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Worlds Collide: Kimmel's Lillied & Ungilded
It's a rare treat to be able to offer a new American wine project and be present at inception. Years ago, in Potter Valley, Mendocino, walking the Kimmel Vineyard with Sashi Moorman and Jason Kimmel, it became apparent a special combination of minds and terroir was ready to take form. Today, I'm happy to announce our exclusive release of the 2019 Kimmel Lilied and Ungilded!
Kimmel Wines was born to honor low interventionist winemaking, allowing the land and each vintage to be the guiding light. Lilied began as an idea from Sashi Moorman to produce a soulful blend of equal parts Syrah and Cabernet Franc similar in style to the wines by Provençal iconoclast Domaine Trevallon. The wines all go through élevage under the guiding hand of Sashi and his thoughtful team led by John Faulkner. Founded in 1969, Kimmel Ranch is in the far reaches of Mendocino in western Potter Valley. Located at 1,000 feet of elevation, at the entrance of the Mayacamas, the sprawling mountain range gives way to afternoon coastal breezes allowing for cool relief after warm summer days.
Lilied is 50% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard and 50% Syrah from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard's X Block. A long élevage (First in barrique and then puncheon) was crucial to resolve the firm tannins into silky fineness that dances on the mid-palate. The Cabernet Franc's nervy nature and dark fruit, married with the savage wildness of Syrah, makes for a striking wine you can confidently enjoy now. The cuvée name means "to adorn" and combines the names of Lilian and Edward Kimmel.
Ungilded is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard, inspired by the wines of Clos Rougeard. The fruit is destemmed and fermented without additives, and it starts in an open-top dairy tank to give a greater cap-to-juice ratio. The unadulterated fermentation gives a pure expression of Cabernet Franc (Hence the name, Ungilded). The nervy nature of the Cabernet Franc softens to a lacey texture with classic floral aromatics. These vines were planted in 1980 on Franciscan shale with Saint George rootstock in a California sprawl configuration. Edward and Lilian had the foresight to settle in the far reaches of the California wine region and plant where there were few vines at the time.
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Piedrasassi's Syrah Duo: Bien Nacido & Rim Rock
Santa Barbara's cool-climate wines have growingly become one of my obsessions. For me, the most integral name in the array of labels is Sashi Moorman. His Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay are among my favorites, but his first label, Piedrasassi, offers downright delicious and complex reflections of Syrah.
Piedrasassi harnesses savory, bright, and superior aromatics while never shying away from the innately luscious qualities that define California Syrah. These wines nail the roasted meat, violet, and black pepper trifecta at each price point. Though, the single vineyard-designate bottlings from Bien Nacido and Rim Rock best exemplify how California Syrah can continually develop `in the bottle over many years.
Sashi vinifies and ages as naturally as possible, excluding sulfur at fermentation and only utilizing native yeasts. Whole cluster inclusion and aging in larger 500-liter barrels ensure the lively, crushed rock virtues that make Northern Rhone Syrah so unique aren't lost here in Santa Barbara.
Ungrafted & Unparalleled
In the pursuit of crafting wines intended as the ultimate reflection of place, we cannot help but turn to the old world for inspiration. Within California Pinot Noir we've seen so many styles garner attention, whether they be wines of elegance and structure, or dark extraction and overt ripeness. Obviously, my sensibilities have gravitated toward the former. Finding wines that fully realize the potential of this more delicate approach is rare. Justin Willet at Tyler Winery in Santa Barbara is one of the few who's found it. And it's no surprise the Santa Barbara native's intimate knowledge of place is the reason why.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Tyler Bien Nacido Vineyard N Block Pinot Noir.
American Pinot Noir built upon nuance undoubtedly means turning to the variety's birthplace of Burgundy for many answers. However, in the end, it's a connection to place here that will dictate the results. Justin Willet has a familiarity with these historic Pinot Noir vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills like few others do. He works with some of the very oldest parcels in the region, but one stands out from the pack.
Bien Nacido is one of California's most recognized vineyards and it's their N-Block parcel that contains rare ungrafted vines planted in the early '70s. Justin began with this parcel when he first launched his winery in 2005, and today he controls all aspects of farming. Of the full range from Tyler, N Block is produced in the smallest quantity, sometimes yielding only a single barrel. As you can imagine it's always the first to sell out.
Justin's relationships with the regions' growers over many years have afforded him opportunities that few have. Aside from gaining access to the most choice parcels, he takes a hands-on approach within the vine rows, working with a very small crew who has strict instructions. Yields are kept low, but it's the flexibility to alter practices each unique growing season that really highlight Willet's familiarity with this special site.
The hallmark of the N Block is bright and lifted qualities with a reserved tension that finishes with supreme focus. The Heritage and Martini clones from the 1973-planting bring a pure and transparent character that meshes perfectly with the low-extraction and minimal oak protocol in the cellar. If Justin produces wines with Burgundian sensibilities then N Block is the special bottling that brings this comparison closer than any other.