Satellite Wine Club, July 2022
$52 Retail, $624/Case $499/Case for Members ($41.58/Bottle)
$38 Retail, $456/Case $365/Case for Members ($30.40/Bottle)
We’ve been down this road together before… The club and I, that is. If you’ve been a member for a while you’ll have sweet sweet memories of Grenache dancing through your mind. Unique, elegant, it’s a special grape that is so often cast aside, blended so unceremoniously, relegated to the Côte du Rhone styled GSM’s of the world. Overly extracted, underwhelming, blatheringly boring wines, destined for your local Smart & Final wine shelf (don’t get me started on S&F!)
There are rare pockets where grenache truly shines on this spherical wine world on which we live. Places where it is supercharged for depth and inky power - see Priorat. Others where it finds a more luxuriously drinkable balance that evolves and unfolds through layers of history and (hopefully) a judicious use of oak - see Rioja Baja (specifically this insanely excellent wine we just got 4 bottles of…). There are other zones which have, for better or worse, inspired imposters the world-over - all trying to achieve grenache-based perfection without any of the requisite tools, terroir, or skill - See Châteauneuf du Pâpe (a zone where even many local producers are becoming caricatures of their former local styles).
The truth, Dear Winestronaut, is that Grenache can “grow” anywhere… but there’s a difference between “growing” and “excelling”. The world is filled with ragged & abused grenache vineyards. It’s a relatively sturdy variety, able to handle water stress, disease pressures, and truly bad farming. Grenache can take it… but it does not like it. Did I mention it’s the most widely planted red grape on the planet?
You’ve seen the Rhône Rangers of California, making husky blends over 15% ABV. You’ve seen cheap grocery store GSM’s oft-made from the spare parts of other, better wines. You’ve probably even suffered through a few by the glass. I hope you’ve found some pure varietal grenache at various quality tiers because all of these experiences will be called upon this month as we explore what an excellent grape grenache is - when honored, not abused!
This month we’re nose diving into Grenache. Not your standard - far from it - yet somehow more familiar than you’d think. These wines, made by two wonderful winemakers, are thoughtful, creative, and beyond delicious. One is a pure grenache grown organically at the Piazza Bella Vista Vineyard in our local Ballard Canyon AVA. The other is a Grenache grown biodynamically just down the street, but blended with the equally Spanish Mencia grape, a true rarity in Santa Barbara.
This month I encourage you, winestronaut, to see grenache in the context of Santa Barbara. Feel the minerality and phenolic purity of these vines grown in almost pure beach sand on a slab of limestone. Try the Piazza next to the Penville and feel how Mencia changes the texture and position/expression of fruit on your tongue. Let these wines be a guide for all that is possible in the world of Grenache. All that is good is here!
This month is grenache.. And a little more. Made by our two friends Gretchen and Patton. Right here in Santa Barbara County. We think they’re amongst the best we’ve ever had!
Halftime 2022. Let’s check the scoreboard. Raise a hand if you haven’t caught covid… one moment… ok, now pat yourself on the back with the other. You’re a unicorn. It’s been a hell of a year, and lately, there’s plenty of hell to raise. Mixed emotions, to say the least. This is the first normal-ish summer in three years - we’re untethered by travel restrictions and high-risk variants, and yet, things don’t feel so… liberating. Kicking #45 to the curb before catching a mask-less flight abroad isn’t all we hoped it’d be. And never mind flying overseas – our own country seems more foreign by the day. Especially this past 4th of July, which rang a little hollow. Sure, I observed it the American way, admiring bottlebrushes of fireworks splay across a cobalt horizon, my gut full of hard seltzers and hot dogs. It was a welcome distraction.
But those agglomerated meat sticks hit differently this year, and it wasn’t just their questionable ingredients. From sea to shining sea, West Beach to the East Coast, there’s more work to be done. And in times like these, it’s easy to forget that rest and relaxation are as important as ever. That change starts locally.
Piazza and Penville are proof. This month, we’re revisiting grenache, the attention-seeking little number profiled a few months back. (Check March’s writeup for a brief recap on how we learned to stop worrying and love the ‘nache.) Gobs of Provençal herbs, sea salt and optimism defined the month – one of the featured producers was Domaine du Possible. These bottlings also reflect the times; they’re complex, contemplative, craggy. They’re also uplifting and tremendously delicious. Pause the news and peep the story on these two talented cats crafting wines without filler or fuckery. Oh yeah, speaking of which - VOTE.
$52 Retail, $624/Case $499/Case for Members ($41.58/Bottle)
You don’t need to tell Patton Penhallegon the pen is mightier than the sword. Emblazoning the first three letters of his surname on his wine label, license plate, largest barrel and daughter’s birth certificate (Penelope), Patton’s life is truly a family affair. Especially since last year, when, after the ville, partner Michael Villas, left the brand to focus on his own project, Patton’s father Pat and wife Emily hopped aboard.
