Monthly Archives: March 2013


Tasting the Massican Portfolio — 2012 and 2011

Yesterday we were lucky enough to taste the newly bottled Massican 2012 portfolio.

Dan Petroski’s Massican is characterized by texture and subtlety with a perfumed lift. His signature gives a consistent frame through which to taste distinctive variety and vintage character.

2012 as a vintage for Napa and Sonoma offers a vibrancy of flavor, with a softer structural profile than previous years (not just compared to the last two cold ones). In many cases, the flavors are far broader across the palate, while the acidity is softer.

This vintage effect shows on the Massican ’12s bringing a slightly rounder character to Petroski’s wines compared to the 2011’s linear drive. His distinctive texture, and chalky notes, however, still show throughout.

The 2012s were tasted yesterday afternoon at the winery, then again in the evening, and this morning. (Again, this is a very early tasting on the 2012 Massican portfolio, so there will be some evolution in bottle prior to release.) The 2011s were tasted at the winery, and have been enjoyed multiple times since release last year.

Here are drawings that offer side by side vintage comparisons.

Massican Gemina (100% Chardonnay)

Massican Gemina 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

The acidity is still vibrant throughout the 2012 portfolio, but where acid lines screamed through the ’11 Chardonnay, they merely drive on the ’12 (that is, they’re still strong, just rounder).

The 2012 Chardonnay opens up beautifully with air. It has similar flavoral elements to the 2011 with a more accentuated yum factor. It’s a wine I want to sit down with and just enjoy (in fact, I will later tonight. Praise the Lord).

Massican Sauvignon (100% Sauvignon Blanc)

Massican Sauvignon 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

Where the flavors are lean and vibrant on the 2011 Sauvignon, they’re pregnant and pulsing on the ’12. The biggest flavoral surprise, I believe, occurs here with the Sauvignon, as the presentation comes in broad across the palate in a way none of the ’11s did. Still, there is a lift to the flavors that means while they fill they mouth, they also have movement going through.

The flavoral finish is also softest here, but the acidity keeps the mouth watering for a long long time after. This wine will continue to evolve significantly in bottle, I believe. The 2012 Sauvignon will be a change for many, but it will not weigh down the palate.

Massican Annia White Blend

Massican Annia 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

The 2012 vintage brought a shift in production levels on Petroski’s Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano leading to a difference in proportion on the Massican Annia, his white blend.

Where the 2011 carried a Friulano base, the 2012 relies more on Ribolla. Character-elements remain consistent between the wines but with a change in emphasis from one year to the next. The 2011 offers a lifted citrus blossom carriage with base notes of almond flower. In 2012 the presentation flips, bringing more of that bitter almond gravitas–but the more time spent with this wine, the more it lifts its profile with the floral elements showing more of Petroski’s signature perfume. Give this wine time to open up.

These are all excellent food wines.

Thank you to Dan Petroski for taking time, and for opening his wines for us.

Thank you to Carla Rzewszewski.

To read more about the Massican story, check out Talia Baiocchi’s article in Eater:

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Visiting Lagier-Meredith: Driving to the top of Mt. Veeder

Carole and Stephen

Carole Meredith and Stephen Lagier at their home on top of Mt Veeder

It’s mid-December on a clouded day, the first of several visits to Lagier-Meredith Vineyards over a couple of months. At the top of Mt Veeder, the fog has shielded our view from the other side of the valley. We can still make out the general direction towards the house in which Robert Mondavi once lived, and the nearby (rather flat) peak of Mt Veeder itself, but the Bay, and mountains in every direction hide behind the cold weather. I’ve driven to the house of Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith after getting the guts to write and ask for an interview a couple weeks before.

The story of Lagier-Meredith fascinates me for multiple reasons. The pair were among the very first to plant Syrah in Napa Valley at a time it was even more defined by Cabernet Sauvignon. When they purchased the land that would become their home and vineyard, Mt Veeder was not yet an appellation (the area still today not burgeoning with development as the creased and rolling tree covered mountain AVA makes too much growth difficult). Before realizing they had fruit good enough to sell wine from they were a two career couple.

Stephen Lagier made wine for Robert Mondavi, after first managing the company’s lab. But prior to that he’d also helped perform research at UC Davis on the chemical effects of vineyard practices before significant knowledge was to be had on the subject. Carole Meredith’s career at the same university focused on the genetic relationships between grape types, leading to the landmark discovery that Cabernet Sauvignon was the off-spring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, information now almost taken for granted.

Talking with Lagier and Meredith

Lagier-Meredith art

art display outside the entrance to Lagier’s and Meredith’s home–Stephen made the frogs, Carole the telephone

Talking with the twosome proves both entertaining and insightful. The couple enjoy not only bragging about each other’s successes, but sharing in the fun of how they met.

In Fall 1980, both began work at UC Davis in the Viticulture and Oenology department. Lagier had done his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and recognized most graduate students spent their study years broke, often also going into debt. Unwilling to follow suit, he started his Master’s degree in Winemaking (before the program shifted to a single Viticulture and Oenology Master’s degree) with a full-time job. Over five years, Lagier ran the research program for a professor doing chemical analysis of the effects of training vines on grape composition. At the same time, Lagier purchased his own home, then rented rooms out to other students to help with expenses.

The same Fall brought Meredith to the University as a Professor. She’d applied her PhD in Genetics in the private sector, until realizing she didn’t like having a daily boss. At the time Davis accepted Meredith’s application, she was actually a finalist in two different positions in plant genetics–lettuce and grapes. There had also been a third position in beans Meredith didn’t get. The time period marked the start of retirement for men that had returned from World War II, completed advanced science training, and then effectively reshaped American education. Meredith was hired as the start of a new generation of educators. With multiple plants up for research, the hiring committees negotiated to decide who would get which candidate, thus securing Meredith’s future in genetic research history.

Her beginning with the parentage of Cabernet was rooted in first developing the technology and toolkit to do so. She fostered the work of brilliant research students that helped solve how to apply insights from the use of DNA markers in human genetics to grape vines. But she also helped establish a multi-national genetics cooperative through which researchers from all over the world pooled their findings on those same DNA markers in grape vines. Doing so allowed an explosion in both identifying individual grapes genetic identity, and then afterwards the relationships between grape types.

Discussion of their UC Davis years quickly leads to the two of them smiling, telling me about how they met. Meredith was often working weekends to get ahead on some of the lab projects she had operating, and Lagier would be in his office having negotiated to switch his work day schedule so he could downhill ski during the week. Those days the mountain was quieter. He’d often come in showing signs of sun from the slopes, which gave the pair reason to talk. As Meredith explained, she wanted to have fun and go skiing too. So, Lagier invited her to join a group that often went downhilling together. Then, one outing, it turned out the two of them were the only ones able to go. “We had to spend the whole day together,” Meredith laughs. “I wanted to have fun, and Stephen is fun.”

Lagier smiles. “I crack Carole up everyday. I feel like it’s my job.”

Lagier-Meredith's young Mondeuse Vineyards

looking into the young Mondeuse vineyard at Lagier-Meredith

Lagier’s support of Meredith isn’t limited to his good humor, however. Meredith and I take at least an hour to talk through the work she accomplished in genetic relationships–how she helped find the parentage of Syrah (sire: Dureza, mother: Mondeuse Blanc; thus leading to Lagier-Meredith planting Mondeuse Noir, “Syrah’s crazy uncle,” as the couple call it), how she helped successfully find the original vine and homeland of America’s pride, Zinfandel (it’s the Croatian variety Crljenak Kaštelanski). But when Lagier comes back inside from clearing a tree that’s collapsed from a winter storm, he brings up an accomplishment Meredith hasn’t discussed yet. “Did she tell you about her paper in SCIENCE?”

