You know how some entrepreneurs seem to start businesses in their sleep? They create a company, make it profitable or sell it to someone, and then it seems like a week into their "vacation" they're starting another one, and another. The most successful of these seem to have the Midas touch, with each business more successful than the last, as if they can't help but make tons of money.
There's an analogue to this type of personality in the wine world, and it is readily demonstrated by one Steve Clifton. Clifton is best known for his partnership in Brewer-Clifton wines with friend Greg Brewer, but in the last ten years he has started no less than three different successful wine labels, as if he just wanders around and they seemingly fall out of his pockets.
But don't let my joking fool you -- Steve Clifton is a man who knows what he's doing.
After falling in love with wine in college as a waiter in Italian restaurants, his love continued to grow through the 1980's as a young musician and aspiring nightclub owner. In the early 1990's Clifton started making wine in his basement and took a series of jobs in wine sales and marketing where he met Greg Brewer, who was following much the same path. Together they decided to start a winery focused exclusively on combining their love of Burgundian varietals and the appellation in their back yards: the Santa Rita Hills.
Getting fruit from what they call "extreme vineyards" in the appellation, Brewer-Clifton rapidly shot to recognition as on of the best producers of small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region.
You would think that Clifton would have his hands full managing one of the hottest new labels in Santa Barbara County, but a few years later he started playing with Rhone varietals, and then suddenly the world was chasing after another new label: Alder Wines (no, they did not ask me before they started it).
Sandwiched in between these two projects, Clifton apparently couldn't restrain his affections for Italian wines or for an Italian educated woman named Chrystal, so he married her and started Palmina Wines, though not necessarily in that order.
Palmina is a small family run operation -- Steve makes the wine and Chrystal manages the books -- focused exclusively on Italian varietals. Chrystal's fluent Italian has helped the couple build relationships with a number of Italian producers who have helped the couple keep their wines true to the old world styles and techniques appropriate for each varietal. This is important, because Palmina is both literally and figuratively breaking new ground in California in its attempts to grow some lesser known Italian varietals.
The winery produces Traminer, Tocai Friulano, Pinot Grigio, and Arneis, along with several Nebbiolo based wines; a Sangiovese and Merlot blend that utilizes the passito method of drying grapes before pressing; a Dolcetto, and a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Refosco.
Like all the Palmina white wines, this Pinot Grigio was fermented and aged completely in stainless steel tanks before bottling with a stelvin (screwcap) closure. The grapes for the wine come from Ashley's vineyard and the Thompson vineyard. The two vineyards have fairly different characteristics -- the former being a much cooler site with wind and fog influence, the latter being a warmer, sunnier plot. The grapes were picked a week apart and fermented separately before final blending and bottling.
Pale, straw-gold in the glass, this wine has a soft, somewhat shy nose of mineral and Asian fruit aromas. In the mouth it is bright with acidity and flavors of lemon zest, grapefruit, and a pleasant mineral undercurrent that keeps the wine dancing on the palate. The finish is substantial and pleasant, leaving a very nice impression in the back of the throat without a trace of the oily, slightly alcoholic taste that plagues many California Pinot Grigios. This is certainly one of the better examples of that category in recent memory.
I drank this wine courtesy of the generosity of one of my readers (thanks Hector!) with a truly stunning dish of cucumber gelee in tarragon cream, drizzled with cumin yogurt and cumin oil, and sprinkled with cumin seeds. It was a lovely match.
Overall Score: 9
How Much?: $19
This wine is available for purchase on the internet.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
Vinography Unboxed: Week of May 4, 2015 Vinography Images: A Shaggy Guardian Vinography Unboxed: Week of April 26, 2015 Vinography Images: Above the Coast 2015 Seven Percent Solution Tasting: May 6, San Francisco Imagining a Better Future for the Soils of Champagne A Brief Video Lesson in Champagne Disgorgement Vinography Images: The World of the Leaf Book Signing on May 9th, at Raymond Vineyards in Napa Doorman: Changing My Wine Delivery Life
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune