally in the 3 range - 3.2 being more acidic than 3.8. Generally speaking, the earlier you pick in the growing season, the lower the pH (and higher the acidity). TA is yet another way to measure acidity, and it can sometimes paint a more complete picture than just the pH alone. The TA basically gives a measure of the quantity of total acids in solution, while pH is simply a measure of their strength.
The brix at harvest is perhaps the most important measurement of all. Brix tells us the sugar content of the grapes in percentage of solution. Hence, 23 degrees brix means 23% sugar. Winemakers and winegrowers talk all the time about brix.
“So what is your vineyard at right now?”
“We seem to be stuck at 21 brix, but maybe after the heat wave this weekend it will shoot up a point or two.”
Then after two consecutive hot days, “Brix went up two degrees over the weekend. We are trying to get a crew in to pick pronto. But everyone wants to pick at the same time!”
This last conversation details one of the great challenges of making great wine. Nailing the pick day. As sugars increase in the grapes, acid decreases. A good winemaker will watch that balance closely as the grapes ripen, and then pounce when they see that moment of perfect balance. For Lumen, that happens when the brix is between 21 and 24, pH from 3.4 to 3.8, and TA of .5 to .8 grams per 100ml. But those are broad ranges, and the way that they interact tells a much more interesting story. For example, a wine that was picked at 3.4 pH and 22 brix with a TA of .8 would have, in my book, almost perfect numbers. It would be a wine worthy of aging, and should also be pretty damn good in its youth. A wine picked at 24 brix with .5 TA and 3.8 pH, however, is most likely going to be better in its youth, and not as age-worthy.
Some years are better than others, too. In the absence of large weather-related issues (i.e. heat waves, hail storms during growing season), vintage variation is largely due to subtle day-to day differences over the entire season. Cool years generally produce grapes with a higher acidity relative to sugar - which is why we like them so much. They may not be the best for number of beach days, but we will take the fog for better Pinot. My favorite kind of year (and this is not the same for all winemakers, mind you) is when I can pick my grapes at 22-23 brix and the acidity is still very high. That doesn’t always happen, though.
The other factor that greatly influences when we decide to pick is taste. Every single sample of juice, after it goes through chemical analysis, is then tasted by Lane and myself. That, more than anything else, is the deciding factor in choosing a pick day. The juice could be measuring 22 brix and 3.5 pH (which would indicate maturity), but the juice still doesn’t taste right. Maybe it’s still green and vegetal tasting, or maybe the fruit flavors just haven’t developed enough. In that case, we would have to make a tough choice to either let it ripen a little further, or pick before the acidity droops even further. It’s a touchy game.
Lane and I like to find the balance in grapes before making a wine from it. Well-balanced fruit means that we don’t have to mess with the wine at all - just ferment it, put it in barrel, filter it, add a teensy amount of sulfites and bottle it. Good fruit leads to wine with less additives, and more often than not, wine that will age longer and more gracefully.
Finding the balance, aging longer and more gracefully - isn’t that what we all want to find - not only in wine - but in life?
No two grains of sand are alike - or so a geologist will tell you - and the same goes for fistfuls. Take, for example, a microscopic photograph of grains of sand. What we believe to be a uniform substance (silica, just like the dictionary tells us), is in fact a random conglomeration of particles from many varying origins, depending on where and how the sand originated. Not only is every handful of sand different, but sand can vary greatly from one area to the next.
This past spring, vines went into the ground on our very own land, a five-acre postage stamp in the Solomon Hills, on the western side of the Santa Maria Valley AVA. We dubbed that postage stamp The Warner Henry Vineyard, after my late father. When we purchased the property it was basically a sand pile, a house on a hill surrounded by oak trees, chaparral, and pale-colored dirt. The land here had never been farmed, despite the world-class vineyards that have sprung up on all four sides of it.
Planting new wines is a leap of faith. You can do all your homework - test the soil, choose just the right location and microclimate, find a good water source - but whether your grapes are world-class or just plain average is left to the gods. A friend of my father’s once purchased a site that was surrounded by some of the most famous Pinot Noir vineyards in Sonoma, and professed to my father that due to the vineyard’s location, the future quality of wine was a sure bet. Fast forward twenty years and no combination of high-tech farming practices, night-harvesting, or world-famous winemakers can make a great wine from that vineyard. The old adage was proven ever-true: you can’t make a good wine from bad grapes, or in this case, a great wine from mediocre ones.
