Local wine connoisseurs who love pinot noir won’t soon forget the excellent Domaine Alfred wines produced by Alfred “Terry” Speizer over the decade he owned it. His ultra-premium pinot noirs and chardonnays earned top scores from critics, starting with his first vintage in 1998. It was deserved yet rare for a new winery, anywhere. I tasted every vintage, and the integrity behind the wine grape growing and production was consistently evident and impressive every year. That’s why I was intrigued about learning of his new winery venture, now that his wines are in the market under his new label: Speizer Family Farms.
Speizer sold Domaine Alfred in 2008 with a non-compete clause, but that has since expired. Although the new owners bought the brand, they renamed it Chamisal Vineyards in honor of its founder Norman Goss, the first to plant a commercial vineyard in Edna Valley in 1973 (six weeks before Jack Niven planted Paragon Vineyard). In December of 2009, Speizer purchased a 120-acre property in Edna Valley with spectacular views of six of the Seven Sisters, and named it Morro View. The first estate was beautiful, but his new estate also provides spectacular views of Edna Valley wine country. It’s located north of Chamisal Vineyard. Speizer admitted: “I always knew I’d start another winery. This is a much prettier property and, hopefully, it will make better wines.”
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- NEW GROWTH : Winemaker Terry Speizer is getting back to his roots with the planting of a new vineyard in the Edna Valley.
A longtime entrepreneur, Speizer started so many businesses he can’t be bothered remembering how many they number. Known among his peers as the “serial entrepreneur,” Speizer wasn’t bothered by the question and smugly retorted, “I’ve been called worse.” This inspired vintner earned the respect of his Edna Valley neighbors for his excellent outcome from introducing a variety of French clones, and many other growers followed his lead. Involved in the entrepreneur program at Cal Poly, Speizer calls himself a 93 percent guy: “I do 93 percent of the total job (when starting a new business), and get bored by the minutia of the last seven percent.”
Like his first vineyard, the new vineyard on Morro View Lane off Orcutt Road will be dedicated to the finest quality in every grape variety grown there. Speizer started Domaine Alfred with Stephen Ross Dooley as his consulting winemaker. Now he’s renting space at Stephen Ross winery in SLO to make his new wines. He brought in George Donati, a fourth generation viticulturist, to manage the vineyard as Donati did at Domaine Alfred. The new estate is certified organic, and Speizer proudly posted a sign indicating so on the roadside fence. This time, however, he’s gone far beyond growing ultra-premium wine grapes. He’s planted an olive grove with two varieties—Ascolano and Taggiasca—from which he’ll produce
He also planted an experimental holly oak tree grove where he’s hoping to grow truffles (the oak’s leaves look similar to holiday holly plants, and it’s one of the three best oak choices for establishing truffles). The tree roots had been dipped in truffle fungus when he bought the 1-year-olds. The oak grove looks exactly like young grapevines running in long rows with drip irrigation. Each tree has a plastic tube covering to protect it from animals that would eat the tender leaves.
“The tubes create a hothouse around the oaks to keep them warm and help them grow,” Speizer noted. “We keep the ground moist to approximate the Northwest growing conditions.”
I haven’t read much about the problems of monoculture in agriculture but I will now that Speizer recommended it. He said that’s the reason he’s planting other crops on this property rather than covering the large estate completely with grapevines. I went online to Wikipedia to learn a little more: “Monocultures can lead to the quicker spread of diseases, where a uniform crop is susceptible to a pathogen. Crop monoculture is the practice of growing the same crop year after year.” Citing Napa Valley for its vast monoculture of vineyards, Speizer explained it could lead to a widespread problem: “Diversity keeps the ground healthy. Olives don’t bring the same bugs that grapes or hay attract. I have 1,000 doves in the hay feeding off the bugs, and it’s attracting the swallows.”
This coming fall, he’ll harvest his first chardonnay from the estate, which he’ll label as Morro View. Under the other new label already in the marketplace, Speizer Family Farms, he has two 2010 wines, one of which is a chardonnay made with grapes purchased from Jespersen Vineyard in Edna Valley (owned by Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles). The “No Oak” Chardonnay is elegant, bright, and fruity with pretty Meyer lemon notes. He calls it “Claudia’s Chardonnay”—named for his wife, Claudia Speizer—in the dedication on the back label. Interestingly, Speizer only planted a half-acre of chardonnay in his 10-acre vineyard. When asked why, he pointed out, “There are already plenty of good chardonnays in the market.”
He also planted four acres of Grenache, 3 1/2 acres of nebbiolo, one acre of Grenache blanc, and a half-acre each of merlot and petite sirah. He was most enthusiastic about the Grenache.
“I fell in love with the Grenache character, which has the perfume of pinot noir and the backbone of cabernet sauvignon,” he said.
Unlike Domaine Alfred, he hasn’t planted pinot noir despite admitting his property has a “sweet spot” for it alongside Orcutt Road where he’s currently growing hay. The nebbiolo was planted because he enjoys good Italian Barolos. He and Claudia, who’s involved in all aspects of the family business, traveled to Barolo, Italy, to buy puncheons, the larger cask typically used for aging nebbiolo.
“We’ll see if I can get the nebbiolo ripe; it comes out early like pinot noir, but it’s late for picking,” he admitted, explaining how far he would go to make that happen. “I’ve done something a little different. I put in a solar collector, a material that harnesses the sun to provide the vines with more of its energy.”
Asked if it was costly, he said confidently: “If I can make great wine, the cost doesn’t matter.” The beautiful, organic estate is impressive, and he did plant a seed about having a truffle festival. But it’s Speizer’s dedication to making the finest in wine and food that has me looking forward to the rewards of his grand farming experiment.
Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at email@example.com.