Being a California native, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, and a regular ground-stomper of Monterey County, I’m amazed I’m only now learning about Big Sur Vineyards. But, to be fair, though the winery takes the name of a famous stretch of California coast, it’s a boutique, family-run operation.
Husband and wife duo Lenora Carey and Richard Gebhardt moved to the area back in 1983 becoming purveyors of lavender, olive and citrus trees, crafting essential oils and soaps in addition to selling their fresh produce. But it wasn’t long until they became enthused about what kind of grape varieties grew well in the area. Lovers of Rhone varietals, they picked and pressed the grapes of neighbors for many years — namely Grenache, Syrah, and Petit Sirah. And so it was, when they blended these three together, the “Big Sur Red” was born.
Hello Cinsault, you are usually blended with Grenache, Syrah, and/or Mourvèdre. Because of your light skin, you’re a fun grape to blend into a Rhône-style rosé (often using the saignée method), adding a bit of funky-perfume to the mix. Hello Cinsault, meet Mr. Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines — he loves you just as you are.
“I refer to this wine as my ‘MTV Unplugged’ wine,” says Larry, “It’s like a young singer sitting in the corner playing acoustic guitar and singing unmiced, more of a ‘whisper’ of a wine – it does not scream like so many other red wines do.” So…let’s jam shall we?
Mourvèdre is a funny grape. It thrives in warm weather, is a late bloomer and, thus, is usually the last variety picked in the vineyard (and is often the bane of a grape grower’s existence). What’s more, the grape clusters are quite compact, making it more susceptible to disease and mildew. But it’s these somewhat frustrating qualities that give the Mourvèdre wine its signature tastes and textures: high alcohol and high tannins. Wonky and somewhat imbalanced on its own, Mourvèdre tends to serve best as a blending ingredient (most notably as the M in Rhone-inspired GSM blends). But every once in awhile, if the weather and the harvest are just right, vintners can craft a Mourvèdre that can stand on its own.
What I love about Marsanne is it’s anti-white-wine attitude. Native to the Northern Rhône valley, it’s most commonly associated with its counterpart, Rousanne, creating the classically-styled white Rhône blend. Most often, the dominant varietal in the blend is, in fact, the Rousanne, which brings out a bit more fruit and floral flavors, along with a smooth, rounded texture. It’s Marsanne, however that highlights more of the “meatiness,” if you will — often with a bit of nuttiness, spices, and a textural mouthfeel. In other words, it gives the white blend its substance.
However, we don’t see a lot of Marsanne bottled on its own. Despite being a seemingly “strong” wine, the grape is a hard one to grow — one must not pick it too early, lest the grape is underdeveloped and lacking in flavor, nor can one pick it too late, lest it over-ripen, producing a funky-colored skin and a perceived sweetness with flavors like honey or even raisens. So how do you get this Goldilocks of a grape “just right” — with the proper ratio of flavor to texture — and produce a stand-alone, single-varietal wine? Let’s ask an expert, Larry Schaffer, of Tercero Wines who (spoiler alert to this review) definitely got it just right.
“This has been such a fun grape to work with and wine to make – so excited that I did,” says Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker of Tercero Wines. And, in fact, it’s a fun wine to drink, as Larry keeps this seemingly dark horse of a wine vibrant and indicative of the real fruit.
Once again, Larry’s chosen to work with a grape that’s often blended away amongst other varietals, and one that’s no longer easily found within California’s modern wine regions. That may be due, in part, to the fact that it’s not an easy grape to work with, often producing highly tannic and acidic wines. As a result, some vintners choose to let the buds hang a little longer; many will ferment the juice and age the wine in newer oak barrels, softening all of Carignane’s innate harshness. Not so with Larry…