In January 2019, this journalist (me!) embedded herself into a Ventura County winery, Clos des Amis, to better understand how wine grapes are grown and wine is made. And then in January 2022, she embedded herself even more literally by planting cuttings from the “baby” Albariño vines, vines that had been planted originally by Gretel Compton in 2018, and that produced their first vintage in 2021.
Albariño produces a wine with pleasing citrus notes and acidity, and when fully ripened, white stone fruit characteristics. It’s super food friendly too; read about pairings with Spanish Albariño. Albariño originated in northern Spain and Portugal where it is known as Alvarinho, and sometimes as Cainho Branco.
Not much Albariño is produced outside of the Iberian peninsula, but you can find 311 acres in the US in the Santa Ynez Valley, Clarksburg, Napa, Edna Valley and Los Carneros AVAs, in Oregon by Abacela Winery in the Umpqua Valley AVA, and in Washington state. Internationally, Albariño is grown in Uruguay, and shows potential in Argentina where it is being blended with Torrontes. Plantings in Australia turned out to be French Savagnin, meaning almost all wine in Australia labelled as Albarino is not Albariño!
In our coastal area, it’s important that Albariño has a high tolerance for heat and disease, especially powdery mildew which is common when it is cool and foggy. We are also prone to high heat spikes, often accompanied by Santa Ana winds.
So there’s a lot of potential for Albariño here, especially on the limestone soils of South Mountain which is why Gretel wanted to plant it.
From these Albariño prunings, we selected pencil sized healthy cuttings to plant, two per hole, with nubs below and above ground. Bruce dug the holes, compost was mixed in, the cuttings placed then buried in the soil, watered with a compost tea, then soil mounded up to keep the cuttings warm in the cold winter. While the vineyard is surrounded by citrus including tangerines and avocados, it can get to freezing around here in the winter.
The hope is that one of the two Albariño cuttings will take!
Last summer was the first vintage with enough fruit to make Albariño; tomorrow we will bottle the two cases! In a 600 case winery, sometimes it’s two cases at a time– and not just one barrel!
Like all Clos Des Amis labels, this one features a local hiking trail and a local species drawn by Gretel; the Albariño has a Least Bell’s Vireo and the Harmon Canyon Trail. Gretel says about the Least Bell’s Vireo that it’s “Not a flashy critter, but they are critically endangered and one of their few remaining habitats is the Santa Clara River watershed. Sandy says one has been spotted on South Mountain.”
That’s where the Albariño grapes are grown– on South Mountain above Santa Paula in the Santa Clara River watershed. The Harmon Canyon Trail is just west in Ventura also in the watershed and not too far. It’s part of the Ventura Land Trust, where we are members, and going there is a family favorite for mountain biking because it is so close to home. I’ve hiked there but not often enough! Goals for 2022– and seeing vireos, maybe even a Least Bell’s!
Because it can handle heat and disease pressure both, Albariño was recommended at last week’s Unified Wine Symposium as one of three grapes with potential to handle climate change which is predicted to devastate the wine industry as soon as thirty years from now:
Research shared here comes from a session at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium titled “Varietal Diversity in the Golden State: Exploring Viable Climate and Marketplace Alternatives (includes tasting)Joint Grapegrowing and Winemaking Breakout Session.”
Dr Greg Jones is a world-renowned atmospheric scientist and wine climatologist who has held research and teaching positions at the University of Virginia, Southern Oregon University, and Linfield University. His research links weather and climate with grapevine growth, fruit chemistry, and wine characteristics in regions all around the globe, and he was one of the first to connect climate change to fundamental biological phenomena in vines that influences on productivity and quality. Dr. Jones also has lifelong ties to the Oregon wine community, most closely with his family winery and vineyards at Abacela.
In the session, in addition to tasting to two samples of each of the three wines, we learned that not much Albariño is out there in comparison to other varieties (see also graph above):
But Albariño has many fans including these:
Here’s a snapshot of 2020 in Ventura County vineyards:
- December 2020: Clos des Amis Wine Club
- November 2020: Local Love –wines and vines
- October 2020: Harvest 2020
- September 2020: Music in the Malbec–Harvest 2020
- July 2020: Birds and the Bees and the Zinfandel Trees
- July 2020: Verasion: Heading toward Harvest
- June 2020: ZOOM BOOM
- MAY 2020:BLAME IT ON…
- APRIL 2020: PASSION
- March 2020: Bud Break, Spring Break, Jailbreak, Chavez Break: Ventura County Vineyards Report March 2020
- February 2020: Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My: New Wood and Old Cars in Ventura County Vineyards
- January 2020: Deadwood
Here are the articles I wrote in 2019, my first year at Clos Des Amis:
- December: 2019 Going Out with a Chambang!
- November 2019: Dormancy and Syrah
- October 2019: Final Harvest and #MerlotMe
- September 2019 in Ventura County Vineyards: Focus on Grenache
- August 2019: Fogust Harvest — Chardonnay for CHAMBANG!
- July 2019: No Sky July and Verasion
- June 2019: June Gloom and Etiolation
- Ventura County Vineyards: May Gray
- April 2019: Leaf Pulling
- March 2019: Gretel Meys Compton, Clos des Amis co-owner, co-winemaker
- February in Ventura County Vineyards
- January 2019: Pruning
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