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Clarice by Winemaker Adam Lee

Winemaker Adam Lee of Siduri has launched a new winery, Clarice, named for and dedicated to his grandmother, Clarice Hosea Phears, who had a tremendous influence on the type of winemaker that Adam would become.

Adam grew up in Texas in the 1960s and 1970s and has fond memories of his grandmother, who was a vestige of a bygone era. She was born in 1898 and carried herself with a certain "properness" that was very different than how Adam’s parents raised him.

Clarice lived much of her life on a farm. Her husband and Adam’s grandfather, Pleasant Phears, was a dairy farmer for Carnation Dairy. Clarice was never sure when Pleasant was coming home each day, although it was rarely before sunset. Because of this uncertainty, she would often cook dinner slowly in a large pot, keeping the food warm until Pleasant made his way home. Although Clarice did not live on the farm when Adam came along, she often cooked dinners slowly in a crock pot for him and Adam fondly remembers those meals. She told Adam that the key to cooking in a crock pot was understanding that all the items added early in the process would marry together into one harmonious meal over time and anything added later would like stand out.

When Adam began to make wine many years later, he took Clarice’s lesson to heart, realizing that wine, like food had a more harmonious outcome when adjustments or blending was done early in the process. Today, at Siduri, if any adjustments need to be made to a wine, Adam does it before fermentation rather than after and this practice has served him well.

Adam’s approach to marrying ingredients early in the process to build harmony did not extend to his approach in the vineyard, where each section and clone was harvested separately. There were several good reasons for this, but primarily because it seemed to be the standard practice for premium Pinot Noir producers. Grapes are picked by section and by clone, only blending the different parts together later into one wine. Adam has followed this procedure for over twenty vintages.

Picking Blocks and or Clones Separately

I asked Theresa Heredia, the winemaker at Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery to comment on the common practice of picking blocks and or clones separately to produce Pinot Noir She gave me several reasons why this is preferred.

• Logistics often dictate. For example, tank size limits blending if combining the sections is too much for one tank. But if tonnage from one block or clone is small, I will blend them into one tank to take advantage of tank space.
• Evaluating blocks or clones separately is educational.
• The winemaker can choose the best blocks or clones at a later date after the grapes have fermented and aged.
• Different blocks or clones may ripen at different rates, either because of clonal differences, soil, pruning, disease or exposure, so it makes sense to pick separately. If blocks produce only small amounts, the winemaker may need to wait for all blocks to ripen and pick together. This may mean that one block or clone may get slightly riper, and make the pick decision when the other block is not quite as ripe (a ripeness average).
• The winemaker can separate the weak from the strong. For example, I would almost always keep Dijon clone 115 separate from heritage selections like Calera because the heritage selections make a more complete wine than Dijon clones in my opinion. Also, one of the clones may not make the cut in a final blending decision.
• Keeping blocks separate allows the winemaker to evaluate the quality of the different blocks from each grower, helping the winemaker to decide which grower to work with in the future.
• On the other hand, if I am working with Dijon clones, for example, sometimes I will blend small amounts of two to three clones to try to build complexity during fermentation. This is because sometimes the Dijon clones seem one dimensional on their own.
• If a block is planted to “selection massale,” there is no choice but to wait until the entire block is ripe and pick it all together. Some grapes get riper and others are less ripe.

Over the past few years Adam has begun to look at things differently. A trip to Chateauneuf-du-Pape and his experience with old vine Zinfandel winemaking led him to re-examine his vineyards from the point of view of wines blended from the vines to the bottle. Adam began to develop a different vision as he walked the vineyards. Instead of looking at individual sections and clones of Pinot Noir, he began to look at the vineyard as one complete entity. This made the most sense with vineyards where he had a great deal of experience and where the vines had matured. It was from this new vision that Clarice Wine Company was born

Adam selected two iconic vineyards for Clarice - Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard. The Garys’ Vineyard was first planted in 1997 and Adam began purchasing fruit from Garys’ Vineyard in the initial 1999 vintage. The Rosella’s Vineyard was planted in 1998 and 1999 and Adam began acquiring fruit from that vineyard in the initial 2001 vintage. Over the past fifteen plus years, some of the best Pinot Noir he has produced has come from these two vineyards. Moreover, the vineyards are farmed by his good friends, Mark Pisoni and Gary Franscioni.

Adam has selected two specific areas of vines from each of these vineyards, sensing that they will work particularly well together. He purchases grapes from both sites by the acre rather than by the ton. This allows him to work with Mark and Gary to determine farming and yield decisions. As the 2017 harvest approached, Adam walked and sampled the two sections of the Garys’ Vineyard together as one site and did the same with the two acres of Rosella’s Vineyard. The goal was to envision the site as a whole rather than being made up of different parts, and to then make the wines as one from beginning too end. Currently, no one in the Santa Lucia Highlands is following this approach.

In the initial 2017 vintage, the grapes were picked together from each site. The two acres of Garys’ Vineyard fermented in the same tank, and the two acres of Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir similarly fermented. Indigenous yeast and indigenous malolactic bacteria were use for ferments.

Picking all grapes from a vineyard together and vinifying them in unison is innovative, but the idea behind Clarice Wine Company goes beyond picking and winemaking decisions. Adam has decided that selling wine is not what he likes to do. What he does enjoy is the friendships, camaraderie, and sharing of knowledge and experiences that wine engenders. Accordingly, he has created a completely new experience at odds with the common mailing list or wine club. He calls it the Clarice Family Program, and it is a way to join his extended wine family.

The Clarice Family Program is designed as a community of wine lovers that have a desire to share, experience, learn and geek out about everything related to wine. Subscribers will enjoy Clarice Pinot Noir but there are several other benefits.

The Clarice Wine Company website will host an exclusive ‘Family Members Only’ section. This section will have frequently updated content including a monthly article written by Adam and a monthly article written by someone else in the wine business. Members of the Program will be able to interact and ask questions. This Family Members Only section will also contain an Education Section with information on wine-related topics.

Clarice Family Members will receive an invitation to an annual Clarice Wine Party where growers will be special guests, and an invitation to an annual Non-Clarice Wine Party, featuring wines from a winemaker or grower friend, or from a vineyard or appellation that Adam admires.

Each month from March through August, subscribers will be billed around $160. This makes buying wine directly from a winery easier on one’s pocketbook, avoiding the many dreaded mailers that seem to all arrive in your inbox the same week in time. In early November, subscribers will receive a case of wine that includes four bottles of Clarice Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, four bottles of Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir and four bottles of Clarice Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Further details on Clarice Wine Company and to find out about the launch of this project are available at

Note: I included this announcement not to promote Adam’s new innovative project, but in keeping with that project, I was interested in the educational aspect of the topic. Clarice Family Program is an expansion of consumer involvement and education and a sensible step in that direction. Also, I have always decried the fact that wineries send out their offerings in the spring and fall at the same time, making it a financial challenge on many consumers who are then forced to pick and choose. Spreading the financial commitment out over several months is an approach worth trying. When Adam sold Siduri (he is still the winemaker), he wanted to step back from the business side of wine and this new adventure allows him time to become more personally involved with his consumers and to do something completely different.

Adam Lee will be one of the featured winemakers at the upcoming World of Pinot Noir Friday Dinner No. 3, “101 Years of Single-Vineyard Pinot Noir Along the Historic Highway 101.” Visit

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