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In my previous two entries of this rambling “history” of Claiborne & Churchill, I described how in 1981 Fredericka and I left our former academic careers in Michigan behind and started a new life in the California wine business. I had managed to finagle a job as a “cellar rat” at Edna Valley Vineyard, where I got a thorough “education” in winemaking; two years later my mentor (the late Dick Graff) gave us permission to start making our own wine in a corner of their cellar.
So: in 1983 we borrowed a few dollars from relatives and bought 30 used barrels and 8 tons of grapes: Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Determined to specialize in “niche wines” inspired by the dry white wines of Alsace, we jokingly told our friends that we were going to “make wines that nobody drinks.”
Alternative White Wines
In the summer of 1984 it was time to sell these “wines that nobody drinks.” Where to start? Bear in mind that in those days wine was sold not in BevMo, not in Costco, not in Total Wine & More, Whole Foods, Vons, Albertsons, and other warehouse-type stores, but in “Fine Wine Shops.” Such shops had savvy wine buyers, a sophisticated customer base, and a limited selection of the most prestigious wines from California and Europe.
Somehow (the Edna Valley/Chalone connection was helpful), Fredericka was able to secure appointments at a number of fine wine shops in the Bay Area, in Santa Barbara, L.A. and Orange County. We grabbed some samples, hopped in the pick-up truck, and took off to sell these wines (that nobody drank).
To our surprise and delight, we were welcomed by the wine buyers with open arms. We were “a breath of fresh air”, bringing not just another Chardonnay, but fruity and refreshing (but dry) wines, “delightfully different” wines they all were fond of. They bought our wines, they featured us in their newsletters, they helped us sell out the entire vintage in a few months. “Hey, this is easy,” we thought.
Not so fast! It seems that while the wine buyers were excited by this new wine venture of ours, the wine-drinking public was still a few years behind the curve. Stuck in the Chardonnay/Cabernet rut, they had trouble adjusting to the idea of a Dry Gewurztraminer or a Dry Riesling.
Now began the hard work of promoting these wines, getting people to taste them, winning them over one by one. Gradually we increased production; our initial vintage of 565 cases became 1100, then 2500, then 3000. In the early ‘90s (still in our “warehouse winery”) we began selling direct to consumers through wine tastings and the wine club. We got a big boost when we completed the new winery in early 1996; we had a visible presence in the heart of the Edna Valley. The wine-drinking public took more and more to “alternative whites.” Tourism (and wine tourism in particular) increased dramatically, as people discovered San Luis Obispo (“the happiest city in America,” according to Oprah Winfrey).
We now produce upwards of 8,000 cases a year, still with our original focus on “Alsatian style” white wines. We’ve weathered three recessions and an equal number of “booms.” Last year we celebrated our 30th anniversary. Apparently we now make wines “that people drink.”
2013 Edelzwicker: We’ve been making an Edelzwicker every year since day one back in 1983. It has long been a favorite quaffing wine, something you can serve on all sorts of occasions, to all sorts of wine drinkers, from novices to oenophiles. Continue reading here.
2013 Pinot Gris: Pinot Gris has been a big part of our repertory since the late ‘90s. It’s much more serious than your typical Italian-style Pinot Grigio, as it delivers good acid, pear and white peach aromas, and a rich mouthfeel. We barrel ferment it in 100% neutral French oak. Pinot Gris serves as a great accompaniment to Lasagna Alfredo, Cioppino or enjoyed on its own. Continue reading here.
2012 Twin Creeks Pinot Noir: Since last summer, when we sold out of the ’11 Twin Creeks, many of you have asked when the new vintage would be released. Lo and behold, it’s back! Here at Claiborne & Churchill, we produce three different Pinot Noir bottlings, each with its own unique profile. Continue reading here.
It’s mid July, and as we look onto our estate vineyards, we see our Pinot Noir clusters turning from a youthful shade of green to its classic purplish hue. What does this mean in the world of viticulture? Well, it’s a clear indication that veraison has started. This French term means the “onset of ripening” in the vineyard. From here on out, the sugars in the grapes (in the form of glucose and fructose) will start to accumulate, the berries will soften, and the anthocynins (which gives the grapes its red color) will continue developing within the skins.
