Bridlewood Estate Winery
Once an Arabian horse farm and equine rehabilitation center, the Bridlewood Estate Winery
in Santa Ynez is more than pleasing to the eye. The Spanish-California architecture dovetails
into the surrounding hills and vines. Inside the winery building itself, the massive wooden
doors between the building segments proclaim a proud thoroughbred heritage; the twin steeds
on Bridlewood's logo and bottle labels are no accident. These former stables now please the
senses (at least those of wine buffs) with the stainless steel of fermentation tanks and the
carefully-crafted oak of aging barrels.
The wine itself is the true thing of beauty, of course. This is the responsibility of winemaker David Hopkins. Bridlewood has 40 acres under vine, a good start for David, but not enough to realize all his vinous projects; he also picks and chooses the best California's Central Coast has to offer. If there is a common denominator, other than quality, it has to do with the grape and wine varieties generally associated with the Rhône region of France. Syrah, the flagship grape of the northern Rhône, is evidently first in David's heart, though he has high esteem also for Viognier, that region's great white grape.
David has also had the foresight (call it gumption) to conceive and realize a southern Rhône style blend, Arabesque, that can only bring to mind the iconic Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The 2005 Central Coast Arabesque leads with Grenache and Mourvedre, fills out with Cinsault and Counoise, and accents with small amounts of Viognier and Syrah. Of these, only the Viognier is not among Châteauneuf-du-Pape's thirteen permitted varieties. This $24 wine is a brilliant, shimmering ruby, of medium hue, with superb clarity. Warm spice on the nose is backed by fruit as red as the wine: strawberry and cherry, with cedar and oak. This wine is soft in the mouth, with cedar and vanilla, more red fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon and a touch of piecrust. At the finish, tobacco barn, a smoky cocoa and strawberry (one of the badges of Grenache) predominate. Bridlewood takes a risk in marketing a blend like this in a world so used to varietals, but I certainly would like to see more American wines take this particular stand (especially if they promote the cause of Grenache).
The 2004 Santa Ynez Estate Syrah, sired, foaled and raised at Bridlewood, is David's proudest thoroughbred. He indulges every grape, uses “designer” yeast and carefully timed malolactic inoculations, baby-soft pressing, and of course, some pricy small French oak barrels that see nearly two years of service on this wine. The $40 wine is significantly darker than the Arabesque, an opaque ruby in the center with a pale violet rim. The nose offers rich oak, dark fruit (cassis, black cherry, and prune), licorice, violet, and dark chocolate with vanilla. The wine is dry with soft tannins. The key palate notes are mocha and dark chocolate, backed by a complex array of dark fruit and a spice mélange with a peppery edge. Fruit pushes its way to the forefront in the long warm finish with final notes of black cherry and more of the mocha.
The Bridlewood 2007 Central Coast Reserve Viognier is an elegant wine, 94% Viognier with
touches of Chardonnay, Rousanne and Marsanne. Of the three wines, this one had the greatest
Old World touch to it. The wine is a medium gold, with a nose of sweet white flowers,
deeply warm lime, dried apricot, honeysuckle, and peach. Alcohol, as is characteristic of
Viognier, brings more forwardness than acidity. The palate is similar to the nose but with
more of a tropical touch, a very ripe mango, and equally ripe pineapple. Absolutely
mainstream in what I expect a Viognier to be, the wine has a firm presence from start to
finish. This is a grape that, unlike Syrah or Grenache, is temperamental and difficult to grow.
It is not surprising to learn that these particular grapes were the product of five carefully
selected vineyards, harvested each on different (hence optimal) days and whole cluster
pressed. Viognier doesn't really develop in bottle, all the more reason to enjoy this one
Verdict: Very Well Bred
Support Syrah but also give us Grenache.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman