Varner

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Country of Origin: USA
Location: Central Coast, California
People: Jim & Bob Varner, Owners | Bob Varner, Winemaker

Items

Varner 2014 Chardonnay, El Camino Vineyard, Santa Barbara Login AG 92 WA 88 In Stock
Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Hidden Block, Santa Cruz Mountains Login AG 93 WA 90 In Stock
Varner 2014 Pinot Noir, Los Alamos Vineyard, Santa Barbara Login AG 89 <1 Case
Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Picnic Block, Santa Cruz Mountains Login AG 92 WA 90 In Stock
Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Upper Picnic Block, Santa Cruz Mountains Login AG 94 WA 93 In Stock

Twins Jim and Bob Varner studied at U.C. Davis in the ‘70s. Jim studied oenology while Bob studied biology. After graduation, Jim Varner’s passion to produce cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir led him, through a serious of chance introductions, to Portola Valley, ten miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Falling in love with the land and viticulture potential, Bob took an academic leave from his Ph.D. program for genetics at the University of California Berkeley to help plant what is now Spring Ridge Vineyards. In 1980, the brothers planted two acres of Chardonnay known as the Home Block on its own rootstock. Thus began the legacy of the Varner brothers.

Spring Ridge is a hilly mix of clay loam and porous sandstone. Located 10 miles from the ocean, Spring Ridge is made up of several separate blocks of vines, each with its own microclimate and soil difference. Vines are own-rooted. The vineyard has been dry farmed and hand-hoed since 1988. Insecticides have never been used, nor fertilizers.

Harvest & Winemaking
Bob Varner is a true vigneron, dividing his days between the winery and the vineyard.

“In my mind, there is no difference between the vineyard and the cellar. I’m simply just going from the outdoors to the indoors. They are both here, on this one piece of land. I walk from the vineyard, into the cellar, and in my mind, they share the same space. It’s like in France, where you have these small producers who live the same way. ‘It’s wintertime. I’m going to go out and prune, then, I’ll come in the cellar and I’ll think about wine’...There’s that same continuity of creativity there. It follows you around. It’s beautiful. And I think it’s the most direct way to express site. You’re not translating your fruit through a grower or a winemaker other than yourself. My goal is to express site, so this is the most direct, uncomplicated way I know how to do this.” - Bob Varner (Excerpt from Vinous Interview on 10/2015)

Though they have a large picking crew to meticulously sort the grapes during harvest (a crew of about 20 people handle just 2 acres of grapes per day), Bob alone does the winemaking. He works in the rows during each harvest, insuring that sorting is done at the vine rather than at the winery. Any imperfect clusters are dropped off the vines the day before harvest, and the small yellow boxes used by harvesters get an extra sorting to remove bad fruit. Once the grapes have been crushed, settled and pressed, the rule until the wine's ready to leave its barrels months later is simple: "No one touches a barrel but Bob," Jim says.

The wine is treated as naturally as possible, using indigenous yeast from the vineyard. The grapes go into two-ton fermenters for a cool soak, with a small percentage of whole clusters. The wine spends two months in a stainless steel tank before going into oak. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally. The barrels are usually medium-toast Allier and Tronçais, about one-third of which are new each year. The winery is set up on a gravity basis. The barrels are hand-racked by gravity, using a handcrafted tool from Burgundy that gently tips the barrels. With this method, the lees are not disturbed. Vinification is extremely simple with minimal sulfur, which is the only addition after leaving the barrel.

In Santa Barbara the Legacy Continues
Sadly, the Varner brothers have given up their leases to their Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards. 2014 is their last vintage. This is not the end! The brothers have started a Santa Barbara project under the Varner name. In particular, they are focusing on the Los Alamos region. It is the raw material that lures them: Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have pretty fruit and aromatics and elegant structures. They see the high potential of the lesser-known Los Alamos, just like they saw the potential of Santa Cruz Mountains in the 80s. Bob and Jim have moved regions, but their dedication to quality remains.

Media Links
Vinous: The Presence of Bob Varner
PinotFile: Varner Wines
SFGate.com: Bob and Jim Varner: Mission Is To Grow Perfect Chardonnay Fruit, Then Leave It Be
RJonWine.com: Visit to Varner: Superb Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnays

Social Media
Twitter: @bob_varner_wine

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media, 7/2016
"I have to admit, my most recent tasting with Bob and Jim Varner was bittersweet. The Varners have ended their collaboration with the Neely family, so the 2013s are the last wines the Varners made in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That is a real loss to the region and the wine world more broadly, as the Varners made stunning Chardonnays and Pinots from these sites. The Varners have moved to Santa Barbara County, where they are making a new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the El Camino and Los Alamos vineyards respectively. Both wines deliver superb quality for the money. The Santa Cruz Mountains wines remain reference points for what is possible in these mountain terroirs; namely rich, phenolic Chardonnays and intense Pinots."


Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media, 7/2013
"Brothers Bob and Jim Varner are two of the most unassuming, humble winemakers in California. They don't need to say much. The wines take care of that themselves. These are some of the most beautiful, striking Chardonnays and Pinots readers will come across. Best of all, prices remain exceedingly fair by California standards considering the quality of what goes into the bottle."

Reviews

  • Varner 2014 Chardonnay, El Camino Vineyard, Santa Barbara
    Vinous
    Rating: 92 (7/1/2016)

    Despite its very reasonable price, the 2014 Chardonnay El Camino Vineyard delivers serious intensity, richness and nuance. Broad, ample and phenolic, this exudes all the classic Varner signatures, structure being the most obvious of these. Yellow orchard fruit, mint, candied lemon, chamomile and lightly honeyed notes are front and center. This is one of the most singular Santa Barbara Chardonnays readers will come across. The style and palate weight is more than a little reminiscent of the wines the Varners made in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The 2014 was fermented in steel and aged in a combination of puncheon (25%) and steel, with blocked malo. This is a very serious Chardonnay for $25.
  • Varner 2014 Pinot Noir, Los Alamos Vineyard, Santa Barbara
    Vinous
    Rating: 89 (7/1/2016)

    Crushed flowers, sweet tobacco, dried cherries and mint are some of the notes that lift from the 2014 Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard. Distinctly savory and aromatic, the Pinot is a very pretty wine. Ideally, it might have a bit more mid-palate richness to fill out its frame, but nevertheless, this is a strong debut from the Varner brothers. And the price? A steal in the realm of handmade wines.
  • Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Upper Picnic Block, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Vinous
    Rating: 94 (7/1/2016)

    The 2013 Pinot Noir Upper Picnic is endowed with a real sense of explosive energy that elevates it in this range. The flavors are dark and intense throughout, but it is the wine's center and overall depth that are most compelling at this stage. Still quite primary, the Upper Picnic could use a few years in bottle to enter the sweet spot. The Upper Picnic offers a compelling interplay of intensity and freshness. These own-rooted vines were planted in 1981.
  • Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Picnic Block, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Vinous
    Rating: 92 (7/1/2016)

    Sweet dark cherry, menthol, pine, licorice and dark spices are all infused in the 2013 Pinot Noir Picnic Block. Deep and ample on the palate, the Picnic shows the more virile, masculine side of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. This is an especially dense, meaty Pinot Noir. Graphite, black pepper, game, smoke and scorched earth add the closing shades of nuance. The chewy tannins will benefit from time in bottle to soften. This is an especially big, ample Pinot from the Varners.
  • Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Hidden Block, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Vinous
    Rating: 93 (7/1/2016)

    The 2013 Pinot Noir Hidden Block is a very pretty, lifted wine. Sweet red cherry, mint and floral notes grace the palate in an understated, surprisingly gracious Pinot from the Varner brothers. The Hidden Block is one of the more delicate, acid-driven Pinots I have tasted from Varner. This is the first block that is picked, which likely contributes to the wine's laid-back personality and expressive aromatics.
  • Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Hidden Block, Santa Cruz Mountains
    The Wine Advocate
    Rating: 90 (10/28/2016)

    Possessing plenty of kirsch liqueur, soy, toasted spice and earth, the 2013 Pinot Noir Hidden Blocks Spring Ridge Vineyard is a medium to full-bodied, ripe, nicely textured Pinot Noir. It has good acidity and present tannin, and should drink nicely for 5-7 years.
  • Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Picnic Block, Santa Cruz Mountains
    The Wine Advocate
    Rating: 90 (10/28/2016)

    The 2013 Pinot Noir Neely Picnic Block comes from loamy, porous sedimentary soils and spent 12 months in 25% new French oak. It offers lots of cinnamon, clove, black cherries and forest floor aromas and flavors in its rich, medium to full-bodied, forward and juicy style. It's another Pinot Noir that I suspect is best drunk over the coming 4-5 years.
  • Varner 2013 Pinot Noir, Upper Picnic Block, Santa Cruz Mountains
    The Wine Advocate
    Rating: 93 (10/28/2016)

    Much more floral and perfumed than the Picnic Block release, the 2013 Pinot Noir Upper Picnic gives up gorgeous complexity in its dried flowers, baking spice, framboise and forest floor aromas and flavors. Medium to full-bodied, with lovely fruit, no hard edges and a seamless, lengthy finish. It will shine for upwards of a decade.
  • Varner 2014 Chardonnay, El Camino Vineyard, Santa Barbara
    The Wine Advocate
    Rating: 88 (10/28/2016)

    Showing the more forward, charming and textured style of the vintage, the 2014 Chardonnay El Camino Vineyard has pretty notes of citrus, leafy herbs, mint, and even basil, as well as a medium-bodied, elegant feel on the palate. Aged eight months in 25% new French oak (there's a touch of stainless steel in there as well), it's a terrific value that's ideal for drinking over the coming couple of years.