California Wine: Grape Expectations

Too many times here in California, the grapes that are planted seem to be chosen by chance.

It is true that when we first began seriously planting grapes we did look to well-established wine-growing regions, or rather one region: France. We took our inspiration from the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, even though our weather and soil bore no resemblance. We then proceeded to plant the representative grapes of those areas, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. And some of these grapes do surprisingly well, considering California is absolutely nothing like France.

But over the years, smart winemakers and viticulturists studied the soil and weather of specific sites and compared them to other regions throughout Europe before selecting grapes to plant. The result is a number of other varietals spreading across the state. The grapes of the Rhone Valley found good second homes in the hills of the Central Coast and further south. Spanish varietals like Alberino and Tempranillo have settled into Bien Nacido and Edna Valley. And a fair amount of Italian varietals found their way here too with varying degrees of success.

One grape doing well is Sangiovese. Known by at least a half a dozen names in its native Italy, this grape has an amazing ability to adapt and mutate to its surroundings. Even though this adaptation may take decades to create something perfectly-suited to its environment, Sangiovese still does a great job dealing with the hand it is dealt.

One area that it is thriving in is the Santa Ynez Valley. At Stolpman Vineyards, the main focus is on Rhone varietals, mostly Syrah and Viognier, but Sangiovese has managed to find a home here as well. Under the steadfast supervision of Sashi Moorman, Sangiovese grown at the Stolpman Vineyards becomes transformed into a surprisingly lovely wine.

The 2009 La Coppa (the Cup) Estate Sangiovese has bright red fruit dominating the palate with a wash of mouth-watering tartness not far behind. It is rare and wonderful to find a red wine made in our backyard that can stand up to the bullying acidity of tomatoes served up in either raw or cooked. Now if we are really lucky, perhaps someone can find appropriate sites for some of the lesser-known but magical grapes of Italy here in California as well. Imagine how delicious a well-made coastal Californian Ruche or Nerello Mascalese would be!

Stolpman Vineyards' 2009 La Coppa Estate Sangiovese retails for about $19 a bottle.

Photo from the Stolpman Vineyard website.

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