When I started this blog, and the accompanying website documenting the local wineriers and vineyards, it was partly in response to the changes in the industry. Many of the area's top vintners have retired or are retiring, with a new generation taking over. Nowhere is this transition more evident than at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards.
Under its founder Ken Burnap, SCMV established a reputation for long-lived Pinot Noirs and Cabernets. In their youth they could be harsh, tannic and acidic, but with 10, 20 or even 30+ years in the cellar they would evolve into something special.
Since taking over, new owner Jeff Emery has made two significant changes. The first is a slight stylistic change; the latest vintages are made to be approachable earlier, although still with sufficient structure to merit further ageing. A good example of this is the 2005 McDowell Valley Vineyard Durif, from Mendocino County. Durif, also known as Petite Sirah, is notorious for producing tough, tannic wines that can take years to mature. However this wine has a great nose of Ribena (a blackcurrant cordial) and a fruity flavour with remarkably soft tannins.
The second, and more obvious change is the launch of the winery's sister label. Named Quinta Cruz (Quinta being a Portuguese term applied to a farm, estate or vineyard) it focuses on Iberian varietals, primarily being sourced from the Pierce Ranch vineyard in the San Antonio Valley AVA.
The first wine from the range to be launched is a 2005 Tempranillo (aka Tinta Roriz). It will be followed by a Graciano from Lodi as well as blends entitled Concertina (Touriga Racional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao) and Touriga (Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesca). As with the Durif, they are all made in a more approachable style but can certainly benefit from ageing. Unusually for SCMW, the range also includes a white wine, a Verdehlo.
The standout in the range, though, is a port-style wine called Rabelo, named after the flat-bottomed boats that traditionally used to carry barrels on the Douro river. The wine is unusual - possibly unique - in that it's a true single vineyard, single vintage port. A portion of the Tinta Roriz grapes are harvested at 17-18 brix, quickly fermented and then distilled by local producer Osocalis to produce the aguardente (in this case, alambic brandy). The remainder of the grapes are harvested when ripe (not over-ripe, as so often happens elsewhere) and fermented, with the fermentation being stopped by the addition of the spirit. The resulting wine is aged for three years in oak prior to bottling. The result is a sweet, light coloured LBV style port that's simply delicious.
In other news, SCMV assistant winemaker Denis Hoey's fledgling Dragonfly Cellars label is going to be relaunched; it appears that a winery in Napa already holds a trademark on the name. The new brand has yet to be confirmed, but will take effect with the 2007 vintage. In the meantime the 2006 vintage, a Malbec and a Durif, are currently in the marketplace.