Yearly Archives: 2013

Moments from 2013 in Photos

It’s overwhelming to look back through the mass of photos, and stack of wine interview/tasting notebooks I developed in the 2013 calendar year. I can’t say clearly enough how grateful I am.

I went through the photos I’ve taken, and picked a few images to highlight moments from the year. It reminded me how important it is to look back just for a sense of perspective. I didn’t realize how much I’d done until I took the time to consider it.

Here are a few photos. It was hard to choose.

Lagier Meredith

Visiting with Carole Meredith and Stephen Lagier of Lagier-Meredith, aka SCIENTIST LEGEND and SYRAH MASTER (I’m realizing I should send them capes)

Santa Barbara, Pence Ranch

Touring the Sta Rita Hills as part of two weeks devoted to Santa Barbara County wine, here one of the dogs of Pence Ranch.

The Southern Ocean, Australia

Standing in front of the Southern Ocean while traveling Victoria, Australia

Napa Valley Marathon

Watching my brother-in-law run the Napa Valley Marathon. So proud of him.

Old Vines with Morgan Twain Peterson and Carla Rzewszewski

Visiting the iconic, old vine, elevation Monte Rosso Vineyard with Morgan Twain-Peterson and Carla Rzeszewski

Smith-Madrone

the aftermath of an excellent afternoon with Smith-Madrone

7 Percent Tasting

Ryan Glaab, Hardy Wallace, and Pax Mahle before the 7 Percent Solution Tasting

Santa Cruz Mountains

Spending time in the Santa Cruz Mountains, here with the gang at Fogarty Vineyards

Wine Label for Between Five Bells

My label for the Australian wine, Between Five Bells H-Cote Blend, shown here as it wraps the bottle–It was even selected as “Beautiful Thing for the Week” by Australia’s Wine Business Magazine. Custom wall pieces of my drawings also went up in the new wine room of the Villandry Restaurant in London, and in multiple homes and tasting rooms in the United States, and I got to illustrate for a few different magazines and wine programs, including Serious Eats, and Le Metro.

Lodi w Tegan Passalacqua

Visiting Lodi over several trips in both Summer and Fall, here in the Peninsula of Mokelumne River AVA with Tegan Passalacqua

Ron Silva, Lodi

Spending time in people’s homes sharing wine, heritage, and interviews, here with Ron Silva as he prepares Portuguese food for dinner, Alta Mesa AVA

The Perlegos Brothers, Lodi

Exploring old vine vineyards with the Perlegos brothers, Clements Hills AVA

Hank Beckmeyer, Sierra Foothills

Meeting the goats at La Clarine Farm with Hank Beckmeyer

Chris Pittenger and Hardy Wallace, Sierra Foothills

Touring through various El Dorado Vineyards with Chris Pittenger and Hardy Wallace

Willamette Valley, Remy and Lisa

Visiting with dear friends in Willamette Valley, Oregon, here Remy Drabkin and Lisa Shara Hall

50th Wedding Anniversary

Celebrating my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary

Evan Frazier

Tasting through the complete history of winemaking from newer labels of California, here Evan Frazier of Ferdinand

Matthew Rorick

Keeping up with ongoing stories in Napa wine, here Matthew Rorick harvesting his St Laurent from Carneros

Languedoc

Tasting and Touring the Languedoc, lunch floating the canal du Midi from Carcassonne

Valdobbiadene

Visiting Valdobbiadene, and the hills of the Prosecco DOCG, here with Silvia, Primo, and Annalisa Franco of Nino Franco

Venice

Traveling Northern Italy with friends, here with Jeremy Parzen in Venice

Chile

Tasting and Driving through Chilean wine from Santiago, the Holy Virgin at the top of San Cristobal Hill

Argentina

Studying and Touring Wines of Mendoza, Argentina along the foot of the Andes

***

I have so much to write still. My stack of notebooks from the last year is over 10 inches high. This month still I have a number of illustrations and wall pieces, plus a couple of labels to do, and freelance articles to write, along with tastings and interviews with winemakers. My plate is full. I am so grateful. I am also tired.

To celebrate I’ve decided to take the rest of the year off from posting on this blog. I’ll be catching up on tons of work off blog. Also, it’s time to rejuvenate through the dark month, and come back in the new year refreshed and excited again for work.

Looking forward to seeing you here just after the new year. In the meantime, feel free to email me, as always, or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

Enjoy a wonderful remainder of December, and the holidays. Thankful with all my heart.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

 

2

Matthiasson 2011 Napa Valley Vermouth

It isn’t everyday you get to sip a vineyard designate Vermouth. The Matthiassons are getting ready to release their first–a 2011 Flora based Vermouth from the Yount Mill Vineyard.

