Alban Vineyards

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    John Alban pioneered California's first winery and vineyard dedicated exclusively to the varieties of the Rhône in 1989: a 250 acre ranch in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo County. He had often wondered why France was vinifying around five hundred different grape varieties when California was using about six. At the age of twenty-four he fell in love with a glass of Condrieu at a time when anything that was neither Cabernet nor Chardonnay (“California’s wine equivalent of vanilla and chocolate”) was barely grown in California. He realized that if he was going to find out more about Viognier he would have to go to France, and so he did. In the face of profound local suspicion and even animosity, he spent time apprenticing anywhere that would have him and organizing all the climate and soil information he could find. All of this indicated to him that Syrah, Viognier, Grenache and Roussanne made more than mere sense in California.

    Since there were few of these Rhône varieties in California at the time, and those that did exist were not of the quality that Alban was looking for, he set about propagating the small number of cuttings he had gathered in France into commercial quantities. He spent the next few years of his life in greenhouses where he, as he puts it “lost touch with reality” and emerged to plant thirty-two acres of Viognier when there were only fifty on the entire planet. The only white Rhône variety more obscure than Viognier was Roussanne and he duly released a pure Roussanne in 1991, the second such wine produced globally. Alban Vineyards provided a large proportion of the cuttings to enable Viognier acreage to increase from zero to over 2,000 acres in the state of California and that of Syrah from a few hundred to more than 17,000.

    Alban’s approach to viticulture is distinct: “The only things we apply to our vineyard are water from our own wells, elemental sulfur (which is approved for organic, biodynamic, and most importantly Albanic farming), a mix of carbonates that requires no reporting whatsoever and is a compound we have in abundance, and fire (we flame weeds). We never till, we are the only winery I have ever heard of that maintains its own naturalized flock of sheep for grazing and composting (which see no antibiotics or meds, almost no supplement of their feed, and are never shorn, milked, nor slaughtered). I guess the only question about our sustainability is economic and cultural: if we can make enough money to do it again next year, and continue to offer a quality of life such that subsequent generations are enticed to continue this pursuit, it can go on for centuries.”

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