Gary Warburton was one of the first winemakers I met when I began my journey from tasting wine to writing about it. Back then, circa my “unenlightened” dark ages, Gary was making wine in his Manhattan Beach home aptly called Chateau Pacific.
I met Gary and his daughter-in-law Suzanne Phifer Pavitt at Julie Brosterman’s (Women & Wine) home for a private fundraising event and got my first taste of Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon. They took their sweet time making a white but, with the 2011 inaugural vintage, and the 2012 I’m tasting today, it was well worth the wait.
According to Gary the grapes are all from 40 year-old vines from the Juliana vineyard in Pope Valley, which is part of the Napa county AVA.
His method of winemaking madness included flying up from his home in Manhattan Beach on a weekly basis for three months to stir the lees. “I fly up there weekly to Santa Rosa,” Gary said. “I make about 20 trips from August 31 to December 30.” This was a point Gary drove home to me, as he believed it’s what made all of the difference in the flavors he wanted to achieve.
“Everything is whole cluster press,” Gary continued. “There is no fining, no cold stabilization and no malolactic fermentation.
Gary makes his Sauvignon Blanc in the Sancerre style for one reason, because that’s what Terry, his wife of 30 years, loves.
“We have great fruit; so we do a little as possible to it and just let it do its own thing. We do give it more oxygen (open the top of the tanks) than others do, or bleed oxygen through it after its fermented.”
“You will get stone fruit, citrus and as much mouthfeel as we could possibly glean out of that. We used two different kinds of yeast so that I could get both qualities of those fruits.
“Then we just put it in the bottle and it becomes poetry. Can’t mess with it then.” According to one of Gary’s instructor’s at Davis: wine is no more than chemistry until it goes into bottle – then it’s poetry.
“I’ve been a winemaker for 20 years. And I’m the only maker of white wine for Phifer Pavitt. I am the assistant winemaker to Ted Osborne who does the reds. And I would say this about Ted: I’ve learned more from him on a daily basis than I ever did at Davis. At Davis you learn a lot of stuff, make a lot of great connections and establish great resources – for when things go wrong.”
DATE NIGHT Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
14.5 alcohol, $30
Color: Beautifully clear, hay with an edge of pale honey.
Aroma: Lemon zest, lime twist, golden delicious apples, pear, stone fruit (apricot and peach), pale white pepper.
Taste: Very balanced fruit and acidity, the same aroma profile from the nose lingered through in the taste, crisp, lovely mouth-coating viscosity. Paired well with my Cobb salad (no dairy) and Gary’s cold shrimp and crab salad.
More on Gary: http://www.phiferpavittwine.com/winemakerblanc.html
Winery website: http://www.phiferpavittwine.com/