Our Sophomore Vintage: 2021
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
Sophomore years in school were sort of an in-between time. Not yet a part of the so-called upper class, no longer standing on the bottom rung.
Sophomore albums are often a validation of a bands initial success (The Bends for Radiohead) or a puzzling datapoint in an uncertain trajectory (Axis: Bold As Love for Hendrix).
But sophomore vintages? There just aren't as many expectations that we're aware of.
Going into this year, we swore we were going to pare down our ambition and focus on fewer wines, perhaps fewer vineyards. It would make things easier as we started to make more quantity. But by the time all the hands had been shaken and wines put to bed, we ended up with three times as much and seven more wines than the previous year (for a total of 12 bottlings). All while increasingly mobile infants-turning-toddlers were strapped into carriers or tooled around in picking bins.
Last year's vintage reflections had four big takeaways, but for this entry, I will finally pare down my ambition and focus on only one: Those who make wine also make strong communities. No one has made us feel a part of a community in quite the same way as Abe Schoener.
I was in New York for work earlier this year, and I text Abe for a wine bar recommendation. He was in town, too, and told me to meet him and some friends at Air Champagne Bar. When his friends asked how we'd met, I told the story of buying a case of the LA River Wine Company's first vintage, which Abe delivered to me in the parking lot of My New York Pizza in Fontana. Since then, I told these new friends, Abe's been a mentor to us.
He told them I was exaggerating. Maybe I was at the time, though I didn't think so. But during the harvest that followed, Abe invited us along to vineyards, tastings, prunings, harvests, celebrations, and was a guest in our home for a pre-harvest meal with our family. He has treated us with kindness and with a confounding respect.
The members of the LA River crew have become our community as well. We've drunk and dined together, we've pruned and harvested. We've laughed and laughed. Our friends Jaime Arzate (an inspiring sparkling winemaker) and Tim Walsh of the up-and-coming Punish Wines have made the trek out to Redlands to pass time with us and the baby boys.
Abe also introduced us to Raj Parr, who has become a friend. Their collaborations have begun helping us to refine our own unique approach to winemaking.
Through becoming a member of this larger community, we expanded the wines we were able to make to some remarkable vineyards, which is why we couldn't stick to our plan of simplifying. It was impossible to say no. While the desert wines are very important to us, these new vineyards we harvest in the company of this new community around Rancho Cucamonga humble and excite us.
You can read about each of this vintage's wines below. We've broken them up into four categories: (1) Desert Wines, (2) Cucamonga Wines, (3) Blends, and (4) Redlands.
Bill Smith retired in 2020 and sold the vineyard that still bears his name. In Lancaster near the poppy reserve, the fruit picked out to less than half the yield we were expecting and proved to be a long, hot pick, made bearable by the comradery of our friends from Redlands and Yucaipa (Katie, Brandon, Eric, Joe, Janae, Caesar, Caesar, and Juan Carlos).
We crushed and destemmed the fruit. Fermentation kicked off the next day and was dry in 7 days. To preserve the lightness of the wine, we pressed it to barrel without extended maceration. Though ripe, it is also lean and refreshing.
The future of this vineyard is uncertain, but we are grateful we had the opportunity make this wine.
Smith Cabernet Franc
Picked on August 17th in a bit of mad rush (thanks be to Kendall, Mateo, and Juan Carlos). Dusty chose to divide the fruit—half was immediately basket pressed and the the other was destemmed, but not crushed. The first portion barrel fermented and the second fermented in bin, whole berries, lightly crackling. Once dry, we pressed the berry portion to barrel. Both were blended after malolactic conversion.
The wine has a pleasant carbonic overtone without it overwhelming a hint of spiciness that gives some dimension.
Chavez Amber Muscat
The first pick of the year on July 31st, the fruit macerated on skins until dry and spent an additional three days soaking. We then pressed to a stainless steel fermenter for elevage. Halfway through malolactic, we had to transport the fermenter in a trailer, thus giving the wine an automotive battonage.
We didn't think we were going to be able to make this wine in 2021, but luckily it worked out. So far, we believe it is a welcome evolution of the wine made in 2020 from the same vineyard. Alongside the familiar lychee aromas, there is also a whisper of pine resin, which lends a bit of seriousness to it. There is no sweetness here.
Again, it's uncertain if we'll be able to make this wine from Chavez vineyard in Lake Los Angeles, but we've been pleasantly surprised before.
The field was teaming with professionals and volunteers from the Los Angeles River Wine Company and our own crew, all deftly directed by Abe in this magical block of Lopez Ranch. Four other wineries made wine from this remarkable block this year (including LARWC, Raj Parr, and Harvey Walsh Wines).
