People often ask me during Harvest something to the effect of "how are things looking this year?" Without fail, I find myself overwhelmed by the question, and perhaps come across a bit amateurish for the inability to find an adequate response.
What a lot of people might not realize is that even for small producers, a vintage consists of 10, 20, 50, or more lots of wine that are all being treated independently of one another. These lots are all developing over time separately and nothing is a sealed deal until the cork is in the bottle, and even then things will change. The result is an incredibly complex tapestry that cannot be justified by generalizations. This is the reason that the question about how things are looking never has a short answer, even when things are indeed looking very good.
Luckily, as winemakers, we have the luxury of making educated guesses based on trends that we have seen over the years. Now that all lots of wine from 2020 are pressed and undergoing malolactic fermentation (or completely through with it), I would like to provide you with a little insight as to how the season unfolded and what you may expect from this vintage.
First off, let's talk about what Mother Nature dealt us.
Apropos to the year 2020, there were plenty of curveballs that kept us on our toes. Some of the most notable weather traits preceding and during Harvest were extreme heat spells. A fairly mild summer came to a screeching halt around mid-August when warm tropical air pushed over the Central Coast on several different occasions. For the critical point of the growing season triple digits were commonplace. Through most of the estate this sped up the ripening process by rising sugar levels and conversely lowering acid levels. Harvest officially began with the first pick of Tempranillo and Viognier on September 14, which was five days ahead of 2019 and two days behind 2018.
With regard to the heat, certain varietals fared better than others, but at Caliza we were reminded of why Syrah is our star-child. It seems as if the heat benefited most Syrah clones as these lots came into the winery with unprecedented depth of color and ripeness. Overall, the heavier varietals tended to follow this trend whereas the lighter varietals were driven more towards bright characteristics and were picked at slightly lower than average sugar levels. For this reason, I predict 2020 to be somewhat of a hybrid of 2017 (which saw brighter, redder characteristics throughout) and 2018 (which was classic Paso dark). This could serve to broaden the palette of colors we have to choose from as we begin blending in April, thus opening the door for more complex and well-rounded wines.
Aside from the heat, like most of the West Coast, Paso was tortured by terrible air quality as a result of the devastating wildfire season in California. This brings up significant concerns related to "smoke taint," a term that describes smoky flavor permeating grape skins and making itself perceptible in the resulting wine. In Paso, we have to count our blessings being situated where we are. Though some wildfires raged within 100 miles of us, the level of devastation experienced in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties is near incomprehensible to us who stayed relatively out of harm's way. Smoke taint seems unlikely for Caliza, although there is no way to know until the wines have spent some time in the barrel. Regardless, I remind myself constantly to be thankful that the things endured up North were not thrown upon us as well.
As for how things played out in the cellar-- and this is where it gets good-- I have to say 2020 Harvest was markedly different from past ones for a few reasons.
First and foremost, at Caliza our winemaking team has consisted of myself, Carl, and Andy for four years in a row. The benefits of working with the same team year after year are self-evident, and there is an undeniable "flow" that emerges as multiple seasons are spent together. Aside from familiarity, we also have had the luxury of being the sole occupants of our current winemaking facility for the second year in a row. For this reason, we made significant improvements within the winery over the summer in order to maximize efficiency during the busy months. One such improvement was an increased number of tanks. This allowed us to ferment bigger lots together as well as give us more control over the fermentation process itself. Another improvement was utilizing an outdoor crush pad for all destemming and processing. This helped maximize indoor space, therefore cutting back on multiple hours per day that in previous vintages were spent shuffling around fermenters and equipment. On top of all these improvements, we had slightly lower yields than in past vintages, which made the bulk of the work a little more manageable.
When you put together all these changes, the result is a significant reduction in what I like to call "frantic moments." Anybody who has worked a Harvest knows what I'm talking about. At some point during our busy season there are bound to be times when one or all of us loses our wits and makes poor decisions, becomes overwhelmed by the number of tasks to be done, or simply succumbs to sleep deprivation. In my short tenure in this profession, I have realized that a big part of doing a good job is staying in control and avoiding mistakes.
For me, 2020 was a vintage marked by many challenges all being met with precision and tact. Throughout Harvest, the cellar was a relatively calm and organized environment where all of us were able to act rationally instead of rashly. For this reason, I think as a team we have come closer to achieving what we hope to achieve than ever before. Early on, the wines from this year are showing a lot of promise. As mentioned before, I am especially excited to see what happens with our Syrah, and I feel confident that there will be another Reserve in 2020. Also, I think our team will be pleased with the amount of variety and breadth of spectrum to choose from during the blending process. All in all, I think that 2020 will have some redemption for us in three years when the wines are ready to drink. Cheers!
Hello all, for those of you who haven't met me, I am Tyler and I have been a member of the team at Caliza since August of 2017. I have been working full time here since January of 2019, and you may have run into me in the tasting room or at one of our events over the last couple of years. You also may have run into me at Il Cortile, which up until the middle of March, was my second job.
