Tips From a Vintner
Mike Sinor of Sinor-LaVallee winery
As a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student, Mike Sinor planned to teach high school shop. He hadn’t even tasted wine until the night before interviewing for a job in an Edna Valley tasting room. Now Sinor makes acclaimed estate pinot noirs at his Sinor-LaVallee winery. He offers some wisdom.
Go for Albariño: “The Edna Valley might have the most albariño in California. It’s very oceanic in its heritage, and it was the Niven family— they own Baileyana and Tangent and Zocker— who went over to Spain and Portugal and identified albariño as a unique, aromatic white. They brought quite a bit of it back.”
Go Easy: “Readupona region and put a theme together. Maybe visit three wineries but focus on a single varietal. Right now lower alcohol by volume is trendy, so you could figure out who has the lower-alcohol pinot noirs. Wineries are trained to sell as much as they can. But it’s OK to say no and focus on one thing.”
Go Grande: “Arroyo Grande has two new tasting rooms. One winery, Qupé, is historic and right in the awesome part of town. And Timbre is a new brand from sommelier-turned-wine-maker Joshua Klapper, who just opened a quaint spot. He’s also got an apple cider—ciders are definitely on trend.”
Full story here:http://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/san-luis-obispo/
the drunken cyclist....I have three passions: wine, cycling, travel, family, and math. Posted on October 20, 2017
If there were a “typical” winery owner in SLO, Mike Sinor would probably not be it. He grew up in Visalia, California in the San Joaquin Valley about halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield, where he worked in his father’s auto wrecking yard. After high school, he travelled about 150 miles west and south and attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, with designs on becoming a high school shop teacher. Needing money to pay for school (and other “activities’), a friend convinced him to take a job at a local winery, despite not knowing the first thing about wine or its production. During his time at Cal Poly, he worked at six different wineries–after his first harvest in 1993, he was hooked.........
Reviews from Matt Kettmann- Wine Enthusiast
93 Points- 2014 Syrah- Estate/SLO: This feral and gamy wine shows roast lamb, rosemary, dried fennel, rose petal and forest floor aromas on its dynamic nose. The palate leads with explosive acidity, before waves of Concord grape and blackberry flavor take hold. It's light on its feet but has some textural firmness, finishing on rosemary, lavender and game notes.
92 Points- 2014 Pinot Noir-Estate/SLO: Mike Sinor ekes out every last ounce of richness from his extreme coastal vineyard for this bottling, which shows mulberry and dark plum aromas along with loamy soil and dried rose petal. The flavors are equally hearty, evoking mulberry and black plum, but underlying black pepper, olive and herbal notes keep that ripeness in check. Its tannins are dense and the finish minty.
93 Points- 2014 Chardonny Estate/SLO (Editors Choice): There's a smoky touch to this bottling by Mike Sinor, with buttercream, light butterscotch, macadamia nut and toast on the nose. The palate is also full of nutty and toasty notes, yet dissected by a razor-sharp, nervy acidity, rounded on the edges with soft butter flavors. It's a great combo of savory spice and acidic structure.
88 Points-2016 Pinot Gris Estate/SLO:This bottling is Alsatian in style and almost reductive, with pink grapefruit pith, bitter orange, rounded peach and quinine touches. It's tightly wound on the palate, with high-toned petrol flavors accenting its crisp stone fruit core
92 Points-2016 Ancestral by Sinor-LaVallee. (Editors Choice) Pet Nat. Mike Sinor's pet-nat experiment scored big in 2016. This pink sparkler offers complex yeasty bread, crushed rock and turned clay aromas. Zingy and racy, it grabs hold of the palate. It's all about fascinating texture and refreshing acidity.
So more than a few friends of mine resently reminded me of saying...."I dont make sparkling wine.....I buy it"......well that all changed a few years ago when a local winemaker friend of my tipped me off to a new/old way of making it. That technique is called Methode Ancestrale. The resulting wine is called a pétillant naturel.(French literally for “naturally sparkling”) You more often hear them refered to as "Pet Nat's" Its just fun and eazy to say is what I figure. One of the best articles I have found on it is here http://punchdrink.com/articles/what-is-pet-nat-really/
So above is a picture of our 2016 Anscestrale. For us we are using the word Anscestrale as a fanciful name. For this vintage it is made from Pinot Noir but we are loving this techique so much we might use different grapes in the future. This wine is plain fun to make and drink so you can count on more of this in the future.