Skin fermented for 9 days, then pressed to barrel and aged sur lie, the wine is light and taut.
Harvested on August 7th, it's just a little rosy, owing to about 2% Mission from interloping vines. The color and transparency of the wine is reminiscent of a peach bellini, owing to the skin contact which gave it a gradient from pink to orange pastels with a translucent rim.
Lopez Rosado | White Zinfandel
This fruit was picked from the Victoria block of Lopez vineyard on an unseasonably cool August 7th. We made trips back and forth between Palomino and here all morning. Dom Galleano and Red oversaw the professional crew that picked out two tons of Zinfandel in less than two hours from these calf-high ancient vines.
Up until the day of the pick, we didn't know if we were going to make this White Zinfandel because we didn't know if the numbers were going to be right. We made the game day decision and are glad we decided to.
After crushing, we basket pressed and bucketed to barrel, where it began fermenting two days later. Once dry, we topped it off and began elevage, sur lie.
It drinks like a white wine, which is remarkable considering just how intense its red wine sister turned out. And if you're curious, no it's not sweet.
Picked on August 7th from the Victoria Block of Lopez Ranch (the same fruit that made it's white-wine sister). This portion, we crushed and destemmed and left it on skins a couple days beyond fermentation before pressing it to barrel. The color and flavor are as intense as its sister wine's are subtle. Both versions were made with the same level of care and excitement.
This is the most grown up wine we've made to date. That may not be the best word for it, but it's not traditional, or serious, or any other related descriptors. It's simply wearing clean pressed clothing while our other wines are satisfied in T-shirts and jeans. Taylor thinks this is the best wine we've made to date.
Picked on August 14th from “where the water is” at the south west corner of the Galleano Home Ranch. A field blend of Mataro, Alicante Bouschet, and Salvador, this fruit was crushed (by Kendall and baby Gus) and pressed without any skin contact to a stainless steel fermenter where it fermented dry in 10 days. The wine was transferred to barrel for malolactic and elevage.
This was a long, but satisfying day. Kendall and Rick stuck around after a long morning picking Salvador alongside the LARWC and a boozy lunch. We waded back through the sand and climbed under the ample canopies of these vines whose taproots probably reach many dozens of feet to an underground reservoir.
The wine is dark and smokey. Savory. Unmistakably rose'.
One-hundred percent Salvador form the tiniest clusters in a tiny-cluster year. A very small number of people make wine from this hybrid grape. At a party, Christina Rasmussen told us and a gathered crowed every detail about its inception.
Dusty had a spiritual experience crouched next to these vines, painstakingly collecting each cluster, hydrating with a jug of Gallenao Zinfandel for strength.
Harvested on August 14th. The fruit was foot tread and half the stems were picked out. After a 7-day maceration, the ink-like wine was pressed to a fully-topped barrel. The stains in our bins will likely never fade. Glynda foot tread it and was wearing knee-high red boots for a week.
Harvested on August 13th from an old Guasti property, affectionately known by many names, including Heart of Sand and Maglite. The fruit was foot tread and half the stems were picked out. After 6 days, it went dry and we moved it to a fully-topped barrel for malolactic and elevage.
This vineyard, a mix of Grenache, Pais, and Alicante Bouschet, is a holdout from the old Secondo Guasti planting from the turn of the twentieth century. We've named the wine after him. Dusty thinks this is the best wine we've made to date.
A bench blend of Palomino and Zinfandel, combined in barrel after fermentation, but before malolactic. We were inspired by the rose wines of Spain and the Canary Islands made by blending both red and white grapes. Because these two were picked on the same day, we thought we might as well see what they contributed to one another. The result borrows the tautness of the Palomino and marries it with the depth of the Zinfandel in a wine that is neither fully one nor the other.
Each year, this wine is a celebration of the hands that make it. Last year paid respect to Efran Chavez, patriarch of the Antelope Valley wine region who passed in 2019. This year uses the same goddess in a new form to pay respect to the newcomers in our lives: Otto, Oliver, and August.
A bench blend of Primitivo, Zinfandel, and Grenache, combined in barrel after fermentation, but before malolactic. Three wines for three families, brought together.
The Okneski pick is becoming a party every year. It's quite small, and we're able to clear it in only a handful of hours. Everyone in town shows up and Marlys and George make coffee. We load each lug into the back of George's T-100 and cruise up the side yard to our waiting trailer. The weather was fine, and the people were happy.
We picked earlier to beat the birds and added about 5% whole cluster, thrown in like sugar in a cup of tea. Harvested on August 15th. The wine was mostly crushed and destemmed and left on skins for a day after it went dry before going to barrel. This year, we've left it in barrel for about twice as long to let oxygen do it's slow, magical work.