The White Meds are the Right Meds

My, how my tastes have changed. A million years ago, when I first started enjoying wine, I thought barrel fermented California Chardonnay was the #*%@. The richness of fruit combined with toasty oak was easy to identify and appreciate for my novice palate. I then discovered Chardonnay from White Burgundy, wines with more subtle fruit and higher acidity (minerals?). Some of these wines were fermented and aged in oak (Puligny Montrachet, Meursault) and some were made in either stainless steel or concrete (Chablis, Pouilly Fuisse, Macon-Villages). What these wines may have lacked in obvious fruit aromas and flavors was more than compensated for by what one would call "terroir." Then someone introduced me to German Riesling and that was it - I was gone. German Riesling had complex aromas and flavors, combined with searingly high levels of acidity (more minerals) that were uniquely reflective of their vineyard sites. Many of the Rieslings had residual sugar, but the acidity and minerality made them perfectly balanced. Pretty heady stuff, this thing called "terroir" in wine. It also taught me to follow my own path.  At that time Riesling was decidedly unfashionable thanks to the dubious reputation of a popular wine called Blue Nun Liebraumilch. Today, I'm open to trying any almost any kind of interesting wine from anywhere. As such, I drink a vast array of whites from Italy, Southern France and even Greece. Soave, Friuliano, Verdicchio, Vermentino, Pigato, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Trebbiano, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Rousanne, Assyrtiko. So many whites and so little time. Most of the above wines have some elements of fresh fruit, crisp acidity and that component of being unique to it's geographical origin....you know, that terroir thang. Very few of these wines are barrel fermented or even aged in oak. You could safely say that the above wines have had a profound impact on how we make whites here in Dry Creek Valley. If our vineyards were located in a climate similar to Germany's Mosel or Nahe, we'd have planted Riesling a long time ago. But here in Dry Creek Valley, we have a Mediterranean climate, so we opted for Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Fiano and Verdicchio. So far the results have exceeded our expectations, and our 2015's are the best examples. 2015 Fiano:  Harvested August 29 at 21.7 brix.  Fermented with native yeasts and aged in concrete.  3.44 pH. 13.2 % alcohol. A winemaker from Campania told my dad "If you think Fiano is ripe, go harvest. By the time you've finished thinking, it might be too late." We have learned to err on the side of picking Fiano early, in order to preserve acidity and avoid higher than desired sugars. In 2015, we nailed it, making a wine that is fruity and expressive but with great minerality and acidity. Fiano has plenty of richness due to the thickness of it's skins. If the wine does not have a spine of acid, it can be a little oily and heavy. I love this grape in Campania and here in Dry Creek. 2015 Cuvee Blanc: Harvested August 31st (Vermentino), September 8th (Grenache Blanc). Fermented and aged in small Concrete and stainless steel tanks. Native yeasts. 3.29 pH.  13.9% alcohol. Both the Vermentino and especially Grenache Blanc in 2015 were particularly expressive. This could have been due to the drought conditions and the fact that we thinned the crop a little bit more than in previous years. It seems that Vermentino and Grenache Blanc were simply meant to be together. The former provides the floral and fruity aromas and flavors while the latter lends texture and body. And Picpoul adds a touch of citrus. This is easily the best vintage of Cuvee Blanc we've made, and we look forward to making more vintages like this in the future. 2015 Vermentino: Harvested August 31st. Fermented in concrete and small stainless steel tanks. Native yeasts. 3.29 pH. 13.9% alcohol. We love Vermentino from Italy's Liguria region. The best Ligurian whites are fresh and crisp making it the perfect fit for summertime drinking. Our 2015 Vermentino has a little more depth than you might expect, but it is still perfectly gulpable. Vermentino is "Bound for Glory" Here in California because it will perform well in most of our wine growing regions. Amazingly only 330 acres are currently planted in the State, but that should dramatically increase in the coming years. Vermentino shows expressive aromas and ripe flavors at low sugars here. That means you can wines with great flavors and acidity. 2015 Grenache Blanc: Harvested September 8th. Fermented in concrete tanks with native yeasts. 3.25 pH. 13.9% alcohol. Grenache Blanc has been the other main component of our Cuvee Blanc along with Vermentino. While not the fruitiest white we make, GB provides excellent body, texture and mineral flavors - sort of like what a Chardonnay can do in Burgundy. In 2015, however, our Grenache Blanc was the most floral, expressive and complex wines in our winery. It will have you swirling and sipping for hours. I'm not sure exactly what caused this to happen, but we are hoping it is a result of the vines carrying a little less crop than normal. We decided to bottle up 95 cases as a mono-varietal wine, if for no other reason than to show what is possible from Grenache Blanc.  

