Satellite Wine Club, June 2019
Penville - Grenache - Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, CA - 2015
Sindicat la Figuera - Garnatxa - Montsant, ES - 2017
You better believe me when I say that I am FREAKING OUT. June in Santa Barbara has kicked off even colder than January! While summer is right around the corner and long luxurious days in the sun aren’t far off, I feel obliged to kick-start summer with a little bit of sunshiney magic wine. If we can’t feel the sun on our skin at least we can have it in a glass of wine!
Grenache is the remedy to our unfortunate wealth of wet wintery days ☀ Let its glorious, sun-loving juice into your heart and mind! Let these bottles be your totems of brilliant warmth. This is an anti-rainstick situation people!
What makes grenache the ideal jump-start for summer? This grape is a sun lover. Its strong, ligneous branches easily wind up towards the sun in many of the the world’s sunniest wine-growing destinations. Grenache lives for the sun. From its sun-dipped nursery in Spain (where it’s known as Garnatxa or Garnacha), Southern France’s gorgeous Mediterranean Rim, to the blinding bright hills of Sardegna where it takes the name Cannonau. Grenache sets its most ambitious roots in the poorest soils, under the brightest sun, and requires the longest possible growing season.
Most of us know Grenache in its most common forms: part of a cheap Cotes du Rhone blended with Syrah (and other minor varietals) in south eastern France, or as a part of the Rioja blend (with Tempranillo) from Northern Spain. There are a few locations, however, where Grenache shows an elegance and strength deserving of appellations all-its-own. Perhaps most famously, Grenache from Chateauneuf-du-Pape (The Pope’s New Castle!) in the southern Rhone is the most intense form of the wine. There, in incredibly poor soils, and with desperately little rainfall the vines produce a maximum of 35 Hectoliters per hectare (stay with me here, this technical nugget means that yields are critically low) resulting in inky black, tannic, and legendarily structured wines. High alcohols are expected, and Grenache is happy to oblige (Potential alcohols of over 17% are increasingly common here as average temperatures continue to rise). Likewise, Grenache has found another, more recently fashionable site of absolute prestige: Priorat in Spain’s Catalunya. Like CDP the sun dominates this dry region and its black ‘licorella’ soils hold miniscule quantities of valuable nutrients. Here yields are devastatingly minimal with some years achieving only 5-6 Hectoliters per Hectare… that’s right, 1/7th of Chateauneuf! INSANE!! These wines are legendary for their power and among the very finest and most exciting wines period… and we’re going right next door this month!
With production limited to such miniscule quantities in Chateauneuf and even more-so in Priorat, one would be right in assuming the wines are priced extravagantly. As grenache grows well in dry heat, availability evaporates faster than a mid-day summer shower. While we maybe cannot afford Priorat this month, we can certainly zoom out to the surrounding “Montsant” zone for wine of epic quality, historical value, and straight-up-joy.
I should make an aside before we dive into this month’s wines. Grenache is a Spanish Varietal. While it has successfully adapted itself to the many sunbleached hills of Southern France, Sardinia, the near East, and the New World, Grenache is truly Garnatxa, Garnacha, or Granaxa… in a historical context. While so many cultures have adapted it to their own preferences, it remains distinctly essential to Spanish culture. Its synonyms: Alicante, Cannonau, Grenache, Vernaccia Nera, and so many more only serve to prove that this vigorous little sun-loving grape vine is a true winner and worth exploring. It’s everywhere, but it’s better in some precious zones of quality!
Now, back to the show.
Penville - Grenache - Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, CA - 2015
This wine is inspiration. The lightest, prettiest, grenache. No slouch, but light and airy, silky smooth, immensely fruit-filled, deeply rooted in Santa Barbarian characteristics of salt, sea, sun, and fun. This wine is not Garnatxa, though common threads abound between this month’s bottle offerings.
Penville is the brainchild of Patton Penhallegon and Michael Villas during their time working together to run the wine program at Mozza Newport Beach in 2013.
Patton tells it best:
“With strong relationships developed over years in the the wine industry the two were able to begin sourcing fruit from the Stolpman Vineyard (Pete Stolpman is Patton's best friend). This was the springboard to working with other vineyards the partners feel have a historical significance or a true personal connection to.
Patton moved his family from Orange County to Los Alamos in 2017 to head up production while Michael remains in Orange county driving sales and logistics. They emphasize the importance of partnering with organic and Biodynamically farmed vineyards to craft wines that speak of variety and place.”
Patton now controls the project on his own, making fascinating wines outside of his enviable assistant winemaker gig at Dragonette Winery in Buellton. This dude has serious skills and a lovely personality to boot!
Patton approaches winemaking with minimalism and transparency in the very front of mind. The wines of Penville are all ethereal, balancing whole cluster, wild fermentations with just the right amount of destemming to add weight and complexity to a lithe, bony structure.
This wine is 100% Grenache from Stolpman Vineyards. Farmed organically on their epic property in Ballard Canyon (just between Santa Ynez and Los Olivos) on sand-covered Limestone… that’s a prime combo for Grenache. Limestone leads to a elegant, refined grenache while sand de-vigorates the vine growth and limits it’s production of fruit, leading to more flavor intensity and structure.
