What is Rosé and who do we get there? Very good question which takes us down a road with many forks. Rosé can be made very sweet, semi-sweet, dry, still, sparkling, from white grapes, from grey grapes and from red grapes. They can be fresh stainless steel immediate same year release wines or aged for almost a decade in large Spanish Casks.
The Estelle Vineyard is in the new Los Olivos District AVA. This region is in the warmer portions of Santa Ynez Valley. The Bordeaux, Rhône and Italian varietals predominate. Grenache from Estelle is intense with a ripe Brix and acid to balance out the wines. The Rosé have a lighter pink color with notes of ripe strawberry, orange, watermelon and sometimes with a hint of allspice.
One morning I was traversing the route between breakfast at Bob's Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamos and the Winery's Crush-pad in Orcutt, when my gaze fell upon a vineyard climbing up the top of the coastal mountains. Driving down the 135 between bites of ham and cheese croissant washed down with black coffee, I pulled off the road. Where I landed was near a sign that was white with red font: Los Alamos Vineyard. Beginning at the road side the Chardonnay was on the flat ground in a bilateral cordon trellis. Rows of vines extended completely along the flat and inclined slowly up the hillside to very near the acme. The vines wound their way up as far as I could see. This was a very large Vineyard. I was intrigued and decided to explore. It was there that I first met Tavo Acosta, the Vineyard manager. This was an extremely productive vineyard that supplied lots measured in hundreds of tons to multiple famous winery labels. I told him I was looking for something unique and small; not exactly what I was looking at on the main floor of the property. I figured I was asking for something he probably was not normally sought. And, I caught his attention. He said that his place can supply quality fruit in large amounts; and that is how it was planted. However, he knew some sweet spots that were much more with huge potential and a proven track record. Several small lots had already been developed for high end Chardonnay projects by winemakers expressing finesse and Terroir. The top, he says, check out the blocks at the very top.
My first Harvest in Los Alamos was in block 18. I liked this block because it had a history of producing high-quality Chardonnay. There was right next to a very fine winemaker and chef that made Chardonnay that I appreciated. I choose a spot on a steep slope producting fantastic wine in 2015. However, in 2016 I wanted to push the envelope and see if I could find something unique. Hence, I sought something a little different.
After discussing my thoughts with Tavo, he said that he thought he had something for me. It was different in the sense that it was too small to be a part of any of his other main projects. It was only 1.74 acres. It was interesting in that it was isolated: a micro-Terroir. It was Clone 4 on the Freedom Rootstock like Block 18 but the soil, topography and row direction were different. Most importantly, it was completely isolated and would be my own slice of the vineyard; my own block of Chardonnay.
Tavo drove us up to the vineyard top in his 4 x 4 as there was no way we were going to make it without it. It was a bit dicey but we finally reached the top. As we approached the Vineyard there were two things about the top: the view and an unusual tree. From where we stopped, you could look out and could see the entire valley. The 135 now looked like a little tiny stream and cars were specks. It was am amazing expanse of the entire vallley. Second, there was this tree. It sat at the entrance of the vineyard guarding this Block. Tavo said see how it looks like a stag resting on the ground with a wide base and two separate trunks in the front that extend towards the sky. I completely agreed that look like a stag. It looked like a stag guarding my little 1.74 acre curvilinear plot of fascinating Chardonnay.
We got out of the truck he walked down the rows between the trellises. The first thing that crossed my mind is the feel of the ground. Instead of hard, solid ground my feet were sinking; it was sand. There were also several old trees randomly mixed into the vineyard. This was very interesting. The trellis was bilateral cordon with a cracked cane technique: some of the canes were directed below the canopy towards the ground. Healthy, vibrant vines with golden grapes of Chardonnay. They were beautiful. Not one bit of mildew or raisoning. I did not see any problems at all: Strong and healthy, the vine rows ran in an East West direction. They were facing the sun and there was no evidence of any sunburn. Care and time had manicured these immaculate vines. These grapes were unique. I walked around the multi-levels and felt more and more impressed. I felt connected. This is where my Chardonnay was going to grow. Then and there are I told him that this would be the land I would work. This is where I wanted to be long term. It already had a very pruned and low yield which is exactly what I wanted.
Later I was told that area before it became a vineyard was covered in rocks and dirt with nothing growing except for 1.74 acre flat where they grew a crop of flowers. It was the only use of the land in the beginning before the Vineyard was cleared and planted with grapes. This is the reason why I call this Block Flower & Stag.
The first vintage will be 2016. Stay tuned for some amazing Chardonnay.
