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[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]In the past week, winter has finally set in along the Central Californian coast and rain is soaking the now-dormant vineyards. The harvest is officially in the bag, even for those vintners that like to let the grapes hang late. Lumen’s wines were tucked away in their barrels in late October, safe and sound until racking in the spring. We had a lot of extra help this harvest - even Winslow did her part (mostly watching daddy work, and asking LOTS of questions).
2018 will be a banner year for most of California. My winemaker friends all seem to think it could be the vintage of the decade, from Napa to Santa Cruz to good old SBC. The reasons for that, of course, are manyfold.
First off, the weather was perfect for most of the growing season. We had fairly normal timing for bud break, when the vines come out of dormancy after their winter sleep. A brief frost scare in March was narrowly averted, after which we had a normal spring followed by an unusually cool summer. For the first time I can remember in California, we had no Indian Summer heat wave. Labor Day slipped past with temps barely cresting 75 degrees in the Santa Maria Valley. The nights were cold. What that means is that the grapes ripened slowly and the acidity levels stayed high - the perfect combo for making world-class wine.
Lane and I are always trying to pick at the lowest sugars possible. In other words, we are hoping for maturity in the grape’s flavor before the fruit gets too ripe. In banner years like 2018, the fruit matures without the sugar spiking, meaning that natural acidity is high, and the ensuing alcohol content in the wines will be very low. Even better, the wine’s pH will be perfect for long-term bottle age.
We picked our fruit later in the summer than we have since Lane and I started working together. The buzz around SB wine country was that it was an unusually late harvest - but the old-timers chuckled and said it was actually a normal year, and that the rest of the decade has been early. Wherever the truth lies (and I side with the old guard), 2018 will be a vintage for the record books.
- Will Henry[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
There is nothing more compelling than natural beauty. Ad men always have said that sex sells (such as this photo, above, of Lane Tanner enjoying a "Pinot bath"), but these days, natural sells almost as well. Natural cosmetics, natural clothing, natural foods, and now natural wine. But just how natural do you want to go?
As the wine director at Pico Restaurant, I frequently hear people ask, “What natural wines do you carry?” The increasing popularity of the natural-wines movement seems to be taking the industry by storm. Nonetheless it has many sommeliers searching for answers as to what “natural wine” actually means.
According to Rawwine.com:
"Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.
One of the big challenges in defining natural wine is that no legal definitions currently exist. The most strictly enforced designations, such as the French SAINS, require strict adherence to organic farming and tolerate no additives to the wine whatsoever. The French AVN (L'Association des Vins Naturels), also one of the strictest, allows for up to 30mg/l sulfite additions. Italy-based VinNatur allows for up to 50 mg/l sulfite levels. While all of them share some very similar themes, there is still no world-wide consensus.
The biggest challenge to winemakers is the sulfite dilemma. Sulfites have been used for centuries to help preserve the freshness of flavors in wine, and to give them the stability for extended aging. The chemical agent, sodium metabisulfite, is also a natural byproduct of fermentation - so even wines with no added sulfites actually have naturally-occurring sulfites in them. If you have ever bought dried apricots at the supermarket, you have seen exactly what sulfite additions can do. The apricots with added sulfites are soft, orange-colored, and fresh tasting, while the ones without are brown in color, oxidized in flavor, and harder to chew.
Strict adherents to the “no additives whatsoever” philosophy must eschew sulfites entirely. Yet sulfites are a relatively harmless additive that have been used in wine for eons, albeit at varying levels. Many people claim to have sulfite allergies, yet medical research suggests that less than 1% of the population actually does. I can attest that, after tasting many wines that have no added sulfites, I tend to prefer the ones that do. Wines with no added sulfites rarely have the qualities that I would be proud to put on Pico’s list. They are frequently dirty tasting or “mousy,” they often lack good fruit character, and there is a tremendous amount of bottle variation. Needless to say, if I were spending $150 on a great bottle of Burgundy or Barolo, I would want a little more assurance that what I was purchasing would both taste good and be suitable for aging. .
That being said, many winemakers have made a commitment to using the bare minimum sulfite additions - just enough to keep their wines stable. Others also have a commitment to following good farming practices - organic, biodynamic, or sustainable - that assure the purity of the fruit that they are starting with, and a commitment to low-impact production. Furthermore, many of the winemakers who produce wines in small lots are able to give the kind of hands-on care to their wines to not only limit sulfite additions, but also to steer clear of any other kinds of chemical additions that many larger-scale, industrial-sized wineries do out of a matter of habit.