Flora stands as one of California’s unique varieties, designed in 1938 at a California based agricultural research facility as a cross between Semillon and Gewurtztraminer. The result gives a heady earth-spice to a lushly slick-bodied grape.

The Matthiassons chose Flora as the base for their dry Vermouth, generating the floral spice component on the nose followed by a savory (hinting at exotic) earth spice on the palate. The contrast between aroma and flavor on this Vermouth is part of its interest.

Matthiasson 2011 Vermouthclick on illustration to enlarge

The Matthiasson 2011 Napa Valley Yount Mill Vineyard Vermouth opens with a pretty nose of orchard fruit verging into erotic edges of floral spice and lift. The palate turns to show a savory spice and curved back of flavor with a medium long finish.

The Vermouth gives a rich caramel color in the glass generated from fermenting Flora on skins. This Matthiasson Vermouth is a celebration of Autumn as it rolls into cooler evenings. Enjoy it as a sipping drink on your own or even better with friends.

***

The Matthiassons are getting ready to release their 2011 Vermouth in the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for it on their website here: http://www.matthiasson.com/Purchase-Wine/Current-Offerings

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Drinking White Stone and White Bones Chardonnay

The light hugged up against the Andes in the Gualtallary zone of the Uco Valley glows. The atmosphere is thin at such high elevation. It pinches to breathe. The intensity of sunlight changes, comes less filtered from less air, literally more radiation, or ultraviolet reaching the surface of the earth. The air itself shows luminous.

At the Western-most edge, the Adrianna Vineyard pushes through sand and lime into a nest of seashell laden, fossilized white stones. Roots of chardonnay wrestle for water here, the vines surrounded by stark temperatures of the highland plateau.

The thought of an old seabed at 4800 feet/1450 meters stuns me–the white, fist-size rocks full of ocean evidence. We are standing at the foot of the Andes in luminous light, surrounded by stark landscape in air so thin it hurts to breathe–standing on ground the result of missing water.

The Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

the Andes through White Stones Chardonnay

Catena Zapata White Stones and White Bones Chardonnays originate as two separate block designates in the Adrianna Vineyard. Further East, the White Stones block riddles through with rounded white stones bringing calcium concentration to the already limestone rich plot. 400-yards West, the White Bones block rushes with fossilized seashells. Between, a meter deep well of sand separates the two.

We visit the high-elevation vineyard standing beside holes dug in between the vines as soil studies to view the distinctions between the multiple blocks. Then we move to the side and taste the wines.

Catena Zapata’s high elevation chardonnays deliver a taste of their mountains’ luminous austerity. The flavor presentations beautifully confuse, giving simultaneously a sense of delicacy and richness. Where the White Stones offers intense, lean mineral texture, the White Bones layers an additional viscosity of floral flavor. Both carry a structural core of energetic strength with juiciness, enough to stand up to foods unexpected for Chardonnay–spiced meats, empanadas, even espresso I discover when I taste the wines again later.

The 2009s showcase the lean high-elevation focus of whites grown in such a unique zone. Comparing them to the 2010s, however, highlights the additional softening (though slight–these wines are not in themselves soft) and flavor of an extra vintage. The 2010s come in right now more clear and focused by comparison. All four of these wines–two Chardonnays in two vintages–offer beautiful focus with presence that is thrilling.

***

2010 is the current release vintage of both Chardonnays. Some 2009s are still available in the US market.

Thank you to Laura Catena, David Greenberg, and Marilyn Krieger.

Thank you to Mary Orlin, Mary Gorman-McAdams, Kelly Magyrics, and Alyssa Vitrano.

For distribution information: http://www.catenawines.com/eng/locate/north-america.html

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Talking with Nicolas and Elena Catena

Our last day in Argentina we were able to spend the afternoon lunching with Nicolas and Elena Catena, of Bodega Catena Zapata. The couple helped bring Argentine wine into the International market over the last several decades, opening the door for other producers of wines from Argentina to enter the United States as well.

Catena Zapata began originally with Nicolas’s grandfather Nicola who moved to Argentina from Italy in the late 1800s. The opportunity for shifting varietal and quality focus in Argentina has greatly increased these three generations since the project began.

In taking over the company, Nicolas has been dedicated, along with his daughter Laura, to raising the focus on quality and understanding terroir. The level of influence that Nicolas Catena has carried in Argentine wine can readily be compared to that of Robert Mondavi in California. Catena in fact names Mondavi as one of his inspirations. Meeting Nicolas and Elena Catena to share in food and conversation was a genuine honor.

