A few weeks ago, I did another Zoom call/interview/wine tasting with a couple of folks that I have known for quite some time. I first met Stephen Ross Dooley and his wife/business partner, Paula Dooley over a decade ago at the 2010 version of the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC).
We met in the cellar/tasting room of Archery Summit, one of the stalwarts of the Willamette Valley. We were there for a group event, a blending exercise where we were to take the several different clones of Pinot Noir provided by Archery Summit and concoct the best blend we could. There were four groups and they pitted us against each other in a “winner-take-all” kind of format.
I wrote all about that IPNC competition (we lost) and my subsequent meeting with Paula and Steve on their home turf in San Luis Obispo (SLO) when I learned that Steve is essentially the Godfather of SLO wine.
Thus, I was so excited to get a Facebook message from Paula, to ask me if they could send me a few of their current releases. I was even further excited when she asked if we could do a Zoom call along with Steve to taste through a few of their current releases and catch up a bit, exchanging stories about the pitfalls of parenthood, the future of the 49ers, and the joy of Yelp.
Before I delve into the interview, as such, here is a wine that I did not taste with the Dooleys, but is off the chart fabulous:
2018 Stephen Ross Chardonnay, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $28. Under screw cap. 100% Barrel Fermented. 100% Malolactic Fermentation. Although this Chardonnay was not a part of the call, I decided to crack it after we finished our chat. Glad I did. I have to say I was shocked to see that it was both 100% barrel fermented and 100% malolactic fermented as this is quite light on its feet. Sure, there are hints of oak and suggestions of butter, but I have little doubt that the Anything But Chardonnay crowd would embrace this wholeheartedly. A delicate pale straw in the glass with aromas of lemon curd, golden delicious apple, the aforementioned oak, and vanilla. All in balance, with no singular element dominant. The palate is delightful: subtle fruit, rich and weighty (without being “heavy”) with plenty of fruit (surprisingly a healthy dose of that fruit I would classify as exotic), a unifying acidity, and a hint of minerality. “Burgundian” is an over-used adjective when it comes to American Chardonnay (and Pinot) but it is apt here. I am thinking a young Chassagne-Montrachet. Excellent. 91 Points.
During the actual Zoom, we started with the standard Pinot and the Vineyard Designate, both from their estate vineyard, Stone Corral, which we chatted about for a bit:
2017 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Edna Valley, CA: Retail $38. All of the fruit from this wine comes from the Stone Corral Estate Vineyard, but it is blended after the barrel selections for the two barrel, Black Label Arête and the five barrel Stone Corral Vineyard. For only $38? While, yes, that is likely beyond “Tuesday night” status for most of us, it is certainly a bargain for this quality of Pinot. Really light color in the glass with Bing cherry, Bay leaf (is that capitalized?), subtle eucalyptus, and a dash of black pepper. Yowza. The fruit takes the stage first on the palate, but it is quickly followed by the acidity, which ends up stealing the show. A bright, tart, fruity extravaganza of a wine. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
I have not been around Steve and Paula a lot, but when I have, it seemed clear to me that they say what is on their mind. A quality that I espouse. So I decided to put that to the test a bit:
While Steve, like many others, has a bit of difficulty with the “Natural Wine” trend, I decided to ask Paula about how she deals with some of the comments on Yelp:
2017 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $60. The Dooleys entered into a lease agreement for the Stone Corral Vineyard back in 2001 and this 2017 marks the 15th vintage of this wine. I have four words for this wine: Give. It. Some. Time. While it will certainly benefit from some additional cellar time (at least three years), if you are as impatient as I am (OK, as my wife), please decant this lovely wine for a good couple of hours. Upon opening, it is certainly delightful, with bright fruit, tense acidity, and considerable earthiness. But. After a couple of hours open, this transformed from a “lovely Pinot” into a luscious rock-star in the waiting. Holy Cow. Initially, when compared to the Edna Valley ($38) from Stephen Ross, I was more impressed with the less-expensive wine (although only slightly). Now? Eight hours later. Whoa. Rich fruit, racy acidity, earthy tones, all in perfect concert. Yeah. I can hang out here indefinitely. Bravo Steve and Paula, bravo. Outstanding. 95 Points.
And last (at least for today), during the time that Paula was trying to fix a technical difficulty we were having, I asked Steve about his San Francisco 49ers and Deshaun Watson, a brief interaction that would have probably had a much different tone and content if I asked him the same question today:
I will be back next week with much more of my conversation with Steve and Paula.