2013 Montepulciano- A sneaky draft pick

Those of you foolish enough to engage in fantasy sports know there are certain players who go under appreciated. These players are available in the late rounds of a draft, or go undrafted and are subsequently listed on “the waiver wire.” My sleeper fantasty wine pick for the next several years is Montepulciano. Montepulciano is a classic example of a non-glitzy draft pick. Like Grenache in Spain and France, Montepulciano is a prolific grape used for excellent everyday table wine in Italy’s Abruzzo. It’s a lovable everyday wine, not to be taken very seriously. In other words, it doesn’t have the “sex appeal” serious wine buyers would spend on an early round draft pick, such as Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir or Howell Mountain Cabernet. Think Astros shortstop phenom Carlos Correa. High quality Montepulciano is a player whose contributions don’t always show up in the box score, and even when they do, few notice. In sports terms, MP would be a solid bench player, which would limit its fantasy value. But what if a team gave it a chance to start, and play everyday in crucial situations? Shrewd fantasy owners know a player’s statistics rely upon several situational circumstances beyond that player’s control. A manager decides how much playing time a player receives in games. A good line up around the player improves his chances of putting up better statistics. A player who plays in a small park has a better chance of hitting home runs. And so on. Our Montepulciano, planted in Dry Creek Valley is in a perfect position to succeed, poised to have a big future ahead. Dry Creek Valley’s climate is generally warm and dry, but the evenings allow for slower flavor development and better structure-both acid and tannin. We have high quality wine in mind when we farm our Montepulciano, so we employ aggressive crop-thinning to facility more concentrated aromas, flavors and structure. The result is a wine worthy of batting clean up in any special occasion. Our 2013 is the best example of why we love Montepulciano. It is a concentrated full-bodied wine that has higher acidity than the average Russian River Pinot Noir (3.65 pH). It clearly dispels any myth that says Montepulciano can’t make a sophisticated wine with balance and great aging potential. This is a result of planting a Mediterranean grape in a Mediterranean climate. Go figure. So don’t hesitate to spend an early draft pick on our 2013 Montepulcaino. If my track record for picking wine sleepers is any indication (see my earlier sleeper selections of Grenache, Sangiovese and Barbera), you’ll be glad you did.

First Day of Crush 2015 and KEXP

    Hey , Tommy—What are we listening to? KEXP Isn't that the UDub station? Yes. Geez. I worked in those studios a million years ago, when nobody cared. Today we crushed our first grapes for 2015, Grenache for Rosé. A momentous occasion, first day. We always begin with a glass of Grower/Producer Champagne - 2009 Gastronome from Pierre Gimonnet today. Champagne....it is not just for breakfast. First crush day is both exciting and ominous. Seeing grapes come in never seizes to be fun. But in the back of my mind I'm realizing the summer is over. 2 months from now, when crush is finished and we have some time to think, it will be well into autumn. Until then we have some tough decisions to make about when we pick what vineyard blocks. Hoping we can make that decision on our terms, as opposed to Mother Nature telling us we have to pick, or else. Most important for now is determining the music we listen to when working on the crush pad. We have all taken our turns making various mixes, selecting Pandora stations that somehow mange to include sixteen versions of The Weight or Bruce's I'm on Fire. Tommy Pace, working his second crush here at Unti took the initiative this morning to play KEXP from the University of Washington in Seattle. In the early 1980's, when I was a Broadcast CMU student, I constantly fought with the program director of the UW student-run radio station (KCMU back then).  He wanted the station to feature popular rock with a set playlist. This was my first encounter with Pat Benatar, ugh. I thought college public radio should feature all kinds of music, and other community programming. From Billie Holiday to The Clash to Jerry Jeff Walker. Thirty-some-odd years later, KEXP sort of represents what I wanted the station to be. It is musically all over the place. Perfect for Harvest! How about another glass of champagne?

Newsletter 49 SPRING 2015

WHAT A YEAR IT WAS…

For many folks here in Northern California, 2012 was a magical year. The Giants won the World Series (ughhhhh). The A’s made a miraculous turnaround and won their division on the last day of the season. And, more importantly for you, it was one of the best vintages in the last 20 years.

2012 featured moderate-to-warm weather throughout the growing season with a dry, trouble-free harvest. Similar to the great 1997 vintage, it was an abundant crop of remarkable quality. Virtually all of our varieties made dark, fruity and full-bodied wines. This is especially apparent in this trio of our best wines: Sangiovese, Cuvée Foudre and Benchland Syrah.

Like the two Bay Area teams of 2012, the above wines feature power, balance and depth. Unlike the Giants and the A’s, our Sangiovese, Cuvée Foudre and Benchland Syrah wines will improve with age,  and they will not be filing for free agency anytime soon. Fortunately for you, the wines aren’t represented by agent Scott Boras, otherwise they would be at least twice the price, and I would be offering some lame explanation about UNTI only being in it for the love of family, not for the money.

Like the debate over Steph Curry vs. James Harden, you can make a solid case for any of these wines being MVP of the 2012 vintage.

 

2012 SANGIOVESE

Sangiovese, when done right can be one of the world’s greatest wines. Yet there have been, and still are countless obstacles in the variety’s path to stardom.” - Ian D’Agata from Native Wine Grapes of Italy

By now you are all well aware of our infatuation with Sangiovese. As wine lovers, both my dad and I wholeheartedly agree with the first sentence in the above quote from Ian D’ Agata’s outstanding new book on Italian wine grapes. As winemakers, we are painfully cognizant of the second sentence.

Our 2012 Sangiovese might be the best Sangiovese we have ever made here. It demonstrates what can happen if you remove some of the obstacles to making great Sangiovese wine, and have a kick-ass vintage. Good and Luck.

Anyone remotely interested in Sangiovese (or Italian wines at all) should read D’Agata’s section on Sangiovese from the book.   D’Agata covers Sangiovese better than anyone I’ve ever read… so much so that it is now required reading for everyone here at UNTI D’Agata accurately cites many important factors associated with making high-quality Sangiovese:  finding the right sites, using the right clones, selecting low vigor rootstock, keeping your crop yields low and  hoping for good fortune.

Well, we only use Sangiovese Grosso (right clone). Our 100% Sangiovese comes from the West Hillside of our original vineyard (great site) and our young vine block is planted on 420-A (right root stock). We also thin the crop by 40 to 50% each year. Yet, the best vintages for our Sangiovese seem to involve a little luck. Such is the case with 2012.

From the first few days of fermentation, our best lots of Sangiovese were stunning.  They showed dark color, intense fruit, great tannin and bright acidity. Something about the long growing season must have worked for this difficult variety.

When things work out, ours is not to question why. Let’s just enjoy my favorite wine type when it is on. This is by far the best Sangiovese since our 1999 vintage (that includes the brilliant 2010). It will need a year or two to soften, but it should be solid for another 6 to 8 years (2019?) longer.

HARVESTED:  9/15 & 9/17, 9/24 2012                      BLEND: 100% Sangiovese TOTAL ACIDITY: 6.7 g/L                                                  ALCOHOL: 14.5% PH: 3.42                                                                                 BOTTLED: 3/13/14 AGING:  18 Months, French Oak 35% New                CASES PRODUCED :  575

$40/BTL   $32 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE 

$85 / 1.5 Liter Magnum

Order from our online store HERE

 

2014 ROSÉ

As the great Orson Welles once said “We will sell no Rosé, until it’s time.” Or something like that.  Well, we bottled our 2014 Rosé two weeks ago, so it must be time.

68% Grenache and 32% Mourvedre. Dry, full-bodied, fruity, savory…you know what it is. Production is slightly down from the past couple of vintages. Order now, and we promise to ship before it gets too hot.

HARVESTED:  GRENACHE:   8/22, 9/3, 9/7, 9/9, 2014   MOURVEDRE: 9/17-9/23 2014

BLEND: 68% GRENACHE, 32% MOURVEDRE

TOTAL ACIDITY:   5.8 g/L                           ALCOHOL:  13.8%

PH:   3.38                                                          BOTTLED:  3/6/15

AGING:   STAINLESS STEEL TANKS         CASES PRODUCED:  1,496

$24/BTL   $19.20 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE

Order from our online store HERE   

 

2012 CUVÉE FOUDRE

I’m often asked “which of your wines is your favorite?” The person usually acknowledges that this question  might be impossible to answer, since, after all, how can I prefer one of my wines over another—as if they were my children. Well, my wines are decidedly not like my children. It is okay to like some over the others. Cuvée Foudre has the apple of my eye.

While most of our wines really represent the kind of wine I personally consume, I must admit this winery isn’t simply a philanthropic endeavor. The wines are made to be sold and hopefully enjoyed by our customers. However, if there was a wine that we made for sheer self-indulgence, it would be the 2012 Cuvée Foudre.

Cuvée Foudre has the intrinsic character of the first great Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines I ever tasted way back in the early 1980’s. The pepper, tar, licorice and dark raspberry/blackberry aromas and flavors blew my mind. And typical of the day, these wines had tannins. Old school southern Rhône has captivated many aspiring wine geeks, including one Robert Parker.

So what makes the 2012 Cuvée Foudre my kind of town? It’s the Mourvedre, baby. This is only the second time in UNTI history we have made Cuvée Foudre, and in both instances it was due to the quality of our Mourvedre. Our vineyard site, which is next to Dry Creek, might be a cooler edge for consistently ripening Mourvedre. (We just planted 2 acres of Mourvedre on our Benchland site, which is slightly warmer.)

As I mentioned earlier, the long growing season in 2012 really helped all of our varieties develop ripe aromas and flavors. When Mourvedre is right, it has dark cherry fruit with obvious pepper, meat and Provençal herbs—all in a fairly tannic package. It is the character of the Southern Rhône and Bandol, and it is simply amazing.

40% of this CF was fermented with whole clusters and the wine was aged in a 620 gallon foudre, which is how wine has been made for years in the Southern Rhône.  Both winemaking techniques accentuate savory complexity and provide tannin structure. The 2005 is lovely now, ten years hence. The 2012 is even more age worthy, yet it should really start showing well in a couple years.   As Trombone Shorty likes to say: Here’s to takin it “old School.

HARVESTED: 10/3 – 10/19, 2012          BLEND: 40% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah TOTAL ACIDITY: 6.3 g/L                            ALCOHOL: 14.8% PH: 3.70                                                           BOTTLED: 3/14/14 AGING:  17 Months, 620 Gal Foudre       CASES PRODUCED :  265

$50/BTL   $40 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE

$105 / 1.5 Liter Magnum

Order from our online store HERE   

 

2012 BENCHLAND SYRAH

The Benchland Syrah has been our most consistent vineyard over the years.  Not surprisingly, it fared well in 2012.

During our last release party, I was stationed at the “Library” table pouring six previous vintages of UNTI Benchland Syrah. (Tough assignment, I know.) As my teeth were getting progressively stained, I found myself preferring the 2007 (out of a magnum) and 2005 Benchland Syrah. Interestingly, both wines tasted remarkably similar to the 2012 in their youth.

