Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rocky Soil & the Angels' Share

Recently I took a road trip with my sommelier/wine writer chum Lisa up to Lompoc's "wine ghetto." Situated in a part of Santa Barbara County that you pretty much have to go looking for to find, Lompoc possesses an industrial park that is chockablock with producers of central California vintages. One of those is Palmina Winery, which creates a generous array of wines that are glorious on their own and that pair well with good food.

While I shot pictures and sampled wines, Lisa gathered information and impressions for her magazine article (don’t worry—she got to try everything, too). We spent the day discussing wine with Chrystal and Steve, owners and winemakers, who bring genuine passion to their work. Even with all the sip-swish-spit action (try saying THAT three times really fast!), it was difficult not to get a little twirly. Fortunately, my camera has auto focus, even if my brain does not.

The tasting room was a warm and inviting reminder of those intimate Italian dining rooms where you’re handed a glass of wine and a breadstick or a bite of salumi or cheese, and made to feel like you really belong. But what drew my attention most was a collection of canning jars on a shelf. Filled with the rocky soils of the various vineyards in which their wine grapes are grown, these jars reveal a curious paradox of wine: that the best wine grapes spring from the rattiest, most depleted and unlikely of soils. It makes me wonder how they receive their nourishment, because those rocks just don't look like they'd have anything at all to give. If the angels take their share in the production process, then perhaps they're breathing it back into the roots during the vines’ growth.

When most people think of California wines, they immediately focus on Napa and Sonoma valleys. But this state has more than 1,200 wineries whose vineyards embrace scores of microclimates and produce an array of wines. California’s rolling hills and pockets of land permit a curious meeting of the coastal fog that descends on them from the Pacific Ocean and the heat that pushes in from the desert. Somehow in this climatic shoving match over rough and rocky soil, viticultural magic is made.

This is where the logic of ancient myths comes into play for me. They may not be factual, but the truth they allow is much more appealing to me than the scientific explanation. Elements like intuition and passion are inherently more interesting than brix measurings and temperature ranges.

And the angels’ share becomes the angels’ breath. Yeah, I like it. This explanation works just fine for me.

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