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Wine Mic Monday: Phantom Rivers

Wine Mic Monday: Phantom Rivers

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. This week we are proud to feature Phantom Rivers., an Arroyo Grande (SLO) winery typically producing lots of between 50-200 cases or 2-8 barrels. Their 2012 Confluence (GSM blend) was just awarded "Best of Class" in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle awards!

Meet Phantom Rivers & The Nipomo Wine Group by Steve Mathis

The Nipomo Wine Group was created in 2004 by four couples who share a passion for making wine and enjoying the life style of the California Central Coast.  Each one of us brings a unique skill to the company which includes: wine making, business administration, marketing, scientific theory, cooking, and wine & food pairing.

The name Phantom Rivers was selected for our winery as it pertains to the misty fog that evaporates into the air.  Streams of fog flow in and out of the valleys and wind their way up the old maritime valleys hugging the courses of ancient rivers.  This fog cools the vineyards at night and early morning which extends the hang time of the grapes on the vine.  This all adds to the distinctive flavors and complexities of Central Coast Wines.

Food & Phantom Rivers Wine | VAULT29

We met and became friends as home winemakers. We share a passion for making wines that pair well with food. What better way to enjoy life than to be surrounded by friends who share a passion, and love to drink fine wine and eat delicious home cooked meals?!

While we are all winemakers, the title of Wine Maker for Phantom Rivers belongs to John Thunen, PhD.  John had an extensive career in the aerospace industry during which time he stayed “grounded” by making wine.  During the past 40 years, John has honed his skills as an exceptional winemaker in much the same way he did as a Physicist, using scientific method coupled with natural artistic ability.  For years John led a team of scientists, now he leads our team of winemakers.

John Thunen, winemaker

John Thunen, winemaker

We do not believe a single property is capable of producing the best fruit for every varietal, as the terroir required for each varietal is different.  Therefore we focus our efforts in finding the perfect area for each varietal we are looking to produce, and purchasing grapes from those farmers.

For us, the beauty not owning a vineyard is not being tied to the varietals that excel on that piece of property. There are only so many years a winemaker has a chance to produce wine and there are so many different varietals to choose from. Since beginning the winery in 2004, we have produced some phenomenal wines that include:  Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Vin Gris, Muscat Blanc, and a Zinfandel Rose’ as well as a Zinfandel dessert wine.  We have also made several red blends including our new award winner, Confluence which is a GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blend.

We decided to focus all of our efforts on fruit grown on the Central Coast of California. We purchase fruit from select vineyards from as far North as Paso Robles to as far South as Santa Ynez and the North East corner of Santa Barbara County.

There are literally hundreds of micro climates in this range, allowing vineyards unique terroir for their varietals. It is an amazing experience to search for a vineyard that offers the characteristics we are looking for in a specific varietal. Once found, we try to develop a long term relationship with the vineyard owner/manager.

Another decision we made was to produce our wine in small lots. We typically produce lots of between 50 to 200 cases or two to eight barrels. This allows us to pay a lot of attention to each lot from harvest to bottling. Small lots of wine allow the winemaker to exert a lot of influence.

When all is good, and your fruit has had sufficient hang time, the brix, TA, and PH are in range, chances are you are going to have a great wine. Selection of yeast, fermentation, decision to use extended maceration or not,  malolactic fermentation, type of barrel, time in the barrel, racking, filtration all come in to play during the winemaking process. The smaller the lot, the bigger the influence each of these decisions has.

Mother nature does not always cooperate. If the fruit comes in with high or low brix, too much or to little TA, then the winemaker, in our case John, has decisions to make, and these decisions have a dramatic impact on the quality and taste of the finished wine. The ability to fix flaws and overcome fruit that was either not fully ripened or over ripened is what distinguishes a winemaker as much as their individual style. We feel so very lucky to have John as our winemaker. His background in research has made him invaluable to our winery.

So now, the grapes have come in, adjustments have been made, fermentation is completed, the must has been pressed and the juice is now in the barrels. Over the next 14 to 18 months, there is still a lot the winemaker has to contend with and decisions to be made.

(L-R) Phantom Rivers Owners: Steve Mathis, John Thunen, Gary Smith, John Klacking

(L-R) Phantom Rivers Owners: Steve Mathis, John Thunen, Gary Smith, John Klacking

Do we make this a single varietal with 100% of the fruit from a single vineyard? Do we add a complimentary varietal to add character, depth, backbone? Do we blend cool and warm weather Syrah to make or more complex wine? Will we do a blend or more than one blend this year? For us, these decisions are made as the wine matures and develops in the barrel.

I find this to be the most fun and fascinating time to be involved with the winemaking. We gather the troops, pull samples of wines from the barrels, and the tasting begins. We make notes for each barrel, what it tastes like when blending from barrel to barrel and above all, we have a good time.

Decisions are reached over what to blend, what to bottle and when, and exactly, how much of each wine we will produce. While we are a democracy, we have all agreed to allow John to have the final say on all winemaking decisions. Stop by our Tasting Room in Arroyo Grande or visit us online. We think you will like Phantom Rivers Wine.

