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Smaller, better in Sebastopol

BY PEG MELNIK- October 25, 2014

Small Vines Wines owner Paul Sloan works on special imported tractors from Europe designed to work in his narrowly planted vines. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

Small Vines Wines owner Paul Sloan works on special imported tractors from Europe designed to work in his narrowly planted vines. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

A mysterious apple tree taught Paul Sloan his first lesson in winemaking when he was 10 years old.

“For whatever reason, that tree with the smallest apples had the flavors that were the most intense,” he said.

Today Sloan and his wife, Kathryn, are the vintners of Small Vines, a Sebastopol brand that is based on the Burgundian model of winemaking and vineyard management. The philosophy embraces the practice of getting smaller yields from higher-density, European-styled spacing of vines.

The Sloans say they reap fewer pounds per vine in order to produce higher quality fruit. It’s a nod to the tasty apple tree Sloan grew up with on his family’s 250-acre ranch in Santa Rosa.

The couple sit beneath a grove of redwoods on their property in Sebastopol. It’s a 12.5-acre spread, and they’re in the midst of building a winery not far from their house, the historic Barlow homestead that dates back to 1897.

The Barlows were prominent apple and berry farmers. Today the family name is well known for its apple processing plant in Sebastopol, which has been transformed into a food and wine haven with wineries, retail shops, artisan studios and restaurants in the mix.

Kathryn, 45, said living in a historic house suits the family, most especially their two children: Dakota, 11, and Savannah, 8.

“Instead of a Queen Anne Victorian, it’s a farmhouse. . . . We’re humble farmers. I live in an old house. I wear my grandmother’s ring and we value traditional winemaking methods.”

Small Vines Wines owners Paul and Kathryn Sloan (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

Small Vines Wines owners Paul and Kathryn Sloan (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

It all began with a fascination of pinot noir.

Sloan, 42, was a 19-year old busboy at the Kenwood Restaurant, and then owner Susan Schacher had a daily ritual of reveling in a glass of pinot noir at closing time.

“I said to myself, ‘This pinot noir varietal has to be very special,’ ” he said.

In 1993, Sloan began working for John Ash restaurant in Santa Rosa, and within six months he became assistant wine steward there. “There was a wine library at John Ash, and I was really engaged,” Sloan said. “I devoured the books.”

While working at John Ash, Sloan was offered a taste of a $3,000-plus bottle of Burgundy — the Domaine de la Romanee Conti.

“A man poured me a generous glass and he said, ‘Enjoy this throughout the evening. It may just change your life.’ ”

The pricey Burgundy did just that. “Things just started churning inside me and I wanted to make wines of the highest level of purity and authenticity.”

After working for the late Warren Dutton of Sebastopol’s Dutton Ranch and studying viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College, Sloan was at a crossroads. He was accepted to study at California Polytechnic State University, but he was eager to begin his brand.

Dutton, who mentored the couple, encouraged them to travel to France, since they wanted to follow the lead of the French. After several research trips, the Sloans founded Small Vines in 1998.

The husband and wife team seems to be the perfect yin-yang for the operation. Sloan covers farming and winemaking, while Kathryn tackles the business side of the operation. Meanwhile, both continue to be adventuresome, which isn’t surprising considering they began their courtship as rock climbers.

“Paul is one big adventurer,” said Kathryn. “Rock climbing, surfing, scuba diving. It’s hard to keep up with this farmer who has a lot of energy.”

Small Vines Wines owners Paul and Kathryn Sloan imported special tractors from Europe designed to work in the narrowly planted vines.

Small Vines Wines owners Paul and Kathryn Sloan imported special tractors from Europe designed to work in the narrowly planted vines.

The Press Democrat online article can be found here:

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/2988469-181/smaller-better-in-sebastopol

This 2014 vintage is my first harvest with Small Vines Wines, and as an assistant to two very knowledgeable and friendly owners, Paul and Kathryn Sloan, I have had the opportunity to experience and be exposed to every aspect of the harvest process; sampling, planning, picking, harvesting, sorting and repeat. Many people have heard horror stories of zombie-like winemakers and grape growers going through the crush process, but few people are able to see some of the behind-the-scenes of what goes into each and every bottle of wine.

Paul sampling

It all begins here, when the grapes transform colors from green to purple, this is the beginning signs of veraison, the onset of ripening, and an indicator that the crush is approaching. At this time, we begin to count clusters, sample grapes, drop fruit and analyze. I am lucky enough to have two very knowledgeable and helpful sidekicks, Dakota and Savannah Sloan, who have more experience than me at the ages of 11 and 8 respectfully. This sampling process happens more frequently as we approach our estimated picking dates.

