Martha Stoumen Wines - A delicate touch creates a world of difference
A light touch, a delicate hand, minimal human input. Methods that on the surface seem very laissez-faire, and while they are, they demand intense scrutiny and dedication from the winemaker. But this devotion to minimalist, natural winemaking starts further back in the vineyard where the person growing the wine brings these grapes to life from bud to berry. We could talk endlessly about how knowing where your wine comes from, and how its grown, but most of us will never understand the nuances. Thankfully we have Martha Stoumen who’s dedication to understanding how grapes are grown are the starting point for her glorious craft wines that are as hot as the climate they grow in. And that's really freaking hot!
A deeper understanding that sets down roots
Most winemakers I meet have a fairly straightforward route to wine. Either studying winemaking or first becoming a sommelier. Martha’s journey was very different from the start, but it is a starting point that would make her the winemaker she is today.
Going way back, Martha studied Agriculture and Italian. Her studies delved deep into the understanding of agricultural history, and the history of food and wine. This is where Martha’s devotion to understanding how grapes are cultivated began.
Making wine was a natural progression, and she followed a cherished path of pursuing master-apprentice relationships to forge her way into the wine world. She worked with people that she wanted to learn from, which lead her to places like Broc Cellars in California, COS in , Sicily, and Domaine Leon Barral in the South of France. People who love the art of winemaking. But there was always going to be a desire to create something more, something that could bring together everything she had learned.
Martha has a very hands-on approach to winemaking compared to many of her peers. Her understanding not just of how grapes are cultivated, but how agriculture works and what it means to the people tending the farm, allow her to speak directly to the grape farmers that she works with. While she leases and tends her own small vineyard, she can share information with and learn more from the outside vineyards she sources from. Right from the beginning the process of growing grapes is an all hands on deck process of collaboration that brings everybody together, forming the very first step along the path to wines that are an expression of the people involved.
A light touch that showcases place
A light touch is all that a wine needs to tell a full, rich story. Being a proponent of the natural wine movement, Martha allows her wines to tell their story, and stand up for where they come from. Each wine tells the story of the people, the place, and the time.
The place in question is inland Mendocino County, a hot and vibrant place. As Martha put it when everybody went in search of cooler climates she sought out the hot! Martha knew from her experience in Sicily and the South of France that wines produced in warmer climates are easier to grow organically because the warm, dry breeze naturally keeps things like mold and rot from growing on the clusters. Step one: better farming. But hot climate California Pinot noir and Chardonnay make flabby, gross, low acid wines unless you’re adding things to the juice at the winery. But Martha knew from working all over the world though that Pinot noir and Chardonnay are not the only grapes in the game! Step two: find grapes that are elegant--that thrive!--in the heat. This led back to some of the original grapes in CA, Zinfandel, and Carignan, as well as a few new grapes, like Sicily’s native Nero d’Avola. Hot climates have a way of bringing out, beautiful, fruity wines that have this ability to bring joy to those who drink it. They represent what is best about the place. Old vines that bring true Californian bliss through Zinfandel, and Carignan, but also a daring Nero d’Avola (with which she makes both a red wine and a Rosato) Wines that are carefully guided along to show the true nature of Mendocino County, and the people who tend to its greatest treasures.
A warm heart that lifts your soul
The more we talked the more I got the sense that Martha is a winemaker who starts with an emotion and carefully crafts a wine to meet that. To get there nothing is forced, everything has to come together as it means to, and the wine is shepherded along to meet that feeling.
When you start with a feeling, you can envision what a beautiful, balanced wine will need to meet that sentiment. The result is somewhat atypical, and yet it speaks truth and makes so much sense. A Nero d’Avola, that is supremely rare grape coming out of California, that is bright and acidic, while remaining dark and rich with forest fruits. The Rosato made from the same grapes create a Rosé that is a lot darker and more intense than your typical blush of pink. Still I just cannot get enough of this wine! It’s just too damn good, super easy to drink, and so delicious it just feels like that catchy tune that is going to stay with me all summer long.
Then you come to the “varietally incorrect” Viognier. I love Viognier. No, I FUCKING LOVE VIOGNIER! Its rich, oily texture feels so mouthwateringly decadent when coupled with the aromatic bomb of peach blossoms that I often sip on and go into pretentious overdrive. This wine is so different though, its lighter, fresher, and zippy. There’s a good dose of acidity that cuts through the meaty texture.
Right now all I am talking about is her 2018 Spring Release, but from what I can tell from how people react to her Instagram posts, what they say about the wines, and how excited they are, is that they are all founded in a sense of bringing joy to the people. These are wines that people love to drink, to share, and be merry with. These are happy wines that will make you happy.
And it doesn’t end there
With most people it would end at making wine and being happy, but from the beginning you get a sense that to Martha this is about so much more than wine. This is a part of something bigger, that like her wines, will continue to give long after the bottle is finished.
Everything is set in motion. With such a dedication to wine, to people, and to California, you can see that Martha Stoumen is on the verge of something wonderful. Her wines are fantastic, delicious, and uplifting. It's a philosophy that is easy to fall in love with, as your smile and heart grow larger with every sip. It is a way of life that she has already dedicated to passing on, to anybody lucky enough to become her apprentice. Martha Stoumen Wines speak the great truth about California, that life is beautiful and happiness should always be at the heart of everything we strive to do.