Fans of Diatom will notice that starting with the 2010 vintage Greg Brewer has disposed of vineyard designations for the wines in favor of Japanese Kenji characters that he believes evoke "a personal and specific representation of origin." Anybody who has spent time with Brewer knows his focused and detailed personality, not to mention his fascination with Japanese culture ("clarity, precision, simplicity"), so as curious as this move may seem on its face, it makes some sense. As usual, the wines are fermented at very cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks and the malolactic fermentations are blocked. Brewer has caught some flak for the often-elevated alcohol levels of the Diatom wines but he's unfazed "because the whole point is to let each wine be what it wants to be, without any adornment from me. Where it wants to go, it goes. My job is to protect it and that's it."
2010 Chardonnay Hana Shinobu Sta. Rita Hills($36) (12.7% alcohol): Light yellow. High-pitched citrus zest and pear aromas are complicated by notes of anise, ginger and minerals. Dusty and precise, with sneaky depth to its bitter lime and orchard fruit flavors. Taut, focused and pure chardonnay with strong finishing cut and lingering herb and mineral notes. 91
2010 Chardonnay Hamon Santa Rita Hills($42) Light, bright gold. Explosive aromas of poached pear, mango, Meyer lemon and white flowers, with spice and mineral accents adding vivacity. Broad and deeply pitched on entry, then more taut in the mid-palate, with serious power to its orchard and tropical fruit flavors. A refreshingly bitter citrus zest quality adds focus and bite to the very long, incisive finish. This wine's blend of richness and vivacity is impressive. 93
2010 Chardonnay Miya Santa Rita Hills($48) Light yellow. Aromas of pear skin, anise, ginger and lemon pith, with a touch of white pepper. Spicy and sappy in the mouth, offering juicy orchard fruit flavors and notes of chamomile and iodine. Focused and chewy on the long, spicy and energetic finish. Quiet deep but there's excellent clarity and cut to this chardonnay. 91
2010 Chardonnay Kodo Sta. Rita Hills($42) Bright yellow. Alluring aromas of pit fruits, melon and tangerine are lifted by orange peel and candied ginger. Fleshy and smooth in texture, with very good depth and heft to its juicy nectarine and honeydew flavors. A touch of bitter citrus pith adds cut to very long, sappy, penetrating finish. This would be a great match with strongly seasoned or earthy dishes, like a mushroom risotto. 93
2010 Chardonnay Kazaoto Sta. Rita Hills($36) Bright yellow. Intense, mineral-accented aromas of melon, orange and white flowers, with slow-building spiciness. Powerful, palate-staining pit and citrus fruit flavors are lifted by a zesty, refreshing note of quinine and show excellent precision. At once deep and lithe, finishing with excellent clarity and lingering florality. This sexy wine improves a lot with air. 92(+?)
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by Antonio Galloni
These 2010s from Greg Brewer encapsulate a desire to move even further along a trajectory of simplicity and minimalism inspired by Japanese culture. Greg Brewer has removed the vineyard designations from his wines and replaced them with Kanji characters that he feels capture the essence of each site. Kanji is a traditional Japanese language based on Chinese characters. Brewer describes the 2010 vintage as relatively cool but with heat spikes towards the end of the season. He harvested early to preserve as much freshness as possible and also bottled on the early side. The wines were all fermented and aged in steel, in very reductive environments, with blocked malos and no batonnage. Not surprisingly, most of the 2010s were a bit reduced when I tasted them in June, but the wines showed quite well with several hours of air. These are striking whites for their transparency and purity, even if at times they are north of 16% in alcohol.
The 2010 Chardonnay Miya is a deep, powerful wine. It is a touch heavy and earthy next to the more polished and refined wines in this lineup. I don’t see the balance or same sense of intrigue I find in the finest Diatom Chardonnays. 88 points
The 2010 Chardonnay Hana Shinobu is an implosive wine packed with bright fruit and citrus, punctuated by bracing notes of minerality. It comes across as a bit compact and one-dimensional, but some of that may be attributable to its recent bottling. 89+ points
The 2010 Chardonnay Kodo comes across as round, sweet and lush in its apricots, minerals and flowers. It shows considerable depth and a round, generous finish. I especially like the wine’s sensual, inviting personality. 93 points
The 2010 Chardonnay Kazaoto impresses for a textured, voluminous personality that emerges beautifully with time in the glass. It shows gorgeous depth, persistent minerality and fabulous overall balance. 93 points
The 2010 Chardonnay Hamon is one of the fatter, more overt wines in this lineup. Layers of ripe, tropical fruit lead to the essence of crushed rocks and lime peel as this multi-dimensional Chardonnay builds towards an explosive, creamy finish. This is a striking yet peaceful, calm wine graced with fabulous focus and length. 94 points
Greg Brewer describes 2009 as an ideal Diatom vintage "because it's a year whose strength is in site expression and clarity. Not too ripe, definitely not underripe; it's all about balance." This year's set of wines includes a new bottling called Drum Canyon, which comes from a steep planting of Hyde clone chardonnay at the top of the Dierberg vineyard. Brewer's regimen is to allow his wines to ferment out to wherever they want to go, which usually means near or even above 15% alcohol, but I have found that the intense minerality of the wines more than buffers any alcoholic warmth. I wonder how many people who carp about the alcohol in the Diatom wines are actually trying them without prejudice; witch hunts have an uncanny way of uncovering witches.
