By The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Chantal Forthun, winemaker at Flowers Vineyard and Winery, was standing alongside a row of vines and over a six-foot hole when she had what she called a “light-bulb moment.” Standing with a pick axe in the pit was Pedro Parra, a revered dirt doctor who consults with winemakers around the world. A Chilean by birth, Parra believes that you cannot make good wine without knowing what lies deep beneath a vineyard’s surface.
Terroir is regarded as a major influencer in a wine’s profile whether it be the limestone in Champagne or the gravel in the Left Bank. Sandy soils can leave wine with less acidity and tannin. Clay soils, on the other hand, yield wines with more body, tannin and fruit extraction.
As Parra thumped the side of the hole with his pick axe he would ask Forthun to describe the wines. Having been there a decade, she could rattle off the characteristics with ease. He could tell what in the soil gave the wine it’s flavor profile. Sometimes the revelation wasn’t what Forthun expected.
The two dozen pits dug on the property was a new effort to understand the two remote vineyards that is best described as “extreme viticulture” at Flowers. Camp Meeting Ridge, planted in 1991, sits above a fog line along a flat top about 1,200 in elevation and is composed of mostly fractured sandstone. Insulated below by a wall of forest, it has its own special micro-climate. It is only two miles from the Pacific.
Even closer to the water is Sea View Ridge, a 43-acre vineyard planted in 1998, that has broken red rock soil and basalt. These windswept vineyards have unique soils that demands more than a superficial inspection to fully comprehend its influences on wine. Pinot noir is grown here.
“For years we were told this is a special place for special people. But we didn’t know how special it was beyond the beautiful surroundings. We needed to understand how beauty translates into wine,” Forthun said.
That feeling is echoed by Rodrigo Soto, estate vineyard manager, who is equally mesmerized by Perra’s analysis.
“We gained a tremendous amount of accuracy,” he said. “We identified blocks and isolated them. We now monitor them with a very difference lens.”
Forthun said her “light-bulb moment” came when Perra dug a hole in a Sea View Ridge block.
“We picked the grapes the same time each year but we couldn’t get the chemistry right. When he opened the soil, we knew immediately what was wrong. It was completely rocky – no soil. Roots, big and thick, made their way around rocks looking deeper for soil and water.”
She can’t do much to change the soil, so she concluded that she may not get the ripeness she wanted from the grapes.
Forthun and Soto work together to create wines with a desired texture, extraction and aroma – all based on the terroir they have identified.
Flowers is a member of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners and in good company with Paul Hobbs, Joseph Phelps, Peay and others.
The three wines we tasted were terrific.
The 2019 Flowers Almar Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay is remarkable for its concentration and mouthfeel. You can the evergreen forest below and the saltiness from the ocean in sight from the property. Citrus and peach notes abound and it has crisp acidity.
The two pinots had length and tension because the roots have to work hard to penetrate the red rock. The 2019 Flowers Sea View Ridge Pietra Pinot Noir has earthy aromas and broad dark fruit flavors with hints of herbs and a terroir-driven mineral character. Forthun said the wines are “deeply tortured” to wind a path through the basalt terroir.
The 2019 Sea View Ridge Cielo from the highest point in the vineyard enjoys great sun. The soil here is more gravelly at the surface. The wine is very floral and has more plum notes on the palate. We found this pinot noir more elegant than the massive Pietra.
Forthun said they have tasted these pinot noirs from the 2008 vintage and they were still alive. We’re not surprised.
Flowers has been owned by the Huneeus family since 2009.
Here are a few syrah and syrah blends that we recently discovered.
JONATA Todos 2018 ($50). Matt Dees, winemaker of this Santa Ynez Valley winery, describes this blend as “50 percent syrah, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 percent chaos.” The chaos is another 8 grape varieties, so we see what he means. The result is an enjoyable, lavishly textured wine with oodles of ripe red berry fruit. This property is owned by billionaire Stan Kroenke, who bought Screaming Eagle in 2006.
Faust The Hour 2019 ($90). For the syrah fan in your family, we suggest this incredibly concentrated monster from the rugged Coombsville area of Napa Valley. It is packed with plum, wild blackberry and spice flavors cloaked in firm tannins. Very floral nose with notes of violets, pepper and black cherries. Long and firm in the finish. This is a blockbuster wine that would pair well with beef.
Copain Wines Les Voisins Syrah 2017 ($36). This is a beautifully structured wine with generous notes of black olives, blueberries and lavender. Deliciously ripe and fruit forward.
Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes-du-Rhone Samorens Rouge 2019 ($16). We loved this equal blend of grenache and syrah, a nice soft approach to the holiday meal. It’s a great sipper but it is versatile enough to go with just about anything you put on the table for the holiday feast. Ripe and juicy blackberry, raspberry notes with a hint of black licorice and dried rosemary.