Martha Stoumen: California Lodestar

1/17/19 -

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

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