Yearly Archives: 2014

1

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air…. A riot is the language of the unheard.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In recognition of the mourning our nation continues to face after the Ferguson verdict, this week’s column has been postponed until next week.

May we all find within ourselves the courage, calm, and compassion needed to face these challenges honestly, and move forward for positive, equitable change.

My best to everyone who is enjoying time with family and friends during the holiday this week here in the United States.

***

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For those looking for ways to help, here are a few donation sites that can assist people in Ferguson.

Schools are closed right now in Ferguson. Donate to the Ferguson Public Library, which has remained open for area children. Every bit helps. http://ferguson.lib.mo.us/

Schools in the region suffer massive under-funding. Though schools are closed this week in the midst of the turmoil, they reopen after the holiday. Choose from a range of classroom projects to assist area teachers. http://www.donorschoose.org/help-right-now-in-ferguson?id=20522545&active=true

The Foodbank has greatly increased its aid in the Ferguson area to help people particularly affected by the events of this week. To learn more, visit the St Louis Food Bank website, and to donate write “Ferguson” in the comments section of your donation. http://stlfoodbank.org/

For those looking for more information on the reality of the situation, excellent, very real coverage can be found by Antonio French on Twitter. He is live tweeting events from Ferguson, while also retweeting information from others worth following. https://twitter.com/AntonioFrench

***

Post-edit:

Help small business bakery & shop looted during the Ferguson riots continue and rebuild: Natalie’s Cakes & More. http://www.gofundme.com/NataliesCakesnMore

14

The Challenges of Natural Wine

One of the criticisms regularly leveraged against the so-called Natural wine movement is its lack of definition. Critics of the phenomenon repeat the point as a central proof of the movement’s lack of legitimacy.

Some writers, however, have also asserted that lack of definition could be an advantage. Eric Asimov takes up the subject through an article in 2012 and describes the lack of definition as “one of the greatest strengths of the natural partisans” as they “refuse to be pinned down in a manner that subjects them to lawyerly argument.” Part of the advantage means they can pursue what techniques best suit their motivations within the reality of what’s available to them.

In her book, Naked Wine, Alice Feiring considers a key trouble with Natural wine lacking definition. There she says, “The danger lurks in the word’s being legislature resistant and therefore easily commandeered by commercial wineries looking to keep their market share” (2011 31). Such an event would work against the roots of the Natural wine movement, which places itself against such commercial wineries.

Definitive to the origins of the Natural wine movement rests a defense against pollutants associated with large scale farming, and additives used in the cellar.

While organic and less-interventionist wines have been made for centuries, Natural wine as a movement took form precisely at the point industrialized farming and winemaking began to dominate entire regions. As Feiring describes, chemical farming took hold in France from the 1960s, with serious changes seen in the health of the land by the 1970s (2011 38). By the end of the 1970s, winegrowers in France were beginning to assert a position in viticultural politics. By 1982, the political position had expanded from producers to sales with Natural wine bars appearing.

Natural wine as a project moves outside France as well. It takes similar form in Italy, for example, where, like France, Natural winemakers tend to also grow their own grapes.

In the New World, it becomes more difficult to carry forward a comparable model of Natural wine. In California, for example, of those that assert themselves as Natural wine producers, few also control their own farming, though there are exceptions. It is simply a different sort of grape market. In such cases, an implicit gap between cellar and vineyard changes the politics of the movement, but also the reality of what winemaking activities a producer controls. While winemakers that source fruit may retain control of their fermentation, élevage, and bottling, many enjoy limited input on viticultural choices that produce their fruit. When possible, they can of course choose to work with farmers they trust.

Motivations and needs differ between origins as well.

Influential in the difference is a contrast in regulatory board. In France, regional control groups demand particular farming practices, rather than just claims of origin, as in the United States. For producers in France, then, a Natural wine movement arises from very real need to protect against what proponents see as legally enforced ecological damage. There Natural wine proves an actual fight, with producers facing court battles, and substantial fines.

In the United States, ecological damage also stands as a real concern but without such direct legislative weight. That said, Natural wine doesn’t belong to a particular region. It’s a global phenomenon that happens to take strong form in some areas thanks to specific laws and regulations.

At the same time such politics take place, many other producers have continued to make wine through essentially organic and less interventionist means without claiming to be part of a movement. The range of wines that eschew industrialized technologies proves, then, to be broader than those claiming membership in a cause.

It appears, then, difficult to find a cohesive idea of what Natural wine is.

Still, Feiring finds the word useful for how it gives the public “a general word to indicate the kind of wine it is looking for” pointing out that while there may be issues with natural as a concept it “is good enough” (2011 13).

While many critics of Natural wine would target Feiring at exactly this point, seeing such hand waving as exactly where the illegitimacy they keep repeating shows up, her point here, I take it, is precisely made. Natural gives us a general word to get at an idea. For any of us discussing the issue, whether we’re for or against or agnostic for Natural wine, referencing Natural wine as an idea is good enough. We all basically know what we’re talking about, even if not precisely. When we want and actually need to be more careful, we can do that.

What Being More Careful Looks Like

In truth, any definition of Natural wine does have a certain vagueness to it. The point, however, is that such ambiguity is not inappropriate to the subject, nor a lack of legitimacy. Further, we can do more to resolve it.

Winegrowers farming organically and then using less interventionist cellar techniques; winemakers reducing cellar input but purchasing grapes; and producers refusing the subject while using methods appropriate to the title of Natural wine — they’re all relevant to the discussion.

(In grape buying markets, there are also organic and/or biodynamic grape growers but the discussion of Natural wine seems defined by its product — wine. So, while these growers are crucial, they’re a different piece of the puzzle. Strictly speaking, I’m not excluding them. My point is only that organic grape growers not making wine are precisely that — growing grapes but not making wine. We need and want them. However, winemakers can purchase organically farmed grapes and then chapitalize or acidify, as examples, thus not making natural wines. When we discuss Natural wine, we’re discussing what’s in the bottle, even if also what got us there. So, I am not excluding the growers but in a grape sourcing market, the winemakers choose to use such grapes or not and they can clarify that for us in discussing their wines.)

Which of these you’re getting at, and how you’re considering their activities depends on what motivates your point to begin with. That is, what is your purpose or focus? The specifics, in other words, are provided by you.

Let me explain. There are various types of definitions. (For the sake of clarity, I do need to address what might seem like a purely lexical point, but I’ll be brief.)

For example, in discussing wine, located as I am in California, I often reference wines from this state. In doing so, it’s (basically) easy to understand what I mean as the boundaries of California itself provide my definition. I mean wines made from within the state of California, and let’s assume from grapes within the state as well.

In cases where an Arizona winery, for example, is making wine from California fruit trucked across state lines it doesn’t really make sense anymore to call such wine simply as “from Arizona”, nor only as “from California.” Boundaries have gotten mixed. The wine comes from California fruit made into wine by an Arizona winery. We have a specific idea when we say “from California.”

As an example of a different sort, I might refer to Napa Cabernet. In one sense, such an idea is rather straightforward as I could simply point to every example of a wine made by a California winery using and bottling Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Any one of them would count.

However, it is common these days for people in wine to refer to Napa Cabernet as a stylistic point referencing the riper, big boned, more extracted styles associated with the 1990s. Not all Cabernet made from Napa Valley during the 1990s fits this genre. However, whether we’re for or against this type of wine, we all basically know what we’re talking about when we refer to Napa Cabernet in this way, even if the edges of the category get a little smudgy.

In which of these two ways we intend to use the idea of Napa Cabernet usually gets cleared up by the context of our conversation. When it doesn’t, our point might get confused. That’s when it’s our job simply to clarify.

In the case of Natural wine, something else is happening. To sum up before I illustrate my point: we do generally know what we’re talking about when we talk about Natural wine; that is, there is a definition already. We just haven’t quite recognized it, partially because it’s just not the same sort as either of the previous examples.

In his 1953 book, Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein puts forth a now famous account of what he calls family resemblance. He’d actually begun developing the idea decades prior, but it is in Investigations that it becomes well-known. The basic idea is simple. One of the key implications of Wittgenstein’s ideas is relevant here. It is this.

Wittgenstein pointed out that sometimes we expect things of the same type or definition to be joined by one common feature, all from California, for example, or, all of the same style, for another.

