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The History of Hanzell

When it comes to heritage, Hanzell Vineyards and Winery carries some of the deepest in California. It’s chardonnay and pinot noir serve as a hallmark of excellence in the United States,  its vineyards among the finest.

The winery proves historically important too for its history of innovation.

Ambassador James Zellerbach worked with viticulturist, Ivan Schoch, to establish Hanzell, purchasing the property in 1948 with the goal of planting vineyards that could grow wine among the best in the world. At the time, pinot noir and chardonnay were rarely planted in California.

Today, vineyards at Hanzell include blocks established in 1953, home to the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay vineyard in North America. The Hanzell clone of each are considered among the important heritage clones of California.

Hiring winemaker-scientist Brad Webb in 1956, Zellerbach’s vision evolved in the winery as well. At Hanzell, Webb would become one of the first in California to use French barrels to age Chardonnay. More remarkably, he also established controlled malolactic fermentation by identifying the bacteria involved, and then went on to invent temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks. Both inventions would change winemaking worldwide.

In 1973, Bob Sessions succeeded Brad Webb in winemaking. Having worked previously with Webb, Sessions work at Hanzell would begin congruent with the style established by the original winemaker. Through his tenure, however, Sessions slowly evolved the iconic Hanzell style.

Today, Michael McNeill serves as winemaker, having taken the helm after a brief tenure by winemaker Michael Terrain. McNeill regards himself as a guardian of the Hanzell style, wishing to maintain its unique signature while continuing to grow its quality.

Earlier this month I met with Michael McNeill curious to better understand how he sees his role as winemaker in a heritage house. We have tasted together previously but this meeting was an opportunity to converse in depth about McNeill’s work as winemaker.

Following is a transcript of our conversation split into two installments — the second will be shared here Thursday. As the original conversation lasted almost three hours, the transcript has been edited for length, and in a few places for clarity.

A Conversation with Michael McNeill, Hanzell Vineyards

Looking out over Hanzell Vineyard with Michael McNeill

looking out over the historic Ambassador’s Vineyard, inside the historic Hanzell Winery with winemaker Michael McNeill, April 2014, photo courtesy Kate McKay

Elaine: Hanzell has had a few winemakers, including one that seems like a distinct style shift from what was established by Bob Sessions, and what you’re doing now. Part of what I find interesting in talking with you is how you describe your role as winemaker. You’ve said you’re job is to remain consistent with the Hanzell style. I’m curious how you worked to identify that style considering the various shifts and changes in winemaking here?

Michael: Well, initially it was a lot of information gathering when I got here in 2008. And unfortunately at that point in 2008, Bob’s dementia was setting in. So what I tried to do was really look back at what was being done in the late 90s, through the 90s, and essentially emulate that. But looking at the wines, tasting the wines, trying to in a way project how we would make those wines today.

I was looking through the records of what had been done, to get a sense of how things were done. I’ve had many conversations with Jose Ramos [Director of Vineyard Operations], Ben Sessions [Bob’s son who also works at Hanzell]; there is some living history here that I have been able to reference. I describe the way I see my role here as being guardian of the style of wine that we’re making here. But, being a winemaker, you always want to push the boundaries of quality. You always want to make it as best you can, or better than it was before. And how do you go about doing that while still respecting the style? It’s a challenge.

So, I view it very much like steering a tanker, with a real eye looking way ahead, making small, careful, thoughtful adjustments, so that you’re not changing things drastically, but you’re doing small-scale experiments to see how those changes might work, and carefully evaluating them over time.

Looking at Bob’s career here, 30+ years as a winemaker, if you look at where he started and where he finished, there were some pretty radical adjustments. We went from no barrel fermentation to 25 percent barrel fermentation. That’s a jump, but it took 20 years to get there. I see my role as kind of the same. We have planted new vineyards. We’re integrating those new vineyards into what we’re doing here. The Hanzell Sebella Chardonnay has been something for me to sort of – if I need to have my own ego stroke or my own project – Sebella has been very much something that I’ve brought here. But I strongly feel that Hanzell is really about this place and about the style that we’ve developed over many, many years.

Elaine: In some ways, it’s easy to guess the answer to this, but just to make sure I understand where you’re coming from: What about that period in the 90s makes you choose that as a concentration of focus?

Michael: One, those wines were spectacular, and have certainly shown their ageability; they have stood the test of time. And I really feel that those wines really showed what Bob was doing at his best. There was a real clarity, a real transparency to the wine that really is uncommon.

Elaine: That makes sense.

Michael: One of the nice things about being the Winemaker here at Hanzell is that it’s already here. It’s already established. It already has a style so I don’t have to wave my hands to get attention. So many young winemakers have to make a real bold statement to get attention now just because of how the wine industry is. I learned to make chardonnay and fell in love with pinot noir when I was at Chalone Vineyard back in the early 90s, so I think that I was uniquely qualified to come to Hanzell.

I spent six years at Chalone. It was a very, very special place to me personally. And back then, when we talked about age-worthy Burgundian-style chardonnay and pinot noir in California. It was Chalone, Calera, Mount Eden, and Hanzell. Chalone is no longer what it once was; and I really felt that — it really saddened me deeply. I don’t want to see that happen again. I don’t want to see it happen here.

Chalone was my winemaking finishing school. That’s where I really feel I was developed as a winemaker. At Chalone there was an established house style, so the challenge was making the wine better, but still, respecting the style of the house has been something that I’ve been brought up with.

I’ve done the opposite as well – after leaving Chalone, making wines in Oregon, up and down the state of California, having to make impact wines. But coming here felt very natural. I really and truly felt like the prodigal son coming home. Hanzell is a perfect place for me, and I hate to say I’m perfect for it, but I think I bring a unique set of sensibilities that most others wouldn’t. I certainly think that there are probably better winemakers out there. But I think to be successful here requires you to subvert your own ego, and really be able to take the back seat.

The historic Hanzell winery with Michael McNeill

standing in the historic Hanzell winery next to the original temperature control tanks, with Michael McNeill, April 2014

Elaine: I’m curious where you find satisfaction in this work.

Michael: Every time somebody tastes one of these wines, or makes the comment like, “Gosh, I really don’t like chardonnay, but I really like this wine,” it gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. It was funny – every year we do library tastings with the entire staff, prior to offering a selection of library wines to our Ambassador’s Circle collectors. We – Lynda Hanson [Associate Winemaker] and I, started at the same time, we had one of our wines in the Library offering. We just looked at each other and said, “We’ve arrived.” We’ve been here long enough where we have a library wine now. That was very, very rewarding.

[At an event] last night, I took a magnum of ’98 chardonnay. I had a lot of people coming up to me, “This is the wine of the night.” And even though obviously, it was Bob’s wine, I’m still proud of its place. I’m proud of the style, it’s something that I really believe in. You know, that’s really satisfying. When people say, “Oh. Hanzell, this is fantastic,” … for me, just being associated with the property and the legacy here is very satisfying.

And the other thing is when I started, and we still do, we have tasting panels. The first few tasting panels, included myself and Lynda,  Jean Arnold, and Bob — who would still taste with us then because he had a lot of clarity — but also Kim Giles who was Bob’s predecessor. Kim Giles still sits in on tasting panels. And Michael Terrien sat in on them as well. In that I had access to the experience of Hanzell from 1967 until that day. So we were tasting through various blends and such, as Ben Sessions likes to say, there was a lot of constructive disagreement. But at the end of it, they all said, “McNeill, good luck with that.”

It’s great because I get a lot of input from people who have been so closely associated with the wines and the making of the wines on the property to bounce ideas off of. That’s the kind of thing I think is rare today, to have that kind of depth of history that’s still a part of the current day. Does that make sense?

Elaine: Yeah. That definitely makes sense. It seems like even those relationships, and bringing all of that to fruition would be rewarding; being the one that continues the legacy that means something to you. What made you want to shift back to a more heritage approach for your career after that period in Oregon and other parts of California?