“We were talking about ZInfandel.” Meredith responds. The Zinfandel discovery was significant for how it brought together people in the United States, in Italy (Primitivo is also of the same original grape vine), with researchers in Crotia. But also because the discovery that Zinfandel comes from the motherland of Croatia actually helped improve tourism to the region, showing that wines and their history from there could deserve respect for higher quality than previously expected internationally. The Zinfandel discovery also stands as significant, however, because it was Meredith’s final large project before retiring to focus on the Lagier-Meredith wine label.

The grape Zinfandel had long been suspected of having International origins. It’s a plant with visible characteristics unlike those native to North America, so it must have been brought in from elsewhere. But at the same time it’s wine history so shaped California it had become the adopted champion of a country’s pride. After completing the research that led to Zinfandel’s proper naming, Meredith had also reached the early cutoff for potential retirement. Ready to shift to their wine label, she stopped her commute from Mt Veeder to Davis, making Crjenak Kaštelanski her genetic’s career swan song, effectively leaving at the top of her genetics game.

Lagier agrees the Zinfandel discovery was significant, but it’s the paper in SCIENCE he wants to make sure I know before we finish our first interview. Meredith’s work on grape relationships led to the discovery that Pinot Noir and Goulaise Blanc together parent at least 16 grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Aligote, Gamay, and Melon. The conclusion was celebrated not only because of its scientific importance, but also because with such popular varieties considered, the discovery becomes relevant beyond the walls of science to other disciplines as well. Lagier looks at me directly and explains, “It was one of the proudest moments for me that my wife got a paper in that magazine. It’s like the Grand Slam of science. It brought tears to my eyes.” Doing a little bit of research, it appears Meredith is the only professor in the history of Davis’s Viticulture & Oenology program to have gotten a paper in the prestigious magazine.

The Beginning of a Wine Label

They make wine and olives

By Meredith’s retirement, Lagier was already working full-time on their label, having retired from Mondavi in 1999. His time at the company was significant, as he managed the Mondavi winery lab, established their first program to track and determine projected fruit availability from the vineyards, and then served as one of the Mondavi Coastal brand winemakers.

Though Lagier and Meredith had intended all along to plant vines on their hilltop, it took years before they realized they could turn that fruit into a bonded winery. Upon purchasing the property, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and cleared to rid the soils of Oak root fungus that would impact Vitis Vinifera. Once the seven years to accomplish that were up, the twosome placed their first vines in 1994. The year before, one of Meredith’s students, Jean-Louis Chave, the 15th, of Hermitage fame, had agreed the property would be perfect for planting Syrah as “Syrah loves a view.”

The grape was unheard of in Napa Valley at the time, with the pinnacles of the industry almost completely focused on the success of Cabernet Sauvignon. But the pair love Rhone wine and decided to plant what suited the slope and cooler climate of the site, as well as their palate interest. 1996 was their first press. By 1998 friends were commenting enthusiastically on the quality of wine, and the couple realized it was good enough they could consider selling it publicly. In 2000 they released it, inciting quick response that would herald them as one of the first labels in the region to showcase a marriage of French Aesthetic with California fruit.

I ask Lagier about this critical history of their wine, and if they’d intended to make wines that allude to the Northern Rhone. “There are hints of a Northern Rhone character in some of our vintages.” he responds. “To say more than that is just complete speculation.” He continues. “That was not our goal. Our goal was to reduce our influence on the wine, to capture the character of the fruit from here and get it into bottle. We’re just pleased this place makes this wine, and people enjoy it, which allows us to make a living. So pleased.” He pauses, then continues. “I do enjoy the hell out of the wine. Both of us feel incredibly blessed we found this land, and managed to pull this off.”

Thank you to Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith for taking so much time to meet with me. I have plenty more moose meat whenever you’re ready.


To read more on Zinfandel, Carole’s work on its genetic history, and Lagier-Meredith’s foray into making it, read the recent article by Jon Bonné:

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Last week I drew up and wrote up the wines of the Scarpetta portfolio, along with a summary of the lovely lunch that Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Bobby Stuckey threw for several of us at St. Vincent’s in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I was traveling without my scanner and so couldn’t properly place the tasting notes illustration for the wines.

Here’s the Scarpetta comic properly scanned. (I’ve also replaced the photograph of it in the original post.)


Scarpetta wines

click on comic to enlarge


Jr and I are back in Sonoma again returning to our regular schedule of me tasting and interviewing people in wine, and her going off to school. Though, not till she recovers from some nasty cold. Hope you’re all well and enjoying the move from Winter into Spring with all its fits and starts. Joy to all of you!

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Visiting Flagstaff in March: Mixed Signs of the Season

Jr and I are back in Flagstaff, Arizona visiting friends for her Spring Break. Though I’m born and raised in Alaska, I grew up in Flagstaff. Our lives here included more than seven years with me going from being simply a graduate student of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, to becoming a professional philosopher teaching at Northern Arizona University here. It’s been over a year now since I resigned from my position in academia, about nine months since we moved from the Southwest. The thing about Flagstaff? It stays much the same. Nice most of all to be back here with friends.

Per request from some friends and a few readers, tomorrow we’ll be driving South to Cottonwood to taste with AZ Stronghold, and Pillsbury Wines.

Here’s a few photos from walking around town that give you a feel for the place.

Classic AZ-Drive Thru Liquor

Classic Arizona: All Signs Point to the Inessential Drive-Thru Liquor Store

Buds not yet open

March offers conflicted signs of the season: buds not yet open

Multi-colored leaves

Leaves of the bush in colors still turned from Winter frost

Fir and Sky

What kept me in Flagstaff so long: sky sky blue blue sky. The clarity and high contrast colors of life at elevation

Birch and Sky

Winter Birch cut against the blue blue sky


Stopping by my friend’s place for an afternoon chat: Caleb Schiff’s Pizzicletta

Caleb Delivering Bread to the CSA

Walking with Caleb to deliver Pizzicletta’s bread to the local CSA

A town still ready for snow

A town with no snow still ready for winter: it’ll come again soon. It always does.

Sugar Mamas Bakery

Visiting another friend’s, Lisa Born, bakery, Sugar Mamas

Some of the Sugar Mamas goods

Their first day open two years ago I bought out all the cupcakes and brought them to campus for the Existentialism class. Sisyphus’s rock is easier with frosting

The town defined--Route 66, the Mountain, 4x4 truck, and the tracks

Flagstaff defined: old shops on Route 66 in view of the Sacred San Francisco Peaks, with a 4×4 truck crossing the trans-continental Railroad line



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First of all, please forgive. I am currently traveling without my scanner, so after spending the day drawing I could only post my notes from Scarpetta’s current portfolio by taking a photo of it. I’ll reload the scanned-in image after I’ve returned to Sonoma next week. In the meantime, let the photo of the drawing suffice. Thanks! Updated with the scanned image!


Celebrating Friuli (w a little help from Barbera): Scarpetta & Frasca

Scarpetta wines

click on image to enlarge; click twice to enlarge more

Bobby Stuckey greets me at the door with a smile and a glass of pink bubbles. I’m happy I took the drive to San Francisco. After a few moments everyone has arrived and we sit. Lunch is going to begin.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have traveled from Boulder, Colorado, home of their well-known and celebrated Frasca Restaurant, to share their love for Friuli. After establishing their Friuli inspired restaurant, the team expanded to begin Scarpetta Wine starting with Friulano, Friuli’s classic white.

Stuckey introduces the day’s activities. “I feel like I’m in the cool kids club. But it’s surprising too because I feel like I’m still punk rock, and I feel like I’m still a cross country running nerd, but I get to hang with you guys. So, thanks.” The event includes Sommeliers, Wine Buyers, and Wine Writers from around the Bay Area.

