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January 7, 2011
Indigené Cellars & Santa Maria - Wonderful Fruit!

When we embarked on the WineMatch journey, we knew it would take us places and introduce us to people of which we were previously not "in the know". Raymond Smith of Indigené Cellars in Paso Robles is a perfect example. Indigené means 'native' and the goal here is to maximize the varietal potential by matching it to its most native climate. By any standard, he has succeeded.

Raised as one of eight siblings in Oakland, California, Raymond worked his way through life, from being a journalism major, grocery store manager, and also worked in the local shipyards. One of his earliest winery experiences was one of reaching out to help another. While spending the night at a friend's winery, he was summoned along with others at 4AM. The goal was to help a neighboring winery with a low-lying vineyard avoid a fruit-destroying frost situation. He found it both heartwarming and humbling that they were helping the competition, but realized this is what neighboring wineries do - they help one another.

He started making wines for others at that time, and for 20 years he has been making wine, commercially for the last four of them. He experienced a crush gone bad at a custom crush facility and decide to take the reins to better control his destiny. Another of his strengths is to make difficult fruit shine, as we all know not every vintage blesses us with the best fruit!

Raymond was greatly influenced by a couple of local industry icons. Christian Tietje of Four Vines in Paso Robles taught him the benefit of meticulous attention to detail. He did this not just by talk, but by actions as well. Raymond shared with me a time when he was talking to Christian for an hour and a half while Christian  was assembling   a   well-crafted  Caesar  salad!
Another strong influence was Ken Brown, Pinot Noir master with his winery. Ken taught Raymond about the small lot Pinot specifics including the Martini clone, the fruit, the climate and how to really make the pinots shine brightly using the local fruit from Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills AVAs.

When we started profiling what Raymond Smith had submitted, the fruit blew us away, rating as high as our scale goes on the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine defines the word 'jammy' and the concentration is outstanding. The 2009 I=MB2 Riesling also stands strong with sweetness and acidity in perfect balance, allowing you the opportunity to truly enjoy the great fruit. Raymond sources his fruit from Carmel Valley and Santa Maria, where the colder climates yield greater concentration through slow maturation.

Indigené Cellars typically makes small batches using isolated clones, and Raymond closely monitors these barrels throughout the aging process to ensure the best result possible, given the fruit. Case counts are in the low hundreds, as hand punching and manual leaf and stem removal are part of this most tedious process. He is also a believer in cold fermentation and microoxygenation to maximize the fruit's potential.

The best way to sum up Raymond's method of winemaking is simply to state what he has made clear and obvious to me. "Isolated clones, handled gently and properly managed throughout the process, will yield extreme varietal characteristics".

Should the whole world be so deliberately exacting it would be a much better place!


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