2007 and 2005 were long growing seasons, which provided intense fruit along with great tannin structure. The same can be said for 2012, which was harvested on September 28th, exactly the same day as in 2007. It seems that our Benchland site responds well to a vintage with a more even ripening cycle.

My guess is that this 2012 has the structure of the 2005 and the fruit of the 2007. Based on last week's tasting, I’m good with that. This 2012 is classic with meat/blackberry/cassis aromas and flavors and serious tannin structure. It should be living large (figuratively and literally, as we bottled a limited number of 1.5 liter bottles) 8 to 10 years from the vintage.

HARVESTED:  9/28 & 10/3, 2012                                 BLEND: 100% Syrah TOTAL ACIDITY: 5.4 g/L                                                  ALCOHOL: 14.8% PH: 3.85                                                                                 BOTTLED: 3/13/14 AGING:  17 Months, French Oak 40% New                 CASES PRODUCED :  525

$40/BTL   $32 /BTL  WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE

$85 / 1.5 Liter Magnum Order from our online store HERE                

Newsletter 48 Fall 2014

2012 GRENACHE  2012 SYRAH

How Wine Works  ::  Terroir in Music and Wine

I’ve been happily reading David Byrne’s How Music Works since my daughters gave it to me this past Father’s Day. One of the reviewers for this comprehensive work by our beloved man in the big suit states: “It should be named How Life Works.” While I’m not ready to go that far, I can certainly see how several themes apply to winemaking.

Byrne strongly believes “that music-making is as much a result of cultural circumstance as it is an act of individual creativity.” Context has had a profound impact on music in how it is played, listened to and appreciated. He cites examples of musicians adapting for, or even creating a style of music that is dependent on the environment or context in which it is heard. This was especially true for the T-Heads, whom he describes as a ‘live performing band.’

Hmmmm. Musical terroir.

Winemakers are all too familiar with this concept, especially in Europe, where laws (such as AOC in France and DOC in Italy) establish guidelines, thereby limiting or downplaying individual creativity.  Even here in the US, where winemakers are relatively free from having to make wine according to tradition and legal guidelines, we are quick to emphasize context over individual creativity. We often hear of a vintner’s specific soils, elevation, and a vine’s age as having more importance than his choice of grape variety or winemaking techniques. Having Napa, Sonoma, or Dry Creek Valley on the label is a stronger marketing statement than the myriad of choices made by a winery in making that wine.

In one of the book’s most interesting chapters, Byrne chronicles the transformation of the Talking Heads from a quirky three-piece band performing in New York clubs, (most notably CBGB) to the juggernaut, tour de force we see in one of my favorite movies, Stop Making Sense. Once they began making records, they explored various methods (multiple tracks and additional instruments) to creatively add texture and complexity to their songs (see Remain in Light).  Byrne then said that in order to play the new songs live they needed many more musicians and vocalists (Bernie Worrell, Steve Scales, Alex Weir, Edna Holt and Lynn Mabry) to execute this new sound. Stop Making Sense, which is the perfect combination of the artist’s creativity adapting to context, is undoubtedly the band’s lasting impression or pièce de résistance.

Here at Unti, we could have comfortably conformed to our “cultural circumstance” by making Zinfandel, Syrah and possibly planted the other popular Dry Creek Valley grape, Sauvignon Blanc—and the business might have done just fine. However, we decided to exert our creative side within our “viticultural circumstance” by planting other varieties we thought would be appropriate for DCV’s climate, based on our experience tasting European counterparts. Sebastien then applied winemaking techniques specific to each variety to make the best wine from our vineyards.

Now, Unti is a winery more known for making interesting wines from grape varieties such as Barbera, Grenache, Sangiovese and Montepulciano, than as a Dry Creek Valley grower/producer.

I’m not saying Unti’s creativity is anywhere near the genius of David Byrne. I’m just saying our wines have a little Bernie Worrell in ‘em.

 2012 GRENACHE

We have taken Grenache seriously around here since 1998, when we planted three acres of Grenache Noir from the best three clones available at that time. My love affair with Grenache began many years prior to us planting it, around the same time I learned of the Talking Heads. Back then, even the most prestigious of Southern Rhône wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape was quite affordable. Others, such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Sablet (labeled as ‘Côtes du Rhône Villages’ back then) were downright cheap. So it was easier on a college boy’s wallet to drink Rhône, compared to Burgundy, Bordeaux or Napa/Sonoma Cabernet. Well, deservedly, neither Grenache nor the T-Heads and David Byrne fly under the radar anymore. Most grower/producer CDP’s start at $50 and vineyard designate or “luxury cuvées” can sell for $200 a bottle. Heck Gigondas, my not-so-dirty-little-secret, sells for $30 to $50. A part of me “Can’t seem to face up to the facts” when I realize that prices aren’t the”same as it ever was.”  So while it might cost me a little more to drink my favorite Rhône wines, as a California producer, it represents a golden opportunity. Since 1998, we have learned that making high-quality Grenache takes time and effort, which translates to increased costs.  If you plant good clones of Grenache, and limit the vines’ crop yield, our California climate allows us to make compelling, expressive and complex wine.  Wines you can easily compare to my beloved Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. But this style of Grenache is going to sell for more than $25 a bottle, which is why the current market for high-quality Rhône wine is a good thing. This 2012 is an excellent example of our 12-vintage delusional quest to make expressive Grenache; it is fruity and complex yet with the kind of tannin and acid structure I only see in my favorite Southern Rhône wines.  The fact that this dark and full-bodied wine is 85% Grenache tells you just how good the vintage was for this variety. This wine should have a nice long life ahead of it- 5 to 7 years, easy. We even bottled a few magnums... I guess you could say “This must be the place” for Grenache. 85 % GRENACHE  15% SYRAH   PURCHASE IT FROM OUR ONLINE STORE HERE 1,000 CASES PRODUCED $35/BTL   $28 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE $75 / 1.5L (Magnum) / $60  WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE    

