Chesebro Wines is a 2,000 case labor of love here in Carmel Valley, California. He is the sheep and goat’s milk dairy owner turned winemaker. For the last 30 plus years Mark has been learning about and making wine successfully.
When I stopped by the tasting room and met the manager, Ashley, I was impressed by the varietals Mark was working with and his subtle, elegant wines. I begged for him to answer a few questions and he was gracious enough and generous to do so. Here are his answers:
1. How did you come about becoming a winemaker, and what and who influenced you? My development into a winemaker is pretty well detailed on my website. Basically I came from a family where meals were very central to our lives. My mother was Belgian so that is not a suprise. It’s also not a surprise that wine was always part of the meal. When my oldest brother came home for a visit and explained that he brewed beer at home my father recruited me to learn. I was 12 years old. From then on I’ve been fermenting things. Beer, Cider and Cheese have all had a turn. I went back to UC Davis in my mid twenties and went through the enology program. After finishing at Davis 30 years ago I was not financially able to work full time in the industry since it paid so poorly so I worked during harvest. After moving to Carmel Valley in 1988 and running a goat and sheep cheese-making business I got back into wine making in 1994 at Bernardus. My biggest influence inside the wine world was Don Blackburn my boss, mentor and friend at Bernardus. Mark was the winemaker at Bernardus from 1999 through 2005.
2. What styles are you particularly interested in exploring?
Stylistically I tend to avoid the extremes and work with what the vineyards do best with the variety in question. Little or no new oak, moderate alcohols and appropriate acid levels are trademarks of my wines. I work only with grapes I grow at 3 different properties in Monterey County. I am interested in oddball varieties that are a good fit for the vineyards I have. Although I appreciate the “mainstream ” varieties they aren’t always what excites me most. I’m planting some Gamay Noir at our Cedar Lane Vineyard and am really looking forward to working with that.
4.What new wines are you looking forward to making? </div
I’m really looking forward to working with Gamay Noir from Cedar Lane. I’ve really developed an appreciation for the more serious wines out of Beaujolais. I’d also like to experiment with some of the more esoteric Iberian and Italian varieties if I can talk my partners into it. I’ve also had lots of fun making Basque style cider with my oldest son Will. He loves northern Spain and has lots of fond memories of going to the siderias there. So far we’ve only done it in kegs for restaurants. It’s very unlike what most Americans think of as cider. It is very dry, high acid and very low carbonation, just a a bit of sparkle. These are all fun projects but in the end if you make more than you can drink someone has to buy it. I try to always keep that in mind.
Here are my tasting notes and those of Chesebro wines:
2013 Vermentino – Cedar Lane Vineyard
I loved the crisp and fresh quality of this wine. It was just delicious! Not a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio, it’s really very much an individual and now my new favorite white! Vermentino, which is widely planted in Sardinia and Liguria, Italy, provides a clean and tidy alternative to more buxom whites. Perhaps Chesebro’s signature white wine, this solid summer sipper offers up lovely kefir lime and crisp Asian pear along with hints of rosemary and tarragon. Citrusy crisp, it’s a superb wine for pairing with summer seafood dishes, like Ceviche.
Crème brûlée and pâte sucrée. Love. It. Gorgeous aromas of vanilla buttercream icing, white flowers – think gardenias and freesia – along with fresh apricots fill your nostrils with anticipation. The suspense is short-lived, as the wine gushes forth with just ripe flavors of juicy yellow and white nectarines, fresh apricots and a touch of key lime. There’s a hint of vanilla wafers, along with plentiful minerality and well balanced acidity, making this Albariño a solid example of this beautiful Iberian varietal that keeps it light and bright, yet amply textured, finishing soft and round.
Once again this is a blend of our 2 Arroyo Seco Vineyards, Soledad Mission Ranch and Cedar Lane Vineyard. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and briefly settled before going to older oak barrels for fermentation. After fermentation the wine is aged on it’s lees and stirred once or twice a month to develop the texture. This wine typically has a small percentage of new French oak. 2010 displays the hallmarks of a cooler vintage with a leaner body featuring noticeable acidity and lots of minerality. 405 cases were produced in 2010.
2011 Las Arenas-Cedar Lane Vineyard-Arroyo Seco
This is an unexpectedly lusious and substantial wine. Breathe in the deeply intoxicating aromas of blueberry jam, flint, coffee, cola, brown sugar and Worcestershire that frame this deliciously meaty and savory wine. Center stage goes to Grenache, with its darkly fruited flavors of grilled plums, ripe huckleberry pie and braised fennel with orange peel, and fig balsamic. The Syrah adds the backbone and nuances of caraway seeds and a splash of blackstrap molasses.
2011 Piedras Blancas-Roussanne – CM Ranch Vineyard-Carmel Valley
Notes of air-dried linen, ripe pineapple guava, honeysuckle perfume, clover honey, beeswax, pistachios and roasted walnuts, preface this lean and focused wine that is momentarily all about minerality and restraint. And possibilities. This wine changes considerably from sip to sip, and will age beautifully, at least 10 to 12 years. It has the potential to blossom with flavors of baked apples, studded with golden raisins and walnuts basted with apricot brandy and light brown sugar, or perhaps a pear strudel with cream cheese. At present, its lean, minerally texture makes this a perfect match for light seafood and fowl, but age it a year and you can easily pair it with richer seafood dishes. 80% Roussanne, 15% Vermentino and 5% Sauvignon Blanc Musque. 55 cases produced in 2011.
A well structured and beautiful Pinot, filled with lush flavors of cranberry, chestnuts, carmelized apples, spice cake and tangy pomegranate. The texture is ample, plump and pleasing, and the finish is velvety. All in all, this is a savory smooth and satisfying rendition of Arroyo Seco Pinot from a very challenging vintage.
Our inaugural bottling from our Mission Ranch Vineyard is a deep, rich and brooding take on Pinot. Aromas of blackberry, plum and cola are backed up by forest loam earthiness and a suggestion of mint. The body is medium weight with a broad midpalate and features soft full tannins and a long finish. 123 cases produced in 2012.
Wild sage, rosemary, cedar incense, gunpowder, sundried tomato and minty aromas preface this very meaty complex wine. Densely layered, this blend of Syrah and Grenache reveals flavors of plum jam, smoked meat with orange peel and tarragon, along with blueberry jam and sage molasses basted ribs, slow-cooked over tarragon and rosemary. A very complex and deeply aromatic wine that satisfies on every level. 82% Syrah, 15% Grenache and 3% Mourvedre. 185 cases produced in 2009.
From the cool rocky soil of Cedar Lane Vineyard comes this clean, crisp and tangy wine, that lands more in the zesty, grassy Aussie camp than in the sweeter, tropical California camp. Blessed with aromas of lemongrass, honeysuckle, lime zest, grapefruit and a hint of jalapeno, it delivers all those flavors, along with kiwi, green apple, gooseberry, grapefruit and lime chiffon pie. It makes your mouth tingle and it never loses focus on its job of being a purely refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. 178 cases produced in 2013.