In honor of Women’s History Month, this March Que Syrah Sue and I visited THE local Ventura County winemaker who is also a WOMAN: Brittany Jean Rice -Claypool of Millesime Cellars located at 425 Constitution Ave, Ste H Camarillo, California (805) 896-4049.
Palate over chemistry, says Brittany
Brittany comes from quite a wine making heritage: her great grandfather picked grapes at Inglenook, and her family started Sunstone in Santa Barbara. When she was 12, they planted their first merlot grapes at Sunstone; by the time she was 21, she was making their wine.
Now at 38, Brittany has her own winery where she is producing 1000 or so cases of red, white, and dessert wines a year.
But Brittany didn’t take the direct route to becoming a winemaker–she came to wine making via art, food, and travel which leads to her claim that she prefers palate over chemistry.
Millesime means “time/vintage/millenium”–
- time is time in the barrel
- vintage means the year of the harvest
- the millenium is the year she traveled to France and took the photos that grace her wine bottles and decorate her tasting room
Like Kimberly Smith of La Montagne (who we featured earlier this month), Brittany’s story also includes a life threatening illness: when she was a child, she had leukemia. Her family made many sacrifices to get her the treatment she needed at UCLA.
Brittany’s bout with leukemia also influenced her family’s decision to pursue organic winemaking practices; Sunstone was the first organically certified winery in the Santa Ynez Valley, an organic tradition she has continued in her own winery, Millesime, by sourcing organic and biodynamic fruit from the central coast.
Or as she puts it, “Millesime Cellars is dedicated to creating high quality handcrafted wines that are unfiltered made with organically grown grapes.”
Brittany is concerned with producing the highest quality product from sourcing her fruit to her corks and bottles: corks come from Italy while bottles come from Italy, France and Washington depending on the bottle.
Brittany doesn’t want to mess with the wine more than she has to: she believes that “untouching wine is the best” meaning she likes to let the fruit speak for itself, and her job is to pave the way no matter the cost whether it be bottles, corks, or fruit.
Unfiltered, Brittany’s wines are rich, dense, marriages of fruit and wine making to produce an age worthy product: while the wines taste delicious out the door from the winery, Brittany suggests consumers add another five or so years in the cellar before enjoying them.
Brittany makes two labels:
- white label menu is targeted for locals, bars, restaurants, generally single varietal and not always certified organic.
- black label are all organic, if not biodynamic, and they are blends of the highest quality
Orange Muscat 2014 $28
This unfiltered wine is intense, tart, and tangy, acidic and citrus, mineral saline, crisp, light, fun and playful.
2014 Grenache Rose $32
Sweet with fruit but dry, tart, berry, citrus.
2013 Touriga Nacional $42
Herbs de provence. Pair with lamb, ribs, duck cracklins.
2013 Cabernet Franc $42
In order to combat the often overwhelming vegetal notes that tend to be characteristic in cab Franc, Brittany goes for a lot of hang time in the fruit. She thought this was showing nicely. Sue liked the boldness and peppery spice on the palate. All Sunstone fruit, this is a really nice expression of Cab Franc individually and in her blends.
2013 Viognier: Le Jardin 100% Viognier $32 18 cases
This is a lovely expression of viognier and the Le Jardin moniker is fitting: it’s full of floral notes and nicely fruit forward without being cloying or sweet. Lots of acidity and minerality makes this wine super food friendly. I had to buy one of these and take it home! I’m thinking roast chicken…
2012 Le Reflexion: 92% syrah, 8% viognier $48 63 cases
This is the yin and yang of wine making says Brittany: polar opposites that come together in the bottle. Floral rose nose engages us, lots of tart red fruit.
2012 Scopire $45
This blend changes every year but has a syrah base. Scopire means “to discover” and Brittany is discovering every year what will go with that year’s syrah. we’d love to taste this wine again in 5 years to see how it develops.
2013 Bleu Saphir $58
This is always a Bordeaux blend but the percentages change with each vintage in order to provide consistency. Berry nose, rich blueberry on the palate,
Touring Sauzao 2009
Fortified with Italian Brandy aged for 4 years this dessert wine uses Paso organic fruit. Brittany doesn’t think this wine has peaked yet! Sue bought this one for her sweetie!
As someone who comes to way by way of being a professionally trained chef, it is not surprise that these wines cry out to be paired with food, and Brittany is answering that with parties for club members where she is providing special foods to pair with the wines, for example, cave aged cheeses. Not every wine club offers lessons in cheese as well as wine!
While today, this is a small winery in an unassuming location, great wine is being made and discovered. Check it out for yourself on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays next time you are driving down the 101 through Camarillo on your way to the better known Santa Barbara wineries!