Women Winemakers of Chablis, Part Four

the-glass-of-wine-bottle-old-barrel-and-grape-vector_fJO1blw__LAnd here’s the next installment on the Women Winemakers of Chablis. Today, we’re featuring Laurence Séguinot, Domaine Daniel Séguinot et Filles, in the Chablis region of France. Chablis is also the delicious white wine made from the chardonnay grape (remember, European wines are usually named after where they’re made, rather than by what they’re made of). This series is from a group of email interviews with six women winemakers from the Chablis region, translated from the original French by someone else because Anne’s French is in terrible shape. We asked each woman the same three questions.

1)    What makes Chablis different from other wines made from chardonnay?

The Chardonnay grape was born in Burgundy. It thus reaches its full potential and nobility in Burgundy’s soils, especially those of Chablis, where the Kimmeridgian terroir gives our wines their purity and minerality.

2)    If my reader sees Chablis on the label of a bottle of wine, what should she expect to taste in the wine?

From a Chablis wine, we expect delicacy, freshness, strong minerality and authenticity of the Chablis terroir, with floral or citrusy notes depending on the vintage.

3)   Finally, how are things changing for women winemakers in France? In the U.S., making wine is still very dominated by men. Are there more women becoming winemakers? Do women make wine differently than men, and if they do, what do they do that’s different?

There are more and more women winegrowers in France. At least, today, they make themselves more visible. Maybe they used to be fewer, or perhaps they were simply working in the men’s shadows.

Women have a different palate from men’s and I believe we approach winemaking differently. We strive for delicacy and elegance first and foremost, a way to please and charm all palates.

The Dolcetto Lesson with Renata Bonacina

dolcetto wine, red wine, Italian wine, slow wine event
Renata Bonacina

One of the truly fun things we get to do, here at OddBallGrape, is trying some amazing wines at events such as Slow Wine, this past February. And as we promised in that post, we’re finally bringing you the lesson on dolcetto wine, in particular from Cà ed Balos winery from the southern end of Piedmont. Renata Bonacina is the owner and winemaker there, and she was gracious enough to give us a short lesson on dolectto and the wine she makes.

“It’s a challenge,” Bonacina told us about her work in her vineyard. “It’s a challenge every year, every day. But, of course, technology helps to assist you. But the vineyards where we work are steep places which you need to have chain tractors. And we do have lots of manual work to be done, not only during the harvest time, but during… All the canopy management during the summer. So it’s hard work, especially when you have a very hot summer, like last summer. You have to wake up at five thirty in the morning.”

dolcetto wine, red wine, Italian wineShe makes some lovely Moscato d’Asti, but it was her dolcettos that sold us.

“First of all, you have different wines called dolcetto. Our dolcetto is Dolcetto D’Alba,” she explained. “It’s a wine that has a very soft tannin, is usually very fruity. It has alcohol by volume not very high. It’s usually 12.5 [percent]. In some cases you can have higher, considering that it is a different kind of dolcetto compared to mine. Because there are some that can reach 13 [percent alcohol]. But generally speaking, they don’t have a very high volume of alcohol. Usually, dolcetto, traditionally in my region, was the meal wine for all the people. So it’s a quite simple wine, which you pair with many different foods, which I mentioned before. I mean pasta, rice, cheese or meat, because of the fact of having the tannins very soft. It’s not so strong and very easy to pair.”

Bonacina’s dolcettos were gorgeous, full and rich and still pretty dry. She said that she ferments her grapes in steel tanks, then puts them in barrels for five or more months, usually the summer after they’ve been harvested.

Getting the wines, here in the U.S. may be a bit of a stretch, but check out the website for the winery. If you email them, it’s possible they’ll be able to tell you where in the States you can buy the wines. Or if you’re in Northern Italy, you can go to the winery.

In the meantime, if you see dolcetto on a label, think a soft, fruity wine that’s perfect with food. And if you see Dolcetto d’Alba, buy it.

Champagne Romance with Vitalie Taittinger

Ah, Champagne. We’re talking the real stuff, from Champagne, France. Everything else is sparkling wine, perfectly lovely in most cases. But there’s just something about the original.

So when we got an invitation to party in Beverly Hills with Vitalie Taittinger, whose family owns the famous high end label, heck, yes, we jumped at it. Who better to explain the mystique? The romance? And with Valentine’s Day almost upon us, why not?

The party was hosted by Jordane Andrieu, of Héritage Wines, in Beverly Hills, and was very chi-chi, which was kind of scary because we’re anything but chi-chi. Still, with the bubbly flowing like a fountain (and in the video, rather literally), who cared? Ms. Taittinger was  a little late, so we got antsy and started asking anyone and everyone what is about Champagne that we associate it so firmly with romance?

Champagne is sophisticated and light

Kendra Walker thought it was about the bubbles,

Kendra Walker and Dana Prieto

“Bubbly is romantic because it’s effervescent and light,” White said.

Her friend, Dana Prieto, agreed.

“Bubbly is just fancy,” Prieto said.  “That’s why it’s so great.”

“I think it’s just the fact that it literally looks beautiful in a glass,” said Annie Trevino. “You feel so sophisticated when you’re drinking it. And the way you feel after you’ve had a glass or two is kind of different compared to any other kind of spirit, rather beer or hard liquor. It makes you feel light. And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Champagne Taittinger
Annie Trevino

Publicist Dana Bruneau pointed out that it’s very easy to write copy about Champagne.

“Honestly, it’s so fluid,” she said. “You don’t even have to think about it. I mean, the craziest stuff can come to your mind, like seduction and sultry and creamy and silky. So many adjectives to describe champagne.”

And Renita White came up with yet another

“It’s velvety,” she said.

Yep. Good Champagne does feel a little like velvet going down.

Ms. Taittinger has her say

But then Ms. Taittinger showed up and here’s what she had to say about the connection between Champagne and romance.

Champagne Taittinger
Vitalie Taittinger

“I think that Champagne is special because of the terroir and the minerality and everything, but at the end it’s also special because it’s not only a wine, it’s also a symbol. A symbol of celebration, a symbol of joy, happiness,” Taittinger said, adding that it can be hard to pin down why it’s so romantic. “I think you just have to drink a glass of it to understand that. Because the effect of champagne on people is just that it gives you so much energy, power, love, freedom, that you’re happy.”

Ah, but some folks we know have gotten very sick drinking Champagne.

“But that’s a good point because you can drink a lot of good champagne without to be sick,” Taittinger said. “I think when you have a good champagne, you are never sick.”

At least, we weren’t sick the next morning. Still, even with as good a thing as really good bubbly, it doesn’t hurt to moderate it a bit.


Learn About Zinfandel with Katie Madigan

Katie Madigan and her fave wine, zinfandel
Katie Madigan and her fave wine, zinfandel

If you want to learn about zinfandel, or casually known as zin, you definitely want to talk to winemaker Katie Madigan, of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. She’s in charge of the zinfandel program at the winery, where she’s been working from the ground up, you might say, since 2002.

“I started in 2002 as an intern,” she said, “working the harvest and one of my main jobs was sampling the vineyards for winemakers and getting accustomed to the land. So I sampled all the grapes and I updated the winemakers on the maturity level, and I just really became impassioned with working in vineyards, working in the winery. So then I went to UC Davis and finished my studies in enology/viticulture in 2005. St. Francis asked me to be assistant winemaker. I was Tom Mackie’s assistant for eight years and when he retired in 2011, he asked me to step in and be winemaker.”

Madigan, who also makes the winery’s chardonnay, called zin California’s signature grape.

