Martin Gauthier is a Quebec Province native and is the owner of the Rideau Vineyard in Santa Ynez.

Carl Kanowsky: From Montreal to Santa Ynez — A wine journey

Martin Gauthier, a Quebec Province native, was doing quite well in Canada in the electricity trade. But he was missing something. California was calling.

Gauthier grew up loving Rhone wines, particularly the ones from Condrieu, which are predominantly Viognier.

Jancis Robinson in “The World Atlas of Wine” describes Condrieu wines featuring Viognier thusly, “The extraordinarily heady, recognizably perfumed…” Robert Parker extoled the virtue of Condrieu in his rating of his favorite from Guigal (probably the master of this appellation), writing, “Profoundly intense with abundant notes reminiscent of caramelized oranges, lychee nuts, apricots, spring flowers and a liqueur of wet rocks.”

Dreaming of recreating this nirvana in the New World, Martin went searching for the right winery in the right location.

Napa didn’t have the right climate and was too focused on Cabernet.

Sonoma is all about Pinot Noir.

So, he set his sights south, arriving eventually at the home of “Laissez les bon temps rouler (or, let the good times roll),” known as Rideau. Iris Rideau, a transplanted Creole, is the first Creole-American winemaker to own and operate a winery in the United States.

Despite having little knowledge or experience in making wine, Rideau jumped into it when she bought the historic El Alamo Pintado Adobe in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley in Solvang.
Going contrary to the existing trends, Rideau planted mainly Rhone varietals (you know, the standard Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre) with an insight to cultivate white Rhone grapes, like Viognier and Roussanne.

Rideau winery gained a reputation as a great place to visit, enjoy some good wine and, generally, relax to watch the world go by.

But having been born in 1937, Rideau knew that transition was in the air.

Cue Gauthier.

Gauthier loved what he saw — 5 acres of his beloved Viognier, 5 acres of Syrah and acreage of Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussanne. And like Rideau, a lack of winemaking experience and moving across the continent failed to intimidate him.

Gauthier’s adventure began in 2016, when he and his bride, Isabelle, bought the Rideau winery. Working with Adrienne St. John (who had been Rideau’s winemaker for the two years preceding the purchase) and Ruben Solorzano, the vineyard manager from Coastal Vineyard Care Associates, Gauthier continued the emphasis on Rhone varietals but has added a Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir — among others.

The stars remain, undoubtedly, the wines whose heritage hails from Rhone.

Terry and I had the great good fortune to meet up with Gauthier recently and taste through some of Rideau’s current production. (We couldn’t do the entire lineup — there’s well over a dozen different bottlings and blends.)

We enjoyed the 2016 Brassman White (a blend of four Rhone varietals), the unexpectedly delicious 2015 La Encantada Pinot Noir (a bright, appealing bouquet with a peppery flavor) and the 2015 Estate Syrah (a blackberry, plummy nose with notes of cherry and loam).

But three bottles almost stunned us.

The 2016 Estate Viognier was a delight.

Tropical aromas (particularly banana) and floral, an appropriate first act to the excellent balance and weight the wine displayed. It was well priced at $39.

Next was the powerful 2015 Chateau Duplantier, an outstanding GSM with a touch of Petite Sirah.

Terry’s notes: Berry, baking spices and white pepper on the nose, with tastes of plum, berry, cherry, highlighted by a pepper finish. I got hit by dark fruit, coffee and dark chocolate. At $59, you need to find this.

We concluded with the 2016 Roussanne.

I like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but the market is saturated with them. Roussanne stands apart. It’s a muscle-y white blended with class. Rideau’s 2016 Roussanne epitomizes this. Stone fruit fragrance and tastes — this is a very full-bodied white that tickles with hints of casaba melon.

This was my favorite. It was amazing!

So, get out of the Pinot/Cab/Chard rut and try something new. Get over to Rideau – Martin’s giving it a bright future.

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