Ryan Stirm | Los Chuchaquis
Ryan Stirm is one of the important young farmers and winemakers emerging in California’s new guard; press outlets in the state have buzzed about him for several years. When you ask Ryan about it, though, he’ll say he cares mostly about vineyards: specifically, “the most unique and rugged vineyards found on the Central Coast.” Stirm’s passion for informed, accomplished vinification is clear right away, too; there’s an impatience for opinions held on wine without technical know-how to back them up, even though he’ll also let you know that he wasn’t great at high school. It’s a thing you’ll hear more than once with people who end up making very good wine, and if you happened to go to school with wrestlers, his folded ears speak for themselves. Ryan knows what he’s doing, both in the field and at ferment, and there’s a bit of a humble/assertive push-pull in these wines: not that the style is at all flashy or glossy, but that these wines are a lot of different things: ripe, particular, sometimes subtle, also expressive, rustic, all in alternating fashion. These wines prod: what are the important sites and appellations of California? The style of wine from the state? The great grapes? Who says all wine has to be made as you learn at UC Davis?
Specificity of place, of vineyard site, is what motivates Stirm the most: “We have two simple goals that direct every operation above all else: to present the narrative of the growing season in a delicious and transparent format, and to craft a wine with a strong foundation intended to age for decades. The fundamentals that we follow are old-school; we work with the seasons. We spend the majority of our time working in the vineyards, with our harvest season spent between monitoring natural fermentations to picking grapes and the overtime hours dedicated to fixing broken gear. …The results are wines [that are] a living piece of California history.”
With partner Jehan Hakimian, Stirm also makes wines under the ‘Los Chuchaquis’ label, a more experimental line of interesting fruit sources and combinations, plus unique winemaking, that allow the duo to play with wines that fall even farther outside the California norm. Don’t miss the ‘Bandido’—the type of red wine that will please even cult Napa Cab folks with its not-shy, muscular fruit, but will also surprise with its freshness and nimble quality—for those who don’t want red wines that result in skull-splitting regret the next day.
We’re excited to be working with this refreshing winemaker—one who’s staking his reputation on nurturing under-loved varieties and lesser-known appellations.
Los Chuchaquis Albariño Pét-Nat ‘Champelli’
Farming Practice: Organic
Organic. 100% Albariño. (2/3 from the Rorick Heritage vineyard in the Sierra Nevada, 1/3 from the C5 vineyard in Santa Ynez.) After nighttime harvest, the grapes were direct pressed, then fermented warm to dryness. A portion of the juice was reserved, frozen, and later added to the finished wine, and bottled the next day to get the ferment going again. It was then given three months’ of bottle aging to finish the secondary fermentation — very much like the col fondo method of making sparkling in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Unfined, unfiltered, no sulfur added, and undisgorged. Jehan and Ryan describe this wine as being made “via simple methods,” resulting in a foamy, fritzy wine that shouldn’t be mistaken for intense bubbly like Prosecco—it’s joyful, tropical, surprisingly light stuff that’s an ideal first or last bottle out of a suite of several.
Los Chuchaquis San Benito Negrette Blend ‘Bandido’
Varietal: Negrette, Zinfandel, Cabernet Pfeffer, Riesling
Farming Practice: Organic
Negrette is a variety associated with the French southwestern appellation of Fronton—there known for its wines of opaque color and violet, plummy profile. In California, there are only some ten acres of it planted across the entire state; here, the Negrette comes from the Siletto vineyard in San Benito County. It makes up 80% of this wine, with the latter 20% coming from San Benito Zinfandel, Cabernet Pfeffer, and a bit of Calaveras Albariño rounding it out. Hand-harvested and fermented whole-cluster in an open-top redwood fermenter; three weeks of maceration, then pressed off to age in old barrels for ten months on fine lees. Unfined, unfiltered. Robust fruit, dark bitter herbs, a rustic touch on the edges—California wine without the fuss and fancy ranches.
Stirm Cienega Valley Zinfandel ‘Wirz Vineyard’
Farming Practice: Organic, Dry-Farmed
Organic. 90% Zinfandel, 10% Riesling. The Wirz Vineyard, named for its longtime farmer-owner, Pat Wirz, sits in the wind-whipped Cienega Valley right on top of the San Andreas Fault, at the bottom of the eastern flank of the Gabilan mountains. Around the year 1900, it was planted to a typical field blend from vineyards in the Diablo range, consisting of Mataro, Carignan, Zinfandel, and the oddball—Cabernet Pfeffer. Dry farmed, ownrooted, head-trained, and organically farmed vines are the story in this special hidden valley. Fermented whole-cluster in an open-top redwood fermenter, with 10% Wirz Vineyard Riesling added into the mix for aromatics and lift. Élevage in old barriques for ten months on the lees. Unfined, unfiltered. This ’19 Zinfandel hails from a long and cool growing year, permitting physiological ripeness without any of the bruiser, saccharine qualities you might expect from the stereotypical thick ‘n’ ripe versions of this Mediterranean variety. Aromatic and medium weight, with fine structure and no sense of dullness. A charming argument for a reconsideration of this variety in California; only 190 cases made.
Stirm Riesling Kick-On Vineyard ‘Eøølian’
Farming Practice: Organic
Organic. 100% Riesling. Everyone’s got a gut reaction when it comes to Riesling—love the German ones (dry—or okay, lightly sweet) or hate the German ones (sulfur, ew, sweet). But Stirm’s iteration, from an eolian sand dune parcel ten miles from the Pacific in Santa Barbara, puts the lie to the notion that there’s only one story to tell with this variety. Here, “relentless onshore wind” creates a vision of the Central Coast in fruit that is limited in vigor and more austere in character. In this bottling, the grapes macerated for 36 hours whole-cluster, not to make an ‘orange wine,’ but for flavor and textural extraction from the skins; during this first process, no sulfur was added, to allow the juice to oxidize slightly. After pressing and a 36-hour cold settle in tank, the wine was racked off the solids to stainless steel tanks for spontaneous fermentation. Sulfur was added a month prior to bottling. Unfined, unfiltered. Only 145 cases produced. For those who like the wines of Julien Labet in the Jura, take note. Stirm’s Riesling has more in common with those—a fine, clear tension between oxidation and reduction, a softness of texture—than with any other California Riesling you’ve seen.
Stirm San Benito Cabernet Pfeffer
Varietal: Cabernet Pfeffer
Farming Practice: Organic
Organic. 100% Cabernet Pfeffer. Ron Siletto, a longtime icon of San Benito County viticulture, is the primary source of this highly rare grape variety—you’ll find it in this county, and as far as we know, nowhere else in the world. In France it’s known as Mourtaou/Mancin, an old variety from Bordeaux no longer grown there; indeed, there are less than ten acres remaining in the world. In this bottling, the grapes were given 15 days of whole-cluster maceration in redwood fermenters; about one third of the fruit was destemmed. After pressing, the wine was racked into old barrels for ten months’ élevage on fine lees. Racked to tank a month prior to bottling; unfined, unfiltered. Ryan says this wine is like California’s Pelaverga: medium-bodied, light tannic structure, an intensely incense-y, red peppercorn nose. It has a silty, redwood-grain texture on the palate, too. Perfumed, singular wine—move over, Burlotto.