2022 Samuel Louis Smith, Gamay Noir, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The 2022 Samuel Louis Smith Gamay Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands’ Escolle Vineyard is a dark electric ruby hued Cru Beaujolais inspired effort of class, verve and excitement with ripe plum, strawberry, black raspberry and tangy currant fruits, which are Gamay juicy, but not bubble gum or cotton candy like, accented with smoky mineral, a touch of brambly spice, crushed lilacs, earthy loam, crunchy stems, wild herbs and fennel notes. Winemaker Sam Smith, who’s talents are on full display with his latest set of releases, used 75% whole-cluster here and employed about 25% carbonic maceration with a native yeast fermentation that was started by a pied de cuve from the vineyard. Smith adds that after a seven day carbonic fermentation the wine was racked to wood where the Gamay saw a 7 months élévage in 100% neutral French oak barrels, to capture freshness, purity of varietal and transparency, with bottling done unfined and unfiltered. Sam, as he notes, is dedicated to sourcing fruit from the most distinctive, sustainably and organically farmed vineyards, highlighting the best of the Central Coast’s mostly cool climate mountainous sites. Smith, who produces about 1,000 cases annually, made close to 5 and a half barrels of his Gamay with this ’22 vintage, ending up with just 135 cases. This vintage is rounder and more complete than the debut release and really hits all the right notes, comparing well with some of the modern classics from Fleurie, Morgan and Brouilly and certainly on par with the best Gamay offerings on the west coast, impressive stuff again from a winemaker that continues to raise the bar with each new wine. This vibrant and delicately perfumed Gamay, joins some fine efforts locally as well as other top producers of this varietal in California, and it should age nicely for another few years, but is absolutely delicious in this window. Everyone is already buzzing about 2023, which might be the best ever vintage for California Gamay, and I am super excited to see what comes out, especially as I’m a huge fan of this grape.

Coming off the Escolle Vineyard, which is located in the northern section of the Santa Lucia Highlands, which is what Sam Smith calls an 18 mile-long northeast facing bench in the windswept Salinas Valley, this wine is perfect suited to the climate and soils conditions here, with good beam of acidity, briar spice and silken texture. The SLH mountainside appellation here divides the Santa Lucia mountain range to the west from the Salinas Valley floor to the east, given to long consistent growing seasons, again which does Gamay well. With its incredibly cool climate thanks to nearby Monterey Bay, Sam says the pairing of granitic loam and new graftings of Gamay Noir at Escolle is what he calls an SLH renaissance, or a marriage made in heaven. His Samuel Louis Smith is a micro-négociant label, now based in Salinas, CA, is focused on some of the coolest sites of the Central Coast, most with Mountainous terroir and organic viticulture. As with this wine, Smith uses minimal intervention in the cellar, explaining these things are tenets of his brand. The collection includes Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, and cool-climate Syrah (mostly single varietal versions) sourced from Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Santa Cruz, with a set of small batch grower fizz, Champagne style sparkling wines, to come out soon. According to Sam these offerings embody a neoclassical style where lower alcohol and higher acidity, stem inclusion in the reds, and native fermentations with little to no additions of SO2 create wines of place and purity, aroma and structure. Sam has worked in Santa Barbara (Brander, Tres Hermanas, Margerum), Australia (Mitchelton), the Willamette Valley (Tendril), the Northern Rhône (Villard), and most recently in Champagne (Nowack & Sélèque). After being head winemaker of Morgan Winery since 2016, a pioneer of organic viticulture in the Santa Lucia Highlands Sam is now moving on to focus on his label and get closer to the vines themselves, so expect new adventures, watch this space, in the meantime check out his latest stuff.
($37 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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