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On any typical day during harvest, you can find me up and on the road before the first sign of the sun peaking over the Mayacama Hills to the east of Santa Rosa. When collecting samples, it’s ideal to sample in the early morning when the grapes are cool, which will give an accurate representation to when we pick, as we hand harvest our grapes in the middle of the night. While out sampling, It is essential to always have with me a pack of gallon size zip-lock bags, a pair of pruning sheers, a black sharpie, some water, an ice chest to keep the samples cool and of course my cell phone with GPS accurate directions and vineyard maps to identify our vineyards and differentiate the clones.

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These days begin to blur and become a routine of traveling from vineyard to vineyard and walking row by row. In order to get a varied sample with an accurate reading of degrees brix (sugar levels) and taste profile, you must collect grapes from all areas of a vineyard. No skipping out or shortcuts here whatsoever.  This is an extremely crucial task during harvest as these are the numbers we schedule our picking around. After we read the degrees brix from the samples, we taste and analyze. Wine is a mix between art and science, and with Small Vines Wines we incorporate both to create some of the best wines in the area.

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Being in the wine industry, you look forward to the long hours of fall as the leaves change colors and the grapes turn to wine, but every year is different. This year being a rarity of record early picks in such a condensed and short amount of time it has been a lot of work, but it all pays off when you taste that fresh Pinot Noir or Chardonnay juice turning into wine- this is what we live for.

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2012 SC CH

Small Vines Wines 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

This post is a bit late, due to some re-configuring and redesigning of our new website and blog, as well as harvest and some vacation, but who is making up excuses.

We are proud to show off our second Wine of the Week honorable mention from Peg Melnik in the Press Democra with the 2012 Small Vines Wine Sonoma Coast Chardonnay!

This exceptional Chardonnay is 100% from our Barlow Homestead Vineyard. From obsessively tended vines, it expresses a distinct sense of place. It confidently delivers pleasing minerality with subtle richness.

We only have a handful of cases of the 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Order yours today at www.smallvines.com.

Press Democrat- Wine of the Week: Roederer Estate Brut

Wine of the Week: Scouting for the tastiest whites to celebrate summer’s end

Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week with a flight of white wines to relish the final days of summer. Bottlings included a broad range, from sparklers to chardonnays to sauvignon blancs. Our wine-of-the-week winner is the Roederer Estate, N.V. Anderson Valley Brut at $24.

TOP PICK:

Roederer Estate, N.V. Anderson Valley Brut, 12 percent alcohol, $24. ★★★★ An elegant sparkler with complex notes of pear, hazelnut and mineral. It’s light on its feet with great acidity. Impressive. A smart pick for the price.

Other impressive wines:

Iron Horse, 2009 Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Brut Classic, 13.5 percent, $40. ★★★ 1⁄2 This is a striking sparkler with great complexity and a seamless texture. It’s lush with notes of baked apple, brioche and nut. Nice mousse. Lingering finish. Outstanding.

Ousterhout, 2013 Redwood Ranch, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5 percent, $22. ★★★ 1⁄2 A refreshing sauvignon blanc with a range. Its breath of flavors is what gives this wine its intrigue. Notes of grapefruit, mango, papaya and lemon peel. Bright finish. Tasty.

Small Vines, 2012 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County Chardonnay,13.8 percent, $53. ★★ 1⁄2 A tasty chardonnay with depth. It has bright fruit, good minerality and crisp acidity. Seamless and complex.

La Crema, 2013 Monterey Pinot Gris, 13.5 percent, $20. ★★★ A tropical pinot gris with aromas of pineapple, apricot and lemon zest. Bright acidity. Nice length. A refreshing summer pick.

We were pleased to welcome writer Elaine Chukan Brown from the fantastic blog, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, to Small Vines Wines for fruit thinning and wine tasting with our very own Vigneron, Paul Sloan, and co-owner, Kathryn Sloan.

Elaine has become one of the most recognized names in the wine and food blogging world with her wine review blog, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. She recently has been named by Imbibe Magazine an Imbibe 75 “Person to Watch”, as well as becoming a Best Food Blog Award Finalist by Saveur Magazine. Her amazing work has been recommended several times by The New York Times Diner’s Journal, and in both The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.  Her wine blog has been a finalist in six categories at the Wine Blog Awards including the 2014 Wine Blog Awards Best Overall Wine Blog.

As the morning West Sonoma County fog slowly burned away, we greeted Elaine at our Barlow Homestead Vineyard. Little did she know, we had plans to begin fruit thinning our vineyards that day. With a camera around her neck, pruning shears in one hand and a pencil and notebook in the other, off we walked into our High-Density Pinot Noir Barlow Homestead Vineyard for the first fruit thinning pass of over 25 hand vine care passes.

