Saturday, April 19, 2008

Varner tasting at K&L

In 1980, twin brothers Jim and Bob Varner began planting the Spring Ridge Vineyard in Portola Valley. They began with Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer (the latter fruit being sold mainly to Bargetto), both planted on their own rootstock. Further blocks were added over the years with cuttings taken from the original vineyard; some grafted, others own-rooted, as well as some Pinot Noir. In 2006 the Gewurztraminer was grafted over to Pinot Noir clone 777, effectively giving 25 year old vines. The anachronism of a recently isolated clone on older stock seems to please the Varners. They don't believe in using pesticides other than sulphur to control mildew; they control bunch rot by canopy management and careful sorting.

Varner doesn't have a tasting room and they are not members of the SCMWA, so opportunities to taste the wines before purchase are rare and not to be missed.

2007 Foxglove Chardonnay. Foxglove is the second label of Varner and is made with purchased fruit. Previous vintages were sourced from Edna Valley; for 2007 they have added a second source, the "Blind Faith" vineyard in Paso Robles. Consequently the wine now carries the San Luis Obispo County designation, with the vineyard percentages listed on the rear. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak, giving a lovely fruity wine with a crisp finish, probably the best vintage of this wine so far. Highly recommended at $11-$13

Varner harvest, vinify and bottle the various Chardonnay blocks separately, but the grapes are all treated pretty much the same. Because of this the subtle differences between the microclimates are magnified and the three wines show distinct differences.

2006 Ampitheater Block Chardonnay is very lemony and dry. $35

2006 Home Block Chardonnay is richer, with good minerality. $37

2006 Bee Block Chardonnay is smooth and creamy, with the oak a little more evident. $37 Of the three I preferred the Bee block. Overall they seem to lack some of the intensity of the previous two vintages, but are still very good wines.

2005 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Chardonnay The Varners also make a wine that's a blend of the three blocks and is named in honour of the owner of the property, Dr. Kirk Neely and his wife Holly. I was a big fan of the 2004 vintage and am finding it difficult to keep my hands off my remaining bottles to see how well it ages. The 2005 seems lighter than the 2004; still showing the same lemon and minerality that I expected. Also the oak was less pronounced. $35

2005 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Pinot Noir The first Neely labelled Pinot Noir, and the first time I've tried any of the Varner pinots. The colour is rather pale and the nose faint, not giving much up. On the palate the wine is at first chalky; the fruit slowly builds showing rich cherry notes. On the finish there's a slight bitterness that I hope will fade in time. $39