We started buying as many Pet Nats as we could starting in 2014. There is no one style. Some are super sweet, others are cloudy and just explode when you pop the cap. Its with good reason people say Pet Nats are the Russian roullette of winemaking! A winemaker friend gave me some great advice..."dont ever open other peoples Pet Nat experiments" So with that knowledge we started expermenting in 2015 by bottling 4 cases each with a different finishing method to try and learn what to do. With that little experence and with advice from winemaker friends who have more vintages doing it we bottled 60 cases of some in 2016.
It has been a huge success. We sold out with in a month and Wine Enthusiast gave us 92 points !
We look forward to making more next year!
As I write this we have only 2 bins of Syrah still in fermenter and they will get pressed off on Monday. I am taking the next two days off and that will be the first two days off in a row since early August...I know, waaa, waaa, waaa poor me.
I just wanted to share with everyone our harvest stats for Vintage 2016. We talk a lot about small lot wine making and the following data backs it up. These numbers are what we start with. In the end, you the consumer will only find about 12 different wines from 5 different grapes all from our Estate Vineyard, Bassi. (SLO County, White label, Black label, etc...)
From 14.4 acres of Pinot Noir we created 43 different wines.
Form 3.69 acres of Chardonnay we created 19 different wines.
From 4.14 acres of Syrah we created 15 different wines
From 2.85 acres of Albarino we created 10 different wines
From 2.40 acres of Pinot Gris we created 4 different wines
These wines vary by picking dates, yeast type, fermenter type, time on skins, location on ranch, whole cluster or not, etc......
Here is picture of our Crush Crew for 2016. Left to right is Joey (intern 16) me (post shave and hair cut) Kristen (wine club/Cellar rat/garden queen) and Greg (Cellarmaster)
Thank you guys for a great vintage
Wine Enthusiast Magazine Reviews June 1, 2016
2013 Black Label Bassi Vineyard Pinot Noir (San Luis Obispo County) This is a heady wine from Mike Sinor, with blackberry and blueberry fruit aromas that are enhanced by clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, candied lilacs and loamy soil scents. Tannic depth and sizzling acidity frame the palate, where grilled black plum and mission fig meet with pencil lead, anise, bay leaf, juniper, cocoa and beef flavors, finishing with a menthol kick. – Matt Kettmann
2013 Black Label Bassi Vineyard Syrah (San Luis Obispo County) Mike Sinor is taking his fans on an experimental ride through his new ocean view vineyard, here presenting a rich take on Syrah. It's lush on the nose with olallieberry and blackberry fruit as well as rich bacon fat, vanilla bean and milk chocolate notes. Concentrated black cherry thrives on the palate alongside caramel and vanilla cream. – Matt Kettmann
2013 White Label Bassi Ranch Chardonnay (San Luis Obispo County) This extreme-coastal vineyard bottling shows fresh, expressive yet diligently restrained aromas of Key-lime pith, scratched tangerine, wet chalk, Meyer lemons and a touch of dairy. Tongue-tingling acidity starts the sip, followed by sea salt, warm Marcona almonds, toasted sunflower seeds, a flinty minerality and citrus oil toward the finish. – Matt Kettmann
2013 White Label Bassi Ranch Pinot Noir (San Luis Obispo County) Though a lighter style from Mike Sinor's estate vineyard, this is still meaty, with black cherry, smoked pork, licorice, purple flowers and flashes of pretty cranberry notes on the edges. The tannins are quite firm right now on the palate, where boisterous boysenberry fruit meets with anise, black rocks, a touch of herbs and tar. – Matt Kettmann
2013 Anniversary Cuvee Syrah (San Luis Obispo County) Full of lavender, lilacs and purple flower aromatics on the nose, this also shows touches of fennel, dill and a complex herbal array. The palate is also consumed by savory herbs and purple-flower flavors, with thyme, dill, graphite and cedar framing the tight elderberry fruit. – Matt Kettmann
This is a question I get when I start talking details about how we do what we do. The way we farm Bassi Vineyard stems more from the desire to have great tasting wine that speaks of place, than from a metaphysical or environmental perspective. We don't lead the discussion with these topics. If people seem to connect with us or our wine and want to know more about how we work, only then do we address our farming methods.