Michael: Well, I guess I went from Chalone up to Oregon, and that was in 1996 and 1997, beginning of 1998. But I was there for the ’96 and ’97 vintages. The winter of ’96-’97 was a record year up there for rain. And the way the winery was set up, I walked in, in August, and I was handed a stack of two-dozen contracts, and told, “Go make wine.” And so I was driving from vineyards all the way from Eola Hills in Willamette Valley all the way down to Ashland in the Southern part of the state. I put 7000 miles on my truck in six weeks.

Then I went from making wine there to Savannah-Chanelle in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There I was doing similar things. I was making wine from vineyards from the Russian River all the way down to the Arroyo Grande Valley. There’s something kind of fun about seeing all these different vineyards and working with all this different fruit. But then I got the job at Keller Estate in 2003, and I really enjoyed working with the vineyard, and I got much more involved with grape growing. I guess my career started in the lab, my degree is in chemistry, so that’s a natural thing. It started there and went to general winemaking, and then I kept going farther out into the vineyard. That’s been great for me, because it’s been a constant learning experience because I hadn’t been in agriculture or a farmer before.

Tasting Hanzell

Elaine: So then you went from Keller to here?

Michael: Um-hm.

Elaine: Yeah. Was it just too exciting an opportunity not to come here? How did that happen?

Michael: It’s a great story, actually. I had been at Keller for five years. It was interesting. Jean Arnold was president here at Hanzell, and I had actually interviewed with Jean twice before. Once at Chalk Hill; when Dave Ramey left Chalk Hill, I interviewed there for the job. That’s when I first met Jean. I didn’t get the job. And then in ’98, I had just come back from Oregon and I started at Savannah-Chanelle, and I got a call from the same headhunter, and it was for the job at Williams Seylem. And Jean was then the president, and I didn’t get the job.

But Jean really made an impression on me, and I made it a point to maintain a relationship with her. Every time I saw her at a tasting, I made a point to go say hi. And if I hadn’t seen her for a long time, I would just call her up out of the blue just to say hi. But I’d never actually come here. I would just say, “Hey, Jean, how are you? How are things?”

So in April of 2008, it was a Thursday, I had an epiphany that I had pushed the rock as far as I could up the hill at Keller, and I was like, “God, what am I going to do? All I’ve done is chardonnay and pinot noir. Where would I go? What kind of winery would want me?” And I said, “Well, it doesn’t matter. This weekend, I’m going to clear my calendar and spiff up my résumé and get ready to look for a new job.” And when I came back from lunch on Friday, there was a message on my voicemail: “Hey McNeill, it’s Jean Arnold. How are you? Hey, we’re looking for a new winemaker. Maybe you know of someone. Give me a call.”

Elaine: Oh wow.

Michael: So yeah.

Elaine: That’s remarkable timing.

Michael: I still get goose bumps telling that story because it was one of those perfect storms. I just thought, “My god, that’s the place I need to be. I’m perfect for this job. It’s the perfect place for me. I have to get this.”

Elaine: That’s cool. So then you started in 2008?

Michael: Yes, I started July 1.

***

The remainder of the conversation with Michael McNeill will post Thursday. In it we discuss McNeill’s views of whole cluster fermentation in pinot noir, the idea of starting your own wine label, and what it means to capture site expression as a winemaker.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Portraits of Bardolino

Angelo Peretti serves as the Director of the Bardolino DOC, helping to hone the region’s vision of quality for the future.

Prior to stepping into the Director position seven years ago, Peretti had also already established two successful side-by-side careers in banking, and journalism. He continues in both today, with much of his writing now appearing through his Italian language website, The Internet Gourmet. He has also published numerous books on Italian wine, traveling through Northern Italy, and the history of Lake Garda.

Peretti’s original training was in art. Many of my favorite wine labels from wines of Lake Garda turned out to be designed by Peretti.

While his passion for the Lake Garda region means he has spent his life there, Peretti’s work in banking has brought him throughout Italy and Europe. Peretti’s deep knowledge of the region with his broader expectations for success have given him unique vision for Bardolino’s future.

As Cathy Huyghe explained in her Forbes.com article on Chiaretto, Peretti’s work with the consortium tripled sales of the rosé in just one year. By expanding the consortium’s success with rosé, Peretti has also helped open the way to greater quality for its red wines. Vineyard sites best suited to rosé production are often less appropriate for reds. In poor vintages, the region’s red grapes struggle with mildew, or to achieve ripeness. By establishing the region’s Chiaretto as a serious rosé, vintners can actually increase the seriousness of its reds as well.

Angelo Peretti guided Cathy Huyghe and I through the extended Lake Garda region for several days before this years Bardolino and Chiaretto Anteprima. On the final days before the Anteprima, writers Bill Zacharkiw, and Paul Balke also joined us. Spending a week traveling with Peretti revealed a unique combination of honesty, playfulness, and creative vision.

Contessa Rizzardi shared an insightful comment in discussing Peretti’s role as Director – she helped convince him to take the position. As she explains, “He is very nice because he says to people how things are.”

Following is a portion of Angelo Peretti’s story that he shared with us. He spoke to us in English.

Angelo Peretti, the Internet Gourmet

Angelo Peretti

Angelo Peretti, March 2015

At the end of the 19th century, Bardolino was considered one of the best wines in the world, not a concentrated wine, not a tannic wine. It was a light wine.

I want to return to that. We must reduce the amount of red wine, and increase Chiaretto, to better use the grapes by vintage. In a good vintage, we make red wine. In a harder vintage, we make more Chiaretto.

I want Bardolino to make drinkable wine that ages 6 years, and is very enjoyable but not silly. We have the same grapes as Valpolicella. Corvina is the most important. But we cannot make a copy of Valpolicella. When Bardolino was made to copy Valpolicella, the reds were horrible. We have very different soils, a very different climate.

So, I thought, we needed to go back to our roots, to make reds lighter in color, and alcohol, and taste. So, we decided to start with the rosés. What better to make lighter in color than rosé? Then we turn to the reds.

There is no other wine in Italy like Chiaretto. Chiaretto means, clear. Chiaretto represents our territory, and represents our lake.

We also make some sparkling Chiaretto. There are not many red grapes that can take frizzante, but Chiaretto can. It has the lightness, and higher acidity, and low tannin. The grapes can bear it, sparkling, and can be, I will not say unique, but very close to unique. [smiling]

Angelo Peretti

In our moranic hills, if the yields are too low, the vineyards suffer. If you have constant soils, you can decide how to industrialize your soil. We cannot, because in a hectare of soil, we can have four to seven types of soil. So, we cannot think in a specific way. [We must farm for the variation the land gives us.]

We want to go back to our roots.

Giovanni Battista Perez wrote that there are three different Bardolinos, one around the village of Bardolino, one for the inner hills near Monte Baldo, and one in the southern moranic hills. The goal is to go back to a study of the territory, and how each of the three areas are best expressed.

We are working towards going back to a crus model but it will take some time because it is not just an economic question. It is a mentality question. We must also change how we think about wine.

This is my goal. It is a challenge, but it is my country.

***

To read the other four portraits of Bardolino:

1. Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardonihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/23/portraits-of-bardolino-1-gianni-piccoli-corte-gardoni/

2. Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghehttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/27/portraits-of-bardolino-2-matilde-poggi-le-fraghe/

3. Carlo Nerozzi of Le Vigne di San Pietrohttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/30/portraits-of-bardolino-3-carlo-nerozzi-le-vigne-di-san-pietro/

4. Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi of Guerrieri Rizzardihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/04/portraits-of-bardolino-4-contessa-maria-cristina-loredan-rizzardi-guerrieri-rizzardi/

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Portraits of Bardolino

In Bardolino, some of the finest wines come from Guerrieri Rizzardi. Their quality is celebrated.

In the 1960s, Guerrieri Rizzardi owners, Count Antonio and Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi, founded the Bardolino Consortium, making it one of the first in Italy.

