I recently had the privilege of meeting up with the proprietors of Amplify Wines for a private tasting. They are Cameron and Marlen Porter, based in the Santa Barbara County area on the central coast. The two have both worked in the wine industry for some time. Inspired by their shared passion for both music and wine, in 2013 they tried their hand at an inaugural vintage: Carignane. They only made 100 cases that first year. Now seven years later, they have expanded to 2,000 cases a year and are making some tasty creations. They have a pronounced commitment to making their wines as clean as possible. This means sourcing grapes from organic growers, using native yeast fermentation, no fining or filtering and no additions, save minimal So2 at bottling. These practices and values puts their wine into the category of natural wine. They are having fun with the possibilities, incorporating musical references into the mix. Borrowing from Spanish and Portuguese styles of winemaking, they are innovating in some jazzy ways. For my story on them, head over to The Vintner Project. For a review of the wines, stay here and keep reading.
Let’s get into the wines!
The 2017 Garnacha Blanca, Santa Ynez Valley
This is a skin-contact wine, which gives it an orange hue. It was fermented on the skins to dryness in stainless steel, then pressed to neutral barrels and aged for a year. The winemakers were inspired by a Garnacha Blanca from Terra Alta in Spain. Noting similar soils and climate to the Santa Ynez Valley, they decided to try their hands at working with grenache blanc, which can be a tough varietal to present singularly. One of the designated white grapes of the Rhône Valley in France, it is naturally low in acid and therefore often blended. This savory iteration grabs the palate with dried and salted citrus. It would be tasty with fish or seafood, or lil’ bites of a similar flavor profile, like marcona almonds topping a spicy marmalade on a hunk of manchego cheese. No bread needed. Just the wine, please.
2018 “Four on the Flor”, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
A nod to music here, Four on the Floor is a rhythmic pattern used in electronic music. This is an inventive take on rosé, made of the dark red skinned grape, Counoise. Another Rhône varietal, also used primarily in blends, it has a rich acidity. In this rendering the winemakers decided to let it ferment “under flor”. This refers to the yeast typically used to make sherry, both manzanilla and fino sherries. Flor, the Spanish and Portuguese word for flower, is the indigenous yeast that forms on the surface of the wine. It is white and looks exactly like what it is: a yeast film. Sounds all bad but it actually so good. It is a protective layer that keeps too much air from interfering, making the wine nimble. The winemakers chose to give this style a whirl after considering the humidity on the California central coast. Flor likes it moist and responds well to such. This wine was made 50% under flor and 50% topped-up. “Four on the Flor” *might* inspire this scene: lazing in the sun, nibbling berries and Port Salut cheese, along with cooked, chilled and seasoned shrimp, by the sea. Wash it down with this rosé and return to your repose. Or get up and dance?
2018 Mixtape, Santa Barbara County
I *almost* hesitate to review this wine on the blog, as they are just about sold out of Mixtape. Almost. I still want y’all to know though. First off, do you remember mixtapes? Back in the day when you would record a cassette tape of your personal selections, a mash-up of songs by various artists, maybe thematic, but maybe random? Usually gifted to those dear and near and definitely an overture of affection for someone special. If you took the time to curate such a sampling of your pleasures, it meant you cared. You really, really cared. Simpler days.
This wine is collaboration with wine pals Tyler Bell and Sarah Philpott, the four bonded over wine and music. Is it a white? A red? A rosé? It’s all 3! Mixtape, defying categorization, is a super jolly blend, best with a chill on it, of Grenache Blanc, Tempranillo, Merlot and Refosco! Yas! That last one, refosco is an Italian varietal not widely planted in California. It can be quite big, tannic and bitter. But blended in with other grapes, it brings some solid structure on which to drape juicy fruits. This one is a crowd pleaser. They bottled in February and are nearly sold out! If you can get your hands on some, do it. Pair it with the sunshine, your best mixtape and groovy people.
33% Refosco (1/3 destemmed and fermented whole berry on the skins, the other 2/3 direct-to-press and cofermented with Grenache Blanc) from Tres Hermanas Vineyard: Organically farmed, dry farmed
33% Grenache Blanc (direct-to-press, cofermented with Refosco) from Tres Hermanas Vineyard: Organically farmed, dry farmed
30% Tempranillo (destemmed, fermented whole berry on the skins) from Cinque Stelle Vineyard: Organically farmed
4% Merlot (destemmed, fermented whole berry, only press juice added) from Coquelicot Vineyard: Organically farmed
2017 Carignane, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
This wine is perhaps the flagship wine for Amplify. Carignane was their first wine made back in 2013. A high-yield and high-acid grape, it can be wicked to finesse into a single varietal slurper. One pro move is to do a carbonic maceration. Often whole cluster, this is when the grapes ferment inside themselves, rather than being crushed. The Porters do a semi-carbonic, macerating for 11 days before pressing it into barrels to complete the primary fermentation. The resulting wine is crisp and chipper, with a deep color. It could withstand a scosh of a chill, especially on warmer days. It is gulpable for sure and also might be nice with your favorite marinara based dish.
2018 Subliminal, Santa Barbara County
Full disclosure: I am not a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker. No dear. But a Cabernet Franc? All day. A Merlot? Some days. See next wine:) The right time and place notwithstanding, California cabs can be too intense and heavy for my preference. I generally gravitate toward lighter bodied reds. So imagine my delight once I sipped Subliminal and tasted a freshly made Cab Sauv? It is the kid brother version of California cabs: bright, full of vigor and bursting forth an energy to contend with. This Cab Sauv is relaxed and happy.
Another collaboration, the Porters paired up with the Parientes of Nomadic Distribution for this endeavor. Their aim: to make a weeknight table wine of Cabernet Sauvignon. I imagine the wines of European villages, grandmas and grandpas sitting down for a hearty meal, not complete without their house red. Easy drinking and robust enough to keep them toasty!
47% Rancho Arroyo Perdido Vineyard, sustainably farmed
36% Giff’s Vineyard, sustainably farmed
17% Cinque Stelle Vineyard , organically farmed
Lightworks Volume II
This is the wine that first drew me in: A Solera Merlot. It is a hook, indeed. Here again, Amplify is availing themselves of a Spanish and Portuguese winemaking style. A complex system of adding previous vintages to each new wine, the solera method is deployed for Sherry and other wines. Also called fractional blending, enabling the winemaker to create a wine of tremendous character by pulling from different years. Soleras can go for 50 years or more! The Porters Solera began in 2014, so it now has 4 vintages. The wine exudes a seriousness, a gravitas, while also retaining a freshness. It has an umami quality which would make it a good dancing partner for more substantial offerings, such as forest heavy proteins, doused in richness. I look forward to the future of Lightworks.
Coquelicot Vineyard: Organically farmed