LA CUADRILLA WHITE (NV)
The prospects of making a great Viognier are almost as elusive as making a great Roussanne. To keep the fruit profile fresh and pure, we usually play it safe. We press the clusters and immediately put the juice in stainless steel tanks to ferment and age and then quickly bottle the wine within 6-8 months.
We took a long break from Viognier, making one last in 2001 before the 2010 harvest when Sashi fell in love with the fruit profile enough to jump back into monocepage production. The main lot behaved as expected, and we made a 2010 Viognier exactly as described, pure and simple. However, one small lot didn’t want to cooperate. The cool, windy growing season must have reminded some of the vines of home in Condrieu. When this precious fruit made it into the winery, the juice decided to take its time with fermentation. We scratched our heads and let the sugar levels rise at a snail’s pace. Primary fermentation ended up lasting over a year, and early on we decided to transfer the juice into neutral barrels. We’ve heard stories of long fermentations in Condrieu, and there are some wines that rest two years in barrel before bottling, so we felt better at least with the knowledge of precedents in Viognier’s motherland.
If this wine was going to take on the complexity of a long, native fermentation, we wanted to add texture from oak to back up the flavors. We also allowed malolactic fermentation to occur to allow the wine to fill out. The result is a wine that evolves in the glass mirroring it’s maturation in barrel.
The color is rich gold. After first popping the cork, the fruit flavors are dried and mature. But with a few swirls; ripe Apricot, nectarine, and then pineapple; all drizzled in honey, remind me of my favorite post-sushi palate cleanser. As the nose opens up, fresh Hawaiian pineapple becomes even more vivid, and takes me right back to my honeymoon in Oahu as it wafts out of the glass after a few more minutes. The extended oak aging and lactic acid add weight to the finish, and the wine shows great viscosity with a touch of mint that I often pick up in our 2007 late harvest Viognier.
This wine is ready to drink but it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the next 1-3 years.
LA CUADRILLA RED (NV)
When we made our commitment to La Cuadrilla to bottle 10% of our annual production in their label and give them the profit margin, we assumed that the 2008 April frost had been a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. In 2008, night-time temperatures dipped below freezing in mid-April, and ever since, we delay our final pruning to push back bud-break to late April.
I’ll never forget the phone call I received from Ruben in late April of 2011, just 3 years later. I was on a sales trip in Boston, sitting down to dinner with friends, when Ruben finally got up the courage to call me with the bad news. The entire vineyard had been hit by frost and all the buds appeared to be “burnt”. It was too early to tell if the majority had been fully frozen, but the forecast called for another frost again that night. Sashi called me the following morning and relayed his assumption that the entire first growth would not grow, and we would be entirely dependent on second growth. We had already slated the crew’s training “Cuadra” in Block 5 Sangiovese, and because the Italian varietal doesn’t produce a fertile second growth, focusing on life-sustaining leaves rather than grapes for reproduction, the 2011 Cuadrilla wine wound up being less than 900 cases.
With 2010 still in barrel, we made the decision to keep some lots over in order to continue the Cuadrilla wine and keep the bonus checks healthy. The new bottling of Cuadrilla reflects this decision. Sashi blended 47% 2010 Syrah and 38% 2010 Sangiovese with 15% fresh 2011 Syrah. Syrah is the one varietal on the vineyard that shrugs off frost and ripens clusters even on second growth shoots.
The new label, designed by Stolpman Vineyard’s resident artist, Kari Crist, reflects a much happier occasion. In 2014 we are celebrating “Grape Whisperer” Ruben Solorzano’s 20th anniversary with Stolpman Vineyards. The label depicts his smiling face with a long road behind him, symbolizing his journey from rural Jalisco to becoming one of the most celebrated viticulturalists in the world.
Brooding deep red, the Syrah dominated blend shows off its concentrated punch on the nose. This is certainly a step up in weight class from the Sangiovese-dominant 2011 bottling: tarry, bbq meats and particularly smoked ribs, dark wild berries, and forest floor all pack into the nose and flavor profile.
As always, La Cuadrilla is the ultimate BBQ wine, either grilling over oak under our iconic vineyard tree or in your backyard. This edition also has the complexity and full-body to stand up to a host of other cuisines, or just enjoy on its own.