In 2010, Contessa Rizzardi received the prestigious Cavaliere del Lavoro award, recognized by the country of Italy with the highest honor given in agriculture for her contributions to Italian wine. She is the first woman to win the award.

In the late 1990s, the Rizzardi sons, Giuseppe and Agostino, became part of the Guerrieri Rizzardi business with Giuseppe serving as winemaker, and Agostino as general manager.

Contessa Rizzardi rarely meets with journalists. However, Angelo Perreti requested she make time for four of us. As a result, Paul Balke, Cathy Huyghe, Bill Zacharkiw, and myself were able to spend an afternoon with her.

Following is part of the story she shared. She spoke to us in English.

Contessa Maria Cristina Loredan Rizzardi, Guerrieri Rizzardi

Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi

 

Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi, March 2015

My husband was the founder of the Bardolino Consortium, in 1968. It was one of the first appellations and consortiums in Italy, for both olive oil and wine.

We wanted to specify what was Bardolino wine, how it was produced, and to defend it from confusion. It was the beginning of explaining Bardolino to the world.

There was a lot of fake Bardolino before then, red wine made elsewhere and made falsely. The fakes were being made because Bardolino was good. Otherwise, they would not have bothered. There are now 100 wineries that label as Bardolino. Before 1968, Bardolino was a generic term, and quality had already begun to reduce.

In the 1950s, Valpolicella was a younger wine region, and was not making as much wine as Bardolino.

Valpolicella started expanding in the 1980s. By chance they came up with passito. At first they made it frizzante, then they left it in barrels and discovered wonderful wine.

These last 10 years have made a difference for Bardolino. People understand the land, that you have to treat it well if you want to make good wine from it. It becomes very special.

Bardolino was named best place to live in all of Italy by the top financial paper in Italy, the “Happiest Place to Live in Italy.”

Winemaking and wine growing are becoming fashionable now. The culture needs very much patience and time. It is difficult. If you get land, and then in one night it is all gone, it is very difficult. But, [the young winemakers do not always know.] It is a fashion job now. I think this is partially because there is a desire to return to, or stay in the country life rather than the cities.

Guerrieri Rizzardi 2012 Munus

Bardolino is a blend. I cannot understand which one is this grape, or which is that grape. You have a perfect marriage of grapes when one grape is not prevailing over another. The perfect Bardolino, it should be light, and that perfect marriage. But I drink with passion, and without brains. [smiling]

The Munus is my favorite from the winery. It has a story. I had an Aunt. She was an old lady but she was so passionate about wine. The way she made it was difficult. She added sugar to it, and everything, but you know, she was an old lady. [smiling]

I decided to make a wine dedicated to her. Munus means, gift. So, I made it, and gave it to her for her 99th birthday, and on her 100th birthday she died.

It is wine that is half between the richness of Amarone, and the freshness of Bardolino. I think it is a very good wine.

We begin getting ready to leave.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I am very happy. I am quite happy to know you, and see how happy, and interested you are. Because to be happy, you must know what you are doing, and know yourself.

Cathy Huyghe asks the Contessa a question, “Is there anything you want this group of journalists to know?”

I don’t know you well enough.

We laugh. Cathy goes on to ask, “what would you want others to know about this region, Bardolino?”

You should know the balance that our territory and our wines can have. Our life – not too much of wine, not too much of sun, not too much of rain. It is for this reason that Bardolino has been nominated as the most happy region.

Cathy asks if the Contessa thinks there is anything missing from Bardolino.

I think the buses are really significant of the soul of a village. It tells you, is it organized? I think it is one of the things we are missing.

***

To read all five portraits of Bardolino:

1. Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardonihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/23/portraits-of-bardolino-1-gianni-piccoli-corte-gardoni/

2. Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghehttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/27/portraits-of-bardolino-2-matilde-poggi-le-fraghe/

3. Carlo Nerozzi of Le Vigne di San Pietrohttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/30/portraits-of-bardolino-3-carlo-nerozzi-le-vigne-di-san-pietro/

4. Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi of Guerrieri Rizzardihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/04/portraits-of-bardolino-4-contessa-maria-cristina-loredan-rizzardi-guerrieri-rizzardi/

5. Angelo Peretti, Director of the Bardolino DOC, and The Internet Gourmethttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/07/portraits-of-bardolino-5-angelo-perreti-the-internet-gourmet/

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Portraits of Bardolino

At the end of the 1970s, Sergio and Franca Nerozzi decided to move their family from the city to the countryside between Lake Garda and Verona. In 1980, they moved into the home on the moranic hill of San Pietro that would become Le Vigne di San Pietro.

Though the family originally had no intention of making wine – both father Sergio, and son Carlo were architects – the property included an old field blend vineyard. Carlo would begin making wine.

Over time, the family would replant the vineyards. Today they produce classic wines of Bardolino – Custova, Chiaretto, and Bardolino – as well as a Cabernet-Merlot blend called Refola that is made by partially drying the Cabernet, and keeping the Merlot grapes fresh.

Following is a portion of the story that Carlo Nerozzi shared with us on our visit. He now owns Le Vigne di San Pietro. He spoke to us in English.

Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro

Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro

Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro, March 2015

We are on a moranic hill. There is a mix of stones, clay, sand, everything. Some stones from the Dolomites are in the ground here. They are all well draining soils. The area used to be a field blend, white and red.

We use no herbicide. We use cover crop – oat, peas – to feed nutrients to the soil. Our vines are all hand tend, and harvest.

If you think I am a producer, you are wrong because I am an architect. Making wine, it is a little different, but they say the wine is not bad. [smiling]

I don’t like to buy, only grow, so I make wine with only my grapes.

I am not a wine producer, as I told you. But it is not a joke. I am making wine. I come from another skill [architecture] but I have been doing it [making wine] for 35 years.

The style of San Pietro, from the beginning, is to be elegant, to age quite a long time, and with a good relation with the food. So, I am not looking for muscles, or sweet wine.

I prefer wine that can express itself slowly and deeply. I don’t know if I can do it but it is what I try to do for all the wines.

We ask him what type of architecture he used to do. 

My architecture was to restore old buildings, and also I started a group with the young people to do this skill.

Carlo has served as a mentor to many young people interested in architecture, and working in architecture, to help retain the skills of restoration in the extended community. 

Le Vigne di San Pietro Refola

He pours us his Chiaretto.

Of course Chiaretto is the most delicate wine, but we make it to have this mineral salty character. I think it is good to pair wine with food.

We begin tasting the Bardolino. 

With age, Corvina deepens in tone. It takes on treble notes, while keeping its light frame, and freshness.

He pours us the Refola. We ask him to discuss the wine. He decides to also pour us an early vintage, so we can better understand the wine, then he responds. 

It is special. When you dry the grapes, you need perfect grapes. We do not make it every year.

We begin tasting the wines with food. Carlo brings out a bottle of olive oil, and a bottle of vinegar for the salads. Then he explains that he made the vinegar. 

Some years ago, I made Pinot Noir. I don’t anymore. The last year, it was so good, I put all of it into vinegar. Good vinegar was better than bad vinegar was my idea.

The Pinot Noir vinegar is delicious. We all comment on it. 

We are enjoying the food, and spend time discussing where the ingredients are from, and how the food was made.

Wine writer, Paul Balke, comments, “In Italy, the most important cooking school is at home.” 

***

To read all five portraits of Bardolino:

1. Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardonihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/23/portraits-of-bardolino-1-gianni-piccoli-corte-gardoni/

2. Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghehttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/27/portraits-of-bardolino-2-matilde-poggi-le-fraghe/

3. Carlo Nerozzi of Le Vigne di San Pietrohttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/30/portraits-of-bardolino-3-carlo-nerozzi-le-vigne-di-san-pietro/

4. Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi of Guerrieri Rizzardihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/04/portraits-of-bardolino-4-contessa-maria-cristina-loredan-rizzardi-guerrieri-rizzardi/

5. Angelo Peretti, Director of the Bardolino DOC, and The Internet Gourmethttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/07/portraits-of-bardolino-5-angelo-perreti-the-internet-gourmet/

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

0

Portraits of Bardolino

Matilde Poggi, owner-winemaker of Le Fraghe in Bardolino, was elected head of the Federazione Italiana Vignaioli Indipendenti ((FIVI) Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers) in 2013.

The group was formed in 2008 to help secure agricultural legislation sustainable for independent grape growers. FIVI is supported by the larger group, Confédération Européenne des Vignerons Indépendants ((CEVI) European Confederation of Independent Winegrowers).

CIVI and its national subsidiaries are unique in Europe, specifically working for independent wine growers, rather than agriculture in general. FIVI includes 900 members from throughout Italy. France’s branch of CIVI includes 6000 members. CIVI as a whole includes 13,000 members.

As president of FIVI, Matilde Poggi has worked to build consortiums across Italy, and with leaders from countries throughout Europe in order to successfully lobby the European Lobby in Brussels for the sake of viticultural policy. Such lobbying has successfully shifted planting policies that better support long term wine quality, as well as economic health.

Poggi’s influence in this way cannot be underestimated. At the same time, she has built Le Fraghe into one of the most regarded wineries of Bardolino.

Following is part of the story she shared with us on our visit. She spoke with us in English.

Matilde Poggi, Le FragheMatilde Poggi, Le Fraghe

We asked Matilde to share an example of some of the issues CIVI-FIVI have focused on changing. 

We have worked on plantation rights. In Europe, you cannot plant where ever and when ever you want. There are planting rights established for vines. They can be used, or transferred, or bought, or sold, but they cannot be created.

A man in the Netherlands wanted to remove the rights program. We lobbied to keep controls. We want some controls to make sure to keep balance on not over planting.

In Italy, if you do not want to replant, you can sell to someone else that wants to. In France, you can plant, or replant, but you cannot sell the right. If you do not replant, you will lose it forever.

Some appellations do not allow any new plantings. In Valpolicella, the book is closed, in Brunello di Montelcino, in Barolo. In some parts of those areas, though, you can plant to other varieties, other types, but not to those that are closed.

Before, you could have Southern Italy rights and use them to plant in Northern Italy. Some areas could get over-planted by people from outside that region. Now there is some regional movement allowed, but it is controlled.

In January 2016, there will be a new plantation system.

We are lobbying for private sales on wine. In Italy, we cannot sell directly to private consumers and deliver it, as you can in the United States. We can sell it at the winery.

Because of tax differences, if you deliver it you need to pay a tax representative, which is very expensive. These are the tax laws. We are lobbying to make sure we can sell directly.

We begin tasting Matilde’s Bardolino. She opens the current release, 2013, and then shows us the 2008 and 2009, to illustrate how the wines age. Bardolino generally ages around 5 years. While the 2009 still carries some freshness, the 2008 is still drinkable but has passed its peak. 

Le Fraghe 2008 + 2009 Bardolino
Le Fraghe 2008 + 2009 Bardolino

The soils are very different here versus in Valpolicella. We have some of the same grape types, but soil differences.

Bardolino is 140 meters higher than Lake Garda. There are moranic soils. There it is stone soils. The elevation is 200-250 meters.

Matilde Poggi, Le Fraghe

We ask Matilde to discuss her winemaking history. 

2014 was not a happy harvest, not a happy vintage. It was very rainy all summer, very cold and very rainy. It was nice in September but too late to make ripe tannins. I do not think 2014 was very good for the reds. It was better for rosé and whites.

The next day we would visit the Bardolino Anteprima and have a comprehensive tasting of all the 2014 Chiaretto (rosé) made from the region. Many producers recognizing early the struggle of the 2014 for red wines chose to increase their rosé production and choose to make Bardolino from only the best blocks. The best of the 2014 Chiarettos show wonderful freshness, and concentration of flavor in a crisp, mouthwatering style. 

2014 was my 30th harvest. I started in 1994. It was not a good harvest. Neither was this one.

We ask her what she has seen change in the market for Bardolino.

We sell 60% of our wine abroad, to the United States, Scandinavia, Germany. It used to be the US was not very interested in Bardolino.

The US sales have been increasing because people are looking more and more for wine of this type — very fresh, with fruit, and easy to drink, with not much oak, not much alcohol.

The US market opened up in 2000. Now the US is more interested in organic wines.

She pours us the 2014 Le Fraghe Bardolino. 

Le Fraghe Bardolino

Le Fraghe 2014 + 2013 Bardolino

This wine, I think, shows my 30 years. Every year, I try to change something.

30 years, you could think is a long time, but it is not a long time in wine. We make wine only once a year. Wine, I think, goes very slow.

In these 30 years, I change first the training systems. Then, I start changing varieties.

In 2014, I had wanted to do some skin contact for a short time just one day but I could not because of the grape quality. So, I have to wait a year. I think wine, it is slow.

Matilde Poggi, Le Fraghe

We left Le Fraghe as the sun was close to setting. As I was taking this picture one of our friends moved at the last moment and cast a shadow. The shadow is unfortunate, but still I love the purity of her smile here. That purity captures her countenance, and the expression of her wines. 

I comment on the freshness and mineral tension of the wines, and we ask her to talk about her winemaking.

The freshness and mineral tension is distinctive of the soil, and climate of Bardolino. I prefer to use more corvina. The other grape types do not ripen as well.

We use indigenous yeast from our own vineyards, but not spontaneous. We make a small batch of fermentation from the site, then when we harvest, we inoculate with that.

We use very cold, very slow fermentation. With selected [commercial] yeast, it is very difficult to make temperatures not so high. With indigenous yeast it is much easier. To keep slow, and cold fermentation you have more complexity. There are fresher flavors with cooler temperatures.

We ask her to discuss her viticultural methods. 

Being organic – we just use sulphur and copper, and these do not affect your aromatics. With chemicals in the vineyard, grapes do not grow so well, and it affects the taste.

Now we are organic in winemaking and the vineyard. Only half the sulfites are allowed in organic winemaking as for conventional wines.

We have been organic in the cellar since 2012, and in the vineyard since 2009. Organic in the cellar is a new certification in the European Union since 2012. It is the first time the European Union is talking about vino biologica, organic in the cellar.

Le Fraghe was one of the first vineyards to become part of FIVI in 2008. I think it is a good thing. The group is just for winegrowers [so it understands what winegrowers need].

So, when they asked if I wanted to join the board, I said yes. Now I am president. It is for 3 years, until 2016.

***

To read all five portraits of Bardolino:

1. Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardonihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/23/portraits-of-bardolino-1-gianni-piccoli-corte-gardoni/

2. Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghehttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/27/portraits-of-bardolino-2-matilde-poggi-le-fraghe/

3. Carlo Nerozzi of Le Vigne di San Pietrohttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/30/portraits-of-bardolino-3-carlo-nerozzi-le-vigne-di-san-pietro/

4. Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi of Guerrieri Rizzardihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/04/portraits-of-bardolino-4-contessa-maria-cristina-loredan-rizzardi-guerrieri-rizzardi/

5. Angelo Peretti, Director of the Bardolino DOC, and The Internet Gourmethttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/07/portraits-of-bardolino-5-angelo-perreti-the-internet-gourmet/

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Portraits of Bardolino

The depth of a wine region inevitably hangs on its people. Traveling, then, I am listening as much to those we meet as I am tasting the wine.

March took me to the Lake Garda region of the Veneto to get to know Bardolino.

Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardoni stands as a highly respected vintner in the Bardolino region. His work has focused on fighting homogenization of flavor and quality in the region’s wine.

While his grapes were sold for a few years to a local cooperative, Gianni was never satisfied with the wine they produced.

