Wine-tasting

(From left) Vance Crook, Peter Stolpman and Pat Kettles at a recent wine-tasting at Tyson’s in Anniston.

We are not exactly situated in the heart of winedom here in north Alabama, so it’s a good wine day when word comes that “a wine rep will be in town dragging a bag with a ride along.” This means a wine salesperson is coming to pour samples accompanied by a winery owner, vintner or someone closely associated with the brand.

Such was the case a few weeks back when Vance Crook of International Wine and Craft Beers of Birmingham brought ride along Peter Stolpman, managing partner of Stolpman Vineyards, which was founded by his parents Tom and Marilyn Stolpman in 1974 in Ballard Canyon near Los Olivos, Calif.

At the time, this region was not exactly situated in the hotbed of winedom either, but Peter’s father was a visionary who recognized the potential of what is now known as the Central Coast growing region.

When Tom, founding partner of the Stolpman Law Group, and his wife, Marilyn, were bitten by the wine bug and looking for property, Tom stipulated that any prospective vineyard should sit on top of limestone deposits — characteristic of the topography of some of the great vineyards he visited in Europe.

The Stolpmans found 220 acres of such property situated over three major limestone ridgelines in Santa Barbara County in what is now the officially recognized Ballard Canyon AVA (American Viticultural Area).

There are several factors that contribute to the uniqueness of Stolpman Vineyards. First, the vineyards are dry-farmed from bud break to harvest. A longstanding tenet of the wine business is that to make great wine, vines must struggle. Such farming results in low yields of intensely flavored fruit.

Further, Stolpman Vineyards’ workhorse red wine is not cabernet but syrah, and likely the best I have tasted. Stolpman’s major focus is on Rhone varietals, particularly syrah, but the vineyard does not shy away from less common varietals.

Interestingly, Stolpman does not use seasonal migrant labor, instead employing a staff of approximately 20 permanent year-round workers. To encourage innovation, each year these workers are given a vineyard block to maintain and harvest. The proceeds from this vineyard block are divided among the workers as yearly bonuses.

Peter poured an array of his family wines, all available by special order from Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Anniston. Some will be available for tasting by the general public at Tyson’s weekly wine tasting on Sept. 20. Consider the following personal favorites:

Combe Chenin Blanc 2017. $59. “Combe” is French for “small, sheltered valley.” This wine is a collaborative effort between Peter and Rajat Parr, world-renowned sommelier and restaurateur-turned-winemaker. Parr convinced Peter to plant a small block of 1.5 acres of chenin blanc because he thought the Stolpman site ideal for this varietal.

In the past, when recommending a chenin blanc, I usually opt for a French Vouvray because it has the acidity and minerality often missing in domestic chenin blanc. This wine has changed my mind. It is very Vouvray-like, with great body and zingy acidity. Perfect lobster wine. Pricey, but driving the price is the fact that this is a small-lot, celebrity production.

Stolpman Estate Roussanne 2017. $27. The first Roussanne ever reviewed for this column, and what a nice start. A rich white wine with a golden hue, perfect for the richness of a southern Thanksgiving meal.

Richness comes from lees stirring, malolactic fermentation and nine months’ barrel aging. Citrus on the palate, with a wonderful creamy mouthfeel leading to a lingering finish.

Stolpman La Caudrilla 2016. $21. “La Caudrilla” is Spanish for “small vintage block.” Made from a blend of 72 percent syrah, 16 percent sangiovese and 12 percent grenache, Wine Advocate scored this wine 92. This is the crew’s wine from a dedicated block that provided their bonuses.

Easy-drinking, medium-bodied, deliciously fruity wine that should pair with an array of foods, especially burgers on the grill or wood-fired pizza.

Stolpman Estate Syrah 2016. $27. From 100 percent syrah. A big, deliciously juicy red wine with a luscious ripe fruit approach. Balanced and smooth. Perfect for an herb-encrusted rack of lamb cooked on the grill.

Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at pkettles@annistonstar.com.

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