New Releases: 2018 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix & 2018 Chardonnay Black Label
|Greeting from sunny Santa Ynez Valley! As many of you saw on our Instagram account, harvest commenced rather suddenly. Our cool July and early August gave way to a massive, somewhat atypically long duration heatwave, beginning around August 18 and lasting for 6 days. Temperatures shot to 105 (nowhere near the 111 of 2017, but that one only lasted 2 days) across the entire valley from Happy Canyon to the Sta. Rita Hills. Fruit that was close to being ready suddenly was very much ready. Thankfully, we had the ability to quickly pick all of our blocks of Sauvignon Blanc under good conditions in the very early morning. Sugars were elevated slightly, and dehydration meant we lost perhaps 15-20% of the crop, but the fruit that came in was in fantastic shape. Quantities will be down, but we think the quality will be there in the end, as acids were perhaps surprisingly excellent. Thankfully, this week the heat dissipated, and fog and winds returned to Sta. Rita Hills. Nonetheless, some of the Pinot Noir has been pushed to readiness here as well, and we commenced picking Pinot Noir at the famed Fiddlestix vineyard on August 25. Sugars are still reasonable there, but the canopy and fruit have told us that it is time to pick. Several other Pinot vineyards, which had been behind, are still a couple weeks away. The good news is that the cellar is primed and ready for some excellent fruit.|
Notes from Los Olivos
This week’s cooler temperatures are hugely welcome, and we are thankful that we have avoided the fires that have been plaguing northern California, though even down here we had some days with significant smoke. All is clear and beautiful here now, and we welcome visitors to a much more enjoyable Los Olivos. The forecast suggests pleasant days and cool nights (mid 50’s) for a while. Los Olivos resembles the center of a European village with walk-streets full of outdoor tables in the sunshine. Come visit. The wines are terrific and the setting beautiful. Or get a look behind the scenes at a bustling winery during harvest with a Winery appointment.
We are pleased to announce the release of two very special wines. First up is the always beloved Fiddlestix Pinot Noir, which is just singing in the fresh, approachable, yet oh so complex, medium bodied 2018 vintage. Secondly, we have a new wine; the 2018 Chardonnay Black Label (Sta. Rita Hills), which as you might expect is a combination of our three favorite barrels of Chardonnay. Coming from the esteemed sites of Rita’s Crown, Bentrock and Radian, this wine has incredible structure and acidity which lifts all the gorgeous tropical, stone and melon fruit flavors and sticks them to the palate like Dustin Johnson’s irons stuck his shots to the greens as he carded his 30 under score at the Northern Trust Open recently. Jeb Dunnuck gave this wine 96 points, calling it “a flawlessly balanced beauty with a stacked mid-palate and a monster of a finish.”
Both are extremely limited, and you should act fast to secure some before they are gone. Cold chain shipping and special GSL shipping in the west means these wines can be shipped fairly quickly to you.
2018 Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard
Fiddlestix needs no introduction to long time club members or to fans of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. Planted in 1998, this vineyard is one of the stalwarts of the SRH, along with Sanford & Benedict across the street, La Rinconada and La Encantada, contiguously adjacent to S&B, and Sea Smoke on the steep hills just across the river to the north. We like to call this the historic core of the SRH appellation. So many famous wines were born of this section of the SRH which appears as a fairly wide section of gently sloped land between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Santa Rita Hills and adjacent to the Santa Ynez River. Daily wind and fog make their way up this river valley from the cold deep blue Pacific, keeping this area extremely cool, even in summer. For most of July 2020, for example, the daily highs were between 70-72, with breezes 10-20 mph. The thick morning fog typically burns off around 11:00 am, leaving brilliant sunshine and a big, blue sky. By 1:00 pm the sunlight reflects wildly off the vine leaves as they are blown about by the winds, almost seeming to dance throughout the afternoon. One feels an incredible sense of peace out here among the proud vines.