However, in many instances, a group of things or an idea are instead defined by overlapping similarities without one single feature common to all. Even so, however, we do still recognize and understand these overlapping similarities as a connected group. In such cases, asserting the group has no definition is a misunderstanding, rather than a genuine assertion of illegitimacy.

Here’s how it works.

Game Playing with Wittgenstein and My Family

When Wittgenstein discussed his idea he would often refer to the notion of similarity in families.

For example, my parents, my sisters, and I are all of the same family. My sisters and I have in common that we are each a daughter of our two parents. But my parents don’t share that similarity. They have in common that they are both parents of their three girls. My sisters and my dad share the trait of being obstinate, while my mom and I have in common often being right. (Just kidding. I thought we could use a laugh at this point.) There is no one common element that all five of us have in common, yet it is quite clear we are all from the same group.

As another of Wittgenstein’s famous examples, he looked at the notion of games. His point here was similar. That is, different games have a lot in common, but there is not one feature shared by all games. Wittgenstein describes games as a type of family.

We can take Wittgenstein up on this idea (as the entirety of Western thought has since) and consider too types of games, or parts of a family as a notion of subgroups.

Certain types of games might share more in common than another type of game. Card games are played with cards, while board games require a playing surface, for example. Similarly, my sisters and I have in common being the children of the family, while my parents share their being the parents.

In other words, there can be subgroups that share a resemblance not shared by all of the larger group, yet the subgroups together are parts of the larger group. Card games and board games are still both games, just not the same type. The children, and the parents are both part of the same family.

We can apply this idea to Natural wines.

Types of Natural Wine

As already discussed, there are different types of Natural wines.

(1) There are Natural wines made by grape growers that practice organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices, that then go on to practice less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives.

(2) There are winemakers that practice less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but that purchase their grapes.

(2a) We might want to add that they purchase organically and/or biodynamically farmed grapes but of those producers that have been included in the Natural wine community so far this is not true in every case. There we’ve been willing to allow Natural winemakers less defined by viticulture. It might be this forms two subgroups.

(2b) Some will likely want to exclude any wine made without essentially organic and/or biodynamic grapes all together.

(3) Wine growers and/or makers that use organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices and/or less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but do not define themselves with the movement of Natural wine.

Natural wine as a category includes each of the three types of wine. There is no one element shared by every single instance of Natural wine. However, that does not mean there is no definition, nor does it mean we do not know what we are talking about when we refer to the concept. We do. When we need more clarity, we can simply be more specific.

“I would like a grower-Natural wine,” for example, that is, like a grower Champagne, one made by the person that grew the grapes. “Let’s make a list of California’s Natural winemakers,” as another, that is, a list of Natural winemakers (of whatever subgroup) that make their wine in and from California. “Who is making Natural wine but not touting it as such?” as a third. In each case, we’re using that general term Feiring explains that gives us an idea of what we’re looking for, while also being just a bit more specific because we have a more specific need or sense of what we want.

Within these types of Natural wine we can also get more rule driven, when desired or appropriate. For example, organic and biodynamic viticulture have specific guidelines that are generally followed on principle for those that believe in such views, and must be followed for certification. In the cellar, Natural wine using few additives generally means nothing added to the grapes but sulfur, and being less interventionist doesn’t mean doing nothing, but does often include approaches like no invasive filtering, as examples.

For some critics, here is precisely where more rules should be drawn. It is not clear, however, that Natural wine is a rule driven category in that sense. It is in rules, rather than just definitions that the lawyerly argument takes hold, to reference Asimov’s point. There are ways to defend a demand for rules, but those are more case by case than general so I’m not going to get into it here. Further, there are many categories in wine and elsewhere simply assumed as legitimate without being subject to precise rules. It’s not clear rules are strictly necessary, in other words. Instead, I’ll point out that there are already some implicit guidelines in place in Natural wine, and guidelines are likely good enough. We do know what we mean when we say something like no additives besides sulfur, for example.

As an example, Jenny & Francois offer a list of general guidelines on their website that they believe help steer Natural winemaking. They then offer the following point that seems relevant to the spirit of Natural wine, and so is relevant here in relation to the question of rules.