But his brand isn’t some kind of ego trip. Gregarious and self-effacing, I first met the jolly sailor of a man early in my Satellite days. You’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier guy. Nor a more generous one. After a quick chat at the window bar, he supplied me with a business card and an offer to visit his facility whenever the mood struck. Many months and restaurant run-ins later, I finally did – ironically to meet with Craig and Crosby of Lo-Fi and Entity of Delight, who also call the secluded complex off Tepusquet Road home. Patton was away, hosting a charity event. But I knew I had to return, and did so just the other day, on a beautiful Friday morning.
I dig this place. There’s always something going on. Patton greets me as usual, donning a salt-and-pepper beard that contrasts his technicolor tattoos, all resting below aviators and a huge grin. After shooting the shit a bit, checking in on a bottling operation and chatting about directions (how I know I’m now in my 30s), we get to tasting, and unpacking, his wine.
Side note: visiting a winery on bottling day can mean hitting the jackpot or kicking the hornets’ nest. There are a lot of moving pieces, liquids, machines, people – and it’s critical everything goes right. Either way, there’s always excitement in the air, and fresh, punchy wines in your glass. Luckily for me, these guys are perennially chill. With projects named Lo-Fi, Disko, and Entity of Delight, it makes sense. Some country music blared from the bottling line. I found myself here on the perfect day. Today, I was here for Penville. And again, there’s no Penville without Penhallegon.
Patton found his way into a bottle of wine like many others – food. The Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts grad was bitten by the bug at Bayside, a Newport Beach restaurant where he worked front of house. Honing his palate through hours and hours of tastings with a sales rep led to a beverage director slot at a new spot. Before long, he’d be selling those same wines he was brought up on, all across Orange County. That sales rep left and Patton swooped right in.
After moving back and forth from distribution to the restaurant business, he was tapped as beverage director for acclaimed chef Nancy Silverton’s Mozza restaurant. He also imported a little wine on the side. But he’d always toyed with the idea of starting his own project. When the opportunity to do so inside Dragonette Winery, whose owners he’d met via sales work, came, Patton dove in. His mind was set on organic vineyards, low-intervention winemaking, and grenache. Enter Penville in 2014.
In addition to the parameters above, Patton likes large vessels for fermentation and aging. Huge oak foudres and concrete eggs line his cellar, resembling instruments of war on a battlefield. The sailor has his drum and marches to its beat. But like these massive containers, which slowly let in oxygen, he admits he’s always remained open. Referring to blending, de-stemming and fermentation, he ponders, “I don’t think you can know all there is to know… I never want to live in a vacuum. You [have to] try new things”. Hence, here we are with a co-ferment of grenache and mencía, the former whole-cluster, the latter de-stemmed, in a huge grey egg that looks like a nuke. Patton, you dropped a BOMB on us, baby.
Let’s hit the fields before returning to the cellar. Via Caprice Vineyard sits to the east of the Los Olivos District, whose pastoral beauty and chamise soils we discussed in May. It’s essentially a micro-lot of grenache, hardly over an acre in size. Managed biodynamically by Angela Osborne, fellow grenache devotee behind A Tribute to Grace Wines, it seems like a match made in heaven, or as Patton describes it, a Hail Mary pass. Perhaps the end zone was a stretch. Heat spikes and a later-than-desired pick date landed him consciously-farmed but lusciously sweet grenache.
Lest he have a beefy, high-alcohol hotcake on his hands, Patton needed to cool things down, and he needed to do it naturally. And fast. One way: toss in crisp, high-acid fruit to ameliorate the grenache’s high pH and sugars, two things a natural winemaker does not want. On the other hand, Low pH and sugars = a healthier fermentation, and a more drinkable wine.
He recounts how some last-minute mencía at Riverbench Vineyard saved the day. Just two miles down the road sat a handful of that lisp-inducing darling of northwestern Spain, waiting to be plucked. So the crew did, that very same day. “We called them, and within 45 minutes to an hour, they had picked that half-ton, and it was sitting out there waiting for me”. His cellar’s location, an especially cool, windy gap of the Santa Maria Valley with close access to Riverbench, brings to mind something Patton mentioned earlier: “I feel like I just get lucky sometimes”.
The breakdown is a near-even split, with 54% grenache and 46% mencía. With one half ripe, whole-cluster fruit sitting outside loamy Los Olivos; the other lean and de-stemmed, hailing from sandy Santa Maria, this is like a presidential election of a ferment, two equal-sized, radically different groups duking it out in one huge, hot melting pot. Yet here, the total is greater than the sum of its parts - the blend has to work it out together; there’s no single victor. Luckily, the end result isn’t an 80-year-old man, but a fresh, vibrant wine that’s fruity and floral.
