Grape vines that struggle generally result in better quality grapes. It’s a bit like people.
If you place someone in a near-perfect environment and provide them with every comfort, they have little motivation to improve themselves. But if you make things difficult, both vines and people tend to struggle for something better. When vines are planted close together or in rocky soil, they send roots deeper into the soil in order to scavenge enough resources. A restricted water supply can also produce higher quality grapes because the yields will be lower and therefore, will have more concentrated flavors.
My friends and I enjoyed a delightful sampling of Layer Cake wines last weekend: Virgin Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Primitivo. The Layer Cake wines offer a terrific value for the price and quality. The Chardonnay is unoaked, clean and crisp with refreshing citrus fruit flavors.
The Cabernet is grown in sandy loam soils of Paso Robles which pushes the roots deep and gives this wine lots of dense, black fruit flavors. Their Primitivo (also known as Zinfandel) is from Italy with flavors of jammy black cherries, spice and white pepper. My personal favorite is the Shiraz (Syrah) – produced in South Australia – which is a very inky wine with super ripe blackberry and spices. You can find Layer Cake wine at BevMo, Trader Joe’s and World Market between $11.99 and $16.99.
Local Winery Buzz
Tucked inside a lush valley of terraced vineyards and surrounded by hillside olive tree groves, lies Pietra Santa Winery, 10034 Cienega Road in Hollister. The Mission-style wine-tasting room is a magnificent brick fortress and easily the most beautiful facility in the South Bay.
Wine grapes were planted in the 1850s by Frenchman Theophile Vaché who chose the location because of the maritime climate and its soil rich in limestone and shale. In 2005, the property was purchased by the Blackburns, a family dedicated to preserving and building upon this wine legacy. The winery was named Pietra Santa, Italian for sacred stone, in honor of its exceptional soils.
Jayme Nunn, director of marketing, took me on a tour of the estate, starting with a guest home that was built in 1905 and with plans signed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Although this four-bedroom house has been beautifully maintained and updated, it still has its original floors, doors and windows and many ornate touches from long ago. The home and surrounding grounds are perfect for weddings or family getaways.
We hopped in Jayme’s car and drove uphill through the vineyards until we came to a clearing with a birds-eye view of the estate.
“Whenever you’re in a bad mood, just coming up here and seeing all this beauty puts everything into perspective,” Jayme said. “There’s lots of rocky soil here, full of minerals from the San Andreas Fault – and because grapevines like to be stressed, they do very well here.” Jayme pointed out the 100-year-old Zinfandel vines alongside the 40-year-old Sangiovese vines and olive groves.
Pietra Santa’s winemaker, Alessio Carli, a native of Siena, Italy, learned the art of fine wine making there and then after immigrating to the United States in the early 1990’s, worked and consulted as a winemaker in Napa and Sonoma.
Alessio ensures that Pietra Santa’s wine, all made from estate grown grapes, is aged in hand-selected oak barrels and made in small lots for better quality control. Alessio also produces their Extra Virgin Olive Oil from five varieties of estate grown olives.
Among the six varietals that Pietra Santa produces, its bestsellers are Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. Sacred Stone, a proprietors red blend, is full of ripe cherry and juicy plum flavors at a very affordable price of $10.
The winery hosts its own bottling line, as well as an olive oil press room, equipped with a Pieralisi Press imported from Tuscany.
Whether you’re in the mood to fall in love, celebrate a special occasion or just need a quick-fix to stress, you’ll want to visit Pietra Santa.
• 1 basket of fresh raspberries
• 1 basket of fresh blueberries
• 1 basket of fresh blackberries
• 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
• 1 cup Pietra Santa Zinfandel
• Fresh Mint leaves for Garnish
• 1/2 cup Fresh Dark Chocolate – chunked or shaved
Wash and dry berries. Mix sugar and wine together and pour over the mixed berries. Gently stir, let sit for three to four hours at room temperature occasionally stirring to soak all berries in the juice. Dish into glasses – sprinkle with chunked chocolate and garnish with fresh mint.