Updated: Jan 8
A conversation with Onesta owner and winemaker, Jillian Johnson I'm excited to share the story about Onesta Cinsault with the Divvy-Up Wines Community. I love highlighting wines that offer new experiences. A red bottling of single vineyard Cinsault is not that common around here. Can you tell folks a little bit about this varietal?
Cinsault is a high-yielding, early-ripening, hot-weather red grape, generally used in blends. It's pronounced San-Soh. It tends to be low in tannin and is often added to blends to impart a spicy component. It's true that it's not often found as a red varietal bottling. Cinsault is the “king” of grape varieties in Provence Rosé winemaking. Its large juicy berries produce elegant mouthwatering dry Rosés, for the sophisticated palate. Among the grape’s claim to fame is being half the genetic cross (along with pinot noir) behind the South African Pinotage grape. Cinsault came to California in the 1860s, but total planting in 2004 was only 144 acres, producing a mere 672 tons. As you mention, people may be more familiar with Cinsault as a component in Rhone blends or as a Rosé. Why is it more common to see it used in blends? Cinsault is typically a lighter bodied red wine, lighter in color and lower in overall tannin. On its own, it more closely resembles a light bodied Pinot Noir. In the Rhone Valley in France, where Cinsault is made into red wine and used in blends, there are big structured red wines that could use the help of Cinsault to balance out the mouthfeel. The concentrated Syrah and Grenache coming from southern Rhone, are meaty and spicy and need a boost of fruit to build a complex wine. At Bonny Doon Vineyards, where I made wine for 5 years, Cinsault was blended into every red wine we made. Even at 4% of the blend, it would lift the red fruit, and add a silky texture in the mid-palate.
And yet you chose to make a 100% Cinsault varietal red wine. Does the vineyard where the fruit comes from have anything to do with that choice? The Bechthold Vineyard is home to 25 acres of Cinsault, planted in 1886, making it the oldest vineyard in Lodi and the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world. Due to the age of the vines in the Bechtold vineyard, grape clusters are smaller, and the flavors are more concentrated which makes it suitable for producing a less traditional red wine. If you were trying to compare it to better known wines, you might say it’s like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel got together and made a wine.
Do you need to take any special steps to make Cinsault shine as a single varietal red wine? Any special approaches and why?
Cinsault as a vine, is a huge crop producing variety. The grape clusters and berries are huge too, which throws off the skin to juice ratio. In order to get the ratio back in balance, a winemaker can bleed some juice off and make a rose. This little trick, called “saignee”, will help fix the problem and yield a more concentrated red wine. At the same time, you get to make a rose! It is a win win for all wines and the winemaker. As I mentioned, Bechthold Vineyard is very old, so the crop yield is a fraction of what it was as a young vine. These vines can produce a Cinsault with great concentration and not much help needed. It's amazing fruit.
Well, I think you're being a little modest about that. This is a wine I really enjoy, and something that is well worth trying for people interested in expanding their wine experiences. I'm excited to have you share your perspectives with us here on Divvy-Up Wines. Read more about this historic property:
cover photo credit // www.visitlodi.com https://www.visitlodi.com/blog/lodis-legendary-ancient-vine-bechthold-vineyard/ https://www.lodiwine.com/blog/lodis-oldest-existing-vines-the-magical-bechthold-vineyard