Kevin Harvey met me at his winery in San Carlos, introduced me to Jeff Brinkman, the winemaker, and we did a little tasting. And a little chatting.
I had not met Kevin before although I have communicated with him over the years and had a chance to taste many of his earlier wines. It is always good to put a face with a name.
Rhys will move shortly, into its caves up in the Santa Cruz Mountains and much closer to its owned vineyards. More than a decade has elapsed since the plan to go underground was hatched and I could see how excited Kevin and Jeff are about the coming new digs.
And I will say it was very gracious of them to see me the day before their 2009 harvest began. Everything in the winery looked ready.
There are 80 one-ton fermentors (most are stainless), a state of the art new press for the white wine (which had just been delivered) and a moderate scurry of activity to make ready for the incoming fruit.
But our tasting was leisurely with comfortable conversation and a few lessons for me; as one who aspires to this level of quality.
As for the wines; we tasted two from bottle:
First the 2006 Alesia, Syrah Fairview Ranch. I had bought several bottles of the 2005 vintage of this bottling and the comparison was instructive. The ’06 has excellent balance – and here I am not just talking about the chemistry, but the mouth-feel, the overall impression of the wine and the relative intensity of its components. Suave tannins, satin textures, moderate alcohol and fine fruit. Not terribly complex today but then, it’s only a few years old and this wine certainly showed that youth.
We also opened the 2007 Rhys Chardonnay Alpine Vnyd.. An engaging wine; generous aromatically with Chablis-like fruit, gentle oak and definite minerality; round in the mouth with substantial structure, not even a hint of wood and considerable acidity (“racy” was the word of choice); a clean, crisp finish that reprised the lemon fruit nicely. This wine should last a very long time and develop beautifully over the years. I can’t think of a domestic chardonnay I’d rather drink.
I have saved my comments about the barrel samples of the 2008 pinots for last, despite the fact we had them first. I do this because I’m a bit carried away by the experience and wanted to be as objective as I could with everything written above.
But I cannot be held to objectivity from here on.
We tasted component parts from the various Rhys owned vineyards, including Home, Family Farm, Alpine, Alpine Hillside, Skyline and Horseshoe. Each sample had its own distinct character, spoke at differing volumes, and showed the beginnings of their own personalities. Different clones didn’t seem as important as the sites.
These are all 100% whole-cluster fermented wines. They are bright, beautiful expressions of their variety and their terroir.
I have searched for CA wines (especially pinots because they seem to be able to express it at least as well, if not better than other varieties) that express some manner of place, site and climate. Here are detailed examples of what the notion of terroir conjures up in my mind. After tasting these wines, no one will ever be able to convince me that terroir does not exist in CA.
They range anywhere from 11% to 13% alcohols; they’re made from grapes that are ripe at 20 to 22 brix. Vineyards almost entirely dry farmed. Soils in some places are no more than a couple inches deep. Vines trained to survive on what is available to them on-site, sites remarkably suited to this variety, vinted in individual one ton lots, extended fermentations dictated in length by the fruit of each individual lot . . . I could go on for much longer but I think you are getting my drift.
I realize that these wines will be highly allocated. And both Kevin and Jeff spoke candidly about how they struggle with that fact. But these are wines to search out, buy and store for those moments when nothing but inspiration on the table will do. (FWIW, I am not allocated any of these wines.)
Are they the best pinots in CA?
Well, best is a relative term; relative to each taster; so each taster will have to make that decision.
But I will say that these are world class wines, made to last and develop by people with vision and commitment, and they express themselves as unique examples of their place and time.
They are, in a word, thrilling.