(L-R) John & Linda Thunen, Gary & Diana Smith, Steve & Sue Mathis

(L-R) John & Linda Thunen, Gary & Diana Smith, Steve & Sue Mathis

From our family to yours, Cheers!

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"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. This week we are proud to feature Laetitia Vineyard & Winery. The passion behind the brand is displayed by their premium estate wines showcasing the distinctive qualities of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Located in Southern San Luis Obispo County (SLO), their beautiful costal property overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

My Family Vineyard by Nadia Zilkha

VAULT29: How did the winery get started?

Nadia: Laetitia Vineyard & Winery was originally planted in 1982 by Champagne Deutz from France, recognizing it was the perfect location to create Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in California. Contrary to so many French houses that settled in Napa or Sonoma, Maison Deutz settled on the Central Coast close to San Luis Obispo to plant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc for our sparkling wine program. We still use Pinot Blanc in small quantities as we really like its unique textural quality that softens and imparts creaminess to our bubbles.

NADIA Tag Line | VAULT29

VAULT29: What's the origin of the winery name?

Nadia: In the mid 1990s the winery changed hands and was named Laetitia after that owner's daughter. When we bought the winery in 1998, we liked the name very much and decided to keep it. In 2005, we were looking to name our wines from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard; we named it NADIA after me, the current owner's daughter. We appreciated the synergy between the two names, and I very much liked the fact that both our brands names end in IA, it's very pretty and poetic, and feels quite fitting. At times it's been confusing to hear people discussing NADIA the wine and not me the person but I've become more comfortable with it as time has passed. I'm also quite proud that I've been able to leverage the tagline on the NADIA cork, "You never know wher life will take you," into our present campaign that shows me, Nadia the person, promoting NADIA wine all over the country and world.

VAULT29: Tell us a bit about the people behind the brand.

Leatitia is SIP Certified | VAULT29

Nadia: Without sounding biased, the team at Laetitia is absolutely brilliant. My father, Selim Zilkha, who at 87 is as vital, smart, sensitive, curious and innovative as a businessman as he ever was, is someone who really cares for the wellbeing of his emplyees as well as the growth of our brands. He even went on Facebook in 2004, but by 2008 he'd had enough! I think we can all understand his feelings about that! Eric Hickey, our talented winemaker, grew up at Laetitia alongside his father Dave Hickey, who makes our sparkling wines, and couldn't have a better understanding of how to perfect the product due to a lifetime around the vines, grapes and wines. Lino Bozzano our visionary vineyard manager has implemented many great practices to improve our vines. These include night harvesting, Sustainable-in-Practice (SIP) certification to ensure we care about the land for the future generations, using goats for weed abatement and new types of trellising to maximize sun protection at our Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard.

VAULT29: Why did you choose the region and/or varietals?

Nadia: As I mentioned earlier, the French recognized the potential for planting Burgundian varietals on our rocky volcanic limestone soils that benefit from being in the cool Region III climate. (At Laetitia, we’re only three miles away from the ocean and the maritime fog layer sits on our land keeping it cool all morning long during the summer). Our other vineyard at Santa Barbara Highlands is at 3,200 feet in elevation, inland and is very mountainous, making it better suited to Bordeaux varietals with its hot days and cold nights. The hearty Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes there are able to withstand and thrive in the Region III climate and the short and intense growing season. We’ve really matched soil to varietal to create wines that ring true, showcasing our commitment to the region we love that’s been so good to our brand.

VAULT29: What can wine lovers expect to experience when visiting?

Nadia: When I think about Laetitia I'm proud of our family owned and family estate run vineyard. We have melded our international roots and sensibilities to very American soils. The landscape is beautiful: gentle rolling hills with larger unobstructed vineyards. Our tasting room is friendly right off the 101 Freeway on the way to San Luis Obispo, a three-hour drive from Los Angeles, making it very convenient to visit. We have many interesting wines to taste there beyond our 8 core broad market wines. We make 8 different Pinot Noirs for the Tasting Room. My favorite is the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, sold exclusively there. We have 8 different wine clubs to choose from including a sparkling club. So we offer a great deal of variety partly because of our size but also because we really enjoy showcasing the many clones and wine making possibilities our estate has to offer.

VAULT29: What does owning and working in a family business mean to you?

Nadia:  In our family it's a tradition that sons automatically work with their fathers; I feel so blessed that for the past 15 years my father has enabled and encouraged me to work directly with him. More recently, I've become the family face for our brands. 2015 marks our 17th year in the wine business and it's been a remarkable journey. We make delicious wines that are true to the terrior and pair beautifully with all kinds of food. This is particularly important to us. After all what's better than wine with food or food with wine?


VAULT29: Plan to attend any wine events locally or nationally? If so, where and when?

Nadia:  One event that I'm especially excited for us to be attending is a Laetitia/NADIA dinner at the James Beard House in New York City on Saturday April 25th. Eric, Lino and I will all be there talking about our wine. Chef Chris Manning from Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Roble will be cooking. He's already familiar with our wines having cooked at the Laetitia Estate House last November. It was a faboulous pairing all round and I have no doubt this will be as phenomenal as the last one!

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