Founded in 2011, Senses quickly became one of the most exciting wine projects out of the Sonoma Coast. Occidental natives and childhood friends, Christopher Strieter, Max Thieriot and Myles Lawrence-Briggs partnered with world-class winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown to produce coastal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Beginning with only 100 cases in their inaugural vintage, Senses currently crafts a few thousand cases of single vineyard and appellation wines. Grapes come from many renowned and family-owned vineyards including the B.A Thieriot, Terra de Promissio, Dutton Palms and Charles Heintz sites. The wines are complex, intense in flavour and beautifully balanced. All wines ferment via indigenous yeasts and are neither fined nor filtered. In the past two years, their presence in the marketplace has expanded to include placements on the menus of many Michelin-rated restaurants throughout the United States, including The French Laundry and Le Bernardin.
Sonoma Coast is one of the largest AVAs in Sonoma, covering the mountains along the Pacific coast from the border with Mendocino County to the top of San Pablo Bay. Despite its name, the Sonoma Coast AVA stretches quite a long way inland. Climatically speaking, the Sonoma Coast is decidedly maritime and is cooler and wetter than the rest of Sonoma County. This is, perhaps obviously, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cooling fog that creeps into the coastal valleys via the Petaluma Gap during the summer. As a result of the cool climate, the distribution of grape varieties differs noticeably from that found in the drier, warmer climes inland. The Burgundy family are out in force here – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay together account for more than 75 percent of the AVA’s wines.
The Dutton Palms Vineyard sits on the “Goldridge Loam” of Green Valley and is planted with the Wente Clone of Chardonnay.It is composed of fine, fluffy sandy loam, with excellent drainage. There is a layer of silt as well as clay underneath that has some water retention to allow deeper-rooted vines access to water during the inevitable California drought. Pockets of cool air coming off the Pacific settle in during the day, keeping temperatures cool and acids high.
Chardonnay is the world’s most famous white-wine grape and also one of the most widely planted, with the most highly-regarded expressions of the variety coming from Burgundy and California. Climate plays a major role in dictating which fruit flavours a Chardonnay will have. Broadly speaking, warm regions such as California tend to give more tropical styles. While many Chardonnays have high aromatic complexity, this is usually due to winemaking techniques (particularly the use of oak) rather than the variety’s intrinsic qualities. Malolactic fermentation gives distinctive buttery aromas. Fermentation and/or maturation in oak barrels contributes notes of vanilla, smoke and hints of sweet spices such as clove and cinnamon. Extended lees contact while in barrel imparts biscuity, doughy flavours.
Hand-harvested fruit, selecting only the finest bunches, is sorted before being gently pressed into French oak barrels (a quarter of which is new) for fermentation using indigenous yeasts. With occasional batonnage, the wine rests in barrel for 14 months after fermentation is complete before blending and bottling.
One of the fresher and nervier offerings from Senses, the aromas of Meyer lemon, flint and white flowers also have some toasted almond notes. On the palate, this comes across much lighter than its 14% alcohol would suggest, with the citrus and floral elements carrying through to the palate, along with some poached pear and nectarine notes. Mouthwatering acidity makes this an ideal summer sipper, able to be enjoyed at any temperature. Try with seared bay scallops, grilled halloumi sandwiches or summer salads.