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In anticipation of this weekend’s Garagiste Festival in Solvang, I decided to get some details about Mourvèdre, star of the show during Saturday morning’s seminar, “Digging Deep into Mourvèdre.”

I e-mailed questions to two of the three participating winemakers: Larry Schaffer, owner/winemaker of Tercero Wines, and Eric Mohseni, director of winemaking and vineyard operations at Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards.

Bob Tillman, owner/winemaker with his wife, Lynn, of Alta Colina Wine, will be the third participating winemaker during the seminar.

Mourvèdre, also known as mataró or monastrell, is grown widely around the world. Among its favored growing regions are the Rhône and Provence regions of France; in Spain; in Australia’s New South Wales and South Australia, and, closer to home, in Washington and across California.

In Santa Barbara County, the highest concentration of mourvèdre plantings can be found in the greater Santa Ynez Valley, specifically in the Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon sub-AVAs, where temperatures top 90 degrees during the late summer and into fall.

That’s ideal weather for mourvèdre, which needs warmth and lots of hang time for optimal maturation.

Those attending Saturday’s “Digging Deep into Mourvèdre” seminar can look forward to an array of our region’s mourvèdre wines, according the organizers of the Garagiste Festival.

I asked Schaffer and Mohseni several questions about this up-and-coming grape varietal, long a favorite of mine:

Question: “I know Eric’s mourvèdre is estate-grown, but Larry, where do you source yours?”

Schaffer: “I get mourvèdre now from a plethora of different vineyards, depending upon what is available each specific vintage. The “constants” for me for my red wine are Camp 4 and Larner (since 2010), and Vogelzang Vineyard for my Mourvèdre rosé (since 2013).

“In 2013, I also got mourvèdre for red wine from Thompson and El Camino Real vineyards, and in 2014, from Zaca Mesa. My hope in 2016 is to receive mourvèdre from Larner, Camp 4, Zaca and perhaps one more site for red and Vogelzang for rosé.”

Mohseni: “We have had mourvèdre at Zaca for some time … the vines were grafted over in 1991, 1993 and 1999. We did a new, high-density planting of mourvèdre in 2008.”

Question: Give me a bit of background about the grape … Where does it thrive, and in what countries is it most heavily planted?

Schaffer: “Mourvèdre is native to Spain, where it is known as Monastrell and is second only to Grenache (or Garnacha) in terms of importance for red varieties. It hails from the Spanish town of Murviedro, near Valencia, and was most likely brought into France to the Provence region during the Middle Ages.

“It was a dominant variety in this region until Phylloxera hit the region and others in France in the late 1800s.

“It turns out that the variety proved much more difficult to graft to post-phylloxera rootstocks than other Rhone varieties, and therefore it was not as heavily planted in CdP, for instance, compared with Grenache. It’s also why the variety did and continues to do well in sandy soils, like Bandol (and Larner and Vogelzang).

“When mourvèdre was brought into this country, cuttings came from the area around Barcelona, where the grape was known as Mataro. In fact, to this day, on the California Grape Crush report, the variety is still called Mataro here in California.

Mohseni: “Larry nailed the background of mourvèdre!”

Question: Tell me your thoughts on working with the mourvèdre grape.

Schaffer: “Mourvèdre is both similar and dissimilar to other Rhone varieties that I work with. Like Grenache, it is very late ripening, making it a “pins and needles” variety in some vintages.

“But unlike any other red variety that I work with, the berries are not very turgid at all, and once cold soak begins, the skins begin to give way, making the cap more “mushy” than other varieties. Sounds strange, but it’s true. Because of this, the skins tend to stick to each other, and scents of volatile acidity at the beginning of fermentation, whether or not the grapes are innoculated, seem commonplace, but blow off once fermentation kicks in big time.

“It likes heat during fermentation, but too much heat can lead to reductive qualities, which can stick with the variety for a long time.”

Mohseni: “It can be a little of an enigma … It is a late ripener, but in some vintages it is the first to come out of dormancy and push. It has a nice growing season, but about a month before harvesting it can desiccate and have excessive “dimpling.” Not sure why … we watch closely and water accordingly, but regardless of water, it will still desiccate.

Since the grape has very thick skins, mourvèdre can weather the storms, so I don’t worry about it in tough wet vintages (not like we have had many of those). Usually as grapes ripen, the “meat” softens up.

“Mourvèdre tends to be “snotty,” or “pulpy” as I call it. Also, most vintages, I don’t see the seeds darken even at higher brix, so you can’t follow conventional physiological ripeness parameters.” 

Question: Grenache used to be a blending wine, and now look at it! Does the future hold the same for Mourvèdre? If not, why?

Schaffer: “Though it is “rare” to find mourvèdre bottled on its own in this country, it is common to see it done so in Spain. Here in the United States, one of the reasons it has not historically been bottled on its own is because it is challenging to “fully ripen,” and therefore ends up showing its meaty, earthy, funky qualities, ones that do not lend themselves to mass appeal.

“The challenge, therefore, is to find sites where it will ripen to the extent I am looking for and still retain the properties the variety is known for.

Mohseni: “I love blending with mourvèdre! It always helps the ZGris (from Zaca Mesa) and I love our ZCuvee when it is mourvèdre based. I lean to more savory and rustic notes, and mourvèdre is a perfect vehicle for that. It is not as bold and rustic as (mourvèdres from) Bandol.. California mourvèdre has more fruit.

Question: What are some of your favorite mourvèdres?

Schaffer: “That’s a good question. I like what Hardy Wallace is doing with his Dirty and Rowdy label, but his is a very different take on the variety — much lighter hand during fermentation, not a lot of extraction, more “delicate,” if that makes sense.

“I really enjoy the mourvèdres that Zaca puts out year in and year out; I’ve been a fan of Cris Cherry at Villa Creek, especially his last few vintages. I used to enjoy the Cline Old Vine mourvèdres, but have not had one in awhile. And Ken Volk certainly has made some great ones for a long long time. Oh, and a nod to Bandol in general.

Mohseni: “Cline, Tercero, Curtis, Tablas Creek and Bandol!”

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