One thing that is a known is that Pinot Noir loves sand. Grape vines in general love its drainage, which means the vines send roots deep in search of water, and the soil never gets too soggy (which makes a grape vine get lazy and produce flabby fruit). But what about the mineral components of the soil, and how does sand influence flavor? Some viticulturists will tell you that farming in sand is like growing hydroponically - the only nutrients in the soil are what you put in it from the outside. I believe that is true to some extent, but then I harken back to the microscope, and what it tells us about sand composition. Sand does, in fact, impart a flavor to the wine, and not just due to soil amendments.
When the land was cleared of all hubris there were two distinct types of sand on our hilltop. One was white and the other reddish-brown. James Ontiveros came up for a visit one day and told me that two sand formations were at play here: the Marina Series and the Arnold Series. Without getting too scientific, the Marina soils (reddish brown) are ancient sand dunes that were once at the shore, and the Arnold (white) is decomposed sand stone of even older origin. A close-up picture of either one reveals a mixture of rock types, many of which are calcareous rock, as well as bone and shell fragments from sea creatures, mixed with clay and other organic material. A formula, we hope, that will make for happy vines.
A test of our soil revealed that it did, in fact, have a good amount of organic material, and by all accounts was very ‘healthy’ on the spectrum of soil fertility. We dug test pits all over the property and learned that the sand went very deep - deeper than the backhoe could get to. That spells very good drainage. We added the recommended soil amendments - organic compost, with a small dose of gypsum (for moisture retention and aeration) and lime (to adjust the soil’s pH). A few weeks later vines went into the ground.
The vines have now seen their first season of growth, and look happy, as far as we can tell. But the big question remains: will the Warner Henry Vineyard eventually achieve greatness? We won’t know until enough sand has run through the Lumen hourglass.
1. beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience or understanding
2. exceeding or surpassing usual limits especially in excellence
In 1990 I flew to Portugal with my father, Warner, to visit port producers on the Douro River. As was customary for him, he had brought a number of books about Portuguese wine, including the chapter on Portugal from The World Atlas of Wine, which he considered to be his bible. Our first night in Porto was to be spent at a famous old restaurant in the city center, and my father was excited to explore the wines of this little-known corner of the wine world. He had been talking all day about trying to find an old vintage Moscatel de Setúbal - a lightly fortified sweet muscat dessert wine that apparently had a tremendous ability to age with grace.
Our dinner was fabulous, and we waded through numerous wines from the list with the help of a friendly, tuxedoed sommelier, in an old-school stone building in old world Portugal. At the end of the meal my father posed the question that we had all been waiting for. He asked the sommelier if they had any Moscatel de Setúbal. The man’s eyebrows raised noticeably and he paused before replying, seeming shocked that a foreigner should ask. “Yes sir,” he said. “I will be right back.”
He brought a bottle to the table with a label so old it was barely legible. By holding it up to candlelight we could discern that the vintage year was 1902. The waiter poured us each a glass, and the wine, once white, had aged to the color of coffee.
There are very few things in life that take this much age to come to greatness. Strange how so many of those things exist in the world of wine. But no matter the nature of the flame, at some point in its life it may grow to its most luminous before the light begins to fade, eventually to nothing. The metaphor can be applied to a great Burgundy or Bordeaux, for example, or even the age of a vineyard. (Two of the vineyards we have worked with, Sierra Madre and Garey, reached the end of their lifespan this year and fizzled out. Thankfully the site will be replanted to new vines.)
How similar this can be to the life of a great man, whom my father certainly was. He passed away on August 1st of this year, and with his passing the wine business lost a great leader. He was larger than life, and his dedication to the winemakers that are true to their craft was legendary. He was a spokesperson for the little guy in a world that evermore favors the large and corporate. Warner Henry is the main reason why a winery like Lumen exists.
As the grapes came in to the winery this harvest, I could feel my father looking over my shoulder at every punch down. I ran through all of the great memories we had together exploring the world of wine, and was brought back to that moment when we tasted the Moscatel de Setúbal together. Years later my father told me that it was the most exquisite beverage he had ever put in his mouth.
I remember the rest of that first trip to Portugal. We visited some of the best port houses in the world, and were served ports that went back almost a century. But one wine was still on the back of our minds. We returned to Porto at the end of the trip, and had a reservation at the very same restaurant. When I was showering before dinner, my father came into my room and yelled through the bathroom door that he had left me a taste of wine on my bedside table. I got dressed and then took a sip of the wine. Holy crap, I thought, what is this wine? It was hands down better than any wine I had tasted on the entire trip up the Douro River. I walked to my father’s room to ask what he had left for me to taste. He had a twinkle in his eye. “It’s the Mostcatel,” he said proudly. “I slipped down the street to that restaurant to grab us both a glass.”