The 2018 Vintage
2018 was the coolest vintage since 2011. Winter rains and a cool early spring helped delay budbreak, while providing for a good soil water profile. Weather was good during set, allowing for reasonable yields. A warm early summer promoted ripeness, but in late August the weather turned quite cool, with only moderate daytime highs, lots of clouds and cold nights. The grapes, generally, moved very slowly toward full ripeness, and we picked our blocks at Fiddlestix at a leisurely pace on September 12, 13, 17, 19 & 21.
The nine-day gap between first and last pick at Fiddlestix is very unusual, as the vineyard is relatively consistent. In many years, we find that several blocks are ready at the same time, and we will pick two or even three blocks (with multiple crews) on the same day. Those are fun days, where we share sorting duties at the same time, sometimes only several rows apart from each other.
A blend of five separate blocks and clones (113, 115, 667, 777 and clone 4 Pommard), the wine was fermented with 14% whole clusters in classic Burgundian methods; 2-4 day cold soak and spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts. At dryness, the free run juice drained and transferred directly to barrels, and the remaining berries gently pressed to tank (to remove some of the heavy lees) and barreled separately the next day. Cooperage was all French oak, 30 percent new, with various coopers (Cadus, Francois Freres, Rousseau, Seguin Moreau), forests (Vosges, Allier, Troncais) and toast levels (M, ML, M+). The wine undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation in barrel and no additional sulfur was added (there is a small amount added to the juice the day of harvest/processing) until ML was complete in late March, 2019. The wine was ultimately aged on its lees for 18 months before selection, blending and bottling. The wine is fantastic in this cooler, more elegant year. Fiddlestix always presents as one of the more broad-shouldered wines in our portfolio, with plenty of punch and robust tannins. In the cool 2018, there is concentration and power, but in a more medium bodied frame, with beautiful freshness. Indeed, we think this wine gives that “holy grail” sensation of power without weight. Drinkable now, it will improve for 4-12 years or longer.
Jeb Dunnuck has provisionally rated the ’18 94 – 96 Points, saying “Lots of spice, ground herbs, and bright cherry fruits emerge from the 2018 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix, which has some classic Burgundian reductive notes, medium body, and a seamless, flawlessly balanced style on the palate.”
Extremely Limited – only 320 cases produced, the large majority of which will go to the wine club. Order today
**Note to Wine Club Members – This wine will appear in your Winter 2021 shipment (February of 2021).
2018 Chardonnay, Black Label (Sta. Rita Hills)
This wine was bound to happen. With sites like Rita’s Crown, Bentrock and Radian, it was only a matter of time until we would be forced to craft a best of the best like the MJM and Black Label Pinot Noir. And here, Sta Rita Hills really shows off its cool climate origins; the wine is simply packed with flavor that is held tightly together by stunning acidity and minerals, giving an extraordinary finish.
In 2018, the wine was comprised of Bentrock (40%), Radian (30%) and Rita’s Crown (30%). Grapes were harvested in the early morning hours with field sorting before being whole cluster pressed to tank for cool settling overnight. The juice was transferred to a mix of French oak barrels (barriques and a 350L barrel, 70% new) for fermentation with native yeasts. At dryness, the barrels were topped up and wine was allowed to go through spontaneous malolactic fermentation, which finished in March. The wine aged on its lees without racking for 18 months before bottling. These barrels were selected for this wine after approximately a year of elevage. It is our first ever Black Label Chardonnay and we are thrilled with this uniquely powerful, but beautiful wine.
Jeb Dunnuck’s 96-point review said it well;
“Lastly, the 2018 Chardonnay Black Label is a selection from the Bentrock, Radian, and Rita’s Crown vineyards that was aged 18 months on lees in 70% new French oak. Notes of ripe nectarines, Meyer lemons, brioche, white flowers, and honeyed minerality all emerge from the glass, followed by a medium to full-bodied and flawlessly balanced beauty with a stacked mid-palate and a monster of a finish. Beautifully done, it’s going to benefit from a year or two of bottle age and keep for a solid decade or more.”
Extremely Limited. Only 50 cases produced. A very special wine.
As always, we thank you for your support and we look forward to seeing you soon.
John, Steve, Brandon and the entire Dragonette Cellars team