The Sparkling Rosé

Bobby Stuckey

Bobby Stuckey setting the stage

Stuckey continues, focusing on the wine. He explains that the rosé offered upon entry is made with the Charmat method using a slightly unusual blend for the style of Franconia (aka. Blaufrankisch) and Pinot Nero (aka. Pinot Noir). Though the Charmat method is often maligned for its association with poor quality versions of Prosecco, Stuckey explains the technique is more centrally all about capturing tenderness and aromatics. Combined with care, and old vine material, Stuckey believes it creates a unique sparkling rosé.

The wine is paired with a winter Friulano Salad of apple, radicchio, shaved horseradish, and shaved hard cheese. The salad is all lightness and zest alongside the savory, floral bubbles. A beautiful opening.

Love for Friulano

To put the wine Friulano in its proper context, Stuckey compares it to Chardonnay. Where the French grape offers a neutral palate that allows technique to be shown on top, Friulano doesn’t. Where the French grape has been cleaned up and clonally selected, Friulano hasn’t. Instead, Friulano carries distinctive, even funky aromatics that Stuckey compares to the “wild dog of agriculture.”

For all the funk Stuckey ascribes to his beloved grape, the Scarpetta version is a clean, refreshing offering of its wine–all lifted aromatics, rounded palate, and pleasing viscosity on a stimulating palate. (Truth is though, whatever funk Friulano may have, I’m simply a fan of the grape.)

The wine comes to us alongside Friuli’s Native food, Frico–a fried cheese dish bringing together dried firm cheese with a molten center of Montasio cheese. Last year during COF2012, a group trip to Friuli six of us were lucky enough to take, we ate Frico daily. Don’t hate me Italy, but Mackinnon-Patterson’s version is even better, all smooth, lush, pungent, and easy mixed with smoked ricotta and sprinkled with fresh green onion.

Tasting the Whites

Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson serving up his risotto

Over time, Scarpetta expanded its white focus stepping into International varieties that have become classics of Friuli in their own right, both giving a unique presentation in that region.

* Pinot Grigio

As Stuckey explains, Pinot Grigio, though often maligned, can give a sense of freshness, with seriousness and concentration. Stuckey tells us, Pinot Grigio properly understood is a vehicle for terroir. “It is that,” he says, “that makes it a noble grape.”

Mackinnon-Patterson comes out from the kitchen to serve his Risotto and builds on Stuckey’s idea by drawing a parallel between cooking food and making wine. For Frasca’s chef, cooking is all about layers of flavor made through treating the flavors with time. In listening to Mackinnon-Patterson explain the courses, while tasting the foods and the wine, what I find in common are delicate flavors with stamina and presence. Each course, like the wines, comes in lifted, dancey, and rich.

* Sauvignon

Stuckey considers the idea of Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, there referred to as simply Sauvignon. In Stuckey’s view, Sauvignon is the secret weapon of the region. It is the Ponca, their calcium rich soil, combined with the marginal climate of the area that offers a unique opportunity for the grape to give a triology of fruits–orchard, citrus, and stone–layering the mouth in unexpected complexity. Such flavors alongside the great acidity indigenous to Friulian wines and Sauvignon gives something more than a simply refreshing white wine.

Turn to Barbera

Scarpetta wines

Our meal finishes with a surprising turn (if you didn’t already know the Scarpetta portfolio), a red from Piedmont. Stuckey explains why they decided to focus on Barbera, their only wine from outside Friuli. In his view, the grape is the gateway wine to drinking Italian reds. For people used to French reds, Italians come with a lot more traction. For those drinking New World reds, the earthy flavors are often surprising. Barbera, on the other hand, offers a textural and flavoral connection to other Italian reds in a lighter, juicier, food friendly physique. This wine we drink with meat.

While Barbera is most commonly made in the Barbera d’ Alba DOC of Piedmont, there the grapes play second fiddle to their more popular neighbor Nebbiolo. In the Barbera del Monferrato DOC, however, Barbera is the focus with the vines being planted in high density, steep vineyards, and given the chance for old vine age.

Stuckey describes how he thinks of the grape’s characteristics. “This is what I think about Barbera,” he tells us. “It’s tangular. This grape is tangy, and angular. So we give it no new wood. It’s all about letting it be noble–a vehicle for terroir. That’s tangular.”

Stuckey invites us to enjoy the wines and food with one final comment. “Here’s what I want you to know,” he says. “When it comes to Scarpetta and Frasca, I would like to meet you on the corner of drinkable and thinkable.”

Thank you to Bobby Stuckey, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson for the food, wine, good company, and invitation.

Thank you to David Lynch for hosting the tasting at St. Vincent, San Francisco.


For great photos and more from the LA Scarpetta-Frasca tasting check out Whitney’s post over at Brunellos Have More Fun.

For more on the Seattle offering read Jameson’s post at

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Meeting Gary Mills

Going further in

We arrive on a day Jamsheed is being labeled, waxed, and packaged. The wines going out to fill orders in Australia. Gary Mills greets us with a huge smile. I’m lucky. Mike Bennie, an Australian wine writer that has a good rapport with Mills, has brought me for the visit.

Gary Mills references me living in California almost immediately. But not until after nicknaming me Lady Hawke (which I appreciate). It turns out he worked for Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello first as an intern, and then for two years full-time from 1998 to 2001 and credits Draper as the man that taught Mills real wine. Mills knew winemaking already, and in fact has an impressive resume otherwise, having worked in both Oregon and other areas of Australia, among others. But it is Draper that Mills claims taught him most insightfully about indigenous yeast, whole cluster ferments, and other classic approaches to wine.

Now with his own label, Mills sources fruit from a few vineyards in different parts of Victoria. Doing so gives him the opportunity to get to know the character of multiple areas in the Province, and to offer varying types of fruit.

Gary Mills

When we get to tasting through the wines Mills explains his labels symbolism. His college education was in Literature. The story of Jamsheed relates the chance discovery of wine by a harem mistress of a Persian King. Jamsheed, the king, loved grapes so much he would store them all winter, leading to their spontaneous fermentation. At first thinking it was poison, the king kept the containers hidden. But suffering from migraines, one of his harem mistresses drank the poison in attempted suicide and awoke the next day to discover herself miraculously cured. After discovering the benefits of drinking such poison, Jamsheed would say he could see his kingdom in a cup of wine. Thus, Mills named his label for the mythic first maker of wine, and jokes that his wine label is all he got from his undergraduate Literature education.

Mills second tier label he names the Harem series in respect for the women that helped Jamsheed discover the grape elixir. The Harem Series intent is to offer quality wines at a more affordable price. By having both Jamsheed and the Harem series, Mills is also able to preserve the quality of the Jamsheed wines by having the opportunity to declassify fruit to make for the Harem series.

Though Jamsheed’s mythology inspires Mill’s label’s name, it’s Rumi’s writing that covers it–quotes from the poet showing on both the Jamsheed packaging and website. It is here I first get glimmers of Mills’ creative and spiritual inclinations, though they dance behind his more apparent joviality.

Starting with the whites

The Madame Chardonnay 2012 from the Harem Series shows example of Mills intent to keep quality with value. It sells for only $19.50 and offers a great bistro style option with juicy citrus blossom, impressive acidity, a zippy mid-palate followed by a pleasing saline and oyster shell finish. It also offers an example of the great quality Australia is producing in Chardonnay–even at the $20 range these wines are yummy.

Stepping up to a Jamsheed level white, Mills pours us his 2012 Beechworth Roussanne taken from the Warner Vineyard. It’s a nervy wine with a smooth wax feel and tons of lightness through the palate. The Warner Vineyard is loaded with pink granite, he tells us. The owners had to remove hundreds of tons of granite to put in vines. The nerviness comes with the granite influence. The acidity comes from the cool sub-alpine climate. The fruit is delicate and floral on the nose, carrying into a spiced floral, light palate both stimulating and peppered.

