Saturday, March 10, 2012

The American God of Donfelder - Norman Huber and Huber Vineyard

I can't bellieve I am writing about Dornfelder. It's a handsell in the tastingroom and a tough sell at best in the retail store where your not there to sell it. But that said, I have made a turn around onDornfelder. Recently I tasted several in New York state that were nice. But I have finally found, on a recent trip to the California Central Coast, in the Santa Rita Hills, the best American Dornfelder above all.

It's hard not to like Norman and Traudl. When Traudl was gravely ill, and needed a kidney operation to survive, it turned out a neighbor was a perfect match. The operation saved her life. As a sign of gratitude Norman built a chapel in their back yard to give thanks. How can you not like that?! And they have an adorable and very happy Australia Shepherd named Hiedi!

Norman Huber seems like a very nice man when you first meet him. He came to the US from Germany when he was 19 years old with his wife Traudl. Back before Norman spent most of his waking hours thinking about the challenges and joys of farming winegrapes, much of his time was spent with wood. Norman’s vocation has been as a woodworker, with such prestigious accomplishments as heading up the restoration project for the staterooms and restaurants on the Queen Mary, now permanently docked in Long Beach.

Working with beautiful woods is extremely satisfying to him, and of course their home has a traditional ratskeller, crafted from woods from around the world. You can also see an example of Norman’s craftsmanship by visiting the tasting rooms of Longoria Wines and Fiddlehead Cellars, whose tasting bars were custom made by Norman.

The Huber’s friends and neighbors at Babcock planted grapes and established a winery that was rapidly gaining attention for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, so those were the varietals first planted at Huber fifteen years ago.

Maybe it was just luck, or maybe intuition, but back in those days most vineyards were further inland and away from the cooling influence of the ocean and the coastal fog. Since then, Santa Rita Hills has been recognized as perhaps the premier area in the United States for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Norman and Traudl originally hail from Germany, with family backgrounds in carpentry and farming. A few years ago, friends were visiting from Munich, and upon their return decided that a bit of the “old country” was needed in the vineyard, and sent a gift of certified nursery stock of Dornfelder vines. The vines flourished, and a little bit of the Chardonnay has been grafted over to Dornfelder each year.

Grapes from the estate have always been used to produce great wines from Santa Barbara County wineries such as Gainey and Rusack, who continue to purchase fruit today. As with most vineyards, there was always a little wine made on the side – the estate wine. Beginning with the 2000 vintage, we decided to let a few others in on the secret and released the first commercial wine under the Huber label.

The Hubert Vineyard Estate Dornfelder 2008 is an impressive wine. The nose is full of dark, dark stewed barries...blackberries, dark raspberries, and a hint of cassis. This is a big big, dark purple wine. On the palate is a lot of black cherry as promised, and then plum, prune, and cassis. Even a slight hint of apricot! This is a big, big full bodied wine. Can they grow this in the Finger Lakes? New Jersey? Pennsylvania? The Hudson Valley? Probably not, but every winemaker growing Dornfelder on the east coast should get their hands on a bottle of this wine. Done in oak, with malolactic. Big, mature, impressive.

It was incredible! Fantastic!