Rulings from the Bench(land), Part 2

By Glen Frederiksen

After nearly a month spent in the cool mists of California’s Central Coast, escaping the summer heat and monsoonal downpours of Las Vegas, it was a bittersweet ride to Byron Winery on the southern tip on the Santa Maria Bench. The Happy Cooker and I had made it to the end of a true month-long vacation, the first time in our thirty-seven years of marriage.

Do not underestimate the rejuvenating power of doing nothing, of waking up with nowhere to be, and no time to get there. It is only when one sheds the daily regimens of life that one realizes how stressful today’s life has become.

As we passed row after row of vines, heavily laden with ripened grapes soon to be harvested, a melancholy mood swept over us. In a couple of days, we would be back home, back to the usual routines, the familiar patterns that make up our Golden Years days.

But today… today, we were still free, not a care in the world, cruising down a familiar wine route we had navigated many times in the past.

Arriving at Byron Winery is like entering another world. Not open to the public except by appointment or for special events, it is reached by a snaking road that takes one from the Foxen Canyon riverbed up onto the sprawling mesa several hundred feet above. It is like entering another world. The vista from the deck of the winery is of acre upon acre of vines, with the hills on the west side of the canyon welling up to frame them on the horizon.

View from the Byron tasting room

View from the Byron tasting room

Here, we sat with winemaker Jonathan Nagy. Now with Byron over a decade, Nagy is a self-admitted Pinotphile, smitten with the nuances of the Pinot Noir grape. As we sat and talked about the pending harvest, just about to begin, we sipped on three of the latest Byron Pinot Noir releases. The three wines were distinctly Pinot Noir, but nothing alike. This is partly due to the clonal selection (Pinot Noir has hundreds of palatable grape renditions, each with a different flavor profile), partly due to the vintage harvested, partly due to the vineyard in which the grapes were grown – and finally, partly due to the deft touch of the winemaker’s hand. Barrel fermented or tank fermented? Aged in new or neutral oak? What type of yeast to inoculate the grapes with? There are so many steps, and each one leaves its signature in the finished wine.

The Pinot Noir grape has a reputation for breaking winemakers’ hearts, and it is well-deserved. Those of us who remember the Pinot Noirs produced two decades ago in California remember how hit and miss they were. Many had green and vegetal aromas and flavors. But then, we would find one bottling that would hit all the right notes, and it was pure heaven.

The really awful renditions of Pinot Noir are now mostly in the past, thanks to learning where to plant the grapes, learning which clones of Pinot Noir to plant, practicing canopy management to let in precious sunlight just prior to harvest, and instituting proper hygienic technique.

But making the perfect Pinot Noir, the one that stops everyone in their tracks and makes them say, “Oh, my!” — this is the quest of awinemaker like Nagy, who dreams of going back someday to New Zealand and making Pinot Noir there as well as here at Byron’s facility.

Actually, he is coming close already in his pursuit of perfection – the Monument line of Pinot Noir from Byron is turning heads and loosening tongues of Pinot lovers around the globe.

So it is a fitting way to bring to an end our cool Central Coast of California trip – sipping Byron’s 2010 Monument Pinot Noir while looking out from the Byron winery terrace.

Byron Pinot Noir current releases

Byron Pinot Noir current releases

It doesn’t get much better than this.

Byron tasting notes can be found HERE.

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