Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ride the Rhone Range

That's a wealth of wine knowledge on the SoHO Restaurant & Music Club's stage on April 9th for a trade event as part of a day promoting the Santa Barbara County Rhone Rangers. As the newest to the business, winemaker Chris Caruso joked, "There's 140 years of experience up here, and I add one of those years." Hiding behind a bottle of his wine in the photo above, Ken Brown was hailed by moderator Matt Kettmann as the professor at Zaca Mesa "University," back when it seemed every about-to-make-Santa-Barbara-famous winemaker trained there in the 1980s. One of those "students" was Bob Lindquist, who pretty much put Rhone varietals on the SB county map, first with Qupé, and since 2018, Lindquist Family Wines. To have both Brown and Lindquist on a panel, sharing wines and stories and knowledge--well, it would be like attending a comedy panel with Buck Henry and Mel Brooks (assume Henry were still living). 

Speaking of good jokes, before I go on, if you can't read that orange sign, here it is in close up, at the bottom of the stage that holds six wineglasses for seven different drinkers. (Good thing they kept Larry Schaffer from crowd surfing after having people taste his funky but chic Tercero 2021 Counoise.)

I kid, I kid. But Schaffer is as ever indefatigable in his boosterism for Santa Barbara County wine, knowing a rising tide of vinous knowledge rises all boats. He happily reported the current 17 members in SBC of the Rhone Rangers is the highest number ever. And was even kind enough to let some SLO County wines into the tasting portion of the event, as Paso Robles certainly knows its way around a Syrah or two. Then to kickoff the panel, Kettmann asserted there's definitely a Rhone renaissance in the New World, and personally admitted, "A good, cool climate Syrah sone of the most interesting grapes out there."

While not quite all of the 22 Rhone varieties of grape were represented on the panel or at the tasting--wither thou, Vaccarese?--there was a soupçon of Bourboulenc in a blend, I'm pretty sure, and positively more Clairette Blanc than I've sipped in a month of Francophone Sundays. People are doing all kinds of interesting things, sometimes simply by reviving a grape generally relegated to blends only (that Counoise), or farming a mere 7 acres on the front ridge of Ojai Mountain, so 10 miles from the Pacific but at 2700 feet elevation, or Clementine Carter making a beautiful, vibrant Grenache Blanc with grapes from two different vineyards--Zaca Mesa and Kimsey--and treating each with different methods--the first has a carbonic fermentation, the second ferments in a concrete egg. The afternoon attested to invention, ever with an eye on tradition.

So let's leave with Bob Lindquist, kind enough to prove Roussanne can rock when aged--that's a magnum of his 2008 Qupé. It showed no lack of fruit waiting to be drunk for 16 years, yet added a stunning depth, providing a multidimensional drinking experience. It let you rethink what that grape can do. During the panel Lindquist joked, "We gain Marsanne and Roussanne drinkers one at a time," but what he poured, as there was also a 2021 Lindquist, certainly moved that needle much more rapidly. And then sometimes the needle moves too rapidly--he also got to pour what will be his final vintage X Block Bien Nacido Syrah, the Lindquist 2020. Famed for years as one of the best sites for the grape--its intensity, bacon fat, black pepper are unmatched--the old vines have sadly succumbed to leaf roll. 

But that's one more thing wine does for us, insist we love the moment, delicious as it passes through our lives. 

No comments:

Post a Comment