SALAMANDRE WINE CELLERS
After negotiating a twisting, winding road somewhat off the beaten path (well, it WAS paved), we arrived at the Shoemakers, where we were greeted by Wells, Sandy and Shasta, the wonder retriever. (One look at her tennis ball was proof enough that dogs will put almost ANYTHING in their mouths!)
The winery is literally a good-sized garage, with fermentation tanks out back. Inside are various barrels and cases of wine stacked almost to the ceiling. No Ferarri-Carano this, and whod have it any other way?
We were being treated to a rather special occasion, because Salamandre is only open to the public four weekends a year, but thanks to a request to stop by from their old friend Jason, an exception was made. And within the first twenty minutes, we felt as if we were with old friends of our own, as Wells let us taste wines from both bottle and barrel.
1996 Salamandre Santa Cruz Mtns.
We started off with a glass of 96 Gewürztraminer, which has lovely dry, spicy varietal character, with nice touches of cinnamon and nutmeg. As good as the Storrs is, this might be a titch better. Maybe the best domestic Gewurz Ive had the pleasure of meeting.
Next, we tasted some Chardonnays. The 96 Clos Dor Plise (!) Chardonnay is rich, ripe and fat, with good acidity and nice subtle spice. Wells thinks this will age nicely. The 96 Hunter Moon Reserve is just a lovely expression of pure Chardonnay fruit, with the oak in the background. I preferred the first slightly, and am sorry that we brought none home
The97 Arroyo Seco barrel sample was just finishing malolactic fermentation, showing spicy oak and rich fruit which bode well for its future.
Then came the 95 Matteson Pinot Noir
which Wells described as his "yummiest
yet." I dont know about past vintages, but this was one hell of a gorgeous
wine, and is the reason that we didnt buy anything else here, because we bought some
of this! (I opened one
The 97 barrel sample of the Matteson Pinot seemed a little lighter that the 95, but was also lovely.
The 95 Arroyo Seco Merlot contains 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and shows an interesting earthy component to its nice fruit. A 97 barrel sample of this shows the same earthy character; Wells says its fruit comes from clone #3 and clone #9. (Theres a song there somewhere; I just KNOW it.)
Wells 97 Primitivo (Zinfandel) from southern Monterey County was quite interesting, and tasty! It came in two pickings, segregated in separate barrels. The first was a little lighter in color than the second, with lotsa nice red fruit. The second, picked three weeks later, showed more tannins and substance. When blended together in the glass, they made a wine that was perfumed, fresh and fruity. Id like to visit this blend again when its bottled.
(While all this was going on, Wells was literally having to climb atop wine cases and/or crawl over barrels, wine thief in hand, to draw us some of the samples. Sandy, Jason and these tasters watched and happily discussed a wide range of subjects that included the guttural vocal qualities of Tom Waits voice, the disgusting nature of Shastas "fetch" tennis ball [you kicked it to her instead of throwing it], local political gossip and of course, the wines.)
Their 97 Syrah barrel sample was true to the varietal, with delicious smoky plum flavors, and was, as Wells put it, "pretty puckery."
By this time it was pushing 5, and Wells and Sandy had dinner plans. The Director and I were expected back at Gang West as well, so we made our purchases, again gave many thanks, and departed somewhat ruefully. Before we did though, Wells said we had to taste one more, and poured us a bit of their 90 Late Harvest Chardonnay. Sweet and lovely, this showed big-time caramel apple flavors and a hint of oxidation on the nose. Very nice stuff!
We dropped Jason off at Storrs, and hopefully let him know just how much we appreciated him taking the time to introduce us to these two very special family wineries that get little recognition or notice beyond their home territory, yet produce such high quality wines.
He IS one of the untiring champions of the Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation, afterall
Salamandre is available via the winery and in retail in California, plus only a few other states. Salamandre Wine Cellars, 108 Don Carlos Dr., Aptos, CA 95003; 408.685.0321, 408.685.1860 (fax).
1996 Salamandre Santa Cruz
1996 Salamandre Santa Cruz
1995 Salamandre Santa Cruz
1997 Salamandre Santa Cruz
1995 Salamandre Merlot
1997 Salamandre Merlot
1997 Salamandre Primitivo
1997 Salamandre Syrah
1990 Salamandre Santa Cruz