Donati Family Vineyard
Merlot •Donati Estate
California: San Benito County: Paicines
What We Say
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Mission Codename: Merlot Earthquake
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Prove that California Merlot’s still rock
Mission Status: Complete
Current Winery: Donati Family Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2004 Merlot
Wine Brief: Grown in the Paicines hills above Hollister, along the San Andreas faultline, let this budget-minded Merlot shake your world
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark garnet, murky with long spindly legs high up on the glass
Smell – Roundly ripe, explosion of sour cherries, slate and raspberries
Feel – All over mouth smoothness, easy tannins
Taste – Big berry wallop with dark chocolate undertones which takes the edge off of the sour nicely
Finish – Long finish, with lingering flavors cherry and sour cherry
Conclusion – A good everyday drinking wine that is a pleasure to sip, or gulp. Easily pairs with most foods. We actually enjoyed our with homemade fajita burritos. What a pleasant surprise!
Time: 13:00 Hours
Location: Paicines, California
Temperature: 105 Degrees, fahrenheit
Agent Red reporting:
After a few days in the 100+ degree heat of Paso Robles, where the Donati Family Vineyards tasting room and vineyards lay, I was happy to be heading out to investigae their vineyards in Pacines, California, nearly 100 miles almost straight north.
Agent White, who had been along with me on the missions in Paso, flew southward in the Spy Plane, I drove north. Driving through the hills, I was cooled by the mountain air, relieved to finally be out of the heat. And then, as I got closer to Paicines, the heat came back.
On a stop for gas, a native of the area made sure to tell me, “It sure does feel like earthquake weather. Did you know your standing right over the San Andreas fault?”.
I knew about the fault line, but, earthquake weather? I had never considered that some weather was more favorable for playing host to an earthquake than others. I soothed my mind by returning to thoughts of grapes and I postulated that this earthquake weather notion was similar to the notion that some regions grew better cabernet or merlot grapes than others. I took this theory and ran with it, all the way to my next stop: The Paicines vineyards of the Donati Family.
Yes, the temps were soaring, but it was a beautiful day and the vineyards here were beautiful. Situated in a valley the vineyards here had a serene and natural look, without feeling artificial as with some of the larger ‘corporate wineries’ of Napa or Sonoma.
Matt Donati met me and casually began the tour. He explained that the Donati Family Estate Vineyard site enjoys a variety of soils from limestone to decomposed granite to clay loam, and access to the cooling ocean breezes of the Monterey Bay. Like much of southern Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey counties, Paicines has long warm days followed by cool nights. “It’s a lot cooler than people think it would be here,” says Matt. “On the UC Davis scale of growing areas and heat where Region I is the coolest and V the warmest, Paicines is a cool Region II.” With rivulets of sweat from my forehead stinging my eyes, I was unconvinced. Still I was having a great time on my tour.
The vineyard here is planted with various select clones of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Petite Verdot.
Matt Donati is hands-on, year round, which he believes is necessary to create an environment where the grapes can be left alone to thrive during ripening.
Inside, Matt opened up a bottle of his 2004 Merlot. We swirled, sniffed and admired. As I lifted the glass to my mouth and the first taste of wine touched my lips, the ground beneath my feet gave a small wobble. I looked at Matt, my eyes wide.
“Did you feel that,” I asked.
With a sly smile, he said, simply, “My wines have that effect on people”.
Donati Winemaker Dan Kleck has been producing premium wines for the past 28 years. He began his career in the mid-1970’s, in the Long Island region of New York. In 1998, he migrated west to California, crafting elite Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from select premium estate vineyards in Monterey County.
The Donati Family Winery in Paso Robles is designed to capture the quality of the estate fruit in a state-of-the-art facility. The winery is a great place to enjoy a beautiful day at the vineyard.
Wine Spies Vineyard Background Check:
Vineyard – The Donatis selected a unique site for their vineyard plantings. They diligently researched and identified clones and blocks that would be capable of developing into Spy-worthy wines in the cellar. With perfect fruit health and absolute ripeness, the wines crafted from the Donati Estate Vineyard are rich in character and nuance.
Numerous Paicines vineyards can be seen in this satellite photo.
Wine Spies Technical Analysis:
Appellation: Paicines (San Benito County, California)
Time In Oak: 22 months
Varietal: 91% Merlot / 9% Cabernet Sauvignon
Production: 1,464 Cases Produced
What the Winery Says
Finding an ideally suited micro-climate for growing Merlot is a significant challenge, too often, this variety falls short of expectations. In the Paicines Hills along the San Andreas faultline, five separate blocks within our Estate Vineyard are dedicated to the Merlot variety, with a mix of clones that relies heavily upon the finest Bordeaux selections. This variety, which requires a delicate temperature balance in its growing conditions in order to perform to perfection, yields tiny berries of incredible color at this vineyard site.
After a fairly typical bud-break in early Spring rain clouds threatened Paicines but did not give any cause for worry as no significant mold or fungus inspiring rains fell. The cluster counts appeared normal and general fruit quality was high for Merlot in 2004. Sugar at harvest was 25.3 degrees brix.
Barreled immediately after pressing, the Merlot underwent malolactic fermentation in new French Oak, a technique that facilitates the smooth integration of oak flavor components into wine, mellowing both the raw flavors of young wine and fresh wood. After this stage, some of the Merlot lots were transferred into one and two year old French Oak barrels in order to obtain different barrel characteristics and aromatics. This wine spent 22 months in barrel.
After spending a great deal of time with this lot of 2004 Merlot and some of its Bordeaux variety cousins, it was determined that a blend of 91% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon presented a great balance of fruit, spice and oak that also had more muscle than your typical Merlot. This wine was unfined and unfiltered.