History of Zin

“Zinfandel has a very complex history, first of all,” Madigan said. “I think we tend to see it as California’s grape varietal because it has been here since about – they think – 1830s is when they think it really came to California. We’re still working out the kinks on where we think the origin is. We think it’s Croatia. It could be Italy, as well. It’s very, very close, what the records say. But for me, zinfandel is a fresh variety. It has lots of fresh fruit, but also some pretty good spice. It should be a complex wine. It shouldn’t be too soft. It should be very enjoyable with or without food.

She added that zin can also show off where it’s grown by its flavor.

“It’s a very aromatic varietal, that’s what I love about it. It’s very representative of where it’s grown. So if it’s in a cool area, you’ll get more light red, raspberry. If it’s in a warmer area, you get more of that blackberry, blueberry aroma. And that’s very interesting,” she said.

Zinfandel styles and food

Now, some of us (like, say, Anne) have not been big fans of zinfandel because back in the 1990s, winemakers focused on a very, very fruity wines with lots of alcohol that tasted like jam in glass (and Anne firmly believes jam belongs on toast, instead). Madigan said that it seems like that style of zinfandel is going away.

“I hope that we’re going back. The zinfandel… What I call Old World zinfandel, does have a very distinct pepper spice note complexity. I think there was definitely a decade that saw a very soft, supple zinfandels and I’m hoping that what we’re seeing these days is kind of a fusion of both,” she said. “To me, the texture of the wine and the mouthfeel is what I find most fascinating. I’m like you. I’m hoping we’re seeing more complexity and length and spice on those wines.”

As for what to eat with zinfandel, Madigan is pretty open.

“Honestly, I do believe that zinfandel is one of those wines where I call it an all-weather wine,” she said. “Here in California, it’s our go-to barbecue wine. Anything that’s put on the barbecue is going to pair with zinfandel. But also, Thanksgiving. Usually the Thanksgiving feast pairs very well with it. I think it can transition from season to season. That’s what’s so great about it.”

The Dreaded White Zin

Alas, no discussion about zinfandel would be complete without talking about white zin – usually a sweet, medicine-like wine that was quite the fad some years ago. But for the fun of it, we asked Madigan if one could make a nice dry rose out of zin.

“We do one that’s for our wine club only,” Madigan said. “We only make 300 cases of it. And it’s a hundred percent zinfandel. It’s made in the Provence style. I think white zinfandel was a trend and it was a style of wine. Rose is also a style of wine, and I’m very inspired by Provence, and so even though it’s made of zinfandel, which is not traditional, it tastes very similar to what you’ll find in traditional French roses.”

And while that’s not everything you need to know about zinfandel, what’s left is tasting it yourself.

What’s your favorite zinfandel and why do you like it?



Cindy Steinbeck Talks The Vineyard

Cindy Steinbeck on The Vineyard
Cindy Steinbeck in the vineyard at Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery

We’ve been trying to catch up with Cindy Steinbeck for a number of years now, ever since we met her at a Rhone Rangers tasting. She and her family own Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery. Steinbeck is the head of marketing, wine sales and public relations for the business. However, what got us excited are Steinbeck’s Crash Courses that she gives in the vineyard. They’re a series of tours the family gives on winegrowing, as opposed to winemaking.

The family has 520 acres planted out in 13 different varieties, 99 percent of which are sold to other wineries in the area, including Eberle and San Antonio.

So we asked Steinbeck why it’s important for consumers to know what happens in the vineyard.

“Wine starts in the vineyard,” she said. “The soil, wind, rainfall, those all affect the flavor of the grape. It’s a sense of place.”

As in that word wine geeks love to toss around “Terroir.’

Steinbeck says, yes, it’s for real – even in her family’s vineyard.

“On the south slopes of my vineyard, the grapes taste slightly different,” she said. “Grapes don’t grow in a vaccuum. Evey single factor is beyond our control. It’s not like making Bud. This is completely related to nature.”