I came to realize years later that those were the most transcendent moments in my father’s life. He best remembered the moments when he discovered greatness, even better when they were found in unexpected places. I had always hoped he would have one of those moments with a bottle of Lumen. Then one year it happened, after he tasted our 2015 Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir. In 2018 he helped me purchase an eleven-acre parcel next door to that vineyard. Here at this site we will put Warner’s name on a bottle of wine for the first time ever, by naming it the Warner Henry Vineyard. Perhaps it may someday reach Moscatel de Setúbal greatness.
“Is that a note of melon or is it a hint of Goodyear rubber?”
For the past few decades orange wine has been steadily gaining followers in the world of wine, while also an ever larger stream of dissenters. What is it about a skin contact white that has everyone in such a tizzy? Why is it so controversial to make a wine with white grapes that are treated just like red grapes?
For the uninitiated, red wines typically are fermented along with their skins, and sometimes even left to age with them for a period of a few weeks to even months. The fermenting juice extracts color and flavor from the skins of a red grape, giving the wine its color and a good deal of its tannin. For this reason, red wines generally need a little more time to ‘come around’ - in other words, for the tannins to soften enough to where they are pleasant to drink.
White grapes, on the other hand, are typically pressed as soon as they enter the winery, and the lightly-colored juice then ferments on its own. This world order has existed for thousands of years, in relative harmony, until bad boy orange came along.
"Orange wine has arrived to slap jaded palates around."
The first modern winemaker associated with the ancient practice of orange was Jose Gravner in Friuli, Italy, who revived the practice of its vinification in the early aughts (God bless the Italians). This wine has now reached cult status - you practically have to give away your first-born child just to get a bottle. More and more wineries across the world have followed suit, and the quality is all over the map.
As a wine buyer for Pico Restaurant I have tasted a good many orange wines, because our customers are requesting it more and more. A good portion of the orange wines I taste are pretty horrid - dirty, acrid, or just plain stinky - but that is to be expected. This is a new style of wine, and winemakers are still figuring it out.
One thing that has struck me about orange wines is that not every grape variety works. There has to be something interesting (and balanced) going on with the skins of those grapes, and all white grapes are not created equal. I have also learned that pick date (determining sugar and acid levels) and style of treatment in the winery are of equal importance. For example, you can’t pick a Sauvignon Blanc at 29 brix and make an orange wine, then age it in new oak for a year - the result would likely be a full assault on the senses.
"The fact that orange wine is challenging—that its appeal is more cerebral and gastronomic than carnal and epicurean—is central to its identity."
Enter Pinot Gris. A close cousin to Pinot Noir (hence the Pinot first name), it literally means ‘grey Pinot,’ just like Pinot Blanc means “White Pinot’ and Noir ‘dark.’ The Gris seems stuck about half way between being a red grape and a white grape. It’s skins, when ripe, seem almost translucent, like an opal gemstone. The flavors that emanate from those skins, I mused, might be equally mysterious and interesting. Turns out I was correct.
I didn’t do this without help and inspiration. I contacted my old friend Ryan Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards, who made a Pinot Gris orange a few years back that was fabulous. (If you haven’t had any of Ryan’s wines, but the way, you are blowing it. He is making some of the most incredible wines in California.) Ryan told me the secret for him was to pick early. Well that’s easy, I said, Lane and I always do. After all they called her Low-Pick Lane for a reason. No, he said, I mean earlier. Like 21 brix max.
Hence Lumen Escence was born in the 2019 harvest. We called an early pick of Pinot Gris, at a time when most winemakers are just starting to pick for sparkling wine. We fermented 12 days on the skins, then pressed and barreled it down in neutral oak for seven months. We just bottled it a month ago, and I am proud to say that it is one of the better examples of orange wine I have ever tasted. Meyer lemon zest, grapefruit rind, persimmon, and a slightly saline minerality. Just a tinge of orange funk. Get yourself some and breathe deeply.
NOTE: Lumen Escence is currently available to wine club members ONLY. If there is any Escence left after wine club members place their orders, we will make it available to the general public at $40 per bottle. Don't want to wait? JOIN THE CLUB
NOTE 2: The above quotes are excerpts from a New Yorker article entitled "How the Orange-Wine Fad Became an Irresistible Assault on Pleasure," by Troy Patterson. READ IT HERE.
