Tom Stolpman describes himself as an Italophile – he loves everything Italian, but especially, Italian wine. Tom’s passion served as the sole motivator to plant Italian varietals on our Ballard Canyon property in the mid ‘90s. He chose perhaps the two most heralded grapes from the top of the Boot – Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. While the cold nights and gale force winds of Ballard Canyon proved too hostile for delicate Nebbiolo; Sangiovese – bred on rugged Tuscan hills – thrived.
We quickly planted another Sangiovese block as our own wine production came on line. In 2001, Dad and Sashi hired Alberto Antonini to teach us how to maximize the potential of Sangiovese on our land. Like Dad, Alberto was struck by the resemblance of our Ballard Canyon hills to those of Tuscany. He immediately recommended that we adopt the methodology of Italy’s top producers.
Dry Farming: Alberto shocked us by asking Ruben to turn off all irrigation. Dry farming had never been attempted in a post-prohibition Santa Barbara vineyard.
Ruben did as instructed, and the vines were shocked as well. They crashed, barely ripening the crop before going dormant. The Sangiovese rebounded the next year and gave us our highest quality fruit yet. Ruben then began weaning irrigation from all of our varietals to the point that today, no vines receive irrigation after grape set in May.
Dry farming forces naturally vigorous Sangiovese to grow more conservatively. With less fruit yield and smaller, less diluted grapes, Stolpman Estate Sangiovese now appears darker and more intense and feels fuller in the mouth. Dry farming creates this profile while not sacrificing natural balance and the signature high-toned acidity of the varietal.
Italian Wine Law: Alberto encouraged us to push the limit of aging our Sangiovese to allow the thick skin’s firm tannin to integrate. Any Italian Sangiovese, whether it be a Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino, must age a minimum number of years prior to bottling to qualify for the prestigious Riserva title. Alberto felt we should hold Stolpman Estate Sangiovese to the same standard.
We held one lot of Sangiovese over from bottling and tasted it as the months dragged on and the wine turned three years old. While the wine did become suppler, it also began to lose freshness. It was through this trial that we decided 30 months is the ideal age to bottle our Sangiovese.
New Plantings: Thrilled by the success of our Sangiovese, we decided to plant a third block in the vineyard. In 2004 we acquired a narrow-gauge John Deere tractor and now had the ability to plant at higher densities. More vines per acre and less fruit per vine meant elevated power and concentration. We once again called on Alberto for advice and he recommended his favorite Sangiovese Clone: number 23.
This new block is picked together with adjacent high density Syrah for our La Croce Red Wine, and also makes it into our Sangio degli Angeli bottling.
At 15 acres or 10% of our vineyard, Sangiovese commands disproportionate star-power relative to its production size. Almost all of the wine is saved for our Tasting Room and Wine Club.