Cindy Steinbeck talks the Vineyard
Cindy Steinbeck

But even though grape growers are mostly at the mercy of Nature, there are things that can be done.

“If I add too much water, then I’m going to grow too much leaf,” Steinbeck said. “If I have too much green leaf, I get bitterness [in the wine.] Too little canopy [leafy coverage], I’ve got raisins.”

For her, growing grapes is as much about art as it is knowledge, especially when it comes to knowing the best time to pick the grapes. Using instruments to measure the sugar in the grape can help, but there’s nothing like tasting one to see what’s happening.

“I’ve got to bite the seeds, to bit the skins in my teeth,” she said.

The family has been farming in the Paso area since the 1860s, and were growing wine grapes back then, as well. Cindy’s grandparents bought the current family farm in 1921, but grapes were grown on the property until 1982, when the family went into business with Gary Eberle, an early winery in the area. Today, the Steinbecks have 520 acres planted out with 13 different varieties of grapes, with 99 percent of them sold to folks like Eberle and San Antonio wineries. The one percent the family keeps is made into wine that they sell under their own label.


Learning About Wine Labels with Tricia Bump Davis

We caught up with Trica Bump Davis, general manager of Darms Lane Winery in Napa Valley, last spring. We were devastated when the video did not come out. But Davis’ discussion on learning about wine labels was so much fun, we couldn’t resist using the transcript. So here it is. With a wine label to look at.


Q – You are the general manager of Darms Lane

Davis – Yes. I am the gm, I am the general manager of Darms Lane. It’s actually my family’s business. My parents started just as investors in a vineyard in Napa Valley. And then over the course of time, their investment got bigger and bigger, and then they became the sole owners of our property. So just since 2000, it’s been in my family. And then I have two sisters, so my dad didn’t really have a choice on having a son run it because he only had girls.

Q – So what does a general manager do?

Davis – So my responsibilities… There’s not really any set specific things. I’m kind of responsible for everything. We have a vineyard manager who does our farming for us. So I manage that relationship. And then we have a winemaker that makes the wine, and I manage that as well. And then I also do all the not as fun stuff, like the compliance. I do compliance with the Federal government and then with all the states for all the licensing.

Q – What is compliance?

Davis – Compliance is just making sure… We’re making wine, which is an alcoholic beverage, so that complicates the process a little bit because the Federal government keeps track of and would like some excise tax from us so they want more information about what we’re making, and how much alcohol is in it, where it’s stored and all of those things. So there’s quite a bit of compliance that goes along with the winery.

Q – To switch directions, because you are dealing with an issue that a lot of people don’t understand – why labels are the way they are. And you’re dealing with that. Tell us about that and what everything means.

Davis – Every wine, when we go to bottle it, before we actually print the labels, we submit them to the Tax and Trade Bureau, which is the Federal government. And they look at a few specific characteristics on the label to make sure it’s within the law. So the things that they care about are the percentage of alcohol. They’ve switched it around. It used to always have to be on the front label, now it can actually be on the back label. And then where the wine comes from. That’s where they’re really really specific about when you put where the wine is from, it has to say… So if you say Napa Valley, it all has to be from Napa Valley. You can have a little bit of fruit from other places, but there’s different percentages, thresholds that we have to stay within for each of the items. So if it says cabernet sauvignon, then it needs to be 75 percent cabernet sauvignon. It can be a little bit of other things, but it needs to be at least 75 percent cabernet sauvignon. And then there’s a whole lot of other characteristics, like if you say estate grown. And on the back label there’s a statement that’s called… We call it the produced and bottled by statement. So that actually tells you a lot about specifics on the wine. So if it says produced and bottled by that means we made the wine, we produced it, so we made it into alcohol, and we bottled it all under our own permit. So you might see some that don’t say that and that may mean that the person maybe bought the wine from somebody else and put their name on it. So there’s a lot of different really, really technical things about the label that we don’t know about until you get into the business.

