Heavenly Spirit: Winemaker Reacts to His Wine Being Served on Pope’s Flight

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/27/15

When the Twitter-sphere blew up with news that a Santa Maria Valley chardonnay was among the wines selected for the Pope Thursday, Ken Volk admits, “It was a nice surprise for my company.”

Ken Volk (photo by Bob Dickey)
Mr. Volk’s Santa Maria Cuvée, a white wine that the winemaker describes as “the flagship chardonnay from Kenneth Volk Wines,” was among 10 wines, and only two American wines, selected for Pope Francis’ short flight from Joint Base Andrews to New York City.  The wine is a standard offering on American Airlines’ international business class routes.  But it was specially handpicked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which chartered the Boeing 777-200 aircraft, for the Pontiff’s short domestic flight.

Mr. Volk has long been known as one of California’s top chardonnay producers.  He produced it under the popular Wild Horse label in Paso Robles, which he founded in 1981 and sold in 2003.  In 2004, he bought the original Byron vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley from the Robert Mondavi Corp. and renamed it Kenneth Volk Vineyards. He’s been making world class chardonnays from his estate vineyard, and from renowned neighbor vineyards, ever since.

The wine list from the Pope's flight
Of course, it’s unlikely that, during his 35-minute flight, Pope Francis would have sipped through all 10 wines: a Champagne, three whites, three reds and three dessert wines.  But the historic reality here – the fact that the Pope’s first ever visit to the U.S. has become such a highly televised event and such a top story across all media – makes this serendipitous selection a very happy coincidence.  It’s positive PR by default, at least.

The winemaker described the Santa Maria Cuvéto me in detail, like this:

“It is a 100% chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley – typically 85% to 100% barrel-fermented and aged on its fermentation lees.  For the past eight vintages, the Santa Maria Cuvée chard has been a blend of my former Estate Vineyard, Sierra Madre vineyard and Bien Nacido vineyard.  I use the term former, for I pulled my estate vineyard out this past winter – it was 31 years old, Wente selection, planted on its own roots, with about every strain of leaf roll virus known on 12-foot row spacing.  It is my intention to replant in 2017 on rootstock at tighter spacing.

“I would describe this as classic Santa Maria Valley chardonnay; however, I only go about 15-30% malo, for I like crisper wines and dislike butterballs.

“The fruit is hand-picked, whole cluster-pressed, the juice cold-settled 72 hours before racking off settling lees, and barreled in our refrigerated white room – at 58 degrees.  I use a variety of yeast strains – non-Saccromyces and Saccromyces isolates from Burgundy, Australia, Italy and Iberia.  I also ferment and age in an OXO barrel rack system that allows for complete lees-stirring without removing the bung, reducing oxidation and cross contamination.  I like the greater amount of texture it imparts to the mouth feel. 

The wine is rich without being flabby. The dominant fruit flavors are Bosque pear and Granny Smith Apple."

The Kenneth Volk Santa Maria Cuvée Chardonnay retails for $28.

For more information, check out Kenneth Volk Wines' website.

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