For our June 2012 featured wine club shipment, we are proud to offer the following wines:
2011 Malvasia Bianca — San Bernabe Vineyard, Monterey County
Malvasia Bianca [mahl-vah-zyah byahn-kah] is not only one of the oldest cultivated wine grapes but it’s also one of the most floral, ethereal and under-appreciated wine grapes in the world. With over forty different grape varieties containing “Malvasia” in their names, perhaps nomenclature confusion contributes to its under-appreciated status. “Malvasia” appears to be a name given to nearly all large-berried white grapes that were grown in the southern Mediterranean basin. Most of the grapes called “Malvasia” are not aromatic varieties. Malvasia Bianca, however, is extremely aromatic due to the fact that one of its parents is Muscat Alexandria, one of the oldest cultivated grapes and the mother of all Muscat grape varieties.
Malvasia Bianca provided an important ingredient for Baron Bettino Ricasoli’s original recipe for Chianti. A most remarkable man, Ricasoli was an agronomist, gifted vintner and an Italian patriot. His 1874 recipe for what would become Italy’s most internationally recognized wine? Harvest and ferment together 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia Bianca. Today, Malvasia Bianca is cultivated in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Australia for blends and single varietal bottlings. It remains very popular in the former-Yugoslavia nations of Slovenia, Macedonia and Croatia.
In the Vineyard
The 2011 vintage was Ken Volk’s 20th year of producing Malvasia Bianca from the San Bernabe Vineyard. “I have always found this variety so exotic and engaging,” says Ken. Over the decades, Ken has made Malvasia Bianca in a variety of styles including bottling it as a “white port”--an off-dry sweet dessert wine--but lately he’s focused on making it as a dry aromatic varietal table wine.
Over the years, Ken has had a close working relationship with viticulturist and vineyard manager of the San Bernabe Vineyard Bill (“Billy”) Petrovich, who suffered a massive stoke while at the vineyard last August and later died at the King City hospital surrounded by his family. Bill Petrovich was an incredibly gifted friend, father, viticulturist and leader who was instrumental in the establishment and management of the San Bernabe Vineyard which, in the 1990s, was the world’s largest vineyard. ”I learned a great deal about grape growing and vine physiology riding shotgun with Bill as he raced his pickup truck through the blocks of San Bernabe Vineyard,” says Ken. “He was always cool under pressure and I remember in the huge vintage of 1997 how he was coordinating the logistics of over a hundred truckloads of fruit per day while still having the capacity to accommodate my tiny hand-harvest of Malvasia Bianca. Billy really cared and he demonstrated it by his actions.”
Ken recalls 2011: “The 2011 growing season was a tough one with erratic weather patterns and late and early rains impacting growing. The early rains had started a great deal of botrytis rot in the Malvasia Bianca at San Bernabe and I could tell it would be better to harvest this fruit at lower brix than typical to avoid the impending fruit destruction by rot.” The fruit was hand-harvested and field-sorted to minimize bunch rot.
At the Winery
The fruit chilled in a refrigerated truck trailer during transport to the winery before whole-cluster pressing and cold settling of the juice prior to fermentation. View a clip of our 2011 Malvasia Bianca at the winery. To powerfully promote aromatics, several aromatic compound-releasing yeast strains were used to ferment this wine. The acidity of the juice was extremely high due to the cool weather we had all season. In a departure from typical KVV Malvasia winemaking protocols, malolactic fermentation was encouraged to balance the acidity and to create a more subtle mouth feel in the finished wine.
In the Glass
This wine has both floral and tropical fruit aromas with flavors of pear nectar and citrus fruits, making it rich without being heavy and presenting a very clean, dry finish. The Malvasia Bianca from San Bernabe Vineyard has such exotic floral and tropical fruit aromas that it is literally aromatherapy in a glass.
After a long hot summer day, a cool glass of KVV Malvasia can be the perfect respite from the pace of modern life. Malvasia Bianca can be an excellent aperitif or may be paired with foods from spicy cuisines such as Thai, Korean, "Texican" and Indian. It pairs well with mild curries or foods complemented with fruit salsas, chutney, hot pepper or ginger. As Ken points out, “MalvASIA is the perfect wine for Pacific Rim cuisine for the ‘Asia’ is already in it.”
