Appreciation of detail: Ojai Vineyards

Adam Tolmach in typical contemplative pose

A recent visit to Adam Tolmach and his (two person) staff at Ojai Vineyards revealed one clear truth: for some people the pleasure is in the details and the discussion.  One such person is Adam.

He’s been put in the upper echelon of winemakers by some of the most notable wine writers in the world, but it’s a stature that does not hold Adam to one style or grape.  Constant experimentation is the key, and a good example was having the pleasure of tasting though the blending of Dry Riesling, Viognier, and a bottling of single vineyard Syrah.

As the beakers and sample bottles were brought out, Adam wanted to make sure he didn’t know what was being poured.  His assistants added in ringers, including finished wine from last year, to see if it stood out.  Fiddling, fussing, and gesturing, Adam found some wines with “roots in the flavors” and some that “danced, almost too much” and every once in a while one that sang.  Adding five percent here and ten percent there (including adding Riesling to a rose’ “just to see what happens”), all leading to new discoveries.  The speed was amazing.

“I’m not going to hold onto something just because people expect it” he said, specifically referring to warm climate Syrah.  As of the 2009, he has cut most of his contracts with warm climates (holding onto his monopole, Roll Ranch, because “the style is unlike anything else available”).  Focusing on cool climate Syrah will give him a chance to play with more pepper and brightness in the flavors, along with less alcohol in the final wine.  The topic of Alain Graillot came up and Adam lit up like a firefly “Yes! That’s the style! I find so much to keep coming back to in his wines.”

There is something to be said about a 6000 case total production winery that doesn’t feel married to a particular style of wine.  When the issue of wine-making philosophy came up, Adam said “Precision is key, for then you get honest aromas and flavors.”  Then his teenage sons came home, and his attention to detail quickly shifted to them.