Great Western Riesling

As we move into the Great Western Riesling from the Garden Gully Vineyard, Mills explains that the Garden Gully Vineyard the fruit comes from is the oldest Riesling in Victoria, possibly in Australia, believed to be planted in 1892.

The 2012 comes in with concentrated flavors compared to the lightness of the 2011.The 2012 is fragrant with nasturtium, beeswax, and light prosciutto on the palate. It has a rolling, fresh, lush presentation that moves with a light glissé over the tongue. 2011 has a dryer dusty nose, and a super delicate palate. The wine offers a tightened sense of beeswax and honey comb without the sweetness, and a smooth mouthfeel.

2011 was a cold year with lots of rain throughout that made people work extra hard to get their fruit. ’12, by comparison, was a more normal year resembling the vintage received in both Oregon and California–lots of quality fruit that seems ready to drink early.

The Harem Series

The Harem series reds continue with the bistro level quality that showed in the Madame Chardonnay. Here we begin to see his use of whole cluster with 50% being used in the Pinot. Mills explains it was with Draper that Mills tasted his first 100% whole cluster wine, a Ridge York Creek Dynamite Hill Petite Sirah. It was from that wine Mills saw what whole cluster could do and he’s been committed to it ever since.

The 2012 pepé le pinot from Mornington is ultra light in its presentation, carrying stem spice, and light dark plum with plum blossom, as well as lifted green notes (not as in underripe, but as in greenery).

The 2012 ma petite francine Yarra Valley Cab Franc takes up 100% whole cluster giving a refreshing red floral and spice wine that hits a nice balance of being grounded and lifted both. The spice is characteristic Victoria to me, all dusty red earth, saffron, and long ferric notes. I like this wine.

2011 la syrah is a dirtier wine with barnyard showing at first that blows off into violets, red fruit and flower, and some carbonic up notes. The acidity and drive is intense, clenching the cheek bones and finishing with a tang. This is the wine that begins to show where some people may be challenged by Jamsheed. The la syrah is well made while also funky.  The 2011 Syrahs

Mills ease with whole cluster fermentation shows most apparently in the Jamsheed Syrahs–the approach drinking as seamlessly integrated into the overall presentation of the wine. Tasting through Mills’ portfolio I am struck by the same coupling that showed up in his personality–he has a jovial nature coupled with a creative seriousness that gives him grounding. The wines drink this way.

2011’s cooler vintage brings a lean focus to each of the Jamsheed Syrahs.

The Yarra Valley Healesville is the lightest of the three pictured giving a super fresh and juicy presentation peppered with hot chili spice flavors without the chili heat, a nutty greenery element with integrated carbonic lift, and hints of the entire southwest of the United States–cacti, agave sweetness, fresh from the kiln ceramics, red wax flower and a dusty texture that is just a little bit weedy.

The Beechworth Syrah 2011 comes from a sub-alpine district in granite vineyard. At first opening, the wine gives good mouth tension, with bubble gum, red fruit and flower lifted notes, coupled with integrated spice, red dusty earth, and a band of fresh stems and nut skin. I was able to drink it again in the states and thus take more time with this bottle. It showed rich and pleasing on the second day deepening into violet and dark berries with tart plum, chocolate, a tight long finish and good grip. The iron-saline mineral expression of the region is also there but well integrated.

Finally, the 2011 Great Western Garden Gully, Mills explains comes from a vineyard full of 119 year old vines. It’s an old style Syrah made for people that want a balance of juiciness with wine that’s there to chew on. Mills calls this his “old boys wine.” It comes in with purple flower, agave, and masa, all green chili and corn tamale with the rolling tannin characteristic of the region, and a nut wax, banana leaf finish. I’m in.

The Syrahs Mills makes showoff the geographical parallels between parts of Victoria with parts of the American Southwest. Drinking them in Victoria the wines are fully in line with their sense of place. Bringing them back to the United States it’s an interesting contrast that includes what for some people will be a recalibration of their palate. It’s a recalibration worth making, and perhaps even important.

Gary Mills

As Bennie described later, Mills’ approach is uncompromising. For some people that means wines that are a challenge. Where Mills’ doesn’t compromise is in allowing the site to express itself, even if that means bigger flavored wines. He is also committed to no acidity additions, and whole cluster fermentation, though he does vary the portion of whole cluster by vintage and site character.

The Mills challenge finally showed up for me at the end of barrel tasting through the 2012 Syrahs. 2012 was a ripe year and so even with keeping lower alcohol levels, the wines simply have bigger flavors. The 2012 Syrahs as a whole drink fresh and juicy, closer to a bottled wine even while still in barrel. But Garden Gully, that same vineyard the Riesling is sourced from, carries a distinctly ferric-plus-salty character in its red fruit, something found in a number of sites through Victoria. The combination of those big flavors plus the overtly mineral mouth-grab was almost overwhelming for me. That said, I’m fascinated to discover how the wine will show in a few years. Especially recognizing that it was the same wine that from the 2011 vintage pulled me in.

The Jamsheed Syrahs, I believe, offer an interesting lesson for California winemakers too. Where some California Syrahs drink like the winemakers behind them are experimenting with their techniques–not quite cohesive, Jamsheed drinks like wine already comfortable without being boring.


Thank you to Gary Mills, and to Mike Bennie.

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Hosting a Private Tasting

At the start of this week I hosted a small private tasting of 8 wines from Victoria. There are others I was lucky enough to bring back to the States as well but those are reserved for other tastings (and I’ll be honest, the Jamsheed 2011 Syrah is just mine ALL MINE MINE). The group was a mix of winemakers, sommeliers, and wine devotees curious about Australian wine, and wanting to hear about my trip.

The tasting was organized into three flights based on weight, and type. We did not taste blind because part of the point of the tasting was education. So, with each wine I gave some background on the label, and region–its climate, soil, and traditions.

The tasting turned out to be an interesting experience in wine psychology too, as the wines, I believe, were challenging for the group both in terms of going against Australian wine stereotypes, and in terms of being structurally distinct from what the tasting group is more used to drinking from outside Australia.

Partially because of my Jamsheed selfishness, and partially because I was unable to carry back bottles from that area, I was not able to bring a Yarra Valley representative, nor did I have any wine from the Mornington Peninsula. These oversights are significant in representing Victorian wine, however. Yarra Valley has the highest proportion of quality wines coming out of the Province, and Mornington Peninsula gets the most press.

The following notes represent the following tasting practice: wines were examined within the group tasting initially. Then I re-tasted the wines that same evening, and again the next day spending more time with each of the wines in follow up tastings than I was able to when with the tasting group.

Here are notes on the wines.

Flight 1: Whites

Victoria tasting whites flight

2012 Between Five Bells White Blend, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Riesling, 12.5% alcohol

The Between Five Bells motto is “for no other reason than to be delicious.” However, the wines’ design is also to go against the more common Australian practice of bottling varietal wines by creating varietally ambiguous blends. The grape components of the label’s blends vary by vintage. Fruit for 2012 primarily from Geelong. The 2012 white is not yet released.

The 2012 white blend accomplishes the goals of both deliciousness and ambiguity. The nose rolls through a long range of various lighter colored fruits settling finally with guava, lemon, and lychee. This wine keeps rolling as its exposed to air, but the guava and lychee do show primarily when the wine has opened and relaxed into the glass. The palate follows also carrying dried grasses, touches of candle wax, and finally a long saline finish. Production allowed full malolactic fermentation offering a softening of still vibrant acidity. The waxy element marries into a kind of underbelly smoothness on this wine, that moves under the acidic lift and saline texture. In the end, the smoothness-plus-waxiness works against me. It’s a refreshing glass to start with, and very much a summer porch wine. I’d want it at the start of a bbq. But as it continues, the guava-lychee character weighs on my palate and I would be ready to transition into a light bodied red.