Fish with Spicy Fruit Salsa
2010 Verdelho — Pomar Junction Vineyard, Paso Robles
A white semi-aromatic wine grape, Verdelho [vehr-dehl-oh] has been grown in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean for over 400 years. Historically, this grape is best known for being used to produce the fortified white wines of the island of Madeira. On the mainland of Portugal, Verdelho has long been used for still wine production in the Douro River Valley. North of Portugal and in the Galicia region of Spain, Verdelho is known as “Verdello” [vehr-dehl-lo]. Australia contains the greatest acreage of Verdelho in the world; it is also grown in New Zealand, Argentina and California.
In the Vineyard
The variety’s morphology no doubt influenced its popularity in regions with high humidity and potential rain fall at harvest. Verdelho grows vigorously in an upright pattern. It ripens early. Its thick-skinned, oblong-shaped berries are borne on loosely-packed clusters. Verdelho’s thick skins lessen berry cracking. The oblong berries allow rainfall to drip off completely while the loose clusters allow for air flow and rapid drying of the berries.
The wines produced from Verdelho can vary a great deal depending on the climate, vineyard site, maturity at harvest, crop load and the winemaking protocols of the producer. Verdelho can make delicious sparkling wines, still wines, Passito-style wines and the best white port in the world. The Verdelho grape can display a wide range of flavors and aromas of tropical and citrus fruits, honeydew melon, and honeysuckle as well as herbal aromas of thyme and laurel.
Ken’s first experience with Verdelho was in Australia’s Hunter Valley in 1981. “I tasted at a number of wineries and most of them produced a Verdelho and often it was my favorite white wine of the cellar. I had a chance to visit the Tulloch Winery and was blown away by their barrel-aged white port produced from Verdelho. I was so impressed with the potential of the variety that I made myself a promise to plant some in California.” It took thirteen years, but Ken was the first to plant Verdelho in Paso Robles in 1994. In 2004, the Merrill family of Pomar Junction Vineyard planted the small 1.8-acre block for Kenneth Volk Vineyards which is the source of fruit for this bottling.
Our 2010 Verdelho was hand-harvested, whole-cluster pressed and fermented at low temperatures in stainless steel. Following fermentation, the lees were periodically stirred up with nitrogen gas to keep the yeast cells in suspension to create more texture to the wine’s finish.
In the Glass
This full-bodied Verdelho is bone dry and has aromas of thyme and citrus with flavors of pear, guava and honeydew melon. This wine can be enjoyed as an aperitif, with chicken, pork, and Asian salads or with this recipe for Seafood Paella.
2009 Pinot Noir — Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
The Bien Nacido Vineyard is located in the eastern Santa Maria Valley, twelve miles east of Highway 101 and two miles west of Kenneth Volk Vineyards along Santa Maria Mesa Road. The name “Bien Nacido” translates in Spanish as “good birth,” an appropriate name for this iconic vineyard. The Bien Nacido Vineyard has the distinction of being the most vineyard-designated vineyard in the world. In other words, the name “Bien Nacido” appears on more different winery labels than any other vineyard. This achievement is due to the vineyard’s unique location, climate-attentive viticulture, and the Miller family’s success in branding the Bien Nacido name with exceptional wines.
Ken has long had a fascination about why certain vineyards like Bien Nacido consistently produce great wines. The best vineyards share one or more of the following qualities:
- Superior growing site
- Excellent and timely viticulture
- Well-drained soils
- Balanced vines and matching the crop size to the growing season
- Patience for waiting to harvest at complete flavor development
- Getting the grapes into the hands of a competent winemaking team
Bien Nacido Vineyard’s success is based on achieving each of these benchmarks.
In the Vineyard
Bien Nacido resides on a portion of the Rancho Tepusquet Land Grant. The vineyards cover approximately 700 acres on the 2,000-acre ranch. The Miller family acquired the property in 1969 with the first vineyards planted in 1971. The late Bob Miller realized the viticulture potential of the area and established Bien Nacido as one the largest plantings of California state-certified nursery block vineyards. Bien Nacido was the source of much of the bud wood for grape nurseries for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot planted in California in the 1970s to the 1990s.