Additionally, cooperatives tended to push for the planting of international grape types. Until the end of the 1970s, vintners were legally forbidden from growing and selling Italian varieties. The push for international grape types was seen as a necessary economic strategy by the government.

Gianni was determined to retain the already established indigenous varieties. So, to keep his vines from disappearing into a morass of uninteresting wine, he began making wine himself in 1980.

Following is part of the story he shared with us on our visit. It has been translated from the Italian.

Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni

Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni

Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni, March 2015

We are in the Southern most portion of the Bardolino DOC. It is less rocky. We have moranic soils.

The [white wine] Custova is a blend. It can have Trebbiano, Garganega, Tocai, Cortese, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling. I was on the wine counsel. Trebbiano is not a very interesting grape, so I worked to reduce the portion. Now it can have more of the others.

Then, I found Tocai [Friulano] in the vineyard. It was in the garden. I had a discussion with a professor of the Wine Institute, and they said it is not Tocai. They have not found the DNA yet. We do not know what it is. It still grows in the garden.

I was the first one to do the sustainable system of farming in this region. It is almost organic. It is almost organic because we tend to do everything organic, but just in extreme cases, if it is needed, we might use low impact non-organic methods.

My wines have a tendency to improve with age. The minerality of all these wines is due to the moranic soils, and specifically in this location, and possibly also the methods of vinification.

The wines are all consistently around 12% alcohol. We work very hard for that.

With Bardolino, people talk about only up to 5 years of aging. That is because people used to focus too much on quantity and not on quality.

Gianni and Mattia Piccoli, Corte Gardoni

Gianni and Mattia Piccoli, Corte Gardoni, March 2015

Mattia, Gianni’s son, begins to add to the story.

My father started the winery in the 1980s, and he thought if he did not have a Cabernet, Merlot blend he would not survive. It was impossible.

My father started with 3000 bottles [of the Cabernet, Merlot blend], and now we produce 3000 bottles. Just like that – even. [He moves his hand in a flat motion through the air, then holds up 1 finger.] Just 1 hectare. The rest is local wines.

We grow 25 hectares total. 200,000 bottles.

Gianni returns to telling us his story. 

My parents and grandparents, my ancestors, were here and for them the fruit was the most important, not the wine. It went to the cooperative. I started the winery. The first year was 1980.

They had potatoes, corn for the livestock, and some vines. Even 50 years ago, it was like this. Sometimes they would have to postpone harvest of the grapes because they had to take in the corn for the livestock.

Many years ago, another winery, asked me if they could sell some of my Chiaretto. Their winery was well-known. I was not well-known. They did not have any rosé. So, I made it, and they sold it as theirs, but I also sold it as mine.

A famous enologist came and tasted my Chiaretto, and he said, I think there is a flaw in this Chiaretto but I cannot tell you what it is. 

So, I brought him to the other winery. They were embarrassed because they knew it was the same. I said, I think this man would like to taste your Chiaretto.

[laughing]

The enologist, he tasted it, and he said, ah! this is a good Chiaretto! but it was the same.

I did not tell him.

***

To read all five portraits of Bardolino:

1. Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardonihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/23/portraits-of-bardolino-1-gianni-piccoli-corte-gardoni/

2. Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghehttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/27/portraits-of-bardolino-2-matilde-poggi-le-fraghe/

3. Carlo Nerozzi of Le Vigne di San Pietrohttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/30/portraits-of-bardolino-3-carlo-nerozzi-le-vigne-di-san-pietro/

4. Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi of Guerrieri Rizzardihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/04/portraits-of-bardolino-4-contessa-maria-cristina-loredan-rizzardi-guerrieri-rizzardi/

5. Angelo Peretti, Director of the Bardolino DOC, and The Internet Gourmethttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/07/portraits-of-bardolino-5-angelo-perreti-the-internet-gourmet/

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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The Wines of Ca Lojera

In March, Cathy Huyghe and I were lucky enough to enjoy dinner with Ambra and Franco Tiraboschi of Ca Lojera who produce beautiful wines from Lugana using only estate grown grapes.

The Lugana DOC sits directly south of Lake Garda straddling the Veneto and Lombardy regions of Italy. It is a small DOC that grows a little over 1000 hectares of vines.

Lugana white wines must be at least 90% Trebbiana di Lugana, also called Turbiana locally. This is the Verdicchio grape grown in Lugana’s chalky soils. It should be noted that Trebbiana, also known as Ugni Blanc, is a different grape variety. (The original post left that ambiguous. It has been clarified below.) Each of the Ca Lojera whites are 100% Turbiana.

Dinner at Ca Lojeradinner at Ca Lojera from left: Angelo Perreti, Fillipo Fillipi, Franco Tiraboschi, me, Ambra Tiraboschi, Paola Giagulli, photo taken by Cathy Huyghe, March 2015

Aged Ca Lojera wines are wonderful – full of life, freshness and viscosity both, with a mineral drive that ages towards infinity. The young wines masquerade as simply approachable. They can trick your palate into thinking the wine is merely quaffable, but there is subtlety to them worth investigating, that also fleshes into a special wine with age.

Even more, the people. It’s dinners like this that make everything else worthwhile. Angelo Peretti, the Internet Gourmet, kindly arranged the dinner for us. Fillipo Fillipi of Fillipi winery, and Paola Giagulli also joined us. A perfect group.

Following is a glimpse of the Ca Lojera story as told to us by Ambra and Angelo, who also served as our translators for the others, with snapshots from the evening.

Franco Tiraboschi, Ca Lojera

Franco Tiraboschi, March 2015

Ambra: Franco sold real estate. I was a hotel keeper there in Verona. We didn’t know anything about wine. in 1992 we bought the property to resell. The grapes were ripe but they sold for too little so Franco decided to make wine. Then he fell in love with wine.

Angelo: So they had no need to make wine. They could do what they wanted. It was a second career with much luck.

We begin dinner with a 2008 Turbiana Spumante.

Ambra: The 2008 Turbiana had too much acid so Franco made sparkling with it. He made all of it sparkling. Franco is incapable of doing anything small. Only a small wife. Nothing else. [laughing]

The sparkling wine does not say Lugana on the label. Cathy and I ask about it. There is laughing all around as they answer. 

Ambra: Franco does not like regulations. Bureaucracy he does not like. He must make things when he wants to.

Angelo: The spumante is not registered Lugana. Franco forgot to do the paperwork.

sitting with Franco Tiraboschi

sitting beside Franco Tiraboschi, photo by Cathy Huyghe

We begin to discuss what wines we will open.

Angelo: They are the only producer in Lugana that can offer a lot of vintages of Lugana because they did not sell it. They did not realize how to sell it at first.

Ambra: We needed a lot of time to realize how to sell.

Angelo: So now they have a lot of old vintages and people come here to buy because white Lugana ages in a wonderful way.

Ambra: 1992 our first commercial vintage. 1999 the oldest we sell now.

The food begins to be served. We begin with mixed salumi and vegetables. One of my favorite moments with Angelo happens as a result. The simple passion of it gives window to his character. With it I also learn something about cured meats that makes sense as soon as he says it but I wouldn’t have realized. 

Angelo: It is very important to have salumi by hands. You can feel how sweet it is by your hands. The smoother it is, the sweeter it is. You must try it with two slices. One with your hands. One with a knife. And they will taste different.

I follow Angelo’s advice. The creamy salt of the salumi goes perfectly with the fresh chalkiness of the sparkling wine. We return to discussing Ca Lojera history. 

Ambra: I worked in the fields with Franco for 17 years. Then it was necessary for someone to sell the wines. So, we decided he would stay here in the winery, and I travel to sell the wine. I do not like it but it is necessary. Usually once a month, I go somewhere.

Ca Lojera wines

We open several vintages of Ca Lojera. A 2002 Superiore, a 2003 Riserva del Lupo, alongside a 2011 Superiore, and a 2011 Riserva del Lupo. 