Q – Okay, what’s the point of putting all those technical things on the label if nobody knows what they are?

Davis –Well, industry professionals know, so if you’re working with wines in a restaurant, so a sommelier knows all of these legal requirements for a label, and then most wine shop owners know all of these technicalities, as well. So they can look at your label and know more about it than your average consumer. Your average consumer who walks up to a wine on the shelf and turns it around maybe isn’t going to know the little tiny details. But most professionals do.

Q – What’s the most important thing on the label for the consumer to understand?

Davis – I think the most important thing for the average consumer is to know, and it’s mostly based on preference because if I’m going to drink a pinot noir, if it’s a pinot noir and it just says California, then I don’t really know that much about where it specifically came from. But if I’m looking at a pinot noir and it came from the Russian River, or if I’m looking at a pinot noir and it came from Oregon, then as a consumer, I can start to see characteristics that are similar in those wines, and if I like them, I can go and seek those out. Once you start knowing what kind of variety of wine you like, then you can start to dive down into the detail of well, I like pinot noirs from Sonoma County, but maybe I don’t like them as much as I like Oregon pinot noirs or wines from other places. So it’s just a way of categorizing the wines within the specific variety.

Winemaker Dorothy Schuler, Part Two

SchulerWe first stumbled into Bodegas Paso Robles last summer on our vacation. The tiny tasting room in downtown Paso Robles was one of several that were open that Tuesday. We loved the wines, a wide selection of little known Spanish varieties, so of course we wanted to talk to winemaker and owner Dorothy Schuler.

Imagine our joy when we just happened by the tasting room last November and found Ms. Schuler there. Not only was she happy to talk to us, the interview transcript was such a blast, we couldn’t think of anything to cut. So we’re going to feature Ms. Schuler in three posts spread out over the next few weeks. The first one looked at how Schuler got started in the wine business. Today, Schuler talks about last fall’s harvest and screw caps versus corks.

Quick note of explanation – Schuler uses the term “corked” both as a reference to wines that have been bottled with cork closures and in one instance, as the nickname for a wine that has been spoiled by cork taint.

Q- How was harvest for you last year?

Schuler – Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre. And I don’t know if everybody is going to be honest, but if everybody were honest, they would say bizarre.

Q – How so?

Schuler – Well, early in a lot of ways, I mean, in a lot of ways, early. Everything came in and then everything sloooooooowed down to like an ooze for fermentation.   Now, this is not a bad thing, but sometimes they’re too long. It makes you crazy.

Q – Are you doing native ferments [i.e. using the yeast that’s naturally on the grapes rather than adding it]?

Schuler – No. Actually, I do a little bit. But not… I want a little more control. But this year, there was no control over anything. It was like, oh my god. It’s all weather in charge. You know the weather’s in charge, anyway. We like to pretend it’s not, but it really is.

Q – You have screw tops on your white wines and corks on your reds – why?

Schuler – Ummm, I think screw caps are great for freshness, and whites…. you know when you’re having a dinner party and you don’t have enough cold white and you go an put it in the freezer? And you forget about it? If you put a corked bottle of wine in there, that cork’s going to pop out and be all over your freezer and that screw cap is not going to do that. I don’t think they’re great for aging, though. I’m just not going there. As much as I hate to open a bottle of corked [spoiled] wine, I think the aging elements of a cork are just much better than a screw cap.

Q- Are you basing that on experience?

Schuler – And on drinking a lot of older wines. I’ve never had a wine that’s been under a screw cap for 25 years. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody’s had a wine that’s been in screw cap for 25 years. Pour me one and let’s talk about it when you’ve poured me one.

Q – But just to argue, you’re not going to get one that’s been in screw cap for 25 years unless you put one down for 25 years.

Schuler – I’m not going to put one down, but other people should be putting them down. The people who’ve eschewed corks and only do it screw caps but I don’t think they’re putting wines down, to be perfectly honest. I think the only people who are putting wines down are doing it in cork.