You can find allllllll of the technical data on the front label (I love this labeling approach) but here are the main production points: Fermented 50% whole cluster in large open top bins and a concrete fermenter without temperature regulation, aged in a large concrete egg (useful for its convection currents, gently circulating the wine with the lees) and a large old oak 1200l barrel where it sat for 12 months. The wine was blended and re-barrelled for additional aging in neutral 500l for 8 months!
The wine sings. More red-fruited to the blue hued scents of la Figuera, there is a layer of savory spice underlying as well. My sense is that the whole cluster fermentation lends a bit more spice to the final product. The wine is juicy, silken on the palate with plenty of acidity… I’m gleeking as I write this. With an alcohol of just 12.67% to the Montsant’s 14.5%, acidity is naturally higher. On the palate I catch a typical Santa Barbara feature: Salt and Seaweed served up alongside a smattering of strawberry and cherry notes. Fine tannins creep up in the finish, lending substance to the wine and supporting a long, increasingly complex finish of strawberry, ripe red cherry, pink peppercorn, and california sagebrush. Too specific? Try it for yourself!
Soft hands come to mind when tasting this wine. I don’t mean to say the wine tastes like well moisturized hands… to the contrary! It tastes like rather than make the wine the winemaker let this wine happen. It’s what I look for in most of my selections and it’s what keeps bringing me back to the wines of Penville. Honestly, it’s the honesty!
Sindicat la Figuera - Garnatxa - Montsant, ES - 2017
This is Spain
In the rural, mountainous interior of Tarragona in North Eastern Spain The town of la Figuera appears to rise up out of the 600m peak of its mountaintop site, presiding over the many nearby peaks of Priorat. This tiny town of some 104 residents is steeped in local history going back to 1182 and likely much further.. The Romans are said to have founded it, building a fortress around a massive fig tree (una figuera, for which the town is named). The intensely rural town is remote, dry, and largely the same as it was when the winery, Sindicat la Figuera, was founded in 1932.
The Sindicat, a cooperative founded by 25 local growers, supported strong growth in the village with its 100% garnatxa wines. The bustling village was rocked, however, by a devastating storm in the early 1950s, destroying many of the vineyards and buildings, and exacerbating the siren’s call of factory life in the cities. During this era much of the Spanish countryside population was gutted and thousands abandoned the tough rural life.
The Sindicat, as with the town, was almost abandoned entirely. Fortunately, however, three visionary local winemakers set about restoring the garnatxa vineyards and the winery. Together with famed local Priorat Producer René Barbier of Clos Mogador, the Sindicat is back 100% to creating exceptional wines from their unique site. They replanted, invested in new equipment, and integrated better, modern vineyard practices. Little is required in farming here, pests are limited in the dry heat and Garnatxa seems to benefit from the struggle for what little water lingers in the chalky mountaintop limestone.
The vineyards of la Figuera cling to the steep, spartan mountainside. The soils here are unique in the region, with high percentages of limestone, giving a lean and bony quality to the wines which can often be overly ripe and jammy from lesser sites. The vines are all trained as bushes here, no wires or trellis systems to worry about. Grenache vines are made from harder wood than most and have no problem growing straight up all on their own. There is a sense that these vineyards have always been here, like they’re meant to be. While we are technically in Montsant, the region surrounding Priorat, the wines and the view from their vineyards, are all more deeply connected to Priorat.
In the glass we can see immediate that this wine is different from Penville’s. Deeper, purplier, murplier, it’s hard to imagine these are the same grape varietal. On the nose too, there’s A LOT going on here and I would say it’s all very good. The hills unfold on the back of bright blackberry and tart plum fruit, all chaparral and dusty mountain top pine forest. There’s a licorice under this fruit as well, a nod to the herbal neighbors of the vines. Heck, is that a bit of cured jamon serano on my palate? A subtle and salty savagery lingers long into the finish.
The sun lives in here too, in the ripeness of the fruit, in the warmth of the palate (a well integrated 14.5%). I’m whisked away, feeling like I’m bathing in sunlight on the mountaintop with a cool breeze whipping of the mediterranean some 20 miles south east. Whew! Take me to Spain! Punch me with Pintxos and Garnatxa! I’m yours!
Here’s a fast note on winemaking from my friend and legendary importer José Pastor:
“La Figuera (“the fig tree” in Catalan) is home to some of the highest elevation grapevines in all of Montsant, in addition to olive and almond trees. Up in the mountains, temperatures are cooler on average, though there is a fairly large diurnal shift from day to night. Sindicat La Figuera works with 25 hectares, all of which are owned by the three co-op members, and vines range in age from 20-70 years. Wines are fermented with wild yeasts in underground concrete tanks (5,000 to 20,000L) with minimum temperature control, where they spend around 9 months aging on fine lees before being bottled… 100% Garnatxa Fina planted on chalky soils at high altitude, the grapes are hand-harvested & destemmed.“
This wine is significant for me. When I tasted it first I knew it was the perfect counterpoint to our local grenache. It reflects a historical moment from the last century, when winemaking took a turn for quality in Spain, a respect and understanding for quality began to bloom, but on the back of local traditions, classic flavors, essential grapes. The wine harkens to another era while fitting right in with the cool kids we feature on the Satellite shelf everyday.
Better? No. Just a perfect counterpoint to our local example this month. One that speaks volumes on the potential of this wonderful grape, grenache/garnatxa/mi amor.
I Like You.
Osh Kosh By-Gosh?
Watch me Cha Cha Cha,
This is June at Satellite