Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ampelos Biodynamic Wines Are Naturally Good

Rebecca and Peter Work met when they were both executives atampelos_pinot_lambda_label06 Price-Waterhouse. A last minute cancellation of a meeting that Peter was supposed to attend at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was enough to make them re-evaluate their priorities, trade their Mercedes in for a tractor, and try their hands at creating their passion: wine made from organic processes that they would enjoy drinking and sharing with others. The elegant wines of Ampelos Cellars demonstrate that they have succeeded in spades.

Toledo Wines and Vines tasting team members Stephanie and Patrick Wise (a.k.a Wine Chick and Patrick-No-Nickname-Yet) attended a recent VIP wine tasting at the Glass Pavilion of the Toledo Museum of Art. Adam Mahler from Ampelography coordinated the event and invited special guest Rebecca Work, owner of Ampelos Cellars in Lompoc, California, in the Santa Rita Hills south of Santa Barbara (“Ampelos” is the Greek word for vine). Rebecca and her husband, Peter, have a remarkable story about how they came to be winemakers and what it takes to run a business almost completely by hand, beginning with the fateful cancelled meeting.

The Works have always been an environmentally friendly couple. It was important to them to incorporate as much of their philosophy of “living green” into their business. They researched and consulted with experts in growing organic and planted their first vines in 2002. By 2003 they had their first harvest. Soon, they sought certification as an organic farm, and later became certified in biodynamic and sustainability, becoming one of the first if not the only vineyard in the United States to have all three certifications.

ampleosBiodynamic practices use the natural phases of the earth’s cycle to create crops that are hearty, flavorful, and able to withstand the elements. Organic processes use no synthetic products in the growing of crops. Thus, if you are using biodynamic processes, you are also organic by default. Finally, sustainability pertains to both farming and human resource practices, looking at the vineyard as a whole and how it can maintain viability as a business.

Peter and Rebecca are extremely “hands on” in that very little, if any, machinery ever touches their vines or grapes. They hand pick, prune and press their grapes. They use ladybugs to ward off other insects. They use cork instead of twist tops, as the trees that harvest the cork are protected as long as they are used for that purpose. With so many wineries changing to twist tops, these forests are actually in danger of becoming unprotected, thus vulnerable to the deforestation similar to the rain forests.

The care and love they give to their craft shows in the wines they create. Mostly reds (they only make what they like), their wines are excellent for both dinner and sipping. We were able to sample four of their “signature” wines:

“Lambda” Pinot Noir 2006 is their largest production. This wine was very smooth, full bodied and well balanced. In our opinion, this wine represents what their vineyard represents: heartiness, consistency, and vibrancy. It is complex yet simple: you can taste the flavors without the need for a sophisticated palate. (This wine is so good there was a full bottle tasting later that evening!)

Fiddlestix Pinot Noir 2007 harvests grapes from the nearby Fiddlestix vineyard (partners in production). We definitely tasted the cherry notes and smoky finish that comes with the French oak barreling process.

“Syrache” Syrah/Grenache Blend 2006 was a surprising combination of flavors. Comprised of 73% Syrah and 23% Grenache, this wine “pops” in your mouth with the tannins that are representative of the wines. Stephanie really liked it as her favorites tend to be those with more tannin flavors.

“Gamma” Syrah 2006 is their “lip licking” wine because it goes on and on, beginning at the lips and tip of the tongue all the way to the back of the throat. Whether it was purely by suggestion or because it really is true, both Patrick and Stephanie were licking their lips to this one! This is a beautiful Syrah, complex and barreled in both American and French oak.

All of their wines have beautiful color from ruby to a dark garnet. All should be decanted for about an hour, and the fact that they are organic amplifies the flavors if opened and recorked. These wines can also last longer once opened, and are best opened 9-13 years from production. Ironically, Ampelos has not been in business that long, but the Works cannot wait to try their first bottle of 2003 in another couple of years!

Ampelos is not a large winery. The Works are not in the business for the money and are not interested in expanding. They feel fortunate that their former lives have placed them in a good position to live their dream. However, the organic processes and hand care that they provide their crops does significantly add to the cost. Approximately $10 of each bottle is fruit cost alone. The MSRP for their wines ranges from $32 to $45, so these may not be “every day” wines, but definitely occasion wines and something that you have to try in order to appreciate everything that goes into making each bottle. We guarantee you will taste the difference!

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