Superior Nebbiolo: From California
A delicious surprise from Haarmeyer Wine Cellars
Craig and Alex Haarmeyer are known for putting the Clarksburg AVA on peoples' radars with their Chenin Blancs. But their 2020 Nebbiolo shines a new spotlight on their amazing work. Illustration by Jonathan Kemp
Trying to compare California wines to their European counterparts is an old game, but it is useful to a point. The best California versions of old European favorites are almost never dead-ringers. The best wines add a new twist, something that wouldn't happen in the 'Old World.' This is exactly what Craig Haarmeyer and his family winery have done with their 2020 Nebbiolo. I felt like I was seeing Nebbiolo through a whole new light, and instead of sacrificing the characteristics of the grape that I love so much, it seemed to actually highlight them and make them more present.
Does it taste like Barolo? No, but that's the point. It shows how Nebbiolo can beautifully express itself in other parts of the world, with the right care. While it doesn't taste like Barolo, it certainly tastes like Nebbiolo. One of my favorite things about Nebbiolo — even opening Barolo when it's too young — is the texture. There are few grape varieties that produce wines with tannins that are an experience to themselves, with layers and details to explore. More often tannins are structural elements or even roadblocks to the fruit. With great Nebbiolo you can almost sink your teeth into the layers of texture, adding a visceral quality to the wine that is not easy to achieve. The Haarmeyer Nebbiolo does this. If you love Piedmont wines, you should absolutely try this. If you are interested in California natural wines that have the backbone and classical structure to age, you should absolutely try this. I'm really not sure who wouldn't like this wine: so far everyone's responses I've seen have been of the 'oh, wow, this is really good' variety followed by the silence of true enjoyment.
Craig Haarmeyer got my attention a number of years ago when I first tried his Chenin Blancs. They were similarly impressive as his Nebbiolo. The Clarksburg AVA was where Haarmeyer first started sourcing grapes back in 2008, mostly due to the proximity to his home and winery in Sacramento. But he has shown that there is a remarkable terroir there, working with just a few growers who are farming organically. The Heringer Estates vineyard, where the Nebbiolo comes from, was one of the families who set an example for organic farming in the region. It's not like Italy: the Sacremento-San Joaquin River delta has very rich soils and the temperatures are far hotter. The grapes are picked early, September 2nd for the 2020 Nebbiolo, and while it's very light in the glass, it's a substantive wine all the same, not underripe or green but serious and deep.
As far as the winemaking, the Nebbiolo was simply fermented whole-cluster, pressed, and put into large neutral foudre for 4-5 months. There's a small sulfur addition but no fining or filtration.
This is a great wine for transitioning into cooler weather, and I hope we still have a few bottles when the holidays roll around.