Briceland Vineyards is in Northern California—not Napa Valley which is really in Central California, but way up north in chilly, damp Humboldt County where they’re better known for pot and foraged mushrooms than wine.
But being off the beaten track has its advantages. There is little pressure to conform, for one. No need to make “tourist wine” here. And indeed, as I taste through these wines, the word that keeps coming to mind is “individuality”. These wines are deliciously different, especially in their textures which unfurl with great complexity and motion. A small, 2000 case winery, that sells most of their production locally, Briceland is fortunate to be able to source from cool, coastal-influenced sites in the south of the county as well as from warmer sites in the north that are more isolated from the coast and pull warm air from the central valley. Some of the wines below are sourced from the Ishi Pishi Ranch Vineyard in the northern part of the county allowing for ripe, tropical aromas that sit on top of bracing acidity.
I’ve now tasted several vintages of Briceland wines—these are some of the most distinctive wines in California, equaling the best of their better known rivals from the south. Two of these wines are Pet-Nat, a very old style of winemaking now finding renewed popularity. “Pet-Nat” refers to Pétillant Naturel or natural fizz. The wine is bottled prior to completing its first fermentation, creating carbon dioxide from the natural sugars in the grapes. They are usually unfiltered so they are cloudy from the spent lees left in the bottle after fermentation,
Contact the winery directly if these sound intriguing.
Pet-Nat d’Orleans 2017 Ishi Pishi Ranch Humboldt County 11.8% Alc. $28
Grapefruit and white flowers on the nose with a roasty, burnt note that plays hide n’ seek. A powerful wine with a striking first impression, the palate is dry and minerally with distinctive bacon notes. Clean acidity envelopes a layer of round, soft fruit showing apple and lemon. The wine is texturally quite interesting. Initially frothy it turns filmy and then sculptured as the carbonation fades finally revealing an intriguing oiliness. It manages to be round, layered yet ethereal. An exuberant wine with some seriousness in its complex mouthfeel, it displays an island sensibility with bohemian touches, a perfect match for the textural interplay of guitars and organ in Jammin’ by Bob Marley. No added sulfites. 93 Pts.
Rosé Pet-Nat d’Orleans Ishi Pishi Ranch Humboldt County 2017 12.4% Alc. $25
Peach color in the glass. An unusual, expressive nose of raspberry, grapefruit and a roasted meat note. The palate shows lime and a mineral core with salinity emerging on the finish. Round, medium bodied, and frothy upfront supported by a textured foundation that pulsates between breadth and angularity it finally resolves in a finish of spring water freshness. There is never a dull moment. The earthier vocals of Marley’s Could You Be Loved make this wine sing. No added sulfites. 91 Pts.
Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Humboldt County 2017 13.3% Alc. $22
A mélange of citrus, pineapple, pear and background cilantro aromas, this explodes on the palate, as intense as any Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted. It has plenty of body and weight on the introduction, but incisive acidity cuts like a knife even as the textured foundational layers become broad and expansive. Emerging saline flavors on the finish create interest. A ravishing yet edgy, spikey personality, the surprise pairing is Kronos Quartet’s White Man Sleeps 93 pts.
Chardonnay Phelps Vineyard Humboldt County 2017 13.6% Alc. $25
A very pretty nose of white roses, mango and subtle crushed rock in the background. On the palate, an ample body of ripe peach tails off to firm mineral notes and lime, with pronounced saltiness on the finish. Very fresh with gentle acid, persistent but not angular. Seductive, yet nervy, this wine is capricious changing character midstream from indulgent and rhapsodic to concise and clinical. Air’s All I need does pretty and clinical really well. This wine sees no oak or malolactic fermentation. 92 pts.
Rosé of Sangiovese Ishi Pishi Ranch Humboldt County 2017 $20
A light salmon color, the delicate aromas of raspberry, orange rind, and mint with a stony mineral background are irresistible. A dry Rosé, nicely etched with a subtle granular mouthfeel, it shows good intensity and some richness up front, then becomes very focused on raspberry fruit on the finish with a flinty edge. Crisp and lively, this is summery, carefree but rousing and provocative like Bebel Gilberto’s Aganju. 89 pts.
Gewurztraminer Ishi Pishi Ranch Humboldt County 13.4% Alc. $22
Enticing aromas of pear and a bit of lychee meld with lime. This is a dry Gewurztraminer with a lovely, subtle oiliness on the palate. Soft, silky and comforting it shows some characteristic bitterness on the finish. Not a leaper, this wine is calm and endearing but with intimations of something more atmospheric in the top notes captured by the exquisite phrasing in Eva Cassidy’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. 90 pts.
Pinot Noir Humboldt County 2015 12.9% Alc. $31
Bright candied cherry, lovely cinnamon and clove spice notes, with mushroom and an oak halo lurking on the horizon. Very elegant on the palate, light, yet mouth coating, seamless, with subtle herbaceous overtones giving way to cranberry and orange zest on the finish. The tannins are so fine they announce their presence only while departing, the acidity refreshing but never exposed. Gracious and soothing like Jon Hassell and Ry Cooder’s Sensuendo. 92 pts.
Reviews based on industry samples