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Monday, September 8, 2014

Why Mike Sinor is a Better Winemaker Than Me

As a wine writer for the last 15 years I have actually made wine. It’s a very important thing for a wine writer to do - to better understand the process of what winemakers go through and not write about wine from a vacuum. On a visit to Ancient Peaks Winery recently in Santa Margarita (San Luis Obispo County) I did a blending seminar with Mike Sinor, and took home a bottle of my creation - labeled Writer’s Blend. Mike is the talented Director of Winemaking of Ancient Peaks, and his own label Sinor-LaValle. On my visit to the property, a scant 14 miles from the coast, we not only looked at the vineyards, but also the soils which are replete with fossilized oyster shells and other old seabed materials, decomposed granite, and volcanic soils. Any winemaker will tell you that you cannot separate the quality of your grapes from the soil and climate they are grown in.
Mike holds a really, really old oyster shell
Blending Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon might seem to be an easy thing to do; simply get the percentages you want and you’ve got it made, right? Whereas I’ve had impressive experience drinking and writing about wine, I’ve only done a few wine blending trials over the years, including a rum blending in Puerto Rico, so to get the nuances just right is tricky and takes the sheer volume of experience that someone like Mike possesses. You want to balance the acidity with the various flavor characteristics; the softer aspects of subtle spice notes with the bold fruit; the tannins of one grape to compliment another. Don't get me wrong, I think my blend is quite good; it has very juicy black cherry, and bright acidic fruit, but Mike would do a much better job of assembling the parts. Of course he knows the grapes, how they react with other grapes, the ageing potential, chemistry and the understanding of balance and how all the components work together to create a stellar final product.

Mike Sinor, Yours Truly, and Christopher Weir of Mooncatcher PR at the Ancient Peaks vineyard
Having had many Ancient Peaks wines, I know what Mike is capable of. Ancient Peaks wines range from $15 to $50 and the Merlot is one of the better ones you’ll find on the Central Coast at around $17 (winning a gold medal at the Central Coast Wine Competition - which I judged at) which also shows that wine needn’t be expensive to be good. So if you have not tried Ancient Peaks wines - they are waiting for you, and while you sip them, remember this post; that people grow grapes, harvest them and spend time blending them into a bottle that is now on your table. Just like a farmer who grows your food, a winemaker crafts a food product, and nothing is as simple at it appears.

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