2019 Birichino Besson Vineyards Old Vine Grenache, Central Coast, California

2019 Birichino Besson Vineyards Old Vine Grenache, Central Coast, California



“The winery’s study of this 110-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard keeps getting better each vintage. Aromas of fresh red currant and raspberry are lifted by chaparral, gravel and turned earth on the nose. There’s an herbal grip to the palate, as a rocky structure frames red-currant, crumpled carnation and rose-petal-tea flavors.” – 95 points, Wine Enthusiast (7/1/21)

This old bush vine Grenache vineyard was planted on its own root stock in 1910.  The old vines are dry farmed on the well drained, sandy loam and granitic soils near Uvus creek in the windy Hecker Pass area of Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley.  The vineyard was the original source for many of Randall Graham’s Bonny Doon “Cigar Volant” and “Clos du Gilroy”.  David Bruce and Ian Brand have made very successful wines from this vineyard site too!  Very refined and pure Grenache, not over ripened, so there is true transparency and restraint. Quite literally “strawberry fields forever”!  13.5% alcohol.

I include the winery’s notes belowe, as they echo my mantra regarding the pit falls of harvesting over ripe clusters –

“Let us fire up the way-back machine and survey a few of the buzzwords employed by devious wine marketers to cajole consumers into purchasing. The last 8 or 9 years have seen the term “mineral” invoked any time an appeal to a hipster’s bona fides could be successfully exploited. Convince a somm a wine is “mineral,” and the door to a By-The-Glass placement is opened wide. Before “minerality,” “terroir” was discussed with great ardor in California, though many of the claims made in its name were spurious. Which brings us to “hangtime,” c. 1986, just before we arrived on the scene. The prerogative of the grapegrower/winemaker, was to wait, wait, wait to pick. You waited until danger just appeared on the horizon, then waited a touch longer until you could smell the hangtime devil’s boozy, sickly-sweet breath … and then you picked. Flavor development [read “jamminess”] turned up to the max – with a corresponding boozahol level – was the perceived order of the day. And if one was solely concerned with the sheer quanta of flavor and organoleptic assault, hangtime was your wo/man. However, if quanta of flavors plural, complexity, distinctiveness and dynamics are on the docket, then the calculus of when to pick often suggests a very different strategy. In many vineyards, picking superripe grapes often homogenizes a wine, rendering it indistinguishable from a wine made from grapes grown some distance away in a completely different terroir.

The Besson Family’s old Grenache vineyard presented a completely different calculus. While the 2018 seemed to us on par with several other excellent years, it has proved the best received vintage by the press. 2018 was lithe, lively, ethereal. Then 2019 rolled around. It will be remembered as a quite nice if inconsistent vintage – better here, less exciting there. Temperatures soared significantly higher than in 2018. Quite frankly, only a few wines from 2019 will go down as the exemplars of their type when the grandkids discuss wines from the Two Thousand Teens. HOWEVER, these vines produced one of the finest wines ever to emerge from our cellar, albeit in smallish quantities. The yields were quite small, as were the cluster and berry sizes. An attempt to duplicate the style of 2018 would likely have resulted in a greenish, tannic, hard-edged wine. Happily, one of the great virtues of Besson is its clarity in communicating when it is ready. The vines were most insistent, nearing 14.0% potential alcohol, that they had no intention of allowing our grubby hands on them for another week. Even before the grapes are ready, they are absolutely delicious. But when à point, a switch is flipped; an electric lightning bolt of cherry liqueur and alpine herbs hits the palate. Pick too early and the Besson distinctiveness does not obtain.

As is our habit, with roughly 10% of the blend, we employ the ancient Italian method of appassimento. We pick the grapes into small picking boxes, deliver them to a barn at the vineyard where they “rest” for 8 to 12 days on the cool concrete slab, the air constantly circulated by fans. We emphasize “rest,” as the grapes really only begin to dehydrate significantly after about 14 days. We want the stems to dry and lignify and for a magical, and to date, mysterious transformation to occur, though we do want to gain potential alcohol. After resting, the grapes are brought to the winery for destemming. The destemmed grapes are recombined with the de-graped stems for a fermentation/cuvaison lasting around 6 weeks. The resulting wine exhibits a highly amplified Amaro/Chinato/mountain herb scent, along with an intense raspberry liqueur quality. This fraction is aged separately and most of it is blended back into the main cuvée before bottling, and greatly amplifies to the true DNA of wines made in this corner of the Santa Clara Valley – that forestry, alpine, liqueur deliciousness which makes the wine taste like nothing else but Grenache, and like no other Grenache.

And that is one of the great joys of this racket – standing in a vineyard during the harvest, munching on a cluster, finger in the proverbial wind, divining what the Gods, or at least the grapes, intend.”

Alex Krause and John Locke founded Birichino in Santa Cruz in 2008. Drawing on a combined four decades making wine in California, France, Italy, and beyond, they are focused on attaining the perfect balance of perfume, poise, and puckishness. Sourcing from a number of carefully farmed, family-owned, own-rooted 19th and early 20th century vineyards (and a few from the late disco era) planted by and large in more moderate, marine-influenced climates, their preoccupation is to safeguard the quality and vibrance of their raw materials. Their preference is for minimal intervention, most often favoring native fermentations, employing stainless or neutral barrels, minimal racking and fining, and avoiding filtration altogether when possible. But most critically, their aim is to make delicious wines that give pleasure, revitalize, and revive.





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