With the quality wines of the 2010 vintage slowly being released, I thought it would be worthwhile to uncover how one of California’s most talented winemakers, Tyler Thomas of Donelan Wines, handled this difficult growing season.
Tyler Thomas at Kobler Vineyard
In a couple sentences, describe your winemaking philosophy.
Find great fruit, great people, and only do what is necessary. Find the point at which all things are balanced for each ferment, each wine, and only select the best of what results from this process.
Considering most wineries are now beginning to release their 2010 vintage, how would you describe the 2010 growing season and harvest in Sonoma?
2010 was undoubtedly difficult because late flowering caused late harvest maturity. Because of this we lost a lot of crop to a devastating heat spike in late August, as well as early rains which increased mold pressure. However, for our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay this was not problematic and with our passion for selecting only the best, we discovered the great fruit and great wine of the vintage even if there was less of it. The wines are full of fruit, but more elegantly structured than something like the more austere 2009 vintage.
What were the major adjustments you had to make in 2010 to ensure you maintained your ability to produce wines up to your standards?
Thankfully, our abiding philosophy of ample vineyard time, selection and quality over everything else set us up quite well to handle 2010. Even in great vintages we segregate vineyard sections, barrels, etc. based on quality variation and then select the best of the best to meet the goals for whatever wine it is we are making. As a result, 2010 instigated a higher degree of selection, a bit more vineyard time to ensure we were on top of what was occurring as harvest approached, and removing certain lots; but not really any major adjustments to the actual process. We thought of 2010 (and 2011 for that matter) as more European in its sensibility and we tried to select for, and build, the wines consistent with that idea.
Would you consider your efforts a success and how so?
Yes! Someone who recently tasted many of the 2010s noted that they seemed Californian, but with a high degree of European sensibility. I couldn’t agree more and would consider that a success. With all the blending trials we conducted, I feel very confident that what went to bottle was not only the best we could offer relative to the vintage as a whole, but a very fine wine in its own right irrespective of the vintage. The greatest producers are known for their wines in the toughest of vintages, I hope we can consider our wines in that category.
Finally, which was your favorite wine of 2009 and 2010 and why?
This is really tough because I am a mood drinker: I drink wines I am in the mood for based on context and food. I am very proud of all the wines we make, really I am!
However, since you are forcing me, I would have to say…
- 2009 White – Venus
- 2009 Red – Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah
- 2010 White – Nancie Chardonnay
- 2010 Red – a close call between the Two Brothers Pinot and Cuvee Christine Syrah!
Now for the wines…
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About 2 months ago I had the distinct privilege of escorting Joe Donelan, owner of Donelan Wines, around to some of Southern NH’s premier restaurants to show many of their current releases. Throughout the course of the day, I had the opportunity to experience their evolution. Here are some of my musings…both from the restaurant tour and a Donelan wine dinner I hosted in January with some friends.
2009 “Venus”, Roussanne/Viognier, Sonoma County (’09 Sold Out/’10 $45)
Popping aromatics and playful acidity. Aromas of wild honey, citrus, and wildflowers with hints of wet stone lead to an enticing palate of crisp Asian pear, juicy citrus, melon and lavender with a pleasant medium-bodied quality that’s a delight to find in a white wine. Senel Wine – 94 pts (Senel Wine’s Top 10 Wines of 2011: #9)
2010 “Nancie”, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast($45) – Barrel Sample
From the onset I thought I was in Beaune, in particular Pernand-Vergelesses. The minerality of this wine paints the picture and is complemented with a fruit salad of Granny Smith apple, lychee and citrus. The use of neutral oak provided body; however was largely passive and the finish was crisp and lasting. Senel Wine – 90 pts
2010 “Two Brothers”, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast($55) – Barrel Sample
Beautifully soft and expressive feminine qualities similar to Chambolle Musigny with a side of masculine Pommard strength. As a barrel sample is started out tight; however bright red fruit, earth tones, leather and Asian spice emerged after it had a chance to fill its lungs. Intriguing complexity of layers and a very long and memorable finish. Senel Wine – 93 pts
2009 Cuvée Christine, North Coast($45)
This wine is a variable picnic that you can drink all day. A fragrant walk through a lavender field while sniffing a handful of dark, ripe berries. Followed by flavors of blackberry jam, lightly peppered grilled meat and a light streak of oak and herb. Will only benefit further with 3-5 years of aging. Senel Wine – 92 pts
2009 Obsidian Vineyard, Syrah, Knight’s Valley ($90)
At first sip, all that can be said is…damn, what an exciting wine. This is an intense, terrior-driven, amazingly well-structured Syrah! The aromas abound with deep dark fruit with aromas of stone, bacon, wildflowers. The flavors were equally impressive minerality for an intense wine, with layered fresh blackberries and blue fruit, dark chocolate, and a savory, smoky/burnt undertone, with muscular tannins. Enjoyed on three separate occasions with consistent notes. It will only benefit further from 5-10 years of age, if you can refrain from opening now! Senel Wine – 97 pts