Newsletter 54, Spring 2017

Newsletter Spring 2017  

2016 ROSÉ


The Onion-Skin

  Acclaimed Rosé Wine Producer Completely Changes Style 

HEALDSBURG, CA  - Expressing concerns about becoming too hip and trendy, winemaker/proprietor Mick Unti announced today that Unti Vineyards is changing the style of their acclaimed Rosé. Unti is well-known for consistently making distinctive, dry, Bandol-style Rosé. The wine is so popular that many Unti customers threaten violence upon hearing the Rosé is sold out.

“Sixteen years ago, we were one of the first California wineries to make Rosé in a dry style one might find from southern France, specifically Bandol” Unti explained. “Now every Tom, Dick and Harry are making dry Rosé around here. Many don’t even use Grenache and Mourvedre, the grapes traditionally used in Provence to make Rosé.”

Unti noted that instead of serving their Rosé at the dinner table, some customers were taking the wine to SF’s Dolores Park or a weekend warehouse party, usually paired with their favorite cannabis gummy.

Beginning with the 2016 vintage, Unti Vineyards will “turn back the clock” by producing sweet Rosé, which was extremely popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s. “When I first started in the wine business, Rosé was much darker, sweet, and easy to drink without any food. It was inexpensive and it came in cute porcelain bottles that could then be later used as flower vases.”

The winery will no longer use Grenache Noir and Mourvedre from their 20 year-old estate vineyard. Instead Unti will source Syrah and Carignane grapes from heavily cropped vines in the Central Valley.

Unti was particularly excited about the packaging. Customers can choose between a clear bottle in the shape of Cher or Neil Diamond.

In other news, Jason Valenti and Alex Hill, Unti Vineyards’ winemaker and sales manager, have given their two weeks notice.     2016 Rosé...Cru Rosé?

Obviously, a funny thing happened to me on the way to writing about our 2016 Rosé. For some reason it is difficult to be completely serious when writing about rosé, but it really shouldn’t be.

Sixteen years ago we made Rosé as a by-product of making Rhône-like Grenache and Mourvedre. Today many of you know us for this onion-skin colored dry wine, and accordingly, we take it more seriously than ever.

Great wines regardless of color, creed, continent or viticultural area come from great vineyards. Like good genes, a vineyard source trumps everything when making good wine.

The world’s best wineries speak of this first when describing their wines. In Burgundy and Bordeaux it is Grand or Premier Cru. This is becoming true in Italy’s Barolo and Barbaresco. In Germany it is Grosses Gewächs (basically an awkward way of saying Grand Cru). In the US, the best wines are called “vineyard designate”- our way of trying to emulate “Grand Cru” here in the New World.

But most of these wines are red or white. Almost none are Rosé.

For some reason Rosé as a genre is seldom promoted as a manifestation of great vineyard sources. It is almost always considered less pretentious than grand cru red or white wine. True Rosé fanatics, especially those of us who love Bandol Rosé, know that vineyard pedigree absolutely applies to their beloved onion-skin colored wine.

Here at Unti, we only make wine from our vineyards, which are farmed for quality. We planted Grenache and Mourvedre because those grape varieties make distinctive and flavorful wines in our climate and soils. We harvest certain vineyard blocks between 22 and 23 brix sugar to make our Rosé.

Most importantly, our Grenache Noir and Mourvedre vines are 20 years old and crop-thinned to help concentrate flavors and structure. This allows us to have ripe flavors, with great texture and fresh acidity.

Almost any other winery would make red wine from vines of this pedigree.

The 2016 Rosé has more Grenache than in 2015 due to the short Mourvedre crop. But the wine definitely retains the Bandol-style we have proudly championed over the years. If folks awarded a grand cru classification for California Rosé, you would have to include this vineyard. And that is no joke.

1,590 cases produced $28 bottle Purchase here from our online store   2014 Montepulciano - Cucumber Slumber

The other day I was listening to a previously unreleased live version of Cucumber Slumber from one of the great, yet under-appreciated groups of all time, Weather Report. Somehow this made me think of Montepulciano. Don’t ask.