The winemaking team at Lumen has been committed all along to making wines with as little sulfites as possible, without sacrificing any quality in the finished product. Lane Tanner is one of those few people in the population with a sulfite allergy, and hence for the past thirty years she has perfected a winemaking regimen that uses the bare minimum of added sulfites. The amount of free sulfur in our finished wines is usually under 25 mg/l, which would qualify our bottles as natural wine under most standards. Almost all of our grapes come from vineyards who practice the utmost stewardship to the health of the environment: most of them are either certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic. In our winery we go even further, with hands-on care given to each bin and barrel, allowing us to make pure wines without any harmful chemical additives.
If you have a strong opinion about natural wine, and want a product that is pure and free of chemicals, don’t expect to find it on the supermarket shelves. Find the small-scale, family-owned wineries that are committed to making a superior product, like those of us at Lumen.
- Will Henry, Lumen Winemaker
[vc_row show_full_width="1" padding_setting="1" desktop_padding="no-padding"][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Fickle Nature of Single Vineyard Pinot Noir
The 2015 vintage was more temperamental than a cat in heat. In the Santa Maria Valley, high temperatures and tropical humidity made for a challenging harvest, to say the least. But one little pocket seemed to be hiding its true potential - Pinot Noir grapes of unparalleled grace and complexity - something that Lane and I weren’t to discover until almost a year later.
Presqu’ile Vineyard lies just to the south and east of the city of Santa Maria, along Clark Rd. In the whacky vintage of 2015, the vines got hit by high wind and rain during flowering, which caused a good deal of shatter. Shatter occurs when there is damage to the vine’s flowers, and it greatly reduces the crop size. Grape clusters form erratically and incompletely: a nightmare for grape growers (who get paid by the ton), but not always for winemakers (who like low yields).
Lower yields usually result in wines of greater complexity and concentration of flavor. The reason for this is simple - the vine puts much more of the sun’s energy and the soils minerals into a smaller amount of fruit. When Lane and I first walked our rows at Presqu’ile that August, we were shocked. There was barely any fruit on the vines. We both wondered if we would be making any Presqu’ile Pinot at all.
Harvest came in late August. The Presqu’ile fruit was de-stemmed and placed into open fermentation vats alongside other other Pinot Noir lots from Sierra Madre and Garey. The first sign we saw that this was a different breed of Pinot was in the berry size - the grapes were so small that they looked more like purple peas. Secondly, when we did our punch downs (stirring the fermenting cap of skins in with the juice), the Presqu’ile vats were so thick and viscous that I broke a sweat after my first one. Lane and I both agreed at this point - Presqu’ile Pinot Noir was worth making on it own this year.
I often say that wine is like a baby: you have little idea what it will grow into in its youth and early adulthood. You have a sense of it - good breeding, nice bone structure, good skin - but you never really know until it starts walking and talking. Lane and I tasted the Presqu’ile from barrel more than once, and shockingly the wine seemed rather plain and underwhelming. We started to question whether we should make it a single vineyard wine at all, and were very close to blending it into our Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir last year.
At this point, all I can say is thank goodness we trusted our gut on this one: the 2015 Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir is now in bottle, and is one of the most glorious wines we have ever crafted. Now almost two years later, it is one to collect and revisit as it matures into a sexy bombshell over the next 20-30 years. And given that we only made 40 some cases of it, there is no time like the present to put it into your cellar - or your mouth! Check out our initial Presqu'ile Pinot offering below.
- Will Henry[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Thoughts on the Wettest of Vintages
The vineyards are flooding. Southern California is currently experiencing what the forecasters are calling “the largest weather event in the last six years.” (Let’s just forget about “Stormageddon” two years ago - too bad they used that one up already). Some of the vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley are currently under water. Many people have been asking me, what does this mean for the grapes? Is all this rain a good thing or a bad thing?
My stock answer is that in February, what is a good thing for the state’s water system is a good thing for all of California agriculture. After six years of drought, the reservoirs and aquifers are in serious need of replenishment, and the soil could use a good soaking, too. Notwithstanding erosion in the vineyards (bad), the vines themselves are all tucked up inside their blankies and asleep for the winter months (good). All this raining and pouring means very little to the old man who’s snoring. Furthermore, it helps cleanse the vineyards of salt, which tends to build up over the dry years.
