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.