Three flawless food pairings recommended by the winemaker himself at Windy Oaks Estate in the seaside California town of Carmel.
A wine room worth visiting
Living in Northern California, I stumble into a lot of wine tasting rooms while out and about, but I'm not always inspired to write about them.
Not the case with Windy Oaks Estate in the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
While strolling through for a quick day trip (about 2 hour drive south of San Francisco between Big Sur and Monterey), I passed by a nondescript wine tasting room and thought a glass of something would be nice.
However, the Pinot Noirs and cool climate wines made me sit up and take note. They tasted refined, nuanced, and beautifully made, and as I later learned sustainably grown too with many organic and biodynamic practices.
Unlike other California wines
To some, California wines are overly oaked, overly fruity, and overall over the top.
I guess my disappointment at California wines stems from rich people that made money in something else and then decide they want to make wine. I've often been dismayed at the results.
Francis Ford Coppola, Greg Norman, and the latest tech millionaire(s) come to mind. Not that the wines aren't drinkable, but I just can't taste the soul of the winemaker like I can when I taste a dish from a chef who truly cares about his/her craft rather than just making something to appease a larger audience.
When I met Josh Jensen of Calera wines, he too discussed his privileged background at being able to invest in his vines for 10 years before making any money off them.
But you can taste his pinot noirs, and he certainly knows what he is doing after all that time. (He has since sold to Duckhorn Wines in 2017.)
So too is the case with Jim and Judy Schultze who have been tending to their vines on a windy ridge in Corralitos, CA since 1996.
A vigneron at heart
The most important part of my job as winemaker is what I do in the vineyard to ensure maximum grape quality and pristine condition at harvest. The French have a word, 'vigneron,' that describes someone who grows grapes and makes wine, and I think this is a good way to think about our approach. We view grape growing and winemaking as part of a single process – not two separate activities.Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks Estate
What sets them apart
In addition to treating grape growing and winemaking as a singular process, they also take care to use the following dedicated practices:
- Minimal intervention and gentle hand through the process. "Nothing is rushed—every effort is made to let the wine evolve naturally to its best expression"
- Pinot noirs are aged on the lees usually from 17-27 months; Chardonnay for 18 months
- All wines are bottled without filtering or fining, using the gravity method for removing impurities instead
- Classic Burgundian techniques, with gravity feed and minimal handling
- Harvested grapes travel just a few hundred feet from the vines to the winery
- Aging in top quality French oak barrels
- Half of the fermentations are made with wild yeast
I suppose the results speak for themselves as they have an eager wine club list with members in almost all 50 states.
Recommended food pairings
With the summer heat still in full bloom, I took home some chilled wines to play with pairing.
The winemaker's recommendations did not disappoint. Just about spot on for each one, and I would not have done them any differently.
#1 Chardonnay paired with butter chicken
"Pair Chardonnay with any chicken with a creamy sauce."
While Chicken Fricassee was a top contender, I caved to Indian butter chicken. The creamy tomato sauce accented the acid in the wine and brought out bold stonefruit, peach, and melon flavor.
#2 Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc paired with chicken satay
For the the unique and unusual barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Jim specifically recommended Chicken Satay for a little bit of spiciness.
Marinated in a spicy yellow curry paste, the lemongrass kind of highlighted the woodsiness in the wine and just melded all together with the peanut sauce in a Thai-French fusion I'll be having again.
I know it worked because the rosé distinctly did not play well with the chicken satay, even though rosé seems to pair with many foods.
#3 Rosé paired with smoky, Thai chili clams
The rosé did, however, paired spectacularly with some Thai chili clams and wood fired tomato sauce.
The label advised pairing with "mussels with a zing". Finding fresh clams on hand, the zing meant some spice and tomato, akin to a provencal bouillabaisse.
Takeaways: 1) Surprised all 3 pairings worked on the first try; 2) Impressed by the recommendations; 3) Definitely wouldn't change a thing
2020 harvest update
As for the 2020 harvest, Jim notes that they haven't been affected by the California fires as much as some others have been.
In addition, the plants are looking very healthy and could be a very good harvest. They fortunately did not have too much smoke in the vineyard to contend with.
As for rising temperatures due to climate change, he states they are lucky to have such close proximity to Monterey Bay which has been "a very moderating influence on our weather."
During the last 6 or 7 years, we have had more heat spikes during the growing season than previously, and in response we have modified our canopy management approach in the vineyard so that we pull leaves inside the canopy so that we don't expose clusters to direct sunlight. We haven't really modified our winemaking approach--we've always taken a very natural, minimal intervention approach to winemaking.
Charming wines in a charming town
As if the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea just couldn't get any quainter or cuter, you can also be charmed by the wines at Windy Oaks.
The gentleman who poured wines for me in the tasting room was incredibly gracious and kind. I only found out after the fact that he was indeed their son. I guess at Windy Oaks they know not only how to grow grapes but children too.
Get the latest harvest report
Read more about the 2020 harvest from these Wine Pairing Weekend writers:
- Our Good Life is celebrating Harvest Time at Twin Meadows Winery .
- The Quirky Cork discusses The Art of the Harvest .
- Avvinare declares Robert Biale Petite Sirah & BBQ, A Perfect Match .
- Somm's Table posts A Harvest at Forlorn Hope & Juicy Lucies .
- Always Ravenous hosts a Fall Harvest Dinner with Wine Pairings .
- Crushed Grape Chronicles highlights Regenerative Agriculture at Tablas Creek - A Meaningful Way to Farm .
- Culinary Adventures with Camilla shines the spotlight on Donkey & Goat: The Brandts Bring Natural Farming Philosophies Into the Cellar .
- Exploring the Wineglass describes Harvesting the Land While Overcoming Global Changes .
- Our host Wine Predator has A Harvest Conversation with The Ojai Vineyard’s Adam Tolmach and Fabien Castel .