A polar opposite to last year, Mother Nature is cooperating in 2016. The mornings are much more usual being cool and covering most of Sta. Rita Hills in morning fog. The mid-days are mild with temperatures in the mid 70s for the most part and the late afternoons cooled by ocean breezes. There have been several peaks into the high 80s to low 90s but none of the 100 plus temperature spikes that were quite common in 2015. There is no rain in site, which should play no role whatsoever in the harvesting decisions.
Long, mild days have produced well-balanced ripened grapes. The acidity is normally respirated or lost when the temperature get too high; this is done to help cool the grapes. But this year that has not been a problem and the acidity is well balanced with the continuous and steady increase in sugar. Sugar is important for measuring the ripeness but also directly equates to the amount of alcohol that will be in the final wine product.
First to come off this year was the Pinot Grigio from Runway Vineyard on August 1st. This is always earliest as it is in the Santa Maria AVA (American Viticultural Area) and tends to ripen early. Next we took Pinot Noir from the roadside portion of Rio Vista Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. Acidity was the name of the game for this harvest as these Pinot Noir Clone 667 grapes are destined to become the 2016 Rosé of Pinot. The focus of this wine is minerality, floral notes and light red fruit qualities to provide balance to food and a fine tasting Rosé.
Several weeks later in mid September, the Rio Vista Vineyard from the Hillside Pinot Noir Clone 667 and the lower bluff, Clone 777 were picked to make Pinot Noir red wine. Any day now we will finish with Rio Vista by harvesting the Clone 115 that is tucked away in a small, shady little plot up the road from the main vineyard. Around this time, the Rancho La Viña vineyard Pinot Noir should be nearing ripeness. This vineyard is up on a Hillside and overlooks the entire valley and Santa Rosa Road that splits the sides in half. Pinot Noir in 2016 will be very age-worthy with amazing balance, beautiful perfume noses, minerality and fruit concentration.
Next will be our whites: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay is in Los Alamos Vineyard in Block 20 or Flower & Stag Block. It is in a 1.74 acre separated parcel that is isolated from the rest of the large vineyard. It has its own microclimate and sandy soil; stay tuned for a complete and detailed write up of this vineyard. Many fantastic and famous Chardonnays come from this site. The Sauvignon Blanc is back by popular demand. Many club members have been asking me to make Sauvignon Blanc again but it took me awhile to finally find a vineyard I liked: Two Wolves. This is abutting the Happy Canyon AVA and is the hottest of the microclimates for our wines. Sloping, steep hillside Clone 1 Sauvignon Blanc is just beautiful here and I cannot wait to make wine from this site. Look for Chardonnays with apple and pear flavors aged in oak for creaminess. The Sauvignon Blancs will be lean, with tons of minerality dominated by lots of passion fruit and guava.
After the whites are done will come Harrison-Clarke Vineyard. The upper bluff, soil-starved, stress Estrella Clone Syrah and the flat. lower expanse Alban Clone Syrah will be harvested. Both of these appear to have the perfect balance of acidity, sugar and flavor. It should be an amazing year for these Rhône varietals. I am expected intense blackberry, pepper and cola.
As the season progresses we will Harvest: Cabernet, Malbec and Merlot from Happy Canyon Vineyard, McGinley Vineyard and Tommy Town Vineyard all from the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. At about the same time the Cabernet and Merlot from Estelle Vineyard should be ready which is located in the newest AVA: Los Olivos District. Late to the party will be the Cabernet Franc (Sanger Vineyard), Petite Sirah (Sanger Vineyard), Sangiovese (Estelle Vineyard) and Tempranillo (Tierra Alta Vineyard). To finish the season will be the Petit Verdot (McGinley Vineyard) and the grand finale the Grenache from Flower & Vine Vineyard (aka Alisos Vineyard).
I will be updating more on the Harvest as it progresses.
Appellation: Los Olivos District
Location: Estelle is the most Northeast of the vineyards that make up the Los Olivos District. It sits in its own corner abutting the Happy Canyon AVA.
Grape Varieties: Albariño, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Noir, Loureiro, Merlot, Mouvedre, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Verdehlo and Viognier.
Soil: Well-drained, fine, sandy loam with a clay subsoil. Fairly broad alluvial bench underlain by terrace deposits of Orcutt sand.
Climate: Mediterranean with cool wet winters and warm dry summers. The juxtaposition to the Pacific Ocean provides cooling coastal winds and morning fog. Los Olivos is warmer than its neighbor Ballard Canyon but more temperate that its eastern Happy Canyon.
Topography: The front vineyard is relatively flat with a south-facing alluvial plain. The back (Block 8&9) has a moderately sloping terrain.
Seal Beach Winery has been working with Estelle Vineyard since 2009. The first vintage was a blend of several Blocks. Presently we are working with Cabernet Sauvignon in Blocks 8 (Clone 337), Block13 (Clone 341), Block 14 (Clone 101) and Block 16 (Clone 338).
