Great Wine You Can't Buy Here
A plea to retailers and distributors in the Washington area: If Alyssa Whitcraft phones, take the call.
Whitcraft is a graduate researcher and lecturer at the University of Maryland in College Park, specializing in satellite imagery and geography. In what little spare time she has, she is trying to find representation in the area’s wine stores for her family’s wines.
If you’ve never heard of Whitcraft Winery, that may be because it produces only about 2,000 cases a year, mostly pinot noir, but also some chardonnay, grenache and syrah. They sell most of it to a mailing list through their wine club. Right now, it’s not available in the Washington area (except by online delivery). But it can be, and it should be.
Alyssa’s father, Chris, started the winery in Santa Barbara County in 1985, a year before she was born. He’s now in semi-retirement, leaving the winery operations to his son, Drake. Although Alyssa isn’t joining the family business, she wears it on her sleeve. Well, under her sleeve, actually – in the form of a tattoo of the winery crest and the words, “In Vino Veritas” on her arm.
She describes her father as an unrepentant hippie in the mold of Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery fame and says the Whitcraft wines are “romantically rustic.” That’s because the reds are trod by foot to avoid squeezing harsh tannins from the seeds and stems. Indeed, the pinots I tried are seductive in texture and alluring in fruit, with an appealing citrus note. They are not shy in alcohol, yet aside from an initial sensation of heat, the fruit quickly gains balance. Tasting these, it’s easy to see why people get so excited about pinot noir.
The Whitcrafts own no vineyards and source fruit from throughout California, often with long-time contracts with growers. (Though Alyssa mentioned they will be losing access to fruit from Bien Nacido Vineyards.) Here are my notes on five of the Whitcraft pinots. Prices are approximate.
2006 Melville Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, $44.
2-1/2 stars (out of three)
Beguiling aromas, tight and focused fruit. Still young, it needs more age or some fatty food to open it up.
2006 Bien Nacido Vineyard Q Block, Santa Maria Valley, $40.
Intense black-fruit aromas, firm tannins, a flash of heat from the 14.9 percent alcohol. There’s also spice and intriguing citrus – something new with every sniff or sip.
2006 Bien Nacido Vineyard N Block, Santa Maria Valley, $40
Chunky and slightly awkward, not yet integrated, though there is really good fruit here.
2006 Morning Dew Ranch, Anderson Valley, $40
Mendocino County fruit lends a spicy character this wine, which really explodes in the glass with some vigorous swirling.
2007 California, $21
2-1/2 stars, GREAT VALUE
A blend of juice from the various single vineyard wines. This is a stunning value, seductive and silky with amazing balance. If you see this on area stores, and I hope you will soon, don’t pass up a chance to buy it.
-- Dave McIntyre
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