We employ Pacific Vineyard Management Company (Pacific for short) to farm our vineyard. This is the same company who farmed for Domaine Alfred years ago. I meet regularly with Vineyard Manager Scott Williams to review details and make decisions. Although we are not currently planning to get the vineyard organically certified, all farming is done organically.
I first heard the idea of Biodynamics when visiting Domaine Le Flaive http://www.leflaive.fr/en/ in 1996. I was on a Robert Mondavi employee education trip and all I could think of was, “ I am not in the junkyard in Visalia anymore!” We met with Pierre Morey http://www.morey-meursault.fr/ who was managing the domaine at that time. Initially BD sounded like bullshit to me, but I was interested in learning more. When I got back to the Central Coast, I bought a few books on the subject and started to see some logic. Fast forward to my time at Domaine Alfred - I brought it up to Terry the owner and he fell in love with it. It was then that I witnessed firsthand how BD practices could enhance wine quality. We ended up hiring Steve Moore, a BD expert who has been involved with BD since the early 1980’s in Carpinteria, CA, to train me on the hands on aspects. He at one time served as president of the National BD association. He also taught at MIT...yeah, he is a bad ass….
We use BD at Bassi just like we did at Domaine Alfred. Pacific handles all of the day-to-day organic farming while my winery team and I handle the preparation and application of the BD preps. This connection between the winery and the vineyard is invaluable. Because the cellar team is directly applying the BD preps to the vineyard, we gain an intimate knowledge of each block and have a deeper understanding of the vineyard as a whole.
A good example of this practice is BD prep #508 - Horse Tail Herb (see picture). It is very high in sulfur content and helps to suppress mildew. While I have been to BD symposiums and have read stories on people using only this material to fight mildew, for me that is a bit much. We include the Horse Tail Herb prep as a part of our organic mildew suppression program instead of relying on it exclusively. We have found this balance of practices works for us.
While BD is important to us, we won’t be successful as a company if our farming practices don’t translate into fabulous grapes and delicious wine. We farm organically and incorporate BD practices with the intent of increasing quality, not for the sake of being able to say we farm organically and biodynamically. Our true aim is to produce the best wine possible.
At the end of the day, if our business is not successfull we cannot feed our family. Everything we have is on the line (our house, retirement fund, etc.) and hinges on our success or failure. We are not second-generation growers nor are we trust-fund kids. Our family relies on proceeds from our wine business to live. So far, our farming practices have translated into success, the fact that they are good for the environment and enhance the soil is a bonus.
Below is a picture of Steve Moore's stirring machine he built in the late 80's and our back pack sprayer's ready to apply #500
I have worked with worm castings/Vermicomposting since the Domaine Alfred days. I researched the two camps at the time on compost teas and decided to follow the ideas and advice of Dr. Elaine Ingram the Soil Food web founder. At Domaine Alfred we would buy Vermicompost and use them to make our teas on site. Soon after starting Ancient Peaks we started to apply compost teas to very positve results. Jeff Filiponni really got into worm farming and went out about bought a large continuous flow worm bin. We still use that vin today on the Santa Margarita vineyard.
At Bassi vineyard I have a small worm bin that I have been tying to expand as time and money permits. A picture of it is at the top of this blog. Some day we will have a larger bin and worm program.
I learned from Larry Turley at a mulit day organic farm retreat to use worm castings during planting any plant. The worm dirt has all sorts of fungi and bacteria that helps get the planted started. With this in mind, I was out working with the worm bin this weekend and figured I would see if it would help some struggling established vines
So in block Pinot Noir Block 32, Clone 2A there is a section that has really short shoots. My experiment on row 55 was to add a big hand full of worm castings and worms to the base of each plant, just below the drip emitter.
It will be fun over this next year to see how and if it improves the plant health.