Patton further explains the madness. After de-stemming the mencía, he transferred it into the egg for fermentation. The uncrushed, whole-cluster grenache sat on top. But then something interesting happened. While punching down this layer-cake to extract color and flavor, Patton noticed he couldn’t get very far. Lodged between the crushed, fermenting mencía and the roof of the tank, the fat chunk of grenache wouldn’t budge. The thing was full to the brim. The grenache was fermenting – but semi-carbonically. Enzymatically, inside the uncrushed berries. This wasn’t what Patton had in mind. Again. But when life gives you lemons or grapes, sometimes you don’t have to squeeze that juice to make lemonade.
And funny enough, this is actually a kind of variation on an old-school technique. It’s just turned a little inside-out. French winemakers often make an early pass through a vineyard, deliberately picking before the true harvest date. De-stemming this fruit, they babysit it until the larger pick, when whole-cluster grapes are added on top. The de-stemmed grapes, called a pied de cuve, or “foot of the tank”, act as a starter culture of healthy, natural yeast that will protect the whole-cluster ferment. Stems naturally lend a higher pH to the affair, and remember, this complicates things. Not to mention Patton isn’t the type to just doctor his wine later. The pH and nutrients need to be solid - there’s no turning this ship around with chemical crap.
In fact, after the wine went dry and the grapes pressed, sugar levels shot back up like a thermometer in a cartoon. While the grenache was partially fermented, pressing them released any and all sugar still trapped inside those uncrushed, super ripe berries. Sayonara, sweet thing. Back in the egg you go. Before long, the ferment came to a dry, delicious conclusion. No harm, no foul - this wine rules.
Aged in neutral barrels for barely five months, it’s crunchy carbonic meets-classic, cool-climate red. Cherry ICEE with dollops of raspberry Noosa and hibiscus, a spiced, rocky edge underneath. Intoxicating before the first sip. Patton recommends chilling this one down a bit, but watch how it develops as it comes to temperature. The palate soars with red berries wrapped in mouth-tingling acidity, and it’s mineral in a kind of grippy graphite way. So so juicy, and unmistakably grenache, but with tension and minerality often divorced from the grape’s intense fruit. Mencía peeks out with its earthy wink.
Bob Ross would call it a happy accident. Patton feels the same. The wine is fantastic, its maker humble. For a guy who’s busted his butt in this business for two decades, rolling with the punches like Micky Ward, he brings up luck, and the help he’s received from others, time and time again. Yet his nom de guerre, grind, and winemaking style are decidedly his own. Drinking this bottle, we’re grateful to arrive in Penville, too.
$38 Retail, $456/Case $365/Case for Members ($30.40/Bottle)
Similar to Patton, I had the pleasure of serving Gretchen as a Satellite rookie. I’m pretty sure I flubbed the cork on her bottle, just like the first time I opened something for my would-be girlfriend, also a winemaker. Oops. Gretchen didn’t seem to care, and my future sweetheart kindly offered a helpful tip. Just one reason why I LOVE SB wine people. But I digress.
Alongside Patton’s wines, including a grenache noir and grenache rose we simply can’t stop pouring, I can almost guarantee you’ve tasted Gretchen’s handiwork. Her personal label, Luna Hart, has visited Satty’s by-the-glass list for as long as I can remember. The spicy grüner veltliners and cabernet francs are particularly enticing, and in recent months, more and more of her Piazza wines have found their way to our shelves.
These bottlings stand out – a far cry from the avant-garde Scott-Boy! and Kindeli labels, or the ecocentric Werlitschs and Solminers, they look uncharacteristically normal. The simple and bucolic vineyard scene stamped on the front harkens back to a bygone era of California winemaking, when alcohols were low, oak wasn’t god, chemicals were fewer and wines weren’t pumped out like Coca-Cola. Just like the labels, the juice behind them is both classic and a breath of fresh air. Highlights include a lean, Chablis-style chardonnay, a carbonic graciano, and of course, this stellar grenache. Gretchen’s output is diverse, and somehow all of it sings.
Unfortunately, due to conflicting schedules and wayward cell service, I wasn’t able to visit her in the cellar. But Gretchen’s the kind of rockstar that her work and story aren’t hard to find. They are, however, hard to beat.
Her entry to the wine world shares a common thread with another woman winemaker featured a few months back – Alice Anderson, of Âmevive. While Coatesville, Pennsylvania seems a world away from Modesto, California, like Alice, Gretchen grew up on a working farm. Lavender picking and horseback riding dominated her days, and adventures throughout France as a high-schooler opened her eyes to the magic of wine. The two just missed each other there by a couple of years. One particular experience in France set the stage. While in Bordeaux, Gretchen’s mom organized a family tasting. The younger Voelcker was hooked.