For the pedants out there, it should be noted that all of these aspects are ideals. We accept that some may be on the path to these ideals and not quite there yet. We work with their wines because they share the spirit of these ideas and a desire to get as close to them as they possibly can. The road to healthy organic soils and wines is not a quick and easy path.

The point is this. What we have, and in fact have already had for a long while, is a definition of Natural wine, even if the edges get a little smudgy. It is one that we can better recognize thanks to the idea of family resemblence we get from Wittgenstein. This definition of Natural wine is good enough, as Feiring says, and avoids the lawyerly argument that worries Asimov too. In this discussion, we’ve all been talking for a long time like there is only one way to arrive at definitions, and Natural wine doesn’t have it. For a long time, that simply hasn’t been true.

Remaining Controversies

For critics of Natural wine, showing we already have a definition of the category doesn’t undo other problems. It does remove the commonly made claim that the category is illegitimate because it lacks a definition, but other issues still remain. Some of those are problems for proponents as well.

Many critics will still have issue with how Natural wine is marketed. In some cases, that depends on the marketers. In others, misunderstanding.

Implicit to many discussions around Natural wine there will still likely be hard dichotomies placed, with Natural wines on the one hand, and Industrial wines on the other. Looking at fights like those occurring in portions of France, such a view begins to make sense. In other regions, more fine-tuned accounts are better suited.

The idea of Natural wine is still not legislated. In parts of Europe, that has proven a legal problem for wine shops that know we know what we’re talking about but whose relevant legal systems don’t think we know it well enough.

The lack of legislation around the concept could put more work on the side of the consumer, but it should put more work on the part of the retailer and restauranteur to know what they’re selling and serving. The consumer’s job is to recognize whose views they trust.

People that don’t like use of the word natural itself have likely already lost the battle. In relation to wine, the category seems to have already chosen its name.

Problematic uses of the word reach back at least to the early local food movements, and health crazes of the last century. None of the claims that the word is misleading have too much weight when the truth is we all have to chose words to make our point, and the point is really made in the rest of the conversation, not just one name.

To make that last point another way (and borrowing from the late Leslie Feinberg), we can care about what word is used, but we can treat the subject (and each other) with respect using the wrong word, and we can be disrespectful using the right one. What matters is if we’re trying to listen, and have a conversation.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

4

Growing Arizona Wine with Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan, JeromeMaynard James Keenan in his Judith Vineyard, Jerome, Arizona, November 2014

“No one knows if Nebbiolo works here, so why not just try it?” Maynard James Keenan tells me. “If it doesn’t work, I know Sangiovese does so I can graft over.”

We are walking the terraces of Keenan’s Judith Vineyard on a steep slope side of Jerome. The terraces are edged by white limestone boulders pulled from the site’s calcium laden caliche soils, and decomposed granite. We stand in direct morning sun. In the distance, red rock formations cut through stark blue sky. It feels like walking a moon scape carved with technicolor edges.

Keenan moved to Jerome in the mid-1990s, beginning to establish vines a few years later to bottle under his Caduceus Cellars, and Merkin Vineyards labels.

Though he is known more widely for his music career with Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer, Keenan has dedicated his attention these last ten-plus years to helping grow the health of the Arizona wine industry. While we’re there to discuss his work in wine, he spends much of the day helping me taste the work of other Arizona winemakers, then finally helping me connect with them for interviews as well.

As we cross terraces, Keenan points out small plantings of Malvasia, Tempranillo, and Aglianico. The site was originally planted to Cabernet before it had to be pulled due to Pierce’s Disease.

Finding Inspiration Through Wine

Maynard James Keenan in Marzo VineyardMaynard James Keenan discussing AZ wine in Marzo Vineyard, Cornville, Arizona, Nov 2014

As we move through the vineyard, I ask Keenan what made him want to make wine. The conversation begins first with how he fell in love with wine.

“Everyone has that bottle of wine that opens their palate for the first time.” Keenan says. For him that bottle came in a gift from his friend, Tori Amos, a 1992 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet enjoyed alongside a steak in the mid-1990s.

Though his wine awakening came with the bottle from Amos, Keenan credits a close friend from his early 20s as preparing him to experience that moment. The friend, Keenan tells me, used to bring home wine for meals. The bottles were, in themselves, nothing special but together Keenan and his friend would do things like grill fish on the roof of a Boston apartment building, then enjoy it with wine for dinner.

