WHAT: The best wines are a perfect expression of the place in which they are grown. Soil and climate conditions come together under the hands of an expert winemaker to produce wines over which people gush.
That is a rare occurrence, because all too often something is just slightly off, either the soil, the weather or an overzealous winemaker trying to make up for shortcomings in the vineyard.
With Dierberg everything has come together over a long period of time to produce magnificent wine. Perhaps the most important ingredient is the patience of the winery’s owners, Jim and Mary Dierberg.
They started producing wine in the Midwest 40 years ago before buying property in Santa Barbara, Calif., 20 years ago. They planted vines and built a first-rate facility with an eye toward giving their winemaker every tool and resource necessary for producing outstanding wine. Then they hired the winemaker.
The 2013 vintage is the first for Winemaker Tyler Thomas, whose winemaking philosophy favors the preservation of freshness, rather than achieving a set fruit, acid and alcohol profile.
He overachieved with this Dierberg Vineyard pinot noir. It is full-bodied, fresh, full of fruit flavors layered with earthy tones. Cherry predominates, but there are plenty of other red fruit nuances. As you sip the wine you practically want to smack your lips over these juicy, fresh flavors. A slight hint of spice leads to a long, pleasant finish.
I am picky about pinot noir, because it is so easy to produce mediocre pinot. American wine drinkers have gotten so used to weak, mushy pinot that just tastes like generic wine, they have forgotten how great pinot noir should taste.
It started with great pinot noir from Burgundy, France, but when Americans started planting the grape in California, they planted it in a lot of places where it didn’t grow well. Now the quality pendulum is swinging back and we are seeing more quality pinot noir from cool-climate areas.
Dierberg produces a great companion to this pinot, their chardonnay from the Dierberg Vineyard. It strikes just the right balance between lush fruit and fresh structure. Pleasant aromas lead to a wine with a velvety mouthfeel and crisp citrus flavors. It was fermented in 400-liter casks and aged 16 months in oak barrels, 15 percent new French oak.
Both of these wines will get even better with a couple of years of age, but they are wonderful to drink right now.
WINERY: Bankers by profession, Jim and Mary Dierberg bought Hermannhof Winery in Hermann, Mo., in 1974. They had a long-range plan to produce great wines.
They upgraded the property and the grapes, but the Midwest doesn’t have the soil or climate to make traditional world-class wines. Hermannhof is one of America’s oldest wineries, and before Prohibition it was in one of the country’s most significant wine-growing regions. The winery is a fun place to visit and produces a lot of wine, most of it not the traditional varietals wine drinkers are used to drinking.
So the Dierbergs started to look around for a place to grow classic pinot noir and chardonnay. They did an extensive search through Napa and France, while continuing to learn their craft at Hermannhof. After a decade of careful searching, they discovered the potential of Santa Barbara in 1996.
They first purchased Star Lane Ranch and planted it with Bordeaux varietals. The family then planted two vineyards in cool climate areas of Santa Barbara, the Dierberg Vineyard and the Drum Canyon Vineyard under the Dierberg label.
The Dierberg Vineyard property is a 160-acre vineyard on the western edge of the Santa Maria Valley appellation just 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Perched on a mesa above the south bank of the Santa Maria River, the property is planted to 12 “heritage clones” of pinot noir, which trace back to Burgundy, as well as chardonnay marquis cuttings of historic Wente clones, and the closely related Clone 4.
Drum Canyon Vineyard, obtained by the Dierbergs in 2003, is a cool-climate property, planted to 70 acres of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Located along Highway 246 between Lompoc and Buellton in the Santa Rita Hills, Drum Canyon Vineyard possesses steep hillsides that climb more than 400 feet.
Today, the entire operation is one big family affair, with the Dierbergs’ grown children and their spouses intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the vineyard and winery.
In addition to offering the traditional wines that Santa Barbara County is renowned for, the Dierberg Family is also pioneering cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other bordeaux varietals at Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.
“I believe the greatest wines are not made but discovered by quality-oriented individuals,” said winemaker Thomas. “My goal is to make wines that please by their compelling nature. That is you find yourself both hedonistically and intellectually compelled to go back to the wine over and over again.”
GOES WITH: This wine was a great match for a creamy tomato basil soup I make. It’s the favorite soup among the group who attends a Wednesday noon service at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. After a short service we have a soup-and-sandwich lunch.
The soup is tangy and full of complex flavors, so the wine has to be special to stand up to it. The Dierberg pinot noir is more than up to the task.
We had the wine with the soup at home, not at church, and it was outstanding. The rich, ripe fruit mellows out the acid of the tomatoes and brings out the rich flavors of shallots and basil in the soup.
To make the soup, saute several minced shallots, mixed with chopped garlic, in butter.
Add beef broth, a large portion of chopped fresh basil, diced tomatoes (fresh or canned) and sugar. After cooking for about 20 minutes, let the soup cool to room temperature and puree in a food processor or blender.
After the soup cools in the refrigerator for at least two hours, add heavy cream and heat before serving.
I like to serve it over croutons, and top it with grated Romano cheese, freshly ground black pepper and Hungarian paprika.
To have fresh basil available year-round, I chop fresh basil and freeze it in ice cube trays, adding a little water to hold the leaves together. I pop out the cubes, store them in plastic bags in the freezer and add the cubes of basil to soups and sauces all year.