She then enrolled in a tasting workshop, saying of the experience, “The host introduced us to a game to smell different scents detected in wine. This showed me that I really could not identify even the simplest and most common scents, like roses, which prompted me into years of smelling and tasting anything I could get my hands on”. This hunger paid off. Following an impressive slew of degrees in business and French from Georgetown University, and plant science from UC Santa Cruz (where she backpacked abroad in Patagonia), Gretchen could have literally gone anywhere. Barely old enough to drink here in the states, she kind of already had.
“Hustlers, grab your guns/Your shadow weighs a ton/Driving down the 101/California here we come.” Santa Barbara County, here she comes. Landing at Rideau Vineyard in Solvang, over the course of six years Gretchen worked her way up from intern to assistant winemaker, along the way joining Ryan Roark at Faith Vineyard. It was here that she came to believe in, and dive into, small-production, minimalist winemaking. Funny enough, Ryan just so happens to be none other than our boy Crosby (Entity of Delight Daddy) Swinchatt’s cousin. There’s literally one degree of separation in Santa Barbara County winemaking.
And Gretchen finds that community aspect crucial: “We have an extremely supportive community of winemakers… one of the beauties about this area is that we are still relatively young. We're still trying to find our voice. [Roark] showed me the world of garagiste, minimal interference winemaking, and taught me a lot about organic and holistic farming approaches… back to the basics winemaking without all of the fancy machines and tools”. She fell in with the right crew - one who shared her desire to express nature unabashedly.
In 2014, as part of her compensation, Roark provided a ton of Faith Vineyard sauvignon blanc. Luna Hart got its start. Back then, the label was called Moon Unit, a childhood nickname from her father. Two vintages and 25 cases sold caught the attention of Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of jazz-rock shock jock Frank Zappa, and a cease-and-desist letter, followed by a cringe attempt at collaboration, were met with savoir faire from Gretchen. She could’ve won in court (copyright isn’t as black-and-white as it seems), but why waste the time and money?
A sly name change and eight years later, she’s still making the low-intervention, terroir-driven wines she believes in, and likes to drink herself. Never one to limit herself to one project, Gretchen teamed up with Ron and Nancy Piazza to form their eponymous brand in 2019. Considering what was just around the corner, it was a hell of a time to start a business.
Pressure creates diamonds, and like attracts like. As restaurateurs who successfully navigated more than a couple of recessions, the Piazzas know a thing or two about hustle, and people. Alongside Gretchen, they brought in legendary Santa Barbara County winegrower Ruben Solorzano, AKA “the Grape Whisperer”, to farm their Bella Vista estate vineyard in Ballard Canyon. Sharing the same rare nugget of California limestone that Stolpman Vineyards calls home, it’s heaven for grenache. And Ruben knows this ground like the back of his hand – he’s worked the Stolpman vines and literally lived amongst them for nearly three decades.
The program seems to be working. While we could wax poetic on limestone for pages and pages, suffice to say it’s the most biologically interesting, chemically distinct, wholeheartedly idolized rock on which wine grapes grow. It’s practically non-existent in California, at least in climatic/topographical conditions suitable for viticulture. Not to mention premium viticulture. As Drew mentioned, grenache grows everywhere. Here, it’s found hallowed ground.
One more important note before we taste this thing: limestone is a uniquely basic soil. No, that’s not a diss. It’s an amazing thing. For reasons we still don’t know, there seems to be an inverse relationship between soil pH and wine pH. Meaning, a more acidic soil will lend a wine lower acidity, and, all other factors constant, a more basic soil (rare) will lend that same wine higher acidity. This is important because those higher-acid grapes will be able to develop longer on the vine without losing freshness. They’ll grow more complex in flavor and aroma, while yielding a safer, lower-pH fermentation.
Complex is right. Strawberry shortcake drizzled in roses slinks into a forest floor of mushroomy crushed stone. A little brush of oak spice sweetens the pot just enough. It’s so pretty, the way grenache can be when dialed in. But these elements combine best on the palate, where a ruby red cornucopia is buffered by salty leafiness via partial whole-cluster inclusion. Not a limp handshake, not a bear hug; lightly chalky tannins grip just tight enough. The oak is well-integrated. It’s unmistakably grenache, and gorgeous. If you manage to save a splash for the next day, taste it again and see how the wine evolves.
Gretch’s gren done did it again. I’m marveling at how drinkable a grape I once discarded as gargantuan and gluttonous can be. I’m bracing myself for the pure heat (and Hart) she’s got coming down the pipeline. At 1:18 am, I’m a little tipsy. The Lune is calling. The Earth’s bounty is indescribable. I know adventure awaits… if not tonight.
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, [wine], people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”
When you nosh
You must be posh
Today, not Gamay
Hey, not Chardonnay