February 18, 2009
Edition: Valley Final
for the Mercury
Even in difficult economic times, new wines are appearing in the market. Here are three projects that have caught my interest recently.
LULI CHARDONNAY : I bash a lot of California chardonnays, but if all of them were this good and reasonably priced, I'd be drinking chardonnay all the time. The wine I'm referring to is the 2007 Luli Chardonnay ($20), produced by Bacchant Wines, a partnership of San Francisco-based Master Sommelier Sara Floyd and the Pisoni family of Pisoni Vineyards. The Pisonis are well-known, as growers and as wine producers, for pinot noir. They make wine under the Pisoni and Lucia labels, and pinot noir grapes from their vineyard at the southern end of Monterey's Santa Lucia Highlands go into bottlings from wineries such as Testarossa Vineyards, Peter Michael and Siduri. The 2007 wine was the inaugural release from the partners. Most of the fruit came from the Santa Lucia Highlands; a small portion was from Mendocino County. The wine was fermented in 40 percent neutral oak and 60 percent stainless steel, and it underwent no malolactic fermentation. The resulting wine is fresh and juicy, with ample flavors of apple and Bartlett pear and a persistent core of acidity. The 2008 version, which was made in a similar fashion, will be released in a couple of months. It's a little richer, though still very fresh, with a hint of creaminess. Jeff Pisoni, winemaker for Pisoni Vineyards, makes the Luli chardonnay .
The wine is available in restaurants and some retail stores, including Vintage Wine Merchants at San Jose's Santana Row and Andronico's stores. There's no hard-to-get-on mailing list, not even any sales through the Web site. "I want everyone who likes the wine to have the wine," Floyd says. "It's not meant to be this precious commodity." The partners are still deciding whether to add to their product line. They had plans for a 2008 grenache from Mendocino County but ran into a problem with smoke taint from last summer's wildfires. Chardonnay production was increased to 4,500 cases in 2008 (up from 3,400 cases). They hope to expand the brand when the economy improves.
LUDWIG RIESLINGS: There was a time when starting a brand focused on single-vineyard rieslings would have been financial suicide. Luckily for winemaker-proprietor Eric Laumann, riesling sales have been booming. Laumann, winemaker and general manager at custom-crush facility Monterey Wine Co. in King City, worked at Bonny Doon Vineyard from 2000 to 2002 and made the winery's Pacific Rim riesling before that project was moved to Washington state. After that happened, Laumann says, "I missed making riesling." In 2006, he took steps to remedy that, producing two single-vineyard rieslings from different types of sites in Monterey County. "Monterey used to have such a good reputation for riesling," Laumann says, and good fruit wasn't hard to find.