A BIG WINE FROM A TINY VINEYARD

One of my favorite views in the Santa Ynez Valley is from Calzada Ridge, looking down on rolling hills dotted with horses, deer, hawks, bunnies and wildflowers. There’s one thing that tops the view – a poolside evening atop this ridge drinking Calzada Ridge Viognier from Richard Harris’s hand-tended single-acre vineyard served with his wife Pamela’s gourmet cuisine.

Entering the Harrises’ home there is so much to appeal to the eye, from the décor to the views, that you need to take a second and third walk around to take it all in – and that’s without going to the den where Richard’s Emmy and Oscar awards reside (he was film editor for “Titanic” and “Terminator 2”). On this visit, I did ask about the harp in the front room and learned that Pamela is a semi-professional harpist. “I grew up with a musical background, including church choir, studying harp for four years, and recording with a girls ‘folk rock group’ for Warner Brothers records,” Pamela explains. “After the circus (a great topic for another day) and movie business intervened (Pamela was one of the first women visual effects producers for such films as Cliffhanger), music was temporarily put onto the shelf until moving to Santa Ynez.”

After hors d'oeuvres of sundried tomato, artichoke and feta cheese tapenade, sweet and spicy Spanish almonds, and hummus served on the patio with E. Guigal Rhone blend Rose, we walked the vineyard, where even the grape vines have a great view. As we toured the vines it was remarkable how they were so well pruned that not a single errant shoot could be found below the midpoint of the trellises, such that each vine’s energy focuses on the grape and flavor intensity builds. The grape clusters were so even in size and maturity, due to careful pruning and crop dropping. This isn’t surprising, given that vineyard experts have praised this vineyard’s balance.

The 2005 Calzada Ridge Viognier was served with Pamela’s Moroccan feast of pan-fried quail with ginger and grapes, couscous with zucchini, lemon and mint, and slow-roasted tomato with cinnamon and saffron. The richness of the wine’s ripe pear, flint, white pepper and white flower aroma reflected last year’s excellent growing season and the increased maturity of the grapevines. Flavors of gooseberry, sweet grapefruit, pineapple, melon, lemon grass and cardamom – sustained by the structure of the wine’s crisp acidity and minerality (not easy to develop in Viognier) – lingered on the palate. An overall crispness, fresh and racy, finishes long and rich in this mouth-coating Viognier with the acidity that will allow it to hold up well with bottle age.

Over a dessert of apricot parcels with honey glaze accompanied by 2005 Late Harvest Viognier, Richard and I discussed how Andrew Murray, his winemaker, developed a “special affinity” for Viognier and Rhone wines. “He loves the region and when he started his winery twelve years ago, he chose the Rhones as his focus,” Richard says. “He strives to let the special nature of each vineyard and its terroir speak, and thus every lot he produces evolves into its own unique personality. While he has continued to expand his repertoire of wines, Viognier will always be like a first love.”

In crafting the Harvest Viognier, Murray used no added yeast, but rather he allowed for natural fermentation from the old French barrels after settling the wine in stainless steel tanks. No chemicals, other than anti-oxidants, were used and the wine was never racked or manipulated. It was filtered only once en route to the bottling line where it was poured gently by gravity.

Calzada Ridge Viognier retails for $30 (only the 2005 vintage is currently available). Restaurants pouring the wine include Elements and The Ballard Inn. Only 100 cases of Richard’s hand-tended Viognier are made each year.

You can contact the Harrises for wine or harp at their e-mail, wine@calzadaridge.com. Also visit their website to read more about their Viognier: www.calzadaridge.com

Sip Tip

This week’s great value wine comes from Tolosa Winery. Winemaker Larry Brooks selects a cross-section of Pinot Noir grapes from his coastal-influenced Central Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) in San Luis Obispo for just the right blend. He hit his mark with the 2005 Tolosa Central Coast Pinot Noir ($18) as it shows intense floral aroma, right red-berry fruit, citrus peel and even some cardamom spice that enticed me to pair it with curry – it worked!