Sitting down in a private room at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop Shop, myself and a few other wine media had a chance to try some fantastic Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Hahn Family Wines, a California-based winery, with vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. I pulled wine maker Paul Clifton aside for a few minutes to talk about the winery to get this interview. Followed up with my tasting notes.
My Interview with Paul Clifton
MyWinePal: I want to talk about terroir. I was reading about the fog and winds in the area, but I didn’t find out about the soils you have in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Paul Clifton: There are gravelly sandy loam in the SLH where most of the vineyards are. Very well drained. Vs on the valley floor, it is clay, heavy fertile soil. The drainage helps with control of irrigation. We do have to irrigate, but can control the growth of the vines more accurately compared to if we have heavy soils. And actually control the size of the fruit.
MyWinePal: So the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir really like this sandy soil?
Paul Clifton: Yes, it is working really well. I think it helps lead to intensity in structure and voluptuousness that we are well-known for, lush and complex Pinot Noir, because we can regulate how big the grapes get. We have sensors every 8 inches down to 48 inches in the soil profile. I can look in real time on my iPhone and check the soil moisture at those levels. Working with that technology and maintaining the health of vines gives us a jump on how our vines and fruit develop.
MyWinePal: How would you say the wines from this AVA compare to Russian River Valley or from coastal Oregon?
Paul Clifton: It depends where in the appellation you are. It is 2×13 miles long. The northern part produces wine that is more elegant and finesse driven, and the chardonnay have more tropical fruit. In the southern part, you will have more voluptuous, dark fruit vs cherry red in northern part for Pinot Noir.
MyWinePal: Are the grape vines are still relatively new?
Paul Clifton: In 2001 was the first planting. We are still learning about terroir. 18 years ago Pinot Noir became well known in the area.
MyWinePal: Are there certain Pinot Noir clones you like to use?
Paul Clifton: We had 5 clones when we planted 12 years ago and I thought 1-2 would be the best for our wines. Later, I was finding out every year was different, so we expanded the number of clones. We are now up to 20 clones.
MyWinePal: It sounds like a cool climate area. Have you considerd growing other aromatic whites?
Paul Clifton: Yes, this year we purchased some Riesling to see how it turns out. We tried Viognier, but it had lots of shatter and was not economically feasible. The climate was too cool. If the Riesling works we could grow some in the future. For reds, we grow some Syrah and Grenache to make our GSM blend. These grapes do really well in the SLH AVA. We are always learning and trying different things.
A Few Additional Notes from Hahn Family Wines
Paul Clifton: NIcolaus “Nicky” Hahn and his wife Gaby identified the Smith Ranch Horse Ranch and another ranch for purchase in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. It was the late 70s early 80s and everyone trying to figure out what to grow there. Nicky knew that the land he purchased was different, (gravel sandy loam), from valley floor which grew vegetable crops. He was instrumental in petitioning to recognize the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) appellation, which was granted in 1991. The AVA is now primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with some Grenache and Syrah. They own 650 acres out of 6000 arces in the AVA, spread in the north and south of the appellation. The north has most of their Chardonnay grapes. These grapes tend to give more tropical fruit flavours and can handle more oak. The Arroyo Seco region to the south, produces their entry level chardonnay. It is more austere, so they are more gentle with the oak treatment, to make an everyday pleaser. The SLH Chardonnay mostly from their Lone Oak vineyard and is all barrel fermented, 30% new French oak, 70% going through Malolactic Fermentation to produce a balanced style for everyone to enjoy.
The Hahn, or Signature, Pinot Noir has the general California designation due to poor weather conditions in the past, requiring them to purchase grapes outside the AVA. In 2013, the vintage we tried, is mostly from our vineyard in Arroyo Seco. The SLH Pinot Noir is a blend of 3 vineyards in the SLH from both north and south vineyards. It is a good representation of the appellation.
The top line Lucienne Pinot Noir is a single vineyard designate. We have one for each vineyard. We are looking for the gem block in each vineyard. It is very small production. We are always on search for the gem blocks, and that is what makes up the Lucienne.
MyWinePal: How do you pick a block for Lucienne or is it the same every year?
Paul Clifton: It is pretty much the same block after we find the block. We apply a micro/boutique winery approach. Small production oriented. Small fermenters.
My Wine Notes
Hahn Monterey Chardonnay 2013 (BC $21.99 SPEC) – This wine is 85% tank fermented, the rest in barrel. Medium body, round with lots of tropical fruit, pears and vanilla. Citrus follows behind along with some butterscotch flavour. Very silky with medium acidity.
- Hahn California Pinot Noir 2013 (BC $22.99 Specialty) – Nice aromas of violets on the nose. Medium body with nutmeg, spices, violets and ripe berry fruit. Dry with soft tannins. Very enjoyable.
- Hahn Central Coast GSM 2012 (BC $22.99 Specialty) – A blend of 67% Grenache, 28% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre from the Paso Robles area. Berry fruit, some nutmeg, and light violets on the nose. Medium body, dry with fermer tannins and higher acidity. Spicy, with juicy black fruit and blackberries.
- Hahn SLH Chardonnay 2013 (Not Available in BC) – 100% barrel fermented. Medium intensity tropical fruit and sweet spice aromas. Medium body, silky, with oranges, peaches, pepper and sweet spices, along with a mineral streak, followed by vanilla. Nutmeg on the finish. Layered flavours. Very next mouth texture. Paired nicely with the mushroom caps stuffed with goat cheese from Joe Forte’s.
- Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 2012 (Not Available in BC) – A blend of grapes from 3 vineyards in the SLH. Purple fruit with a hint of burnt rubber on the nose. Medium body, silky and mineral, with ripe blueberries, other berry fruits and nutmeg. Medium acidity with long length. A very elegant wine.
Lucienne “Lone Oak” Pinot Noir 2011 (BC $59 SPEC) – A single vineyard designate wine. Plum, raspberries, and a whiff of vegetal on the nose. Medium body, silky texture, with flowers, red cherries, red berries, sweet spices and light amount of vanilla. Also some minerality. Nice fruit. A very nice wine. I paired this wine with Joe Forte’s cioppino and it was a hit.
- Boneshaker Zinfandel 2012 (BC $29.99 Specialty) – Light purple fruit nose. Medium body, silky with nutmeg, ripe sweet berry fruits flavours, balanced with pepperiness and acidity. Good structure from the 12% added Cabernet Sauvignon. Another nice pairing with the cioppino.