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Photo Credit: Elaine Chukan Brown

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Photo Credit: Elaine Chukan Brown

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Fruit thinning is a method grape growers use in order to better ripen their grape clusters and ensure a higher quality thus creating a complex wine. They do this by evaluating each vine and meticulously dropping the fruit (cutting excess clusters) and leaving them on the ground below to decompose and provide more nutrients for the vines. Timing is crucial, and this method is best done during the beginning stages of veraison, the signal that harvest is between 45 to 60 days away.

Impeccably low-yields (per vine) are vital to improved wine quality in Pinot Noir- and balanced wines are made more easily and more naturally from balanced vines. Small Vines follows the Grand Cru standards from Burgundy, which allows only two grape clusters per shoot, a maximum of 8 shoots per vine and never more than 16 clusters per vine. At a mere 1-2 pounds per vine- a low-vigor, high-density vineyard balances each vine at lower yields, naturally. These small vines produce tiny cluster that have tiny, thick-skinned berries creating concentration and amazing structure in the wines.

After a thorough explanation and demonstration by Paul Sloan, Elaine grasped the sheers and began cautiously sifting through the vine’s shoots. This process can be very nerve-racking for ANY viticulturist due to the anxiety of “throwing away” perfectly good fruit that looks healthy and beautiful just for the sake of exceptional wine quality.

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Small Vines Wines would like to thank Elaine from Hawk Wakawaka for her visit. We love to share our passion for our vineyards and wines and we welcome all who would love to come learn and taste our hand-crafted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rosé of Pinot Noir. For a tasting and vineyard tour with our vigneron, be sure to set up and schedule an appointment at 707-823-0886 or info@smallvines.com

Photo Credit: Elaine Chukan Brown

A great evening of wine tasting and dinner pairing with friends…

We were recently included in a fantastic wine tasting and dinner pairing with a wine group in Charlottesville, Virginia. Thank you for including our wine with your tasting and we hope you all enjoyed the tasting.

Below is the post on the WestCoastWine.net forum and blog.


 

My regular wine group met at our place in Charlottesville on Saturday. We’ve been together longer than any of us are sure (over twenty years in total and over 15 with the current members). We started in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Even though one couple has moved to Pennsylvania and Pat and I to Charlottesville, we have stayed together. We travel and sleep over (kind of a slumber party with wine). Since one couple moved to Santa Fe last year (a bit far for even our commuting orientation) we have taken to having the host invite another couple to keep our numbers at 10. Saturday we were joined by Boyce Brannock (“BEB” here on the board) and his lovely wife, Deneen. 

This was a bit of an unusual gathering for our group. Pat and our friend, Joan Hyde, will be celebrating milestone birthdays in a couple of weeks. So we decided to make a celebration of it and had a chef (Ben, whom we knew already) from our favorite caterer come in to prepare the meal, matching the food to the wines I selected. Made life a lot easier for Pat and me and what a meal he created! At times there was a cooking class going on in the kitchen since folks were interested and Ben was delighted to explain what he was doing. The wine theme was the traditional “wines that don’t suck”. I pulled wines I love and put them in flights of two with each course. 

Before dinner we gathered out on our back porch and enjoyed a splendid evening and a great view. We sampled four Chardonnays Pat and I picked up from our trip to California in late April. They were accompanied by two spreads (artichoke and smoked trout) and olives (the only food Ben did not prepare – we wanted to keep it simple and light).

2012 Copain Chardonnay Tous Ensemble 
2012 Small Vines Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
2012 Daou Reserve Chardonnay, Paso Robles
2012 Mauritson Chadonnay, Alexander Valley 

No notes, but a few impressions. None of these was overly oaked (which Pat and I hate). I loved the Copain for its crisp, clean presentation; this all about fruit and acid and balance. The Small Vines was a lovely balance of fruit with the faintest bit of oak and very nice acidity. The Daou showed the most oak (which is not to say a lot), but the fruit handled it and the acidity framed the fruit nicely; it you are a total oakaphobe my guess is you will not like this one, but if you like a bit of oak as a spice, it has a lot to offer. The Mauritson was a bit of a disappointment. I like the Mauritson reds (notably some great zins), but this chardonnay, while not offensive in any way, just seemed outclassed.

On to the dinner table. The whites with the first course were kept in the cellar and then placed in the refrigerator for 15 minutes immediately before serving. 

First Course

Oven-seared Halibut with minted pearl pasta, fennel compote in a smoked heirloom tomato broth. A gorgeous dish. Two Rhone whites to go with this and the pairing was excellent.

2007 Chapoutier Ermitage le Meal Blanc

A truly great wine. A lovely golden color. Hints of lemon on the nose. The palate shows butterscotch, lemon, minerals and tarragon. It finishes long and lovely with beautiful minerality and notes of lemon. Lovely acidity and balance. This wine is intense and beautiful with a long life ahead of it. It certainly is not at peak but it gives great pleasure even at 7 years old. My wine of the night across both the whites and the reds. 14.5% ABV. “A+”

2006 Chave Hermitage Blanc 

More floral on the nose than the Chapoutier, but with the same deep gold color. Deep, brilliant fruit with a hint of peaches, honey, minerals and an herbal note I had trouble pinning down. Long, long finish. Great acidity. 14.5% ABV. “A-“

A quick notes on the reds. All were decanted abut 5:00 PM and then double decanted back into the rinsed bottles about an hour later. They stayed in the cellar until they were served. The wines with the main course were served about 8:15 PM and those with the cheese course were served about 9:15 PM. 

Main Course

Moulard Breast of Duck wrapped in Swiss Chard with red plum reduction, eggplant caponata and saffron potatoes. 

Two domestic cabs from two of my favorite producers accompanied the duck. This may have been the best preparation of duck I have ever had, from presentation to taste. 

2010 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon

I know this wine was only recently released and will improve with age, but I was just too tempted to try it now. I have loved the Spottswoode cabs for years. For whatever reasons, they don’t get the love that the trophy cabs get – probably because Spottswoode tries to make great wine and not trophies. Tonight the nose was a complex blend of cherries, cinnamon and mint. Even this young the wine shows hints of the elegance it will have in 10+ years. Blackberries, prominent but not harsh tannins, intense fruit and great balance. The wine brightens with time in the glass. 14.5% ABV. “A“ right now, but it has all the makings of an “A+” wine. 

2005 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 

Another long-time favorite (I have a 20 year vertical lurking in the cellar). Black cherries and mint on the nose. The palate is all dark fruits and herbs with a bit of roasted coffee coming through. Still tannic but with great acidity and balance. This wine needs 5+ years, but was great to drink now nevertheless. 14.9% ABV. Like the Spottswoode, “A-“ now but I am confident it will be an “A+” later. 

Cheese Course

14 year old aged cheddar, Saint Agur Bleu, and Saint Nectaire. 

Ben and I consulted on the cheese course to find cheeses that would work with the two Australian Shiraz. The pairings worked very well. The Saint Agur was a revelation. 

2005 Clarendon Hills Astralis

My notes are a bit sketchy (or I can’t read my handwriting!), but two words stand out: “Bright” and “brilliant”. There is big, sweet (not RS) red fruit across the palate here. Roasted meat and a bit of blackberry is added to the mix as it hits the mid-palate. Surprisingly to me the tannins seems more resolved than I would have anticipated. The balance is definitely there and I’ll guess this will only improve with more age. Sorry, no notes (or memory) on the nose. 14.5% ABV. “A”

2005 Torbreck Run Rig

My wine of the night among the reds. Big, dark and tannic it may be, but the fruit is so rich and beautiful. The nose was a bit hesitant at first but developed blueberry notes with some floral notes (perhaps from the 3% Viognier blended in). Great acidity and balance. Blueberry and pepper on the palate. Mint notes develop with a bit of time in the glass. Even at this stage it shows the trade mark elegance of the best Torbreck reds. No need to hurry on this one, but a great wine already. 14.5% ABV. “A+”

Dessert

Lemon Pudding Cake with fresh berries. 

The cake was almost like a soufflé and it was perfect, not too heavy and a great ending to the meal. But there was a surprise waiting….

2005 Cuvee Emile Willm Gewurztraminer, Selection de Grains Nobles

I wasn’t planning to serve a dessert wine. When no one at the table wanted coffee with dessert, I foolishly asked if anyone was interested in a bonus wine. You can guess the result of that inquiry. A quick rush to the cellar produced port glasses and this wine. I served at cellar temperature (obviously) and took no notes. However, I can say it was a lovely wine, not overly intense, with (if I recall correctly) honey and orange notes and enough acidity to balance it nicely and carry through the moderate RS. That’s all I got and it’s not fair to grade it, but my memory says it was lovely and I would be glad to have it again.

A great evening with friends and in celebration of two lovely ladies. And I know you’re too polite to ask which milestone birthdays they were!

Charlie (more…)

Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar

Our 2012 wine vintage reviews from Josh Raynolds at Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar are in. For in-depth professional reviews and scores see the PDF link.

Raynolds’ Reviews of 2012 Vintage 

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