2012 SYRAH

Over the past few vintages, this bottling has showcased the more elegant side of Syrah from our vineyards. This 2012 shows the pretty aromatics and complex spicy flavors of those years combined with the bigger fruit and tannin structure we’ve come to love about all of our reds from this outstanding vintage. Last year I participated in a one-day symposium where several panels of winemakers offered their explanation for the 2012’s level of quality across the board. After five hours, tasting over 30 wines from just as many winemakers, the conclusion was it is better to be lucky than good. 2012 featured moderate weather in the spring and a nice long growing season which resulted in the perfect storm for growers…a bumper crop of outstanding quality. Additionally, this wine derives much of its personality from our Creekside Syrah block, which is planted to the clone we have in our Benchland vineyard. Over the past several years, we have been increasingly impressed with the fruit from this block. Like many of the emerging stars on the Golden State Warriors (Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes) this vineyard has played itself into our playing rotation, and is now enjoying the primary role. It provides big fruit and some Northern Rhône like spice. Whatever the reasons, this is a Syrah not to miss if you are a fan of Unti. Dark, fruity and full-bodied, this wine should have no problem aging 5 to 7 years. Think 2007 vintage. 100 % SYRAH  PURCHASE IT FROM OUR ONLINE STORE HERE 1,050 CASES PRODUCED   $30/BTL   $24 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE      

Every Day is Grenache Day at Unti

  We have taken Grenache seriously around here since 1998, when we planted 3 acres of Grenache Noir from the best three clones available at that time. My love affair with Grenache began many years prior to us planting it, around the same time I learned of this quirky band called Talking Heads. Back then,  even the most prestigious of Southern Rhône wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape was quite affordable. Others, such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Sablet (labelled as 'Côtes du Rhône Villages' back then) were downright cheap. So it was easier on a college boy's wallet to drink Rhône, compared to Burgundy, Bordeaux or Napa/Sonoma Cabernet. Well, deservedly, neither Grenache nor the T-Heads and David Byrne flies under the radar anymore. Most grower/producer CDP's start at $50 and vineyard designate or "luxury cuvées" can sell for $200 a bottle. Heck Gigondas, my not-so-dirty-little-secret, sells for $30 to $50. A part of me "Can't seem to face up to the facts" when I realize that prices aren't the"same as it ever was."  So while it might cost me a little more to drink my favorite Rhône wines, as a California producer, it represents a golden opportunity. Since 1998, we have learned that making high-quality Grenache takes time and effort, which translates to increased costs.  If you plant good clones of Grenache, and limit the vines' crop yield, our California climate allows us to make compelling, expressive and complex wine.  Wines you can easily compare to my beloved Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. But these type of wines are going to sell for more than $25 a bottle, which is why the current market for high quality Rhône wine is a good thing. So, as we prepare to harvest some of the best looking Grenache fruit we have ever seen this weekend (a few weeks early I might add), let's celebrate the fact that as Byrne says, "This must be the place" for Grenache. MJU

Early Returns: It’s early!

For the second consecutive vintage, we are establishing new "earliest harvest dates" with several varieties. For those of you keeping score at home, here are the numbers: Vermentino and Grenache (for Rosé) - August 22 Sangiovese - August 31 Zinfandel - September 1 (earliest by about 3 weeks!) Ciliegiolo - September 2 Fiano - September 2 Grenache Blanc - September 5 Barbera - September 11 Grenache (for Red), Mourvedre and Montepulciano will undoubtedly join this list in the coming weeks. Obviously, the drought and a warm summer have accelerated ripening for almost all of our varieties. Combined with a lighter crop level means we are picking early, and often. Additionally, we are getting better at managing "pre-veraison water stress" with our vineyards. The current school of thought in high-quality viticulture says you want to stress vines immediately prior to veraison (when grapes go from green to black). This helps trigger the vines' focus to ripening fruit, versus growing leaves. The sooner vines engage in fruit-ripening mode, the easier it is to achieve ripe flavors with appropriate acid and tannin balance. We still have enough to learn about this and other qualitative aspects pertaining to farming high-quality grapes. However, 2014 so far is shaping up to be a great vintage;  we have excellent fruit flavors combined with solid acidity. Hope I didn't just jinx things. MJU

Newsletter 47 Summer 2014

2013 CUVÉE BLANC   2013 FIANO   2012 SEGROMIGNO

Wouldn’t it be nice to get the newsletter // Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long To get a few new wines from Unti Vineyards  // By the time it comes they might be gone

ITALIAN SUMMER

I know.  I’m a little slow getting these #*@%*# newsletters out.  It seems like something always distracts me. Little things, like getting married to a guacamole queen, or my older daughter graduating high school, or having both of my daughters play a jazz concert opening for legendary bassist Ron Carter. I’m looking forward to some normalcy in my life, where we go to Santa Cruz to see Jackie Greene and Eric Lindell with my cousins. We are calling this newsletter Italian Summer, featuring our 2013 Cuvée Blanc (Vermentino blend), 2013 Fiano and 2012 Segromigno. It is your chance to live vicariously through our wines. So, pop the cork, fire up the wood burning pizza-oven, and put on the music of The Sunny Boys, a group who calls themselves the Italian Beach Boys cover band—on vinyl of course. Hey honey, is that that Positano or Ischia?  

