Great Californian Vintners are judged by the concentration of the flavor, the health of the vines’ canopies, their ability to coax a sick vineyard back from the brink…
Prestigious fruit source sites are normally just that, another credential on a label – with most of the credit of a heralded wine going to the winemaker that took over after harvest.
Once Ruben Solorzano secured his legacy in the top echelon of California’s vintners, he decided it was time to bridge this divide. In 2008, after 20 years in the vineyards, he began to make wine.
Ruben was no longer satisfied with ending his vintage the morning he tasted that last potently sweet grape of the year. While Ruben has no problem passing the buck, allowing the winemaking team to jump in to optimize the wine’s potential, he craved a deeper transparency from his craft through to the final result in bottle.
HECHO POR RUBEN – MADE BY RUBEN
For Ruben to truly understand the effect of his decisions in the vineyard, he needed to control winemaking as well. So in 2008 he launched his wine project within our building. For the next 7 years, Ruben compartmentally fermented and aged his wines, careful to handle each identically. By eliminating all other variables, Ruben could then taste the difference in a single vineyard experiment.
Despite the exacting protocol that went into making these wines, it’s been a pleasure to drink the 2008-2014 vintages of Hecho Por Ruben wines with Ruben and our extended family. Because they were made in such small quantities, we gave them extra age in both barrel and bottle. I look forward to continuing to drink them with Ruben and the family for decades to come. They are even more special now, because 2014 marks the last year Ruben made his wine – the bottles we have in the cellar are it!
As Ruben tasted barrels, answering his different best-practices questions, he began to fixate on the noble Syrah grape. I watched the experimental side give way to a passion for the craft of winemaking. By 2014, Ruben had run out of questions he needed to answer, but he now loved making wine. Ruben was ready for the next chapter in his winemaking career. And after I had tasted the wines he was making from his other vineyard sites, I was eager to partner with him.
By joining forces, we were able to increase the scale of production from the micro lots of Hecho Por Ruben. Ruben selects his favorite blocks of Syrah from throughout his viticultural empire, and he ensures the grapes are in perfect condition when they arrive at the winery. They have to be, because about half of the fruit goes directly into sealed containers for native carbonic fermentation – no mold or ruptured grapes can be tolerated. Ruben and I love the carbonic element as it grants fresh purity and liveliness to the wines, a direct link to what we taste in the grapes while harvesting.
Over the seven year span of producing Hecho Por Ruben, the legend of Ruben Solorzano and his Grape Whispering had spread far outside of Santa Barbara County. We decided to dial our new brand back a bit from “Made by Ruben” to “Para Maria” – an ode to Ruben’s wife, who is the leader of the Stolpman Vineyard Crew “La Cuadrilla”.
Sun + Earth
There was one last piece missing to the story. Ruben IS the vineyard. While he planted and farms the stunning Para Maria grape sources from the western edge of STA Rita Hills through Happy Canyon, he doesn’t own them. Even if it is just a retirement plan, we all have the romantic notion of tending our vines in the cool of the morning, topping a few barrels, and serving special guests a meal overlooking our land in the evening.
Lucky for everyone, four fallow acres lay behind Ruben and Maria’s home on Stolpman Vineyards. In 2015 we hatched the plan to give this land to the Solorzanos. The future site of their Estate Vineyard, which they named Sun and Earth – a translation of Solorzano. In early 2016, after a winter of much soul-searching, Ruben and Maria planted exactly the combination of varietals they envisioned for their perfect wine – Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache.
The goal is to make a co-fermented bottling each vintage, meaning, each varietal will ferment together rather than blending later in the winery. Co-fermenting means the final profile is set in stone up front, direct from the vineyard, all about terroir (and the vineyard work that got it there). A little something can’t be added later to help out. The lofty ambition of co-fermenting is that the flavors of the different varietals marry as juice turns to wine – these foundational flavors will be uniquely different than the same wine fermented separately.
Of course, co-fermentation is the opposite approach to the days of Hecho Por Ruben, – back when Ruben needed to test dozens of experiments separately. Today, I see Ruben’s intent to co-ferment as cool confidence that he will nail every move in the vineyard!
The inaugural vintage, 2017 Sun+Earth, will be officially released October 1, 2019.