Many wine lovers know that Gamay and Pinot Noir can taste best served chilled. But along with these two varieties, there are numerous other reds that benefit from some extra time on ice. Our Southern California Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann had the chance to chat and sample wines with Stolpman Vineyards‘ Peter Stolpman, who is leading the charge on the natural, bright, fresh, chillable reds trend.
Matt Kettmann: Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. Your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Matt Kettmann, contributing editor here at Wine Enthusiast, in charge of the Central Coast and Southern California. In this episode I’ll talk with Peter Stolpman, managing partner of Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Peter, welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast.
Peter Stolpman; Thank you for having me.
MK: Of course. So, your family vineyard is in Ballard Canyon in the middle of Santa Barbara County. And you made a lot of Syrah in the beginning and that’s still a very strong category for you. But where did this idea of making lighter, fresher red wines kind of come from?
PS: It actually began with a gentleman in Washington D.C., Peter Pastan and he owns really cool pizzeria called Two Amys And he wanted us to make him a Sangiovese that was just delicious and great with pizza and maybe a little bit chilled. He wanted to serve it in a keg which would naturally be a little bit colder than room temperature.
We’d already tried to make, I would call it a bistro style Sangiovese, a little more affordable than our typical Sangiovese but that one really didn’t work. We called it La Coppa Sangiovese, we made it ’09 and ’10 before we gave up on it because when we macerate the fruit we pulled out too much tannin and that tannin needed to wait in barrel to integrate.
So, there’s kind of no way around if we wanted to make a big, rich Sangiovese, it needed to sit in a barrel for a long time because it’s a tannic grape. High acid, high tannin so that combination needs time to develop. That’s why when you go to Italy the DOCG law mandates a certain amount of time to wait for the wine and barrel before it becomes pleasurable.
So, we got to thinking how can we make a crushable, delicious early drinking Sangiovese and the only solution was not to crush. I like to call it whole grape fermentation because that’s the key for us for not crushing the grapes and we don’t need to wait for this big rough tannin to integrate and we can bottle much earlier.
MK: And that’s a whole different process, right? Tell our listeners a little bit about carbonic maceration as compared to the normal red wine making.
PS: The reason we call our main fresh wine Love You Bunches is because it’s a pun that we are very loving and gentle with our grapes. We never want to actually break a single grape. We want the yeast to actually penetrate into each grape and ferment whole.
So, if you think about the other way of making wine, the typical way of making red wine, you foot trod or pump over, or punch down, you’re trying to break apart every little piece of skin. You’re trying to get the seeds really stirred up. You want a big, intense, robust, rich, full bodied red wine.
MK: And so basically all that flesh that’s inside of the grape is what ferments inside the skins.
PS: Depending on how far through you push it, you normally wind up with alcoholic grapes and people ask why didn’t you sell those. Imagine if all of your blood turned to wine. I’m sure you’ve tried it before and you generally don’t look too good the next morning right. That’s kind of how the fruit is. They look pretty beat up and traumatized, kind of bubbly and brown and not pretty.
MK: And you do a light press on it?
PS: Correct. We’re all we’re trying to do is pop the fruit and, again, because we don’t want to press any juice in the skin and risk getting the tannin. Part of this whole deal is because we aren’t relying on tannin for the finish, we’re relying on acidity and we’re picking earlier because of that. You don’t have the glycerol richness of alcohol to envelop any tannins, so you have to be really careful about not pushing even the carbonic whole grape fermentation too far but it’s that tannin that would make this light bodied wine almost feel hollow.
MK: And this has also led you to kind of start a whole other sub brand, right? I mean this this kind of experiment has turned into a whole line of wines for you.
PS: Yeah. We call it Stolpman So Fresh and Love You Bunches is the gateway wine into the family. So, the four So Fresh wines are all carbonic uncrushed whole grape.
MK: Winemakers think many different things about natural wine movement and what does it mean, what does it not mean, but it’s clearly a movement. The big cities all have natural wine bars, even smaller cities have natural wine bars. How do you think this this bright red chillable trend plays into that? Is that helping push some of these ideas more?
