California Wines for the Zombie Apocalypse


Maybe it's just with Halloween creeping around the calendar's corner and Walking Dead stumbling back on to AMC, but I've been wondering what winery might be the best to make zombie-fighting central if it ever comes to that. High on the list would be Pali Wine Co., partially because you get another winery to boot -- Tower 15 -- but mostly because winemaker Aaron Walker and his team make such a wide range of deliciousness, centered on pinot noir. If it's the apocalypse, I'm still going to want to be able to drink red, but a cabernet would probably be too heavy. Pinot seems perfect.

Pali makes a whole range of what they refer to as a "cuvee" series tied to appellations -- a "Bluffs" from the Russian River Valley, a "Summit" from Sta. Rita Hills, even an "Alphabets" from Willamette Valley, Oregon. This means they get their hands on great grapes but can do so at pretty good value, too; it's rare you find a Russian River Valley pinot under $23, let alone one that tastes this good. There's chardonnay, as well, and then there are a few single vineyard wines, if you want to pay more money, but they're worth it. At a recent dinner a 2011 Fiddlestix pinot and a 2011 Durell chard truly shone as varietal representatives, while still playing well with the food.

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If you're confused by the geography, the name is a hint, if not yet another location. The two founders, Tim Perr and Scott Knight, who also own an actuarial and insurance services firm, both live in the Pacific Palisades, hence Pali. They started in 2005 with Brian Loring making their wines, and first brought on Walker, who had worked at Kunin, Stephen Ross, and Hitching Post as assistant and then head winemaker. (Kenneth Juhasz still consults, too.) The winery is in Lompoc -- closer to all that good Santa Barbara County fruit -- and now near to the first vineyards actually owned by Pali. They've planted 50 acres in Sta. Rita Hills and then purchased the Huber Vineyard this spring, so estate grapes are on the way.

As for Tower 15 (named after a Pacific Palisades icon), it's not just a second label, it's the chance for Walker to play with different varietals from a different region, in this case Paso Robles. With pricing around the $20 a bottle point, these are go-to wines such as a cabernet sauvignon/petit verdot blend, a grenache blanc, a sauvignon blanc, and a rosé that in 2012 was grenache and mourvedre, but in 2011 was grenache and pinot noir, which just attests to how Pali/Tower 15 is ever-responsive to the vintage and what the vineyards are doing best.

That's the kind of adaptability I want to see in my compadres in the fight against the zombies. And with Pali and Tower 15 on my side, even if my brain ends up eaten, it will go very happy.

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