When Matt Cline started his current vineyard in California he pondered over what to call it, and settled on the Three Wine Company.
Why Three? The philosophy was simple, he explained. Winemaking involves three things: choose appropriate terroir, work with the climate in the area, and don’t interfere. In other words, let the land or “terroir” express itself. “Hands off is the key phrase for the third part,” Cline said.
Cline has been making wine for almost 28 years. The Three philosophy produces some wondrous wines.
Many of Cline’s wines are blended, using grapes sourced from vines planted more than a century ago. Cline aims to combine grapes from old vines with modern techniques. Many of the vines grow in very sandy soils that receive no irrigation.
The only water the grapes receive is what falls from the skies, and rain is infrequent in many parts of California. This concentrates flavors, a feature of all of Cline’s wines.
Photographs of the regions where his grapes are grown show it to be almost desert. The arid nature provided one benefit: the phylloxera louse cannot survive in the sandy soil. The louse, native to North America, devastated vineyards around the world in the 1850s and 1970s.
Cline’s 2008 Evangelho zinfandel from Contra Costa County is an example of the careful merging of art and nature. The Evangelho family has been growing grapes for more than 70 years. “In 1964 Frank Evangelho took over farming this vineyard from his dad Manuel. I consider Frank one of the most meticulous and passionate growers I know,” Cline said.
This Evangelho is a blend of 79 per cent zinfandel, 12 per cent petite sirah, 4 per cent alicante bouschet, 3 per cent carignane and 2 per cent mataro. The minor chords give the wine black cherry colour while the dominant zinfandel produces a crescendo of soft tannins and blackberry flavors. This is a wine to enjoy with a casserole or spice-based lamb dishes.
Petite sirah is a grape variety unique to the United States and Australia. In Australia it is known as durif, a hybrid of shiraz and peloursin. The grape is named after Francois Durif, a botanist at the University of Montpelier who created it in 1880. It produces tannic and densely black wine. Combined in small quantities with zinfandel it provides body and strength.
Alicante bouschet is a tenturier, a French word that refers to grapes whose flesh and juice are red. Most red wines have white flesh and get their colour from skin contact. Tenturier grapes are useful for blending with lighter red grapes to give darker colour.
Another standout wine was the 2009 old vines field blend, also sourced from old vines in Contra Costa County. The blend consists of 34 per cent zinfandel, 27 per cent carignane, 19 per cent petite sirah, 17 per cent mataro, 2 per cent alicante bouschet, and 1 per cent black malvoisie.
It took time to open and should be decanted ideally in the morning before it’s enjoyed with dinner. Eventually it oozes blackberry essence and a deliciously long length. A wine worth opening in a decade.
Highlight of the tasting was the 2006 S3X late harvest riesling. The name stands for “small sweet sips”. Cline said it was only produced when conditions allowed for a natural mould called botrytis cinerea or “noble rot”.
The wine has a similar flavour profile to a trockenbeerenauslese – the finest and sweetest of German dessert wines. Intense aromas of peach and apricot mingled with just the right amount of acid zing to produce a wine that would pair perfectly with blue cheese.
This wine won a “sweepstakes award” for the best of the best wines at the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. It was chosen as one of the top seven wines from 4,235 wines entered by more than 1,500 wineries.
Published in the Jakarta Globe, 10 May 2012, under the headline “Cultivating a mix of old and new in the Golden State”. Find a link here.