Marimar Torres, Sonoma

Marimar Torres, sister of Miguel Torres who heads of one of Spain’s most important wine companies, says she has had “a love affair with California,” for over 40 years. It was in 1986 that she established her wine estate in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, planting her first vines on a former apple orchard a few miles from the Pacific ocean. A winery followed in 1992, as did substantial expansion with the purchase of a 170-acre plot of land in the cooler Sonoma Coast, planted to Pinot Noir. As well as Chardonay and Pinot she nods to her homeland with Albariño and Tempranillo, and is today joined by her daughter Cristina as Director of Sales and Marketing.

I met up online with Marimar and Cristina, with Marimar recounting how she fled the Spain of Franco, arriving in California in the mid-70s, and eventually marrying a Californian. “My father said it wouldn’t last a year,” she dead-pans, “but in fact it lasted four. I showed him.” Having initially worked in sales and marketing functions, she says it was hard for a woman to be accepted in a winemaking role back then. Her father seriously disapproved, so Marimar made a ‘secret’ Chardonnay herself using a custom crush facility. When she asked her father and mother to taste it, Cristina reports that “her father said it was the best white wine he’d ever tasted.”

The Torres’s as a family are very much focused on climate change and Cristina has been heavily involved in setting up a group called IWCA, dedicated to lowering the carbon footprint in the wine production industry, now with members across the globe from Yealands Estate in New Zealand to Symington in Portugal. She has worked in various industries over 10 years, including two with Jackson Estate before joining Marimar.

We would taste three wines from the current releases, beginning with the Acero Chardonnay – Acero meaning ‘steel’ as this wine is all about the fruit and is unoaked. Marimar says “I had an idea to produce a wine that would showcase our fruit without any masking by oak.” At the time of its introduction in 2005, unoaked Chardonnay was seen as cheap and uninteresting. A particularly aromatic clone was chosen, and a proportion of the fruit comes from vineyards on the Sonoma coast, for freshness. The second Chardonnay comes from the La Masia vineyard, the original vineyard and a wine first produced in 1989.

On her approach to winemaking, Marimar says “A vineyard is like a child: you have to give it what it needs, not what it wants,” and in-line with their awareness of ecological challenges, they acheived sustainability certification in 2017, and the entire winery and the two houses on the property are 100% solar-powered with waste recycled. Compost is used to fertilise the vineyard and cover crops provide habitat for beneficial insects.

Marimar touches on her worry about smoke taint in 2020, a year of terrible fires in the region, so her grapes and wines are being tested and will be continuously monitored even once bottled to make sure they are of perfect and taint-free quality. The wines tasted here were bottled under screwcap and natural cork, but from 2019 she has switched to the DIAM Origin closure to replace cork.

The Wines

(2021) Made only in stainless steel ('Acero') with no oak contact, Marimar selects the most intense fruit from the coolest, ocean-influenced sites for this cuvée. The nose has a gentle creaminess, presumably from some lees ageing, nutty and creamy apple fruit and a zesty hint of lemon. On the palate good bite and freshness here, clarity to the fruit and acidity, which is well-balanced without being aggressive. It's a wine that does not have the sharp precision of the best Chablis (unsurprisingly) and arguably should or could be a few pounds cheaper in my opinion, but it is elegant, restrained and delicious.
(2021) First produced in 1989, three different Chardonnay clones are picked and whole-cluster pressed and barrel-fermented in French oak, 40% new. This wine sees 100% malolactic fermentation. The buttery and lightly-toasty richness of the oak is quite apparent on the nose, giving an impression of depth and generosity. On the palate, the rush of sweet, ripe stone fruit fill the mid-palate, the wine full and textured, but a good level of acidity fills in on the finish, a hint of nutty barrel component, in a very satisfying Chardonnay.
(2021) A blend of four Pinot Noir clones, 31% Dijon 667, 29% Pommard, 20% Dijon 115, and 20% Swan, destemmed and fermented in stainless steel followed by ageing in French oak, 46% new barrels. A rich and fulsome Pinot, 14.5% alcohol and ripe, but not without finesse and a certain elegance. The nose has graphite and some herb and briarwood notes, but there is refined black fruit too, plenty of it, compote and a hint of cherry to give some freshness. In the mouth that balance of substance - fruit extract, tannin and cherry-pit acidity - but a savoury, quite agile quality too. Long, fresh and focused on fruit and acidity in the finish.

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