On the Trail

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Farming Liquid Gold in the Sta. Rita Hills

domesticKate Soto

Before Liquid Farm was a wine, it was an idea—a few words in Jeff Nelson’s head that evoked his connection to the grape, to the land, to the wines he loved. He’d been in the wine business for years, mostly on the Champagne side of things, and he knew what he liked to drink: high-acid, terroir-driven white Burgundies and Champagne. He also loved eating locally, but he was drinking French wines, coming up empty handed when he tried to find this style from wines made nearby.

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He teamed up with Brandon Sparks-Gills from Dragonette Cellars and set about making the kind of wine that got him excited—namely, Chardonnay. He chose the Sta. Rita Hills appellation for its cool climate and amazing soils, even though, at the time, only 10 percent of Sta. Rita Hills was planted to Chardonnay (Pinot reigns to this day, which Nelson attributes to the Sideways effect). It’s way closer to the Equator than Burgundy or Champagne—should be too close for cool-climate varietals. But its unique east to west positioning in fact makes it much cooler than you’d expect: the Purisima hills to the north and Sta. Rita Hills to the south create a funnel for cool ocean air and fog from the Pacific to the vines. Plus, the hills have some of the world’s largest and purest deposits of diatomaceous soil--a chalky, fossilized hard-shelled algae, layered into the hillsides by earthquakes and volcanoes. It drains well. It’s the same stuff as in the white cliffs of Dover. It makes killer wines.

This was back in 2009, and he started with four barrels. Two of the barrels expressed a more Chablis style--this blend would become the White Hill bottling, a racy, lean wine with citrus-driven aromatics. The other two presented more of a Meursault style, and these became the Golden Slope blend. Golden Slope is a richer, fuller style with golden honey and beeswax tones. It’s sumptuous stuff, but still well structured and serious. According to Jeff, “Everyone said to put them together but I said to listen to the barrels.” Now, nearly ten years later, those two bottlings are still the foundation of Liquid Farm, though he’s added Mourvèdre-based rosé and two Pinot Noirs. But it’s still his Chardonnay that really defines the label. He’s had the same winemaker, Brandon’s brother-in-law James, since the beginning. They use a low-interventionist style, and don’t add sugar or acid. They pick early to maintain acidity. Together they’ve crafted a reputation for serious, nuanced wines.

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After years in the biz, Nelson’s now kind of living the dream: he moved from Los Angeles to six acres in Santa Ynez, with rescue dogs and chickens and a tasting room in Lompoc with a ping pong table in his upstairs office. He has a good, small team. His wines are in 30 states and seven countries. He has a geeky website that shows how passionate he is about soils and somms and everything to do with wine. He has plans for the future that involve making wine in Champagne and possibly gin—but Chardonnay will always be the focus. They make about 5000 cases total, and that’s where they want to be, to keep the quality and the focus of the project. “We’re not trying to blow it up, just stay focused.”

We’re lucky enough to get a chance to meet Jeff and enjoy a lovely dinner at Barbrix paired up with his wines. Join us!

Thursday, June 28 7:00 PM
Barbrix
2442 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles 90027

4 courses
$85 ALL INCLUSIVE
http://www.klwines.com/p/i?i=1363650

Featured wines include: 2017 "Vogelzang Vineyard" Happy Canyon Rose 2016 "La Hermana" Chardonnay 2016 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir PLUS a few surprises from the winemaker!

- Kate Soto

 Jeff Nelson joined Mari in Hollywood to pour through an awesome lineup.

Jeff Nelson joined Mari in Hollywood to pour through an awesome lineup.

On the Mountain Trail at Mindego Ridge

domesticStephanie Vidales
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A few weeks ago a couple of colleagues and I decided to pay a visit to our friends at Mindego Ridge Vineyard up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Before our visit we took a hike in beautiful Pescadero Creek Park, filled with some of the largest redwood trees in California and, of course, many banana slugs. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, I highly recommend taking the time to hike around. After our hike we continued up windy Alpine Road to Mindego Ridge. At the front gate of the property you’d never even guess that there were grapevines there, as the vineyard is quite hidden, especially with the socked-in fog that was present that day. We were greeted at the main house by David Gollnick, the owner of the vineyard along with his wife Stacey, who together are the only full-time workers on the property.

Mindego Ridge consists of 40 total acres with only 10 acres planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapevines. The vineyard is surrounded by redwoods and is very close to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, creating a cool vineyard mesoclimate that makes for expressive, elegant, vibrant wines. The vines are dry farmed, a practice David implemented two years ago. Their wines are made from 100% estate fruit and made off-site by renowned winemaker Ehren Jordan, who has had a handful of winemaking gigs—most notably Turley Cellars and Failla—and now consults with Mindego Ridge for their Pinots and Chardonnays.
 
After a vineyard tour we made our way to the Gollnick’s newly built outdoor bar were we tasted both the 2015 and 2016 vintage. The 2015 vintage suffered a cool May which led to less than half of the vineyard’s normal yields. Nonetheless, the Mindego wines that came out of that year are fantastic, with a lot of concentrated flavors, bright acidity and fine structure. The Chardonnay was creamy in texture with concentrated flavors of honey, citrus and spice. The 2015 Pinot was one of the favorites in the lineup with high-toned red fruit and great minerality on the mid-palate. Unfortunately there will not be a ton of 2015 to go around, so once these are released, you’ll have to act fast! 