Chardonnay Drum Canyon Santa Rita Hills
2009 Chardonnay Clos Pepe Santa Rita Hills Pale yellow. Pungent orange pith, pear and anise on the nose, with a hint of floral honey. Juicy, penetrating citrus fruit flavors pick up power in the glass, with tangy minerality providing lift. Finishes dry and with excellent clarity, repeating the lemon, anise and herb notes. This wine's energy is impressive. 92
2009 Chardonnay Babcock Santa Rita Hills Bright yellow. A heady, decadent bouquet exudes nectarine, singed orange, pear skin, licorice and iodine, with exotic cinnamon and floral notes adding complexity. Vibrant and expansive, offering pure citrus and orchard fruit flavors and an intense mineral undertone. This is carrying 15.5% alcohol but no way I'd have guessed that. Nervy, dusty and strikingly floral on the finish, which strongly echoes the orange and floral notes. 93
2009 Chardonnay Huber Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Light, bright gold. High-pitched aromas of citrus zest, white peach, honeysuckle and chalky minerals. Large-scaled but dry, with powerful lemon, orange and floral flavors underscored by iodine and chalk. Blends power and vivacity smoothly and finishes on a strong, earthy note and with excellent clarity. This is all Wente clone, Brewer told me. 93
going to extremes
by Patrick J Comiskey
The Santa Rita Hills appellation possesses some of the most extreme growing conditions for viticulture in California. Its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its physical geography - a pair of east-west valleys set between low hills - expose the region to bracingly cool temperatures and intense, driving Pacific winds. The growing season is so protracted that growers will frequently leave fruit on the vine long after the rest of the state has cleaned out its harvest bins.
For Greg Brewer, ...extreme conditions warrant extreme wines; he works with Santa Rita Hills vineyards to create some of the most outré chardonnays in the country. "Nature gives us a time continuum longer than anywhere in California," says Brewer. "It would be a compromise not to take advantage of it, and explore this type of aesthetic."
In the Santa Rita Hills, you can't get much more powerful the Brewer's Diatom wines... When Brewer articulates his method, it is evident that he wants you to perceive the Diatom wines as unmanipulated, relative to just about any other chardonnay in California. "I don't want to make 'me' decisions", he says. "And yeah, I taught French lit, so I know that by not making a decision I'm making a decision, but if I could find ways to remove myself further, I would. My one sellout is that the wine has to convert to alcohol. I'm not making verjus." He also filters his wine; he loves filtering, he says, because he feels it leaves the wine focused and precise, a light beam of purity.
by Robert Parker
This brilliant artisinal project of Greg Brewer continues to offer what are basically the naked/most virginal side of Chardonnay possible – all from cool-climate sites in the Santa Rita Hills. As I said last year, these tour de force efforts prove you can have extraordinary precision, minerality, and freshness in wines that usually have around 15% natural alcohol. As a postscript, these wines are all fermented at very cold temperatures, with malolactic fermentation blocked, and kept cold on their lees until bottling, which is very early. No one else in California is doing anything remotely like what Greg Brewer has achieved with Diatom.