The wine will unfurl over the next year, so raise a glass to Ruben’s Anniversary in 2014 for optimal drinking age!
2010 ESTATE SANGIOVESE
Planted throughout the early and mid 90s at the demand of self proclaimed “Italophile” Tom Stolpman, Sangiovese has flourished on Stolpman Vineyards, especially under the supervision of international consultant Alberto Antonini PHD. Dr. A dictated dry-farming the Sangiovese, and later, we were able to extend the practice to every mature block on the ranch.
Today, vineyard Manager Ruben Solorzano says that Sangiovese rivals Syrah as the easiest, most natural “fit” for Stolpman’s Terroir. Raised for millennia in the rocky Tuscan hills, the varietal was bred to prosper on the arid Limestone hillsides and crowns in Ballard Canyon. With the Tuscan wine industry struggling to survive, Stolpman offers unique focus on the Varietal, especially with a moderate price tag relative to the ever-escalating retails of Sangiovese Grosso in Montalcino.
After experimenting with making a rustic “Classico” or “Rosso” version of Sangiovese under our “la Coppa” line, Sashi has decided there is no substitute for the extended neutral oak aging in the Italian “Riserva” style. This wine rests for over 30 months in 500 Liter puncheons before bottling. The long cask aging allows the fruit flavors to flesh out from the nose and front palate into the body of the wine and finish. The richness of the flavors couch the high acid and tannin of the varietal, making the drinking experience smoother.
The 2010 Estate Sangiovese carries on the “Cherry Leather Chocolate” trifecta to bring joy to devotees, and further bedevil critics who obsess over the definition of “new world Sangiovese”. The 2010 carries an air of brightness with hints of red violet. The tannins are already coddled by lapping waves and layers of red fruit on the finish, but like the vintages prior, the Estate Sangiovese will fill out to become a mature beauty over the next few years.
Just have a glance at our inbox full of requests to buy library vintages of 2006 and 2007 Estate Sangiovese, and it’s clear, this line becomes magical 3-4 years after release.
2010 SANGIO DEGLI ANGELI
After reinvesting in perfected high density planting of Sangiovese clone 23 on a single ridgeline simply labeled “Block A” (A for Alberto Antonini?), and tasting fruit from the 20 year old Sangiovese Rodino Clone vines on the wide Block 3 Hilltop; we decided to hold the most intensely beautiful lots of Sangiovese for an “Angeli” bottling. Sashi selected the first bottling of Sangio degli Angeli from the 2008 vintage, and both that wine and the 2009 to follow, sold out shortly after release.
Marilyn Stolpman’s Italian Family name Angeli, Angels, presents the perfect brand opportunity for us. Sangiovese meant Blood of the Gods in ancient Roman, so we translate, Sangio degli Angeli, to Blood of the Angels. The Angeli wine remains the very best few barrels of 100% Syrah.
For the Angeli line of wines, we strive to bottle complex “Wines of Meditation” that overwhelm the senses with deliciousness and evolve throughout a glass or bottle to surprise and delight with each discovery of nuance.
Everything about this wine is pretty and opulent. The red spectrum of color goes from deep red to Bordalesque velvet to shimmering rose around the rim.
The intensity of the color is backed up by the flavor profile. Cranberry, spiced tea, and cinnamon compliment the rich red flavors and the mouth-feel is savory with a refined finish that lingers for minutes.
Like the Estate Sangiovese, this wine will take a few years to reach its true potential. But because of the intensity of the fruit profile, it offers even more hedonistic appeal than the Estate Sangiovese when drunk young.
2011 ESTATE GROWN SYRAH
If you don’t like this wine, we’re in trouble. This bottling represents the largest annual production of any Stolpman wine by at least threefold. Being the largest, flagship wine from the vineyard each year, Estate Syrah is the truest representation of our Terroir and the best indicator of an individual vintage’s unique conditions. Estate Syrah serves as the introduction to Stolpman Vineyards for customers around the country and occasionally the world, so we pressure ourselves to make this wine sing, and price it reasonably to attract new devotees. Part of this equation entails keeping higher-end Syrah production small, so as not to remove all of the magic from the Estate Syrah.
