Winemaker Bibiana González was part of one of the earliest virtual sample sipping sessions that I attended nearly one year ago, so it seems fitting that her Alma de Cattleya lineup is yet again the focus in this series of tasting that was born out of necessity in 2020 when global wine travel effectively shut down.
Columbian-born González has one of the more intriguing journey-to-winemaker stories that you’ll ever encounter – and I’m not going to repeat it here, as it’s detailed in the write-up of our tasting from last year. What I will reiterate is that her résumé is, in a word, impressive – including stints with Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion in Bordeaux, Stephane Ogier and Domaine Clusel-Roch in Côte-Rôtie, South Africa’s Soronsberg Cellars, and La Crema, Peay, Au Bon Climat, Qupé and Lynmar Estate in California.
We recently caught up to taste through her personal Alma de Cattleya project, roughly meaning “Cattleya soul” or “Orchid soul,” Cattleya being a genus of orchids prevalent from Costa Rica south to Argentina, and having special significance for González’s homeland in Columbia. In trying to summarize her intention behind the project, she boiled it down to one word: honest. “By honest, I mean it’s really 100% the varietal [sic]; it’s 100% Sonoma County.”
As you’ll see below, González’s wines are also 100% tasty, accessible, and worth finding.
2020 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County)
3000 cases were made of this white, sourced from several different hillside vineyards in total, but using a predominance of Russian River fruit (“Russian River for Sauvignon Blanc… it’s like heaven!” according to González). The focus here was on freshness: “acidity is very important to me. When I was in France, we would never talk about alcohol [but] acidity was always a conversation. We harvest at night, everything is harvested by hand. I press very gentle, even more so in 2020. We picked before and at the start of the fires. I’m always at the press, always at the sorting table.”
Herbs, white flowers, exotic fruits, melons, citrus, grapefruit, mandarin orange… this one delivers on the nose as well as – or better than – any Californian Sauvignon in this price range in recent memory. Racy, with nice roundness, and key lime flavors, it’s crisp and racy, but also has some of that West Coast heft (and great length, too).
2019 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Chardonnay (Sonoma County)
Aged on the lees, in neutral French oak, and sourced from six different vineyards, only 1400 cases were produced of this Chard. “2019 was just an amazing vintage for us” González reminisced. Same deal here as with the SB in terms of treatment: light pressing, a lot of Russian River fruit, and wild yeast fermentation.
Pear and peach dominate the ripe-feeling nose, with slight floral hints, vanilla, and lemon curd all playing along. It’s very fresh, which matches well against the broadness and purity of this white on the palate. Some toast, with lots of baked apples, appear in the finish. This is really lovely, while also having a sense of power, and it punches well above its weight class.
2020 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Rosé of Pinot Noir (Sonoma County)
Joining González’s penchant for Russian River Valley fruit in this case is Carneros, together making up the majority of the fruit sourced by hand for this rosé. “It’s a purposefully made rosé,” she noted, harvested at night and not using any saignée.
Dried rose petals, strawberry, dried citrus peel, cherries, and a slight earthiness all coalesce on the complex but delicate nose. It’s bursting in the palate, however, with more floral notes, just-ripe wild red berry / raspberry flavors, and a crisp texture. Delicious, and goes down (way too) easy.
2019 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Red (Sonoma County)
A blend of 64% Syrah, 14% Merlot, and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from hillside fruit, this red is aged on all neutral French oak barrels for 18 months. In terms of sourcing, González used Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley for the Syrah, RRV for the Merlot, and (interestingly) Fort Ross-Seaview for the Cabernet. “I’m a big Syrah fan. Big, big, big big big” she exclaimed, a preference developed during her time in Côte-Rôtie. “And Syrah has a bad reputation, especially in America. This is my fun blend. It’s a very serious red wine, it’s very balanced, but it’s about having a good time.”
This nose makes a solid case for this red even before it touches your lips: cassis, black raspberry, smoke, meat, cocoa, and dried herbs that are slightly tinged from being used as a steak rub on the grill. Bright, peppery, and youthful on the palate, with raspberry, blackberry, and plum action, it’s just jumping with freshness and spices. Delightfully delicious… or maybe that’s deliciously delightful?