SAN FRANCISCO, California – In the humid chill of a barrell room, Adam Franscioni wedged himself between the stacks to reach the summit.
With a wine thief in one hand and a glass in the other, the Roar winery manager provided enough barrel samples for a thorough preview of the 2016 vintage. The samples were so pure, full of flavor and diverse in character traits, they could be bottled and sold immediately.
That won’t happen for several months, but, on a recent Sunday afternoon Franscioni began to pull samples. Later that night, his father Gary Franscioni and winemaker Scott Shapley would visit the winery to begin the final blend.
If what I tasted is any indication, 2016 is going to be a stunner of a vintage.
Adam Franscioni is on the move.
He’ll soon trade the majestic rolling hills and hustling city life of San Francisco for the family vineyards in Salinas. While the change is dramatic, it will allow Franscioni to edge deeper into the family business as he will farm the Sierra Mar vineyard. He will still manage the winery, but will now be entrusted with the most challenging of the family vineyards to farm.
It’s a far cry from his first vintage when he admits to stumbling around in the dark to find enough berries from different blocks to sample during harvest. There’s only starlight and the moon in the Santa Lucia Highlands during the overnight hours when harvest takes place, but he’s learned his way around and is ready for the new challenge.
Everything from row direction to clonal selection in the Sierra Mar was done with absolute precision. While it’s the most expensive vineyard to farm because it requires water to be pumped for three miles for irrigation, the wines are consistently amazing.
The “Tiger Block” barrel sample was an expressive piece of the puzzle. Like much of the 2016 vintage, the berries were small and led to very concentrated juice.
“It was a good vintage,” said Franscioni about 2016. “We had a lot of small berries. On the new sorting table we have a slot that the little berries will pass through and fall onto a tray. I remember emptying that tray often.”
Another all star block was “The Shop,” a Pisoni clone thusly named because of its proximity to its namesake storage facility on the property. Interestingly, when doing a replanting, Franscioni reached out to clients to see if there was a particular clone with which they’d like to work. Clone 23, a Swiss Pinot Noir clone, was continually mentioned. It grows with very tight clusters and, out of the barrel, was wild and bold, almost like a Syrah.
The appellation wines at Roar are a great value, they over deliver for their price point. The 2013 and 2014 Roar Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnays retail for $36 and the Pinot Noir $42. While the single vineyard bottling Pinot Noirs from Gary’s and Rosella’s ($56) cross the $50 threshold, they reward with a full mouthfeel and complex set of memorable flavors.
From the Soberanes vineyard comes a Pinot Noir that has been Franscioni’s favorite vineyard. He’s been “digging it” the last couple of years because of its fruit forward nature.
“The fruit is has so many blueberry flavors that I love it,” Franscioni said. “Gary’s can bring in some earthier notes because the vines are a decade older.”
While 2016 will bring some new customers into the fold, famed Pinot producer Josh Jensen of Calera will produce a wine from the Gary’s Vineyard for the first time. Budwood from the Calera clones had a very elegant nose and subtle, blue fruit complexity.
“We’re usually waiting for the acids to catch up to the sugars in the Santa Lucia Highlands,” Franscioni said. “We are lower acid. That’s what’s cool about Pinot. There are maybe eight regions in the world that could grow the grape. Yet, each one of them is so different. From Oregon to Lompoc there’s really some good stuff.”
A long barrel of Grenache rested alone, on the opposite side of the room from the Pinot Noir.
Floral aromas, light in color and body with delicate strawberry and tea flavors, Franscioni asked what I thought of the wine they’d produced for the first time. It might end up in a blend he said. No one was quite sure. My suggestion was 25 cases, $42 per bottle and a bet that it would sell out upon release. We’ll see when the fall wine offering is made.
• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at email@example.com.