The 2011 blend used different grape types, and had a more fleshy texture to it that highly appeals to me. I will be writing about it next week as part of a Pinot Meunier tasting. Between Five Bells also makes an annual red blend, and a rosé.

* Byrne 2011 Chardonnay, 12.5% alcohol

Byrne creates very small production Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with fruit sourced from the Ballarat region, a cool climate area a bit inland from Geelong.

I am a fan of the Byrne Chardonnay. With such a cool vintage the 2011 screams with acidity, which will calm with some age. In technical aspects this wine is brilliantly made, and will be interesting to taste again with a little more time on the bottle (the 2010 is award winning and drinks well right now). For both quality and interest I would put it alongside Chardonnay from anywhere. The wine offers well integrated reductive elements showing through light matchstick upon opening that relaxes into flint with some air, and time open. The fruit is all citrus, rolling through a full range of lemon zest to juice to pith to blossom. In the palate the flavors are meaty, with both lemon and lime accents and reductive touches that hit with corn meal notes on a long, zesty finish. I also like the viscosity-with-tension of this wine on the palate.

Having tasted both the current release 2010 vintage (the first vintage for Byrne), and a bottle sample of the 2012 I am in support of this label’s Chardonnay and am excited to keep watching his work.

Bindi 2011 Composition Chardonnay, 13.0% alcohol

Bindi finds its home with older vines grown in quartz, alluvial, and volcanic soils of the Macedon Ranges, west of Melbourne. The family focus is on Chardonnay and Pinor Noir made with an incredibly light touch, relying on wild ferment in a cool climate.

The wine first opens with a predominately vegetal-matchstick reductive nose that softens with air. The reductive elements obscure the fruit initially, but dissipate enough to reveal lemon zest, and white grapefruit zest. The palate follows, with both the fruit and matchstick notes. As the wine opens, however, a refreshing stoniness shows giving a long stimulating finish. The acidity here is quite vibrant, (while more integrated than on the Byrne currently). I enjoy the Bindi Chardonnay once its had the chance to rest in the glass a bit. This bottle does well with opening in advance of drinking. When first opened the reductive elements quickly pile up on the palate.

Flight 2: Pinot Noir

Victoria Pinot Noir

Bindi 2011 Pinot Noir, 13.0%

The Bindi 2011 Pinot Noir is a very light presentation, delicate bodied wine with still concentrated notes ranging from Eucalyptus flavors, to chinotto-like herbal aromas. There is some dried raspberry, and light waxy touches, alongside dried orange peel. This wine was one of the more challenging ones for the group as its various characteristics are surprising to find together in one wine–lighter more delicate overall presentation, while still medicinal, rolling into a ferric-salt-tannin finish. The wine drank best soon after opening, with the medicinal aspects dominating the next day in a way I found unpleasing.

The 2011 vintage was incredibly challenging through the region, especially for red wines (many people were simply unable to make Pinot Noir, for example), so I am quite interested to taste other vintages.

* Lethbridge 2009 Mietta Pinot Noir, 13.5%

Mietta is Lethbridge‘s highest end Pinot, grown on their home estate in the basalt-over-limestone soils of Geelong. Structurally this wine consistently presents across vintages like an Arabian horse–all lithe wired, muscular tannins, and expressive mane swishing presentation. The wine is held for several years before release, with the 2009 expected to be available later this year.

The wine opens initially with a disjunct between the flavors of the wine, and the body. It’s as if they arrive separately and then work against each other on the palate. By the evening, however, the two had resolved and were working in good harmony with the tannin effect in the mouth having smoothed, and the flavors having become more knit. The wine drank even better on the second day with its texture and flavor profile becoming more lush. There are notes of smoked meat, with an integrated crunchy berry element, coming before a light herbal digestive note on the finish. The wine also carries a very light menthol up touch that shows more initially than later, but presents as refreshing. The ferric-salty tannin I find characteristic of Victoria reds lingers long in the palate, with touches of saffron. At first opening this finish is difficult, but integrates beautifully when opened in advance of drinking.

The Mietta wants to be opened and left open before drinking. It is challenging at first, and with air becomes a beautiful, complex wine. Drink with food.

Flight 3: Reds

Victoria Reds

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 2010 Shiraz, 13.5%

The Bin 0 Shiraz takes fruit from around Best’s Concongalla site in Great Western, a continental cool climate. The blend brings together juice from plantings established in 1867, 1966, and 1970. In that way it’s a historic treasure trove.

Bin 0 2010 shows best upon initial opening of the reds, being quite drinkable. That said, I felt it needed food more than any of the other wines, and even more so when tasting again the second day. The tannin became more pervasive with air. The flavors here include the light touches of the eucalyptus characteristic of the region, which build in the glass with exposure to air, also offering dried cherry, cocoa, smoked meat, and paprika, with some gaminess, and a long ferric-salty finish. The ferric-salty combo piles up in the mouth for me over time, again encouraging the need for food. This is another wine that I want a glass of, alongside a rib eye steak, and then want to move into a more tightly focused red with the second glass.

The Best’s wine was one of the favorites of other members of the group, however. For a point of comparison, Best’s Bin 1 Shiraz carries less complexity than the Bin 0 but is also, as a result, a more approachable option. Best’s is also well worth investigating for other tasting options. (Next week I’ll also be featuring their Pinot Meunier in a tasting.)

Between Five Bells 2012 Heathcote Red Blend, Nero d’ Avola, Nero Amaro, Riesling skins, Shiraz, guessing around 13% alcohol

Between Five Bells traditionally makes an annual red blend, white blend, and rosé all with fruit from Geelong. In 2012 they decided to add another red blend to the mix taking fruit from Heathcote, to the north of Melbourne. The blend brings together Italian varieties with a small portion of Shiraz, and Riesling skins during fermentation. This wine is not yet released.

The Heathcote red blend carries significant contrast between the nose and the palate, with the nose showcasing exotic red fruits and flowers elevated by a light carbonic element, and lifted spices, while the palate carries a richer, juicy, darker flavored presentation. The palate is yummy and pleasing showing smoke, rare steak, dried cherry, and bay leaf. The wine is designed to be drinkable immediately but did well with some air time with the flavors-to-structure becoming more resolved. There is a nice light traction finish here as well.

(For my fellow wine geeks that I know are curious: There is nothing in this wine that speaks to the Italian heritage of the grapes, but it does show a more polished expression of those grapes in Australia. To put it another way, I don’t count the non-Sicilian/non-Southern-Italian character of this wine as a bad thing. Though I have to admit I was fascinated to taste it initially because I love these grapes in Italy.)

Pyren Vineyards Broken Quartz 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5%

The Pyren Vineyards site, on the slopes of the Warrenmang Valley of the Pyrenees region, are covered in quartz. The Cabernet is an insane value, sold by the winery for $240/case, that’s $20 a bottle.

The Broken Quartz Cab was one of the stranger wines of the tasting, with the Cabernet showing up varietally only through the tannin structure. The wine instead drinks with more lifted, bright fruit carbonic-like elements (unfortunately, I don’t have any information on how it was produced) that a couple of people commented were hard to wrap the mind around. There were flavors of blackberry and rhubarb, that deepen into darker fruit and smoke as the wine is left open for a few hours. The next day the wine had softened into red fruit and chocolate, complete with a cocoa-tannin texture. The overall presentation is light for a Cabernet, while still carrying its tannin, as mentioned. I am curious to hear more about how this wine ages. As mentioned, for $20 this wine is impressive value but should be approached as an ambiguous red, rather than a Cabernet.


These wines were all provided as samples.

Thank you to Ronnie Sanders, David Fesq, Alex Byrne, Ray Nadeson, Maree Collis, Jonathan Mogg.