Angelo: Old Lugana are very mineral. They have a smell of petrol. They are lighter in structure. Young Lugana are more fruity. In my opinion, the 2003 is the best Lugana ever produced but I do not say I love the wine. It is not love that I have for the wine because love can end.

I taste the 2003. It is wonderful. Emotionally overwhelming with beautiful balance of fresh fruit and petrol, a persistent spice. Notes that are almost waxy with mixed yellow fruit, star fruit and a fresh lake breeze finish. There is a hint of sweetness but only a hint. This is a wine that has a lot to say. I agree with Angelo that it is beautiful.

Angelo: The 2003 describes this land, this territory in a better way. In the 2003 Lupo, I identify Lugana. It was a horrible vintage. A hot vintage. But It tastes Lugana. In the worst vintages, Crus emerge.

Franco nods and explains the 2002 of the older wines is his favorite but he really likes the younger wines. He likes the freshness and the fruit. He believes the 2011 Riserva del Lupo is a special wine that will have a lot to say. I comment that the wines are full of life. Angelo agrees.

Angelo: I love humanity behind wines. I taste that here.

Cathy asks Franco how his winemaking has developed since he started. 

Angelo translating for Franco: My way of making wine has not changed. Something has changed and it is in the vines. There are better practices taking care of the vines.

Angelo: He changes. He has a wider oenological and agricultural culture. Now he knows the temperatures he prefers.

Angelo translating for Franco: Yes, the cooler the better. I like to have very slow fermentation so I decline the temperature. Because the lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation, the better the wine.

Sitting next to Ambra Tiraboschi

sitting beside Ambra Tiraboschi, March 2015, photo by Cathy Huyghe

Ambra agrees. She used to make the wines with Franco and comments on what she learned from 17 years in the vineyard and cellar.

Ambra: We had a consulting winemaker for a while. He said, fermentation is the most difficult part of winemaking. It’s true. If you do not know how to hear the fermentation, if you cannot hear the music of the fermentation, you will never make a personal wine.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Alquimie: Breathing New Life Into Drinks

Alquimie Magazine

Australia’s Alquimie almost immediately became one of my favorite drinks magazines when it launched in 2013. A year later, they were already up for awards celebrating them as among the best magazines of Australia.

The journal goes in depth into the world of wine, spirits, and morning drinks with a regular accent on food (baguettes appear in the current release).

Best of all, the focus remains on quality writing and gorgeous photography. Editor Josh Elias asks his contributors to only write on what they truly love, what fascinates them. It’s easy to deliver quality work under those conditions.

Alquimie ships internationally (which is how I get it), and has free shipping in Australia right now. So, if you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend it.

Here’s the link: https://alquimie.com.au

Alquimie Edition 5 + an article on Dirk Niepoort

Dirk Niepoort Article Preview

preview + cover images courtesy of Alquimie

In September 2014, Dirk Niepoort let me follow him through four days of harvest in the Douro. We took side trips north to Vinho Verde and checked in on his consulting projects as well. The experience was transformative for me. I fell in love with Portugal.

In Alquimie Edition 5, I’ve written and illustrated a small glimpse of the experience looking at the progression of Niepoort’s work as a winemaker, and specifically at his most recent vintages. The article is also illustrated by my interpretations of four of his wines. I’m thrilled to appear in a magazine I admire so much.

Also in Edition 5 are in depth looks at the Rhone Valley, Mexico’s mescal, and aperitifs. The issue starts shipping this coming week.

Interested in purchasing a single issue, or subscribing to Alquimie?

Here’s the link: https://alquimie.com.au/shop/

Check it out!

 

The Essence of Wine: A Book by Alder Yarrow

The Essence of Wine

image courtesy of Alder Yarrow

Alder Yarrow’s book, The Essence of Wine, brings together striking photographs of 46 iconic wine notes — cherry, lime, honey, paraffin, among others — with alluring prose of the same element — photographs of strawberry coupled with writing on the same, for example.

While the series at the core of the book appeared originally on Alder’s highly regarded wine blog, Vinography.com, holding the coffee table book in hand changes the experience for the reader.

Side-by-side the photographic representation of the note with Alder’s writing offer the reader an opportunity to feel the visceral impact of the writing and imagery more directly. That visceral experience is at the heart of the book’s strength. Together, the thought of tasting notes becomes a sensual experience unexpected from mere print.

The Essence of Wine offers the reader a unique opportunity to enliven their experience with wine. Ultimately, it’s a chance to become a better taster. For the connoisseur, reflecting so singularly on one wine element at a time brings greater clarity. For the newer wine lover, understanding.

To read more on, or purchase The Essence of Wine here is the link on Alder’s site: http://www.vinography.com/essence_of_wine.htm

I asked Alder if he’d be willing to meet to discuss ideas implicit in the book more throughly. The transcript from our conversation is below.

Together, we discuss how the book took shape, the role that visual representations — photographs and illustrations — of wine notes have in understanding wine, and the experience at the core of wine appreciation.

Imagery and text blocks from The Essence of Wine appearing below are all courtesy of Alder Yarrow.

Tasting the Visual: A Conversation with Alder Yarrow

Alder Yarrow at Mt Etna Alder Yarrow at Mt Etna, April 2013, image courtesy of Alder Yarrow

Elaine: Can you tell me about how the three of you – the photographer, Leigh Beisch, the food stylist, Sara Slavin, and yourself – worked together for your book, The Essence of Wine?

Alder: I approached Leigh with the idea. I would run across people, as I am sure you do too, that say, I read these tasting notes, and I have never tasted something like, you know, lychee. Is that some kind of metaphor, or do they really mean that they taste lychee in the glass? And I’m like, no, really! there are wines that taste like that! So, that is something that I wanted to help people with.

Early in my wine tasting and appreciation that was something I wanted and needed. I’d see these tasting notes that talked about wines that taste like chocolate but I’d never had a wine that tastes like chocolate, and I wouldn’t have known where to start if I wanted to. So that was the idea. And Leigh was great. She said, I have an art director that I think would be perfect for this. She works with Sara on her more commercial shoots.

Elaine: Yeah, I was looking through her site, and it looked like they work together a bunch.

Alder: Yeah, and Sara was on board with it. So, she said, give us a list. What should we shoot? So I made a list. I wasn’t sure how many of these they were going to be willing to do, so, I started with some core flavors and aromas, and I squished some together. So, rather than do raspberries and pomegranates and strawberries separately, I decided, okay, well, we’ll just do red berries.

E: Right. Or, like, tropical fruits I saw you put together.

A: Yeah. Exactly. And so they would just come up with a vision and one of two things would happen. At first I was in the studio frequently with them just sort of watching them do their thing, and, when they wanted an opinion, offering it. Occasionally, they would ask for clarification. They would say, okay, Alder, you gave us raspberry, pomegranate, cranberries, red currants… is one more important than the other? And I’d say, oh yeah, raspberry is the more important here, focus on that. Then they would shoot, and I would get 3 or 4 candidates from Leigh’s shoot, and I would select the one I wanted. Often there would be only minor variations. With the lemon shot, the variations I got were, like, one drop of lemon juice, or, two drops of lemon juice on the mirror. I can remember the green bell pepper I was like, these all look like the same images? And Sara’s all, oh no! One of them definitely has more water drops than the other!

Green Bell Pepper without water dropletsGreen Bell Pepper with water droplets

two examples of Green Bell Pepper images chosen between for use in The Essence of Wine
(Alder selected the image with water drops)
courtesy of Alder Yarrow and Leigh Beisch

E: That’s so funny. Really specific and subtle.

A: Yeah!

So, most of the time they needed very little direction from me. And I was content, as a beggar that can’t be a chooser, to let them express themselves. And they understood from the beginning that the idea was to create an archetypal image of this fruit, or foodstuff, or flavor that was not clichéd.

E: The thing that struck me about the book is how well the two work together – the language and the imagery.

