Thursday, April 5th wasn’t just a great day because of the Red Sox come from behind extra inning home opener…we had our own spectacular show here in Waltham hosting owner Jeff Nelsons and winemaker James Sparks of Liquid Farm.
Liquid Farm broke out as an intercontinental hit a few years ago and we were extremely privileged to get a personal tour to their success story. With clear inspirations from Chablis (White Hill) and the Côte de Beaune (Golden Slope, Four), the chardonnays have become a massive hit—even Burgundy snobs peeked over the fence to take a look at what was going on over there in the “New California,” with Domaine Leflaive even sending its winemaker over to see what was going on. Wine critic Jon Bonné recently wrote that Liquid Farm is the “standard-bearer for the state’s best chardonnay accomplishments today.” We agree. The night clearly solidified Liquid Farm’s greatest strengths on how the wines are amazingly accessible, while also clearly, extremely serious. It’s a potent combination.
While the basic premise of Liquid Farm is to breathe exciting new “Old World” life into Central Coast chardonnay and pinot, the story within the story is the unique talent of Mr. James Sparks. A native to Idaho, Sparks, 41, fell into winemaking by way of his brother in law, Brandon Sparks-Gillis, who himself has created a super-cult underground following at nearby Dragonette cellars. Without a formal wine education, James, a former baker by profession, and musician by passion, hit a reset on his life in 2009 and, somehow, became head winemaker at LF in 2013.
The rate of Liquid Farm’s success tracks with Sparks’ ascension as a seriously talented grower. For a first-time gig, Sparks has revealed himself to be a rare talent, showing us that his keen eye for detail and a “gut” sense of balance that is truly impressive. “I rely on my patience, gut and work ethic,” Sparks admitted. Instead of leaning on technical numbers, Sparks insists on trusting his eyes and gut first, then looking at the numbers after. While many winemakers will rely on reading data from a spectrophotometer, Mr. Sparks, every day, will be in the vineyard beginning at 4 AM to look at his vines, seeing the details for himself, then crushing a small sample back at the winery and tasting the juice. He does this over and over again, trusting his intuition for the “ah ha” moment of when to pick. It’s an old school, old world way of growing grapes.
The results, as we saw firsthand, are wines that feel anything but technical and at their best carry the same awe-inspiring strengths of white Burgundy: opulence and soul.
Tim’s Note: 95% Mourvédre and 5% Grenache sourced from the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. Super clean, bright acidity, raspberries, strawberry and refreshingly low alcohol (11.5%) makes for an almost too easy porch pounder.
2015 White Hill Chardonnay
“The 2015 Chardonnay White Hill is refined, elegant and lifted, with plenty of bright citrus, white pepper and floral overtones. This is in a decidedly delicate, restrained style for Liquid Farm.” 91 points, Antonio Galloni
2016 Hermana Chardonnay
2015 Review: “Liquid Farm's 2015 Chardonnay La Hermana is a blend of fruit from Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills and Dierberg. Intensely pointed and saline, it will need a bit more time in bottle to be at its most expressive. In keeping with its Santa Maria origins, La Hermana is the most finely cut and chiseled of the Liquid Farm Chardonnays.” 92+ Points, Antonio Galloni
2014 Bien Bien Chardonnay
“The 2014 Chardonnay Bien Bien, from 40 year-old vines in the famed Bien Nacido vineyard, is wonderfully layered and nuanced in classic Bien Nacido style. Lemon confit, apricot, mint, almonds and chamomile give the Bien Bien its distinctive oily, viscous personality.” 93 Points, Antonio Galloni
2015 Golden Slope Chardonnay
“The 2015 Chardonnay Golden Slope captures an attractive stylistic middle ground that expresses notable textural richness and creaminess while retaining a good bit of aromatic nuance. Orchard fruit, wild flowers and a touch of reduction add complexity.” 93 Points, Antonio Galloni
2014 Four Chardonnay
“The 2014 Chardonnay Four is a blend of barrels from Clos Pepe, Bentrock, Zotovich and Kessler-Haak. It is also the most overt and powerful wine in the range, with plenty of tropical fruit, butter, pineapple, mint and sweet oak flavors. The 2014 spent a bit longer in barrel (18 months) than the other Liquid Farm Chardonnays. I can't say that resulted in a meaningfully better or more complex wine, but the Four is undoubtedly delicious and well done.” 92 Points, Antonio Galloni
2016 "SBC" Pinot Noir
Tim’s Note: Their brand-new Pinot, “SBC” is a stylish blend of both Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, 10% whole cluster, 10% new French oak. This is about as it gets for delicious, balanced Santa Barbara Pinot, with loads of bing cherry, raspberries and cola. Easy, juicy, deserves a very prominent spot at the summer picnic table.
2015 "SRH" Pinot Noir
“Another gorgeous wine in this range, the 2015 Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills) is pliant, supple and quite expressive. There is a real sense of vertical depth to the fruit that distinguishes the Sta. Rita Hills from the Santa Maria bottling. Fruit sources are Radian and Sanford & Benedict.” 93 Points, Antonio Galloni
2015 "SMV" Pinot Noir
“The 2015 Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley) offers lovely depth and nuance in its red cherry, plum, lavender and mint flavors. Silky, perfumed and gracious, with all of the focus that is typical of these wines, the 2015 remains wonderfully translucent, delivering plenty of flavor intensity for a wine that initially comes across as weightless. The Santa Maria Valley Pinot is a blend of old-vine fruit from Solomon Hills and Bien Nacido, done with 100% whole clusters.” 91 Points, Antonio Galloni