Pence Ranch and wise farming – Why Not Wednesday

Welcome, friends, to another week of wonderful wine. This week: Pence Ranch of California’s Santa Barbara County. Let’s start with the winemaker: meet Sashi Moorman. Sashi is of the new generation of winemakers, imbued with a bright intelligence and technical competence driven by a passion for wine. Within a short time he has become greatly admired and influential in southern California, and is equally adept in the vineyard and the winery. Pence Ranch is a vineyard operated by Stoplman Vineyards, and Sashi’s main job is as winemaker for Stolpman, but he is involved in other projects as well as his own label.

Sashi is interesting because his background is a patchwork and his family had no great interest in wine. His mother is Japanese and he lived in Japan until the age of five, then in Alaska for 10 years, before moving to Washington. At university he studied geography, but wrote his thesis on Zinfandel. After graduation he worked in restaurants (haven’t we all!) where he was exposed to good Italian wines. He soon joined Ojai in southern California, where he was the sole employee.  After five years there, Sashi was ready to move on and he became winemaker at Stolpman in Santa Barbara, where he made his first vintage in 2001.

We said he had his own label: in 2003 he founded Piedrasassi with an annual production which is nearly always under 1,000 cases. In the same year he met Rajat Parr, who he notes is a pivotal figure in his life. Sashi is also the winemaker for Rajat Parr’s label Sandi.

Now, as for Pence Ranch, here’s what you’ll be getting into should you join us Wednesday. Pence Ranch is focused on producing the finest Burgundian-inspired wines made in the new world, and they also craft unique, cool-climate Syrahs expressive of the great wines from the Northern Rhone. The great thing about Pence Ranch is they come to the craft of winemaking through a humble appreciation that wine remains, at its source, a farming activity. Everything must start from the soil, the root. They recognize that the potential to create great wines must start from the highest quality fruit and are committed to investing in creating optimal soil conditions. The result? Incredibly consistent fruit and thus wine.

Using good, common-sense farming practices, a scientific system of mineral balancing, and natural methods of soil microbiology enhancement, the winemakers of Pence Ranch are able to establish an equilibrium of energy sourced from the soil below and solar energy from above for a balanced vine of a dynamic nature. In this state, the vines require minimal fertilization and the vegetative growth and fruit yields are more naturally proportional to each other. These are vines as they should be which produce fruit as it should be.

Thanks to this environment, Pence Ranch’s fruit is of optimal nutritional quality, not something often discussed in winemaking circles. The result? A more natural wine requiring little intervention by the winemaker.  “Fruit forward” is a phrase often thrown about, but Pence Ranch fruit really does reveal its own nature in each vintage and thus is a truer reflection of the interaction of the weather of that season, the soil and the farming efforts of a given year.

On to the wines!

Santa Barbara County, Chardonnay, 2014 :: $30 sale $26

Chardonnay from Pence Ranch’s region provides some of the finest examples of this varietal in California because the climate is like “refrigerated sunlight.” This results from the bright sunshine enjoyed there throughout the growing season which competes against cold winds coming from the Pacific Ocean. It is this dichotomy which creates a beautiful Chardonnay that has both freshness and flavor akin to something more decadent like a mix of Meyer lemon, yuzu and crème brûlée.

Shy at first on the nose, this wine from just east of the Santa Rita Hills boundary winds up offering a very pretty-if-delicate nose of lime, salt and a touch of popcorn hidden in the background. It’s high-toned and bright on the palate, with limestone, gray slate and lime-peel flavors, quite refreshing with each sip.

During vinification, Pence Ranch winemakers approach the wine within Sashi Moorman’s aesthetic of conservative yet strategic use of new French oak and no lees-stirring, producing magical white wines that are profound, thought-provoking, age-worthy (5 plus years) and food-friendly. Barrel fermented and aged in 25 percent new French oak puncheons for 16 months. 

