Octopus salad from Tarpy's Roadhouse

Octopus salad from Tarpy’s Roadhouse

Festive afternoon on May 16th at the Santa Lucia Highlands Gala held on the beautiful grounds of Mer Soleil Winery, where scores of wineries and food purveyors gave us the best of what they have to offer.

Rebecca King’s superb cheeses enhanced the elegance of the pinots while Chef Todd Fisher of Tarpy’s Roadhouse served an octopus/calamari salad that was one of the most flavorful I’ve ever eaten. It’s simply not possible to mention everyone on the food front, but I will try to do better next year!

My pick of the show has to be the 2013 “Rosella’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir from Saxon Brown. With concentrated soft cherry fruit, sweet tannins and a light floral finish, this is a pinot for the ages..indeed, according to winemaker Jeff Gaffner, this one can be cellared for 10-15 years.

winemaker Jeff Gaffner

winemaker Jeff Gaffner

Grapes were harvested in the early morning, de-stemmed at the winery into small tanks for three days of cold soak at c. 45F. The must was then allowed to warm and begin fermentation, when yeast was added as well as punch downs three to five times daily. After completed fermentation, wine was pressed to 50% new French oak barrels for secondary malolactic; after eleven months in barrel, wine was bottled unfined.

Sabrine Rodems

Sabrine Rodems

I was also impressed by the Wrath 2012 Pinot Noir from McIntyre Vineyards…lighter in color and intensity than many of the SLH pinots, but perfectly balanced, with light tannins supporting black cherry fruit with a hint of lavender on the finish. Winemaker Sabrine Rodems uses 20% whole cluster fermentation to concentrate the flavors and bring us this ruby red gem of bright acidity and pure fruit.

Finally, I want to mention the 2011 Pinot Noir “SLH” from Tudor Wines, a balanced, “meaty” pinot with firm structure and some viscosity…blackberry with peppery tannins that will make this wine age with focus and finesse. This was an interesting vintage in terms of weather fluctuation and demonstrates how important a day in the life of wine-making can be. As winemaker Dan Tudor tells it:

The SLH clusters had a mix of about 70% tiny seedless berries and 30% big berries with seeds. When checking the condition of the fruit the tendency is to examine the bigger berries. The last week of September those larger berries were still pulpy, firm and with mostly green seeds which gave the impression the crop wasn’t quite ready to pick. When the weather forecast heavy rain for the first Wednesday of October I decided to pick on Tuesday.

Tudor Wines 2011 SLH Pinot

Tudor Wines 2011 SLH Pinot

After sleeping on it, I woke Saturday morning and called to request moving the pick date to Monday morning Oct 3rd. I figured with cool weather and that late in the season a day or two either way wasn’t going to make a difference in the ripeness level, better safe than sorry.

I was surprised when they said, ‘no problem, nobody is picking. we can move you to Monday’. The fruit all came in looking great and 26 brix. On the way home from the winery that afternoon it started pouring down rain! The rain came a day and half earlier than forecast 🙂

And we are the fortunate recipients of his wise choice!

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