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Historic and Quality Wine at Best’s Great Western

The Gold Rush hit Victoria, Australia in the 1850s bringing incredible wealth through the region, as well as increased settlements and immigration. With the larger population other services were also required. Brothers Joseph and Henry Best worked as butchers, supplying meat to the region. However, as the gold supply started to wain, so did the demand for food businesses. Not everyone that rushed for gold stayed.

Joseph and Henry had befriended a French pair, Troutte and Blampied, growing vines sourced from the original Busby collection brought into Australia in 1833 from France and Spain. The Busby collection is considered one of the most diverse, and serious of the various waves of vine imports to the country. Turning to the offer of fate, the Best brothers decided to take up a new industry both to themselves and the region of Great Western. The district had had some small early success in planting vines, but it was not yet thoroughly developed.

In the late 1860s, each brother purchased property on which to root their vines. While Joseph’s vineyards later moved into corporate ownership (a small number of these original vines remain but they are blended in with other wine. Most were pulled for the sake of production levels.), Henry Best’s vineyards remain intact, owned by the same family, the Thompsons, that bought the land originally following Henry’s death in 1920.

The original nursery block at Best's, planted in 1866

In the 1860s, Henry planted 39 varieties over 22 hectares. The types were planted side by side on own roots, and left to discover which would best succeed in the conditions of the Best property. Incredibly, those same plantings exist today in what is known as Best’s Nursery Block. The winery also bottles both a white and red field blend from the Nursery Block, available at the Cellar Door.

8 of the varieties present in the Nursery Block remain unidentified. The Thompson family has allowed genetic samples of the original plantings to be taken in order to accurately name the grape types. However, even with extensive research and genetic matching attempts, eight of the vines remain unknown.

I find these 8 vines mind blowing–no one knows where they originated, or how prevalent they may have been elsewhere when first brought to Australia. They represent a small glimmer into the indiscernible element of wine’s past. The field blend wines from the Nursery Block are both strange and wonderful to taste, offering a lightness of foot while also hard to grasp flavors. In both cases, I enjoyed the delicate while rustic aromas offered through a lighter-side-of-medium bodied wine.

Today genetic researchers still regularly request cuttings and study of the Best’s Nursery Block, as the isolation of the plantings, as well as the integrity they show with age (pre-phylloxera plantings on their own roots) make them a unique library of information.

Some of the nursery vines

close up of vines from the 1860s Nursery Block

In 1867 and 1868 the Thompson Family Block was established, fifteen rows of dry farmed, own rooted Shiraz planted in sandy loam. Those plantings exist today and are still bottled, when possible, in a separate Thompson Family Shiraz.

They grow everything here (and old)

Best also identified what are now known as Dolcetto and Pinot Meunier as appropriate matches to the region. As a result, the vineyards include a block of Pinot Meunier from 1867, also dry farmed. In 1971, cuttings were taken from the Pinot Meunier portion of this block and established as what they now call the “Young Vine” Pinot Meunier vineyard.

Going through the Pinot Meunier block, 15% of the historic vines turn out to be Pinot Noir. In 1868, some of the Pinot Noir was planted in a block now bottled as Best’s “Old Clone.”  At the time of planting, the vine was simply understood as an unidentified Burgundian clone.

In 1869, a 12-row block of Dolcetto was also established, though the vine was not well known at the time, today still intact on their own roots as planted. However, the juice from these wines is generally blended with fruit from 1971 plantings established from the original vines.

Nursery block field blend

a glimpse of the 1860s Nursery Block field blend–white in front, red in the distance

By 1870, the Best Vineyard had established 48,000 vines. The Thompson family has worked to preserve the genetic lineage of their unique site in multiple ways. Cuttings have been taken from each of the nursery block plants and established in a new location with the same basic layout. Similarly, young blocks of the original Pinot Meunier and Shiraz have also been established.

Looking over the Shiraz Vineyards at Best's

The vineyard plantings outside the Nursery Block are known as the Concongella Block, named for the river that neighbors the property. Best’s Great Western Concongella site showcases the characteristics of the region–a more continental climate, considered cool climate, but with warmer days, while still cool nights that allow both a ripeness of flavor and vibrant acidity, also allowing dry farming. The Eucalyptus of the region sneak their flavor into the reds but without being overwhelming. The soils help generate what I think of as melt away tannins–they are present in the mouth, and their effect is sustained on the palate, while being more crumbling than grippy or aggressive. This type of tannin seems characteristic of the Great Western district.  The old barn now the tasting room

The Best’s winery site showcases its history as well. An old work building now serves as the tasting room, or cellar door entrance. The facility allows visitors to take a self-directed tour of the historic aspects of the winery as well, many of them still functioning.

historic bottlings in the historic cellar

In the underground sections older bottles line the walls. The facility includes a complete vintage library going back to 1960.

Large tanks in the historic cellar

large size tanks throughout the historic cellars are used for aging reds before release

The crazy cap to the fermenting room

On the top floor of the historic winery a cap appears in the floor. When you then go downstairs the reason for the cap is revealed. The original cellar housed a massive, rounded room-size fermenter dug into the earth itself. A door has now been cut into the fermenter allowing it to be visible from below (there is no good way to get a picture of it). At the turn of 1800s into the 1900s, wine was made in the room-size fermenter by first lowering a man on a rope through the cap. He would use a large candle to line the entire room with wax. Then the grapes were put directly into the room to ferment in the massive vat underground. Standing inside of it, the room has intensely strange acoustics that make it uncomfortable to remain inside for very long. As a result, the fermenter is now used primarily for storage and display. Guessing, it was at least 20 ft deep, and about 15 ft across.

A bottle of 1976 vintage Pinot Meunier from 1876 vines, still intact

Inside the fermenter years ago some old bottles were found left there and forgotten about as storage materials. One of these was a 1976 Pinot Meunier made from the 1867 planting, which we were able to open. Later we also drank one from 2002, and tasted from the current vintages of Old Vine (planted in 1878), and Young Vine (planted in 1971) Pinot Meuniers. Pinot Meunier is one of my favorite grapes. These were lovely wines. (Thinking of them makes me feel dreamy.)

Best's Shiraz line up

Best’s makes a range of wines, but their central focus is on Shiraz. The Bin 1 bottling serves as the labels work horse with the highest production level, and the greatest overall accessibility. It’s a wonderfully juicy, rich flavored wine. The Bin 0 brings together a blend of the older vineyards, including those planted in 1966, and 1970. The Thompson Family bottling is made from the 15 rows originally planted in 1867, when possible. On years when the fruit from these rows is not appropriate for single vineyard bottling it is blended into Bin 0.

The overall quality of Best’s Great Western wines is solid, with a healthy balance between interesting, pleasurable flavors, and fantastic structure. I like the ruggedness that can be found in the older vine bottlings, but the juicy freshness of Bin 1 is impressive and enjoyable. These are well priced, quality wines. It is also a genuine honor to first visit vines of such age and grace, and then drink their wines. Thank you.


Thank you to Jonathan Mogg and David Fesq.

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To read the first post in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 1: Considering Recent History


A Visit to the Egg with Hardy Wallace

Hardy Wallace

We’re standing in front of a concrete egg filled with fermented straight-to-press Semillon harvested alongside the Napa River during the 2012 harvest. It’s fruit grown in a rocky vineyard directly beside the water. The egg holds the answer to a question we’re there to consider–how does its wine compare to the same fruit fermented during skin contact? Wallace processed the white grape both ways.

In discussions of macerated fermentations, claims are often made that such techniques obscure terroir. Side by side lots offer some insight into the validity of such an assertion. Going deep enough points out another consideration. In conjunction with the idea of terroir, the variety of the fruit also has to be considered.