When talking with some people the level of experience they carry shows finely distilled through the insights they share in conversation. In such instances, I prefer to present a transcript of the conversation, rather than an article on their work–especially in a case like the Catenas, where much has been written on them already. With that in mind, following are some of the stories and insights Nicolas and Elena shared with us.

Nicolas and Elena Catena

Nicolas and Elena Catena, October 2013, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Over lunch we enjoy several wines that the group had named as favorites earlier in the trip–a 2004 Nicolas Catena Zapata Malbec, a 2001 Nicolas Catena Zapata (Bordeaux blend), and a 2009 White Bones (high elevation) Chardonnay. Sitting beside Nicolas during lunch, I turn to thank him for sharing these wines. Our conversation begins.

“We have been thinking, the wine has been so well received in the American market that we say thank you.” The conversation opens up to the rest of the table.

“With my father, there was this idea. It has been like there were two different wines [in the world], the French, and everything else. You remember the famous tasting in France when the American challenged the French. For my father, American wine winning was a shock, and also for me because my wine education came from my father. We had an inferiority complex until that moment.

So, for me, my inspiration was not Europe, but California. California in the 1970s and early 1980s, when they were trying to do wine like the French. I remember when I met Robert Mondavi he told me he was trying to do what the French do.

“I used to visit California in the 1970s. In 1980, I was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley in Economics. So, our first weekend was visiting Napa. The first winery we visited in Napa with Elena was Robert Mondavi. We went just as tourists. I was really surprised by the flavor. That started to change my perception. I was accustomed to French and Italian wines. I had never had a California wine of high quality before.

“After that I met Robert Mondavi. He was such a nice person he would answer every question. It was different than visiting France. He would tell us exactly what he did to make the wine.

“Elena and I decided to do something different in Argentina after those three years in California. Our youngest daughter, Adrianna, was born there. So, when we started this new project for Argentina for our own winery, our inspiration was California. The meaning of that was we started planting Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Mendoza. Until that moment these varieties were only a little bit in Mendoza. The most important variety in my family [before that] was Malbec for red and Riesling for white.

“We came to the conclusion that it was about the micro-climates we were planting in to produce quality Malbec, to produce the best with French expression. So, we decided to plant in a place with lower temperatures to produce the best expression. We decided we would plant at the limit.”

The Catena’s were the first to plant at over 5000 ft elevation in the far Western portions of Mendoza at the foot of the Andes. Today the zone is recognized as producing some of the highest quality fruit for the country, and many other producers have followed suit, planting on the same plateau but East of the Catena’s vineyards.

“Everyone told me I was crazy, that the grapes would not ripen, that there would be frost. And it paid off because today we think that the best expression comes from this altitude. When we went up there and began planting, we were simply looking for lower temperatures but finally we discovered there was a factor there we had not considered–sunlight intensity.

“Such intensity [due to the change in atmosphere and decrease in UV protection at higher elevations] seems to be relevant for flavor expression of anything you plant at high elevations. At that altitude, the radiation, the UV-B, seems to be really high and deepening flavor expression. We are in the process of discovering how this works. What I can say is that wines coming from this place are really different in this micro-climate from temperature, radiation, and elevation, and they should be different.”

Nicolas and Elena’s daughter, Laura Catena, helped instigate an elevation and UV-index study looking at the impact of UV intensity differences on grape development, and variety. The winery now supports a research institute also in partnership with UC Davis looking specifically at Malbec. I will write more about Laura’s work, and the research institute in a future post.
Elena Catena

Each of us in the group are asked to speak to our last day in Argentina, what we have learned and what we have seen. Mary Gorman-McAdams MW speaks of the light, and landscape of Mendoza, Argentina. “The light reflecting in the Andes, in the snow, that purity, that freshness, now I know that is what I am tasting in the glass. The altitude is such an important part of the terroir here.” She explains. “It plays such a role in the longevity, the complexity of the wines.”

Nicolas smiles and responds. “Thank you for your comments. Yes.” Some of the other comments have considered success and work ethic. Nicolas speaks again. “For me, the most important factor influencing success is luck. Niccolo Machiavelli said, success can be explained half by luck, half by virtue. Virtue for Machiavelli means the capacity to do a lot very efficiently. Joe Gallo responded, ‘I disagree with Machiavelli–luck is 80%.’ At this moment, I think maybe, I agree with Joe Gallo. Luck is a very important factor. Today, right now, I have decided. I agree with him.”

Mary responds, “I would think a person would have to position themselves to take advantage of their luck.”

Nicolas pauses for a moment, then responds. “I received really the education, the culture of an Italian family. I started working at the winery, and I had to work from the age of seven. I took care of the chickens, and a rabbit at first.”

