Edible Monterey Bay

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Taste Outside the Margins (and Vice Versa)

April 30, 2021 – Are you a varietal thrill seeker? You might be a candidate for Margins Wines, dedicated to producing low-intervention wines using grapes from underrepresented regions, vineyards, and varietals. Many come right from our backyard in San Benito, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara counties, where winemaker Megan Bell sourced grapes from 10 different vineyards in 2020.

Winemaker Megan Bell with a bottle of her Margins Wine

Bell is now holding wine tastings at her new winery home in Watsonville, and would like to share her latest wines with open minded and adventurous palates. She typically pours a mix of her 2021 spring releases, which include her flagship Chenin Blancs from Clarksburg, (done in two styles, both direct pressed and skin contact), a Contra Costa Moscato, a nearly sold out rosé of Mourvèdre and a red Counoise, both from Sattler Vineyard in Santa Clara, plus a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir from Makjavich Vineyard, a two-acre organic vineyard planted in 2011 to Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Bell and owner Larry Makjavich farm it together, and she takes all the fruit for her label.

Bell, an ardent fan of varietals outside the “margins” of grape normalcy, has established a reputation for making natural wines that show off the true nature of each grape. Unlike many of her colleagues in the natural wine movement, Bell follows a consistent way to shepherd her wines. “I don’t want to experiment and have it go wrong. I’m trying to stick to what works well for me and my style.”

That said, she has made quite a name for her skin contact Chenin Blanc, which falls into the popular “orange wine” category. Basically, it means making a white wine the way you would a red, destemming and then fermenting on the skins. She leaves the Chenin on skins for about 25 days, giving the wine a bit of color and ultimately, a lot of texture. The fact she has both traditionally fermented direct to press Chenin Blanc and skin contact versions is a rarity, giving winelovers a chance to appreciate the dramatic difference between the two methods. Diversity rules and clearly, it’s working, as people appreciate her attention to winecraft.

As of 2020, she made 2k cases, and projects 2500 cases for 2021. Most of her wines are sold through fine wine shops and select restaurants. Fortunately for Bell, the pandemic didn’t impact her, as the winery is super small, and has a very loyal following who buy either direct from the winery or from select wine shops. 

There are many fans of her style and approach, and Bell’s followers are eager to try any variety she makes. And she’s adding more. For 2021, Bell hopes to get as close to a ton as possible of three new varieties from Siletto Vineyard in San Benito: Barbera, Nebbiolo and Rodonella, a grape she’s never even tasted. 

Bell in her winery

She sourced Negrette from Siletto in 2020 for the first time, and was surprised by its intense color and charming grape candy essence. It will be released in the fall. Also for 2021, Bell hopes to get Assyrtiko, Verdelho and Grenache from Paicines Ranch Vineyard, assuming the vines can put forth enough crop. Last year was a big challenge, but the vines are heading into year five of their lifecycle, and should be producing well. “The vines are trellised really high, about 5 feet, so sheep can be in the vineyard all year long.” Otherwise, they will eat the tender parts of the vine. Electronically controlled sheep are still a robot’s dream.

Megan invites you to join her at the winery for an hour-long intimate tasting of her Margins 2021 spring release wines. The $20 non-refundable tasting fee covers tastings for two. For parties of more than two, an additional tasting fee of $10/person applies. Please note that tasting fees are not waived with purchase.

Tastings will be held outdoors, where it is often either quite warm or very chilly, so be prepared, and bring layers, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc. These tastings are extremely casual, so be prepared for a plastic table and fold-out chairs amidst the winemaking equipment. Please note that there is no signage at the gate except for the address, which is 2487 Freedom Blvd. Watsonville. All tastings are strictly by appointment, and in keeping with etiquette, you are respectfully requested to arrive on time: that means not early and not late. 

Like at harvest, timing is everything.

Booking info and details can be found here: marginswine.com/visit

SAVVY SIPS

Winegrower, Mark Chesebro, has a sassy selection of whites that will make you salivate. And then there’s his tickle your tastebuds good Grenache Rosé. When you want a lighter style red that cuts the dust and pops a wheelie, you want his Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir. 

2019 Chesebro Arroyo Seco Grenache Rosé – The ideal food wine for summer is doubtless rosé, and this pale pink debutante delivers with its appealing floral nose, big on lilac and forsythia, with a punch of strawberry, citrus and peach. Medium weight on the palate, it delivers up delicate strawberry and marshmallow with a kick of white pepper. Smooth and sophisticated.

2018 Chesebro Arroyo Seco Albarino – This is quickly becoming one of my favorite go-to varietals for spring turning into summer. It’s all about crisp, acid-driven and refreshing, from the lime, kumquat and kiwi on the nose to tart peach, lime juice and pluot on the boldly textured, mineral-rich palate. This one won’t quit!

2018 Chesebro Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir – One whiff and the nose tells you it’s from a windswept clime, with its earthy notes of hilly scrub, eucalyptus, bacon, thuringer and pepper. A savory wine overall, its lovely high-toned texture carries flavors of pomegranate, basil, jalapeno, strawberry compote and orange peel, all making merry, like the perfect cocktail. Elegant and energetic, half the fruit comes from Mission Ranch and the other from Cedar Lane Vineyard. 

About the author

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Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.

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