October 2, 2008

Shootout at the Stone Corral

In 2001, Brian Talley converted a 27-acre plot of grazing land into a vineyard planted with Pinot Noir. Two other winemakers, from Kynsi and Stephen Ross, shared the development costs in exchange for long-term access to the grapes grown. The 5 blocks of the resulting Stone Corral vineyard were each divided into thirds, each to be shared by the three participants.

The innovative business arrangements that gave rise to these shared vines provide rich territory for our ongoing search for dirt. Three distinct wines all from the same mud.

I drove from the Lab in Los Angeles to the Talley Vineyards' Tasting Room to find their 2005 vintage of the Stone Corral Pinot Noir. Then I criss-crossed back and forth across the Central Coast until finally locating a bottle of the Kynsi Estate Stone Corral Vineyard Pinot Noir from the same vintage at a grower's cooperative in San Luis Obispo.

Upon my return, a certain former employee went down to the wine shop on the corner. Instead of coming back with the single item on his shopping list, he came back with an Edna Valley Pinot Noir from Stephen Ross. He said he was pretty sure the wine was made from the Stone Corral vineyard. I told him I was pretty sure he was going to spend the afternoon working on his resume.

But we pressed on with our two-thirds worth of experiment.

The Kynsi has a tight, slightly herbaceous, nose of black cherry fruit. This is an elegant wine with a complex mix of red and blue fruits, oak traces, and a subtle mineral element. And very young. Sharp tannins with more bite than heft.

The Talley wine has a beautiful, complex nose of turned earth, smoke, cherry and plum. The palate is dense cherry fruit, with subtle hints of cedar and green tannins. With air, the wine's tannins grew lush and velvety but some of the complexities also seemed to fade against the swell of ripe, jammy fruit.

These are both beautiful expressions of Pinot, and there is no doubt the experiment would well be worth revisiting after these have enjoyed a few years of bottle age. But what can we say about them now? And more importantly, about their shared terroir?

The Talley seems to me a more site specific wine. But perhaps I've been fooled into this belief by the earthy qualities of the wine? The two definitely share characteristics. Their black cherry was like fruit from the same tree (not at all that surprising, given the wines were, in fact, made from fruit grown in adjoining rows). But getting past common clones and divergent cooperage, to delve deeper into shared elements of dirt proved to be difficult.

Perhaps to really understand the commonalities -- to really identify the unique elements of their shared site -- it would help to compare them to something they're not...

Hey! Someone chase down that kid we just fired. Get him and that Stephen Ross Edna Valley Pinot back in the Lab.

While we wait, you might want to use the time to catch up on the previous chapters in our quest for that strange grail of terroir.


Paula said...

Hello J David - You need to get a bottle of the Stephen Ross Stone Corral Pinot Noir. Your ex-employee was on to something, our 2006 Stephen Ross, Edna Valley does have quite a bit of Stone Corral fruit in it, but for a true vineyard analysis - get the Stone Corral! www.stephenrosswine.com

charlie said...

This is a very interesting experiment. I have tasted the Talley and the Stephen Ross side by side. Although they are both excellent I preferred the Stephen Ross. I would be interested to see you continue the experiment, including the Stephen Ross in the tasting.

Chief of Lab Research said...

Paula, We hired him back. He's in charge of sourcing bottles for a repeat of the experiment that will include all 3 wines from the Stone Corral. As well as 3 other Pinot Noirs from the 3 producers. We plan to taste all 6 blind. Then see what happens.

Charlie, See the above. We're on it!