2013 CUVÉE BLANC — “You didn’t even call me by my name”

This is CB 7 (our seventh vintage of making Cuvée Blanc), and apparently the wine is so good, we are sticking with the schlocky name. After working with Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul for 7 vintages, we are convinced the blend is better than any separate part. Grenache Blanc has texture with intense apple aromas and flavors; Vermentino is floral and Picpoul is the wine world’s version of dry lemonade.  Grown in Dry Creek Valley all of these wines have a mineral flavor aspect, and vibrant acidity. The combination of the fruit and floral aromas with crisp acidity, defines the wine’s personality, as it is grown in our vineyards. This 2013 has a bit more richness than our 2012, yet the wine retains the spine of acidity making it ideal with our favorite food, Raw Oysters (Flowers of the Sea) pristinely shucked at the Salt Water Oyster Depot in Inverness. The wine is already a bit more forward at this stage than the ’12 was at this time last year. Perfect Summer wine!

44 % VERMENTINO  40% GRENACHE BLANC   16% PICPOUL 490 CASES PRODUCED   $25/BTL   $20 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE FROM OUR ONLINE STORE

 

2013  FIANO

In the words of Ian D’ Agata, author of a fantastic new book called Native Wine Grapes of Italy, “I think Fiano may well be Italy’s greatest native white wine grape.” He is not wrong. Fiano is a small-berried golden grape that produces a wine with both rich texture and firm acidity.  The wine has richness and texture even though it was not fermented or aged in oak. I love that. In 2013, our Fiano ripened faster than we expected, which is evident in this wine’s   honey and pear flavors. We felt it need a little firming up, so we blended  25% Vermentino for added freshness and acidity. Time for some Amalfi seafood!

75 % FIANO  25% VERMENTINO 160 CASES PRODUCED   $25/BTL   $20 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE FROM OUR ONLINE STORE

  

2012  SEGROMIGNO

 

Might as well get used to hearing accolades describing the 2012 vintage, and how we really can’t come up with any specific explanation for it, other than it was a nice moderate growing season, where nothing went wrong- a stark contrast to 2011. All of our Sangiovese lots in 2012 were dark, fruity and fairly full-bodied.  And our 2012 Montepulciano is, as Miles Davis would have described, simply the baddest wine we’ve ever made from this variety. (Miles would have included a few choice modifiers we can’t repeat here) This means the 2012 Segromigno is a serious version of an unpretentious Sangiovese-based wine.  It is definitely my favorite vintage for this Italian-style blend, worthy of aging at least 2 to 5 years.

76 % SANGIOVESE  24% MONTEPULCIANO 1,145 CASES PRODUCED   $28/BTL  $22.40/BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE

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Barbera: Love and Happiness

Barbera: Love and Happiness

Barbera continues to garner attention from the wine press. Here is an excellent piece from Matt Kramer posted 8/19/14 on winespectator.com. Read it by clicking here.
Truth be told, I probably drink more Barbera than any other red wine. Kramer eloquently explains why he probably does the same. Nicely done Matt. I'm with you brother.
As our 2012 Barbera starts to hit it's drinking stride, and the 2013 goes into the bottle, we are anticipating a third consecutive outstanding vintage with the 2014.
Here is a photo taken in July of our Barbera grapes going through veraison.

Newsletter 46 SPRING 2014

2012 BARBERA 2011 ZINFANDEL 2011 SANGIOVESE

2011 SYRAH BENCHLAND 2011 SYRAH NORMALÉ

 

It was the best of vintages, it was the worst of vintages, it was the harvest of frustration, it was the epoch of making balanced wines from California, it was the season of low alcohol/high acid wines, it was the season of lush and fruity wines, it was the fall of despair, it was the summer of grape love, we had everything to lose, we had nothing to worry about—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of us are noisier than others, for better or worse, in the superlative degree of comparative tasting only. [1]

In this newsletter we present wines from two distinctly different vintages; 2011 and 2012. One was excruciatingly difficult to manage, the other, a piece of cake. Yet wines from both years have endearing qualities and character. I guess this means we are either getting better at this wine making thing, or 2011 was not as bad as we initially thought.

To some local vineyard owners, the very mention of 2011 will elicit a vile response delivered with a contorted, bitter beer face. The absence of summer in 2011 delayed grape ripening 2 to 3 weeks beyond normal. Then, confirming a grower’s worst nightmare, we had 1 to 2 inches of rain on October 1st. The grape must had hit the fan.

Now we were scrambling to harvest grapes before losing them to bunch rot. In my dad’s infinite wisdom, he summarized the 2011 harvest saying, “It takes all the fun out of it.”

We thought our wines would be thin and vegetal with green, astringent tannins—all indicative of harvesting less- than-ideally-ripe grapes. But the arduous 2011 Harvest had a serious silver lining. The cool growing season resulted in us making a Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel with complex aromas, bright acidity and lower-than-normal alcohols. The vegetal flavors and green tannins, which we thought would be present, were not nearly as obvious. Hmmm. We might be on to something here.