From across the way Elena hears this and nods. “Yes, he grew his own.”

Nicolas continues, “It was an obligation. I had to do it. After going to school in the afternoon I had particular tasks I had to do. By eleven years old I did everything at the winery. That was the Italian education, the culture it brought to Argentina. The working culture.

Elena responds. “Recently we went to Piemonte, staying in an agriturismo [housing at a winery]. We were impressed by the working culture. They told us that due to the economic crisis there they have gone back to the old ways. They have many generations living together. They made us dinner one night. You walk into that humble house and you have a professional kitchen, making pasta by hand for the whole house. There was grandfather with the baby, and a whole lot of generations, and each one doing an aspect of the over all job.”

Nicolas Catena

The speeches continue. Some are emotional. I speak of my family in Alaska, and the intensive work ethic they have. I explain that whatever I do I give thanks to my family, and that I see the Catena’s incredible work ethic, and how they honor their previous generations too.

After the speeches, Elena responds briefly to say thank you for what we shared. “If a person does not drink wine, you cannot trust them because if you drink wine, you may show your heart.” She tells us smiling.

People begin talking in smaller groups. Nicolas and I speak together first about my childhood commercial fishing in Alaska. Remarkably, they have a friend from Alaska living in Buenos Aires. He thanks me for telling him about my family. I ask him about his.

“I received an education very much like you describe.” Nicolas is referring to my growing up commercial fishing from the age of nine. As he continues, he reflects on his own childhood work, commenting on the challenge of it frankly, but not begrudgingly. “Still to this day I cannot answer why I had to work so hard. My family had money but I had to learn the work of 80 people. I learned the work of everything in the vineyard and the winery.”

He then responds to my comment about thanks and family relationships by reflecting on his own. “Originally, I was very young, my vocation was to study theoretical physics. I would have left the country to go further in physics. It is very close to philosophy, dealing with ideas. Then my mother died in a car accident and for my father it was very hard. I decided to stay with him. So, my vocation became economics, but mathematical economics, which is very abstract. I have no regrets because that is life.

“I meant what I said about luck and Niccolo Machiavelli, not just as an idea, as a practical reality too. That’s life. Growing up I had to study the intellectual in the morning at school, and the practical in the afternoon at the winery and vineyard. Also, I think, we do things for the love of our parents. It is like this. We do something important also to make our father happy.”

***

Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Walking through Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires glows with color. Huge swaths of town celebrate an off-white, silvery hue of European influenced architecture. Mixed into the cityscape are neighborhoods and buildings bursting with vibrancy.

The famous Casa Rosada in the Plaza de Mayo, known internationally for Evita‘s influence and speeches from its porch side while serving as the country’s House of Government, offers one such example. Near the water the neighborhood La Boca celebrates a wealth of multi-toned buildings believed to be colored originally with paints taken from boat preparations left over at port.

Off-and-on over the next while I’ll be looking at wine in Argentina, as tasting and interviews have continued since return to the States last month. When traveling Argentine wine most of our time was spent in Mendoza. However, we also had a day in the country’s largest city.

Following are photos from Buenos Aires, focusing mainly on a walk through La Boca. I love finding my way into portraits.

Casa Rosada

outside the Casa Rosada

Plaza de Mayo

visiting the Plaza de Mayo

Plaza de Mayo

the Plaza de Mayo

Photos of La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful afternoon.

Cheers!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Visiting NYC with Jr

NYC with Jr

our last day in NYC, riding the A line towards midtown

Jr has five places she wants to see–NYC, Sydney, Paris, London, and Japan. She gets to see me head off on trips often, while she stays in our home and schools.

On her birthday this year she turned 14. It’s an age that seems to me old enough for us both to easily enjoy a trip together, not having to plan only for the sake of one or the other’s interests. So, to celebrate we came to NYC for U.S. Thanksgiving and stayed with close friends I went to graduate school with.

It’s been a wonderful, easy going visit. I kept it focused on the two of us going slow, walking neighborhoods in Manhattan, and catching up with our grad school friends we hadn’t seen in several years. It turned out we also spent a lot of time sleeping.

Today we fly back home.

Love to all of you. I hope December has greeted you with warm hearts.

Cheers!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

The cooler waters of the R-months in North America mean prime time for eating oysters. As some of you know I did a post over at Serious Eats on drinks to pair with oysters. I also promised to take a look here at one way we get that shellfish. Here’s a look at a tidal-influence inspired oyster farm from the Languedoc. It was a ton of fun. I love being on boats as I grew up on the water, and am generally fascinated to know how almost anything works. I really enjoyed getting to learn through the stages from alien-like oyster reproduction to growth, to monster size gonna-getcha growth.

