When you hear the word amplify, what might you think? Loud amps at a punk rock show? Are you making the immediate connection to volume? Are you thinking an amplified wine is therefore, bigger, bolder and high alcohol? Yeah, your mouth starts to pucker as you imagine those tannins and you shudder a bit from the thought of the heavy manipulation of the finished product. The all-American hit you over the head wine. You know the type. Saturating the wine market with predictable flavors, seasoned by commercial yeast. You don’t want any part of it. So what if I told you that Amplify Wines, is just the opposite? Might that pique your interest? What if the interpretation of amplify, in this context, was not about noise, but instead focused on magnifying, intensifying and fleshing out the naturally occurring essence of the grapes? That, my friends, is what Amplify Wines is up to.
The proprietors of Amplify Wines are Cameron and Marlen Porter. A husband and wife team based in the Santa Barbara County wine region on the Central Coast of California. Most often referred to broadly the Santa Ynez Valley, it is known mostly for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but thanks to imaginative experimenters like the Porters, that legacy is expanding. Their savvy creations such as a skin contact grenache blanc, making it an amber color, and a solera merlot, are changing up the game. Additionally they use native yeast fermentation, neutral vessels for fermentation and aging and add minimal sulfur. These practices and commitments constitute their wine as natural. More and more small production vintners in the valley are making wine in this way.
Both Cameron and Marlen are veterans of the wine industry, having worked at various regional wineries between them. They share a love of wine and music, hence their aptly named wine label. They seek to coax out or amplify, the “voice of site and enhance the most singular characteristics of a given vineyard, marrying a sense of place with a sense of style.” Their experience, knowledge of the area and connections all contribute to making creative, fun and above all else, tasty natural wines.
Amplify had their first vintage in 2013, with only 100 cases. Now in their 7th vintage, they produced 2,000 cases in 2019. A small production by commercial standards, they are undoubtedly a boutique operation, bootstrapping by utilizing equipment at an established winery. Having their own space though, is in the long-term plans. For now they offer tastings by appointment or at special events such as natural wine fairs, which is how I first came into contact with them. I remember tasting their delicious wine at one such event in 2018, Third Coast Soif, and thinking their wines were lip-smacking. Garden-fresh and vibrant. I wanted more!
Sourcing high quality grapes from organic and/or sustainably farmed vineyards, they are admittedly not farmers or vignerons. However, when it comes to the harvest and the winemaking part, they are both all-in. Marlen explained to me, that they work diligently together to bring their wines to the state they are both happy with. This sometimes involves bringing numerous samples home to taste and make notes on at the kitchen counter. From there, they have an allocation for select distributors and restaurants, or you can purchase directly from them.
Recently, Marlen hosted a tasting for us in which we sampled 6 of their delicious wines:
2017 Garnacha Blanca, Santa Ynez Valley, $24-
2018 “Four on the Flor”, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, $25-
2018 Mixtape, Santa Barbara County, $24-
2017 Carignane, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, $23-
2018 Subliminal, Santa Barbara County, $24-
Lightworks Volume II, $25-
Head over to my blog, Wine is my favorite snack., for a review of each wine.
You will notice that the price-point for almost all of the Amplify Wines is $25- and under. This is on purpose. Marlen emphasized their commitment to keeping their wines affordable. They want the wines to be attainable to a wide swath of winelovers. Most germane, they want the wines to be shared and consumed. These wines are made in a natural process so they taste great now. They could be aged, but there is no need to deny yourself the joy of uncorking that flor aged rosé, “Four on the Flor”, an homage to house music, half aged under flor yeast. Yep, flor, as in the same way sherry is aged. So lively. We kicked back a bottle listening to our most-loved podcast and noshed on cheese and the like. It was perfect. Or you can do what we did and just buy 2 of everything: 1 bottle for now and 1 bottle for later. For me, supporting winemakers like Marlen and Cameron feels really good. What they are doing is most congruent with my values and best of all, their wines are DELISH.