There are more expensive chardonnays than Liquid Farm. But it would be hard to find better chardonnay coming from California!
Owned by Jeff and Nikki Nelson, LF has received top scores for its Sta. Rita Hills blends, “Four,” “Golden Slope” and “White Hill” — and more recently for the chards sourced from famous Santa Maria vineyards, “Bien Bien” and “La Hermana.” In addition, their rose—AKA “pink crack”—has become a passion of wine fanatics.
Just this spring, the first Liquid Farm pinot noir, sourced from the SRH Radian Vineyard, has come out.
We had a chance to interview their personable, skilled winemaker, James Sparks, about his philosophy.
Tell us about your winemaking style. What are you looking for with the chardonnays you’ve made? What are you trying to achieve?
James: I think my winemaking style is all about observation—from the vineyards to the winery. My goal is always to let the vineyards shine through. I do my best to watch the vineyards and the fruit from start to finish. Listening to what it wants to say and then pick when I believe the fruit to be at its best. Then in the winery allowing each vineyard to express itself in each individual barrel. Observing each barrel and allowing it to develop in its own time and space. Which then brings us to the wines I’m creating. Burgundy is the inspiration. So the goal is to make beautifully expressed wines with inspiration to Chablis and and Meursault, but keeping it rooted in California. So each year fine tuning, making the absolute best possible, most expressed wines, with balance and complexity, age-worthy wines that I can from that year.
You’ve just come out with your first pinot at LF. How did you try to achieve the balance you wound up with?
James: For me it was again all about flavors. Starting with a great vineyard allows me to keep it simple in the winery. Each year is different, but with the 2014 Radian I was able to keep it very simple. The goal is to do as little as possible to the wine and the 2014 Radian allowed me to do just that. I think it’s a great start to a wonderful move in making pinot. As with the chardonnay, the pinot will continue to improve as I observe the vineyards that I’m pulling the fruit from. By observing each vineyard it allows me to understand how each vineyard will want to express its character in the wine. Observation is the key for me in making the picking decisions and understanding what each wine will do. Looking for more structure in each wine goes back to understanding how each vineyard wants to express itself and how it’s responding to the growing year.
I’ve noticed that your rose sells out pretty quickly. What is unique about your rose wine?
James: Mourvedre being the main grape and Vogelzang Vineyard. It’s also made specifically for rose. Vogelzang Vineyard is in Happy Canyon, the warmest part of the valley, which seems to share a similar likeness to Bandol: sun-soaked with an ocean breeze. You add that we are in California and you have the rose. The earthy, fruity, mineral driven mourvedre that makes a beautiful drinking rose.
Tell us about your job. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of making wine?
James: Winemaking is cleaning and then more cleaning. It stresses me out when things are dirty and unorganized. So the job works well for my personality. I think one of the most challenging aspects of making wine is the space issue. It seems that you can never have enough. Right now Liquid Farm is in too small of a space for the amount of wine being made. Logistically it makes it very challenging. I’m dreaming of the day that we have space that is closer to 4000 to 6000 sq. ft. One day at a time.
You’ve had an interest in baking, too. How do the skill sets overlap for baking and winemaking?
James: Baking and winemaking both take time. Obviously winemaking is a little longer process. Still both things require time and observation. Watch and don’t rush. At the same time don’t take too long. Alway use the best ingredients possible. Better sourced flour, better bread. Better sourced fruit, the better the wine. Theres a fine balance between under-proofing and over-proofing—just as there’s a fine balance between aging wine too long in barrel and not long enough. From a warm ferment to a cold ferment, using native yeast to commercial yeast, both will change the outcome of the bread and wine. Both go great together when consuming!
Your wines have already achieved some of the highest honors and scores. What’s the next goal?
James: My goal is to always make the best wines possible each year. So I will continue to do that and hope that they continue to please those that drink the wines. I’m very grateful that the wines are being well received and getting a lot of recognition in a very positive way. I will continue to do my best in capturing that year and still staying true to the style of the wines.