They’ve done it again. California has gone and compelled me to take up the pen and write about my newfound love for one of its producers: Jonata, owned by the famously sought-after Screaming Eagle of Napa.
A couple of days ago, my rep walked in with the manager of this estate, Armand de Maigret—a Frenchman, originally born in Champagne. I did not learn this until the end of the tasting, but it suddenly made sense that a man born in a world of some of the most complex liquid in this world would come to California only to work with and represent one of the finest vineyards.
Tucked in the Ballard Canyon of Santa Ynez Valley—a Central Coast appellation in California—are the vineyards of Jonata. A sub-region that excels in Rhone varieties (Syrah being the most prominent) as well as Burgundy (Pinot and Chard), Santa Ynez has given producers such as Beckman,Vogelzang, Margerum and Paul Lato great success. Many have turned to sustainable viticultural methods, not the least of which Jonata. No herbicides. No pesticides. Water conservation to the point of dry farming when possible.
Ballard Canyon is quite a bit warmer than, say, its nearby neighbor Santa Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley—sometimes by as much as 15 degrees. It is set apart by this slightly more warm climate as well as its soil: a land of limestone, gravel and sand. Rarely have winemakers in Santa Ynez desired to work with Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, because, quite honestly, it is not easy to grow here.
Some will not settle for that as an answer.
It is precisely the work of Matt Dee—winemaker at Jonata—that has taken me aback and brought me to attempt the impression upon my palate.
Not to be mistaken, the 2006 La Sangre Syrah and 2007 La Poesia Pinot Noir were exquisite—truly wonderful representations of California style wine at its best.
But it was the 2006 Jonata el Desafio Cab Sauv and especially the 2006 El Alma Cab Franc that simply made me weak in the knees.
They were not akin to the usual suspects seen woven throughout my blog. They were not delicate, light-footed, notably low-alcohol, old world style bottles… They were big. Modern. They were substantial on the palate. They demanded beef. They demanded a choir of angels (haha, kinda kidding). But mostly, they demanded my attention.
These were seriously structured wines that achieved that oh-so-perfect balance of severe strength and enviable elegance. Forceful finesse. A paradox. My favorite.
The Cab Franc was not ‘green’ as so many can be. Maigret explained that this is due to the winemaker calculating just the right amount of leaves in order to fully ripen the grapes by harvest. The most striking characteristic about this wine lies less in the myriad of fruit: the dark blueberries and blackberries I’ve grown a bit tired of describing (you know?). Rather, the illumination comes from the structure itself. It is so supple. So smooth. A rocky, mineral element permeated the background as well. It’s hard to believe such a broad-shouldered wine can pull off such a graceful, dainty dance—like a quarterback in a tutu.
The Cab, too was lovely. Actually a blend of Cab (84%), Franc (9%), Petite Verdot (6%) and a drop of Merlot (1%)—how they make these decisions, I sometimes just don’t know. But it worked. All the predictable cassis and dark fruits wore their Sunday finest while, again, a terroir-ish graphite came through on the nose and palate. A true diamond in the rough of Rhone wine.
These wines aren’t cheap, but if it’s for a special occasion or you just want some honest to goodness solid California Cab, you can be sure your money will be well-spent here.
I may never be a self-proclaimed California wine junky, but hell if I don’t give this country credit when it is due.