 
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The 2016 vintage was back up to normal yields and as good as ever. The Chardonnay was a bit brighter and crisper than the previous year and had a great expression of its site. The 2016 Pinot was very expressive with red cherry, raspberry compote, cola and that great acidity that is a constant with all their wines.

Currently, we have Mindego’s 2014 vintage available. The 2014 Mindego Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($44.99) is fantastic, with aromatics of pineapple, melon, mint and minerality with a full, rich body. It was aged in 75% neutral oak, 15% new oak and 10% stainless steel. The 2014 Mindego Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir ($44.99) is just as great with classic Santa Cruz Mountain dark fruit flavors accompanied by spice and herb notes. This drinks really well now and can be enjoyed over the next five years or so. From tasting all these vintages it is clear to see that Mindego Ridge is a special site that should certainly be on everyone’s radar.

It was an absolute pleasure meeting the Gollnicks with their sweet dogs Larry and Bunny, and getting to know the faces behind the brand we sell here at K&L. Pick up a bottle for yourself in our shop or online. If you’re in the area, stop by their tasting room in Saratoga, California.

 

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Trust Her Palate: Thursday Tasting in Hollywood with Garber & Co.

domestic, hollywoodKate Soto

“We find off-beat wineries, and we fight the fight for these small producers.”

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Sandy Garber leads with her gut. She trusts her palate. And she wants you to, too.

For over thirty years, Sandy has been a renegade spirit in the wine world. She was one of California’s first female somms--and one of the first pregnant ones, no less (in customized server’s tux and all). Way back then, her son’s palate started its training in utero, and he’s now her partner in crime at Garber & Co, an independent distributor/importer/winemaker team that brings delicious, off-the-beaten-path wines from around the world to California.

They’ve built their portfolio based on her mantra of trusting your palate: she doesn’t care whether her wines have scored big points with the critics or whether she represents the most well-known brands. She finds wines and winemakers that she loves, and she brings them to the California market. Some of the wineries only make a few hundred cases per year. Some of them practice organic or biodynamic farming or low-intervention winemaking. Some of them are growing grapes in Uruguay or Armenia. But she believes in each and every one of them, and you can trust that they’ll be delicious. “We find off-beat wineries, and we fight the fight for these small producers,” she says.

I’ve been intrigued by Sandy Garber for some time. I tend to like her wines very much. But I am also fascinated by the journey she’s been on, especially as a woman, and especially as someone who’s seen the change in the wine culture of this city over several decades. After leading tours at the Robert Mondavi winery and then road tripping through Europe’s wineries, she landed a somm gig at the Beverly Wilshire in the eighties. “It was a long time ago, and shortly after I was hired I was pregnant with Jeremy,” she told me. “There weren’t any women doing it, and there weren’t many restaurants who even had a somm.”

When she started out in LA, California cuisine was burgeoning, and there was a lot of excitement around food and wine. Over time, she saw that early energy shift toward a thirst for expensive Napa Cabs and away from cutting-edge wines. “I worked for Chalone for 15 years, and it was focused on exciting, terroir-based wines at that time. But, when I left, everyone was so driven by the wine press. And to me it doesn’t really make sense. Why trust Parker when you can just trust yourself?”

In her estimation, it’s only in the last five years that there’s been a noticeable, significant sea change. ”There are a lot of young wine buyers now who are super excited to learn about off-the-grid wines. There’s so much enthusiasm from young people, probably because food culture has exploded in L.A. It’s exciting to watch.” Her business has changed as well. The addition of her son, Jeremy, has brought his enthusiasm and perspective into the mix. “He finds a lot of the producers and brings a young energy. Instead of being static, we’re expanding.” She sites cru Muscadets and a Gris de Toul as examples of wines that would have been non-starters ten years ago. “It’s what keeps our industry exciting rather than have the same portfolio year in and year out. We try not to have stuff from regions that are overfished. And there’s a real hunger for it.”

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Garber and her husband also make their own wine from sourced grapes in Paso Robles under the the Topanga Vineyards label. They started with Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet, then added the Jackhammer.label, geared toward affordable, solid Pinot, Chardonnay, and rosé. You can now find these in a can, making them easy for camping or the Hollywood Bowl, while still maintaining their integrity as seriously drinkable wines.

With the help of a “grape whisperer,” she and her husband farm their own 50 vines of Syrah on her property in Topanga, as well. Syrah, she says, is kind of her spirit grape. It’s the wine she’s always wanted to make. “It has a lot of different faces, it can do a lot of different things. I love the peppery, spicy quality from well-made Syrah. I love the softer tannins and its richness.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, May 24th 5:30 to 7 PM $5) in Hollywood, we’ve invited these good folks to pour us some of their California favorites (with a soupçon of French rosé). They’re all perfect for your Memorial Day barbeque, whether you’re grilling up veggie burgers or T-bones. But don’t take my word for it. Come out and taste for yourself--then trust your palate!

Here's the lineup:

2014 Topanga "Chroma" Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99
2016 Obsidian Ridge "Obsidian Ridge Vineyard" Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon $26.99
2017 Dragonette Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Rosé $21.99
2017 J. Mourat "Collection" Val de Loire Rosé $12.99
2017 Preston "Estate" Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc $19.99

- Kate Soto