5 Course Dinner on April 23rd created by Rachel Main at the Ventura Museum
Josh Raynolds reviews the 2011/2012 vintage
Reviews from Robert Parkers's Wine Advocate
Antonio Galloni's july 2013 Reviews
of The Ojai Vineyard
Delicious with no added sulfites!
2012 Syrah 50% Grenache 50% John Sebastiano Vineyard
Santa Barbara County
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What an amazing aroma this wine possesses! It’s full of peppery spice and crushed raspberries and it’s alive and exciting. The flavors are as compelling, showing off a concentrated fruitiness balanced by peppery tartness and the most beguiling silky texture.
The experiment we began in 2011 continues with this offering of 2012 Syrah 50% Grenache 50% from the new John Sebastiano Vineyard located on the eastern edge of the cool Santa Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County. Please see my notes from last year (scroll down), but in a nutshell here is the deal:
We use sulfites in our wines sparingly. It’s traditionally added to avoid having wine turn into vinegar and in small quantities sulfites seem to preserve perfume and freshness, while larger amounts make wines more brittle, hard and rubbery. We were intrigued by a delicious sulfite free wine that a former employee (Sashi Moorman) made, and thought it would be a fun challenge to try making one ourselves. Our first effort was in 2011 when we made a lively syrah with a particularly easygoing texture—which we attributed to the lack of added sulfites. So in 2012 we tried again with a syrah/grenache blend and liked the results every bit as much. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed! A scant 85 cases of this wine were made.
Adam’s note on sulfites:
In recent years it’s become quite fashionable for savvy consumers to make a point of seeking out “all natural” products – and who can blame them? The big food corporations won’t stop at anything to shave off a few pennies of cost to augment their bottom line. Just read the headlines about the Subway chain using dough conditioners in their bread that are also used to making rubber yoga mats—yum, yum! And did you know that if an ingredient list states “natural vanilla flavor” instead of “vanilla” there probably isn’t a single drop of vanilla from an actual vanilla bean contained within? Instead, the “natural vanilla flavor” was most likely synthesized from wood pulp. So, you can’t be too careful choosing what to eat and drink—deception is the norm, so buyer beware. In my work as a winemaker, I struggle with these same issues every day, working diligently to make sure the wine we produce is free from impurities. But this subject invites the discussion of a controversial topic that some folks consider to be unnatural and potentially harmful: the use of sulfites.
In ancient times, vintners noticed that aging their wines in used barrels sometimes caused them to spoil. Residue of wine in the cracks and pores of the wood turned to vinegar quickly in the presence of air, and this infected the new wine. After much trial and error, someone figured out that by simply burning a chunk of elemental sulfur in a barrel that had been used kept it “sweet” – in other words, any remnants from the previous vintage were “preserved” and the new wine was left unharmed. The science behind this is actually rather simple: burning sulfur in the open air creates sulfur dioxide (i.e. sulfites) which is now understood to effectively control vinegar bacteria. Additionally, when wine is put into a recently sulfured barrel it can pick up 20 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites and this not only staves off vinegar but also helps to preserve freshness and color. Today we do the same thing—either burning sulfur wicks in barrels or using carefully measured amounts of sulfur dioxide gas to prevent empty barrels from going sour.
In the 1970’s it became popular in America to use excessive amounts of sulfites in salads sold at fast food restaurants. It was spellbinding to watch as the sulfites did their job, instantaneously turning wilted brown iceberg lettuce into something “fresh” looking. Poorly trained workers unfortunately used way too much of the stuff, sprinkling hundreds of parts per million of sulfites over produce that was already well past its prime. Not surprisingly, some diners developed horrible allergic reactions to such massive doses of this preservative – thus ruining the reputation of a useful winemaking compound in the process.
In my quest of crafting fine wine I have found that sulfites are helpful, but not necessarily wonderful. Sure, one must protect good wine from turning into vinegar but in general I’m of the opinion that sulfites damage a wine’s overall quality if used in anything but tiny quantities. Large amounts can block the maturation and aging of wine in the barrel, potentially leading to a bitter and hard taste. As such, our long-standing policy here at The Ojai Vineyard has been to use shockingly small amounts of sulfites in everything we produce. With a little extra planning and careful attention to detail we’ve managed to avoid any major disasters in the cellar and I believe our wines have benefited from this cautious approach.
So why make a sulfite free wine? It began as a challenge to see if it was possible to make a decent wine without sulfites, but we quickly realized since we had always used them there was a lot we didn’t know about how sulfites affect the character of wine in both aroma and flavor. The experiment showed us that even small amounts of sulfites dramatically affect the texture of wine, and it also opened up the discussion of whether we can use even less without ill effects. The objective here at The Ojai Vineyard is to keep an open mind and strive to continually improve our craft so in 2012 we began adding 60% less sulfites prior to fermentation of all of our wines and so far it has been a success.
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