When crisis strikes, no amount of worrying will make our problems wash away. The world continues to spin, indifferently. COVID-19 has come in like a hard frost and taken with it all sense of stability and certainty that we once shared. Out of necessity, it has been my crusade to look at the silver linings in this whole situation. In my search, I have found a few that I would like to share with you.
As inviting as it sounds to continue working two jobs forever, it is my intention, rather, to build a career solely out of winemaking. This is why I am living on the Central Coast. One area in which COVID-19 has benefitted me is the luxury of having only one job, and lucky for me, it is the one that entertains my future. There is a lot of well documented evidence (and overall common sense) that dictates when you spread yourself too thin, you are not as effective in any given area. Just like a vine that is pumping out too many clusters of flavorless fruit, people cannot effectively handle too many things at once. I have been this vine, recently, and whomever is tending to the universal vineyard has come and snipped off my extra clusters, thinned my extra shoots. The fruit of my labor is now that dark, concentrated Willow Creek delight. In the past month, I have been able to better focus on my work at Caliza, including the mind-numbing tast of bottling and waxing most of the 2018 vintage wines. Regardless of the task, I have enjoyed my work thoroughly. I have taken my boots off at home instead of in my car. I have cooked many meals. I am growing tomatoes at home.
As mentioned before, no matter what happens to the human condition in the coming months, our ecosystem will continue to operate as an independent entity. In Nature, we can find solace. As farmers first, our team is constantly looking to Mother Nature for provisions. Another positive in our current climate is that we have started the growing season in good stride. Right now, Paso Robles is abound with Spring Beauty. I am writing this from our tasting room and there is a wash of green morning light pouring in through the doors. Miracle rains in March (and the first half of April) left us with some much needed moisture and postponed what likely would have been an early budbreak following the warm start to 2020. Despite crisis, we finished pruning and mowing throughout the estate. Also, after many frigid Fall and Winter mornings, we haven't seen any worrisome sub-freezing temperatures since budbreak. Although you never know how the season will unfold, as of now, it looks sublime.
It is an old cliche that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It has certainly felt like that here at Caliza. In the last month and a half, our small team has rallied to think of new and innovating ways to keep the ball rolling. My last bit of optimism surrounding COVID-19 is that humanity always pulls through. For all of you out there reading this, above all, stay safe. When the chaos of crisis dissipates, rest assured we will once again meet face to face and raise a glass!
Getting stir crazy during this pandemic? Looking for a precipitous evening filled with thrills and chills as well as good wine and food? In an effort to engage our loyal customers and continue to sell wine, we are offering an exciting dine-in experience by pairing a movie, a Caliza wine and a dish crafted by our very own Winemaking Team Associate, Tyler. This week we are Pairing the smoky, meaty, savory 2016 Caliza Syrah with some grilled lamb lollipops, leeks, and a fava puree. The movie to go with it is... you guessed it! Silence of the Lambs.
Make sure to post pictures to Instagram and tag #calizawinery.
The Wine: 2016 Syrah
Glass-coating layers of brilliant magenta and sexy violet segue to an explosion of dried blueberries, freshly baked berry cobbler, grilled meats and bouquet of dried herbs jump from the glass. This is another rich and powerful Caliza Syrah for sure with firm yet approachable tannins and long lingering presence on the palate. In Carl's optinion, the 2016 is a "homerun" that can be enjoyed now or cellared for over a decade.
*Doce members receive complimentary shipping on any order 6+ bottles
*promo available on new orders of any 750mL bottle and valid until April 30th, 2020
The Movie: Silence Of The Lambs
Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI's training academy. Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.
*movie not suitable for children, make this an adult only movie night!
Rent this movie on Amazon Prime here: The Silence Of The Lambs
The Dinner: Grilled Rack of Lamb with Spring Garlic and Fava Bean Puree
Recipe feeds 2-3 people
1 full Rack of Lamb
4 Medium-Sized leeks
1 cup Fava Beans Shelled
1 tablespoon Fresh Chopped Chives
Two Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
One Knob Unsalted Butter
1) Heat grill to 400
2) Separate each lamb lollipop with a knife. Lightly brush both sides with olive oil and add salt, pepper, and thyme. Set aside.
3) Cut green tops off of leeks, rinse and brush with olive oil. Wrap in aluminum foil to make a “pocket”. Place in a covered grill for 25 minutes on the upper rack.
4) Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil. Once boiling, quickly blanch favas for 1-2 minutes. Drain and puree. Add a little bit of water until the consistency is smooth but not runny. Add a squeeze of lemon and salt to taste.
5) As leeks near completion, check to make sure it is tender and can be punctured easily with a fork. If not, cover the grill and continue cooking until soft. Once done, melt a knob of butter over the leeks, add a dash of salt and pepper.
6) Place lamb on the grill uncovered. Cook on each side for about two minutes or until desired doneness is achieved.
7) Using a spoon, spread fava puree on the bottom of the plate in an artistic fashion. Place down 1-2 leeks per plate and 3-4 lamb lollipops on top. Add a squeeze of lemon and garnish with fresh chives.
Note: This is a very seasonally inspired dish. If possible, visit your local farmers market for f f f f favas and leeks.
The Caliza Team