Weather Report was considered one of the pre-eminent jazz fusion bands from the early 1970’s to the mid-1980’s. The band’s core consisted of keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. They were later joined by innovative bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Alex Acuña. Over a 15 year period Weather Report successfully bridged jazz with rock, funk, and African music that was difficult to categorize, easy to appreciate, and timeless.  

In many ways, this is how I feel about our Montepulciano. When my dad first planted the grape, we were hoping it would make a wine similar to some of the better traditional versions in Italy’s Le Marche and Abruzzo, where it was THE main red wine.

But over the years we have seen our Montepulciano go beyond our preconceived notions. Montepulciano from our vineyards produces a darker, fruitier, and more compelling wine than most from Italy. Our version has some elements of tannin like Cabernet, only with more fruit and acidity.

2014 MontepulcianoOur success with Montepulciano is especially remarkable considering we have only been growing it since 2005, and there are so few wineries making it in California. Montepulciano is a late-ripening grape that seems to love the sun. If there is a grape meant to deal with the late season heat we can often have in California, Montepulciano is it.

The drought years 2013-2015 especially demonstrate Montepulciano’s tolerance of warm dry conditions. We harvested our 2014 Montepulciano on September 24th (dubious omen for the wine), earlier than any previous vintage. The early harvest is good because it means we were able to achieve flavor-ripeness with the grapes. The only thing we worry about with Montepulciano is that is a late-ripening variety.

Our 2014 MP is a perfect example of why we love the grape. It is full-bodied and fruity with unmistakable Italian-like complexity and acidity. It has aging potential (4 to 6 years), but is lush enough to drink now. Clearly, our kind of wine.

Upon tasting the 2015 and 2016 vintages in barrel, I’d say Montepulciano is here to stay as one of our best wines. Makes you want to listen to a live version of Bird Land, double time.

404 cases produced $35 bottle Purchase here from our online store   2014 Syrahs – Compelling vintage

Most winemakers are beginning to realize what a fantastic vintage 2014 was here in the North Coast. For what it’s worth, both of our Syrahs agree!

2014 combined a low yielding vintage with drought conditions resulting in an early harvest. The warm dry summer seemed to promote dark and fruity red wines across all of our wines. Additionally, we had nice levels of natural acidity. All of these features are prominently displayed in both of our 2014 Syrahs.

  2014 Benchland Syrah 2014 Syrah Benchland

The ’14 Benchland is the classiest wines we have ever made off of this vineyard. It has the fruit intensity I loved about our 2007 (my favorite Bench vintage) without rustic tannins that can occur with this wine. Make no mistake about it, our 2014 Benchland has plenty of tannin, it just seems to be more in balance with the fruit than some vintages.

Interestingly enough, we harvested our Benchland Syrah on September 12th. The other two vintages that were harvested this early were 1997 and 2004. Pretty good company as both vintages also had intense fruit.

We age our Benchland Syrah in about 40% new French Burgundy barrels because it has enough depth to handle the oak. However the oak is a little more obvious now than it will be in a year or so. While this wine will certainly improve over the next 4 to 6 years, the 2014 Benchland promises to bring enjoyment earlier.

275 cases produced $40 bottle Purchase here from our online store   2014 Syrah  

2014 SyrahI usually describe our Syrah Normale as our version of a beefy Crozes-Hermitage or Saint Joseph. This is particularly apparent in 2014.

I love Crozes-Hermitage and Saint Joseph wines because they seem to combine cool climate Syrah (olive, blueberry, and pepper) with the flavors and tannins of found in the warmer environs of Southern Rhône. These wines typically don’t get the attention given to the AOCs of Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, and Cornas. To some folks Crozes-Hermitage and Saint Josephs might lack aging potential and sophistication, but make up for it by delivering eminently pleasurable Syrahs, that are quite versatile at the dinner table.

This 2014 Syrah is a blend of four clones located on our winery parcel, including Durell, 383, 174, and 866. Each of these vineyard blocks provide some Northern Rhône-like character but in the richer format one might expect from Dry Creek Valley. Whole cluster fermentation makes these lots even more Rhôney.

This 2014 Syrah shows bright fruit typical of an early-harvest vintage along with enough fine tannins that will allow it to improve over the next 3 to 5 years. In that respect it is similar to our 2012 with a bit more complexity and polish. Viva 2014!!

425 cases produced $30 bottle Purchase here from our online store