Although you would undoubtedly get a humble, soft spoken reply if you tried to tell him so, Steve Edmunds is one of the greatest winemakers in California and, frankly, the world. This is all the proof you need that the United States can produce incredible wines. Whether we’re talking about his classic Syrahs and Rhône blends or his more recent ventures into Gamay and atypical white blends, this is the real deal. And now, with twenty-six years of practice, his wines are as remarkable as ever. He’ll never make a blockbuster fruit-bomb, and critics don’t always give him due attention, but Steve is still out there making the uncompromising wines he always has.
The winery started in 1985 when Steve and his wife, Cornelia St. John, bought a few tons of grapes from some old vineyards and produced their first vintage. The wines were Rhône inspired: Syrah, Mourvèdre, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend. Over the years Steve has worked with many other varietals but Rhône blends and Syrahs have always been the heart of Edmunds St. John.
Little has changed in Steve’s winemaking since that first vintage, he starts with quality fruit from great sites and, preferably, older vines. In the cellar he keeps a light touch, using hand punch-downs and going easy on the oak. For the Rhône reds, Steve ferments them in one to six year old barrels and puncheons; for the whites and Gamay it’s all stainless steel.
The resulting wines, while delicious young, are incredibly age-worthy; they almost seem like they could last forever, growing only more complex and surprising. Even his Gamays and Whites can age for ten years or more with compelling results. They are fascinating to taste year after year; the evolution of just a few years reveal a whole new dimension to a wine you thought you had already figured out.
It is remarkable to still be surprised by a winemaker after almost thirty years, but Steve never fails to challenge what we believe we already know. Surprises are an underappreciated quality in wine, and we’re fortunate to have someone out there who hasn’t forgotten that. On some bottles Steve claims to bottle by “Blind Luck and Intuition,” and it’s possible that it’s true. It has, however, been a very long streak of luck and a lot of very good intuition.
Working with a young vineyard, in its first couple of seasons, it’s hard to know just how reliable the impressions are that one has about the wines it produces. When they’re young, vines need to channel a lot of their energy and vigor into their roots, so the crop needs to be kept small, and a small crop ripens differently than a larger one. It’s not a bad time to experiment, since, essentially, that’s what you’re doing anyway. In 2007 we only had two bins of Gamay from Barsotti, so I didn’t de-stem. In ‘08 there were 8 bins, so I did. Plenty to think about.
Barsotti Ranch, just to the North of Camino, at a bit over 3,000 feet elevation. The soils where we planted Gamay at Barsotti are composed, in large part, of decomposed granite, for which Gamay, in France’s Beaujolais region, has a compelling affinity. It seems to work here, too! The fruit we’ve gotten in the first couple of years has been particularly characterful, giving wines that have us excited for the future.
Grapes harvested August 26th, destemmed into half-ton fermenters. 15 day cuvaison, with punchdowns twice daily. Pressed into variable capacity stainless, where spontaneous malolactic ferment took place. Racked off primary lees at the end of January, and bottled mid-February, 2009.
Moderately dark purply red, fresh nose of raspberry and a whisper of fennel. Intense on the palate, with very lively acidity,bright raspberry flavors, and a splendid wave of fine tannins framing a lengthy finish. Begs for flavorful food.
Produced and Bottled by Thumbnail Moonlight, under the direction of Steve Edmunds, winemaker.