Friday, November 4, 2011

Qupe Isn't Just Santa Barbara Any More

For three decades, Qupe Winery has been synonymous with Santa Barbara County, in particular Bien Nacido Vineyard. You'd hear "Bien Nacido" and automatically you'd think "Qupe," or vice versa. They're so closely affiliated that in 1989, when Bob Lindquist, owner of Qupe, teamed up with his old pal and mentor Jim Clendenen, owner of Au Bon Climat, to build a joint winery they put it right in Bien Nacido Vineyard.

Thus, when tasting through Qupe's current releases at a gathering in Sacramento the other day, I was struck that my two favorite wines weren't from Bien Nacido Vineyard at all, but from some place called Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo County. Oh, most of the Qupe wines from Bien Nacido Vineyard were their old reliable selves, which is to say forthright in smell, fresh and true in flavor, and gracefully balanced from first sip through lingering finish. They included a sleek and persistent blend of half chardonnay and half viognier from 2010 called "Bien Nacido Cuvee;" a 2008 chardonnay under the banner "Block Eleven" that was powerfully built yet agile; and the 2006 "Hillside Estate" syrah, positively jammy with mouth-filling fruit.

Yet, the two wines I will be watching for in wine shop and on wine list are from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in San Luis Obispto County. It's a hilly 40 acres that Lindquist and his wife Louisa began to plant only in 2005. This is no old-vine vineyard, but the composition of its soils, its exposure and its long and cool growing season, coupled with the couple's biodynamic farming, is yielding wines of astonishing depth, breadth and complexity.

The Qupe 2009 Edna Valley Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Syrah ($35) is a righteously meaty take on the varietal. It attacks nose and palate with intense fruit flavors punctuated with several dashes of dark peppery spice. It's a rarity among syrahs in that it is so forthright while also remaining so diplomatic. You can drink it now and be completely satisfied, but later you'll kick yourself for not hanging on to it for another few years just to see how magnificent its expression will develop. Better stock up on several bottles. It's totally syrah; its complexity comes from the sort of breeding and manipulation you don't find on wine labels - five clones, three blocks of grapes, harvesting spread across an entire month, fermentation in 14 separate lots, and months later a blending of only the most dramatic barrels.

The Qupe 2009 Edna Valley Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Grenache ($35) is the poster child for the potential of grenache in California, showing that almost entirely on its own the varietal has the stuff to persuade legions of winemakers to fall in line. It isn't grenache alone - 13 percent syrah from the same vineyard was added - but it seizes with authority and spunk the variety's strawberry, cherry and black-pepper attributes like few other renditions in the state. An herbal thread and a touch of astringency in the finish will take some getting used to, but once that appreciation of those characteristics is acquired it will be an addiction impossible to shake, as if anyone would want to.

Both wines are at the Davis Food Co-op, and 58 Degrees & Holding in Sacramento will be bringing in the grenache before long.

Lindquist certainly hasn't turned his back on Santa Barbara County, but by branching out into Edna Valley he's showing with steel and flair that there's more to San Luis Obispo County's wine landscape than Paso Robles.

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