- Will Henry
I’ll never forget the first time I fell in love with Grenache. I was at a fancy restaurant on an otherwise unmemorable date, and I decided to splurge on the tasting menu with wine pairing. The main course came with a glass of red wine, and upon my first sip my taste buds ignited with pure pleasure. What on earth was this wine? It had the light body of Pinot Noir, but clearly was something different. Swirls of fruit wrapped around an earthy core. I summoned the sommelier and proceeded to give him far more attention than my date sitting across the table.
The wine in question was A Tribute to Grace Grenache, from Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard. I was floored. Outside of Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, I had never tasted anything quite like it. The sommelier sauntered off, and I joined Grace's wine club the following day.
Fast forward a few years: my first vintage working side by side with Lane Tanner, and crafting the 2012 Lumen Pinot Noir. I mentioned my experience with Grace Grenache, and the fact that I wanted to make one like it (or at least die trying). Lane explained to me, gently, that she would make anything that I wanted, but that Pinot Noir was the only red wine she would ever take home for herself to enjoy - all other varieties were, in her mind, subpar. (This, of course, says nothing about Lane's love affair with Champagne, a topic for later discussion).
In 2013 Lane and I made our first SBC Grenache. Despite the grape’s likeness to Pinot Noir in the glass, it behaves completely different in the vineyard and winery. For one, Grenache is late-ripening, and hence needs a hotter climate than Pinot. Secondly, its skins are thick and durable relative to Pinot’s thin skin, and hence requires a bit of extra muscle once it crosses the winery threshold. Lane and I were somewhat unprepared for this second fact.
When harvest time came, the Grenache grapes arrived and went through the de-stemmer. They dropped into the fermentation bins like a ton of ballbearings. There wasn’t a drop of juice visible. Pinot Noir usually breaks apart in the de-stemmer and yields a fair amount of free-run juice, but now we had a whole new challenge - how do you start fermentation from outside a rubber ball? Thankfully I had a pair of surf trunks in the car, which I donned in order to climb into the vats to break up the fruit by foot. In reality it was more of a body slam.
By the end of harvest, Lane had become more attached to Grenache. She loved it more than she expected to, although more like a friend next to her long-time lover Pinot. And once it was in bottle? She took one home to enjoy like a clandestine love.
- Will Henry
Images (clockwise from top left): Grenache berry between my fingers; winemaking legends Lane Tanner and Angela Osborne confer in the vineyards; body slams by the Henry girls, Taylor and Chandler; fresh-picked Grenache from Martian Ranch Vineyard.
LUMEN has officially kicked off the 2019 harvest with an early pick of Pinot Gris from Sierra Madre Vineyard, and Lane has once again donned her magic yellow boot. What seemed to me like a late year for harvest got a chuckle out of Lane. "This is a normal year," she said, which made me realize that the last six years that we have worked together have been abnormally early. "Newbie," I thought to myself. While our other grapes are still at least a few weeks out, Lane has once again earned her nickname "Low Pick Lane" by being in the vineyards long before anyone else.
We deliberately picked this lot of Pinot Gris early in order to make an orange wine, following the guidance from one of my favorite fellow winemakers, Ryan Beauregard of Beauregard Vineyards, who has made a stellar Pinot Gris orange wine in years past. And what is orange wine? It is one made from white grapes that are treated like red grapes. In other words, we ferment the juice on the skins, with regular punch-downs, to extract extra tannin and flavor. (White grapes are normally pressed and separated from the juice as soon as they come into the winery.) Many of the orange wines I have tasted as the wine director at Pico Restaurant are pretty funky and weird. Ryan's wine was an exception - elegant, balanced, full of fruit and minerality - and far more interesting than most rosés.
While the orange wine bubbles away in the fermenter, Lane and I are wandering the vineyards in anticipation of our next pick. We are picking samples of the fruit in many of the vineyards - mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (as the Grenache varieties are still a long ways off) - and taking the samples back to the winery, where Lane stomps the grapes with her magic yellow boot. Okay, I admit, sometimes I wear the yellow boot, but it doesn't fit me very well. The boot has been with Lane since her winemaking start in the early 1980's.
We then test the juice for sugar and acidity and then most importantly, taste it. We base our decision to pick almost completely on the flavor maturity of the juice, always aiming for lower sugar and higher acidity. That makes for more scintillating and age-worthy wines.
This marks the first year that Lane and I are really stepping outside of our normal comfort zone to make an orange wine. There will only be 40 or so cases, and only available to our wine club. So if you want to try it (release date April 15, 2020), sign up today!