A new vineyard has been added to the portfolio, and the debut is exceptional. The 2009 Chardonnay Drum Canyon (15.5% alcohol) has intensely perfumed notes of white peach, nectarine, pear, and tropical fruit blossoms. Its terrific acidity tends to conceal a relatively full-bodied powerhouse of a wine in the mouth. The crispness and freshness give it a zestiness and definition that are remarkable for such a concentrated, naked Chardonnay. This is a beauty to drink over the next several years. 94 points
The 2009 Chardonnay Clos Pepe (14.7%) has very short acids, which kept my score from going higher. It is a more medium-bodied wine, with notes of orange zest, quince, white currant, straw, and wet stones. The acid levels are ferocious, and while the wine is fresh and focused, you have to be a real acid freak to enjoy this. At any rate, there is not much of this wine, since it comes from a one-acre parcel, compared to the three-acre parcel of the Drum Canyon. 90 points
My two favorites included the 2009 Chardonnay Babcock, which comes from sandy clay/loamy soils in the Santa Rita Hills over shale, and tips the scales at 15.5% alcohol. This wine has more honeysuckle, orange blossom, nectarine notes, with a hint of tropical fruit. It has terrific acidity as well, but it possesses explosive ripeness, richness, and a broad, complex texture and finish. This superb Chardonnay should drink well for 3-4 years. 95 points
The 2009 Chardonnay Huber, from an old Wente clone that boasts 24 years of age, is the purest, most grand cru Chablis-like of all these wines. Lemon and lime blossoms intermixed with nectarine, tangerine, honey, and powdered rock are all present in this full-bodied (15.9% alcohol), exquisite Chardonnay that proves that blockbuster power and quintessential finesse can be one and the same thing in a wine. It should drink well for 3-4 years. 97 points
Jay McInerney, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reviewed several chardonnay wines produced by Greg, including wines from diatom, Brewer-Clifton and Melville:
I have sometimes thought that the Brewer-Clifton Chardonnays tasted like turbocharged Chablis and in fact Chablis is a passion... ...After a 2004 visit to the area, including a quasi-religious experience tasting in the cellar of Domain Raveneau, Mr. Brewer was inspired to start a new Chardonnay project called Diatom, named for the areas diatomaceous marine soils.
"I think of Brewer-Clifton as skiing, Melville Inox as snowboarding and Diatom as the X Games," Mr. Brewer says. "I wanted to push Chardonany to an absolute extreme."
Extreme, but minimal. For his Diatom Chardonnays, which are vinified like Inox, he lets the grapes get very, very ripe, riper than Inox, which in a hotter area would result in a flabby wine. The result is radical indeed, an extreme example of the fat/lean syndrome. Diatom is so radical, it's deviant," Mr. Brewer says. He sees heavily oaked Chardonnays as elaborately cooked and sauced dishes. "Diatom is like a piece of toro, fatty but also pure and minimal," he says. He also believes the minimalist winemaking style lets the characteristics of the vineyards, and the area, shine through. It's unique and yet it highlights the family traits of the region. I like to pour these chards for friends who claim they don't like California Chardonnay. Even those who aren't instantly converted tend to be pleasantly surprised.
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Chardonnay Babcock Sta. Rita Hills 2008
Chardonnay Huber Sta. Rita Hills 2008
Chardonnay Clos Pepe Sta. Rita Hills
by Robert Parker
These minimalist tank-fermented Chardonnays, with malolactic fermentation blocked, are brilliant achievements from wunderkind Greg Brewer. These wines essentially prove the inconceivable – that high alcohol wines with extraordinary minerality and precision, great elegance, and floral characteristics that never taste heavy, are as fresh and vibrant as any wine can be. Nothing like these Chardonnays is being produced anywhere else in California. Readers should keep in mind they all possess natural alcohols in the 15.7-15.8% range.
The 2008 Chardonnay Clos Pepe Vineyard reveals crisp lemon blossom and orange marmalade notes, a light gold/straw color, elegant mango, quince, and wet stone-like flavors, crisp acids, and a full-bodied, long finish. This impressive white should drink well for several years. It is hard to predict how long these wines will last, but from my cellar, the Brewer-Clifton Chardonnays (which see about one-third new oak) from as far back as 2000 are holding up amazingly well. 93 points
The 2008 Chardonnay Babcock Vineyard possesses plenty of white citrus, orange blossom, honeyed grapefruit, spring flower, crushed rock, and white currant characteristics. Beautifully full with striking delineation, excellent precision and freshness, and full-bodied length, it should drink well for 7-10 years. 94 points
Having produced wines of such balance, freshness, and purity without any sense of heaviness or heat is remarkable. Lastly, a monumental Chardonnay is the 2008 Chardonnay Huber Vineyard. Its light to medium straw color is followed by a sweet bouquet of lemon butter, orange oil, lemon grass, and wet rocks. The wine flows over the palate with exceptional vibrancy, impressive acidity, and stunning concentration as well as length. 95 points
All three of these Chardonnays taste like a grand cru Chablis made from fruit grown in the Central Coast’s cool Santa Rita Hills region. Bravo!
by Steve Heimoff
2007 Babcock Chardonnay
2007 Clos Pepe Chardonnay
2007 Huber Chardonnay
These wines are nothing short of revolutionary. Completely stainless steel fermented and aged, this winemaking team has been successful in their efforts to produce a grand cru-like Chablis style in the Central Coast with no exposure to oak, taking full advantage of the extraordinary growing conditions in the Santa Rita Hills. The aromatics of these wines are off the charts, and the flavors extraordinary. For any of those who would argue that oak is an integral part of Chardonnay winemaking, these wines are the antithesis of that. It is hard to know how these will age, but they seem incredibly pure and very long, although I would still opt for drinking them in their first 2-3 years of life.
