Monday, May 31, 2010

Wine Appreciation

During the past few years I have started to understand and appreciate California wines more and more. Especially during my time working at my current job in a Tasting Room and Wine Shop since November. I have come to realize that the wine industry here is rapidly changing. It seems as though winemakers here are truly starting to understand the art of winemaking and what this art's result should be. Chardonnays are becoming more subtle and the use of new oak barrels is decreasing. Alcohol content is also being watched closely and starting to be kept on the lower side. Winemakers are starting to become closer to the actual grape growing process and attaining their own vines so as to care for the grape from day one. Change is in the air.

This past Thursday my coworkers and I went up to wine country, just at the southern tip of Santa Maria Valley to visit Au Bon Climat winery. Greeted by an eager long haired jack russel terrier named Emmy, we walked into the very large, wine barrel storage warehouse. Wine glasses in hand we were directed towards the back where all the barrels are stored. Another couple joined us all the way from England, here on their honeymoon. I thought to myself how amazing it was that these people came here all that way to this very spot, to have this very experience that we were having because we live an hour away and can do this regularly if we wanted to. 

Barrel sampling is a lot of fun. One gets to taste the wine when it is still wild and free in a large barrel versus being trapped in a bottle. The acidity level seemed higher for most of the wines we enjoyed, which we were spitting directly onto a grate on the ground as one does at these types of occasions. All the while a very excited shepherd dog ran around us hinting that we should throw her ball, which we did, much to her delight! 

After sampling delectable previews of what is to come for Au Bon Climat's next releases, we were invited to join for lunch. A feast had been prepared while we were tasting and what a feast it was. There were ravioli's with butternut squash and creme sauce, broccoli from the garden, marinated chicken in a tomato based seasoning, green salad, spinach fritatta, olives from their own trees, and a cucumber tomato salad. 

At a long wooden table we sat enjoying our tasty meal and sampling 12 different wines provided to us by Jim Clendenen, winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat since 1982 (a very fine year indeed....). Little Emmy was really working those big brown eyes trying to get a tid bit of something, but I did my best not to succumb to the cuteness. I sat next to Jim Clendenen and listened to his stories about the progression of people's palettes and of winemakers' attitudes and methods. The whole experience truly gave me a new appreciation for local wines. Jim spoke of things with such passion and concern that I realized he really truly cared about each bottle and that every vintage is a work of art, something I had rarely felt from other winemakers I had met here. 

Much to our delight Jim brought out a 1987 Pinot Noir, decanted it, and placed it in front of us to enjoy. He followed this by a 1997 bottle of Pinot Noir. I don't think I have ever tasted such an old California wine before. I have had plenty of old European wines, but never one from California. They were delightful - still full of fruit and body and color. 

Thanking Jim over and over, we left Au Bon Climat bellies full and spirits high and walked out into the warm California air. How lucky we felt to have had such a unique experience and a grand old time! We began our drive back home through the gorgeous countryside, puffy white clouds following us all the way.
Want more photos? Click here to view the full album of photos from this outing.