Welcome to the 2008 Fall release from Rhys Vineyards!
This release features four estate grown wines from the beautiful and balanced 2006 vintage.
The 2006 vintage in California was unusual. The spring was quite wet well into June and after the paltry production of 2005, the repressed grapevines exploded with an enormous crop. When the rain finally stopped, July was hot and served to help the vines catch up from a cool and wet spring. As it often happens, the quality of the vintage was driven by the weather in August and September which remained quite mild. This long cool spell allowed the grapes to ripen evenly and preserve the freshness and unique vineyard expression that we prize.
The combination of a large crop and water availability demanded a lot of diligence and we eliminated over ½ of the production in our more vigorous sites. Even with these efforts, our Family Farm vineyard still produced fruit that lacked the concentration that we require for Rhys vineyard designation. Meanwhile the excellent flowering conditions were a real boon for our low-yielding Alpine Vineyard. This rocky and well drained site always makes powerful wines and the added grace of the 2006 vintage helped Alpine produce our very finest Pinot Noirs to date. The disparate and contrasting effect the 2006 vintage had on these two vineyards is a great example of the inadequacy of vintage generalities.
Now that the wines are in bottle, it is clear that many 2006 Pinots are beautiful, balanced middleweights. In general, they will appeal to those that love Pinot Noir for its delicacy, grace and complexity rather than its sheer power. That said, even in this middleweight vintage, our trio of 2006 Alpine Pinots are quite intense and energetic.
Alpine Vineyard is a real labor of love. Planting its steep and rocky slopes was enormously difficult and expensive. Looking back 8 years later, it is clear that attempting such a task was incredibly naïve. The costs were 3 to 4 times more than planting a typical valley floor vineyard while the production (which averages an uneconomic 1.25 tons per acre) is only 40% to 50% of a typical high-end Pinot vineyard. This financial equation is ugly enough to make a winery accountant call in sick, but we would do it all over again without any hesitation. The reason for our enthusiasm is that Alpine Vineyard accomplishes something that we only hoped and dreamed of when Rhys began. Alpine Vineyard produces wines that are extremely complex, complete and ageworthy and most importantly they taste like nothing else in the world. We believe that this sort of “sense of place” is what causes the world’s most thrilling wines to rise above the ocean of good but undistinguished bottles. It seems that others share our enthusiasm and the Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer recently declared that the 2006 Alpine Swan Terrace Pinot Noir is “one of the most site-magnified American Pinot Noirs I’ve yet experienced.”
In both Pinot and Chardonnay, Alpine Vineyard expresses itself with power, richness and generosity allayed with a distinctive crushed rock complexity and finesse. The wines are quite structured and ageworthy and with cellar time the powerful fruit will step aside and allow the unique complexity to take center stage.
A word on winemaking
We don’t talk much about winemaking in our newsletters, but it is important to explain a few aspects that are particularly pertinent to the bottles in this release. Each of our estate vineyards is organized around ½ acre blocks. These small parcels are picked and fermented separately in small tanks. Managing up to 80 simultaneous fermentations is an enormous task for Rhys winemaker Jeff Brinkman, but it has a number of important benefits. First, we believe that minimally altering the natural product of the vineyard is the key to capturing vineyard expression and these numerous small lots provide a terrific blending palette. By picking and choosing specific barrels for the vineyard designated blend, we can achieve the goals of balance and completeness without needing to modify or inhibit the vineyard’s natural expression. Additionally, micro-vinifying these small parcels helps us identify some of the most special and unique locations within the vineyard. In 2006, this effort resulted in 3 different Pinot Noirs from our Alpine Vineyard. In addition to the Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir that is featured in this offering, we have bottled Alpine Swan Terrace and Alpine Hillside Pinot Noirs for Spring 2009 release. Each of these wines offers a very different facet of this distinctive vineyard and we hope you enjoy exploring them.
Home and Family Farm Vineyards
These two vineyards are located on the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Since both are about 200 feet below the demarcation of the official Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, we use the seldom seen “San Mateo County” designation for these wines. The wines do not understand these legal boundaries and they are clearly Santa Cruz Mountain wines in character if not legal designation. Unlike the ocean facing Alpine Vineyard, the Eastern side of the mountains produced delicate and elegant wines in 2006.
At Rhys we are extremely focused on attaining the very highest quality possible for our vineyard designated wines. In 2006 we felt that the Family Farm Vineyard did not quite meet our goals so we declassified the entire production as “Alesia San Mateo County Pinot Noir”. While we think this elegant wine is quite good, we hope that you will see this designation (and resulting excellent pricing) as an example of our extreme commitment to quality at Rhys.
The wines in this release:
2006 Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir
This wine offers an extremely complex nose of finely crushed rock, iron, lanolin and black and red fruits. There is particularly rich and generous sappy black raspberry fruit on the palate that is perfectly ripe, broad and lithe at the same time. It offers excellent balance with a long, structured and distinctly chalky rock finish. This will have a long and positive evolution in the bottle. The intense fruit makes this wine delicious today but it will offer much more with some time in the cellar.
2006 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay
The overwhelming popularity of Alpine Chardonnay has been very gratifying and we are fortunate that 2006 gave us over 100 cases to offer in this release. Despite the higher yield, we must apologize as the quantity is still too low to offer to all of our customers. This wine is characterized by a crushed rock, rainwater and lemon cream nose. This is our most poised and balanced Chardonnay to date but it is deceptively powerful as well. The finish offers outstanding, lingering richness and complexity. While it is very appealing today, we hope that you will age a bottle or two of this wine as it will improve a great deal with time.
2006 Rhys Home Vineyard Pinot Noir
As usual, our Home Vineyard only produced a single barrel of elegant Pinot Noir in 2006. As such, we must apologize for the extremely limited availability. This wine exhibits a soaring floral (roses) and complex mineral driven nose along with medium-bodied red fruit and an extremely silky texture. This expresses the elegance of the vintage combined with sneaky length, beautiful balance and considerable mineral and forest floor complexity.
2006 Alesia San Mateo County Pinot Noir
This wine is made entirely from Pinot Noir from our Rhys Family Farm Vineyard. Although this wine is quite pretty, at bottling we felt that it didn’t quite achieve the concentration and depth for Rhys vineyard designation. Many people have told us that this was a mistake as they find this wine to be very tasty. However, we would much rather positively surprise our customers and we have no regrets about the decision. This wine is characterized by a spicy nose of earth, forest floor and red fruit. The palate has a very nicely balanced, light to medium bodied earthy sweet cherry fruit with a very silky texture and acidity that will complement a wide range of food. At $29 per bottle including shipping, lovers of elegant California Pinot Noir will find this a compelling value. It is the first wine that we can offer without any allocation limitations.
Coming next Spring
2006 Rhys Swan Terrace (Alpine) Pinot Noir
2006 Rhys Alpine Hillside Pinot Noir
2006 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2006 Alesia Chileno Valley Pinot Noir
The entire Rhys Team