Absolutely mind-boggling is the 2007 Chardonnay Huber. White citrus, wet stones, peach, and apricot blossom as well as tropical fruit oils give this wine extraordinary complexity and sensational richness. Remarkable purity and great length further characterize this wine, which should drink nicely for another several years. 95 points
The 2007 Chardonnay Babcock is much more exotic, with ripe pineapple, pear, white currant, quince, and some subtle earthy, loamy soil undertones. The wine has fabulous fruit, sensational flavor penetration on the palate, but no sense of heaviness. Extraordinary precision gives this wine amazing vibrancy in spite of its formidable size. 94 points
The 2007 Chardonnay Clos Pepe is probably the best wine I have ever tasted from that vineyard. Extraordinary ripeness of white currants, white peach, lemon blossom, citrus oil, and a hint of honeysuckle is followed by a wine with fabulous body, flavor, depth, precision, and remarkable finesse and elegance in spite of some substantial alcohol. This is a tour de force in winemaking. It is hard to know how these will age, but they seem incredibly pure and very long, although I would still opt for drinking them in their first 2-3 years of life. 93 points
2007 Chardonnay Clos Pepe Santa Rita Hills
2007 Chardonnay Babcock Santa Rita Hills
2007 Chardonnay Huber Santa Rita Hills
by James Laube
Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills Clos Pepe 2007
Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills Babcock 2007
Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills Huber
"The japanese sense of style is the accumulation of long and seriously beautiful aesthetic thought," writes Truman Capote in his brief essay "Style: and the Japanese." "Although . . . a principle basis of this thought is dread—dread of the explicit, the emphatic—hence the single blade of grass describing a whole universe of summer, the slightly lowered eyes left to suggest the deepest passion."
Even Greg Brewer — though his particular art involves grapes, rather than ink or paint — has taken from his time spent in Japan lessons in style that have informed not only his personal tastes, but the taste, texture, and bottle design of his wines as well.
"I love Japan," acknowledges the winemaker, who, along with business partner Steve Clifton, founded Santa Barbara County’s cult wine label Brewer-Clifton in 1995. "I love the Japanese reverence for raw material and especially nature. And also the discipline of execution, which is almost stereotypically Japanese in some ways. I’ve always wanted to take that sensibility and infuse it into what I do."
Brewer’s own winemaking project, a portfolio of single-vineyard Chardonnays called Diatom, represents the application of this minimalist aesthetic to his craft.
...just getting ready to release his new Chardonnay creation, Diatom, named for the white, chalk-like sedimentary remains of the fossilized sea creatures found throughout the soils.
"Our wines don't speak loudly of our handling, but more to the soils in which they're grown," says the winemaker. "My inspiration is a desire to purely capture this site by name and by place." This philosophy, as well as Brewer's reputation for aromatics in his wines and his innate sense of delicacy, are all telltale signs of what's to come in the glass.
With the three-year-old Diatom project, Brewer is finally ready to make a commanding statement. This neo-Chardonnay is a Zen-like creature that leans more towards broken glass than citrus and melon. Fermented cold in stainless steel and ML-inhibited, three different single-vineyard versions of Diatom represent the pre-dawn of a new style for Chardonnay, a varietal that may henceforth be associated with an austere and futuristic lightness of being.
The amazing 2006 Chardonnay Huber is a brilliant example of full-bodied power buttressed by considerable acidity, lemon butter, tangerine, mango, and exotic fruits. It is a steely, lean but powerful Chardonnay oozing with minerality and tropical fruit. Consume it over the next 5-6 years. 94 points
The Chardonnay on steroids, the 2006 Chardonnay Clos Pepe Vineyard exhibits an exuberant lemon custard-like character accompanied by bees’ wax, pear, and orange rind notes. With fabulous fruit, full body, and zesty underlying acidity, it will provide immense pleasure over the next several years. 92 points
Diatom fashions Chablis-styled, 100% Chardonnays that see no wood aging. Both the fermentation and aging process take place in stainless steel, resulting in bold, brilliant wines that demonstrate what Chardonnay can achieve without any make-up.
In their Annual California Chardonnay Report, Wine Spectator highlighted diatom in their review of "Minimalists" - winemakers who prefer not to manipulate the wine and "embrace an asthetic that shuns new oak and emphasizes bright acidity." "Growers emphasize that viticulture has to be especially attentive." "For impassioned practitioners of the style, however, the pleasures are philosophical as well as gustatory. 'I think this asthetic is a purer, well-intentioned expression of Chardonnay,' says Brewer."
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