We stood atop a hillside in the morning wind, and Sebastian Donoso explained his passion behind making Fetzer’s new Fringe Collective wines. He is enamored with the struggle. What struggle, you may ask. The struggle of the grape to be nourished, the struggle of the vine to take root, the struggle for it to live to produce another vintage of sublimity.
It was an interesting start to a Thursday. Wines from the Fringe Collective are having their debut this fall; a new premium line from mass-market Fetzer (which is now owned by Concha Y Toro) that aims to drink like a boutique wine.
I would say they have largely succeeded with these first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sebastian and crew seek out vineyard sources that are planted in more extreme climates, hence the struggle to grow. The theory is that grapes that make it to harvest in these rugged vineyard sites are better because of the creative forces involved in bringing them to fruition, namely fewer grapes and less water equals more flavor.
Source vineyards for both of the inaugural wines grow very near the ocean, particularly the Heinz Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast which is part of the Chardonnay blend. Grapes grown close to the ocean enjoy lots of fog and marine layers, and tend to produce leaner fruit flavors with lovely earth and mineral compliments.
Here are our thoughts on the inaugural duo:
2016 Fringe Collective Seafall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Mineral dust, lemony cream, and a nicely acidic backbone combine in this very pleasant crisp white with a lush, medium-bodied mouthfeel. It was fermented for fourteen months (with monthly lees stirring) in about a third new and two thirds neutral French Oak. A- / $60
2016 Fringe Collective Rockbound Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley – This vintage of Pinot Noir hails entirely from Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria, CA and currently shows crushed stone, cranberry, purple fruits and soft tannins. It was aged in French Oak using 10% whole cluster and whole berries for some carbonic maceration and an earthy edge. I’d lay this one down for a couple of years. B+ / $75