To ensure the Estate Syrah is the best wine possible, Sashi adds small amounts of Viognier to lots of Syrah fruit that he feels can benefit from more delicate, lifted perfume. Sashi makes this final decision in the vineyard, a day or two before picking. This method was developed in Cote Rotie because the transparent Viognier juice absorbs more red pigment from the Syrah Skins than the Syrah grapes own translucent juice, creating a darker, inkier final product. Dark color is rarely an issue in Ballard Canyon, so for us, Viognier co-fermentation is all about hitting a precise aroma profile.
The tiny post-frost 2011 Syrah clusters showed off a deeper, darker profile than the brighter, red-hued harvests of any vintage in the past. For the majority of the Syrah blocks, Sashi chose to play into this profile rather than attempt to lift it with Viognier co-fermentation. The final percentage on the 2011 Estate Syrah hovers around 1%, versus an average of 3% for the 2007-2010 vintages.
Once the wine finished secondary fermentation and Sashi was able to taste through barrels representational of the final product, he chose to add 3% Grenache to taper the masculinity of the monstrously concentrated vintage. Then he added 2% Roussanne for smoother, round textures.
While unusual, using white Roussanne to temper the Red beast is used in Chateau Neuf du Pape and Hermitage, and is even officially allowed by French AOC Wine Laws. Sashi first employed Roussanne in reds for the Hilltops Syrah wine, most notably to tame the mean, tannic 2006 Hilltops by filling all of the just-emptied L’Avion puncheons with Syrah and letting the red age another 10 months on the gross white lees (unfiltered pulp and skin particles).
2011 Estate Syrah final blend: 94% Syrah, 3% Grenache, 2% Roussanne, 1% Viognier (co-fermented)
The 2011 Estate Syrah still shows its true heart of darkness despite blending. The dark purple color; the brooding aromas of charcuterie and plum dominate the wine with pretty red, wild berries, and purple flowers on the periphery. My first thought upon smelling the wine prior to bottling was, “this is going to be a bruiser.”
On the mouth, the wine proves soft and delicate, showcasing Sashi’s winemaking and chef-honed blending talents. I’m still reminded of walking through the dark shade of a tall, thick forest, but certainly not an intimidating one; more of a whimsical, Peter Pan or Summer family vacation forest. This is a happy wine with tons to offer.
Drink now or hold 10-15 years if you’re patient enough!
2011 HILLTOPS SYRAH
The hilltop vines grown straight in Limestone rock without benefit of topsoil, exposed to sun throughout the day, and blasted by howling winds; all combine to produce wines with concentration and rich textures. Like the other 2011 wines, the Hilltops Syrah is not only about this immediate gratification. I taste the excitement of the vintage that began with frost. I sense the vines telling me “we reigned victorious, we were knocked down, got back up, and we gave you this extraordinary product”.
Ripe Plum, sangre-iron, with hints of oak; this wine reminds me that I am a carnivore. Despite being rich and lavish, there is energy in this wine that makes me want to tear into some flesh. This wine is going to be a big hit. Forget being a carnivore, this wine makes me happy to be alive. Excitement bursts through the dense core and beams out, almost with revelatory radiance.
The 2011 Hilltops Syrah is the wine that folks spend all year looking for; the wine that steals the show at a geeked-out tasting group; and the wine your dinner guests say, “oh wow, show me that label”.
As the Syrah vineyards have matured, the Hilltops Syrah, picked only from vines growing on ridgelines and crowns, has become the most Hedonistic and Calfornian of our extensive Syrah offering. Barrel aged for an extended 6 months on 25% new French oak, the wine is typically the most impressive and upfront upon release. The 2011 is indeed already showing off, but those who cellar it will be rewarded with an even more integrated experience. Check in with our vintage chart in a couple decades: https://www.stolpmanvineyards.com/VintageChartMarch2013.pdf
2011 LA CROCE
Upon starting his tenure at Stolpman Vineyards in 2001, Sashi felt called to take advantage of the simultaneous Syrah and Sangiovese harvest. While walking the vineyard with Alberto Antonini, Tom Stolpman, Ruben Solorzano and I; he silently pondered the opportunity. In 2001, the Super Tuscan craze of blending indigenous Italian grapes with international varieties had swept through Chianti and Bolgheri and captivated the wine world. Sashi was hesitant to chase a wine trend and planned on keeping his thoughts to himself.