Considering Wallace’s Mentor, Kevin Kelley

Wallace started his label, Dirty and Rowdy, with a close friend only three vintages ago, their work in white wine beginning in their second vintage. But Wallace stepped into the project thanks to the encouragement of winemakers Kevin Kelley, of Salinia and NPA, and Angela Osborne, of A Tribute to Grace and Farmer Jane.

The Venture reaches back to a chance flight in 2009 to San Francisco when Wallace decided to take a quick trip to the Bay Area to visit with friends he’d made online in wine, thanks to his popular wine blog, Dirty South Wines. Having gotten to know Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, the two decided to meet at Terroir SF, a popular wine bar in the city. There Bonné suggested they purchase a bottle of Kevin Kelley’s 2008 skin-contact Chardonnay. As Wallace explains, he’d had skin contact wines before but none “necessarily as heart warming.” Kelley’s Chardonnay “wasn’t just a funky glass of wine, not just a puzzle or intellectual stimulation.” He pauses, “what a core of joy it had. Other examples I’d had at that point were beautiful but didn’t move me like that.”

Kelley’s Chardonnay changed Wallace’s perspective on domestic wines and he returned again to spend a week touring Sonoma and Napa wine specifically hoping to meet with Kelley.

When asking Wallace to think through what it was about that particular wine that so affected his view, he considers the grape itself. He responds, “It’s an example that changes the way you feel about wine, and what it can express. Kevin’s wine…” He thinks on the question again, then continues, “it was chardonnay, a grape that has so much baggage that comes with it, and here is this experience that redefines the grape.”

That wine by Kelley was made with Heintz Chardonnay, a well-known, quality vineyard, but it was a distinctly different expression of the the site–fruit fully fermented on skins and sold in a stainless steel thermos.

By Spring of 2010, Wallace had moved to Sonoma and was working with Kelley helping to market the NPA project, and create the weekly blends ordered for local delivery.

While working with Kelley, and Osborne as his assistant, Wallace realized he wanted to step into making his own skin contact white wine. But, after securing a vineyard source, an incredible heat spike hit. It was Labor Day 2010, right before harvest, and the fruit was entirely lost to sunburn. Having to find a new grape source, with a lot of vineyards lost from the weather, that year Dirty & Rowdy started by shifting to red fruit and making Mourvedre. In 2011, they were able to locate a white grape again, and return to their original interest in making skin contact Semillon alongside the red wine project.

Ryme Cellars Mind Scrambles

Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla

Ryan and Megan Glaab of Ryme Cellars began making two of their white wines with skin fermentation after an experience analogous to Wallace’s first contact with Kelley’s Chardonnay. 2006, Ryan explains, was the first time he had an orange wine, tasting Ribolla Gialla from both Radikon and Gravner in one night. The experience, he explains, “was mind scrambling. I’d never tasted anything like it.” He continues, “I like to be really surprised by wines. That experience sparked a fascination.”

Within a couple years, Megan and Ryan were able to visit Stanko Radikon in Fruili, and see first hand how he made his wines, fermenting on skins in open top wood containers, then storing for extended periods often still on skins. During the visit, the Glaabs were told by Radikon that a friend of his, George Vare, was growing Ribolla in Napa, and making wines with macerated fermentations too. In 2009, the Glaabs heard from their friend Dan Petroski that Vare might have fruit they could purchase. That year, inspired by their visit with Radikon, they started making Ribolla Gialla with incredibly extended macerations. The next year, they followed suit with a skin contact Vermentino, keeping the contact time shorter there out of consideration for the differing characters of the grapes.

The Role of Tannin, Flavor, and Mouthfeel

The differing fermentation choices between Ribolla Gialla and Vermentino made by the Glaab’s highlight an obvious but oft overlooked point–when it comes to orange wines, it depends on the grape.

Tannin structure of grapes resides primarily in the skin, rather than the pulp of the fruit. As Wallace likes to illustrate, the skin of the grape acts as the tea bag, with the pulp giving water for the tea. The longer you steep tea, the stronger the beverage. Similarly with grapes–the longer the skins are in contact with the juice, the greater the effect. However, different white grape types have differing levels of tannin in their skins. The amount of tannin available helps determine whether its worth leaving the juice in longer contact or not. As Ryan explains, other varietal factors such as smell, flavor, and weight also come into consideration.

Ryan offers insight by contrasting their Ryme his Vermentino (they also have a hers presentation of the grape that is made straight-to-press) versus their Ribolla Gialla. “The grapes have different things to give. With Vermentino it isn’t beneficial to use long maceration. The grape is more sensitive to oxidation, and volatility, but I like the richness it gets from skins.” The grape also has comparatively little tannin, offering less structural alteration in the wine from extending maceration. So, to protect the wine, while balancing structural benefits, the Glaabs press off their his Vermentino after two weeks maceration, then allow it to finish ferment to dryness.

Ryan then discusses the Ribolla, “Ribolla requires a lot of patience. It has a very tannic structure.” Ribolla Gialla is considered one of the most tannic white grapes, in fact. He continues, “I like the evolution of tannin you get from long maceration with Ribolla.” In working with the Ryme Ribolla Gialla, the Glaab’s patience isn’t just kept through extended maceration (their 2012 is still on skins after harvesting the fruit in September), but after bottling as well. Their 2010 Ribolla Gialla will be released later this Spring.

The Glaab’s experience with macerated fermentations is extended too by Ryan’s work with Pax Mahle at Wind Gap Wines, where Ryan is Assistant Winemaker. There the team has experimented with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay on skins, thus witnessing the effect of using the technique on differing grape types over a number of years.

Glaab explains that when it comes to skin contact “variety is a key piece.” With some types, extended macerations can make the wines too heavy. Scientific studies have shown that extended skin contact increases the potassium levels of the wine (Ramey et al 1986), effectively raising the pH, thus making the wine heavier on the palate. This is true with as little as twenty-four hours of contact (Darias-Martin et all 2000). Skin contact also increases the aromatic and flavoral elements of a wine (Singleton et al 1983). But as Glaab explains, this has to be considered in relation to the characteristics of the particular variety. For some varieties, he points out, “the aroma and flavor are too singular, very strong and direct, almost thick” thus working against the potential advantages of time on skins. This isn’t to say you can’t successfully make an orange wine with those varieties. It is to say you may have to think about different factors in their treatment. As a result, in considering what will be heightened by fermenting on skins, the use of the technique has to be judged in balance with the overall characteristics of the particular grape type–structure and flavor, aroma and mouthfeel.

Tasting Rocky: Dirty and Rowdy’s Semillon

Hardy Wallace pours Semillon

Wallace has pulled samples from three lots of Semillon. The first comes directly from the concrete egg we’re standing beside–fruit harvested then put straight to press and into concrete for fermentation followed by aging. The second two lots were fermented on skins in a large stainless steel fermenter. After fermentation, the fruit was pressed with half going into old oak barrels, and the rest being kept in steel.

We taste the straight-to-press wine first. It is pretty while also light. As Wallace describes, “more pretty than wild.” It carries at this stage very light sleeping fruit, dried grasses, and white sage with a long tang finish. We move to the wine from barrel. It has a stimulating, vivacious nose, with refreshing lifted elements. The palate is rocky and stimulating. The flavors of the press lot are present, but richer, with more charisma. This rendition is pretty with substance. The third lot, also skin fermented, is tasted. It has the wildest edge to it, but with a more focused texture than the barrel aged wine. Finally, we quickly mix the three together in rough proportions. The blend immediately offers a river bed nose. It is multi-layered, grassy, herbal, and hits in stages. The palate too is multi-dimensional, and multi-staged, rocky. This wine opens to gorgeous.


