Two Examples of Sonoma’s Heritage Compagni Portis Vineyard: Carlisle v. Arnot-Roberts

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Heritage Vineyards are the source of some of California’s most distinctive wines. Most of these old vineyards, however, are planted with red grape vines. This makes the Compagni Portis vineyard, with current plantings dating to 1954, an unusual treasure.

One of California’s Oldest White Wine Vineyards

Six acres of white volcanic ash soils yield a melange of misfits: Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, Burger, Riesling, Roter Veltliner, and others. It’s not the image of modern viticulture where dedication to monovarieties in individual blocks has allowed wineries to dial in the perfect conditions for each grape. Not here: all six acres is a single massive block of 50+ year old vines planted in a style that is now almost extinct. That’s likely due to the fact this vineyard hasn’t changed much since it was first planted in the late 19th century.

What’s particularly impressive is that this old-school style, which was planted so that the various characteristics of the various grapes could balance each other out from year to year, is yielding exceptionally delicious and fascinating wine. Most of the old-time vineyards planted with weak varieties such as Colombard were deservedly ripped out. It reflects a time before both marketing and improved research led producers to understand that not every grape variety was going to make great wine (sound familiar Okanagan?).

As you’d expect for an old-vine vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, this is dry farmed. In 2010, Bedrock Wine Co. (the third winery to make wine from this vineyard) took over vineyard management and has improved the overall health of the vines. Farming is organic. Yields average around a very low 1 ton per acre (though there have been bumper years, such as 2013). So think about that – there are only 6 tons of grapes coming from this historic site. That translates to under 5,000 bottles a year.

A Study in Site Expression

Arnot

There is no greater lesson about the how site expresses itself in wine than to compare two wines made by different producers from the same vineyard farmed in the same way. It proves that there are both similarities in flavour profile but also stark differences based on each producer’s vinification choices. In the case of this wine, Arnot-Roberts’ leaner, more bracing mineral driven style is very evident and a result of stainless steel fermentation and racking to oak barrels aging without lees. In contrast, Carlisle’s lusher, more hedonistic approach, which results from longer time on the lees, creates a clear counterpoint. Both wines are totally fascinating and don’t taste quite like anything else on the market from California.

Compagni Portis is one of California’s great white wine vineyards. I recommend trying both wines for comparative pleasure and then adding yourself to at least one mailing list. Both bottlings offer great value for great wine.They are well suited to a wide variety of food including pizza, white meats, pink fish, vegan, Cantonese food, Vietnamese food, and similar flavour profiles.

Arnot Roberts – Very Good+ – $35 USD off mailing list

Carlisle – Excellent and Highly Recommended Value – $28.50 USD off mailing list

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