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Kenneth Volk - Central Coast Legend

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Kenneth Volk has been a long-time proponent of Pinot Noir sourced from the Santa Maria Valley. As a fruit science major at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo he became interested in winemaking. He followed up his early interest with multiple training classes in enology from University California Davis. He started Wild Horse Vineyards in 1981, eventually planting 33 acres in Templeton in San Luis Obispo County. He built his winery in 1983 and that same year crafted a Pinot Noir from Sierra Madre Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley that brought early notoriety and success to Wild Horse. He produced a wide range of other varietals and eventually reached an annual production of 150,000 cases. Some of his most memorable Pinot Noirs were released under the Cheval Sauvage label.

In 2003, Volk sold Wild Horse Winery for $48 million to Peak Wines International and the winery was subsequently sold to Constellation Brands. Volk purchased the Byron Winery building on Tepusquet Road in Santa Maria (Byron moved to another facility) in 2004. He named the winery Kenneth Volk Vineyards and released his first Pinot Noir in 2006. He produces a Santa Maria Valley appellation Pinot Noir sourced from the Sierra Madre Vineyard that Bill Hampton manages and Volk leases. The vineyard is 2½ miles east of Highway 101. The climate here is quite cool (mean August temperature is 73°) and the soil is low vigor in type. The clone in this bottling is Pommard 4. He also sources Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Garey Vineyard and Solomon Hills Vineyard, all in the Santa Maria Valley. Along with the Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir, he produces a Santa Maria Cuvee Pinot Noir ($24) and a Garey Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) vineyard designate.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Volk and taste a vertical of Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noirs from 2004-2006. He is a very likeable and congenial man with a wealth of knowledge about topography, climate, farming and winemaking. I found his Pinot Noirs to my liking, crafted in a more classic and elegant style. He crafts his wines to reflect the vagaries of each vintage rather than a searching for a consistent year-in year-out style. Volk de-stems his grapes, ferments in lined almond bins using dry ice for temperature control, and ages the wines in about one-third new French oak.

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2006 Kenneth Volk Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

Unreleased. Will be $36. · A very sensual nose similar to the 2004 vintage with crushed black cherry, violets and a touch of spice. The flavors echo the aromatics. Elegance to spare with a silk and satin texture. My favorite and in one word, excellent.

2005 Kenneth Volk Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

2005 was a cool vintage, picked late. · Pretty spice cherry scents leading to a clean black cherry and berry core. Medium bodied, silky, with a lively acid backbone.

2004 Kenneth Volk Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

2004 was a warm, ripe vintage. · Lovely aromatics featuring rich black cherry, violets and a little good barnyard. Ripe dark Pinot flavors, veering a tad toward raisin notes.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards is located at 5239 Tepusquet Road, Santa Maria. The tasting room is open from 10:30-4:30 Friday through Sunday. The phone is 805=938-7896. The wines are sold on the website at www.volkwines.com. Volk produces a number of other varietals, including a superb Chardonnay. A second, value label, Aqua Pumpkin, includes a Pinot Noir ($14).

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