John Alban and I concluded my extended visit at his winery in Arroyo Grande delving into topics suggested by Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch’s acclaimed winemaker.
Initially, John was certain that Jordan wanted me to investigate his strong “bromance” for Jordan’s husband, Manu. (He said this with tongue firmly in cheek.) Sorry, John, Jordan was interested in more prosaic issues.
First: Why is Alban aging its wines longer (generally by at least several months if not a year or more) than other California Rhone producers? It happened very organically, John said. At first, he figured that his wine would need a certain amount of time to be ready. He looked at the structure of his wines and the trajectory of their improvement. Over time, he determined more time was needed. But this presented a significant problem – Alban is a small winery with little space for extra wine barrels. Keeping wine in barrels longer than 18 months proved to be a logistical challenge. Where do I put all of these barrels?
So, he began experimenting, keeping just a barrel or two and seeing what happened. Since his fruit is so powerful and overt, he wanted to tone it down a bit. And the way to do this? More barrel time. By the same token, he was concerned that longer barrel aging might result in some unpleasant side effects.
The first vintage where he really extended barrel age was the 2004 Seymour’s. He had everything he needed to bottle the vintage ready at the winery, but the more samples of the aging wine that he took, the more the wine told him to wait, I’ve got more to develop.
But it wasn’t simply a matter of more barrel age. He also used different barrels and the fermentation changed.
His flagship wines, Reva, Lorraine and Seymour’s, all speak of soil and location. Their structure benefits from longer aging. But not Patrina, which is a blending of grapes from other vineyard locations that don’t forcefully proclaim personality and distinction. He believes more time for Patrina would cause the wine to go backward. And that is why some of his wines have extended barrel time and others do not.
“Jared is the future of Alban wines,” John said in answer to Jordan’s second question asking exactly that. “I have really enjoyed and continued to enjoy showing Jared why we do what we do and how we have come to the conclusions of doing it this way.”
But John isn’t telling Jared – “This is the ALBAN WAY!” Rather, he’s excited to see Jared’s insights and how he may want to go different ways than John. He’s anxious to see both what brilliant things Jared provides, as well as what obvious things that John has missed all along.
“I think Jared will bring a whole new way of looking and I think it goes to the heart of how this place was started which is California, which is not a land of tradition.”
But, by the same token, John sees a “house style” to Alban, one of tremendous concentration and huge density. Alban has “been blessed” with great mouth feel, the length, the color, and the extract. So, “We should take this blessing and figure out the best way to frame it.”
And the future for Jared? There’s undeveloped vineyard acreage that may provide grapes dramatically distinct from what Alban has now. This is going to be Jared’s playground and palette.
So, Happy Father’s Day, John. You have what any dad would love, the resources to offer opportunities to your children and their decision to join you for this journey.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.