The meeting took place on a typically foggy Ballard Canyon morning, and the low clouds drifted through the hawk perch crosses as the group walked the vineyard blocks. Ruben spoke up, mentioning that the Catholic Cuadrilla thought the vineyard was a sacred place because of mornings like this. We paused to take in the beauty of the scene when Dad asked Alberto, “How do you say Cross in Italian?”
Sash couldn’t resist the coincidence, “we could name a wine La Croce after these crosses, but the meaning would be deeper, the wine would actually be a cross of Sangiovese and Syrah, Italy and France.”
With Tom and Alberto’s blessing, the young, ambitious Sashi Moorman decided to go all out. Not only would the two varietals be picked and fermented together, he would take the end caps off of new French barrels and actually ferment in the barrels, press and replace the caps, and then age the wine in them.
We received quite a bit of curiosity and press from the experiment, but after a couple years of trials, Sashi decided that the trouble of deconstructing barrels didn’t affect the end product. We have, however, continued the unusual experiment of co-fermenting approximately 50% Syrah with 50% Sangiovese to make one, gorgeous red blend.
While the 2011 La Croce rivals 2011 Hilltops Syrah for stealing my heart, the La Croce’s firm structure calls for a more sophisticated, structured appreciation. It’s not that the wine is tight and needs time although it is certainly 5-10 years away from peaking. If anything, the Sangiovese and Syrah are so well integrated through co-fermentation it becomes difficult to pick apart individual flavors.
This is the perfect girl who you brush off as way out of your league; beautiful, well-adjusted, intelligent; and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle, tasting 2011 La Croce might remind you of waking up to realize you’ve married that girl!
The depth and richness of the 2011 La Croce exemplify the best of New World winemaking and what Italians set out to accomplish by blending more expansive varietals with medium bodied, tannic Italians.
2010 RUBEN’S BLOCK
After visiting Renee Rostaing in January 2006, Ruben returned to Ballard Canyon inspired. He set out to replicate Domaine Rostaing’s limestone riddled Cote Blonde vineyard.
Cote Rotie consists of east facing mountain sides perched on the Northern tip of Syrah’s motherland. Farmers there cram as many vines in as possible leaving just enough space between to climb through. They are unburdened by the constraints of tractor widths on the hillsides too vertical to navigate. Because of the lack of topsoil and overall fertility, each vine produces tiny yields, so in order to make the vineyards viable, high density plantings are used not only for concentration through root competition, but as a necessary means to make enough wine.
To capture as much sunlight as possible during each morning’s Eastward exposure window, every two vines are trained to a single vertex on top. 2 vines end up casting the shadow of one, allowing the sun to penetrate through to bath each leaf with energy. In the warmer, sunnier sites further south such as Hermitage, St. Joseph, and Cornas, the vines are planted in similarly tight spacing, but trained vertically as sun exposure is no issue.
When Ruben returned from Europe, he focused on the steep East facing hill above Ballard Canyon Road that Tom Stolpman previously wrote off as too steep to plant. He own-rooted (no root stock) over 6,000 Syrah vines just one meter away from each other and staked them diagonally just as he had seen in Cote Rotie.
Even with the similar East facing exposure as Cote Rotie, Ruben’s Block still receives mush more sun Intensity. Today, we see the benefit of the diagonal training as a moderating effect on the vines. As Ruben watches his block throughout the day, he observes that each vine receives quick respites of shade. These siesta breaks allowed Ruben to commence dry farming the block in 2007, just a year after he planted the vines.
Because each head-pruned vine tasks itself to ripen only a few clusters, Ruben’s Block ripens 2-3 weeks before any other Syrah. The result is phenolic ripeness at much lower alcohol. Ruben’s Block Syrah carries a much more elegant, old-world mouth-feel due to less glycerol, but complex flavors stemming from the low vine yield are tightly stuffed into the lightweight package. Because of this, much like traditional Cote Rotie, Ruben’s Block Syrah takes years to unfurl and open. We release an extremely limited portion of this wine three years after harvest. The rest is held for further maturity.
We look forward to conducting side-by-side tastings of Ruben’s block with Cote Rotie Syrahs and down the line, we will do the same with our new “Cornas Block”. All of these wines are intended for long-term cellaring.