When Eric Laumann brought in his two acres of red grapes in 2004, he was left scratching his head. The crop level hadn't seemed so high in the vineyard, but when it all came in, there were close to 6 tons to the acre. Laumann had made a deal with a vineyard owner for whom he was doing winemaking. In partial exchange for his work, Laumann opted to conduct an experiment, grafting 2 acres of Riesling over to Tannat, a variety native to the South of France that is rarely seen in California. The 2004 was successful, but didn't have the concentrated fruit core Laumann was looking for. So when the grapes set in 2005 and he saw a similar crop load, he got an idea. He decided to give the vines a haircut.
The Tannat is planted on a tiny, well-drained benchland parcel just south of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Evenings are cool; exposure is excellent. Laumann walked through the vineyard in August, eyeing the single cluster on each shoot. But each cluster bore small grape outgrowths, almost like wings, and the wings seemed to be less developed than the tight berries in the main cluster. The next day Laumann went out with his shears and clipped off the wings, dropping 1/3 of his return on the ground.
But the added concentration afforded by the much lower yields was just the beginning. When we asked Eric how he managed to rein in the often harsh tannins of the Tannat grape, he offered, "Honestly? We had no idea what we were doing!" Not quite. By year two, Laumann -- an understudy of Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon -- had adopted a menu of techniques for maximizing concentration and taming tannins. He picked late -- really late -- bringing in the grapes at optimum maturity during the last week of October. Then, in the winery, he treated the grapes gently, getting tremendous extraction while keeping the sweet fruit softer and more supple than what's largely found with Tannat. Over two years in 40% new French cooperage perfectly rounded things out. The result is a Cabernet-like wine, with deep color, broad shoulders and restrained complexity.
Winemaker Eric Laumann
A gorgeous deep purple in color, this wine has concentrated aromas of violets, blueberries and underbrush. While the wine resembles Cabernet in structure, in place of the sweet fruit Cabernet middle, there's a more restrained complexity, opening slowly with air. Drink out of large vessels and take your time.
We like this full-bodied red wine with some nice grass-fed steaks. But other hearty fare, like a duck and mushroom ragout, will also work splendidly.