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A Taste Of Small California Wineries

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By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

With more than 4,200 wineries in California, it is unlikely any of us will get to them all in our lifetime. With that, it is telling that even after writing a wine column for more than 35 years, we haven’t come close.

The bigger producers are in a distribution chain that puts their products on shelves across the country. But there are smaller producers who can’t afford to get into this national pipeline and instead rely on direct-to-consumer sales that bypass the distributor and retailer.  They make great wines but consumers who want them must have them shipped to their homes and only in states that allow it. Without a retail presence, small producers have to rely on wine clubs, tasting rooms and restaurants.

Cordant Winery is a good example. Founded in 2014 by David and DeAnn Taylor, it makes about 4,000 cases of wine a year – 90 percent of which is sold directly to consumers.  David spent more than 30 years in Silicon Valley before chasing a dream of owning a winery.

Evan Taylor

Cordant sources grapes from Monterey County in northern Central Coast through Santa Barbara County farther south.  Some of the wines are vineyard-designated while others are blends.

We recently met up with Evan Taylor, who joined his parents as Cordant’s brand director in 2020. A perfect salesman with a passion for his family’s wines, he extols the pinot noir and Rhone-style wines for which this region is known.

Delestage is one of the techniques to make these wines so approachable, Taylor said. That’s the process of fermenting red wine with its skins and seeds and extracting maximum phenolic attributes by oxygenating the juice. The result is a softer wine with less tannins and more fruit character – ready for drinking on release. It is a common practice in making pinot noir, for instance.

2020 Cordant Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir

We loved the 2020 Cordant Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70), a sophisticated wine from Santa Maria Valley. Its youthful, spirited character showed off red berry fruit and balanced acidity.

The 2020 Cordant Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir is a combination of subtlety and finesse. Effusive red berry and cola aromas with fresh black cherry flavors and hints of spice and earth. Radian sources grapes for many producers, including The Hilt, Hartford and Byron.

But our favorite of our tasting was the 2019 Nelle Old Vines Enz Vineyard Mourvedre ($67). Muscular in style and long in the finish, it has classic blue fruit flavors and an earthy feel. This wine will carry the Cordant label in future wines. The vines for this delicious mourvedre are 112 years old, making them the oldest in the state, according to Taylor. The vineyard is located in the Line Kiln Valley of Monterey County.

The 2020 Cordant Wills Hills Grenache ($62) gets fruit from the westside of Paso Robles. Opulent and textured, it has fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors with candy cherry aromas. It’s more complex than your average grenache. Taylor said Wills Hills is a fan favorite among family and friends.

Cordant’s director of winemaking is Scott Stelzle.

Turnbull

There is no shortage of premium cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley, California’s most eminent wine-growing region where vineyard land is expensive. Rare, however, is a cabernet sauvignon that costs less than $100 a bottle if you can find it. While most consumers have reluctantly raised their wine bar to $20, those who desire Napa Valley reds will have to go much higher. That’s just the reality.

Turnbull Winery

While we thought we have tasted most of these pricey wines, there is always one or two that escapes our attention. Such is the case with Turnbull in the Oakville region of Napa Valley.

We tasted three estate-grown, single-vineyard cabernets that stood out for their individual character but also for their consistent balance and finesse, a tribute to winemaker Peter Heitz who has extracted the best from the terroir.

He was blessed with an exceptional vintage in 2019, which he calls a vintage “with a lot of stuffing”, or round tannins for aging, structure for power and tension for an exciting experience.

2016 Amoenus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

We like the Fortuna Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from a valley-floor vineyard first planted in the 1890s. Very floral with layers of raspberries, cherries and plum notes.

The Leopoldina Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is much more typical of the Oakville region with extracted plum and cassis notes, a kirsch-like smoothness and hints of herbs and mint.

The Amoenus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the only one using estate-grown grapes not in Oakville. With elevations of 860 feet, it takes on more heft and complexity with a melange of red and dark fruit flavors.  As Heitz said, “This is a wine that draws you in and never lets you go.” Amen.

These wines are expensive at more than $100 apiece but they pack a lot of stuffing as the winemaker claims.

Wine picks

Cuvaison Arcilla Merlot 2019 ($70). Those who are tired of insipid merlots should reach for this gem. Yes, pricey, but you get a lot of delicious fruit cloaked in a good balance between acidity and fruit character. Made entirely from estate-grown merlot, it has supple blackberry and black cherry flavors.

Highlands Forty One Pinot Noir Monterey County 2020

Tasca d’Almerita Sallier de la Tour Inzolia Sicily 2021 ($16). You won’t find something better than this for the price. Inzolia is a grape variety known more for marsala, but in Sicily it does well as a dry varietal wine. Intense orange blossom and almond aromas and pear, apple flavors.

Tasca d’Almerita Sallier de La Tour Syrah Sicily 2020 ($20). Although syrah has been cultivated on Sicily since the mid-19th century, it is not the first grape that comes to mind when you think of this region. So, we were delighted to discover this gem. Made entirely from syrah grapes, it has rich blackberry and plum notes with firm tannins and balance.

Highlands Forty One Pinot Noir Monterey County 2020 ($15). This is a terrific deal in a field of pinot noir that often cost north of $50. Medium in body, it has fresh and quaffable cherry fruit flavors with a hint of spice.

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr, MoreAboutWine, posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com

Republished with permission

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly wine column for more than 30 years. Additional Wine reviews on MoreAboutWine

All photos are randomly selected and do not indicate any preferred wine. Listed prices are subject to change and do not include tax or shipping.

You can send questions to Tom Marquardt marq1948@gmail.com

Always drink responsibly!

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They have traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the United States. Tom currently resides in Naples with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. His web site is MoreAboutWine.com. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, MD.

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