For November’s #WinePW: The Feast Nearby – Grateful for Local Vintners and Seasonal Foods hosted by Culinary Cam, I arranged to meet with winemaker Bruce Freeman at his South Mountain Winery near Santa Paula California where he grows estate fruit for his Clos des Amis label (750 cases this year) which specializes in grapes from Ventura County.
I’d been planning on visiting him ever since I got to know his wines at the November 2015 Ventura Wine Cave Holiday Tasting and Customer Appreciation Party, but there just always seemed to be other things going on.
When I heard about the November theme, I was immediately excited. Ventura County is an important agriculture region, and we have many wineries too, with most of them using fruit from other areas in the state because disease and prohibition decimated the industry.
Ojai Vineyards Roll Ranch Viognier and Syrah immediately came to mind when I thought about which wines and which winery to feature. After all, Adam Tolmach is a key figure in southern California wine making and his family has been growing wine grapes for several generations. But most of his fruit comes from Santa Barbara County.
Then I remembered Clos des Amis and I knew what we had to do! I reached out to winemaker, farmer, and artist Bruce Freeman and we set a date to visit the estate vineyards and do some tasting.
Following rain, it was a sparkling day for a drive up the Santa Clara Valley past fields of flowers and vegetables and through citrus orchards along the Santa Clara River. But unfortunately, as we were driving along South Mountain Road just outside of Santa Paula, someone drove into a utility pole break it off its foundation. Somehow we escaped having it land on us, and I barely stopped the car before slamming into another pole, and I also dodged two cars and kept from driving into a ditch. Whew! To make a long story short, everyone walked away except for the passenger of the car who hit the pole; she needed to go to the hospital.
When we finally got out of there by driving under the utility pole again and then driving the long way there, we decided we might as well go to the winery because when else would we get there in time to do this blog post for Wine Pairing Weekend?
When we finally arrived, Bruce was very accommodating and opened up a bottle of his Chardonnay which comes from vineyards which we could see across the valley. What a gorgeous place and a beautiful bottle of wine! I began to relax, settle down into this wonderful place, and experience Clos des Amis “Circle of Friends.”
Turns out that Bruce learned his winemaking craft from Adam Tolmach, which, after tasting Bruce’s wines, does not surprise me at all. He went commercial only five years ago, in 2011. His case production varies with the produce he works with: because of the drought and other weather conditions, 2015 was a tough year and he only produced 250 cases; in 2016, he will go up to 750 cases.
“I have vineyards in Camarillo, Saticoy, Santa Paula, Newbury Park,” says Bruce. “Ventura Country has the potential, the geologic and geographic diversity, to be a good wine growing region and I’m proud about being part of it, growing the stuff and making it.”
Regardless he plans to stay small, at the garagiste level of wine making, because “I want to keep it hand crafted personally touched by moi.” Also, he admits, “I don’t want to hire a bunch of people. I don’t want to have a big scale operation. It’s a different end game.”
Bruce’s other job is also as an artisan but in a different medium: in fact, he is a print maker who teaches art classes at Ventura College where I teach writing (yes we’re colleagues!) Printmaking, he says, is the medium that resonates most. How it applies to making wine is the creative bent, he says, “trying to find the best expression of the wine.” As an artist, we are always trying to make the best we can, no matter the medium. Same with wine, he says.
“My wines are crafted with good acidity so they work with food,” says Bruce. “I don’t do big fruit bombs; I don’t like overly sweet wines. My wine’s tend to be on the dry side, more European, more food friendly.”
To accomplish his goals, he uses non-oaked, neutral oak barrels because too much oak makes the wine “too caramely, too sweet” he said.
So what did we eat and drink?
We started with a wonderful cheese plate with Belton Farms Oak Smoked Cheddar, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Organic Triple Cream, and Ewenique Sheep milk Cheese. We did a Caesar Salad and for our main course, Cioppino with crispy bread (recipe below). We finished the evening with an artisian apple, persimion tart. Persimmons and apples from Melissa’s Produce inspired our dessert and we used the truly crunchy grapes from Melissa’s Produce on our cheese plate. The remaining produce that Melissa’s sent we will use for other meals and blog posts! Thanks Melissa for sending us the produce!
Clos des Amis – 2015 Olivelands Vineyard , Ventura County California – Chardonnay – 12.5% alcohol $18
This is a great Chardonnay for a lovely seafood dinner. Went great with the caesar salad. Would go beautifully with oysters. Crisp, clean, nice acidity. Beautiful nose: This has a lovely fruity floral nose that invites you to sip. there is also a richness in the nose, similar to butterscotch. It is like the butterscotch that you smell when you put your nose in a ponderosa pine. It is not an oaky buttery chardonnay thing. This is more your bright citrus mineral crisp chardonnay. In the mouth you also taste the butterscotch with the bright crisp minerals and apples.
This tastes like a luxury wine, like you should be paying 40 to 50 dollars. For a handcrafted locally prepared wine for $18 is unheard of. It is an amazing wine and even more so for the price point.