***

Visiting Tarbourich, an Etang de Thau Oyster Farm

the Etang de Thau oyster farms

looking into the Etang de Thau oyster farms

In the Etang de Thau, an oyster rich pond where the Languedoc meets the Mediterranean, the Tarbourich family farms what are considered to be some of the highest quality oysters in Europe.

Driving out to see the oyster farm

driving into the oyster beds of Tarbouriech-this is one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken from a trip. Such a nice group of people too.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Domaine Paul Mas, a few of us were able to take a tour of Tarbouriech in September. The family facility utilizes their own patented system that mimics tidal influences, which facilitates both growth and quality of the shellfish. With older (though still used) systems, on the other hand, oysters simply remain in the water continuously.

Entering Tarbouriech

entering Tarbouriech

The Tarbouriech facility includes a casual dining space offering oysters fresh from the water, and wines to accompany. Tours of the farm itself can be arranged.

Driving towards the farm on the boat

driving to the farm on the boat

The Tarbouriech family hosted our small group, bringing us out to the farm itself by boat to explain how their tidal system works.

The new oysters

New oysters are bred at an oyster nursery, then purchased by oyster farms around the world to be grown into edible size.

Stage 1 of the oyster bed

Young oysters small size demand them to be grown in sets within a series of hanging baskets initially. In the Tarbouriech system, the baskets move in and out of the water at changing intervals to imitate the impact of tidal movements on the shellfish. Oysters within the water develop their shell, while the shellfish out of the water develop their meat. As the animals tumble in the water their shells round and deepen.

Stage 2 of the oyster bed

Once the oysters are large enough, they are glued to ropes that then move up and down through the water in similar fashion as the baskets. This allows them greater space for growth, and more direct contact with the water.

our host

Romain Tarbouriech guided our tour, as the third generation, along with his sister, of the Tarbouriech family oyster business.

Stage 3 of the oyster bed

When the oysters have grown large enough on the rope in the second stage, they are gathered and affixed instead to a net that allows more room for the oysters to grow for the third stage. Mature oysters are gathered from this third stage for eating.

Huitre Seven

The Tarbouriech family is known too for their older, larger sized oysters, like their Huitre Seven, an oyster grown over seven years and featured in restaurants most especially in Paris. (Looking at the thing was intimidating–it was as big as my hand and several inches thick. We didn’t get to see inside to the meat of one, but I admit, I scare.)

Eating oysters

After touring the farm on the water, we were able to come back to shore to enjoy oysters on the beach with a bright Vermentino made by Domaine Paul Mas that matched the freshness of the food. The Etang de Thau also sits beside the famous Picpoul de Pinet region, a wine full of pert acidity that pairs beautifully with oysters, and that I like to drink on occasion for its aggressive (at its best nervy) zing.

Oysters on the Etang de Thau

The oysters were beautiful. Being on the water is my favorite thing. Eating beside it as lovely.

***
If you want to read more about possible oyster pairings, check out a previous post that links to a write-up I did on Serious Eats, as well as posts on pairings by both a cocktail-tender, and a beer lover: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/11/11/oysters-slurp-zing-omnomnom-wine-and-beer-pairings-over-at-serious-eats/

Thank you to Michelle McCue, and Anne Alderete.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

5

Drinking Eyrie 2000 Marguerite Pinot Noir

In the year 2000, one of the founders of a U.S. American wine region celebrated the birth of his first grandchild by creating a special cuvée of Pinot Noir from the best of his vineyards. He named the wine Marguerite, for his granddaughter.

A large part of my admiration for wine rests in the way heritage, creative expression, agricultural abundance, and dedication all coalesce, dancing together in one bottle–the glass poured, then, also bringing together the best of our senses with our intellect. In the most beautiful wines the power of such intersections shine lit from the glass–unspoken and alive on the palate, enlivening too the heart of the person enjoying.

The Eyrie Marguerite

click on illustration to enlarge

In the year 2000, in recognition of the birth of his first grandchild, Marguerite, David Lett reserved a special Pinot Noir cuvée from the best of his vineyards. This year, Jason Lett released the wine.

The Eyrie Vineyards Marguerite carries an elegant and beautiful nose atop a delicate palate. It’s a wine that rests in subtlety, that does not exert itself but instead opens over time, gaining richness and life over the second, and on into the third day.

The wine dances with homemade beef and mushroom broth, caramelized peaches, and spearmint coupled by accents of rose petal, blueberry bramble, and herbal lift on a frame of easy reverie. This is a wine that rests in this world and reflects easily into the next. It does not concern itself with tradition, yet arises from it. It knows itself too well to convince you. The love is already there. It was made from it.