To read Part 3 in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 3: The Craft of Wine Tasting, and the Question of Responsibility, Conversation with Two Sommeliers

To read last year’s series explaining Orange Wines beginning with how they’re made, then their presence in Georgia, Italy, and California, begin here: Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva


As this series continues specific grape varieties and other examples of both Oregon and California wines will also be explored. The question of terroir will also be more centrally addressed in a future post in this series.

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


Visiting Lethbridge Wine in Geelong

Olives at Lethbridge

Entering the winery at Lethbridge olive trees welcome you. The hardwood dots the property producing pressable fruit only every other year.

Lethbridge rests in Geelong at the Western reaches of Australia’s Southeastern province, Victoria. The area is aptly called a cool climate, consistently harvesting last among the mainland wine regions.

a look over the vineyard back towards the house

looking across the Lethbridge vineyards to the house

Together Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis established the Lethbridge Vineyards in 1996. The two both worked as academics in Melbourne at the time, Nadeson doing research and teaching in neuroscience, Collis in biochemistry.

Nadeson had an established love for wine, especially Burgundy. On days off from work, with a friend he would daydream about the idea of getting to make wine himself someday. Over time the brainstorm took hold till Collis and Nadeson together decided to research the possibility. They each completed programs in winemaking and spent time thinking through the principles implicit in a good vineyard site. Nadeson explained that they were determined to invest in a basic understanding of soil science, which led them to recognize the role of rocks in good vineyards around the world.

Ray and Maree, with Alex

Ray Nadeson, and Maree Collis began Lethbridge in the 1990s. With the production of Lethbridge Wine having expanded over time, Alex Byrne now also helps with their winemaking.

The couple spent several years searching for their ideal location. They wanted proximity to Melbourne because of their day jobs, soils that would support but challenge the vines, and a cooler location. At the time they were looking, Geelong was primarily ranch land. The area had been a historically important wine region for Australia, with vines planted through the area in the 1870s by Swiss immigrants. But in the early 1900s late 1800s, when phylloxera arrived on the continent, laws were enacted to pull all of the Geelong vineyards out.

The original 1880s wine shed

To find a suitable site, then, Nadeson and Collis applied their research skills to land maps. They identified the areas within driving distance of the city, then overlaid soil studies and ownership parcels. Finally, after a couple years of looking they zoned in on two potential properties near the town of Lethbridge. The sites weren’t for sale, so they decided to knock on the owners’ door.

Touring the land that would become their Lethbridge Estate, the owner at the time finally asked if the couple could use any old vineyard equipment. He walked them to a tin sided shack from the 1880s full of vineyard and winery materials left there from that century. Nadeson and Collis made an offer and soon after moved onto the land.

Looking across the Golden Plains, and part of Lethbridge Vineyards

Geelong sits in a region also known as the Golden Plains. The area is an old seabed full of limestone, but due to volcanic activity much of it is covered in a top layer of basalt. As a result, few trees show through the district, covered instead by surface crop, thus the grasses and flat land of the moniker.

Looking into the Basalt Soil

black basalt soil at the base of the Shiraz vines

The land of Lethbridge falls on a divide with dark basalt soils covering most of the vineyard, cracking in the dry weather of the region, and lighter basalt falling over other parts. (These cracks are impressively deep. As Ray mentioned, you could lose your keys in there.)

Volcanic Honey Comb Top Rock

honeycomb basalt rocks in the vineyard

The basalt is also dotted throughout with iron stone, or hematite. Only about six inches into the soil honeycomb basalt rocks begin to persistently appear resting atop a field of bluestone, a type of basalt boulder that was also harvested for government buildings in Victoria. Below rests the limestone.

8 year old vines sparsely showing shiraz

8-year old vines at Lethbridge

The result of the soil and climate combination at Lethbridge includes miniaturized vines, and ultra low yields. The ironstone is palpable on the palate resulting in light bloody notes in the Pinot, and a long ferric finish in the Shiraz. The soil-rock combination of the site also creates impressive tannin structure throughout the varieties grown at Lethbridge. The tannin is assertive without being aggressive or harsh. It’s a structure Nadeson explains he prefers. Lethbridge also hold their top-tier wines several years in bottle before release to help prepare the structure for drinking. As an example, their 2009 Mietta Pinot Noir (grown on the Lethbridge vineyard) is only about to be released.

We tasted an older Merlot-blend that showed far more grip than would be expected from the predominate grape. When I asked Nadeson how much Cabernet he’d blended in (expecting that was the source of the tannin) he told me very little, then walked me out to the Merlot vines. Tasting the fruit of the vine that same tannin is apparent.

Pinot Noir at normal yield level, very low

Lethbridge’s Mietta Pinot Noir Vines

The structural character of Lethbridge fruit is not only a matter of tannin, however. The cooler climate keeps excellent acidity throughout the wines. The depth of the vine roots, and the character of the soils generate a wonderful tension through the wine as well. It’s the same sort of description Chef de Cave identify as minerality in Champagne–a kind of flavor-muscular stimulation in the mouth. It pulls the flavors of the wine into unified concert with the structure of the wine by stimulating the tongue and creating an echoing tension effect. The flavors resonate, and the structure of the mouth literally responds long down the throat.

Lethbridge bottlings

Lethbridge produces three tiers of wine. The Allegra Chardonnay, Mietta Pinot Noir, Indra Shiraz, and Hugo George Super Tuscan represent their top level wines, all meant to age and are held in bottle for several years before release. We were able to taste multiple vintages going back to the first on each of these wines. They carry a smart progression of drinking nicely on the older vintages while still showing greater focus and clarity on the newer ones–the sign of an evolving while consistent winemaker. I especially liked the Allegra Chardonnays. They offer that pulpy texture of just biting into fresh orchard fruit, while carrying a mix of citrus and light apricot flavors touched by a focusing line of reductive character. Impressively, the 2004 and 2005 were brilliant right now.

Lethbridge’s midlevel label, the Estate bottlings, offer still generously flavored and structured wines, that drink a little sooner and still do well with age. Where the upper tier wines are very structurally focused, the estate bottlings come in comparatively more relaxed line. Compared to the Indra, the Estate Shiraz offers a more approachable style that is still definitively Geelong for its distant desert spice and wound lines, for example.

The Menage label represents their younger, most affordable line, with a juicy Pinot Noir as the real show piece. Lethbridge also revels in trying various new projects alongside their central themes. We were able to taste a range of one-offs and side bottlings that show the playful side of the winemakers. My favorite of these was their Riesling and dessert Rieslings–brilliant acidity throughout.


post-edit: I originally said early 1900s for the arrival of phylloxera, but it came over in botany samples in the late 1800s. The response was to enact vine pull laws through parts of Victoria in an attempt to protect other areas with vines. If you’d like to read more on this history here is a nice post from Gonna Warra Vineyards:

The blog Betty’s Wine Musings briefly mentions something I’d been told while traveling through Victoria, that the vine pull scheme was likely motivated by more political reasons than scientific need. Her post can be found here:

Also, Australian wine writer, Max Allen, wrote to clarify that while Geelong is a cool climate, and does start among the last for mainland harvest, other areas in mainland Australia can harvest later. Here’s what he had to say in email:

“Geelong is definitely a cooler climate wine region, yes, but there are quite
a few others on the mainland that consistently harvest later (or at least
consistently finish harvesting later) – Orange, 1000 metres up on the slopes
of an old volcano in New South Wales, for example, and Henty, further out in
the widescreen country of southwest Victoria …”

Thanks for the information, Max. Always glad to get more clarification!

If you’d like to read more about Orange, here’s a good start from the Vignerons of the region:

And to read more about Henty, here’s a start from the Wine Diva website:


Thank you to Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis for hosting me. Thank you to Alex Byrne. Thank you to David Fesq. I very much enjoyed my time at Lethbridge and appreciate the generosity you showed. Thank you.

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