Los Pilares: Not so Natural but delicious in San Diego (it’s a small world after all)

it’s a world of laughter, a world or tears
it’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear
there’s so much that we share
that it’s time we’re aware
it’s a small world after all

I used to love that song as a kid (and still do) and I would sing it over and over and over again… my favorite ride at that twentieth-century experiment in social engineering otherwise known as Disneyland…

It was only natural (small n) that I would get a call asking if I’d like to taste the first bottling by Los Pilares in San Diego after our friend Alice Feiring wrote about the wine glowingly on her blog the same week that Tracie P, Georgia P, and I were visiting my hometown (La Jolla High School Class of ’85).

When the call (and connection) came, our friend — cancer survivor, author, local radio personality, and vibrant life force — Chrissa Chase informed me that she wanted to set up a tasting and a meeting with one of the winemakers, a nice gent named Michael Christian, a retired lawyer who, like many in his generation, grew tired of drinking concentrated, overly oaked, and excessively alcoholic Californian wines.

In the wake of the excitement that followed Alice’s post (and calls expressing interest in representation from the Garagiste and from one of the top distributors of Natural wine in California, said Michael), the San Diego folks began calling the wine a “Natural” wine.

But when I sat down with Michael — a super nice guy — I discovered that, in fact, the grapes had been sourced from local growers whose “Natural” credentials would surely be questioned by the Natural wine elite (had they been consulted). And of course, the wine had been inoculated for malolactic fermentation — a red flag among the self-appointed Natural wine auditors.

After a thirty-minute discussion on the Natural wine dialectic, the Natural wine elite in our country (a club I don’t belong to because as Groucho Marx once noted, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”), and what makes a wine Natural (as per Eric the Red’s recent op-ed in the Times), I turned to my host and her guest Michael and said, “who the hell cares if it’s a Natural wine or not? Let’s just taste it!”

I thought the wine — a blend of San Diego-grown Grenache and Carignane — was delicious: bright and fresh, with a lot of cinnamon and spice in the initial impression, giving way to ripe berry and red fruit flavors. And like Alice (I hadn’t yet read her review when I tasted it), I loved the low alcohol content (12.5%). Michael noted that the cool 2010 harvest in California allowed him and his partners to achieve the ripeness they wanted without the high alcohol. I liked the wine so much that I convinced Michael to sell me a bottle ($24) to taste with Tracie P at dinner the next night.

Maybe the folks in San Diego have come to the Natural wine discussion a few years late… Maybe the word itself Natural is just too sexy to resist. Ultimately, whether a wine is Natural or not is now irrelevant, especially considering the vitriol that the discussion has generated (the exact opposite of what Natural wine should mean, in my view).

In the end, the important thing to remember is…

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small small world…

4 Responses to Los Pilares: Not so Natural but delicious in San Diego (it’s a small world after all)

  1. Hi Jeremy. Thanks for tasting. Of course nobody can define “natural” with precision, and that does not bother me. But we do aim to avoid manipulation in the winery to the utmost. For us that meant a little SO2 at bottling (very light), and inoculation for malo for fear of fermentation in the bottle, as you noted. Nothing else added. Period. Also, no temp control, except shade. No wood. No racking, except to blend once. No filtering or fining. Etc. -michael, Los Pilares

  2. Sarah May says:

    As a native San Diegan living in a wine producing region-Italy_I am excited to come home to taste my homeland. San Diego terroir? I hope!

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