13 Year Vertical of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah

13 Year Vertical of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Jason and some friends and I are heading out to Au Bon Climat / Qupé for their annual open house event.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have a special vertical tasting of 13 years (2007-1995) of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah with winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist.  I’m a longtime fan of Lindquist’s award-winning Syrahs and so I was really looking forward to this once in a lifetime tasting opportunity.  We exceeded the speed limit (more times than I’d care to admit) in order to arrive at the winery by 10am.  After traveling for over an hour, we got out of the air conditioned car into a surprisingly warm (80+ degree) morning.  Then we walked into the winery and eventually gathered in a cordoned off area of the chilly and dimly lit Qupé barrel room.

Qupé winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist (photo credit:  Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Qupé winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Lindquist was already there with all the Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrahs displayed on a table.  He handed each of us glasses and an information sheet detailing each vintage’s harvest dates, brix, pH, total acidity, % alcohol, yield per acre, and number of cases produced.  We started with the youngest one (a 2007 barrel sample) and moved vintage by vintage to the oldest.  First Lindquist spoke about “Z block” which is a custom 5 acre block of vines in Bien Nacido vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  It is located about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and was originally planted for Qupé in 1992.  It is on a southwest facing slope about 850 feet above sea level.  Lindquist went on to describe the soil which is a “combination of volcanic clay and Monterey shale with significant substrata of sandstone and limestone”.  Finally, the knowledge I gained from my college geology class came in handy.   As we tasted each vintage, Lindquist described the challenges presented during the growing season year, from too much wind during fruit set in 2007 to a cold, wet spring (which delays flowering and reduces yields) in 1998 due to El Niño.  To my palate, a few years really stood out as shining examples of Syrah – 2002 (great balance of spice and fruit), 1998 (Lindquist’s favorite) and 1999 (wonderful complexity including notes of chocolate).

Anne taking notes at the Qupé 13 year vertical tasting (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Taking notes at the Qupé 13 year vertical tasting (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

After the vertical tasting, we stayed around for the open house activities which included wines from Qupé, Au Bon Climat, Verdad, Ici/La-Bas, Vita Nova, Il Podere dell’Olivos, Clendenen Family Vineyards, Makor and Barham Mendelsohn.   With over 70 wines on the list available for tasting (not including the 13 I’d already sampled earlier in the morning) I decided it was best to take a few minutes to zero in on the ones that were new to me:  2005 Il Podere Dell’Olivos Teroldego (deep garnet color, fruity – very food friendly), 2001 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo (florals, earth and spice), 2005 Clendenen Family Syrah/Viognier (florals, white pepper, earth and dark purple fruit), 2002 Vita Nova Stolpman Vineyard Sangiovese (bright red fruit, very food friendly), 2001 Vita Nova Reservatum (a red blend with spicy, red currant and dark berry flavors).  I tasted a few other wines here and there, but the ones mentioned above actually came home with me.  After getting the wine loaded into the car, we headed out to the next event which was held at a new cooperative winemaking facility called Terravant.

Syrah fan and Bob Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Syrah fan and Bob Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Along the way we realized that we were going to be driving right by Foxen…so we unanimously voted to stop by.  (In case you are wondering, “yes” we have a designated driver.)  We headed over to the bar to taste the whites first.  A dynamic and knowledgeable young woman named Mo was behind the bar – expertly leading us through the 2007 Foxen Viognier (Vogelzang Vineyard, nose of honeysuckle and flavors of tropical fruit) and the 2007 Chardonnay (Tinaquaic Vineyard, dry farmed, bouquet of citrus fruit with green apple, vibrant acidity and mineral notes). Wine Enthusiast awarded this wine 94 points.  Unfortunately there were only made 500 cases produced, so it is going fast.  I cannot recall the last time I purchased a bottle of Chardonnay – but the Tinaquaic was just too good to pass up!  As we chatted with fellow tasters, a couple next to us commented that although it was their first visit to Foxen, they felt as though they’d been there before.   This experience of déjà vu is quite common – ever since Foxen was featured in the movie Sideways.  We also tasted a few reds beginning with the 2007 Pinot Noir (Bien Nacido Vineyard and Julia’s Vineyard, strawberry and cherries).  We tasted the 2006 Zinfandel (Lockshaw Vineyard, Paso Robles) and the 2006 Syrah (Williamson-Doré Vineyard, rich with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, smoke and white pepper).  I had to take home some of the Syrah too!  We talked with Allison the tasting room manager who boxed up our wine purchases and then we jumped back in the car to head to Terravant.

Inside the Terravant facility (photo credit Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Inside the Terravant facility (photo credit Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

A few minutes later, we arrived at the Terravant Wine Center.  First we tasted a few wines including the latest offering from Chien, the 2008 Edelzwicker (an Alsatian-style white blend of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer).  Then we took a tour of this 40,000 square foot wine center.  This state-of-the-art facility was created in order to provide vintners with the equipment and laboratory necessary to control the quality from grape to bottle (not to mention executive offices and a large conference area where events can be held).  There were enormous insulated tanks with digital temperature displays, peristaltic pumps, open and closed top fermenters, cold stabilization and bottling equipment and much, much more.   Even the barrel room was high tech with automated relative humidity and temperature control and RFID tracking.  While everything was really impressive – lots of shiny chrome, automated thingamajigs that beep- it just seemed a little too industrial to me.  Maybe I am just a hopeless romantic, but to me wine is a wonderful marriage of art AND science – not just science.  I can think of a number of accidents that resulted in beautiful wine.  Case in point is the 2006 Ojai Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay – an accidental dessert wine – only two barrels were produced.  A small section of the Chardonnay grapes at the Solomon Hills Vineyard became infected with a fungus called botrytis cinerea (the so called “noble rot”).  Infected grapes shrivel up like raisins – thus concentrating the flavor.   I was fortunate enough to acquire one of the few bottles of this special wine.  Friends and I shared it with rich, creamy cheeses, nuts and dried fruits.  This wine itself was reminiscent of the great wines of Sauternes with a rich honeyed character.  Truly a happy accident!