In 2016, we added Merlot Clone 181 in Block 12 and Sangiovese Clone 3 in Block 2A.
The vineyard is meticulously cared for by John and Ivan Belfy. John planted Estelle and many of the vineyards within the Santa Ynez Valley. The perfect marrying of Scion Clone, Rootstock Clone (second number after the dash—110R), soil and climate is an art form that is mystifyingly difficult and defined by an infinite number of variables. The vineyards are immaculately farmed with old school trellising and overcrops but app loaded continuous satellite monitoring. At harvest, the grapes are always beautiful and hardly require any sorting whatsoever.
It is viticulture as described above that makes the winemaking so easy. Just don’t screw it up! Is the definition of Estelle Cabernet. Crush and De-stem, into the fermenters, inoculate, press and age in barrels. It is that simple.
Merlot is blended into the Cabernet Clone Cuvee that we make. It is planned to have its own varietal bottling as well. The Sangiovese has been offered as a Growler wine but in the future we will be bottling this wine.
The overall intensity, varietal expression and vinified complexity set the character of Estelle Wines. Having a leaner fruit style than neighboring Happy Canyon but an uniform soil type allows great balance and long term aging.
SBW has long term contracts with Estelle Vineyard and a commitment to the Cabernet Project. Estelle has been with us from the beginning and will be there as we evolve into future. Expect many new blends for the Growlers and Bottled Varietals with Estelle Grapes defining the high quality that we strive to achieve in every Vintage.
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 101 To Be Released
2015 Sangiovese (Growler) To Be Released
2015 Grenache (Growler) To Be Released
The flowers have set and budbreak is upon us. We now have a little tiny grapes making up little clusters. These green clusters will continue to grow, accumulate sugar and respire acid until Veraison; when they change color to white or Red. This is usually in mid-July.
The 2015 vintage was most representative of the California drought. The vines were stressed from a very early time period. The lack of water starved the vines and reduced yield. To compound this problem, an early Spring wind blew at the time of flowering. Flowers are very delicate and wind can blow the flowers off the vine. The flowers after pollination are what produces grape clusters. So this wind essentially thinned or reduce the clusters, which meant less grapes per vine. This reduced the overall yield.
In this Terroir, the stressed vines tend to produce small berries, less grapes per cluster and less clusters per vine.
On the bright side, this has produced fantastic wine. Dark, rich and concentrated Pinot Noir and Cabernet highlight an excellent vintage. Into 2015, we also added Petite Verdot, Merlot and we are doing our second year of Tempranillo. The Syrah on the hilltop Vineyard of Harrison-Clarke again produced amazingly rich wines with layers of depth.
Our newest addition to the Seal Beach Winery portfolio is the Natalie Grace 2012 Grenache from Alisos Vineyard. We have been working in this Vineyard since 2008. Later this year we will release the 2012 Syrah from Alisos Vineyard. We also have a new Viognier from Brickbarn vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley AVA. In August we will be bottling 2015 Chardonnay and the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337 Estelle Vineyard Los Olivos District AVA. On June 4th, we had our first Winemaker's Dinner at Delius Restaurant in Long Beach. Everyone had a great time with wonderful Wine and Food pairings. That was the night we first offered our latest Futures purchase.
Now for a limited time, the 2014 Cabernet Clone 337 Estelle Vineyard Los Olivos District AVA is for sale in barrel. Each case of 12 bottles is offered for $300, well below the retail price of $480 and the Wine Club discounted price of $324. But this deal will be done when the wine is moved from barrel to bottle in August 2016; so if you are interested act now.
Much variety will be found in our Reds from 2014: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Syrah. Look for these wines to release throughout 2017.
As Summer nears, we are about to have our thousandth fill for each of the 1.0L & 1.9L growlers. This is an extremely popular program and if you are a Wine Club member and not yet a Growler member I encourage you to look into this further. We just added a 1.5 L disposable growler this year. It has a very low environmental profile made from recycled materials and completely is recyclable itself. It has an airtight spout dispensing system, that will keep your wine fresh as long as you drink it. Look forward to many new growler additions in the second half of 2015: Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Petite Syrah, Rosé of Grenache, Barbera, a Rhône blend of Grenache & Syrah, and many others. My plan is to have six different growler wines to choose from at all times.
Seal Beach Winery🍷 has recently redone their entire Internet site. Our website is now mobile enabled and we have links to all of our social platforms. This ease-of-use and modern update makes the website beautiful and very functional. In addition, we have a new point-of-sale software that will help serve you better with direct table-side service.
Hope to see you soon,