It’s pretty common for sommeliers and even Masters of Wine to try their hand at winemaking. The results have been, ahem, varied to say the least. But if you try enough of them, you will eventually run across someone who ‘gets it’. In this particular case, master Sommelier Chris Miller, and the winery he founded called Seabold Cellars, were sent our way by a sommelier friend here in the OC who thought we should check these out.
Miller established Seabold in 2014 with the focus on producing small lot site-specific Burgundian and Rhône varietals from the Monterey Bay region. He believes that cooler is better for certain varietals and such vineyards produce balanced wines that showcase their origin more than their winemaking. Miller learned winemaking working with the folks at Gramercy Cellars, Brewer-Clifton and Melville.
The Seabold wines impressed as they were both tender and lifted, and each one showed a few nuances that were definitely site specific. They were very pleasing examples of cool climate juice that showcased the style yet were tender enough and possessed enough flesh to be engaging in the glass rather than, as so many are, more ‘intellectually challenging’ then enjoyable. Had we not already had quite a selection of serious wines in the $40-50 range, we certainly would have bit on these. We still might. But we couldn’t pass up the Bold wines which were superior stylistically and well priced given the juice.
The concept of Bold was rather unique. First one must understand that, while a lot of people say the same thing, these guys really are about the dirt. Part of their ‘mission statement’ is “…During the year, more time is spent in vineyards than the winery. Our winemaking is as hands-off as possible, respecting traditional techniques and practices without being beholden to them.” It shows in the wines.
Where Bold diverts from the typical ‘second line’ scenario is quite specific. The Bold wines are not made from the leftovers of the Seabold wines, but rather are ‘first run’ efforts with vineyards the winery has not worked with before. They like to get really comfortable with the vineyard before they slap a Seabold label on a wine with that designation, and Bold is part of that “getting to know you” process.
No one we know thinks of the Arroyo Seco area as a hotbed for Sauvignon Blanc. But maybe that’s because they haven’t been looking in the right place. Miller found Zabala Vineyards in one of the warmest subsections of this narrow west-facing valley shielded by the Santa Lucia Mountains. Planted in 1972, it is one of Monterey County’s oldest vineyards with soils of sandy loam covered with round riverbed stones. The vineyard is family-owned, impeccably cared-for, and certified organic.
The Bold Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc Monterey 2018 itself is an intriguing expression of the varietal. There is plenty of richness in the herb-laced grapefruit, melon and pear fruit, plenty of freshness while the acids are not overly aggressive, and a remarkable sense of harmony. It lacks the edgy bite that a lot of California Sauvignons possess and rather presents a rounder yet still lifted presentation of the varietal. For under $20, it is an excellent choice and given the production (a mere 268 cases of wine) we’d consider this pretty much ‘insider trading’.
The same holds true for the Bold Wine Co. Pinot Noir Monterey 2017. The story here seems typical of this producer, and focuses on the Balestra Vineyard which lies just north of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, on a very cold climate benchland property owned and farmed by a multi-generational family of farmers. Because it is closer to the valley to the sea, the wines from the property always show a certain bright, fruit-forward character which is often balanced out by a judicious inclusion of whole clusters during fermentation.
There’s a lovely texture here and a dusty, musky presentation of dark cherry and ripe cranberry fruit kissed with a little bit of woodsiness and some elements of spice. For a generally savory Pinot, the edges are rounded and engaging and the wine has both flesh and lift to create a very pleasing experience in the glasss. The terroir nuances rise above anything you can typically buy at this kind ofrprcie. We think the ‘Bold’ wines present a pretty exciting option in a price range like this and there is legitimate excitement as to whether Miller has do with these in the purchases moving forwards. They are certainly off to an impressive start given what we see here. With only a few hundred cases this isn’t going to be a game changer for the market as a whole. But it will certainly prove shrewd value ‘harvest’ for those that move quickly.