***

Thank you to Jason Lett. This is one of the wines I give thanks for this holiday season.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tasting Place with Mac Forbes

Mike Bennie, Mac Forbes, Woori Yallock Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Australia

Mike Bennie and Mac Forbes, in the Woori Yallock Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, February 2013

It’s February the first time Mac Forbes and I meet. Wine writer Mike Bennie has generously included me on a trip around Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, and we’re spending the second half of a day with Forbes, and his vineyard partner, Dylan Grigg.

We focus the visit on a favorite site of Grigg and Forbes in the Woori Yallock area walking a South facing slope to see the changes of Pinot at various parts of the hill. They’ve worked with the site for several years now. Forbes tells me when they started, the deep siltstone soils created grapes so tannic the fruit couldn’t stand up to the structure. The vines now reach around twenty years old and their expression has seemed to find itself — the fruit-tannin balance gives more easily. Later, we taste several vintages of the wine. It carries a lithe tension and energy that renews my previously challenged faith in Pinot Noir.

Departing from Australia, Forbes’ wines keep returning to mind so I decide to contact him. After several re-tastings, and emails back and forth, we’re able finally to talk in early November on, what I find out later, is Forbes birthday. He’s just returning from a visit to Austria, where he spent several years as a winemaking and vineyard consultant. The trip allowed him time with long-term friends.

When I ask Forbes how his Australian winter has been, he surprises me. “Since I’ve seen you I feel like I’ve grown enormously in a humbling way,” he responds. Forbes’ wines are already well-regarded among his winemaking peers, and his experience with heritage wineries in Australia, Dirk Niepoort in Portugal, and consulting in Austria, are impressive, not to mention harvest work through France and elsewhere. I ask Forbes to explain. Eventually, his answer humbles me.

The Vineyard as an Educative Force
Mac Forbes

Mac Forbes, February 2013

Forbes begins speaking about his vineyard sites, all (small) sections of land with unique soil conditions throughout the Yarra Valley. He describes a previously abandoned collection of vines in the Wesburn region that was almost pulled until the current owner asked if Forbes and Grigg wanted to try and restore it. The project demanded several years of wrestling blackberry bushes, and tackling trees before it gave any grapes, that first fruit mainly various whites. More recently they were also able to make Pinot.

I ask Forbes what about his vineyards challenged his way of thinking. “Wesburn definitely precipitated this school of thought evolving,” he tells me. “The big thing that dawned on me in the last twelve months,” he starts, then pauses, and starts again. “So much of what I was doing has been to be outcome focused, yet I was committed to making wines of place.”

Winemakers around the world recite these days how they make wines focused on site expression. Many such examples, however, are winemakers with little contact with the site itself, simply buying fruit at the end of the season. Considering what little interaction with a location such a model affords, how they could be making terroir driven wines remains unclear. Recognizing something more in Forbes’ claim, I push him to explain. Instead of naming site features, he describes the vineyard itself as an educative force.

Looking at his example, Forbes makes wine from the Wesburn site (among others), but perhaps more importantly, he works with other winemakers that also purchase fruit from he and Grigg. The community that’s arisen from the experience has changed him.

“Wesburn fruit has a unique structure totally at odds with other sites we’ve got,” he explains. “It’s quite humbling to watch. People put on a hat ready to taste Pinot, then something else happens.” The collection of winemakers that work with Wesburn fruit come from varied schools of thought. One is more inclined towards conventional uses of apparent oak, and sulfur regimes. Another tends to push on reducing (or eliminating) sulfur additions while increasing skin contact. Over a few years, however, winemaking from Wesburn fruit put in sharp relief for all of them the impact of technique.

Listening for the Voice of a Site

In circling around our discussion, Forbes speaks about the difference between what he quickly calls a shy versus a dull site. He means the names more descriptively than critically. A dull site, as he understands it, might give quality fruit but will readily take up whatever winemaking technique you ascribe to it. The fruit itself is dull when compared to the winemaking, which shows up more in comparison.

“A shy site,” on the other hand, “might just need some space to shine.” A shy vineyard, then, could have sophisticated character but need the room to show what it has without being suffocated. Such a subtle distinction emphasizes the need for a winemaker to listen.

In offering the example, what Forbes wants to discuss is how the contrast changes the attention from outcome to place. When a winemaker’s focus is on listening, he or she has turned away from an outcome question that could otherwise seem as basic as what kind of wine to make–Pinot, for example–instead to asking how he or she will make the wine. In working with vineyards in the Yarra Valley, “I used to be looking for Pinot sites. Now I’m looking for great sites. Variety has to factor in, but it is secondary,” he says.

Education from the vineyard turns the attention away from the goal of a particular wine style or type, to the process of how to approach it, driven by what the site itself needs or wants. “Making wine in relation to benchmark examples of wine,” like Burgundy for Pinot Noir, for example, Forbes explains, “can make lovely wine, but likely suffocates the fruit a little bit.” That is, with such an approach, your attention is focused on somewhere, or something else, rather than the grapes you have.

When dealing with a shy site, “you end up having to ask how to best capture the character of the vineyard and help it come to the surface,” he tells me. “With Wesburn, we were confronted with the edge of going too far in technique.” Part of what is remarkable about the example is that it brought winemaker’s with hugely different philosophies on winemaking much closer in understanding. “This site brought people together, beyond being dogmatic, to a more similar place in approach. We all found the site wanted less sulfur, and less skin contact both. It’s been fascinating to watch.”

Fascinated by Wesburn

Forbes 2012 Pinots

Tasting early release samples with Forbes

Fascinated, by Forbes point, I ask him to talk through details. The vines at Wesburn were originally planted in 1981. The site rides the edge of potential for the Yarra Valley, as one of the team’s most expensive to run, giving incredibly low vigor from compacted mudstone and clay. Five years ago, Forbes planted Blaufrankisch believing the variety would suit the characteristics of the area. It has still to produce fruit for wine. Everything moves slowly at Wesburn. There is, in other words, low incentive for growing in the location but Forbes sees something valuable and so persists.

Moving slowly “is part of the site. It doesn’t help to push it,” Forbes explains. Trying to rush the vines won’t actually grow the fruit faster. The Pinot Noir of Wesburn, even from established vines, also took time to come back from neglect he reminds me. “I believed it would get there. I didn’t realize it would take so long.” The site is unique in Yarra Valley, protected from hot North winds blowing down from the desert, and as far East as one can go in the Yarra. It receives long morning shade, and cool air, so it shows a very specific side of the Valley. It’s the specificity of the site that has Forbes engaged.

Forbes History with the Yarra Valley

Dedicated to winemaking, Forbes spent years working in wine internationally. In 2004, however, he spent a summer with Dirk Niepoort studying vineyard sites first in Portugal, then in Austria. As Forbes explains, Niepoort tends towards vineyards other winemakers overlook as too barren, or neglected for production. The wines Niepoort makes, however, are vibrantly expressive and elegant. The experience with Niepoort made Forbes reconsider the potential of his home region.

What Yarra Valley has in abundance is ready fruit assertion. By trusting the region will give fruit character, winemakers can turn away from concerns of ripeness to search instead for what will make that fruit interesting. For Forbes, the focus falls on texture, and site expression.

After his experience with Niepoort, then, Forbes returned to Yarra Valley with a thirst for studying sub-regionality, to explore the unique, and multiple voices of the Yarra Valley. “If I am going to stay in this caper, it’s got to be to get to know what is unique about our little patch of dirt,” he explains. “If you can’t find out what is unique about your dirt, then why are you doing it?” Forbes asks. It is in this question that the humility Forbes exudes becomes clear.

Mac Forbes winemaking project is not about fulfilling or showcasing his own goals in wine as much as it is based in trying to find (with his winemaking community too) a voice that is bigger than his own to contribute to. Forbes’ wines do renew my faith in Pinot Noir, but interestingly they shed light on the grape itself less than they do the character of the Yarra Valley, and what it means to make wines of place.

***
Thank you to Mac Forbes.

Thank you to Mike Bennie, Jay Latham, and Lisa McGovern.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tasting with Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk and his 2009, 2010 Ograde White blend

Kevin Wardell of Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, Cailfornia opened his doors early yesterday to a small industry tasting of Skerk wines. The event was guided by both Sandi Skerk himself, and importer Oliver McCrum of Oliver McCrum Wines, and hosted too by Kris Clausen of Vinifera Marketing.

The team selected side by side vintages of four wines central to the Skerk portfolio, as well as a preview of upcoming releases, and a not-for-sale passito.

Skerk originates at the Italy-Slovenia intersection of Karst (or Carso), so named for the geological formation of the same name that dominates the area. The region sits atop a bed of limestone, shaped and hollowed by movements of water, then layered over with shallow red-iron soils. Skerk’s own cellar rests along a limestone hollow with holes in the floor blowing fresh sea-influenced air from below.

Vineyards only a short distance from the Adriatic, and grown up hillsides North of Trieste, Skerk exemplifies the magical, quiet presence of the region. His wines and personality both showcase a steady persistence, carried on fine frame, with elegant aromatics, and savory delicate palate.

