Last summer, I was invited to judge for my first time at the Central Coast Wine Competition 2018. When it came time to the final round, we were voting for the Best White Wine and ended up selecting a Grenache Blanc. After the competition was over, we all went into the back to see what the wine was that won. It was the Alara Cellars 2017 Grenache Blanc that won “Best in Show” for white wines. The label was quite eye-catching but none of us had ever heard of the winery that was owned by Janu Goelz. That was because it was the first vintage of Alara Cellars. Fast forward more than six months and I met Janu and Jason Goelz for lunch when they visited Los Angeles and they shared their story of how they met and about their two individual wine labels which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and am sharing here.
When you think of wine production in Northern California, you likely think of Napa or Sonoma. Of course, there are other wine regions in Northern California, such as Mendocino and Lake counties.
Often you will hear a domestic Pinot Noir described as Burgundian in style. But only Pinot Noir from Burgundy tastes Burgundian.
Each region has its own style. Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir has bright red cherry fruit aromas. Santa Maria Pinot Noir has darker cherry aromas as well as earthy spice and tea notes. Russian River Pinot Noir is noted for its cherry fruit flavor, bright acidity and earthy mushroom notes. Oregon Pinot Noir has raspberry, strawberry, cherry and floral aromas with earthy notes of mushroom.
What sets Burgundy apart is that it is a region driven by its terroir. Land is passed down from generation to generation and Josh Green of Wine & Spirits Magazine described it as a more spiritual way of dealing with vineyards. The vignerons (grower/winemaker) look to grow grapes in a way that represents the place from where it comes. They do not have a preconceived idea of what the wine should be. In comparison, in the U.S., a winemaker chooses the land they want to work with and are more driven by varietal.
While we should not compare other wine regions to Burgundy, an interesting panel discussion led by Josh Green took place at World of Pinot Noir. The panel consisted of three Oregon wine producers: Aaron Bell of Domaine Drouhin, Thomas Savre of Lingua Franca and Mark Tarlov of Chapter 24. Their wines were tasted side-by-side with Burgundy producers. Why was that? It was not to pick the best but to see if we could find parallels. The greatest parallel is that all three of these wines have ties back to Burgundy.