A few months ago, while preparing our report on The Wines of Santa Barbara, we met Curt Schalchlin, creator and owner of Sans Liege, at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria, CA. Curt sources most of his fruit from outside Santa Barbara County, so we only reviewed one of his wines in our report, but we promised ourselves we would revisit his wines as soon as possible. Our recent published Report #39, The World of Grenache, gave us that opportunity. In this article, we review Curt’s Grenache based wines, including his Grenache Blanc. Read more about Grenache Blanc from around the world in our recently published article International Expressions of Grenache Blanc.
Curt learned wine-making on the job. While he studied business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he was soon bitten by the wine-making bug, learned from some of the region’s established winemakers, and made his first barrel of wine in 2003. His Sans Liege winery is now located at Central Coast Wine Services, along with several other up and coming artisanal wineries.
Sans Liege sources its grapes from vineyards throughout the Central Coast. Perhaps the most interesting source is the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard located in Cuyama Valley, far from the location of most Santa Barbara vineyards. Located high (2800’–3200’) in the Sierra Madre Mountains near Ventucopa and 25 miles east of the Pacific ocean, the rolling hills and mountain plateaus of the 747 acre Santa Barbara
Highlands vineyard owned by Laetitia are split by the Cuyama River, which supplies most of the vineyard’s water. The vineyard is mostly riverbed bench with alluvial soils of rocky sands, heavy silt loam clay and decomposed sandstone, but italso includes two small alta mesa blocks, which are of special interest. They are a 14 acre plot planted to Grenache and Mourvèdre and an 8 acre plot planted to Syrah. This is where Curt sources the fruit for his superb En Gedi Grenache. Rainfall is very sparse here, and the dry climate is desert-like with hot days and cool nights and very large (50°) diurnal variations, perfect weather for growing world class Grenache.
Sans Liege 2012 Grenache Blanc Paso Robles ($17) 89 Medium yellow straw. Aromas of stone fruit, dried flowers and wild herbs. Unctuous on the palate with minerals and notes of dried mango, honeycomb and earth, finishing long with thick extract. Not a subtle wine, it’s best served with food. Try pairing with pork roast.
Sans Liege 2011 Call to Arms Paso Robles ($30) 91 Showing minerals, dried herbs and notes of yellow fruit, the Call to Arms is dense, flavorful, superbly balanced, and has a liquid velvet mouth feel, finishing with a touch of heat. Sourced from the high altitude (1700’+) Alta Colina Vineyard in west Paso Robles, this is a blend of 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Roussanne aged 17 months sur lie in second use and neutral French barriques.
Sans Liege 2011 Groundwork Grenache Central Coast ($20) 88+ The Ground Work 2011 Grenache offers fresh and fruity aromas of mulberry, plum and pomegranate. On the palate it is rich and densely flavored with notes of dark red berry fruit, spice, earth and cracked pepper. It has high acidity, firm tannins, and a persistent finish.
Sans Liege 2010 Pickpocket Grenache Paso Robles ($40) 90 The Pickpocket Grenache exhibits fragrant dark cherry and smoke aromas. It is elegant on the palate with ripe dense dark berry fruit, underbrush and rich spicy oak. It is nicely structured with good extract and a long flavorful finish. A fine wine.
Sans Liege 2010 En Gedi Grenache Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Santa Barbara County ($42) 92 The En Gedi is an outstanding wine. It is loaded with perfumed black raspberry and pomegranate fruit, toasted oak and hints of underbrush. Aged in French oak for 20+ months, it is soft and silky on the palate, with layers of flavors, high acidity, firm dry tannins, and a long finish.
Note: Readers who do not find these wines in their local shop can purchase them on-line at www.sansliege.com
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler