Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lunch and wine tasting at Clos LaChance

For his wine club October meeting, our friend Arnaud proposed to have lunch at the Clos LaChance winery. It was a great idea. If you've never been to Clos LaChance and live in the Bay area, now is the perfect time to visit the place. The weather is still warm, the sunlight is getting softer, and the vineyard foliage has bright, fall colors.

Clos LaChance is located in San Martin, California, 20 miles south of San Jose. Its name comes from co-owner Brenda Murphy’s maiden name (LaChance), whereas Clos is a French word meaning a small fenced-in area encompassing a vineyard. The hummingbird was chosen as the winery's symbol because it's a beautiful bird and it can keep other birds away from the grapes.

Upon our arrival, we were directed to a large, south-facing terrace overlooking the estate vineyard and the Santa Cruz Mountains. On one of the tables, various wines - including some 2005 barrel samples - had been selected by Rick Toyota, Hospitality and Tasting Room Manager, and were waiting for us. Once the group was finally complete, we started snacking on the food that Arnaud had brought while Rick was pouring the wines. We enjoyed Rick's knowledgeable presentation of the wines and the additional details regarding the vineyard and the winemaking process.

The 80-acre estate vineyard was planted in 1999 after some extensive soil testing. The climate was found favorable as well: during the growing season, the site enjoys hot sunny days and cool ocean breezes in the evenings, which delays ripening and allows long hang time for the grapes. The land was originally covered with field-crops and high levels of fertilizers were used. The soil is now being slowly repaired with organic matters and the winery is moving toward sustainable farming.

Around 20 varietals were planted in the vineyard, including Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Viognier, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Rick explained that there is now more estate fruit available because the vines are getting older, and the need to buy grapes from external sources is decreasing.

Overall, I was pleased with the quality of the wines we tasted, especially their freshness and nice acidity. Here are my notes:

2005 Clos LaChance Estate Sauvignon Blanc (barrel sample): non filtered, pale color, intense grapefruit nose, fizzy and very crisp on the palate. Very promising.

2004 Clos LaChance Estate Sauvignon Blanc: 24% Sémillon, 70% fermented in stainless steel tanks, the rest in oak. Attractive white flower and citrus nose. Crisp and well-balanced on the palate.

2002 Clos LaChance Vanumanutagi Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains: the grapes came from the Vanumanutagi Ranch, named and owned by Fanny Stevenson, the widow of writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Vanumanutagi is a Samoan word, meaning valley of the singing birds. Each vineyard block is named after a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, including Treasure Island, Jekkyl and Hyde, and Kidnapped. Vinified in 100% oak barrels, this is a rich-style Chardonnay with oaky, tropical fruit and butterscotch flavors. Well-balanced with some nice acidity on the finish.

2003 Clos LaChance Estate Grenache: this wine may still need some aging. Fruit and pepper aromas on the nose but a little bit edgy on the palate.

2005 Clos LaChance Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample): very young baby wine. Very dark purple color. Peppery and sour.

2003 Clos LaChance Ruby Throated Cabernet Sauvignon: named after the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is a lovely tiny bird with a bright red throat. Berry fruits, complex, and elegant with a good tannin/acidity balance.

2003 Clos LaChance Estate Petite Sirah: A blockbuster of a wine, with a deep purple color, a lot of concentration and opulence.

2002 Clos LaChance Zinfandel El Dorado: bright ruby color, cooked fruit flavors, spicy and smooth finish.

We had a great relaxing time. The place seemed so peaceful. But suddenly, people started to be busy: the winery was hosting a wedding that evening. When we finally left, there were fresh flowers all around the terrace.

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