A: The imagery always came first. They would create the image. They had a long list of flavors and aromas, and I never knew what they would be shooting on a weekly or biweekly basis. It was just a matter of what Sara found at the market or whatever.

E: Right. They did it seasonally, and the writing was inspired by the image?

A: Yeah. Basically, that week the image would be strawberry, and I would ask myself, well, what have I got to say about strawberries? Sometimes I would take cues off the image. A lot of times it was just trying to get myself into a particular mindset. When we say something tastes like strawberry, what does it really taste like without using the word strawberry? Or, what are the associations or connotation that these fruits, and flavors, or foodstuffs have for us? And then, where did they come from? How do we have limes, and where do they come from, and how long have they been around, and do they have meaning beyond their flavors? Then other things were just research. Like, is there cultural significance to mint? and where did that come from? and that sort of thing.

E: I really like that in both the photography and the writing there are a lot of textural elements. The one that comes to mind is blueberry, and cherry too. In both you talk about the feeling of the skin, but then as you pop through that, that creates this flavor. Then, immediately, there is the flavor of the meat, the fruit inside, and that’s a different flavor. There is this real visceral feeling to the writing rather than just flavor notes.

A: That was me really trying to think about actually experiencing one of these fruits. But there is also an analog to that experience in the world of wine. For me, plum is a great one. There is such a distinct difference between the flavor of the skin, and of the fruit for me, and wine somehow manages to capture both. There is that really distinct sour flavor of the skin, and that sort of snap to it as your teeth go through, and, then, the rushes of sugar and sweetness, but also acidity as you get the flesh and the juice in your mouth. That experience, I think that is why fruit appears so many times in tasting notes. The experience of eating fruit like that and the texture, and flavoral journey that you go through just in taking that first bite, wine does the same thing on our palate. You get astringency at a certain point, and you get sweetness at another point, and you get that kick of acidity inside your mouth at another point.

E: Yes, that makes sense. I feel like the more you read the book the better taster you can become. Elin McCoy’s review said it was the perfect gift for a connoisseur or a newbie. I really agree with that. There is such a crisp clarity to each note that I found myself better understanding what it means for me to claim I taste or smell that in a wine. It was this really nice opportunity to really take in the imagery and the writing, but also to more deeply understand what it means to talk about wine in this kind of way.

A: That’s great. I take that as a huge compliment. I think the book for me was a little bit of a journey in trying to tease apart, to puzzle out my own sensory appreciation for wine. Why it’s so magical to me.

It’s not just that this wine tastes like these individual flavors. It is that this wine also evokes cherry. I mean, there is a difference between perception and evocation, and there is a difference between pure sensation and the meaning that that sensation has for us. As you saw, I had a great deal of fun with some of the nostalgic aspects of some of these flavors, like, watermelon. For anyone growing up in the United States watermelon is summer, and the freedom of childhood. It is just unabashed pleasure. For many of us, that is as much what watermelon tastes like as the greenness of the rind that moves to the bright berry sweetness of the flesh, and all that stuff.

Graphite for The Essence of Wine

Perhaps if you were well-behaved or maybe just lucky, your teacher sent you to the edge of the classroom with a tightly clasped fist of yellow, where you had the pleasure of producing those wavy ribbon-like curls of beige and gray that litter many a school day memory. There may come a time when, like the clack of a typewriter or the stutter of a rotary phone, children do not recognize the smell of a freshly sharpened #2 Ticonderoga or FaberCastell. But for now, the scent of shaved or pulverized graphite brings instant recognition.

from The Essence of Wine, courtesy of Alder Yarrow and Leigh Beisch

E: Your book helped me think more too on something that I do – the difference between writing about versus drawing about wine, because it parallels in some ways the presentation of your book with photographing a flavor note and writing about that same note. For wine lovers reading about wine can be so alienating. There is an immediacy to tasting wine that reading about the same wine just doesn’t have.

A: Right. Writing about wine is never better than the real thing. You can never write anything about wine that surpasses the experience of the wine itself.

E: Yes, I so agree. I would love to hear your thoughts on the challenge of writing about wine. My thought is that wine lives in the senses, so to speak. The experience of drinking a glass of wine is visceral, and immediate, all about flavors, aromas, texture, and even the color of the wine. But when you are just focusing on the writing side of it, you take wine out of the senses, so to speak. Philosopher Merleau-Ponty talked about how analyzing something alienates you from it. Writing about wine alienates it from the senses. I think that is part of the challenge of writing about wine. That you have this visceral, lived, sensory thing, and now we are pulling it into the abstract to write about it, trying to make it live there in abstraction, but it doesn’t.

Something people tell me about my illustrated tasting notes …I bring them up just to reflect on the experience of your book’s photographs… I have had people say, when I see one of your drawings I know if I’ll like the wine or not. When I read a tasting note I can’t tell. I think that because drawings are visual, or, our reception of drawings is visual, there is an immediacy to them that parallels the immediacy of the nose and mouth when we taste wine. So there is a way in which a visual representation of the notes of wine keeps wine in the place wine belongs – immediate sensory tactile experience. Does that make sense?

A: That makes a lot of sense to me. I think that operates probably in a number of levels. I am just speculating here. I think as organisms we are still triggered by things in our external environment that are matters of survival for us, or used to be. Like, when you are learning to appreciate wine, figuring out what you taste is very difficult, and there is a physiological reason for that. When we smell, that sensory stimulus bypasses the language centers of your brain. So when you smell something, it goes right to your amygdala. When we were apes roaming the savannah we needed to be able to smell something and know instantly if we were going to die because we ate that meat, or be fine because we ate that meat. There are lots of other environmental cues for that too, and those sorts of cues are encoded in the physical structures of our brain and our physiology.

I think we have archetypal information in the structures of our brain about food. Like, a ripe piece of fruit triggers us in a way that is non-verbal, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if representations – photographs or drawings or otherwise – did the same thing for us. If being able to see in one of your visual tasting notes thyme, and tobacco, and graphite, and cherry, and licorice root didn’t conveniently, and helpfully bypass conscious narrative thought, and reinforce whatever else we may be doing in the process of appreciating those aromas and flavors in wine in ways that are very helpful to us as organisms. That’s my way of agreeing with you. That I think there is probably real power there that is very different than the spoken and written word.

E: Your book helped me think through that, but it also made me realize that by putting your writing and the photographs side-by-side it changes the power of the writing, and the imagery too. In your book, there is such a marked relationship between the imagery and the writing that together they become something more than they are on their own. The writing is lovely on its own, and the photographs are beautiful on their own, but there is a way in which something else happens when you put them side-by-side. You have the book open and there is this full page, full-blown image, and, like I said, the imagery is very textural because of how they’ve treated the materials that they’re photographing. Then, on the other side there is your writing, talking about the visceral feeling of breaking through the skin, and the bitter taste that comes to the mouth, and then a wash of flavor and juice. There is an immediacy in the imagery that then somehow, makes the writing feel not so abstract. It kind of allows the two to live together in a relationship that enriches both. The photographs, that already have a life of their own, take on more life, and the writing pulls you in even more. It feels more visceral too. The combination, it’s a way of bringing life back to wine.

Cherry from The Essence of Wine
Biting into a perfectly ripe cherry represents one of life’s perfections of flavor and sensation. The firm skin parts under a modicum of pressure, and a gorgeous melody unfolds on the tongue — high notes of juicy acidity, rich baritones of velvety sweet red fruit, an earthy alto bitterness of skin, and a tangy tenor quality burst in the mouth in a way that makes it all too easy to overindulge.

from The Essence of Wine, courtesy of Alder Yarrow & Leigh Beisch

A: For 20 years I have had this quote on my personal website by one of my favorite photographers named Frederick Sommer. The quote is, “Life itself is not the reality. We are the ones that put life into the stones and pebbles.” I guess I thought of that because what I hear you saying is that the image on its own… I mean, it’s over simplifying to say the text tells us what to look for in the image. I know that’s not what you’re saying, and I wouldn’t say that either. There is something more dynamic going on there, but I guess maybe one way of thinking about what you’re describing is that what the text does is force you to look not just at the image, but to look at the image in your mind’s eye of that thing. It makes a connection between those very real visual stimuli, which is like, look there are some cherries there, but then it also asks you to use that image as a jumping off point for your own memories, sensations, and appreciation for that thing. For me, the question would be, how does that work when there is a fruit or flavor you have never experienced? Like if you’d never had a lychee before would that additive quality still be there or does that only happen when you are accessing your own sense memories of the thing?