2012 was about as opposite as it could be from the previous vintage. While it was not a particularly hot summer, it was warm enough to evenly ripen grapes. September weather was moderate and dry, allowing us to choose the precise timing for picking our grapes. In the past we would have “gone for the gusto” and waited until maximum physiological ripeness to harvest. But, because we had good results in 2011, we opted harvest for something less than that, hoping for better balance.

The 2012 wines show more fruit and body than the 2011s. But the wines show a bright core of acidity and some restraint, which is a direct result of us being more confident about harvesting at slightly lower sugars.

Could this be the beginning of a great adventure here in Dry Creek Valley?

Pip doesn’t always drink wine, but when he does, he drinks Unti Barbera.

[1] It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

  2011 ZINFANDEL I love this wine.  Our 2011 Zinfandel reminds me of when Zinfandel was one of my “go to” wines. It has tons of berry fruit in concert with dried herbs in a juicy, full-bodied wine with moderate alcohol (for Zin, at least). This is what attracted me to DCV Zin in the first place. Despite the cool growing season, we harvested our 2011 Zinfandel prior to the October rain, probably because of a lower-than normal crop. As such, this wine has very concentrated berry flavors that back-in- the-day we would call “brambly.” The word bramble refers to “a prickly shrub of blackberry or raspberry. “ In the 1970s, Sebastiani used to place BRAMBLY in large print underneath Zinfandel on their front label. (If you remember this, best you keep it a secret because it simply means we are both old). It is not one of my favorite descriptors, but it seems appropriate with this wine. Our 2011 Zinfandel is definitely a wine that heeds Trombone Shorty’s call to “take it old school.” In pursuit of balance making Zinfandel? In Dry Creek Valley? Yeah, Baby! 85% Zinfandel 10% Syrah 5% Barbera 1,000 Cases Produced $28.00 / Bottle  $25.20 / When Part of a Mixed Case Order the Zinfandel from our online store HERE  
2012 BARBERA Send Lawyers, Guns, and Barbera

I think we can confidently say: Barbera’s time has come. If you don’t believe me (after all, I am an Excitable Boy), perhaps you’ll pay heed to these credible folks:

“No grape has known such a dramatic upgrade in its fortunes and image in the last 20 years than Barbera in Piemonte, north-west Italy.” Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine and author of Wine Grapes (a book owned by almost every California winemaker) and The Oxford Companion to Wine.

“No other red wine has risen so rapidly in favor in recent times as Barbera.” Burton Anderson, the first and most prominent American writer to focus on Italian wine. Author of Vino, The Wine Atlas of Italy and Best Italian Wines.

Barbera, like Warren Zevon’s music, is a wine almost everybody likes for different reasons. Barbera’s lack of tannin, bright fruit and lively acidity make it one of—if not the most—versatile food wines on the planet. Barbera is made in a variety of styles, from light and snappy, to thick and juicy. Finally, Barbera has always struck me as one of the best Italian wines flying under the radar. All of which sounds very Zevon-like.

In 1998 George Unti planted 2 acres of Barbera. We started making the wine in 2002, and were so impressed we subsequently planted 4 more acres. Now, with all of our Barbera vines yielding fruit we made 2,000 cases in 2012, making it the highest volume red wine here at Unti. Needless to say, we are “in it to win it” with Barbera.

Sebastien Pochan offers more info about our history with Barbera and its evolution here in California. Read his piece on our website: HERE

Just before we release any wine, we scramble to conduct an in-house comparative tasting of the best European versions of the particular varietal wine type. One of the few perks of working at Unti. Thus, we recently tasted a flight of very high-end Barberas, which included the following:

Braida “Bricco dell’ Uccellone”, Barbera d”Asti 2009 / Braida “Ai Suma” Barbera d’Asti 2009

Vietti “Vigna Scarrone” Barbera d’Alba 2010 / Vietti “Scarrone Vigna Vecchia” Barbera d’Alba 2010

Tenuta Olim Bauda “Nizza” Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2009

Iuli “Barabba” Barbera del Monferrato 2007 / Iuli “Rossore” Barbera del Monferrato 2009

  Are You Sure Giacomo (Bologna) Done It This Way?

All of the above wines depicted what you would expect from modern style Italian wines-ripe fruit, high alcohol, new oak and a slight surprise: relatively low acidity.

