Viognier • Vista Verde Vineyard
California: San Benito County
What we say
Mission Codename: Fight for your right – to drink great White!
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Send Agent white to San Benito County to find the perfect Viognier
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Vinum Cellars
Wine Subject: 2006 Vio
Winemaker: Chris Condos and Richard Bruno
The Wine Spies have featured a great many red wines recently. This has caused Agent White to become somewhat cantankerous, so today Agent White was directed to Vinum Cellars’ Vista Verde Vineyard, where grapes for their great Viognier are grown. Read his full report below.
Today’s wine is made by winemakers Chris Condos and Richard Bruno (also the Director of Winemaking for Don Sebastiani & Sons).
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – White-golden straw in color, with thick legs
Smell – A burst of light candied apricot, subtle peach, with fresh mown hay, floral notes of jasmine and orange blossom
Feel – a lovely zing right at the tip of the tongue, followed by a pleasing all-over tannic nibble
Taste – Tart and sweet, but mostly sweet with gentle tropical fruit flavors and a light oakiness
Finish – Tart and sharp initially, tapering to tart with a tannic dryness that reminds you to take another sip.
Conclusion – When I am in the mood for a sweet white wine, I usually reach for a Viognier. This wine is a nice great compliment to spicy foods but completely holds up on its own on a hot afternoon or as an after any dinner aperitif. As Viognier goes, this is one of the best I have tasted in recent days and the best in its price range.
It feels good to get out from behind my Wine Spies HQ control panel, a wall-spanning display which details ongoing mission status and provides intel updates on our wineries. Agents Red and Zin seem to be handed most of the choice missions these days, while I toil away at Central Command. While I do provide vital mission support to our field agents, I had missed the action of the vineyards.
What a great time of year to be visiting our wineries! When the vines are heavy with fruit, there is a palpable tension in the air. Also, a jubilant sense of anticipation. This is the time of year when the growers and winemakers are constantly in the fields, checking the fruit for readiness.
Today’s wine, VIO from Vinum Cellars comes from this beautiful vineyard, the Vista Verde Vineyard located in the hills just north of the Pinnacles, in San Benito County. The grapes for this wine were hand-picked here. Whole clusters were pressed and cold fermented in small French Oak barrels. The wine then underwent partial malo-lactic fermentation and was aged Sur Lies (small French barrels) for 9 months.
Managed by fabled growers John and Kathe Dyson, what makes this vineyard such a great place to grow Viognier are the climate and the soil: a long cool growing season and rock, gravel and pebbles, laced with calcium carbonate lenses and a lot of lime, promoting good drainage. Vintage after vintage, this vineyard delivers exceptional quality.
Walking through the trestles with the winemakers Chris Condos and Richard Bruno, I am reminded that winemaking is an affair of heart, science and nature, all, hopefully in harmony with one another.
These young winemaker have a simple philosophy: Work with great grape growers to develop the best fruit in the vineyard. Then, pick grapes at optimal ripeness and gently process the fruit. They experiment with yeast strains and use different cultures for each variety that they create and their whites are barrel fermented slowly and then aged Sur Lies in small French Oak barrels. They believe in the use of older French Oak barrels, which allows the varietal fruit of their wines to be fully expressed. These guys are committed to experimenting and learning new winemaking methods while preserving a decidedly old world approach.
After our walking tour the guys lower the tailgate of their pickup truck and pull a dripping bottle of chilled VIO out of the cooler. Each of us are poured a glass and I swirl as I stand there in the sunshine of the vineyard. This is a great way to experience wine! A swirl, a sniff and a taste validate the reputation of this winemaking pair. This wine is a fresh delight that seems better balanced and more fun than other California Viognier I have tasted recently.
After a while, I realize that I am keeping the pair from their duties in the vineyards and I politely excuse myself, making the excuse that I needed to file my report. They bid me a hearty farewell and hand me a couple of bottles – which, I explained, I needed for further research…
Chris grew up in a large Greek family, His grandfathers made wine, his father sells wine, so naturally he thought that someone in the family should do both. After graduating with a Plant Ecology degree, Chris went on to study Viticulture & Enology at UC Davis. In 1995 he went to work for Pine Ridge Winery in Napa as their enologist, mainly making Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and, of course, Chenin Blanc.
Currently Chris is a winemaking consultant for Kathryn Kennedy Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Richard pursued his interest in wine by going into the restaurant business in 1985. As a waiter and bartender, the opportunity to taste rare and exiting wines increased as his experience in the industry progressed. After deciding to become a winemaker, he attended UC Davis to learn Viticulture & Enology in 1994 and graduated in 1997. Richard worked for various wineries from Santa Cruz to Napa Valley and as an independent wine consultant in California and Colorado. He is now the winemaker for a little wine making company called Don Sebastiani & Sons.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County
This is another cool climate mountain vineyard located in the Northern foothills of the Pinnacle National Forest. The vineyard is owned by John Dyson among other choice properties such as Willian Selyem. It’s ideal for aromatic varietals such as Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
The location of the Vista Verde Vineyards can be seen in this satellite photo
Wine Spies Technical Analysis:
Varietal Composition: 100% Viognier Vista Verde Vineyard
Appellation: San Benito
Harvest Brix: 24.9O
Winemakers: Richard Bruno and Chris Condos
TA: (g/100ml) 0.62
Aging: Oak 45% 2 year, 55% 3 year old French oak
Production: 1138 six bottle cases
What the winery says
TOP SECRET PREVIEW: Fans of – Be sure to visit us this weekend – We’ve got a great wine for you!
About Vinum Cellars
Vinum Cellars is a collaboration of winemaker’s Richard Bruno and Chris Condos, who first became friends while they were students at UC Davis. They share a long standing passion for Chenin Blanc and fondness for the more obscure grape varieties.
After graduation, Chris went to work for Pine Ridge an Enologist, and Richard wehnt to Bonny Doon as their distiller. Shortly after, their friendship was solidified over Chenin Blanc with the creation of their first wine “Pointe Blanc”. Currently the Vinum Cellars team is working with over 10 grape varieties from El Dorado and San Benito Counties to Napa Valley.
About the wine
Beautiful burnished gold color with glinty highlights. Intense aromas of Apricots, Honeydew Melon, Seckel Pears, Honeycomb, blooming white flowers and vanilla bean dominate the nose.
On the palate, ripe sweet fruit flavors of Apricots, Mandarin Oranges and Pears mingle with Slate and warm spices to show amazing depth and breadth. Rich mouthfeel, and a long finish with exquisite, palate-cleansing acidity. Pairs beautifully with sweet fleshed seafood like lobster and shrimp, as well as floral flavors like saffron and lemongrass.