Saturday, February 19, 2011
Playing Hooky at Hirsch
Sometimes you just need a mental health day. For me, that was early February. I was tried and cranky and really no fun at all. So, wisely, I took a day off and headed to the Sonoma Coast. Way up the coast, to visit Ross Cobb at Hirsch. I've known Ross for a few years, enjoying his Flowers pinots but also his Cobb Wines. Now Ross is winemaker at Hirsch and is also making his Cobb Wines there as well.
Directions to Hirsch included the phrase, turn left and drive 40-50 miles west. Also the warning that once past Petaluma, there was likely to be no cell phone reception. Indeed, there was not. Much to y delight, I even had a bobcat sighting on the way up. I pulled over and we stared at each other for several minutes until the cat ambled up the hill. Otherwise put, Hirsch is on the far coast.
Hirsch Vineyards was established in 1980 on a ridge overlooking the ocean at Fort Ross. Their website says that: Hirsch Winery was set up in 2002 specifically to learn more about the site. Here winemaking is an extension of viticulture: the link in the chain of winegrowing where grapes, the true wealth of the land, are transformed by native yeasts (the real winemakers!) and heat into wine. The winery, set in the middle of our 1100-acre ranch, serves as the “eye” that monitors and processes the fruits of each vintage without the use of techniques and additives that filter out and distort the quintessence of the site. Due to the highly variegated soils and exposures of each vineyard and the constantly changing climate, the characteristics of the fruit will vary from vintage to vintage; but the underlying structural complexity is always there. We have learned to pay close attention to the individual sites and to taste the wines from every block (unblended until bottling) to permit the received information to guide us in our winemaking practices.
I arrived around 11 in the morning and had a chance to say hi to both David and Jasmine Hirsch before heading out with Ross to admire the vines and views. Their website has better pictures than I could ever take and also has a block map that is worth a look.
We then headed back to the winery to barrel taste both Hirsch 09s and 10s pinots as well as some of Ross's Cobb Wines as well. I must admit that I'm far from an expert at barrel tasting. Every time I have done it, it has been rushed and I felt uncertain about where the wines were going. I nod, hoping that I look knowledgeable, but I expect I just appear foolish.
This time, we tasted both individual blocks but also some blends as well. We talked about barrels and toasts and the process he goes through while deciding on his blends. He talked about how as he has become more experienced as a winemaker he has become increasingly non-interventionist, demonstrating this by letting me taste a reductive barrel that smelled much like sulfur or burnt matches. However, with some time and swirling, that faded and was replaced by floral scents. He mentioned that as a young winemaker he would have felt a need to experiment to fix the barrel, but now he had the confidence to wait and see. There is such an education in this type of tasting. To see how blends are made but also to see how the barrels from the same sites differed between 09 and 10.
We also tasted a few of Ross's Cobb Wines, the Jack Hill and the Coastlands Diane Cobb. Although yields were low due to the challenging 2010 growing season, the results were excellent. As I've mentioned before, Coastlands is always one of my favorites and I look forward to the 2010 version.