PS: Yeah, I think for you and I to sit here and talk about natural wine will lead us into a quagmire debate of trying to define it. And so, I really fixate on the stylistic definition of a fresh wine. They’re very much connected. They’re not two different things. I don’t add sulfur to these wines as a default. Because they’re high acid, microbial activity has a tough time in an acidic environment. You don’t really need to worry as much as you would with a very low acid, big rich wine. And we bottle young. You don’t have to preserve wine in barrel because they are ready to go. We don’t have to wait for the tannin to integrate. We can bottle fresh. So, by default they’re natural. No sulphur added but I think that any natural wine needs to be in that style. It’s very difficult to make quote unquote natural or no sulfur wine that is low acid that needs to sit in barrel forever. You’re going to have acidity through the roof. You’re going to have all types of flaws. It would not taste good.
To make a delicious natural wine it needs to be high acid, lower in alcohol, that way fermentation happens a lot easier. And then if you can bottle early without needing to wait for things to integrate. So, I think these wines perhaps the market’s willingness to accept them is a product of this huge natural wine movement.
MK: I also think that rosé trend has helped this category too because a lot of people now will go for rosé and I don’t think they necessarily just want to go from rosé to big heavy wine. There’s this new middle ground where you can opt for a light red wine and I think that’s got to be helped a little bit by this kind of explosion of rosé.
PS: I mean rosé consumption has grown so rapidly and people who are fully on the rosé train are open to especially the Love You Bunches. It has the same value as rosé as far as something fresh and refreshing during the day. So now that the world has accepted dry rosé as a category I think the next step now will be to accept the light, fun and usually chilled reds.
MK: There’s another advantage to consumers too in that making wine in this style can also make it a little cheaper cost-wise. You’re not sitting in barrels for a long time taking up space. You’re kind of moving it through. Are these wines a little more affordable than some of your other ones?
PS: Definitely. Love You Bunches is $24 retail, then we jump up to the $30s for the Gamay and low $40s for the Syrah and $48 is kind of the grand finale high mark for the unrated fill blend.
MK: Can bigger wineries copycat this trend? Is there anything technically that they couldn’t do? Does this have to be on a smaller scale or have you seen any of the bigger entities try to take on this trend yet?
PS: Yeah, you go in different directions and I think the bigger picture, any wine made right needs to be fairly small lot. The largest fermenting vessel we have is about five tons and we’d just like to do that to kind of keep an eye on smaller lots and work them over and you know there’s nothing stopping able corporate winemakers from doing this. And I’m sure we’re gonna get a lot of market entries but I think we’re quite a few years out from that.
But the one thing that I definitely see happening, especially in my neck of the woods in Santa Barbara County, it’s like Gamay will begin to be a varietal that you would see in any good wine shop, a domestic Gamay.
MK: Let’s try some of these ones you brought here and start with yours, The Love You Bunches. This is the ’18. Are consumers kind of freaked out when you see a red wine less than a year old in front of them?
PS: Again, there seem to be a subgroup of people who just don’t know what to do with this. It’s the vintage, it’s the packaging, and simply the color. But if people have an open mind and they actually go to our website and learn about it or a good wine bar server or a retailer actually explains it, hopefully they pick up what we’re what we’re putting down.
But what I love about ’18…I was actually a little worried about the ’18 When we had it in tank assembled I thought was too tart. I was like, “Oh my God, are people going to like this?”
And I was like, “Should we add a little red wine to it? Should we add a little more for lack of a better word sweetness to it?
And everybody just took one sip and was like, “No, leave it like this.”
And I brought a barrel sample back home to Jessica and she was like, “What are you thinking? They’re all right. You’re wrong.” And now I just love the energy.
Just so much verve. Completely bone dry but you get that beautiful tart red fruit. You can just get the crunch of the grape.
MK: Yeah. And I get a lot of raspberry. There’s almost like a cola spice that kind of lingers or there’s some sort of spice that I think is interesting just beyond the fruit. There’s a lot going on for a bright fresh wine. So, do you serve this with pizza? What do you recommend this with?
PS: I mean that’s the beauty. I feel like I’m trying to prove to the people why, why these fresh wines are going to be the next big thing. A big part of that is what we eat. We all eat entrée salads, we all eat fresh food. We’re not eating meatloaf and short ribs every night. And if you are, God bless you. But really, I mean, anything to answer your question. From fish all the way through poultry.
MK: When these fresher red wine started showing up a couple of years ago in my tastings I really liked them right away because they were different and they were fresh and they’re delicious, and they would perform for my non-wine friends, and my wine industry friends and they all love them so I was kind of like okay, this is not just me being kind of geeky. This is something happened in here. People want these kind of wines and when people come over, we open one up, up and it’s gone like that.