Super clean finish. Stone and lemon rind. Not a mouthwatering lemon pucker, but the wonderful lingering sweet citrus This wine went so wonderfully with the cowgirl creamery Red Hawk organic cheese. No ML on chardonnay OLivelads 12.5 alc. This clone makes colorful fruit.
“The whole idea of making local wine is to make it affordable for local people,” says Bruce. “$60 wine I don’t know what that’s about. I wanted something my friends could enjoy; when you get to those higher price points the wines have to be exceptional.”
Clos des Amis – 2015 – South Mountain GSM , Ventura county California – 13% alcohol
36% Grenache, 42% Syrah, 22% Mouvedre
There is spice , carnation and plum on the nose. There is also strawberry cherry and raspberry, maybe pomegranite. red fruit, bright fruit. It is nice that the alcohol is nice and low on this wine. Easy to drink. You can really pick up the grenache and the mourvedre, This wine makes me really happy! Grenache is a happy bright acidic. The nose on these wines are really interesting and fascinating. There is a rose headiness to this wine. Floral is carnation and rose
The smoked cheddar went beautifully with this wine. Not so good with the ciiopino.
Clos des Amis – 2013 – Cani Amante Vineyard – Ventura County California – 14.7% alcohol
This is a great riesling – there is a richness in this wine that is not always evident in a risling. There is nothing masked with oaked. What makes this fruit so special, it is the terroir. There is a huge mineral component to this wine.
this riesling has a wonderful sulphur underlying flavor that combined with the fruit and honey notes, makes this a very special wine. Sulphur clay and dirt is not only on the nose but also in the palette especially on the finish. One notices the acidity that dances on your tongue for a long time. It will cut through anything that is rich. The acidity is mouthwatering.
The color is very golden like spun gold, full of light, sunlight. He is not into fining and filtering doing some on the whites. This wine does not taste like it has a 14.7% alcohol.
Clos des Amis – 2014 South Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Ventura County California – 14.8% alcohol $24
This wine could easily stand up to a $40 or $50 bottle of Pinot. This is an amazing wine for the price. Unfixed and unfiltered, we were surprised of the clarity of this wine. It has a really nice sense of power. someone that is powerful has a sense of who they are, what they are doing and where they are going, The winemaker Bruce is like that he has a very powerful sense and a wonderful integrity. just like his wines.
We had a difficult time not pouring more of this wine into our glass.
“south Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir is near Santa Paula high on the slopes of South Mountain, overlooking the Santa Clara River. This vintage is rich, complex Pinot with cranberry sage and flinty notes reflecting the terroir of the vineyard, which is also patrolled by the rattlesnake.” pictured on the label. “We harvest with care! A percentage of the proceeds from this wine goes toward local conservation efforts”
The first words out of my mouth were “This is really juicy!”
This is a very mouthwatering wine, it makes you salivate, bright crisp intense fruity wine. This is a lovely wine. It can be sipped on its own or would compliment a meal.
Everything about this wine is pretty, pretty flavor, pretty fruit, pretty color. It is a pure expression of the fruit. Especially since it is done in neutral oak barrels. There is an earthy quality in the wine. This as with all of the other wines we tasted from Bruce, this is a very well balanced enjoyable bright crisp wine.
It is not a super dank pinot or a super fruity pinot or a super oakey pinot. This pinot speaks for itself. The varietal characteristics of this wine For thanksgiving, it would depend on how you prepared the bird. Mushroom, chestnut earthy stuffing would go wonderfully with this wine. I also thought of duck with a blackberry sauce. This wine is not Superman nor is it Clark Kent.
This post barely scratches the surface of what we are excited about when it comes to Clos de Amis. Not only do we love the wine, but we appreciate what the winemaker is choosing to do as a farmer and as a winemaker with regards to sustainability and taking care of the planet that takes care of us.
With such small production, his wines aren’t easy to find but fortunately for me, the Ventura Wine Store carries them, and Bruce will send you the wines by mail.
Slice some nice fresh baked bread into 1/2 inch slices. Brush both sides with olive oil. Bake in 350 degree oven till just starting to get crisp, remove from oven and rub with a peeled fresh garlic clove. Sprinkle with grated parm, and place back into the oven till bread becomes crisp and golden brown. Aprox 10 more minutes. Break into pieces for artisian croutons or serve with soup.
How did others #FeastNearby? Check out these posts for culinary inspiration:
- Crock Pot Chili Verde and Spangler Vineyards Cab Franc by Tasting Pour
- Grateful for Ian Brand Wines + Donkey & Goat + Autumn’s Bounty by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Keeping it Local: Heritage Oak Old Vine Carignane and Greek Lamb by Pull That Cork
- Persimmons, Cabernet Franc & Other Harvest Delights by L’occasion
- Roasted Turkey Breast with Morel Mushroom Sauce by Cooking Chat
- Thankful for Local and Seasonal Harvests by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Tradition with a Twist: Cooking Far from Home by The Swirling Dervish
- Wine and Dine: Virginia Viognier and Apricot Spread with Chevre by Grape Experience
Also check out tweets from participants using the hashtag #FeastNearby and #WinePW:
Note: there are still some typos and rough spots for me to smooth over today I see!