- RegionCalifornia North Coast
- AppellationSierra Foothills
- VineyardRorick Heritage Vineyard
- Aging/CooperageAged on lees for 10 months in neutral oak
Etxea Albariño Rorick Heritage Vineyard Sierra Foothills 2020
In one of those "Only in Napa" moments, we ran into Ryan Pass, partner, winemaker, and all around phenom, one night at one of the very hip wine bars in downtown Napa. After a bottle of Beaujolais and a flight of Champagne, he pulled a shiner of his new, single-vineyard albariño, and offered a taste. Never ones to turn such things down, we agreed. Bam! As though we were all immediately struck by a thunderbolt of vinous lightning, we looked down at our glasses, then at each other, then Ryan... without a word uttered, we concluded. We needed some of this! With only 119 cases total production, this is an exemplary version of albariño’s potential here in California – perhaps the best we’ve ever tasted outside of the Iberian peninsula!
Etxea is a one-man producer, making micro-lots of albariño and cabernet franc. This wine comes from a vineyard way up in the Sierra Foothills, made by winemaker Ryan Pass. He has been making wine at Farella Vineyard since 2015, taking over as head winemaker for Tom Farella in 2018. The same sort of authentic, minimal intervention and thoughtful winemaking found in Tom’s iconic wines can be discovered in Ryan’s Etxea.
Sourced from Matthew Rorick’s (of Forlorn Hope) 2,000 ft. elevation and organically-farmed vineyard high in the Sierra Foothills, this site has steep slopes on limestone-rich soils. This is a rare geological gem located in Calaveras County, outside the old mining town of Murphys, first ranched by the Shaw family in 1844. Barden Stevenot, the godfather of modern Calaveras winegrowers, purchased the property in the 1960s, planting own-rooted Wente clones in the 70s that still survive today. He expanded the vineyards to 75 acres, taking advantage of a stunning diversity of sun exposures, elevations, temperatures, and soils. When Matthew Rorick purchased the vineyard in 2013, he began the conversion of the vineyard (and all 16 varieties planted there) to organic farming practices. This particular plot of albariño rests on a northeast-facing slope of schist and limestone, just beneath Rosemary Cakebread’s plot for her Gallica label.
The albariño was hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed, and spontaneously fermented with native yeast. The wine then aged on its lees with no sulfur added for ten months in neutral oak before bottling. The wine opens with aromas of yellow peaches and wet stones, leading to a palate of more peaches, tinged with chamomile, and honeydew melon. The wine is lightened by bright, mineral-laden acidity, but nevertheless has the full weight and textured creaminess for which Iberian albariño is prized. We secured as much as we could, but as the TOTAL production on this wine is a meager 119 cases, there is just not much to be had! A true insiders find that you must try to believe. Get yours while it lasts!
PAIRING IDEAS: One of my favorite memories from a trip to northern Spain was a seaside tapas bar, a glass of albariño, and the most simply delish and unadorned Gambas al Ajillo. Garlic-y, spicy, and bright, this is a go-to to have in any cook’s repertoire.
MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Want to see a magic trick? Watch Trace Bundy play guitar. This live version of “Dueling Ninjas”, a glass of this, and a bowl full of gambas? Perfect evening complete.