Friday, February 22, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 51

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Ménage a trois: Presqu'ile Winery offers a trio of special vintage wines meant to be sipped, not saved


I used to have a friend who delighted in collecting vintage toys and collectibles. He spent every spare penny he had snapping up everything from original Star Wars toys to comic books to Ghostbusters memorabilia and lots more.

The thing is, he never really seemed to enjoy it much. They sat in pristine boxes on shelves as he raved about how much money they were all going to be worth one day. Meanwhile, his kids sat staring, wondering why their father would have so much fun with boxes that no one was ever allowed to touch.

Two 2011 red wines, a pinot noir and a syrah, are part of a trio of vintages being released for a special promotion at Presqu’ile called Open That Bottle Night. Dieter Cronje, winemaker for the Santa Maria winery, said he embraced the challenges of a colder climate during that year to produce the wines.

That brings me to Open That Bottle Night, which is Feb. 23. It’s not a formal event, per se (you won’t have to put on a tie or get a babysitter), but it is an opportunity for wine collectors out there to take a moment to stop obsessing over building a massive collection and enjoy actually drinking some wine. The Wall Street Journal wine writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher brainstormed the idea a while ago to get people to stop thinking of wines as things that can’t be touched ever.

Over at Presqu’ile, the winery has decided to jump on the bandwagon by offering a trio of 2011 vintage wines. What’s intriguing about these wines is the entrancing journey they were on before they were offered and sold to customers. 

For the event, Presqu’ile is offering two red wines and a white—2011 chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley; 2011 pinot noir, Santa Maria Valley; and the 2011 syrah, Presqu’ile Vineyard. Dieter Cronje, the spirited and good-natured winemaker at Presqu’ile, offered me a chance to better understand how wines shift in nature from one year to the next, as changes in climate and conditions keep winemakers on their toes and provide challenges they don’t hesitate to embrace.

“That whole vintage is just summarized by 2011 being extremely cold,” Cronje said. “Up until 2018, that was probably the coldest time I’ve ever had in the states, and I’ve been here since 2004.” 

Presqu’ile’s 2011 chardonnay offers notes of pineapple, peach, mango, and a little bit of green apple. The fruity wine is well rounded with a balanced acidity and rich flavor, a product of the craftsmanship of winemaker Dieter Cronje.

The chillier temperatures are what help determine the style wineries such as Presqu’ile go with, Cronje said. Lucky for them, it was already the direction they wanted to go in for the chardonnay, with lower alcohol, higher acidity wines, and something that felt more elegant, he explained.

“Even then, we realized the wines were going to age well,” he said. “We were always very excited about the ageability of the cooler vintages, which 2011 was the best example of.”

Cronje said they always look forward to seeing how the wines age. Typically, they use Dijon clones for the chardonnay, but they didn’t in 2011. Cold vintages have a little hint of tropical fruit, but because because of the cold, the minerality is higher and so is the acidity. That year’s wine had the highest acidity for a chardonnay Presqu’ile had made up until 2018. The acidity is what separates it from most of their other chardonnays. 

“It’s going to have a little bit of weight now that it’s been in bottles for so long,” Cronje explained. “But that’s why we have always been super excited about it.”

For pinot noir, the winery typically uses a traditional whole-cluster ferment with stems (which gives nice herbaceous notes). But due to the cool temperatures, Cronje and his team decided to make some changes and alter the typical ratio.  

“We did find that stem inclusion would be a little out of balance and a little bit aggressive,” Cronje said. “But we also knew that is indicative of whole-cluster pinot noir that ages well.”

The result is a firm ruby-red colored wine with earthy spice and deeper fruit notes from cherry and plum. One of the best things about a wine like the 2011 pinot noir is it demonstrates that how good a wine really is often depends on when you drink it, Cronje said. When people ask what the best wines and vintages are, he said it’s often hard to answer because it ultimately depends on when a bottle is opened and enjoyed. 

2011 was a unique year for wines in Santa Maria, and Presqu’ile is seeking to commemorate it by offering three wines meant to be savored, not saved for a rainy day.

“The most serious wines tend to go through a phase where they are not at their best,” he said. “And then at other times they are better. … I think [the 2011 pinot noir] is a good proof of that in the sense that it’s come around and become a super interesting wine that everyone really loves.” 

Presqu’ile’s 2011 syrah is the winery’s first estate syrah, aged for almost two years in French oak with a balanced acidity. The wine has notes of dried cherry, plum, tobacco, and herbs. Presqu’ile’s syrah comes from one of the most Western areas (and therefore, a much colder area) of other syrah producers. The standard California syrah tends to rather big and voluptuous, Cronje explained, but the colder weather of their estate has a unique impact.

“Syrah, in my mind, is one of those varieties that really takes cold weather well,” Cronje said. “The cold weather syrah tends to be slightly lighter body and slightly less extraction. We were able to really capture that in 2011. It’s one of my favorite syrahs ever made.”

As Cronje pointed out, wines change and evolve over time. You never know how the kind you sampled at the tasting room is going to turn out once you get it home and age it for a while. That’s part of the joy of wine. Even if you’re collecting your bottles for the day you sell them off and buy that little island in the tropics, it’s important to remember that they were made to be enjoyed. 


Three-course meal for $30 every Sunday at Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc.

Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc offers a three-course meal (pictured above) every Sunday for $30. Treat yourself to something special like grilled New York strip steak, twice baked potato, and farmers’ market vegetables with a red wine demi-glace at 610 N. H St., Lompoc.

• Make sure to get your flu shot, and if you want to be extra health conscious this year, head over to my favorite juice bar in town, Pure Natural Juice, and try a wellness shot or two. Wellness shots are juices packed with nutrients to help the immune system and are made with ginger, lemon, and a variety of other ingredients. Visit 3420 Orcutt Road, suite 106, Orcutt.

Bodega Los Alamos offers big, overflowing, and delicious-looking charcuterie and cheese plates along with a vast selection of wines. The venue, which is a perfect spot for a picnic during the weekend, is located at 273 Bell St., Los Alamos.

Yanagi Sushi in Santa Maria.

Yanagi Sushi made some changes to its menu (especially to their prices) awhile ago and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite as happy with them as I’d been before. That all changed on a recent trip when I went for their sushi combo special (pictured below), featuring some of the freshest most well-prepared fish I’ve had in ages. Definitely back at the top of my list at 2431 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

• Crispy sauced chicken wings are always in top form at CK Wings in Lompoc (one of my favorite local spots), but it’s the sweet and sour wings that really deserve a special shout-out. They offer an elevated version of what you’d expect in a sweet and sour dish, but it’s wings, y’all. Try them at 721 W. Central Ave., suite B, Lompoc.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is a bit frosty. Contact her at

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