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  • Writer's pictureJohn Paul Kaminga

Unexpected California Dream

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Few California wines have brought me as much pleasure as the 2015 vintage of Nathan Kandler's Old Vine White Wine from the Wirz Vineyard. My first taste prompted me to ask my friend (and sales rep) to leave me a bit to try later, and my second taste, which left me positively transfixed, prompted me to get a case sent asap. There was the time I brought it to a dinner and served it blind to a number of experienced tasters, one true legend included, and everyone concluded that it must be Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (the combo of acid and richness in this wine is quite tricky). Of course there were casual and delightful dalliances at home. Finally last week I encountered it tasting better than ever, yet at a drastically reduced price. The last interaction was actually a bit scary as I thought "does it mean the local distributor won't carry this again?" because that's often what happens with closeouts. Well let me make myself clear, this wine is easily worth $28, and I'll buy it again at that price. Today, however, we offer it for $16. You gotta try it.

Not your average California farm, the Wirz Vineyard has become a bit of an obsession for me, and I'm interested in trying a lot more from this amazing place. I can't think of anyone better to tell you about Wirz than Nathan, so I'll just let him do the job:

The first time I walked onto the property, I couldn’t believe people weren’t throwing themselves to make wine there. It’s kind of like the land that time forgot.

Visiting the Wirz Vineyard for the first time was quite a rush. When I tell colleagues that I found a patch of 60+ year old head trained, dry farmed, Riesling, and a smattering of Sylvaner, planted in a bed of decomposed granite at just under 1,000 ft at the northern end of the Gabilan Mountains - they often give me a look of complete amazement. The Wirz Vineyard is as unique as it gets in California. Cienega Valley occupies the eastern flank of the Gabilan Range and is bordered by the Diablo Range to the east with the San Andreas Fault separating the two.

The climate is alpine-like, with warm sunny days and very cool evenings. The soils is decomposed granite and underlain with limestone. Drainage is superior and vine vigor is low. This is a later ripening vineyard, with hang-time often into late October or even November, even at the low yields that dry farming dictates.

Let me tell you about the experience of tasting this wine:

Golden color. Very aromatic. Fruity, earthy and umami at once. Notes of sweet apricot, citrus pith and juice, wild herbs, honeysuckle and beeswax, hints of roasted fare and salty sea air. This is kaleidoscopic stuff, it changes with every swirl, but pure apricot and citrus always come around to buffer its infinite quirks. Rich on the nose, and once sipped this richness continues through the attack and mid-palate, but the finish has an intense minerality and the acid structure shines through to the end, keeping it fresh and vibrant.

This is not just a unique wine for California, it is quite unique in the world of wine. This is a bottle you would want to pour if you had Olivier Humbrecht and Eben Sadie over for dinner. You don't need a winemaker in the house to enjoy this wine. We would, however, recommend trying it with food. Citrusy lamb tartar, liberally herbed braised chicken thighs, nutty wild rice and bean medley garnished with fresh thyme and pecorino, miso glazed salmon... this wine would handle all with aplomb.

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