The vineyards are planted along the river benchlands of the lower Cuyama River and the Sisquoc River and the adjoining hillsides. Just west of Bien Nacido Vineyard, the Cuyama River joins the Sisquoc River, which then begins the Santa Maria River that eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean. The geology and topography of the land surrounding the Bien Nacido Vineyard creates a distinct mesoclimate, where the lower Cuyama River passes through Ziegler Canyon as it approaches the Sisquoc River and the Santa Maria Valley.
The junction of Ziegler Canyon and the Santa Maria Valley at Bien Nacido is often the first place where the morning fog will lift in the eastern Santa Maria Valley. This phenomenon is caused by a temperature differential created by the warmer inland air coming out of Ziegler Canyon and displacing the maritime fog that had settled over the area the prior evening. The early fog lifting is a viticultural advantage because the vines will have more hours of active photosynthesis to accumulate carbohydrates; also, vine canopies dry out faster with early fog lift thereby reducing botrytis bunch rot pressure.
Our Pinot Noir for this bottling comes from the inter-planted vine rows in Block H. Block H was originally planted on 12 foot rows with 6 feet between vines back in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, the Millers planted a new vineyard inside the existing vines of Block H. The new vines were planted between rows of existing vines. This block is planted to the Pinot Noir clone Wadensville 2A. Certainly not a conventional viticultural practice, this inter-planted block produced some beautiful fruit in 2009.
In 2009, fruit from this block was picked in the early morning hours by hand crews under the illumination of tractor-towed light banks. Nighttime harvest allows the fruit to be picked in the coolest time of the day, which is both great for winemaking and for the hand-harvest crews.
At the Winery
The fruit was delivered to the winery and the fruit was fermented in 1.3-ton open top bins. As 2009 was a warmer year with very little rot, each bin had 4-5 harvest lug boxes of whole clusters of grapes placed in the bottom of the bins with de-stemmed berries added on top to fill the fermentors. Dry ice was layered through the bins to promote carbonic maceration; the fruit was given an extended cold soak prior to active yeast fermentation.
Following filling, lids were placed on the bins and the tops of the bins were sealed with shrink-wrap to trap off-gassing C02. After three days, the lids were removed and the bins punched down 2-6 times daily over the next eight days. Active fermentation warmed up the bins and the contents were pressed prior to cap fall in our Hypac Basket Press. The wine was settled overnight prior to barreling into French oak cooperage and was aged for 16 months prior to preparation for bottling.
In the Glass
Our 2009 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir has lovely aromas of raspberry, rose water and temple incense, and flavors of cherry, brambleberry, vanilla and sarsaparilla. Balanced acidity and moderate tannins provide structure and length to this wine’s smooth finish.
Chipotle Glazed Shrimp & Chicken
2008 Cabernet Pfeffer — San Benito County
Ken Volk has always nurtured a fascination with heirloom grape varieties and has worked over the years with many exotic varieties outside of the mainstream. California wine grape growers have cultivated Cabernet Pfeffer for well over a century although it remains a relatively unknown varietal. Appearing in mixed plantings in California vineyards from Mendocino to Cucamonga, Cabernet Pfeffer grows most extensively in San Benito County near the town of Hollister.
In the course of his research about Cabernet Pfeffer, Ken discovered several authors who claimed that the variety was bred or developed by homesteading orchardist and winemaker William Pfeffer of Los Gatos, California. Pfeffer was one of the leading viticulturists of the Santa Clara Valley and commonly gave his insight to vine and fruit growing publications in California of the late 1800s. Ken had come across the vine in several old vineyard plantings and, after tasting the grapes and the finished wine, the name “Pfeffer” seemed doubly appropriate since the flavors of the grape were so spicy: in German, “pfeffer” means “pepper.”