It is hard to describe the stimulation and life found in a glass of Skerk wine — they are simultaneously clean, and unexpected; at once pretty and yet carrying notes of meat; the palate persists through delicate frame full of sapidity and Italian salato. These are wines designed to showcase tradition and elegance both.

Skerk’s family carries a history of winemaking, though Sandi’s own professional training begins with mechanical engineering. Eventually choosing to return to the family business, Sandi began in 2000 experimenting with techniques practiced by his grandfather.

As Skerk explains, in his grandfather’s generation, winemaking typical to the region fermented all white grapes together on skins, and all reds together on skins. Macerated ferments normally lasted 10 days to two weeks, before being pressed and aged. Skerk’s father focused instead on straight-to-press practices, fermenting whites’ juice only.

In 2000, Sandi returned to experimenting with extended fermentation on skins lasting around 30 days. In his most recent vintages, Skerk has reduced maceration length to 2 weeks, bringing his approach closer to that originally used by his grandfather.

Grapes are picked based on taste, with beautiful juiciness and clean aromatics consistently showing through his wines. By utilizing only pristine fruit, Skerk is able to avoid sulfur additions until prior to bottling.

Skerk keeps his cellar techniques disciplined while also straightforward, choosing to keep a steady eye on helpmates like pristine picked fruit, CO2, and submerged cap. The wines are kept on lees until a month prior to bottling, to further support the wines’ own natural immune system. In this way, Skerk is able to keep free sulfur targets around only 20 ppm.

Tasting Skerk Wines

Skerk portfolio

Skerk Vitovska 2009 and 2010

Indigenous to the region, Vitovska grows with thick skins and big bunches. Skerk head trains his Vitovska in order to encourage smaller berry and bunch size, thus increasing the skin-to-juice ratio for his macerated ferments.

The aromatics of all Skerk wines are greatly increased from his reliance on skin contact. With scents of fruit-based (not oak) nutmeg and cardamom integrated into the apricot blossom and orange spice of the nose, the 2009 cascades into savory flavors of prosciutto, pepper and melon on the palate. This wine exemplifies the Italian idea of salato and sapidity–intensive mouth stimulation with savory, mineral salinity.

The 2010 drinks like picnic on the sea shore, with orange and apricot blossom laced through with clove aromatics, followed by prosciutto on a touch of melon and breadstick, hints of red berries and salty seagrass on the finish.

Skerk Malvazija 2010 and 2011

Made with the Malvasia Istriana grape, the 2010 Malvazija shows pretty aromatics of pink and yellow flowers, followed by a tightly focused palate that opens significantly with air to reveal crisp apple, quince, touches of red currant and black cap. The wine is both savory and floral, with beautiful integration, and long palate stimulation.

Malvazija 2011 gives apple blossom, pink tea rose, crisp apple, and quince, giving savory palate notes of rock salt, cracked pepper, and mineral crunch. The wine offers textural richness and a long finish. The 2011 Malvazija will be available for release in February 2014.

Skerk Ograde 2009 and 2010

Made in a cofermented blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Malvasia Istria, the Ograde offers the sophisticated, fine boned, complexity possible with a harmony of grapes. I enjoy Skerk wines very much generally, but this was my first taste of the Ograde. I especially enjoyed it.

Skerk 2009, 2010 Ogradeclick on illustration to enlarge

Giving pretty floral aromatics, followed by textural savory palate, the 2010 shows herbal aspects, to the 2009’s lightly jalapeno notes. Where the 2009 offers pink and fresh floral apects, the 2010 crisp white notes. These are beautiful wines.

Skerk Terrano 2009 and 2010

Made with the Teran grape, Skerk’s Terrano carries bright red fruit acidity coupled with savory plum, and touches of pickled cherry. The 2009 opens with pink floral and plum blossom, moving into prosciutto, black pepper, and long savory, salato finish. The 2010 offers plum and cherry blossom, alongside the savory palate, with pickled cherry, and refreshing cucumber moving with beautiful length. This is an ideal wine for crusted, medium rare, red meat.

(Not for Sale) 2010 Passito Terrano

We closed the tasting with Skerk’s hand-bottled Terrano passito. The wine offered a beautiful example of juicy-to-sweet balance, concentrated red currant, cranberry, and blackcap, moving into an impressive savory finish. A hand written home bottle is a special joy of mine. What a treat to enjoy this one all the way from Carso.

***
Thank you to Sandi Skerk, Oliver McCrum, and Kris Clausen.

Thank you to Sam Bilbro, Megan Glaab, and Kevin Wardell.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com