Get the Dirt about Monochrome Wines

22 May

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1. What was your first vintage year? 2016

2. How many cases do you make per vintage? 450 – 500 cases

3. Do you have a Tasting Room? We do not have a tasting room yet, but are planning to have a small tasting room in the Tin City area in Paso Robles. We hope to open it some time during the Summer or Fall of 2017.

4. Who is your winemaker? Our winemaking is a collaboration between Riley Hubbard and me, Dave McGee. Riley’s experience includes L’Aventure, Law Estate, and Desparada. Dave’s experience includes Villa Creek Cellars and Alta Colina.

5. How did you get your start in the winemaking business? After completing the online version of UC Davis’ winemaking program, I (Dave) was fortunate enough to work a harvest with Cris Cherry and his team at Villa Creek Cellars in 2012. I subsequently helped Bob Tillman and his team at Alta Colina.

6. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery? My wife and I came down to Paso for some winetasting in 2011 and were really impressed with the area. While I don’t remember a specific wine, I remember the visits to Denner, Turley, and Linne Calodo making quite an impression on us.

7. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make? At Monochrome, we are focused exclusively on white wines. In 2016, we worked with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Albarino. In 2017, we are planning to add Chenin Blanc to that list. We have enjoyed working will all those varieties, and don’t really have a favorite yet. In 2016, the Chardonnay was probably the most fun, as we broke it up into a lot of very small components, and took different approaches with each of them.

8. What vineyards do you source from?  We don’t have a home vineyard, so we are free to source from any of the great vineyards along the entire California Coast, and to select specific vineyards optimal for each of the varieties with which we work. Our wines all carry a generic California appellation designation to reflect this freedom. For 2016, we mentally cast a 400-mile net, encompassing everything from the Santa Cruz Mountains in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. We ended up sourcing Chardonnay from Donnachadh (formerly Stowaway) vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, Roussanne from Zaca Mesa Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, Viognier from Shokrian (formerly Verna’s) Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Marsanne from Griva Vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Sauvignon Blanc from Happy Canyon, and Albarino from Plum Orchard Road Vineyard in the Templeton Gap District.

9. What type of oak treatment do you use? Why? Although almost all of our wine is barrel-fermented, we use a little bit of everything. The majority of our wine was fermented and aged in neutral oak, but we also used some new oak (in barrel and half-barrel size), some stainless steel barrels, a 500-liter earthenware amphora, and even some small stainless variable capacity tanks we used for some skin-fermented Albarino and Sauvignon Blanc. How much of each was used varied with the variety involved: our Viognier / Roussanne blend had about 25%-30% new oak; the Albarino blend had no new oak (only neutral oak and stainless). Our technique evolved into sort of a Wall of Sound approach to winemaking.

10. What do you love about your winemaking region? One of the greatest things about the Central California Coast is the huge diversity of climates and soil types within a 2-3 hour drive of Paso Robles, ranging from the very cool to the very warm. It allows us to work with a broad range of varieties, and a broad range of climate types. Most winemaking regions do not have nearly this range of opportunities.

11. What’s the story behind your name/label? For a winery focused exclusively on white wines, the name monochrome (“one color”) seemed like a natural fit. However, the name also suggests a photographic analogy. Many people think of black-and-white (monochrome) photos as being less interesting than color, yet most fine art photographs are in black-and-white. If you ask photographers, most will tell you that shooting in black-and-white is more challenging than shooting in color since you don’t have color to distract from any shortcomings in composition, subject matter, or tonality. You need to get all the fundamentals just right for the photo to work. Similarly, most winemakers will tell you that making complex white wines is more challenging than making complex reds, as you can’t rely on tannin, oak, and extraction to build complexity or mask any shortcomings in the fruit and wine.

For our label and bottle details, we wanted to select a signature color that would reflect who we are and what we do. All our wines have one thing in common: they all start as “white” grapes. In reality, white grapes are not actually white, but occur in colors ranging from lime green to a pale, golden straw color, depending upon the variety, degree of ripeness, etc. We therefore looked at various photographs of grape clusters and isolated several shades along the spectrum of colors that existed in the clusters, and those became the color elements we used in the Monochrome “color wheel”, label details, and the wax we use to cover the cork.

12. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery? How hard it is to come up with good brand and blend names that someone else hasn’t already taken!

13. Most importantly, what’s so great about being small? What can you do as a small winemaker, that wouldn’t be possible for larger wineries? We make our wines in a LOT of very small batches. While we only produced less than 500 cases for 2016, we actually made 29 different wines that went into six blends. That level of complexity, detail, and effort would never fly at a large corporate winery.

14. How do you view the future in the wine industry for small-lot winemakers? On one hand, I think wine lovers will continue their trend of seeking out smaller wineries that are doing something different or innovative and have a good story to tell. I also believe that a growing acceptance of direct-to-consumer shipments will be good for small producers. On the other hand, there are still opportunities to reduce the hurdles still faced by smaller (non-millionaire) winemakers trying to start a new winery on a shoestring budget.

To learn more about Monochrome Wines, please visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK.

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