A Grape Mystery
The first time Ken worked with the grape it was actually called “Trousseau” by the grower from whom he purchased the fruit. Ken became even more fascinated with the grape after he read that Trousseau was the same grape as Bastardo (or “the Bastard”) in Portugal, where it is used for port production. In the early 1990s, Ken and Ron Siletto planted a new vineyard of what they thought was Trousseau/Bastardo at the Siletto Ranch Vineyard near Tres Pinos in San Benito County. After seeing vines in several different vineyards labeled “Cabernet Pfeffer” but looking more like Trousseau, Ken knew he needed to do more fieldwork to settle the issue. In consultation with grape nursery experts such as the late Rich Kunde, Ken worked to clear away the confusion around this varietal. Rich gave Ken the contact information for an old Bastardo planting in Lodi. When Ken finally visited the vines a year later, it was clear that the Bastardo/Trousseau vines looked markedly different from those Trousseau grapes he first worked with because they actually were something else. Time passed and Ken was busy with many other projects so the Cabernet Pfeffer/Bastardo/Trousseau mystery remained unsolved.
In 2007 Ken sent tissue samples of what was being called Cabernet Pfeffer, Trousseau, and Bastardo from different vineyards growing these wines to Foundation Plant Materials Services (FPMS) in Davis California for DNA testing. FPMS did the equivalent of a paternity test on the plant material. The results surprised everyone: it turns out that what has been mistakenly called Cabernet Pfeffer, Trousseau, and Bastardo in a number of vineyards across California is actually Gros Verdot, a very rare grapevine in California. Try Google-ing “Gros Verdot” and you will probably only find references to the more commonly planted Petite Verdot grape variety. Gros Verdot is an old Bordeaux variety that was much more commonly planted in the Bordeaux region prior to the Phylloxera epidemic in France. When replanting began in Bordeaux on American grape vine rootstocks (which tolerate the American pest Phylloxera) Gros Verdot had grafting compatibility issues with most American species and did not take well on most American rootstocks other than Vitis Rupestris. This lack of compatibility caused the vine to be nearly abandoned in its homeland. It is interesting to note that the Trade and Tax Bureau does not recognize or approve of the name Gros Verdot as a grape variety but does recognize and allow Cabernet Pfeffer as an approved, sanctioned name of a varietal wine grape for wine labeling. View a clip about our Cabernet Pfeffer from the Enz Vineyard in Lime Kiln Valley.
In the 1800s, there was even more naming confusion with Cabernet Pfeffer: Was it “Pfeffer Cabernet,” “Pfeffer Burgundy,” “Cabernet Franc,” “West’s Prolific,” or “Robin Noir”? An 1897 legal ruling points to the further confusion about the name of this grape. Pacific Wine and Spirit Review discussed this ruling whereby a Judge Lorigan of San Jose declared Pfeffer Cabernet to be a member of the Cabernet family. The article presented an interview with Mr. Charles Whetmore, a leading viticulturist of the time, who stated in opposition to the judge that, “Pfeffer Cabernet was not and will never be a Cabernet.” How right he was. Mr. Whetmore then discussed how he first encountered the vine at the Jesuit College Vine Collection in Santa Clara, William Pfeffer country. The cachet of “Cabernet” was already firming up in California at this time with viticulturists engaging in litigious warfare over the rights to (legally) link a particular vine to the noble Cabernet family.
At the Winery
Our 2008 San Benito County Cabernet Pfeffer came from two vineyards: the Enz Vineyard of Lime Kiln Valley and the Siletto Ranch Vineyard of San Benito. The 2008 growing season was cool with a lack of heat in October; the fruit at both vineyards had a long hang time prior to harvest. Each vineyard was harvested on different dates and the fruit kept as separate lots through their cellar lives until preparation for bottling. The Siletto Ranch fruit was tank fermented in a closed top tank and de-stemmed with minimal crushing. The fermenting cap was pumped over several times daily and was given an Aussi-style rack and return at mid-fermentation. Pressing occurred after 16 days on the skins prior to complete cap fall. The Enz Vineyard fruit was de-stemmed with no crushing into 1.3-ton open top bins and the caps punched down 2-5 times daily prior to basket pressing. Both lots were barreled to French and Hungarian Bordeaux-style oak cooperage and finished malolactic fermentation in barrel where it was aged for 18 months and racked once prior to preparation for bottling.
The finished wine is garnet in color and has the delicate spicy berry aromas that are the calling card of Cabernet Pfeffer. This wine has more structure in its mid-palate and finishes with dusty ripe berry and spicy flavors. It can be a delicious accompaniment to grilled and barbecued foods such as Texas-style Baby Back Pork Ribs.
Texas-style Baby Back Ribs