Santa Barbara County, Pinot Noir, 2015 :: $30 sale $26

Aged for 12 months in 10 percent new French oak which reveals an elegant, juicy wine balancing a French motif with the California sun. Fermentations for Pinot Noir employ only wild yeasts and are done in four ton concrete open-top fermenters. Stem inclusion is done in varying percentages each year depending on the health of fruit. After primary fermentation is complete, there is no settling of free run juice, which is barreled directly from the fermenter. All wines are aged in neutral to 30 percent new French oak barrels. Wines are racked the following summer. There are no further wine movements until assemblage prior to bottling, and this occurs only after nine to 15 months in barrel.

Sebastiano Syrah, Santa Rita Hills, 2014 :: $75 sale $65

Directly to the west of Pence Ranch is beautiful Sebastiano vineyard which was planted in 2007 and is farmed by Coastal Vineyard Care, one of the region’s top growers. At the highest elevation there is a small planting of Syrah on clay-limestone soils with a south-facing orientation which is entirely exposed to 45 mph ocean winds. Syrah grown in a cold extreme place like this becomes very aromatic with purple flowers and briary fruit, black pepper and black olive nuances. These pretty aromatics are further accentuated because the fruit is fermented entirely as whole-cluster in a four ton concrete fermenter and then aged two years in a 581 gallon Foudre–none of these are common practices in the U.S. The results are serious: incredible complexity, yet the wine remains fresh and delicious on the palate with at least a decade of life ahead of it. Syrah is going through a renaissance in California and this wine is at the forefront of these efforts.

Santa Barbara County, Passetoutgrains, Estate Gamay, 2015 :: $36 sale $32

“PTG” is Sashi Moorman’s take on a Burgundian Passetoutgrains. An fresh and spicy blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, it’s lithe yet full of minerals, red berries and savory green herbs. Pence Ranch is very excited about this second release of their estate grown Passe-Tout-Grains which is a blend of 2/3 Gamay and 1/3 Pinot Noir. The AOC Passe-Tout-Grains in Burgundy, France, was created in 1937 and is traditionally a blended wine of Gamay and Pinot Noir and sometimes Chardonnay and other white varietals. Historically, Gamay was often inter-planted into Pinot Noir vineyards in France as a hedge against preventing low yields. Gamay carries a larger cluster and so the size was often quietly advantageous in low-yielding vintages.

Over the last two years, Pence Ranch has grafted three acres of Pinot Noir with vine cuttings from the oldest Gamay vineyards in the U.S. via a vineyard in Oregon. The grapes were fermented in concrete and then aged in neutral puncheon with the Gamay done carbonically. Reports are good: Sashi and company are thrilled with the results and have decided to produce a wine reminiscent of this classic yet little known, and rarely seen, wine from Burgundy. It has depth and complexity from Pinot Noir and all the freshness and fruit aromas from Gamay.

Wines will be featured through Tuesday, February 7th.

Pence Ranch

It’s that time again, friends: Wine Share Saturday at Pearl Wine Company! Curious as to what the wine share is? At Pearl Wine Company we believe in real wine made by real people. Each month we hand select wines authentic wines made at family-owned wineries. When you pick up your share, you’ll not only be receiving wine, you’ll receive the profile and story of each featured winery. For levels, choose either our Table Wine, Banquet or Connoisseur Wine Share monthly collections. Pick up your box the first Saturday of each month. Selections rotate with the seasons.

Evan from Colorado Wine Merchants will be pouring this Saturday’s Wine Share Tasting. We’ll taste two wines blind, and we’ll vote for one of those for the next wine share. Come prepared to also sample two wines from the store.

TABLE WINE $55 – four bottles

At PWC we refer to our everyday drinking wine as Tuesday Night Wine or Table Wine. Think of it as that bottle that you can pop open and enjoy with pizza, a burger or on its own! This section is a rotating selection of wines that are on our table any given month.

THE BANQUET $95 – six bottles

Our Banquet is comprised of six bottles and will include four table wine bottles and two bottles you might plan a dinner around, open for some guests or even lay down for that right occasion!

We start sippin’ and tastin’ at 4pm. Hope you can make it! Tag your pics #pickitupatpearl so we can CHEERS! 

Discover why 5280 Magazine Readers and Editors voted Pearl Wine Company Denver’s BEST BOTTLE SHOP. PWC takes pride in being Denver’s best wine shop–a craft liquor specialty store. Conveniently located on South Pearl Street in Denver’s Platt Park neighborhood.