The Tom Hill Archives
Here are Tom's notes from Juen 27, 2000:
A Visit With John Alban
|Things were a bit slow to stir at Bob Senn's that morning
but eventually we all come to life. After a couple of cups of Joe, reading
about the latest Los Alamos fiasco in the newspaper, it's onto 101 &
heading up to Arroyo Grande for my morning appointment at John Alban's.
Joining me here are Howard&Rhoda Sherry, Jeff Pfohl, and Larry Archibald.
I've followed John Alban's wines from the very start. About the '95 vintage, John really hit his stride and has been making world-class wines ever since. Because of the coolness of the EdnaVlly (Pinot & Chardonnay country), his Roussanne & Viogniers have a leaness to them that's atypical of many other Calif versions that I feel makes them more interesting and better food wines. His Syrah has an acidity to it and a spicy/ peppery character that's rare in Calif Syrah. And his Grenache..... world-class, like no other in the world, maybe the world's best Grenache. It often has the density of Aussie Grenache but w/ much more tannins & structure and w/o the fatness & softness those versions often show. And France can only dream of making Grenache like John's.
We start w/ a tour of what's new in John's vnyd. He is pretty much used all of the flatter/bottom land down in from of the wnry for his original plantings. You take a steep gravel road west behind the wnry where his newer plantings are. The soil here is mostly limestone w/ very low fertility. Up on top of the hill is Seymour'sVnyd (John's father). Before you get to Seymour's, he's ripping up some pretty steep land and terracing for what he'll call the Serpent's Vnyd (because of its serpentine/up&down nature); very rugged land and barren soils. Beyond Seymour's, he also ripping up another patch of land for more plantings. Both of these will not be planted for another year, at least, maybe longer, as John works w/ various clones already planted and decides exactly what he want to put in in the way of Syrah & Grenache. The new plantings are some of the steepest I've seen in Calif and exactly how they would plant vnyds in Cote-Rotie if they could!! :-) His Syrah & Grenache are planted to a vertical trellis. They were just in the process of completing leaf-pulling to expose the grapes to more sunlight and give them more color. Up in Seymour's, they were pulling only on one side of the vines, which John had determined to be optimal from his experiments. John is, first and foremost, a farmer and it's clear that's where his passion lies.
John's yields from his estate vnyds dropped quite a bit for both the '98 & '99 vintages. which is probably the reason for their size and extract. For his wines, John characterized the '99 vintage as producing intense fruit-forward opulent wines whilst the '98 wines gave bigger extracted tannic wines. As I tasted thru John's wines, color and extract hardly seemed an issue with them. So after we return to the wnry, visit a bit w/ Paul Wilkins, and deride their team for its lame bowling efforts, it's into the barrels:
Finishing the barrels with that note, we head into the tasting room. Along the way, we have an encounter w/ John & Lorraine's son, Jared; as cute a little bug of a kid as you'd ever want to see. A bit on the shy side, he contually peeks around the curtains at these strange people as we start slamming down the wines in the tasting room.
Augie Hug has been a longtime friend of the Albans and makes his wines there at John's wnry, some of which are from estate grapes. John's home is actually part of the wnry, but the lack of privacy there has become a problem. So they are building a new home up on the hillside above & behind the wnry. In early April, they turned their living room into a tasting room that Augie & Raquel Hug run, having closed their tasting room over in Harmony. So both Augie's and John's wines are available to taste and to buy here. So we taste thru the available ones:
I bid adieu to John (whom we'll see again Thurs night attired in his gaudy Coat du Rhone w/ chevrons on the shoulders, the second most resplendent outfit that night at Wilson Lanes) and head on up to SanLuisObispo. Check into my motel, go out in the heat and shoot a few hoops and get in my fencing drills, and then catch a little shut-eye. Howard&Rhoda & Jeff adjourned to lunch & SLO and then returned to the EdnaVlly to hit up a few tasting rooms afore meeting up for dinner.
One of my favorite restaurants in SLO is the EdnaVllyBistro. Alas, it
is no longer. The chef, Steve Farell, bought the business and renamed it
Mosaics. Still the same great food and still very good wine list. One of
the attractions is right next door is a very nice wine shop, The Wine Guy,
run by Ron & Lisa Rawlinson. He used to do tastings on Wed nights,
but has stopped doing that. However, when he heard that our group was going
to be there this night, he offered to set us up w/ our own special tasting,
which he did. They were unable to be there (we saw them later in the week
at HdR), but left the tasting in the very capable hands of one of his people,
Kelly. She did a superb job of presenting and answering questions on the
Grilled Muscovy Duck IceCream w/ FoieGras Sauce but, instead, opted
It was a terrific meal, one of the best I had on my trip. It was a slow night so we got to visit w/ chef/owner Steve Farell quite a bit and closed the place down. The wines:
We close down the restaurant and head off for our respective motels