High praise for the fickle grapes

High praise for the fickle grapes

Posted by Will Henry | September 20, 2014

Introducing California’s First Pinot Alternative

Grenache is a very interesting and challenging grape.  A wine made from 100% Grenache can have the weight of a Pinot Noir: a medium to light bodied red. I t doesn’t normally lend itself to making big, tannic wines.  (Side note: a lot of the Grenache that you see in stores is blended with Syrah or Mourvedre in order to fatten it up).  This is what attracted me originally to the varietal: it has a lot of the food versatility and grace of a good Pinot, but possesses a completely different flavor profile.  A Pinot alternative, if you will.

The first eye-opening California Grenache I had was made by Angela Osborne under her Tribute to Grace label.  I tasted the wine on a tasting menu at Cyrus in Healdsburg and it floored me.  Hence in 2013 Lane and I set out to make our own version from this fickle grape.  The result of our labor – 2013 Lumen Grenache – will be available in January 2015.

2014 marks our second vintage of working with Grenache.  We have sourced fruit from two prominent SB County vineyards.  Our first load came in a few days ago, from Martian Ranch in Los Alamos.  The fruit was beautiful, showing about 24 degrees brix sugar (perfect sugar level for ripe fruit), and beautiful, small, red berries.

Grenache is one of the most widely planted wine varietals in the world.  It originated in Spain (under the title Garnacha), where it typically produces a big, rich red wine.  Grenache (pronounced gren-ah-sh) is also very popular in Southern France, particularly in the Rhone, where it makes its way into many blends (most prominently in Chateauneuf-du-Pape).  There seems to be a growing interest in this varietal in California these days – and we hope to be riding the first wave.

When Grenache goes through the de-stemmer, the differences between this grape and Pinot Noir become instantly noticeable.  Grenache has a much thicker skin (unlike some humans), but when the skin breaks, the juice is very light in color.  The big challenge is that its skin really doesn’t like to break.  When we pour it into our bins, they drop like a ton of ball bearings and yield almost no juice.  This presents a huge challenge, because our winemaking technique depends on the presence of some juice to punch-down and to inoculate with yeast.  What this means for me specifically is that I do a lot of grunting and sweating on top of our open fermentation vats, punching down the cap and hoping to break a few berries.

The Martian Ranch Grenache will certainly be a beauty.  The property is located just above the town of Los Alamos, in a site that is relatively cool for Grenache, but warm enough to adequately ripen the fruit.  The site is biodynamically farmed and the yields kept very low.  2014 will mark our first from this vineyard, so stay tuned for more notes from harvest!

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