E: There is such a richness to the images in your book, and I think that is why the number of water drops, or the number of lemon drops are so important. It is aesthetic, but it is also about, how ripe do you want this to seem? Like, you can feel that even if you don’t exactly know the flavors.

Have you gotten comments or feedback from newer wine lovers, from people that are taking the book up as a first foray to learning about wine?

A: Yeah. I know people in the wine industry that have given it to their spouses, and I have subsequently run into their spouse and had their spouse say, thank you! I finally fucking understand what he or she is talking about! I get it now. That’s been really gratifying. And I have people I know from my day job that have said, I am really enjoying this. I am understanding better where these flavors come from.

E: That’s great. It’s an interesting way to approach it too. Focusing in on just a specific taste, and expanding how we think about each individual one, it’s a flip from how we normally think about this sort of thing. In the wine industry, we tend to start from the wine, and then come up with a list of notes about that, but your book reverses that, and says, no, let’s start with this single note, just cherry, just chocolate.

A: Honestly, isn’t that how we all start wine appreciation? If somebody hands you a glass of pink wine for the first time you’re like, uh, okay, and you taste it and you’re like, this is really good, it kind of tastes like strawberries. That’s always first I think. But we don’t often do enough to honor that aspect of wine appreciation. I mean, it’s funny how in the world of wine we very, very quickly leave that very sensorial world of flavor and aroma, and move into the idea that now you have to know something about who made it, and where does it come from, and what grape is it, all that stuff, when really most people are just like, oh! It’s dark and rich. I like that.

***

Vinography: http://www.vinography.com/

Alder Yarrow’s The Essence of Winehttp://www.vinography.com/essence_of_wine.html

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Andy Smith in the Vineyards of West Sonoma Coast and Green Valley

Andy Smith in Jentoft VineyardAndy Smith walking through Jentoft Vineyard, West Sonoma Coast, Jan 2015

“It’s okay to blend,” Andy Smith, winemaker and partner of DuMOL Wines tells me. It is morning and we are walking through the rolling hills of Jentoft Vineyard, a site near Occidental DuMOL planted specifically for blending.

Smith has agreed to spend the day driving me through DuMOL vineyards. We’re discussing the region but also his evolution as a winemaker.

Jentoft is unique for DuMOL in that it is one of only a few sites they farm in the rolling hills off Occidental Road.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, DuMOL made a name for itself making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the Russian River Valley. More recently, the team has expanded further into sites hugged by the hills mere miles from the Ocean.

The addition of these cooler climate vineyards also reflects the winery’s shift towards a leaner style over the last decade.

But for Smith, the winery’s move into sites near Occidental is not just about climate.

“People talk about climate, but, for me, the soil makes the flavor. Soil is the building blocks of the flavor, and the climate is the vintage variation.” Together, Occidental vineyards have something unique to offer.

“To me the wine [in this area] always has a sense of air-oir, not just terroir, a conifer-spicy element.” Smith says.

Blending DuMOL 

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

I ask Smith if he’d ever make a single vineyard bottling from Jentoft.

“I think the single vineyard thing,” he says, pausing briefly, in the midst of answering, no. “There has to be something distinctive, and agreeable, and verifiable, and repeatable. I am sure this site can make a distinctive wine that is a distinctive part of a distinctive blend.”

DuMOL bottles a number of single vineyard sites, but has developed and farms even more. The goal for DuMOL is to bottle excellent wines rooted first in their own farming. Some sites, in Smith’s view, offer that beautiful component within a multi-site blend, while other sites carry their own sense of completeness.

The point is that high quality vineyards sometimes best serve as components in a blend rather than on their own.

Developing a site’s character, be it is for blending, or single bottling, takes time. Jentoft, for example, was planted in 2007.

“This site is just starting to come into its own for us.” Smith explains. “The first year a vine gives fruit can be quite nicely structured and well balanced. Then, the next few years the vines are like unruly teenagers. Around eight years a vineyard starts to find its balance. Then around fourteen years there is another plateau, and vines become much more self regulating.”

What that means today has changed from viticultural views of even ten years ago.

“That is the fun part of the change in the last ten years,” Smith says. “From the idea that we need to tell the vine what to do. Today farming includes beautiful cover crops, insectiary rows, and then seeing the results. For me, that is the exciting part. You can taste the results as well. The wines taste better at lower alcohol.”

Evolving the DuMOL Style

I ask Smith about his evolution as a winemaker. We are discussing Smith and his contemporaries from the early days of DuMOL.

“We were young guys in the late 1990s,” Smith says. “Starting out making rich wines. Now many of us are making lighter wines, with aromatic perfume. You know everything is different.”

But the change in style, Smith points out, occurred as part of a larger context, not driven by wine alone but the overall food culture.

“In the late 1990s, the scene was booming. Restaurants were booming. Chefs were going on with pork fat, and the wines reflected that.” Big flavor was not just a Parker fancy, but a cultural fascination.

“Some of my wines, I go back, and taste, and wonder, what was I thinking?” Smith laughs. “But, you know, it was the taste of the day. Now we have less new oak, and less toast. We have really moved to a more ethereal style with more perfumed aromatics. If you want more honey in your chardonnay, or more cassis and black fruit in your pinot noir, you pull leaves and expose clusters. Now we avoid sun exposure on the fruit.”

Smith’s reflection on sun exposure gets to the core of how DuMOL has shifted its style from bold flavor to graceful richness – DuMOL’s wines today a dance of movement and flavor.

“We’ve pulled back the wines as the farming has improved too.” Smith points out. “You can’t just go on and say, I am going to pick at 21 brix. You have to take a few years getting in tune with the farming, the soil health, and all that.”

DuMOL Today

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

DuMOL’s focus on farming has helped the label grow at a judicious rate, focusing on quality as it allows for growth. It’s maintained such an approach by expanding its volume only as its farming allows. As a result, quality remains in the hands of the DuMOL team, relying on fruit they’ve cultivated to match the house style.

“That’s part of our philosophy.” Smith explains. “I don’t like any extremes – no extreme pruning, no extreme exposure to the grapes, not too much, if any irrigation. Vines are a crop we maximize, and you maximize that by making the vine work hard, not stressed but hard.” I ask Smith to say more about how he maintains that middle line in the vineyard, avoiding extremes.

“The soil health is, of course, really important.” He responds. “Water is available for the vine. The roots are really deep now but because they haven’t been force fed water, they don’t binge on it. Vines are self regulating. They take what they need, and don’t take too much. When you over irrigate, you force the vine to take what you give it, and it takes and takes and takes, then collapses and ripens through dehydration.”

Then there is the architecture of the vine.

“The way we farm with tight spacing, we are looking for grapes that are bright and fresh, with thick skins though we are achieving that without exposing the clusters to sun. It gives more herbal complexity, dense deep tones, and bright fruit.”

The result shows through beautiful integrity from bottling to bottling.

DuMOL wines offer concentrated flavor and structural density with bright fruit, and delicious acidity across varieties thanks to the farming, while cellar choices preserve the wines’ pleasing texture and freshness. The combination Smith describes as his winemaking goal.

“I like texture, but I also like freshness. Any texture or density,” Smith clarifies, “should come from the vines.”

***

DuMOL makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a small amount of Viognier from Sonoma County.

DuMOL Wines: http://www.dumol.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.