The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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first press 6 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } JUNE/JULY 2018 J essica Tomei makes wine for the people: a lot of the people. Under the Cup- cake Vineyards brand, To- mei shepherds an immense number of cases annually from vineyard to bottle, and she takes deep satisfaction in each of those bot- tles. "These are wines that people have access to all across the country," Tomei says. "They're enjoying them with their family and friends on a weeknight without putting out $30." Her obvious pride in the product is grounded in vineyard sites, grower rela- tionships, and resource-intensive winemak- ing, which is somewhat surprising for such lar ge productions. Monterey County is ground zero for the Chardonnay Cupcake launched in 2008, but until recently, the wine wasn't clearly connected to the place Tomei believes gives it a uniquely appeal - ing balance of great acidity to ripe fruit. She feared the perception was of place- free bulk wine, so to clarify the connection and identify it as a wine of a particular place, Cupcake relabeled the Chardon - nay with its Monterey County appella- tion. With that bright acidity (natural, not added, assures Tomei) turning its lemon to zest, and with apple and melon flavors wrapped in creamy texture, the wine shows its 100 percent barrel quality—and, at an $11 suggested retail price, goes to market as a terrific deal. Along with the move to more clearly identify Cupcake's original wine with its source, the brand is doubling down on Chardonnay itself. Perhaps counterin - tuitively to an industry that speaks of white wine lovers moving beyond their early infatuation with the category—and especially their love of buttery wine— Cupcake is adding two new Chardonnays to its portfolio this year. One is overtly styled for the oak and butter mavens (and equally overtly named Cupcake Vineyards Butterkissed, also with an SRP of $11), while the other is an elegant expression of what Tomei and her team can do with the best lots of Chardonnay from their Mon - terey vineyards. Called Cupcake Vineyards Winemaker's Blend, it has an SRP of $25. There's no marketing campaign gone awry here. From the outset the brand was hooked into consumer trends, some might say to a fault: Remember the cup - cake craze of a decade ago? Now, both consumer research and anecdotal blind tastings are telling them, 1) Cupcake's loyal fanbase is growing up and ready for more variety as many move beyond the basics to appreciate the nuances of a more complex style; and 2) a sizable proportion of Chardonnay drinkers still love a butter bomb and aren't afraid to admit it. As To - mei explains regarding the addition of new style choices to the Chardonnay lineup, "We want to grow with our fans." She cites a remarkable awareness of Cupcake's wines in that base. While pour- ing at a recent consumer tasting in Texas, Tomei offered one attendee the brand's new, dry, Provence-style rosé. "But you don't have a rosé," the woman argued— which was true until last year. Again, this brand doesn't let a good trend get away. Tomei is all in when it comes to the vineyards she works with (both Cupcake- owned and under contract). With Mon - terey serving as the heart of her Chardon- nays, she has relocated her family (three children and a husband, who is also in the wine business) from San Francisco's East Bay to the coastal county, where she can walk the vineyards often and convene with the growers at every stage, from pruning to picking. It's a post-harvest winemaker- grower reckoning, though, that produces her biggest grin: After fermentation, Cup - cake invites its growers in to taste through by Sara Schneider / photos by John Curley Cupcake Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay from Monterey County; Cupcake Vineyards 2016 Winemaker's Blend Chardonnay, also from Monterey; and Cupcakes Vineyards 2016 Butterkissed Chardonnay from California.

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