BEST vineyard view in Malibu

WblockhouseWEB.jpgYou can see Positano from Don Schmitz’s vineyard 2100 feet above Malibu. Not many peaks are higher than his. He planted 1 acre of Cabernet Sauvignon on the South, West and North slopes surrounding the hilltop with 1200 vines where his 7,000 square foot home is going up. The scene is nothing less than spectacular. Dotor√© posited it is the single most incredible home site he has ever seen in Los Angeles; in person or photos.
donNblockWEB.jpgAnd what about the man? He makes no claim to being a winemaker. He is a vintner whether he admits to that or not. The Solstice label is his conception with a strong influence from George Rosenthal of Rosenthal-The Malibu Estate who Schmitz identifies as mentor. Rosenthal makes quite a few wines from his estate grown and sourced grapes a few miles to the east. Where Rosenthal has a Malibu Hills vineyard (some 90 to 100 acres) Schmitz has one acre in a spot where he has a wall to wall coastal view but is above the fog so he gets some of the Hills heat. It would seem to be an ideal location for Cabernet. Why only Cabernet Don? Because Cab is King.
Schmitz selected the site carefully. He did not pick it for the opportunity to grow vinifera BUT, once the site was secured, he did have the soil and water analyzed for suitability to grow wine grapes. He got good news and planted in 1997. solsticepoppies2WEB.jpgHis first vintage was in 2001 and he has bottled in every year since. He harvests and immediately transports the grapes to the Daumé facility in Camarillo also known as Camarillo Custom Crush. Apparently, this is the go-to winemaking facility for many of the new local Malibu vintners. Schmitz hires a vineyard manager and, like so many other locals, uses the Daumé winemaker. Don says each vintage is different and he likes that about the wines because every year the intense fruit from his vines shows through. Don does reserve all decision-making when it comes to barrel selection. He frowns on using too much oak and prefers neutral French oak which means he likes to use barrels that have been though several vintages.
So how are the wines? Our host brought a 2004 and 2006 Solstice from the cellar on the promontory facing North. We pulled the corks on those two and a bottle we had brought, the 2007 Paul Lato Larner Vineyard Syrah.
2004 Solstice Cabernet Sauvignon
$36: We covered this recently. Same ripe fruit flavors in the nose and the mouth. No we did not snort the wine. It is just that ripe. The ripeness of the fruit is attributable to long hang time. Don told us as much. Neutral oak lets the fruit run wild! 13.8%
2006 Solstice Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $50: More stuffing than the 2004. Also more blue than red fruit, as in blueberries. Still fairly ripe and unbridled fruit. Bigger yet relatively soft and plump. 14.2%
latocinema06WEB.jpg2006 Paul Lato Larner Vineyard Syrah Cinemathique $80: Undrinkable. What happened to Paul Lato wines? He went Hollywood Santa Rita style. Happens to so many out-of-towners who come to SoCal and get star struck. In this case it seems Paul decided he would make wine like everyone else in Santa Rita Hills: bombastic, over the top alcohol and fruit that Parker gives his biggest scores to. Natch this wine hit the mid 90s. Four days later it was still trying to pry itself open. This wine could test the limits of the aerator. 15%
So what about the Solstice wines? There is potential to make a distinctive and wonderful wine of sophistication with verve that is distinctly Malibu. But we think that wine is hidden under too many layers of fruit upon fruit. The character and unique qualities seem lost. We have a strong-willed vintner who routinely scraps with California’s toughest environmental protection group, the Coastal Commission. And he wins more often than not or at least often enough to actually be sitting atop Malibu in his own Xanadu. He has more acreage that could be planted with the right permits and a few more commissionary scrapes. We hope he plants Cab Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and blends it in Solstice. We hope he tries new oak and tells his winemaker he would like to evoke more of the mountain qualities of his vines instead of allowing the fruit to overwhelm the wine like so many weeds in the vineyard. We hope…we hope we visit Don again when his home is finished. Next time we’ll bring a Napa Cab like Regusci or even Hess…or Ridge…doesn’t have to be Monte Bello.

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