SAMsARA winemaker, Matt Brady, recently sat down with team member Martial Chaput for a little Q&A.
Hey Matt! Thanks for taking the time to chat, and telling us about what’s been happening and what you are working on these days.
Good morning! Always a pleasure.
Let’s jump right in. So, first can you tell us how you’ve been doing and keeping busy during COVID-19?
Yeah. So the winery was closed to the public and a lot of our public business operations have changed, just like everybody else’s during this crazy year. We’ve remained very busy, as this has also been an opportunity to develop some skills and tools to continue engaging our community, especially customers who can’t be with us in person at the winery or in our tasting rooms.
We’ve really had a good time and a lot of fun developing virtual wine tasting events, that we host on Zoom. Those have been fantastic, and almost a little surprising for everybody, how successfully we can really connect with our customers and club members, when everybody’s in the comfort of their home.
We built a page on our website where you can choose from several virtual wine tasting options. We are going to continue offering them to share our winemaking experiences with people that can’t be in here person.
We’ve also just reopened our Goleta tasting room, which is really exciting! The tasting room had been open in a limited capacity for about two weeks, and it’s been nice seeing folks outside on our back patio, chatting with everyone from a safe distance. A lot of folks who come through tell us about all the SAMsARA wine they’ve been drinking, while stuck at home over the last couple months. It’s cool to hear that as well!
That’s very exciting. Let’s talk a little bit about the 2020 vintage. I think last time we had a call like this we was during budbreak. So can you talk a bit about what’s happening in the vineyards now?
You know, with all the doom and gloom in the world, the vineyards are doing well, and that’s kind of a nice change of pace to have something going our way in 2020! Last time we chatted like this, we had just had budbreak. I think that was like end of March, beginning of April. And, right now, we’re pretty much at the completion of fruit set. All the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has set for the most part.
Could you explain what fruit set entails?
Well, fruit set is part of the growing cycle of the grapevine; it happens after budbreak in the spring when the vines come out of dormancy. The wines will come back to life with new growth, the buds will pop, and new shoots will start to grow. The clusters that form at that time are basically all flowers, and each individual flower becomes a berry, as the flowers are self-pollinating. Flowering happens around the end of April through May, and it is a really vulnerable time for the grapevine. If there’s any adverse weather, either a rain storm or frost or windy conditions, that can cause those flowers to get damaged. Severe heat can do that as well for Pinot Noir. These harsh conditions those can damage the flowers and cause them not to pollinate and not turn into berries. So it can limit your yield.
Because we had some lightly adverse weather during the spring this year, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are a little bit light this year in terms of yields, and that probably will be true for the Rhone varietals as well. The Rhones aren’t totally true set at all the vineyards, but I anticipate 2020 being a little bit of a lighter crop, which really should be very positive for the quality of of our wines. A lot can happen between now and then, but so far it’s been a nice year and 2020 looks promising!
It’s kind of like the second year that things are a bit back to normal on the harvest scheduling, right?
Correct. I mean, really the last couple vintages have been kinda trending that way to back to normal timing now that we’re out of our drought. 2019 was probably the most normal year that we’ve had in the decade, and 2020 is stacking up to be pretty comparable.
I spent the entire day in the vineyards yesterday. I went to six vineyards, including some of my favorite sites, like John Sebastiano, Radian, Bentrock, Francesca… We’ve got some really nice fruit lined up for 2020, and a couple new ones too, like Bentrock Vineyard Pinot Noir, which we’re really excited to be getting for the first time. We were able to secure some Radian Vineyard Chardonnay as well, which is a total coup and I feel so honored to be able to work with. They’re really some of the most special sites in Sta. Rita Hills.
Great. While fruit is setting in the vineyards, tell us what’s happening in the cellar right now.
Well, now we’re getting ready for our summer bottling. We’re going to be bottling the remaining 2018 wines that are in barrel, all the single vineyard Syrah and the Santa Barbara Syrah, all of which are tasting great. Additionally, we’re going to bottle some of the 2019 Pinots in August, and I’m also really happy with those. We’re bottling a few of them a little earlier than we have in the past, but we’re making this change because we’ve had some real success with some of the Pinot Noirs that we’ve bottled a little bit earlier, like the 2018 Sta. Rita Hills.
Talking about the SAMsARA Wines in bottle. What are some of your favorite current releases at the moment?
Tough question! I’d say, right now, I’m really enjoying the 2018 Bentrock Vineyard Chardonnay. The Bentrock Vineyard is just such a cool site. The wines got such a density to it while still having this total acid focus. To me, there’s a lot of complexity in that wine, and I’m really eager to continue working with that vineyard, because it’s producing some pretty special stuff.
Looking ahead. What are you most excited about in the upcoming months?
We’re very excited to get ready for harvest, get our crew back together and start smashing grapes! We’ve got our harvest intern, Alex, returning this year to help us out. It’s really nice having people come back as they know the ropes and knows how we do things. There’s some advantages and benefits to having that kind of consistent crew, so we’re really excited to get together in the winery soon.
Thanks for sharing all this, Matt!