Natural wines from California and Oregon
An interesting tasting of some eclectic, naturally made bottles from the west coast

This was an interesting tasting. An eclectic set of wines from California and Oregon, all of which would fall under the rather loose banner of natural. This selection was put together by Alice Feiring, and she chose well. 

Clos Saron: a small vineyard in the Sierra Nevada foothills with interesting soils. High planting density modelled on Burgundy, with organic farming (just a coupe of sulfur sprays a season). Natural winemaking with no sulfur dioxide until bottling. The home vineyard makes Pinot Noir. These special cuvees come from bought in grapes.

Clos Saron Carte Blanche 2011 California
Organically grown Albarino/Verdelho/Chardonnay/Petit Manseng, sourced in Lodi and south of Marysville. This is the first release. Nutty, textured and rounded with rich, mineral pear fruit. Tangy with real interest, and a lovely fruit presence. 93/100

Clos Saron Heart of Stone Syrah 2006 California
Savoury, tangy, spicy and mineral. Ripe and a bit reductive with smoothness and firm tannins. Grippy, but showing real interest in a ripe style. 91/100

Clos Saron Stone Soup 2009 California
First release of a Syrah from a vineyard a mile away from the home vineyard. Savoury, slightly reductive mineral black fruit nose. Ripe, dense and lovely with fresh plum and blackberry fruit, together with earthy, savoury, mineral depth.  Grippy finish.92/100

La Clarine Farm:  four hectares of vines in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Winemaking is natural: no new oak, added yeasts, added sulfur dioxide (save for a little at bottling). Owners Hank Beckmeyer and Caroline Hoel started La Clarine Farm in 2001. Initially they ran the vineyards biodynamically, but have since become more influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka's work, and in four years they have had to spray just once, with sulfur. The vineyard is a field blend including Tempranillo, Syrah, Tannat, Grenache, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also buy in some grapes from vineyards they really like.

La Clarine Farm Syrah 'Sumu Kaw' 2010 California
From the Sumu Kaw vineyard in El Dorado county's Pleasant Valley. Whole cluster. Lovely aromatic black cherry and blackberry fruit: pure and lush. Sweetly seductive with some black cherry notes and real elegance. It flirts with jamminess but gets away with it because it is just so pure and elegant. 93/100

La Clarine Farm Home Vineyard 2010 California
A difficult vintage resulted in a production of just 192 bottles. Lots of different red varieties including Tempranillo and Tannat. Nice savoury edge to the pure, sweet black fruit. Lovely purity on the palate with sweet black fruits and nice spicy depth.  So vivid and elegant; intense and grippy too, at the same time. 94/100

Scholium Project: Abe Schoener, an ex-college philosophy teacher, now makes natural wines from select vineyards. He has a PhD in ancient greek philosophy, and takes an unconventional approach in the winery, with a focus on maintaining a diverse microbial ecology.

Scholium Project Prince in His Caves 2006
A Sauvignon Blanc. Orange colour. Perfumed, pretty and ripe. Smooth textured with notes of apricot and honey. Sweet and ripe yet tangy with power, but also lots of detail and interest. 94/100

Arnot Roberts Syrah 2010 North Coast, California
11.9% alcohol. Deep coloured, with a vivid, fresh, spicy, savoury nose. The palate is fresh with ripe berry and cherry fruit, as well as some peppery freshness, and reductive savoury notes. Sweet, pure, fully ripe yet grippy: a lovely Syrah. 94/100

A Tribute To Grace Wine Company: Kiwi Angela Osborne makes wines solely from Grenache; Grace is her grandmother's name.

A Tribute to Grace Grenache 2010 Santa Barbara, California
14.4% alcohol. Half whole bunch. Pale colour. Sweet and smooth textured with some ripeness but also a lovely savoury, grainy tannic structure. Smooth with a seductive mouthfeel. Real intensity here. 93/100

Martian Ranch and Vineyard: a vineyard in Los Alamos, farmed biodynamically. It's rather strangely named, but the Martian is actually a combination of the names of owner Nan Helgeland's sons Martin and Ian. Natural winemaking with just a bit of sulfur dioxide added at bottling.

Martian Ranch and Vineyard Ground Control Grenache Noir 2011 Santa Barbara County, California
Smooth, supple, elegant and fresh with sweet, textured cherry and plum fruit. Pure and beguiling with lovely seamless, smooth tannins. 94/100

Martian Ranch and Vineyard Red Shift 2011 California
40% each of Grenache Noir and Mourvedre with 20% Grenache Blanc. Tangy and a bit zippy with fresh, smooth, sweet black cherry fruit.  Ripe and sweet but quite elegant with nice fruit and lovely purity, in a sweet style. 92/100

Martian Ranch and Winery Mothership Grenache Blanc 2011 California
Lovely rich textured ripe peach, pear and melon notes, with some spice and pepper notes. Sweet but fresh with a lively, precise finish. 92/100

The Eyrie Vineyards and Black Cap: one of Oregonís pioneers, and currently one of its finest wineries. Jason Lett is a thoughtful winegrower who is experimenting with natural wine, hence the sans soufre version of the Pinot Noir. But all his wines are pretty naturally made. Black Cap is Jasonís own boutique label, made in small quantities but separate from Eyrie.

The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir 2010 Oregon
Taut, reductive nose is spice and mineral. Supple, elegant reductive palate with silky fruit, real elegance and a spicy, mineralic core. 93/100

The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir Sans Soufre 2010 Oregon
Deeper coloured than the regular Pinot. Taut and reductive on the nose. Thereís a mineral, spicy edge to the fresh black cherry fruit, as well as some grippy structure. Still in a reductive state at the moment but potentially really interesting. 93/100 

Black Cap Chardonnay of Oregon 2009 Dundee Hills, Oregon
Tangy, appley and quite oxidative with some white peach and pear notes. Great fruit precision, with real interest. Unusual but nice. 92/100

Black Cap Pinot Noir of Oregon 2009 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Supple, smooth, ripe and textured with nice precision to the sweet cherry fruit. A bold style: rich, but balanced, with some elegance. 93/100

See also:

Hirsch Vineyards
Cult California wines

Wines tasted 05/12  
Find these wines with


Back to top