Before we go any further, this is a Core Wine Company Elevation Sensation 2012.
So let’s get this out of the way before we begin, this is Grenache. It’s a high enough percentage to be considered Grenache, but Core Wine Company sometimes does craft this blend with less than the 75% required percentage to call it Grenache.
So if you’ve been a monthly wine club member for a while, you probably think Grenache is more common than it really is. I really like Grenache. Most people have never heard of it.
This wine was made in the westside of Paso Robles, but to be clear, there’s some percentage of Grenache planted in and around Paso. It’s normally used in Grenache-Syrah–Mourvedre (GSM) blends and Grenache only amounts to about 1% of the total plantings in Paso Robles, so varietal specific Grenache is few and far between. I’m confident that the Kinero Grenache I’ve shipped the last few years is the standard bearer for the varietal, but this is pretty good too in a different way.
This is a much different wine than that though. This Grenache is a bit lighter, consistent with Paso Robles, which itself is a warmer growing region than the spot where Kinero gets its grapes, which sits at least a 10 mile drive straight toward the water. In fact, the last time I took that drive with my family in towe, it was telling. Paso was hot, close to 90 degrees. By the time I got outside of the AVA, the temperature was in the 60’s and there was a dense layer of fog. Thus is life on the Central Coast, where beach weather isn’t always apparent if you’re even a bit inland. That fog and cold weather are both blown into Paso by the wind though, giving the region its well deserved high end reputation for good wine.
Ok, so this is Grenache and if you’re new to Grenache, this is the general idea. Like all wine grapes, a variety of styles are often in play. But, this is the most common form of it that you’ll find in California.
Grenache is typically found in warmer climates, also known as Granacha in Spain where it is a native (likely, although most international wine grapes have longer histories in eastern Europe that are circumspect at best, that’s a topic for a longer post of course).
If you’ve had Grenache before it’s likely been in blends from the Rhone Valley where it is joined by Mourvedre and Syrah to produce something that mouth feel wise, ends up pretty close to Cabernet Sauvignon. GSM blends are another topic for another day, but I think it’s interesting to note that in the Rhone, Grenache tends to be the highest percentage of the blend whereas here in California that title is most often Syrah.
So why is Grenache subjected to only a few small warmer regions in the old world and still struggling for acceptance in California, even in Paso Robles where it should be well suited?
To start, Grenache is high in alcohol content. These days, that’s not a positive. Secondly and most importantly, for a lighter skinned grape, it ripens incredibly late. Like, struggles to ripen even here in California. If you plant Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon next to one another, the Cab might ripen a week or two earlier.
That late ripening opens up an entire can of worms so to speak for winemakers. Here locally, October (which is the traditional end of harvest) is starting to be rainy season. Rain and thin skinned grapes don’t exactly go well together.
Add in some other growing issues, like the fact that despite the late ripening, the vine buds incredibly early. Again, that brings rain into the conversation for much of California. In many areas though, especially those in Washington State…..it brings frost into issue as well. Frost if you aren’t familiar, especially early in the spring during budding, can kill off an entire vintage as it has from time to in Walla Walla.
So budding early, ripening late….is that it? Oh, you have to dramatically control yields, otherwise the wine is literally awful. Grenache if left to its own devices, would actually grow quite a bit of fruit, up to 10 tons per acre. To put that in perspective, we think of about 4 tons per acre as fairly low yield and 2 acres per acre as truly low yield. Some ancient vineyards receive something closer to 1.
So why would anyone bother? You might be thinking, if the grape is around 1% of plantings in the state, they aren’t….while a bit true, there’s a lot to like.
At low yields Grenache literally achieves a balance of fruit and acid that is more relevant today than it was a generation ago, at least among American vintners. Plus, there are some positive aspects to growing the grape. First, you do get to cut fruit and therefore have more control in the vineyard. Second, to achieve lower yields there is one main thing you cannot do, ever: water. While we’ve experiences what I’ve heard called a Monsoon here in California over the winter that has brought all but my home town of San Diego out of drought (the Sierra snow pack the most reliable barometer of the long term water outlook locally sits at about 200% of its average total btw…..this is El Nino and you should all be ready to hear incessantly about our lack of rain in the coming years once again) there are long term water issues at play with the wine industry. Grapes use less water than other crops happen to, but there are quite a few growing cities in California inner valley’s that have designs on that water. Plus, regions like the Russian River Valley use more water during the winter than the summer. It’s used, if you’re wondering as a frost prevention mechanism (it’s got to be really damn cold to freeze ground water).
I know I’ve done a few of these over time, A Tribute to Grace might still the most talked about bottle I’ve shipped. But, there’s more coming. One of the great parts of Grenache is that it’s generally priced at about half what an equivalent bottle of Cabernet might be and a full 50% cheaper than an equivalent bottle of Pinot. Of course, retailers struggle to sell the stuff, so it gets even more interesting on my end.
In any case, enjoy this Core Wine Company Elevation Sensation!