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California's wine culture seems to be adapting at a mercurial rate of change. With the landscape constantly being restructured and the ideals always changing it is rare to find a winemaker that really encapsulates the spirit of now in California. We believe that in Martha Stoumen we have found this current archetype, and in describing her methods and her wines we can move closer to an understanding of where California is now, and perhaps where it will be going in the future.
Martha is both a winemaker and a vigneronne. She farms about half of the vineyards herself, with the rest being farmed by proprietors who have owned the vineyards for generations. Dry farming is key. Dry farming goes hand in hand with older vineyards, with their deeper roots. In addition, many of the older vineyards in the state are planted with Italian or Mediterreanean grapes, usually varieties that need less water, and retain higher acidity in sunny climes than French International grapes like Cabernet, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay. As California faces a potentially long-term water crisis, dry farming will become more important. I think of this as good news for the California wine industry: not all the plants can survive on arid land as well as grapes. It takes more effort in the vineyard, but dry-farming grapes points to a viable future for winemaking in California.
The first wine on offer today, the 2017 Honeymoon White is a blend of 65% Colombard and 35% Roussanne that is juicy, a bit leesy, and absolutely thirst-quenching. Sourced from dry-farmed organic vineyards in Mendocino and Contra Costa County.
Next we have three intriguing reds from dry-farmed Mediterreanean grapes that all manage to feel like contemporary classics. First, the 2017 Varietally Incorrect Zinfandel, an experiment in successfully attempting to make stylish Zinfandel with freshness and verve (and a little less alcohol). Each vintage a few more people are trying to get Zinfandel like this, and it has totally changed the way I feel about the grape. With this bottle, Martha crafted a special, sprightly bottle with loads of acidity and juiciness. Next we have the 2017 Venturi Vineyard Carignan, sourced from a classic dry-farmed, head-trained vineyard planted in 1948. This wine reminds me of the way Mendocino smells, with notes of redwood, bay laurel, dried herbs, and a soft sweet minerality like wet stones on freshwater stream banks. Lastly we have the 2016 Benson Ranch Nero d'Avola. I am a big advocate of Nero d'Avola in California for its ability to retain acidity during long, sunny days. This makes sense for California viticulture: Nero's native Sicily is considerably more similar to much of California than, say, Bordeaux. This wine is very impressive, like her other wines exhibiting a combination of irrepressible, darkly-etched fruit and dense complex algorithms of herbal, mineral, and earthy impressions. Drink now, hold, or forever hold your pieace, because all of these wines are made in tiny quantities.
Martha's 2017 Negroamaro Rosato is one of the more distinctive wines I've ever had. Negroamaro has always been a bit of a renegade grape, offering tons of rustic structure, being quite tannic, with loads of acidity, and rarely much fruit. This one has these immense structural peculiarities in spades, but they are enumerated in what amounts to a beautiful, complex composition. Sea air, smoke, dark wild red fruits, black olives, alpine herbs, and husky minerality are laid for our pleasure on a bed of electric acidity and surprisingly supple tannin. Drink this, or age for 7-10 years to see what kaleidoscopic journey this wine will take. We hope you enjoy these wines from one of our favorite winemakers! Andrew Farquhar
The 2017 Honeymoon is a blend of 65% Colombard and 35% Roussanne both fermented in used French oak barrels. The Colombard is sourced from the Ricetti vineyard in Mendocino, dry-farmed and certified organic, situated in the Redwood Valley AVA. The Roussanne is sourced from Contra Costa County, and is in the middle of the three year process of organic certification. This wine has a nice blend of racy qualities marked by a richness from eleven months of lees aging. A rich flaxen color in the glass, the nose has notes of melon, wool, and a touch of honey. Redolent of Chenin Blanc but a little more overtly ripe. This wine feels juicy and fleshy, which is in contradistinction to its being only 11.5% abv! 252 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This is one of the best Carignans I've tasted recently from California, not least because of the amazing vineyard from which these grapes are sourced. Planted in 1948, Mendocino's Venturi Vineyard is a classic, old head-trained vineyard, dry-farmed and tended by Larry Venturi, grandson of Mario and Elvira Venturi, who transformed this stretch of land from wilderness to vineyard. Planted on an old river bed containing quartz, shale, and sandstone, this wine has an amazing aromatic character that reminds me of the foggy forests of Mendocino. The nose has notes of redwood needle, dried cherry, and an undertone of wet stone. Slightly lighter in character, this wine has a great energy that I think will develop for a few years in the bottle. 178 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
Martha spent a vintage working at COS in Sicily, where she developed a deep respect for Nero d'Avola. I think this grape is one that we will see much more of in California, as it retains high acidity in hot, sunny climes. This one is full of dark, brooding energy, with fine, robust tannins and fantastic crackling acidity. The fruit character is dark and wild, with notes of bramble and blackberry interlaced with hushed notes of miso and forest floor. Drink now or age for up to ten years. Andrew Farquhar
Sourced from Benson Ranch, a dry-farmed head-trained vineyard in Mendocino tended by the winemaker, this is a fascinating Negroamaro Rosato that isn't quite like anything I've ever tasted. This is a hugely structured wine, with an intense, wild character, fantastic acidity, and lots of layered earthy, herbal, saline, funky notes. This wine was definitely intriguing and multifaceted, and in quintessentially southern Italian fashion is a rosato that will benefit from some bottle age. I would also suggest decanting for an hour or more to reveal its depths. It is still fascinating now, and will pair fantastically with lots of classic, intensely flavored Mediterranean foods, from Gaeta olives, to anchovies, to swordfish fillet. The racy acidity will work well with spicier mezze as well. 136 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This is an amazing name for a Zinfandel, and is extraordinarily apt as well! Lighter in color, juicy, and refreshing, though still retaining Zinfandel's classic combination of red and blue berry fruit, this wine clocks in at only 13% abv, unlike the huge boozy Zinfandels that have become commonplace since the nineties. Most striking is its bright acidity. Sourced from the King Andrews Vineyard in the Suisun Valley (east over Howell Mountain from Napa), where the San Pablo Bay spreads its moderating influence over the valley in the form of morning fog and gusty afternoon winds, hence the beautiful structure of the wine. The nose has some beautiful alpine herbal character and nice notes of freshly ground pepper that subside beautifully into the bright sumptuous front-palate that's like handfuls of freshly-picked blueberries and wineberries mixed together. Whole cluster fermented for a month and aged on the lees for seven months in used oak barrels. 70 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar