The Three Stagiaires!


As is the case every harvest, Stephan has received three interns- or stagiares-  for the harvest, from La Belle France. These guys rock! From manning the sorting tables, to working in the lab, to cleaning the winery and every piece of equipment therein at the end of every day of picking (no mean feat!), these three young men are at the heart of our harvest effort. While Stephan calls the tunes, and Dave and Guillaume share first fiddle, these guys have got the grunt! They are;

Aldo Antoniel; Aldo has finished his schooling, and works on his family’s estate, Chateaux Croix des Gentils in Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux. There, they produce good value red and white wines, the red a blend of 80% Merlot 20% Cabernet, the white 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. Aldo has come to California to improve his English language skills, advance his wine making knowledge, and do a little traveling before his December 15 return date.

Aurelien Crouzet; Son of Franck Crouzet, the Director of Marketing for the third largest negociant house in Bordeaux, Group Castel Freres, Aurelien is an entrepreneur at heart. An MBA student at INSEEC- Institut Des Hautes Etudes Economiques et Commerciales- Aurelien is interested also in improving his English, as well as in studying a small American business model. He wants to develop a small, family -style business, in wine, or in another product or service category, eventually.

Victor Leculle; Victor comes from the Champagne producing family of Champagne Moutard, his mother a Moutard and his father Leculle. Both names brand the wines produced at their winery in Buxeuil, Champagne, France. Victor works in the family business, and has come to L’Aventure to -surprise!; work on his English!- as well as to observe and take part in wine making here. He will go on to South Africa, and eventually South America in the same spirit.

Every year we are fortunate to receive the creme de la creme of young French students and professionals to help us through harvest. This year is no exception, and we wish each of them well as they move on, taking a little piece of L’Aventure with them.




Grenache 2013 Is In

Grenache is a hearty variety, an early budding variety that is also a late ripener. Grenache needs lots of sun and a long growing season to ripen fully, which is important if one desires to make fuller bodied, well structured and well colored wines from the variety. This is why it is found ranging from the Mediterranean littoral (Spain, Southern France, Sardinia), to Australia and California. It is a chief blending grape in Rioja and the southern Rhone, a star in Priorat, a staple in Australia, and a rising star in California. It is the key grape in the excellent vin doux natural wines Banyuls and Maury in Rousillon and Languedoc respectively, as well as a principal ingredient in the table wine blends in these two AOC regions of France. The second most widely planted variety in the world, Grenache plantation world wide exceeds 500,000 acres. Here at L’Aventure, we have 4.3 in the ground!

As our 2013 Grenache was moving along the sorting table, one got a clear idea as to just how da*n hot this 2013 growing season has been. Among the beautiful, perfectly shaped clusters passing by, many others- estimated at 12% to 15% of the pick- showed signs of excessive dehydration, and had to be dropped at sorting. An already small crop (roughly 2.5 tons per acre) just got smaller! Dave remarked that most of these were from our “old vine” blocks. These dehydrated clusters were very tight, and also contained unripe berries, indication that trellising and canopy management might be reviewed for next year. In contrast, the newer plantation vines, planted to different clones, had more open canopies, looser clusters, and ripened more evenly. This being the case within the same vineyard sight. Given the extreme heat of the vintage (some 30 days over 100 degrees so far!), the wines will display terrific color, while being a bit lower in alcohol than is the norm, the heat driving the Grenache to the winery earlier than normal this year. The very best of this year’s crop will be reserved, and co- fermented with Stephan’s top syrah to make Cuvee Chloe 2013. The rest will find it’s way into Cote a Cote and Sibling, as blending is determined March following vintage. Guillaume sees the crop as “Beautiful!”

Tradition and Real Time Winemaking

Dave called me in my office. He said “you should come down here and see this”. So I headed out to the sorting table, where he and Beatrice and a Dutch guy were sorting fruit. I knew we were bringing in syrah, but this fruit was green/ gold. “Viognier”, Dave said. “It’s going right into the blend with the Hilltop and Entry block syrah”. Interesting. This classic Cote Rotie blend has long been a tradition in the great Southern France wine field. Historically, the crisp white variety brought perfume to the bouquet and charm to the rich Syrah of the region. Modernly, the practice is not as much a necessity as it was in antiquity, rather, more of a winemaker’s choice.  Higher tech wine making is able to capture the charm, acidity, and higher tone fruit qualities of the syrah without the addition of such a blending agent. For this reason, and as in the sangiovese/ trebbiano tandem in Chianti, we see less need for this blend nowadays. Still, wine making is a highly personal art, as well as a rigorous science, and experimentation is an endless vocation to those that continue to press to be better. So I suppose we could call it an expected surprise as the viognier fruit was added -in to the the syrah in tank, and commenced to soak.

Stephan had often said, in his early days here in Paso Robles, that he saw no real need for this sort of blend to be assembled. After all, Syrah is to Paso Robles what Cabernet is to Bordeaux, and the capture of it’s pure, Paso character was enough. When I reminded him of his former position, he responded easily “Only a stupid man refuses to change”. Bravo! However, things are never so simple as to be summed up so concisely, so I dug a little deeper. As Stephan said, “It is a little complicate”. Experimenting with the classic blend was definitely a factor in taking the decision in 2013. There was, however, a second motive for this, chiefly, that of the “old vine” viognier coming in so much later than the first picking of the newer plantation. Adding this recent pick back into the first was not an option, and the tiny yield that it surrendered (around 2/3 of a ton for the acre) made the formulation of this blend a natural decision.  Case closed? Hardly!

As wine making is a highly personal pursuit, Stephan is a winemaker highly conscious of his mandate to always make the best wine possible from the great fruit from his vineyard. No “program” or “formula” wines are made at L’Aventure. The blends in their final form are only determined after exhaustive tasting March following vintage by a panel of people that know the vineyard well. To this point, this viognier /syrah blend is far from finding it’s place in the 2013 vintage. Will the wine remain as it is? Will mourvedre that is coming in over the next couple of days find it’s way into the cuvee? Will the lot be bottled “as is”, or will it be blended into the syrah selected for Cote a Cote? I think we will not know this until March, 2014!