Old vine, old time Six Hands Chenin Blanc from Cresci Vineyard
Six Hands Winery has just released a 2013 Six Hands Cresci Vineyard Lodi Chenin Blanc ($16) that is as dry as a desert, yet gushy in varietal perfumes of wild honey, green melon, white flowers and underlying minerality.
On the palate, the first impression is a lemony crisp snappiness, followed by a silky smooth glycerol feel extending into a bone dry finish: very contemporary in its fine, clean, appealingly spare lines, with an emphasis on flowery fruit rather than alcoholic weight or oak (the wine's silky texture resulting from brief aging and lees contact in neutral oak barrels, following stainless steel tank fermentation).
Says Six Hands winemaker/proprietor Peter Marks, "This may be a very attractive wine right now – it's already won a gold medal at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – but what I really like about Chenin Blanc as a grape is the longevity factor. I find that white wines like this, with its citrusy acid profile, can rival red wines in their longevity."
Marks also attributes the enduring quality of his Chenin Blanc, which he has been making since 1998, to the Cresci Vineyard, which was planted by the late Gerald Cresci in 1983. Cresci's Chenin Blanc is now a mature planting; still cultivated as a bilateral cordon on retro-style single wires trellising.
Technically, trellised vineyards are considered "old vine" by the time they're 30 years old. Like senior citizens, individual plants put out shorter canes and fewer leaves, concentrating most of its energies on the maturation of grape clusters, which become smaller, lighter, looser and beadier as the vintages go by.
Smaller, looser clusters translate into berries that are higher in skin-to-juice ratios – meaning, increased aromas and flavors (since flavor compounds are concentrated in the skins of wine grapes) – as well as natural acidity, and less propensity towards bunch rot.
Says Marks, "The acidity we get in our Chenin Blanc is all natural. Chenin Blanc takes longer than most white wine grapes to ripen – we don't usually get them off the vine until the end of September – but the benefit of older vines in Cresci is that these grapes retain their acidity up until the very end."
In the early 1980s, Gerald Cresci – who passed away just this past June at the age of 92 – retired from his administrative position in the chancellor’s office of California Community Colleges to establish his 10-acre vineyard near the town of Herald in lower Sacramento County: an area marked by gentle hills, rocky/sandy loams and a Mediterranean climate that has since been officially recognized as the Lodi sub-AVA of Alta Mesa.
On undulating east facing slopes beside his home, Cresci planted Chenin Blanc, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Cresci sold his grapes to wineries as well as to fellow winemaking hobbyists; all the while, sharing his accumulated knowledge as a tutoring member of the Sacramento Home Winemakers Club. Wine grapes remained his abiding passion during his final 34 years.
Says his surviving wife, Nellie Cresci, "He'd go out into the vineyard in the morning, stay out until noon and come in for a small lunch. In a half-hour, he'd be back out there until about 2. He loved it."
Once upon a time – in California, just 40 years ago – the Chenin Blanc grape ruled the roost. Farmers grew, and consumers drank, more than twice as much Chenin Blanc than any other white wine varietal, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Then again, during the 1960s and 1970s, most American preferred their wines a little sweet, which is how almost all the Chenin Blancs were vinified in those days.
By the mid-1980s, a taste for dryer wines led to the popularity of Chardonnay (consumers who stuck to fruity wines gravitated to White Zinfandel), and farmers had almost no choice but to pull out their Chenin Blanc and replant with more fashionable grapes. Except for Gerald Cresci: he remained a true, or stubborn, believer in Chenin Blanc; cultivating this classic white wine grape, native to France's Loire River, to the very end.
What a wonderful legacy to leave behind!
Fans of Six Hands Winery's sleek, modern style will also be pleased to know that they have just released the 2012 Six Hands Cusumano Ranch Lodi Zinfandel ($22), sourced from plantings farmed by the widely respected Cusumano family on the far west side of Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA. Says Mr. Marks, "This is Zinfandel you can drink – it shows the huge potential of Lodi as leader in the movement towards more elegant, structured styles of Zinfandel."
In fact, the Six Hands Zinfandel is the opposite of the fat, overripe, high alcohol, oaky styles that have turned many consumers off to varietal category in recent years. In Six Hands' 2012 Cusumano, the varietal character takes on a bright red rather than inky pigmentation, and the alcohol is barely 14%. The nose is of cranberry and Bing cherry perfumes; and its medium-weight body is bolstered by purity of fruit and zesty acidity, rather than excess of oak, tannin or raisiny fruitiness.
Adds Marks, "I make these wines to compliment food, yet they are as complete as any other wine. Both the Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel have what I call the 'salivation' factor – they make the palate hunger for more."
You can experience this for yourself by visiting Six Hands Winery, located in Walnut Grove on Isleton Rd. – a stunning drive atop a Delta levee alongside the Sacramento River – or in Downtown Lodi at Wine Social, a cushiony School Street wine bar that Six Hands shares with Sorelle Winery.