We have lived on the central coast for 7 1/2 years now and in that time we’ve joined and dropped many a wine club. But there has been one wine club that in flush times and lean, we have been a consistent member of and that’s Claiborne and Churchill Winery. The thing about Claiborne and Churchill isn’t just that they just make great wines but, that when you walk into their uniquely built Straw bale winery you always feel like a member of the family.
Owners Claiborne (Clay) Thompson and Fredericka Churchill, started their winery ownership life in 1983, after leaving their professorship positions at the University of Michigan. Fredericka taught German and Clay taught Old Norse Languages and Literatures and as a nod to his previous life he named his “Barrel Select” Pinot Noir Runestone. Claiborne and Churchill or C&C as we lovingly refer to it, specializes in Alsatian style white wines but also has made Cabs and Syrahs, Malbecs and Grenache, even Sparkling Rose, late harvest whites and Ports just to name a few. The big claim to fame for C&C is that their 2001 Dry Riesling was the ONLY American wine to win a gold medal at the Riesling du Monde competition in Alsace, France. And their Dry Riesling is still phenomenal, in fact Doug has been going nuts for the 2011 vintage since it’s release.
As I mentioned the winery it’s self is uniquely constructed, built out of stucco and straw bales to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and making it the first of its kind in California. It’s an architectural marvel that is naturally so well insulated by the rice straw bales that it keeps the winery “cellar cool” without needing any alternate mechanical heating or cooling systems and even has a porthole in the wall so you can see part of an actual straw bale.
After graduating from Cal Poly’s Agribusiness Marketing program and with a minor in Wine and Viticulture their very talented winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia came to the winery as an assistant winemaker to Clay in 2004, and has been there ever since. Coby really has a special touch when it comes to his wine-making (as Clay likes to say, after all he did learn at the knee of the master), by not being confined to a few varietals but spreading his wings using many different grape varieties, he is able to bring out the best characteristics each type has to offer.
Membership has its privileges at C&C. They always have great seasonal pick up parties where they pair their latest releases with tasty tapas and they also have events like wine blending seminars, annual dinner galas in the winery, and Library tastings. They recently released their winter wine club shipment at one of their fabulous pick up parties. This shipment included a couple of my past varietal faves …the 2011 Dry Muscat which when I say dry I mean this one to me is bone dry with 0.4% Residual sugar. Because it’s Alsatian style dry, even though there is none of that syrupy sweetness on the palate that you would typically associate with the Muscat varietal, this process still allows for all the wonderful aromas that make Muscat so appealing.
It’s a crisp wine and the nose is floral and packed with tropical fruits including jasmine and honeysuckle with hints of papaya, guava and pear. On the palate it’s still packed with those same notes but highlighted by a bitter-sweet finish accented with orange rind. Although because of its dry characteristics it seems to not be as fruit forward on the palate as it has been in past years, yet is still a wonderful wine, that when chilled makes a great aperitif but is also nice to drink casually.
The 2010 Chardonnay was RIIIDICULOUS (you can read more about that on my blog post C&C, Byron, Still Waters, and the Wrath of Grapes) so the fact that Coby and C&C were able to top it with the 2011 Chardonnay, is a testament to how good it is. The grapes for this Chard comes from the same vineyard as the 2010, one of my favorites in the area Oliver’s vineyard from the Tally Vineyards and is made up of Clone #4 & #95. This wine is 100% barrel fermented in French oak and aged on the Lees for 7-8 months. What resulted was a crisp well-rounded Chardonnay with a butterscotch floral nose and a wonderful mouth feel. The palate is full with rich toasty vanilla flavors and a slight hint of green apple.
As a result of the blending seminar, the Clueless Red and White wine series of was born. C&C picks the best blend that is created at the Seminar, bottles it, and sells it with a clue-less crossword puzzle on the label. The challenge is to go to their web page and download the PDF to get the clues to solve the puzzle and the first 10 correct entries win a Magnum. Since I myself have not completed the crossword puzzle yet I cannot tell you what varietals are actually in this wine but what I can say is it is yummy.
This year’s final holiday offering was their proprietorially named (2011) PortObispo. This dessert wine is a blend of 60% Merlot from Pozo Valley Vineyards & 40% Petite Sirah from Ranchita Canyon and fortified with grape spirits which takes the alcohol up to 18%. Once this is done, fermentation stops and is then aged in seasoned oak barrels for 15 months. It’s a lovely little dessert on its own or paired with a rich chocolate ANYthing. It’s sweet and juicy with a beautiful ruby color.
There is so much to say about this little winery with the big heart that it’s hard to keep this blog post short, which is why it’s so long! And there is even more that can be said but I think you get the picture. In any case if you’re looking for a new wine club or a first wine club to join this is a great one to have stocking your cellar.
Wine, one sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise and taste.
~ John Milton