What’s interesting is just how early verasion has occurred. This stage of a vineyard’s annual growth cycle typically begins in the later part of July/early August. Ever since our warm, dry winter the vineyards in the Edna Valley have been ahead of schedule all year. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when we started noticing signs of versaison around 4th of July.
Though our young Estate Pinot Noir vineyard is looking healthy, we must continue working in the vineyard to ensure a bountiful harvest. Our newly appointed Assistant Winemaker, Zack Geers, has been leaf pulling this week to give better ventilation and fruit exposure to each vine. He has also dropped any excess clusters that might be bunched too closely together. This is an important process, allowing for vines/fruit to acquire the right amount of nutrients and also reducing the risk of bunch rot.
Do you love Riesling, “the world’s greatest white grape”? Well we do! And we celebrated it on Friday, June 20, with our inaugural “Romance of Riesling” event here in the garden at Claiborne & Churchill.
For the first time ever, we focused on only one grape varietal for an entire dinner/tasting/seminar. I should mention that we started the evening off with our 2012 Sparkling Blanc de Blancs; I can’t think of a better way to start a celebration!
Our dynamic duo, Owner Clay Thompson and Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia guided guests through a pairing of Rieslings and tapas. Chef Russ Thomas of Two Cooks artfully prepared the five delicious courses. (see menu below)
Crab Snap Salad on Crunchy Yukon Gold Chip
Apple, Celery, Lime, Parsley, Lipstick Pepper, Shallot, Tarragon Aioli,
Pickled Chili & Lemon Cucumber Garnish
2013 Dry Riesling
Grilled Shrimp with Asparagus Purée
Garlic, White Wine, Flat Leaf Parsley, Bolio Toasts
2011 Dry Riesling
Soy Paper Wrapped: Red Miso Glazed Shiitake Mushrooms, Pearl &
Black Rice, Daikon Radish, Hoisin Chili Sauce
2008 Dry Riesling
Coriander Rubbed Pan Seared Duck Breast, Caramelized Shallots,
Crispy Won Ton Skins, Ginger Vinaigrette
2005 Dry Riesling
Chorizo and Pork Stuffed Cabbages, Pine Nuts, Raisins in Beef Broth
2012 Estate Dry Riesling
Clay & Coby opened their discussion to Q&A where they and our guests delved deeper into each vintage.
Guests were able to experience first hand what contributes to Riesling being the “world’s greatest white grape”: it’s made in a variety of styles, from ultra-dry to a sweet desert wine and everything in between! And it is so extremely versatile that it pairs with a wide variety of cuisines!
We continued this educational journey with a tour of our Estate Riesling Vineyard where Coby educated our guests on its SIP Certification (Sustainability in Practice) and its ability to grow in a cool-climate region such as ours here in San Luis Obispo wine country. This was the perfect opportunity to highlight our 2010 Estate Dry Riesling, which we bottle aged three years prior to its release. Many of our guests were surprised to learn that Riesling has great aging potential due to its naturally high acidity and pronounced fruit flavors. Aged Riesling exhibits wonderful nuances and complex flavors of petrol, diesel and minerality and our 2010 displayed this so well!
Pairing in the Vineyard:
Gourmet Artisan Cheese (from our local cheese shop, Fromagerie Sophie)
Ducket’s Caerphilly and Pont L’Eveque
2010 Estate Dry Riesling
We concluded the evening with a final pairing in our eco-friendly strawbale cellar/tasting room. This was definitely the icing on the cake!
Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookie (from our local Brown Butter Cookie Company)
Shortbread Cookie with Browned Butter, Brown Sugar and Sea Salt
2013 Riesling, Oliver’s Vineyard
2011 “Nektar” Estate Late Harvest Riesling
Thank you to all of our guests. This was an amazing evening of delicious food, great wine, and good company! We look forward to more unique interactive tastings of this type.
Please visit our website to keep up-to-date with upcoming events and new wines.
Join our Club to receive discounts and priority seating at such events!
We’ve selected six of our favorite recipes that would be perfect for your July 4th celebration. Included are some pairing suggestions, but feel free to mix and match! Try one or all of the following recipes and don’t forget to share your pictures with us (post your pictures to our facebook, instagram, or twitter accounts). #claiborneandchurchill
These tasty and refreshing feta stuffed watermelon blocks would pair wonderfully with our “Cuvée Elizabeth” Dry Rosé.
