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Liquid Farm: Insanely Cute Wine People, Liquid Gold, Santa Rita Score
filed under: Hip Tasters,


One of the most delightful new people I met - virtually, via Facebook in this case - in 2011 is Nikki Nelson of Liquid Farm. Nikki runs Liquid Farm - a 100% Chardonnay project - with her husband in Los Angeles, with the wine made in the Lompoc wine ghetto. She was kind enough to share with Hip Tastes these pics of her "Wine Nerd Wedding" with Jeff, a longtime rep for Henriot Champagne. After the jump, more on their in-the-vineyard nuptials (I so love this pic of them holding grapes in the vineyard, which they captioned "Chardonnay and Us") and the startup label, which takes inspiration from the whites of Burgundy but equally channels the richness and purity of the Santa Rita Hills. Onward, to wine geek fabulosity!


The Wedding
Nikki shared that the wedding was planned in just two months and featured mostly friends as vendors, including Erik Kelley of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills - a fav haunt of my mine when I lived in the BH - who oversaw the food. Nikki and Jeff were married in Kessler-Haak vineyard, from which they source some of their fruit, by Nikki's grandfather. Instructions to guests were to wear comfortable shoes or boots for the dusty ceremony, and to bring dancing shoes for the reception at Dragonette Cellars, where Liquid Farm is made. The couple arrived - true wine nerd style - on a tractor. Pics from the reception show them dancing among wine tanks, clearly at home and most happy when immersed in the trappings of their mutual love (i.e. the good stuff). Their affection for each other only grew when they discovered that they both especially loved Champagne and white Burgundy.

Clearly, these are Chardonnayphiles of the highest order.


The Couple
Here's the back story, in Nikki's own words: "We met while I worked with Henry Wine Group (Henriot's sole CA distributor). We were colleagues and when we finally got to dating we fell in love over the 2009 barrel samples of Liquid Farm at Fess Parker Inn (in their lobby!) and a month or so later I transferred with HWG from San Luis Obispo to Beverly Hills and about a year after we were engaged and now married :)"

Jeff has been in the wine biz for over 20 years and specializes in Champagne houses (having worked for Veuve and Laurent-Perrier) and has been with Henriot for five years as their Regional Division Sales Manager representing Henriot Champagne as well as Bouchard Per et Fils, William Fevre and a few smaller producers from Italy and Spain. Nikki originally hails from Temecula, So Cal's southerly wine region sandwiched between LA and San Diego, and caught the wine bug while working at a wine store there. She attended Cal Poly in the insanely cute town of San Luis Obispo, majoring in wine business before moving on to work in sales at HWG, where she met Jeff. Nikki just recently left her job to focus on Liquid Farm full-time.

The couple sells their wine throughout Southern California, with eyes to expansion to the Bay Area soon (for now, you can purchase Liquid Farm through K&L). It's clear that their backgrounds in sales and the contacts they've made in the marketplace are huge advantages as they build their brand. The whole project/partnership has the trappings, please indulge the cliche, of a perfect (wine) match.

When it comes to these wedding snaps, Nikki gets most excited dishing on the shot of them drinking Henriot Blanc from magnums, "cannonball style" without glasses, after the ceremony. It certainly looks like a good time was had. Also: these have to be the coolest wine "nerds" I've encountered. Just sayin'.


The Wine
Liquid Farm debuted with the 2009 vintage in two cuvees: White Hill and Golden Slope. The former is named for the chalky (aka white) hills of Chablis, the latter for the undulating slopes of Burgundy's Cote d'Or. Nikki shares that the two bottlings were made from the same vineyard, harvested at the same time and made using the very same winemaking regimes. Of the four barrels made, "two of the barrels had more minerality, a different texture. The other two were more voluptuous, hazelnut-driven. We decided to bottle [the two lots separately]," Nikki explained in a recent radio interview with Tom Leykis on his Tasting Room program. Just 96 cases were crafted of the 2009 vintage, though 350 cases were made of the 2010 White Hill alone - not a surprise given that the 2009s sold out in less than a month.

Note re the radio show: Nikki was recruited to be on the show by Barrie Lynn, AKA the Cheese Impresario, another cool So Cal lady who's taken an interest in Liquid Farm for its superb pairability. If you'd like to listen to the program, you can find the mp3 here (FYI Nikki comes on a little over halfway through). I've also posted a pic of Nikki and Barrie with Tom above. It's fun to hear Nikki move suavely between expert-caliber banter on soil types, winemaking specs and product positioning; she's clearly a fantastic salesperson, and she also comes across as sincere and very cool (again, not very nerdy).

Tasting Notes
I was lucky enough to taste the '09s, and I was impressed. I found them more similar than markedly different: both were unmistakably Santa Rita Hills in origin, boasting a custard-y richness that was balanced by a breezy minerality and unusually low alcohol for the region (13.3%). The Kimmeridgian limestone-derived minerality was apparent, if not as bracingly so as in French renderings, and I suspect that with time the White Hill especially will suggest more rich Burgundy, less Cali. With the 2010 vintage, vineyards sources include Zotovich, Kessler-Haak, and Rita's Crown; all of the wines are made with neutral oak barrels.

2010 White Hill Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay ($35)
The 2010 "White Hill" - just released this fall and which I tasted over the Thanksgiving holiday - issues forth with hedonistic notes of banana cream, golden apple, cinnamon stick and white peach. The palate brings more restraint in the form of pear skin and lemon curd notes backed by spice. It's a richer pour than the previous vintage at 13.7% ABV, though it still demonstrates some restraint: Rombauer this is not. And while it's not exactly laser-focused-acidity-wrapped-in-minerality Burgundy, it's further along the continuum in that direction that most of its CA brethren. (Besides, in a realm of unabashed "California palates," is it wise to make a wine that hews 180 degrees from what the customer base drinks?)

Given Liquid Farm's emphasis on typicity - which Nikki and Jeff define as "the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins" - it bears noting that regions have typicity, too. Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County's Santa Rita Hills is singular: it's sophisticated in its mineral-tinged persona and crisp acidity, but it's also hearty. When made well from good fruit, it walks the tightrope well indeed (and we hear the buyers at Spago and Cut agree with Liquid Farm's interpretations).

And so: Here's to a standup new effort from a couple whose sincerity, charm, industry savvy and superb palates have already set them apart as Cali winemakers to watch. That they rode into their vineyard wedding on a tractor and cannonballed Champs afterwards distinguishes them further: these are winemakers to watch AND party with. Here's hoping we all get the chance to do so in 2012.

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