You know, it’s also, I think, the anomaly of it being maybe chilled in the fridge and it’s red. You know they, they like that too.
Okay, let’s head up the coast. Let’s try the one Gamay Noir from Joyce Vineyard which is owned by Russell Joyce. He’s up in Carmel Valley. This wine is from San Benito County, just to the east of Monterey County.
And it’s actually really kind of fascinating place where a lot of historic California winemaking occurred. And a lot of the younger winemakers up there are kind of tuning into these old vines that have been sitting there for a while and people have forgotten about them over the years.
A lot them were owned by kind of bigger corporate entities and now some of those have kind of broken up.
And there’s access to some of these cool vineyards and so Russell made a Gamay from up there which I really liked when I tasted it a few months ago.
PS: I love the trend of guys like Russell and Ian Brand. You know trolling that whole kind of unknown area and finding amazing sites like these other vineyards out there. And you kind of see that all over the world.
I was in Italy a couple of years ago and just story after story of winemakers finding forgotten varietals and making delicious fresh wines.
So, you’re kind of forced to work around those young tannins. I think the most exciting place in the world to be a young winemaker: anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. You have this tradition of making these big wines. But how about making fresher, more delicious wines that are lighter and I think there’s will be a continued evolution out there.
MK: And what’s interesting is that a lot of those people are going deeper into their roots yet at the same time they have to buck the kind of traditional rules because they’re not following the rules. And yet they’re making really interesting wines with almost more of a respect to the past but not necessarily respect for these kind of somewhat archaic traditions that they’re supposed to follow.
And our third wine for the day is the Ann Albert Gamay Noir are from closer to us here. This is from Marchionne ranch which is near Los Alamos. It’s a bio-dynamically farmed ranch which I believe it’s been biodynamic since the beginning. Ann Albert is the kind of side project of Eric Johnson who is the winemaker at Talley Vineyards. He makes some fabulous Pinot Noir and some of the best Chardonnay made anywhere.
So, this is the project he and his wife founded. I believe Ann Albert are their middle names combined. And so, he’s making a little bit of Chardonnay and Gamay.
PS: It’s really kind of fun to see the two different wines. So, it sounds like there might be a little second or third fill oak on this maybe, which is just interesting in you know kind of having these two side by side you pick up a little bit of differences. It’s delicious. And these ones too although they’re quote unquote light bodied they do all have this really nice feathery kind of coating. I like the word feathers threw the mouth. You know, they’re kind of playful when they last but they have finishes. I mean these are real wines.
MK: This one definitely has a little more heft to it than the Joyce wine. It still has a lot of that flower petals stuff you get in a lot Gamays.
PS: Let’s not forget that these are really good, pretty darn serious wines. You could really get into this and geek out on both of these Gamays. You’re not allowed to geek out on Love You Bunches. You’re just not allowed. So perhaps we shouldn’t segregate ourselves so much because if you love, well, I mean these are these are all great wines, the general population will continue to embrace them too and continue to look for other varietals.
MK: Speaking of other varieties, I’ve seen a lot of Cab Franc is done in this style which I think can be really kind of fun and sexy like really like peppery spice and bright red fruit. I always think of Happy Canyon Vineyards Chukker which is they’re their Cab screw top cap Franc. It has always been a really cool wine that once I called like one of the best French reds although Love You Bunches would definitely up there now.
PS: I think for especially the U.S., North America, for northern Europe, for Japan for kind of the worldwide wine consuming countries, I think from just the broad consumer base, I think this what we’re talking about today is going to be the most exciting change in our careers.
Of all of these factors coming together. We’re going to think back, “Remember in 2012 like we don’t make any of this.” I wouldn’t be shocked in ten years if this is like at least a third of our total production. And having said I consider all Stolpman wines to be natural wines. But stylistically you know the, the carbonic fresh wines are, are gonna be unstoppable I think and it’s just really exciting.
MK: The most interesting thing about wine is the variety of different wines out there and that’s what makes it fun tasting different wines and this is just as a whole new category that’s starting to kind of explode and we’re still really on the early stages I would say you’re on the leading edge of the early stage but it’s you know it’s starting to happen.
I think it’ll be something that people who will tune into all across the country and hopefully we lead them on the right path here with some of the ones we tasted today. So, thank you for coming, Pete.
PS: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.