How about some spicy lemon shrimp skewers to heat things up?
Our Dry Gewürztraminer would be a great compliment to these savory shrimp.
via food network
For The Grill
Just in case you didn’t get enough spice with those shrimp, you better try this amazing andouille and beef burger with spicy mayo and caramelized onions.
Pair with our cool-climate Syrah.
via bon appetit
Now we try to round each meal out with some type of veggie, and this charred corn salad with basil and tomatoes is the absolutely delicious!
How about a little Dry Riesling with this guy?
via bon appetit
This red, white and blue potato salad is a patriotic twist on an American classic.
Our “Classic” Pinot Noir is flavorful yet delicate enough to pair with potatoes.
via taste of home
No meal is complete without dessert! Try out this berry tart with lemon cookie crust and top it off with a little “Douce Amie” Sweet Orange Muscat.
via better homes & gardens
Thank You to all our loyal Cellar Club Members, we appreciate each and every one of you!
To learn more about our Cellar Club, please visit us at www.claibornechurchill.com
Mark your calendars for 6th Annual Sips & Songs 2014. We are excited to have such an eclectic line-up of musicians performing at C&C . We kicked off the season last Friday with the ever so popular Boomerang Band! Their covers of Rock ‘n Roll classics had our guests out of their seats and grooving to the beat!
Our Rose of Pinot Noir was a huge hit with our guests as it paired perfectly with Gusto on the Go’s pan seared fish tacos. Since our 2012 Chardonnay is nearing its end, we decided to highlight it one last time. If you’re a meat lover, their pulled pork sandwich is killer!
Since last year’s Sips & Songs, we’ve expanded our garden area and added a new outdoor bar. Everyone loves the extra space and shorter lines for wine!
Performing next on June 13 is the Reese Galido Trio. You may know Reese from the popular local band The Kicks! Her Trio’s infectious sounds will set the tone for a perfect evening out! Come hungry as Meze Wine Bar & Bistro returns.
Today we are reminded that summer is just around the corner. Temperatures reached 99 degrees here in the Edna Valley today, a record high, just as our Claiborne Vineyard Estate Riesling is finishing up its flowering process. As with bud break this year, the dry and warm winter and spring set the stage for early flowering and fruit set. We figure that at present we are about two and a half weeks ahead of schedule.
What does this mean? Well, it really depends on what kind of summer weather is still to come. But if the weather we’ve had the last couple of months is any indication, we are sure to be heading full force into harvest by mid-August.
Let’s talk flowers. Though a grapevine’s “flowers” are not much to look at, they are an integral part of the vine’s annual cycle, where small flower clusters appear on the tips of the young shoots. At this time pollination and fertilization of the vine take place, resulting in a grape berry.
As seen in the photos below, most of the clusters still have a few flowers left. Once they’ve finished flowering, the grape berries will be set and ready for growth. Harvest begins roughly three and a half months from the time of flowering and fruit set. By the look of these clusters, we’re in for an early yet sizable harvest!
2013 Dry Riesling: Just as our supply of the 2012 Dry Riesling runs out, here to the rescue comes the new vintage! Once again it is a harmonious blend of fruit from a vineyard in neighboring Monterey County and a vineyard just down the road from us in our own Edna Valley. Continue reading here.
2012 Dry Muscat: Now here is a wine that’s still flying under the radar. And yet, what a beauty it is! When we tasted it at the winery prior to this wine club release, we were blown away, declaring it a real sleeper, the winning wine of the 2012 vintage. Continue reading here.
2013 Dry Rosé “Cuvée Elizabeth”: Well, it is surely Spring if it’s time for “Cuvee Liz!” This one-time cult favorite of ours has become a regular part of our repertory. And with the rising popularity… Continue reading here.
2011 “Classic” Pinot Noir: Gold – 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
The 2011 “Classic” is a blend of several Pinot Noir clones from a number of vineyards in the Edna Valley. It is an excellent representative of this cool microclimate, which is ideal for the growing of Pinot Noir. Continue reading here.
On April 28, the Claiborne & Churchill gang ventured down to our Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley neighbors for some team building, wine tasting, sightseeing. We sampled some of the region’s finest Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Dry Rose. Thank you to Hilliard Bruce, Melville, Foley, Presqu’ile and Breakaway Tours for making our day such a success!