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