It's starting to warm up in Southern California, and as much as I'd love to recount an illuminating tour through Burgundy, today we're going to focus on what needs to be in your glass when it's even too hot for rosé. Sam Sheehan of Poe Wines in Napa has started to produce what I believe to be one of the most refreshing options to have in your glass this summer and beyond.
Of course, there are many ideal partnerships with these vermouths, but for me, it's all about club soda and a slice of your favorite citrus. I had the chance to open each of Sam's concoctions made by hand in very small batches at her estate in Napa Valley. These are so delicious and complex on their own over ice, but in the end, mixing them with club soda might be the best antidote for heat waves.
I met Cole Thomas at a 2019 tasting event highlighting the next wave of Santa Cruz winemakers. Coincidentally, I was in town that weekend to work on a story about four other young winemakers in the region for the San Francisco Chronicle. I've been following Cole's exciting project, Madson Wines, ever since.
The Santa Cruz Mountains are one of California's top sites for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the western side of the region having a front-row seat to the Pacific's coastal winds and morning fog. Cole says he is always looking for Chardonnay, though that's easier said than done. Most vineyards here are allotted to Pinot Noir and consist of a few acres at most, vying with the mountainous landscape, redwoods, and forest. Regardless, Madson produces compelling, spice-driven Pinot Noirs that remind me of driving through the Santa Cruz Mountains with the windows rolled down.
Cole has built his career here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After earning a degree in environmental studies at U.C. Santa Cruz, he worked in vegetable farming and landscaping before landing a job at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, where he met viticulturist Ken Swegles. They launched Madson together in 2018 and solely farm using organic and regenerative practices.
Ridge Vineyards' Monte Bello vineyard atop the Santa Cruz Mountains needs little introduction, but what's still somewhat under the radar is their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, comprised of 15 to 20 parcels from Monte Bello. Lovers of old-school California Cabernet from the coolest, Pacific-influenced terrain, take notice!
The black fruit, racy mint, and graphite tones in Monte Bello always impress, but it comes at the expense of long bottle aging. The Estate Cabernet has those inherent Monte Bello vineyard characteristics, only showing them through a softer lens. Ridge also stands out from other California Cabernets because of its deft use of American oak. The limestone soils of Monte Bello have long stood up to the new oak regimen (70%), providing more silken texture and elegance without obscuring terroir.
Monte Bello's history goes as far back as 1885 when the 180 acres were purchased and planted by San Francisco-based doctor Osea Perrone. Surviving prohibition, multiple sales, and re-planting, the Monte Bello estate came into its own when Paul Draper arrived in 1969. Draper's insistence on producing pre-industrial wines has received much attention, and he's challenged other winemakers to list out ingredients on their labels. His end goal is wines that reflect site, relying on native yeast ferments and strictly opposing modern manipulations.
Ryan and Megan Glaab are the kind of winemakers I'm always thrilled to be introduced to. Their small-production winery has slowly grown since 2007, focusing on varieties that are more obscure in California. Their love of old-world wines, particularly those from Campania, Friuli, and Sardinia, was the catalyst for their label.
The cool and foggy Las Brisas Vineyard is an ideal home for the aromatic, late-ripening Vermentino variety. It's located on the Sonoma side of Carneros, heavily influenced by the San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap—an ideal place to produce racy whites. "Hers," referring to Megan's preferred style of Vermentino, is clean, bright, mineral-driven, and refreshing, calling to mind northern Sardinia and the Ligurian coast of Italy where Vermentino reigns supreme. The grapes are immediately pressed off their skins and aged in a combo of stainless steel and neutral French oak.
Ryan and Megan's goal is to make wines they want to drink, using Italy's rich history as a guiding force to show the ultimate potential that exists in California. The couple met while working harvest in Australia years. They quickly fell in love and returned to California, and each has worked at iconic wineries including Pax, Peay, Marcassin, and Sine Qua Non. These invaluable, diverse experiences gave the couple the tools needed to execute the project they had dreamed of.
“If one person stands to rewrite the trajectory of California wine—in Napa's luxurious heart, no less—it is Steve Matthiasson.” — Jon Bonné, SF Chronicle
Earlier this month, I made a long-awaited visit to Matthiasson Winery for the first time. Dubbed a leading figure of the New California Wine movement by wine writer Jon Bonné, Steve Matthiasson has been in the business for nearly three decades and is the go-to viticulturist for organic wine growing in California.
Matthiasson’s Phoenix Vineyard sits on a hillside overlooking Oak Knoll District. The temperatures here are much cooler, and this is the only part of the valley to have ancient marine shale soils. Planted in 1982, the vineyard is a mixture of old heritage Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. One of Steve’s main principles in winegrowing is balance, which directly translates into the wines: Fresh and aromatic red-berry fruit, fine-knit tannins and structure, and beautiful acidity.
Phoenix Vineyard also marked a new chapter for the Matthiassons. Steve started farming this vineyard in 2017 when the elderly owners could no longer manage it themselves. After 14 years of making wine at other wineries, Steve and his wife, Jill, purchased the property, which also included a winery. All wine production happens here on site, and the former owners were granted a lifelong home to enjoy retirement.
2017 was a devastating vintage for Napa Valley, as the region was hit hard by wildfires. Luckily, Phoenix Vineyard was harvested and finished fermentation before the wildfires struck. The fruit is fermented at low temperatures in small tanks, with punch-downs done by hand, followed by aging in 30% new French oak for 20 months.