Upper Ojai, Ventura County
What a knockout wine this is! I’ve been making Roll Ranch viognier since 1995, and this 2016 might be my favorite bottling yet. It’s powerfully flavored and textured, yet oh so balanced. The smell from the barrel during fermentation was just fantastic, so I knew we had captured something special. Now, right out of the gate this viognier is gushing with aromas of stone fruits, honey and orange blossom—a good prelude to a wine that’s intensely flavored too.
On the palate this wine is all about swaggering texture: it swells with voluptuous white peach and honeydew flavors, expanding toward where other viogniers become too much, but then pulls back into a bright finish full of citrus zest, ginger and minerals. There’s lots of flavor and mouthfeel, but in a dynamic and tense kind of way—pretty showy stuff!
Now that the vines at Roll Ranch are over twenty years old, it’s become easier to find balance between ripeness and freshness. But there’s lots in this wine that owes thanks to the special 2016 vintage. A welcome switch to a coastal weather pattern gave us foggy mornings in Ojai even in the throes of summer, when the afternoons became hot. So, this 2016 Roll Ranch viognier balances richness and snappiness with tightrope drama that is appealing already. Enjoy it now or after several years; our viognier ages beautifully.
Blend: 100% Viognier | Alc: %13.5 | Vinification: Barrel Fermented in Neutral French Oak | Barrel Aging: 11 Months | Total Production : 180 cases
Roll Ranch is located under the dramatic striated bluffs of Topa Topa mountain in Upper Ojai, and the roots of our vines there plunge deep into poor rocky soil that was once part of those bluffs. It’s a warm generous climate and the wines from this site are gutsy.
Our history with Roll Ranch goes back to 1992, when Suzanne and Richard Roll’s ranch manager Larry Finkle approached me for advice about planting a vineyard at their place in Upper Ojai. Suzanne was just launching her eponymous restaurant in downtown Ojai, and they had the momentum to get several acres under vine too. They wanted to plant some Chardonnay and Cabernet Aauvignon because, well, that’s what most people want to plant. I told them Syrah and Viognier would be better choices for our climate, and so Richard bought a bottle of Guigal’s famous Coté Rotie called La Moline, which is made from Syrah and a dollop of Viognier in the northern Rhone. He tried the wine and thought if I could make something like that it would be okay, so we planted five acres of syrah and two of viognier (all own-rooted) and harvested the first crop in 1995.
What’s unusual and consistent over the years with Roll Ranch is that the fruit there retains acidity remarkably well for a warm climate vineyard. Warm sites tend to give grapes with lots of sugar and too little acidity, which often means overstuffed and sweet flavored wines. I’m not sure if there’s some soil voodoo to thank, or the magical abilities of vineyard manager Martin Ramirez (who planted Roll Ranch with Larry and has farmed it since), but some combination of factors has contributed to what seems to be an inherent balance to this site.
No doubt though, there used to be a real Californian exuberance to Roll Ranch wines. In the early years, many Roll Ranch Syrahs were big bruisers with over 15% alcohol, and the viognier was often so unctuously ripe that I would only make dessert wine with it. After a while I felt the over-ripeness presented a problem: our wines from the Ojai Valley were so saturating you would only want to drink them on cold rainy winter nights, and we rarely have them in our warm climate!
So, over the years we’ve tinkered in the vineyard and the cellar to temper some of that opulence. We’re fermenting the Syrah fundamentally differently than our cool climate sites now. And these days we’re finding no shortage of flavor when harvesting a bit earlier. The wines are better for it actually (when a wine has so much to say it does not need to yell!). They are fresher with more cut and intricacy than ever. Making wine from Roll Ranch has been a 20-year evolution; learning to listen to what a vineyard has to say and trying to capture its spirit is a slow process!
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
“The 2016 Viognier Roll Ranch is a beautiful wine, wafting from the glass with an understated bouquet of peach, apricot and white flowers. On the palate, it’s medium to full-bodied, with nice juicy acidity and tension at the core, and a long, vibrant and perfumed finish. While this certainly possesses a texture and perfume that are unmistakably Viognier, it’s a comparatively delicate, refreshing interpretation of the variety—in terms that Northern Rhône lovers will understand, more Perret than Cuilleron. Enjoy it over the next five to six years. 2018-2023”- William Kelley 92 Points
Antonio Galloni’s VINOUS
“The 2016 Viognier Roll Ranch is classy, understated and polished, with striking aromatics and lovely texture. Jasmine, mint, apricot and scented citrus notes abound in this gracious, understated wine.” 2018-2022 90 Points