photos by Bob Dickey, firstname.lastname@example.org
Turns out, Michael Larner and Mikael Sigouin have been keeping up appearances for years.
But this Saturday, all gloves are off, as the two go head to head in the ultimate winemaker showdown.
One grape. Two styles. And all gloves, off.
|Kaena's Mikael Sigouin|
And he backs it up with facts.
“I’ve been making a lot of Grenache for a long time,” he says. He reminds me of his many years as head winemaker at Beckmen, where he helped put that label’s Grenache endeavors on the map. And he tells me of his current, full-time efforts on his own Kaena label; he’s up to 2000 cases this year – Grenache noir, Grenache blanc and Grenache rosé. “I went big. Because I want to dominate the Grenache market locally. I’m like any passionate pinot maker, except I don’t take myself that seriously."
“I often think of Grenache the way I think of my wife. Temperamental, sometimes difficult. But voluptuous and sensual in every which way. You treat it right, it’s the ultimate reward in the end. And it’s a rollercoaster of a ride.”
Sigouin sources Grenache from multiple vineyards every year, but some of his best comes from Michael Larner’s vineyard, nestled in Santa Barbara County’s newest AVA, Ballard Canyon. He’s been tapping this celebrated fruit since 2004. “So I’ve been making Grenache way longer than Larner,” he adds, as the tough talk crescendos.
And it’s true: Michael Larner has only been using fruit from his family’s estate to make Grenache since 2009. But for much longer he’s been selling the property’s six acres’ worth of Grenache to high-profile wine clients; his customers number 10 these days.
|Larner Vineyard's Michael Larner|
And he tells me not to let his foe’s tales of a decade’s worth of Grenache-making experience fool me.
“He’s been making wine longer, true. But I see winemaking as starting in the vineyard: 80% of wine is made in the vineyard. So it’s up to us to make sure everyone else starts with a good product. We figured out Grenache really early on in our farming careers – before 2004 – and we’ve dialed it in and perfected it ever since as best we can.”
Larner makes 75 to 100 cases of premium 100% estate Grenache every year. And what makes him champion, he says, is his classier style.
“I go for more refined, more elegant, a velvety style,” he tells me. “I’m trying to find balance, and balance is achieved when you don’t pick fruit super ripe, when it still has natural acidity, so that it shows fruit characteristics as well as darker fruits, and some of those bramble qualities. I want it to be expressive, not to hit you over the head. Like Mike, who picks late, has higher alcohols, goes bigger, and has more forward fruit expression.”
Trash talking? Sure.
But what is clear in my conversations with both Sigouin and Larner is that Grenache is special, malleable, capable of manifestation in myriad ways. And, regardless of the style that two friends decide to showcase in the bottle, it’s always approachable, and always delicious.
Is bigger, better? Or should finesse reign supreme? You decide.
The ultimate “Grenache Face Off” takes place this Saturday, November 15th, from 4-7pm at the Buellton Bodegas, 65 Los Padres Way in Buellton. Tickets are $50, with food by Bello Forno Catering and live music by Luke Sundquist & Friends. And the two Grenache gladiators – Mikael and Michael – pouring their 2009, 2010 and 2011 Grenache wines, made exclusively from Larner Vineyard fruit, side by side.
|Larner Vineyard in Santa Barbara Co.'s Ballard Canyon AVA|
Need more proof that this is a serious smackdown? Both winemakers have called each other out via 45-second YouTube messages. View Larner's trash-talking by clicking here and Sigouin’s rebuttal by clicking here.
The gloves are also off on social media: #MikaelVSMichael.