Rain (and other forms of severe weather) can certainly be bad at other times of year. Once the vines reawaken from their slumber, they are far more susceptible to damage, especially during bud break and flowering. Once the buds emerge, the crop is instantly vulnerable to frost - which can really stunt a vineyard’s growth. Rain or hail can also wreak havoc on a vine’s delicate flowers, and can destroy an entire crop depending on timing or severity. This happens far more often in France than it does here, but we are not out of the woods this year by any means.
For now we will relish every drop that falls from the sky. Pop a cork, pour some Lumen into your glass, and listen to the rain drum against the roof. When it rains, it pours!
- Will Henry
Are Winemakers Magicians?
Years ago I wrote an article for The Surfer’s Path Magazine about my good friend, Oded Shakked, who was then winemaker at J Vineyards. During the interview he commented about how people make such a big deal about winemaking. “Winemakers don’t really deserve all that attention,” he said. “After all, we are only making a beverage.”
I have heard other winemakers make similar proclamations. One told me that successful winemaking is, simply put, not making any mistakes. I took all of these comments with a grain of salt, though, thinking they came from famous people who were just shrugging off the attention.
On the flip side, on trips to France winemakers would wax exultant about their craft, talking about it as though the entire process were infused with winemaker pixie dust. “Winemaking is an art that I have learned through six generations of working in our cellar,” or something along those lines. Oh la la.
What I have discovered after five years of working with Lane Tanner is this: it’s a mixture of both magic and common sense. It is a little pinch of not making mistakes, mixed with a smidgeon of routine, a sprinkle of trial by error, and accented with a dash of pure blind luck. Much of what we do is exactly like what we did last year. The glory of it all is that every year is totally different, and carries with it delicious new surprises - some of which are challenges, and some of which are revelations. The longer I participate in this craft, the more I realize that it is the decisions along the way that define a winemaker’s style. What blocks to choose from, what vineyards, when to pick, how long to cold soak, when to press and barrel down: these are the tiny details that make our wines different than our neighbors, even if they may be using the fruit from the next row over.
With our 2014 vintage now on the market, I can say that we have made some good decisions along the way. Our wines have been scoring high marks with the critics, and are as affordable as ever. Thank goodness for all that common sense, and for that little bit of winemaker pixie dust.
- Will Henry
Will 2016 be the vintage of the decade?
2016 marks the fifth vintage that I have worked alongside my partner and friend, Lane Tanner. One of the things we love about making wine is that every vintage is different. While some tasks in the winery may seem mundane, the uniqueness of every harvest ensures that the work never gets old. Even Lane, who has been making Pinot Noir for upwards of three decades in this valley, relishes each year’s harvest as though it were her first.
Every now and then a vintage comes along that winemakers describe as having “perfect numbers.” What that means is that the fruit has a perfect balance between acidity and sugar. We measure this in three ways: titratable acidity, pH, and degrees brix. As fruit nears maturity in the vineyard, Lane and I sample the fruit every few days and measure these three things, from which we glean sugar levels (brix), and acidity (pH and TA). We use that information, along with the flavor we taste in the grapes, to make one of the most important decisions we will make all year: when to call the pick. And, muy importante: we won’t call the pick, no matter what the sugar or acid, until the fruit reaches an appropriate complexity of flavor.
Perfect numbers are usually a result of cold nights and warm (not hot) days during the ripening of the fruit. As fruit matures, it’s sugar goes up and its acid goes down. Cold nights keeps the acidity from decreasing too quickly, as does a lack of extreme heat during the day. 2016 seems to have produced the perfect combination of weather patterns in the Santa Maria Valley, yielding fruit that has reached flavor maturity much earlier than normal. What that means is that we are able to pick with lower sugars- and higher acidity - than any harvest I have seen before.
So what does that mean for the final product? The 2016 wines will have impeccable balance, lower alcohol, and a striking acidity. They will also age phenomenally well. Paint by numbers might not be what most people call “real art.” But perfect numbers for Pinot will most certainly be.
Thoughts on El Niño and General Lack of Z's
“I don’t pay the mortgage that I do for rainy weather,” my Irish friend said to me a few days ago. “The drought sits just fine with me.”
