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The Expression of a Place
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 29, 2015
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Presqu’ile Winery, Santa Maria Valley, Chardonnay Presqu’ile Vineyard 2013 ($45):  If the format of this column were different from what it is, I would be writing a long article about four wines from Presqu’ile Winery, or perhaps even six.  Compelled to headline one wine, I have chosen the Presqu’ile 2013 Chardonnay from the winery’s estate vineyard.  That wine is in fact my favorite of the winery’s six current releases, but you can also consider it emblematic of this producer’s entire production.

Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL) is a fairly new winery in the Santa Maria Valley that I had not been familiar with until I tasted through its current releases.  Run by two generations of the Murphy family, the operation features a 73-acre vineyard estate just 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, at altitudes from 700 to 1000 feet.  The transverse mountain ranges that border the Santa Maria Valley carry cool maritime weather inward and enable the Murphys’ goal of growing cool-climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. 

The family purchases grapes from other growers for some of its wines, but several of its wines come entirely from the grapes of the Presqu’ile Vineyard, and I find those wines particularly impressive.  The vineyard features numerous clones of each of the three main varieties grown there -- five clones of Pinot Noir and six each of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay -- and the wines combine various clones from various parts of the vineyard.  (The vineyard also has small plantings of Syrah and Nebbiolo.)  Perhaps the clonal diversity accounts for the distinctive style of the wines, or perhaps the vineyard’s own attributes are responsible.  Whatever the reason, the wines show a beautiful combination of subtlety, textural richness, flavor complexity and unmistakable varietal character.

The 2013 Presqu’ile Chardonnay from the Presqu’ile Vineyard is a fresh, vibrant Chardonnay with lively aromas and flavors mainly of apple and lemon.  It’s fully dry and is full-bodied but not huge -- its alcohol is only 13.3 percent -- with creamy texture and a remarkably subtle expression.  In your mouth, the vibrant fruit flavors and savory mineral notes seem to emerge from within the gentle, round, viscous structure of the wine, creating an internal tension that is compelling.  The wine’s finish, all lemony and fresh, is exquisitely persistent.

The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) -- entirely from the same vineyard but not labeled with a vineyard designation -- is quite similar in style to the vineyard-designated Chardonnay.  Substitute grapefruit, melon and herbal notes as aroma/flavor descriptors, take the body down a notch and the flavor intensity up a notch, but keep the dryness, the creamy texture, the rich finish and the aura of subtlety.  It is truly Sauvignon Blanc but somehow more than just Sauvignon Blanc, just as the Chardonnay is spot-on Chardonnay but with an added dimension.  Although the Chardonnay spent 18 month in French oak, 32 percent of it new, the Sauvignon Blanc was vinified in a combination of concrete eggs (35 percent of the juice), neutral French oak (28 percent) and stainless steel (37 percent), with significant lees contact that can account for some of the wine’s subtlety.

Presqu’ile’s Pinot Noirs are also impressive.  The star among the current releases is the 2013 Presqu’ile Vineyard-designated Pinot ($60), a rich, dense, ripe, dry, ageworthy Pinot with tart berry notes and distinctive earthiness, a wine that resonates on the finish similar to the other wines from this vineyard.  Another Pinot Noir worth mention is the 2013 Presqu’ile Steiner Creek Vineyard ($48) from San Luis Obispo; it’s a bit juicier and less dense, and it walks a tightrope between purity of fruit and precision on one side and richness on the other.  Tasting this wine, I sensed that I tasted a particular place.  In retrospect, the wines from the Presqu’ile Vineyard also gave me that impression.

I rate these four wines with scores from 90 to 92.   Other current releases are the 2013 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay ($35) and 2013 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($42), both very good wines and worth trying.

2013 Presqu’ile Vineyard Chardonnay, 92 Points