Invited to a wine club tasting of Liquid Farm on a Sunday afternoon, I observed winemakers Jeff and Nikki Nelson buzzing around their modern Los Angeles apartment entertaining their club members.
It’s clear at the casual yet hip gathering of a bunch of wine-loving strangers (and their picture, left), that they are the epitome of an urban couple. But that’s just what make Jeff and Nikki Nelson so unique. They absolutely love, love, love classic Old World wines. Forget fruit and big oak – earth and minerality are far more important to these winemaking lovebirds.
“We found ourselves eating local, but most of the wine we were drinking was not domestically produced,” explains Nikki of their wine consumption in the years prior to Liquid Farm’s debut, “most of it came from France, or even Italy and Spain.” Enter Liquid Farm, the appropriate name for their venture in the Santa Rita Hills growing region of Santa Barbara County.
“We wanted to get personally involved and locally produce and promote wines that stood right up against the best of the Old World – wines we wanted to drink, and wines we were proud to share. We started with four barrels in 2009.”
Four barrels of Chardonnay in 2009 turned into hundreds of cases in the years to follow. If you can get your taste buds on even one sip of their balanced, clean and intriguing wines, you’ll most likely want a whole barrel to yourself.
The line of Liquid Farm Chardonnays – their specialty – are appropriately named. White Hill, Golden Slope, and FOUR. The White Hill is aged in all neutral barrels, while the Golden Slope gets a touch of new oak (just 18%). As for FOUR, the fruit is always sourced from Jeff and Nikki’s favorite four barrels of the harvest (the number happens to be their favorite, too, and a tribute to their first four barrels of wine).
And don’t think of the wines as bland because of the Nelson’s obsession with neutral barrels. The use of neutral wood allows a complexity to emerge in their wines not often found in California Chardonnay.
“You are not imparting anything new into the wine, nor are you reducing it and cutting it off from the elements,” Nikki explains. “The wine is able to slowly be exposed to small amounts of oxygen throughout the aging process as the grain breathes.”
As of 2011, the Liquid Farm portfolio also includes the springtime favorite, rosé. Their mineral-driven pink was inspired by the South of France, specifically Bandol, where Mourvédre rules the land. It’s also a great one for the table.
“Thai, Peruvian or super simple farm-to-table fare are all great with the rosé. It can handle some spice, too.” The same can be said for the crisp, clean White Hill Chardonnay – and as of April, Los Angeles Times wine writer Irene Virbila agrees. Try roasted or fried chicken with Golden Slope and FOUR, or even pork belly if you dare.
Regardless of which Liquid Farm you sip, you can literally taste the Santa Rita Hills in the glass. No overpowering oak, no manipulation, end of story. Or beginning, depending on how you look at it.