The 2018 growing season was one of the mildest growing seasons in recent memory. Less than average rainfall during the winter months, though the March rains proved to be a savior. The late rains coupled with very cool weather set back the physiological development of all the vine cycles from flowering to fruit set a couple of weeks compared with 2018. Other than the usual heat during June and July, the late summer conditions were very mild and allowed us to ripen fruit later than ever with very slow sugar accumulation and high acid retention. Grapes were picked in several passes, on October 3,25,30.
The grapes were picked by hand. At the winery the grapes were given 24 hours of whole cluster maceration to extract tannins, aroma, and flavor compounds in the skins, followed by pressing the grapes. No sulfur was added to allow the juice to oxidize. After a 36 hour cold settle in tank, the clean juice was racked off the solids to another tank for spontaneous fermentation. The wine was sulfured post completion of secondary fermentation with elevage in tank on fine lees. Racked off fine lees a month prior to bottling. Unfined and unfiltered. The only addition we ever use is sulfur (27ppm total). Bottled June 28th, 2019, 230 cases produced.
Brix at harvest: 19.8-21.0
Titratable Acidity: 6.8 g/L
Residual Sugar: 0.3 g/L
Farmed by Pat Wirz, this old-vine, dry-farmed vineyard was first planted in 1902 to Zinfandel, Mission (Rosa del Perù), Mataro, Orange Muscat, Carignan, and the local specialty Cabernet Pfeffer. The Riesling was planted later in 1964. It's located at about 920-1000 feet in the Gabilan Mountains about twenty miles north of the Pinnacles National Monument in the Cienega Valley AVA (San Benito County). Although it lies only twenty five miles east of the cold waters of the Monterey Bay, the coastal influence is dampened by the mountain topography and geology surrounding this site. The San Andreas fault runs through the property highlighting the convergence of two giant tectonic plates. Limestone, in the form of calcite, is the dominant geologic influence here. As these rocks eroded over the eons, they weathered into very deep sandy loam. The sandy, nutrient poor soil forces the roots to grow deep in search of water and minerals. These old vines ripen late and are extremely low-yielding, around 1 ton/acre annually.
We work with Riesling, Zinfandel, Cabernet Pfeffer, and Rosa del Perù from this historic vineyard.
It's our belief that authentic wine is a direct reflection of the specific patch of earth it comes from. This ethos drives us to work with the most unique and rugged vineyards found on the central coast. These special sites have a story to tell unlike any other. We have two simple goals that direct every operation above all else: to present the narrative of the growing season in a delicious and transparent format, and to craft a wine with a strong foundation intended to age for decades. The fundamentals that we follow are old-school; we work with the seasons. We spend the majority of our time working in the vineyards, with our harvest season spent between monitoring natural fermentations to picking grapes and the overtime hours dedicated to fixing broken gear. Every year is unique, so the vineyard and cellar practices evolve annually to adapt to the changes each season brings forth. These simple methods require thoughtful, timely decision making, detailed work, and the patience to allow the wine to evolve at its own pace. The results are singular, authentic wines that represent a region, a site, and are a piece of living California history.
THE REASON FOR RIESLING
We could just give you the obvious answer on why we make Riesling. We love it. It's not only our belief that this *terpene-rich grape is the most dynamic, the most transparent, and the most exciting; many of the world's top sommeliers and wine critics consider it the greatest white wine grape of all. To understand why we chose to pursue working with this grape here in California, a brief introduction to our states past is a great place to start.
The history of California viticulture goes back to the 1700's when Spanish missionaries brought their imported grapes here up from Baja California, Mexico. The first variety planted here earned the acronym 'Mission" grape; today also known as Listán Prieto which originated in the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain. Up until around the 1850's, the Mission grape was virtually the only variety planted in California.
The "Gold Rush" that began in 1848 brought in a wave of immigration from the eastern U.S. and abroad. While most '49ers' failed to amass a fortune in gold, they discovered other areas California offered an opportunity to strike it rich; the abundance of fertile ground. As with many immigrants, these original entrepreneurs brought with them important pieces of cultural heritage to their new homeland. One of these pioneers, Agoston Haraszthy, is credited with introducing the first vitis vinifera vines to the state (he imported over 100,000 cuttings!) in 1852. One of his greatest early successes was Riesling.
Riesling enjoyed a massively popular era in California, the U.S., and Europe for over one hundred years (1850's-1960's). At times in this era, the greatest Riesling's were higher in price than the fabled wines of Bordeaux. Riesling was one of the most widely planted varieties in California, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Napa. If history shows us any indication of future results, as we believe, we are once again betting on this grape to pave the path ahead.
As climate change continues to spur the unpredictability of weather and extreme weather events (with the notable exception we continue to get warmer annually), there are few white grapes better suited to withstand the impacts than Riesling. Here's some data to back the claim: it's drought-tolerant, has extreme winter hardiness, buds late, has good heat tolerance, ripens late, has very high acidity, and has stylistic variation unmatched in most other grapes. Much like it was done long before us, it's our mission to pioneer the new age of California Riesling.
Terpenes are the family of chemical compounds found in the skins and responsible for the exotic aromas of Riesling (one of the many reasons we macerate Riesling on its skins prior to pressing). In fact, Riesling has one of the highest concentrations and diversity of different terpenes of any other grape. These terpene aromas range from rose (linalool) to grapefruit (geraniol) to petrol (TDN or, 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene.) Terpenes and terpenoid aromas are directly related to acidity, pH, and the environment (i.e. where it's grown, how it's farmed, winemaking practices, ripeness etc.). These are the chemical markers that vividly show the diversity of the grape through aroma.
The path to becoming a winemaker was not at all clear, though my interests as a youngster helped stir the pot in that direction. I grew up in Contra Costa County, California, which is far more famous for housing subdivisions than for wine grapes. I spent my time exploring the “outdoors” which consisted of exploring the foothills of Mt. Diablo, fishing in the San Pablo bay, and gardening with my grandma. My interests in food developed with a job as a dishwasher for a culinary school during my summer breaks in high school. My focus on wine was sparked because of my wrestling (when you are deprived of food, you tend to dream about it…)
I chose to go to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo because it had a great wrestling team and Cal Poly offered a degree in Wine and Viticulture. I shifted to focus on academics in lieu of athletics after a few seasons, as my interests escalated into minors in soil science, sustainable agriculture and plant protection science. My first internship was at Saucelito Canyon Winery in Arroyo Grande, CA where I learned to work with ancient, dry-farmed vines. Not far from Saucelito Canyon, I met my mentor, Justin Willett of Tyler Winery, while rock climbing in remote Santa Barbara County. This chance meeting led to a four year endeavor as the assistant winemaker at both Tyler and Lieu Dit Winery. In between harvests at Tyler, I traveled to work abroad in Margaret River, Western Australia and in Austria (Wachau, Weingut Tegernseerhof) before moving up north to work for the classic Santa Cruz Mountain winery Thomas Fogarty. Stirm Wine Co. is now located in southern Santa Cruz County near Watsonville; central between the key appellations we work with.