We then followed up with a vertical of Unti Barbera from 2007 through 2012, in search of some perspective. A few things were very apparent to us. All of the Unti wines were darker in color, fruitier, often lower in alcohol, and much to our surprise, noticeably higher in acidity! Jancis Robinson, when describing the “modern style Barbera” thinks some Piedmonte producers are intentionally lowering acidity in their Barberas:
“Many modern winemakers quietly de-acidify Barbera (by adding harmless calcium carbonate for example) to give it extra appeal in an age when wine consumers are—wrongly in my view—taught to be shy of acidity.”
Based on our comparative tasting, I think Jancis might be on to something.
Giacomo Bologna was the man credited with making Piemonte’s first “serious” Barbera, Braida Bricco dell’ Uccellone. The two Braida Barberas in our flight had 16% alcohol listed on the label, meaning they definitely picked their grapes at very high sugars. Whether the result of picking super-ripe grapes or de-acidification, Braida wines clearly showed lower than expected levels of acidity. Showy, but not snappy.
After 16 vintages of trying to make European-styled wines here in Dry Creek, the last thing we would do is intentionally lower the acidity in our wines. It is what we love about Barbera. Barbera’s high acidity only bothers me when the wine lacks depth or concentration. So far, that has not been an issue for us.
Our 2012 Barbera is a fruity, full-bodied version—yet this wine possesses the lively acidity necessary to call it Barbera. If this Barbera doesn’t turn some heads of vineyard-owners here, it is only because theirs are stuck in the sand. 100% Barbera 2,075 Cases Produced $30 / Bottle  $27 When Part of a Mixed Case Purchase Order the Barbera from our online store HERE  
2011 SANGIOVESE Along with our Benchland Syrah vineyard, our best Sangiovese blocks have been our most consistent source of interesting wine since 1999. This 2011 rendition shows why. One of the challenges with making Sangiovese here or in Tuscany is to harvest when the fruit has matured past vegetal aromas, flavors and bitter green tannins—without the sugars getting too high, causing higher alcohol levels. In the past, we paid the price by having higher than desired alcohols. We feared the ’11 Sangiovese would suffer from these less ripe characteristics, but the wine shows no sign of it. One reason is because we now derive a portion of this wine from our newly planted Sangiovese Grosso. This 2 acre block is densely planted to low vigor rootstock, which yields less fruit per vine than our original planning. I believe this helps explain our favorable results from this young block. Typically our Sangiovese shows more fruit than what you find in Brunello di Montalcino wines. Our 2011 has nice tension between cherry fruit and the earthy complexity I like about Brunellos. The ’11 also has the firm acidity one expects from Italian Sangiovese, which really gives this wine elegance. Though not as tannic as our 2009 or 2010, this Sangiovese is still full bodied. I recommend holding on to it for 3 to 5 years. 95% Sangiovese, 5% Montepulciano 435 Cases Produced $40 /Bottle  $36 When Part of a Mixed Case Purchase Order the Sangiovese from our online store HERE  
2011 SYRAH BENCHLAND & 2011 SYRAH NORMALE I decided to write about both wines within the same piece for two reasons: 1. The 2011 growing season had the biggest influence on both wines. 2. I’m lazy. We love Northern Rhône wines, from Côte-Rôtie to Saint Joseph and all points in between. The Syrah aromas expressed there are ethereal; the flavors are focused and precise. Such is Syrah when it is grown in a cool climate. Ordinarily, our Syrahs are not as aromatic; we have a Mediterranean climate here in DCV. Not so much in 2011. As I’ve beaten into the ground earlier, 2011 was the coolest growing season we have ever experienced here. Could this be a vintage where we sniff the complexities and balance of No-Rhône? Oui! Both Unti Syrahs this year have brighter aromas, spicier flavors and elevated levels of acid. I have to say, I prefer these two Syrahs to several wines we’ve made from more heralded vintages. Our Benchland Syrah vineyard yielded a very small crop in 2011. So much so that we harvested September 23-24, which was a full week before we picked our Sangiovese. Sebastien feels the low yield explains for why we were able to obtain good flavors and friendly tannins at lower than normal brix level. The ’11 Benchland has a wide range of floral, olive and almost blueberry aromas and flavors, supported by lively acidity. This 2011 is the prettiest Benchland we’ve made in recent memory. Really juicy stuff. 100% Syrah from the Benchland Vineyard 350 Cases Produced $40 / Bottle $36 When Part of a Mixed Case Purchase Order the Benchland Syrah from our online store HERE   The Syrah Normalé was a bit more challenging, yet with equally positive results. We normally harvest our winery vineyard Syrah late September to mid-October. In 2011, this meant we were harvesting after the rain, trying to beat the development of bunch rot. This was the frustrating side of 2011 none of us are likely to forget anytime soon. Muddy walks through vineyards trying to determine which block would hold out against mold. Long days at the sorting table culling out bunch rot. Crossing our fingers, hoping the magic of fermentation would somehow make some sense out of what seemed a dire situation. Wow. Were we surprised! 65% of this Syrah comes from our Creek-side block, grapes we thought we had lost to bunch rot in mid-October. Almost two weeks later, after carefully culling through the vineyard for rotted grapes, we managed to harvest four tons of very flavorful Syrah at 23 brix. The balance comes from our winery block (877 clone) and our ditch block (383 clone). The cool growing season, combined with whole cluster fermentation for a portion of the grapes gave us the olive, white pepper, perfume character that is very much Northern Rhône and rarely seen in these parts. If you are like me, a fan of St. Joseph or Crozes- Hermitage, this 2011 Syrah is a must start in your daily dinner line-ups. Who would have thunk? One more thing. This 2011 Syrah normalé is another example of an intriguing trend in Sonoma County Syrahs. If you have had wines from our friends at Arnot Roberts or Wind Gap, you are familiar with this style of aromatic Syrah sporting moderate alcohol. It has become very popular in SF restaurants because it shows the more elegant side of Syrah. Just when the Syrah skeptics proclaimed the category stagnant. Touché. 100% Syrah 575 Cases Produced $28 Bottle / $25.20 When Part of a Mixed Case Purchase Order the Syrah from our online store HERE