Friday, 27 March 2009

Peter Work, Ampelos Cellars

I met with Peter Work, owner of Ampelos Cellars in the Santa Rita Hills AVA in California, USA and Bradford Schultze of Muram International on Wednesday 11th March 2009. Muram International are a leading wine importer of American Wines into Europe with a current focus on wines from the Central Coast of California. The meeting was kindly arranged by Brad.

Peter is originally from Denmark but came to the USA via his studies at Princeton and then later with his job at Price Waterhouse. He bought land in 1999 in Santa Barbara

County which would later become incorporated into the Santa Rita Hills AVA. The first vines were planted in 2001. In total, Ampelos now has estate vineyards planted to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier. In addition to their estate vineyards, Ampelos acquires grapes from Fiddlestix, Alisos, Cuatro Vientos, and Byron. Peter also has a small amounts of Dornfelder and Pinot Gris planted.

Amepelos is a Greek word which means "vine". Peter and his wife Rebecca were married on a small Greek island, and fell so much in love with the island that they created a 10 room hotel, Ampelos Resort. He visits usually once a year which is stocked with a cellar full of Greek wine.

We tasted four of his wines over the course of an hour's conversation. These were the Pinot Noir Lambda 2005, Pinot Noir Rho 2005, Syrache 2005, and the Syrah Gamma 2005. The Rho is made from the best barrels for the higher-end cuvee. The Lambda had lots spice and cherries while the Rho was richer and oakier - an all together bigger wine. Lambda is a mathematical constant signifying that the wine will be made each year. Rho is a correlation co-efficient signifying that each year this wine will be made but from a different set of barrels and thus clones. The Syrache was very gluggable though still with complexity. The Rho is a barrel select Pinot Noir made by selecting the best barrels (16 in the case of the 2005); the rest goes into the Lambda - the fruit is identical between the two cuvees. The Gamma Syrah was a lovely wine with some substance and very drinkable now. Gamma is used mathematically for a function that includes complex numbers which signifies the complexity of the estate Syrah.

In the case of the Pinot Noir then some Pinot Gris is incorporated to fix the colour (same principle as adding Viognier to Syrah). This tends to give the fruit an uplift.

All of the red go through a cold soak. After picking, the grapes stay in our cold room at -1 degrees centigrade for at least 24 hours. The clusters are then destemmed; Syrah and Grenache are also crushed . Following this, the grapes stay in small 1 and 1/4 ton fermenters for three days before inoculation. This leads to the right amount of early colour, tannin and flavor extraction.

If Viognier is added to the Syrah varies from year to year. In 2007, Viognier skins we added (they had just been pressed for the white wine) into a Syrah fermenter. In 2008, the estate Viognier was hanging and crushed together with the estate Syrah.

Ampeleos uses cultured yeasts; Three different yeast strains for Pinot (Asmanshausen, BM45 and RC212) and three for Syrah/Grenache (BM45, VQ15 and D254)

Peter releases all of his wines when they are ready to drink; though they continue to improve with age.

Peter's son Don is actually the winemaker at renowned winery Sea Smoke Cellars.

Peter made an interesting remark when it comes to when to pick and that is that the vine usually gives out it's own sign. That is, if the leaves are green then things are probably not ready in that photosynthesis is still happening, if the leaves are all brown then things are shutting down; thus if the vine shows a mixture of green and yellow/brown leaves then one should think about picking. Tasting the seeds also gives some clues as they start to take on a hazelnutty flavour when ripe.

All of the grapes are sorted in the as they are picked.

Something he also practices is the use of special netting so as not to restrict the movement of the leaves in that they naturally need to follow the sun as it moves in the sky; ordinary netting can restrict this leaf movement.

Peter's vineyards are all 100% biodynamic and will now certified by Demeter.

Peter was recently featured in two episodes of Gary Vaynerchuck's Wine Library TV.

I asked Peter if he missed his old career - not at all was his reply.

Website : Peter Work
Website : Ampelos Cellars
Website : Bradford Schultze
Website : Muram International
Website : Wine Library TV Episode 630
Website : Wine Library TV Episode 631

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