2020 Jolie-Laide, Clairette Blanche, Martian Ranch, Santa Barbara County.
Scott Schultz’s new Clairette Blanche is an absolutely beautiful white Rhone wine with clear and opulent layers of stone fruits, melon and racy citrus oil that feel lush and graceful on its medium to full bodied palate, but backed up nicely by mineral tones and bright acidity, this is a very alluring Summer wine. This Clairette Blanche, or Clairette grape, which is one off the rare Chateauneuf du Pape white grapes and also found in the prestigious areas of Provence, including the Cassis AOC and in the Bandol AOC, where you’ll find it in some of the region’s most desirable wines like Clos Ste Magdeleine and in the fabled Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc, and is now showing huge potential here in California, where it has been championed by Tablas Creek, who brought the best clones from Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, where it has been a bit of secret sauce for their awesome Chateauneuf Blanc for years, as well as Randal Grahm of Bonny Doon fame, who believes it and Vermentino have big promise here. The Jolie-Laide version has some of the French soul to it, but with California clarity and ripe sunny flavors, opening to fresh picked apricot, white peach and tangerine as well as having some excellent dry extract, saline and hints of wet stones, making it delightful with a range of cuisine choices as well as easy to sip on its own, it is very impressive stuff.
The Jolie-Laide Clairette Blanche was, as Schultz explains, all whole-cluster pressed, settled then racked to a combination of stainless steel and neutral barrique for fermentation and moved to all neutral French oak Burgundy style barriques to complete full malo-lactic conversion during its 6-month elevage on the fine lees. Schultz adds that all the grapes were hand picked from organic vines at the biodynamic Martian Ranch Vineyard in Los Alamos, as he calls a bucolic site set on Chamise Series (sandy loam) soils and has a very similar warm climate to the South of France, but with a good cooling influence from the Pacific Ocean which allows for exceptional balance and freshness, as this wine shows in spades. This Clairette is still lively and youthful, primary in flavors, but you can see it will evolve wonderfully well with more floral details that are just starting to appear and hint of honeycomb or waxiness, plus some spicy elements that really reminds you of the grape’s origins. Schultz notes that typically the grape is used as a blender in most Chateauneuf whites to bring acidity to the sometimes fatter varieties, like Roussanne, but can be found in some iconic mono-varietal cuveés of top houses, as he adds, like Chateau Prefert et al. Clairette, as Scott goes on, as it’s often called, can make everything from sparkling, light and crispy or left to hang longer for a richer and more complex style of wine, like his own, which I highly recommend! I was late getting on the Jolie-Laide list, but these latest two release offerings have been awesome!
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive