In my experience, small production winemakers have big personalities. Whether they lean towards Science, Art, or Balance, there is something of the mad professor in their demeanor. They seem to possess childlike enthusiasm and curiosity along with very adult passion and focus. Steve Clifton (a founding partner at Brewer-Clifton Winery) and his wife, Crystal, fit this mold and are expansive forces of nature in Santa Barbara winemaking.
La Voix – Steve Clifton’s New Project
Earlier this year Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer sold a majority share of their pioneering Brewer-Clifton Winery (sob – it’s no secret I have been a fan of that label for some years). It seemed shocking at the time because the winery had hit its stride. There were accolades in the press, and they met their goal of all estate-grown fruit. Yet evidently these big personalities decided it was time to move on.
Fortunately Steve had no plans of retiring from winemaking (he continues to work with Italian grapes for his Palmina label). Though he has flown the Brewer-Clifton nest, he and Crystal have also decided to experiment with different vineyards and methods of production for his brand new label, La Voix (The Voice).
The new La Voix wines were joyously launched at Capitol Records in Hollywood featuring a live band with Steve on vocals. It was an exuberant evening all around – give me wine and play me music and I will dance… guaranteed!
Before I danced I tasted his three very different Pinot Noirs from the 2015 Fall Release. The names of the wines are song titles, revealing hints of what one might expect inside the bottle.
“Rebel Rebel” from Quinta Del Mar Vineyard (just outside Santa Barbara County) is a light expression of the grape, along the lines of what I expect from a young Burgundy. This wine is bright, fresh and a little rough around the edges, with plenty of acid. Cranberries, violets and chalk yell, “Give me food!”
“Satisfaction” is from the Kessler–Haak Vineyard and a true crowd-pleaser. Wrap a pink feather boa around the bottle and call this Lady Pinot a California Darling! Voluptuous but classy, with mushrooms, cherries and burgundy velvet swirling around the dance floor in high heels without a hint of a wobble, so perfectly is she balanced.
“Reflektor” from the Machado Vineyard, the birthplace of so many yummy Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noirs, is the big daddy of the trio. This wine means business, with its strong spine of pencil lead and blackberries. Rich and meaty, Reflektor provides a purpose driven walk in the woods as the sky turns dark and threatens to pour. Back off and lay it down, it promises to age gracefully.
I tasted the Pinot Noirs in the above order and then asked Ken to guess which was my favorite. He did. Can you?
Also worth a mention: She’s Crafty, a Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills, made by Crystal Clifton. Only 98 cases produced and it is a winner! I love the tasting notes from the winery, “Strawberry, blood orange, and white peach on the nose and flavors of pomegranate and currant… with a refreshing hint of herbs.” Yep. All that. At $30 a bottle, it’s pricey for a Rosé but it is lovely.
Talking of price, Satisfaction goes for $75 a bottle and Reflektor costs $95 a bottle, with only 700 and 200 cases made, respectively. That’s the main problem as I see it for the average consumer’s ability to enjoy all the personality and passion in small production California wines. HELEN
Ken and I were invited to attend this event as members of the media. All opinions are my own. Some images in this post were sourced from La Voix Winery’s website.