Q – It’d be interesting to see.

Schuler – I’d be interested. I’m drinking some wines right now out of the ’70s, the 80’s, reds. They’re like heaven, but they’re in cork.

Winemaker Dorothy Schuler, Part One

Schuler women winemakers
Dorothy Schuler, winemaker and owner of Bodegas Paso Robles

We first stumbled into Bodegas Paso Robles last summer on our vacation. The tiny tasting room in downtown Paso Robles was one of several that were open that Tuesday. We loved the wines, so of course we wanted to talk to winemaker and owner Dorothy Schuler.

Imagine our joy when we just happened by the tasting room last November and found Ms. Schuler there. Not only was she happy to talk to us, the interview transcript was such a blast, we couldn’t think of anything to cut. So we’re going to feature Ms. Schuler in three posts spread out over the next few weeks. This first one looks at how Schuler got started in the wine business.

Q – What got you into winemaking?

Schuler – My husband’s project. He took a job in England, working on the London Underground. He was going and I said, “Honey, what are we going to do with this? we have this money invested,” and he said, “Oh, sure, let’s run with it.” So I hired a guy [Allen Kinney] to teach me how to make wine. He’s actually coming for dinner tomorrow night. I worked with him about a year and a half. He taught me well. He told me, he said, “Dorothy, making wine is not rocket science.”

Q – It isn’t.

Schuler – No. It’s a feel. It is science but, you  know, it’s more than science and it’s more than a feel. And my father wanted me to be a scientist. My father is a scientist. So I have a heavy-duty science background. So I get the science. But it’s more than science.BodegasBottles

Q – Tell us more about the balance between the science and the feel.

Schuler – Well, it’s a very tricky thing. And I guess more women would talk to you about this than men. I don’t know. It’s our nature to understand the balance between the two, I think…. I did not go to school. I’ve got a lot of friends who went to Davis, female friends who went to Davis. I didn’t go to school for winemaking. I went to school for something totally different.

Q – What?

Schuler – I was a journalist, writer and editor. That was my life. Different world. However, I think if you work for a really, really big winery where you’re producing a huge amount of wine, you need to know all of that chemistry because you’re making wine in huge quantities and you have to monitor everything you can. And you can’t fuck anything up because if you do, it’s millions of dollars. And if you don’t know that stuff, it’s really easy to screw up. But when you’re making wine, like I do, for 2500 cases, it’s a different story. And it’s nice to know that. And it’s like I kind of drive the guys a little nuts, with how I know certain things, You need to know a lot of that, but you can make a little mistake and fix it.

Broadly Speaking at the L.A. Wine Fest

We’re kind of sticking our necks out here on the objectivity thing. So in the interests of full disclosure, Michael will be pouring wines at this event, representing the Cellarmasters Los Angeles home winemaking club (to which we belong). Michael, in his capacity as archivist for the City of Los Angeles, also works with festival founder Joel Fisher as members of the Los Angeles City Historical Society. We’re also, hopefully, getting press passes to the event. Oh, and two of the wineries pouring in the Boutique Tent are from friends of ours.

New LAWF logo-TENTHIf you happen to be in Los Angeles and at loose ends this weekend (May 30 and 31), you may want to check out the LAWineFest, running from 1 to 5 p.m. both days. If you’re not in L.A., but have been hearing about a wine festival or tasting event near you and are wondering if it’s really worth the (often) steep ticket price, read on.

We talked with Sara Fisher Chapin, who works alongside her father and festival founder and CEO Joel Fisher to run the LAWineFest. This is the 10th year for the festival, and it is quite the undertaking.Sara3

“It is a full year of work to make something of this scale,” Chapin said.

Festivals vary in size and scope. The LAWineFest is featuring over 60 wineries from all over the world, and over 5,000 people are expected to show up at the Raleigh Studios (5300 Melrose Ave. Hollywood) over the two days. Chapin said the best reason for attending a festival is because you can try a lot of very different wines without having to buy lots of different bottles.

“It’s a safe environment to explore and learn,” Chapin said. “It’s the equivalent of a survey. You can go broad.”

The idea is that because you’ve already paid for the tastings up front, you can afford to taste something that, maybe, you wouldn’t want to buy as a bottle or as a glass in a pricey restaurant. Better yet, you don’t have to feel obligated to like everything. Or even to drink all the wine in your glass, even if you do like it.crowd20131

“Don’t be embarrassed to dump out the wine if you’ve had enough of a taste,” Chapin said. “No one’s feelings are going to get hurt. Everyone respects that there are different tastes and palates.”

And we’d also like to add that no one is going to assume that you didn’t like a wine because you dumped out half the taste or spit your taste out into a spit cup. That’s because professional tasters do exactly that so they don’t get blitzed while tasting. Chapin pointed out that you also don’t need to taste every single wine from every single winery.

“Pace yourself. Hydrate. Take advantage of the yummy food trucks,” she said.

The LAWineFest will feature talks on wine, food and wine pairings and other entertainment on the festival stage, which Chapin said, will make it easier to take a break. Some other fun features of this particular festival include being able to buy wines from the various wineries through Drizly, a web delivery service for alcoholic beverages. In addition, if you have an iPhone, you can load up the Quini app (they still don’t have the Android version, grumble, grumble) and not only rate the wines you taste, but vote for your faves and they’ll announce the winners on Sunday, which is actually pretty cool.

Tickets for this festival are $85/$160 per couple. Add another $20 onto your ticket and you can visit the Boutique Wine Garden. These are small boutique wineries that don’t produce more than 1,500 cases of wine a year. Note, our friends at Old Oak Winery and Vinemark will be pouring there.

“Come ready to explore,” Chapin said. And she’s dead on about that one.

About Viognier with Morgan Clendenen

Winemaker Morgan Clendenen, used by permission
Winemaker Morgan Clendenen, used by permission

When we decided to do a class on viognier, there was really only one person we thought of it to discuss it: Morgan Clendenen, owner and winemaker at Cold Heaven Cellars. In addition to her signature syrah and lovely pinot noirs, she makes awesome viogniers, delicious wines with beautifully balanced fruit and acids.

Clendenen has been making wine since 1996.

“I was in sales and marketing for a distributor in North Carolina,” she said. Then she married Jim Clendenen, who went on to found Au Bon Climat. The couple has since divorced, but her marriage did start her new career. “That is what got me into winemaking. Like Jim, I learned hands on.”

Viognier (pronounced vee-oh-nyay) is a white wine grape commonly known as one of the varietals grown in France’s Rhône Valley.

“It was originally brought in from Yugoslavia by the Romans,” Clendenen said.

But as the centuries passed, the grape became less and less popular and almost became extinct until 1965, when there were only 30 acres planted. Since then, the grape has come back slowly, with the Clendenens planting the grape in Santa Barbara County in 1998.

“It’s interesting – when I first started out, it was a hard sell,” Morgan Clendenen said. Part of the problem is that with California’s warm climate, the grapes would get very ripe and the resulting wine was high in alcohol, unctuous and cloying. “So viognier got a bad rap.”

viognier from Cold Heaven
Viognier from Cold Heaven

But Clendenen persevered and started working on making viognier with more acidity, which increased its popularity.

When you’re looking at a bottle, be aware that the wine could be fairly heavy. However, a good viognier usually features apricot, peach, honey, toasted nuts and vanilla in its flavor profile. Clendenen recommends serving it cold with Japanese and Mexican foods – anything with a little spice or heat.

“You have your classic pairings like scallops and white fish and the richer things like lobster,” she said. “But the ultimate pairing, in my opinion tends to be goat cheese. Goat cheese and viognier is like peas and carrots.”