2018 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen’s 2018 Venturi old vine Carignan is a fresh old school style quaffer with lovely dark flavors, supple tannins and a juicy medium body, it pleases without pretense or polish, it is naturally delicious. Martha, influenced by European country wines that show clarity of place and traditions is now trying to make terroir-driven wines in, as she says, the land that she holds so dear in her heart, California, she leases and farms around half of the vineyards herself, to achieve her goal, with the other half being farmed by multi-generation farmers, Stoumen adds, who understand their land and who farm with the same philosophies. The Venturi Vineyard is located in Mendocino County and was originally planted back in 1948, it is a dry farmed and organic site just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, set on predominantly Pinole gravelly loam soils. Her Carignan is lightly floral and spicy with vibrant blackberry, black cherry and currant fruits, a bit darker than Zinfandel, but in the same mode there is some nice acidity, bramble and briar as well as roasted herbs, like rosemary sprigs and sage, along with cinnamon and a hint of cedar. The vines underpinnings contain, according to Martha, a mixture of sandstone, shale and quartz, with these deep, well-drainning soils which were formed from alluvial flows also has fist-sized stones not too different than what you’d see in Chateauneuf. Martha’s latest set of wines are fun and can be drunk without abandon or worry, they are all made to be shared in their youth, look for this one, only 400 cases made as well as her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape she fondly remembers from her time there as well as her interesting set of whites, plus her Zinfandel, another zesty style red with very low alcohol.

This latest release from Stoumen joins some of her best expressions so far with this Venturi Vineyard Carignan being delightfully engaging and tasty with faint earthy tones and a touch of mineral to the zesty fruit. This wine was crafted using 100% Carignan from a 70 year-old Carignan block on a particularly stoney parcel, as Stoumen explains, as it lies on a former riverbed, making the tending of these old vines not easy work, but worth the serious efforts, especially in this vintage. These parcel characteristics and cool nights here, Martha exploited to craft a wine that showcases this site’s inherent personality, that along with a long, cool fermentation result in a Carignan, as she says, with a much lighter body than most considering the old vine concentration, in fact the natural alcohol is just 11.4%! Stoumen’s calm experienced minimalist winemaking approach and patience in the cellar letting the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the grape skins perform fermentation, she believes allowing longer macerations and aging to provides stability rather than using additives, and after a few years of tasting and drinking her wines I have no reason to argue, these are soulful, somewhat raw in style, but clean and elegant. Like the new generation of California’s top small producers Stoumen uses well seasoned neutral French oak barrels and her wines are transparent with a focus on place and grape purity in their profiles. Martha has had a good education in real world winemaking having apprenticed under stars like Reinhard Löwenstein (Heymann-Löwenstein, Mosel), Jordan Fiorentini (Chalk Hill, California) Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars, California), Clive Dougall (Seresin, Marlborough), Didier Barral (Léon Barral, Faugères, France), and Giusto Occhipinti (COS, Sicily), all of which as guided her down her own path. This attractive purply Venturi Carignan, while lighter in fashion, has plenty of character and substance making it expressive more so with food and part of a table with simple cuisine and good humor, it brings comfort and smiles all around, drink up.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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