TWO CONTRASTING PINOTS

The next two wines are an excellent illustration of issues that concern us here at The Ojai Vineyard. We think of it as pretty arcane stuff, but the question of the alcohol content of new world wines is a lightening rod for controversy. A couple of retailers and restaurateurs are actually refusing to carry wines higher than 14% because they think anything above that is inherently unbalanced, and therefore useless as an accompaniment with food. As you’ve read, we obsess over capturing grapes from a vineyard at the ideal moment to make the best possible wine, hence the quandary. Here are two pinot noirs that show how nebulous and unclear that ideal can be when faced with the uncertainties of nature.

In 2007 at Bien Nacido we were able to pick exactly when we wanted and are thrilled by the results-atypical for California, but in my mind difficult for the thoughtful taster to dismiss. Despite what it says on the label, our laboratory tells us it is 13.6% alcohol. The actual number does not concern me too much, but I generally find that pinots lower than the mid-14s are gentler and express their personalities in a more accurate way. With the second wine, Clos Pepe, we felt we missed our ideal moment by a couple of days. Here in Southern California, we can go from heavy fog to extremely dry conditions in a matter of hours and in two days the potential alcohol of grapes can skyrocket. Regardless of our best intentions Mother Nature gave us a wine of 15.3% alcohol. Is that bad? You decide. Harvesting two days later has given us a wine that still possesses the aromas and flavors of that vineyard site, only in a plusher kind of way. This wine might not fit the ideal I have in my head, but it is delicious and generous and enjoyable to drink–plenty of people will prefer it over the more subtle Bien Nacido. I guess what I am trying to say is that I’m not an absolutist, an extremist. I like what natural processes bring, and am reluctant to synthetically modify what nature has given

-Adam Tolmach
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