And it’s true: the last few winters in Santa Barbara have been the nicest summers I have ever experienced. And with the only worry I currently have being whether or not I can water my lawn, I guess it’s not so bad. People frequently ask me if it is negatively impacting the vineyards, and my answer is generally “no.” Vines in general don’t consume a lot of water relative to other crops. They are drought tolerant, and survive quite well on minimal drip irrigation. Furthermore the vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley draw water from a very healthy network of aquifers, none of which are depleted like many of those in the rest of the state.
Yet this year, I am starting to change my mind. The problem with our succession of warm winters is not so much the lack of rain, but the lack of cold weather. Vines like chilly winters. They go into dormancy in the late fall and like to get a good, solid winter’s sleep. If the temperatures are too high mid-winter, they have a restless sleep, and wake up feeling like we would after less than eight hours. It’s like falling asleep with the lights on.
During the last few springs, bud break has been increasingly early in the season. Vines have been lured out of dormancy far too early due to spiking temps during January and February. This causes the vines to wake up groggy and have a bad day (year). And when it happens for a few days (years) in a row, they get tired and cranky, just like I would. (And since I currently have an infant sharing my bed-space, I can totally relate.) The other potential harm comes in the form of spring frost, to which the young buds are particularly susceptible.
Bud break has come very early again this year, and what it portends for the fruit, we will have to wait and see. Last year it came very early as well, and some people were harvesting Chardonnay in August. That, my friends, is unheard of. We started picking Pinot Noir the first week in August, a record for us. A little dose of cold weather and rain would be a welcome guest at this point.
If this weather pattern persists, we in California will have to start seeking ever-cooler vineyard sites. Thankfully we at Lumen are in one of the coolest zones already - and I don’t just mean our attitudes.
BREAKING NEWS: Lumen tastings are now available at The Los Alamos General Store and Pico restaurant, located at 458 Bell Street in the sleepy town of Los Alamos, CA. Drop in and pay us a visit!
- Will Henry
The Spanish and French have argued for centuries over which side of the border Grenache originates from. In Spain it is known as Garnacha, and is the most widely planted varietal in the country. In France it is Grenache, and is a major blending component of wines from the Southern Rhone, most famously in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In Italy it is known as Cannonau, and is planted mostly in Sardinia. For whatever reason, we in the new world have sided with France on this one, and call it by its French name, Grenache (Gren-osh). (Although history tends to suggest it did, in fact, originate in Spain). So be it. Grenache is the fifth most commonly planted wine grape world-wide, and for good reason: it produces phenomenal wines with a wide variation of styles and flavor profiles, no matter how you pronounce it.
In California, the varietal has a rich history. Many of the state’s original plantings in the Central Valley were Grenache (but alas, not planted in the right zone and not all that tasty), and today it still occupies over 7,000 acres of vineyard in the Golden State. Where the varietal really seems to shine is the Central Coast. Here the fog-influenced climate - with cool mornings giving way to hot, wind-blown afternoons - provides a perfect zone for producing world-class Grenache wines. And that, my dear friends, is why LUMEN makes it.
We prefer our Grenache as a 100% varietal expression. While in many places it is blended with Syrah or Mourvedre to give it more body and darker color, our experience has taught us that it shines best by itself. Maybe like John Lennon without the Beatles, or Michael Jackson without the Jackson 5, we find that the solo artist makes the purest music. Our first year making Grenache we tried test-blending it with Pinot Noir, and the strange thing was that the Pinot dominated it. So we left it alone. The LUMEN Grenache can now sing its own aria.
The 2014 Lumen Grenache comes from two vineyards in our region: Martian Vineyard in Los Alamos, and Camp 4 in Los Olivos. We make it exactly like we do our Pinot Noir, and the end result is a wine much like Pinot in body, but with a vastly different flavor profile. Our Grenache is fruit-driven, with raspberry and chocolate flavors on the palate, accented by cinnamon and white pepper. We think we are joining the forefront of a new movement that will put Grenache on the map as Santa Barbara’s next best offering to the world of wine.
Grab a hold of our new Grenache offering while it is still in stock, and don’t worry about how to pronounce it! And while you’re at it, grab a few others to boot. Our Newsletter members get a killer deal - 20% off! Just use this code at checkout:
- Will Henry
[vc_row show_full_width="1" padding_setting="1" desktop_padding="no-padding"][vc_column][vc_column_text]Lumen's 2013 Pinots receive sweet accolades! Click here to read the article in The Pinot File.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]