Wild Horse is known best for their basic Pinot Noir. I’ve seen it by the glass in restaurants around town. It’s a decent wine – drinkable, not memorable. On the basis of that, I didn't have the highest expectations when I had dinner with their director of winemaking, Clay Brock.
Aside from the fact that Clay is an interesting guy, the winery has its own interesting stories. Not only are they are very involved with sustainable wine-making techniques, they are also experimenting with different grape varieties in California's Central Coast. I was surprised at some of my favorites.
“Sustainable” is a very fluid word. It doesn't come with a specific set of requirements the way “organic” does. A winery can be as sustainable (or not) as they want, and still use the descriptor. Wild Horse is committed to the concept and expresses that through the programs they have implemented.
- One of their sustainable programs includes Floyd, a llama who wanders around the properties eating weeds with his sheep friends. This is much better for the environment than chemical weed killers.
- They recycle their graywater, which is water used during winemaking, in two aeration ponds to use in irrigating the vineyards.
- Instead of commercial compounds and chemicals, Wild Horse uses grape pomace (the skins, stems and seeds left after pressing the grapes) mixed with manure (hello Floyd) to compost and spread among the vine rows to replenish nutrients in the soil. They also make “compost tea” that is applied to the growing vines to prevent undesirable fungi.
- Then there is insect management: Insects that prey on the insects that are harmful to the vines are showered (“aerially seeded”) over the vineyards to limit pest damage and eliminate the need for chemical pest control. Cover crops provide a home for these beneficial insects while controlling erosion and conserving soil.
- They also keep owls on the property to manage rodent populations.
All of these sustainable programs help keep the integrity of the environment and produce some really good wines.
My absolute favorite is the Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley. This is one gorgeous wine - full but elegant; ripe but restrained; sexy but refined. It’s definitely not for the lovers of super austere wines, but is perfect for those who love a bit of sexiness with their elegance. I've had both the 2008 and 2009 vintages, and highly recommend either one. Selling for about $60, this is available at their tasting room, online store and wine club.
I also fell hard for the two of their unique varietals that I tasted: 2011 Malvasia Bianca from San Bernabe and 2010 Blaufränkisch from Paso Robles.
Malvasia Bianca is generally found in Mediterranean countries. It’s slowly gaining popularity, and seems to grow very well on California’s Central Coast. The Wild Horse Malvasia Bianca is wonderfully bright with lots of lemon candy flavors. It has a waxy peach thing on the nose. The body is really lovely and the wine has a great mid-palate boost with long length. It has the acidity of a good Sauvignon Blanc mixed with a lusher body and candied lemon flavors. At $20 this is a wine to love!
Blaufränkisch (German for blue "Frankish") is generally found in central Europe. The Wild Horse Blaufränkisch is all about smoke and red fruit on the nose, with matching flavors. For a California wine the acid is over the top – in a good way. The wine also has lots of spicy notes. It's more similar to a Pinot Noir, albeit a very smoky, spicy one, than I would have expected. It sells for $26.
The other wines in this series are made from Verdelho, Viognier, Grenache, Barbera and Négrette. Unfortunately, the only way to try these wines is at the winery’s tasting room, online store and wine club. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend you go for a ride.