A few days ago I brought a group of friends to Grassini Family Vineyard in the American Viticultural Area (AVA) called Happy Canyon. I tasted here in the summer and was very impressed with Grassini’s winemaker Matthias Pippig’s talents especially with his own label, Sanguis. My reasons for scheduling this visit were twofold. First, I wanted to see how the wines were evolving and secondly I wanted my friends to see the most beautiful winery in Santa Ynez Valley (in my humble opinion). After driving through the scenic Happy Canyon area, with its horse farms and vineyards, we arrived at the Grassini gate and rang the intercom. We were buzzed in and the gate opened to reveal gently sloping hills covered with grapevines with varying hues of autumn yellow leaves. Further on we passed a beautiful lake surrounded by reeds and water-loving plants of many types. After driving slowly so we could take in the beautiful vistas, we arrived at the winery. Though the winery was recently constructed, it looked as though it had been there for many years. It was built using reclaimed antique fir (circa the late 1800s), some of which was milled from timbers found in the Oregon River. We were greeted by assistant winemaker, Jessica Gasca, who took us on a tour of the facility, which is itself a work of well engineered art. It is solar powered and built such that the juice, must and wine are gravity fed (in lieu of using pumps) during the entire production process. Moving grape must and wine by gravity is a technique used for centuries that fell out of favor because of the convenience of pumps. Though the use of pumps is the norm, some winemakers and reviewers feel that the use of pumps can cause irreparable damage by introducing air and smashing berries and seeds in a way which can release unwanted off flavors.
Another time-honored method utilized at Grassini has to do with wine storage. During the construction of the facility, a cave was excavated at the site so that the wines could be stored in a place that stays cool and dark with steady relative humidity. After spending some time in the Grassini cave, I wanted to start digging one at my house.
Our tour included a very comfortable family room with beautiful copper clad fireplace and dining room. There is also a large bedroom suite (with a great view of the vineyard) that wine club members can rent. We tasted a couple Grassini wines, both inaugural releases, while sitting at the dining room table. We started with the spectacular 2007 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc which aged for 17 months: 60% in stainless steel, 20% in new French oak and the remaining 20% in neutral French oak. With well integrated flavors of white flower, peach and pear this wine has extraordinary richness, an almost creamy mouthfeel, and a finish with hints of vanilla and caramel. Next we tasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Though a bit young, this wine already has beautifully integrated flavors of black currant, plum, cherry and a finish of chocolate. I really enjoyed this painstakingly crafted wine and I look forward to tasting it over the next four or five years as the tannins soften.
Next Jessica took us downstairs to the main tasting area which has stunning view of the vineyard. The room was dominated by an enormous hand wrought table where we were seated to sample the Sanguis wines. Those familiar with Manfred Krankl’s coveted Sine Qua Non will notice an unmistakable similarity with Sanguis as both labels feature unique artwork by their respective winemakers. An observant wine taster in our group asked Pippig about this; Pippig cracked a smile and said that he and Krankl have been friends for years and that they share a passion for motorcycles. Small world eh? First up was the Sanguis 2008 Ramshackle & Threadbare, a heady white blend of 58% Roussane, 40% Malvasia Bianca and 2% Viognier with aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom. Though very rich, the fruit and acidity are balanced. I’d serve this wine in warm summer months with Asian or Thai cuisine or seafood. When I tasted the wine I thought it would be fabulous with grilled thresher shark steaks in a spicy orange and ginger marinade.
We moved on to reds, beginning with the Sanguis 2007 Backseat Betty. This is a blend of 83% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 3% Viognier. Pippig, who’d taken a break from his tasks in the winery to greet us, commented that the Syrah and the Viognier were cofermented. He feels that this influences the texture in a positive way. Though it sounds counter intuitive (since Viognier is white), cofermentation helps to deepen the color and flavor of the Syrah. This exceptional wine with flavors of white pepper, blackberry and plum is a real pleasure to drink young, but I think a patient collector will be rewarded in 2014 or 2015 with greater complexity and character. I think that this wine will follow the same arc that I find with some Châteauneuf-du-Papes. They drink well young and then have a few sleepy years where they are best left undisturbed followed by a period of time when they’ve evolved into captivating, complex wines.
Next up was the Sanguis 2006 As the Crow Flies, a classic Côte-Rôtie style blend of 97% Syrah and 3% Viognier with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, hints of smoke and herbs. I have to admit that I fall head over heels for great Côte-Rôtie style wines and their oddly pleasurable combination of floral and meaty, bacon-y aromas. I purchased some this beautiful wine on my last visit, so it was especially interesting to taste how well it is evolving. I don’t plan on opening any of these bottles in my collection until sometime between 2013 and 2015.
Lastly we tasted the Sanguis 2007 Devil in the Deep Blue Sea a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Though this is a brand new release, this wine is drinking beautifully now with dominant flavors of black and red fruits and hints of mocha and bittersweet chocolate. I’d be willing to bet that this wine will evolve beautifully over the next few years. If you have the patience, I’d recommend opening at least one bottle of this gorgeous wine every year beginning in 2012.
The exceptional wines we tasted from Grassini and Sanguis are the product of impeccable winegrowing practices and the beautiful marriage of art and chemistry in the winery. Trust me, just go there. You’ll thank me later. Don’t forget to call a week or so ahead to make an appointment (888-686-3086). And when you get there, let Jessica and Matthias know that Anne from Wine Nation Underdog says “hi and keep up the fabulous work”.
Tags: As the Crow Flies, Backseat Betty, Cabernet Sauvignon, Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Papes, Côte-Rôtie, Devil in the Deep Blue Sea, Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe, grassini, Grenache, happy canyon AVA, malvasia bianca, Manfred Krankl, Matthias Pippig, Ramshackle & Threadbare, Roussanne, sanguis, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, Sine Qua Non, Syrah, Viognier