San Luis Obispo’s Father Russell Brown of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa presided over freshly hand- picked 2006 pinot noir grapes, a ritual that would normally be reserved for the third or fourth week in August. And nature’s cycle follows through once again, predicting a phenomenal year for pinot noir.
“A Blessing on the earth with fruitfulness that sustains life, Lord hear our prayers” were the words from the Blessing of the Grapes at Tolosa Winery.
Photo by Carol Richardson.
Welcome to the Edna Valley
Dig down 15 feet in Edna valley soil, minutes inland from San Luis Obispo and the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll find sea shells intermixed with water. While this emphasizes a beach lifestyle for the Central Coast wine region, it is illuminated further through the ocean breezes that signify its cool maritime climate, which is a hospitable home to the almost-daily appearance of fog: an ideal growing region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Approximately 1800 acres of vines are planted in the Edna Valley, and a whopping 720 are owned by Tolosa Winery.
“The balance of sugars and acids are perfect,” comments Senior Winemaker Larry Brooks, who walked through the vineyards with us, picking a marble-sized grape in the Dijon-clone lot, its well manicured vines bursting with inky blue-purple hued fruit.
The scene was akin to a plein air painting, misted watercolor images of a Eden-inspired landscape.
Bob Schiebelhut, owner of Tolosa Winery, in the Edna Valley property’s Tasting Room. He came to San Luis Obispo in the early 1970s and saw the land’s potential. His partner Jim Efird, a viticulturist, planted a majority of vineyards in the Edna Valley. The two partnered up with Tolosa in 1990.
There is a certain elegant distinction to Edna Valley pinot noir, and the 2003 Tolosa label embraces the forest floor earth tones, searing acidity, cherry and raspberry ribbons and the garrigue whispers of lavender and heather one might discover in Burgundy.
Equipped with the tools, tanks and presses to make hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine, Tolosa reserves its best lots for its own.
Gentle presses, likened to a luxury automobile, and small punch down fermenters are part of the deluxe treatment enjoyed by the finicky red grape.
The Chardonnay is tank-aged, a practice witnessed more in Burgundy than in California. The flagship white is labeled “No Oak” on the bottle, a lovely balanced, stainless steel fermented 2005 Tolosa Chardonnay with snap, lovely white pear and peach notes, textured and vibrant. “This is an attempt of pure fruit expression with lovely, delicate flavors,” offers Winemaker Nathan Carlson.
What we loved best about Tolosa 2003 Syrah was the combinations of flavors that kept us guessing: vanilla and rich berry generosity, lilting lavender notes, its hefty – yet elegant – weight on the palate and its gorgeous white pepper integration.
* Named for the original Franciscan Mission – Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa – where grapes were blessed since 1812, Tolosa Winery is about estate quality, an expert touch and an expression of the land.
* Half of Tolosa’s vineyards are planted to Chardonnay; another 40% are Pinot Noir and small amounts of Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris make up the rest.
* Tolosa began distributing wine in 2001; the wines retail for between $15-$30. For distribution information, contact Tami Carija at email@example.com
Cocktails with Larry Brooks
“We all like a good drink,” says Senior Winemaker for Tolosa, Larry Brooks, who not only oversees the winemaking team at Tolosa but also has his own Pinot Noir label called Campion, with fruit from other great growing regions such as the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County.
Senior Winemaker Larry Brooks takes Tolosa Chardonnay to the next level
But what got our attention here is the “Tolosa Chardonnay Daiquiri,” a fascinating blend of three parts Myers’s rum, 1 part Tolosa “no oak” Chardonnay, and simple syrup poured atop freshly cut citrus fruits on ice.
The resulting concoction frosted the glass with its chilly brown-sugared citrus sweetness.
Brooks has been a consultant for a handful of successful wineries, but looks at himself as more of a “technological artist.”
“I’m isolated from fads and wine critics’ comments,” he told Patterson’s. “After 30 years of doing this, I’ve found a way to grow a thick skin and to grow creatively from within. For a good winemaker, quality is the easy part. It’s style that’s the challenge.”