The simple combination of wine with a meal established for Keenan the foundation he needed to realize the beauty of that early-1990s Silver Oak. When he tasted the Cabernet with steak, he explains, he recognized what his friend had been up to. Food and wine simply go together. Later it would prove to be Sangiovese and Bordeaux that took the experience a step further into making wine.

“It was a 1990 Soldera Reserva, and a 1982 Leoville Las Cases,” he tells me. “Those were the wines that made me want to make wine.” Soon after, he began planting the Judith Vineyard to Cabernet. Later Keenan would begin establishing other varieties.

The food and wine combination also cemented for Keenan the importance of tasting his wine with food and wine experts. “I like doing winemaker dinners,” he says. “I learn a lot about my winemaking by tasting with chefs, and somms that know what they’re doing.”

“I like approachable, ageable wines that go with food, and don’t beat me up.”

Over the last decade-plus, Keenan has been honing his approach in winemaking, and establishing the health of his vineyards. More recently he’s begun working with vineyard manager Chris Turner. The partnership clearly bolsters Keenan’s excitement for Arizona wine.

“I feel like I’m finding my way in the cellar, and finding my signature approach,” he explains. In the last few years, Keenan has honed in on using submerged cap fermentations. The technique seems to mesh well with the structural qualities of red varieties in the state giving both an intensity, and also a suppleness to the tannin. “Having Chris in the vineyard, I feel like I’m that much closer to being able to say, oh yeah, that’s who I am through the wine.”

We return to discussing the vineyard.

“I’m pretty excited about the Nebbiolo we’re growing,” he continues. “For me, my favorite bottles of wine, they’re Brunello, and then everything under that ends up being Barolo and Barbaresco. If we can get the Nebbiolo to work, I’ll feel like we won.”

What it means to win for Keenan includes surpassing what could seem like impossible odds.

Though the history of Arizona wine reaches back to 16th century Spanish monks making wine for sacrament, today’s industry remains young. Quality has been hard to predict. Many producers have relied on buying bulk wine already bottled elsewhere then labeled in state, rather than facing the challenges of winegrowing.

At the same time, a few producers have dedicated themselves to establishing quality. In recent years, their efforts have led to greater consistency found with certain wineries, and outside attention has followed.

Wines from Arizona have begun receiving recognition as more than just a novelty. Keenan’s Caduceus has won numerous awards in the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Jancis Robinson showcased Arizona Stronghold while touring her book with Linda Murphy, American Wine. Jon Bonne included Arizona’s Sand Reckoner 2012 Malvasia in San Francisco Chronicles‘s “Top-100 Wines” for 2013. Just this month in Food & Wine, Ray Isle lauded Dos Cabezas Wine Works, Sand Reckoner, and Callaghan Vineyards as part of the world of wines “New America.”

That shift in perspective has come thanks to a dedicated few, Keenan included, excited by the resplendent challenges of a state with every extreme — hail, monsoons, lack of water, unbearable heat followed by freezing temperatures in the same day, intense winds, high elevation, and snow. Much of the work has rested in simply researching and testing varieties best suited to such conditions.

Growing Arizona Wine

“From 1990, when we started, until about,” Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards starts then pauses. He’s describing the trajectory of vineyard work he’s seen in the Arizona wine industry since he and his family started planting their vineyards in 1990. “Well,” he continues. “from 1990 and still, it’s just been about finding varieties that work well in the state.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Arizona’s wine industry was experiencing its first swell of growth with vineyards being established in the Southeastern portions of the state.

It was during that time one of the state’s wine pioneers, Al Buhl, purchased a 20-acre vineyard on 40-acres of land in the Elgin area. Though the site had already been planted to a mash of primarily Bordeaux varieties, Buhl’s decision to plant the remaining half to his own tastes, including both Italian and Spanish varieties would help change the state. He was the first to plant Malvasia, one of the varieties that’s brought attention to Arizona’s wines.

It was Buhl who would establish Dos Cabezas, and hire Callaghan as its first winemaker.

Callaghan’s influence too cannot be overestimated. Listening to the leaders of the Arizona wine industry, Callaghan’s name is mentioned repeatedly. Rob Hammelman of Sand Reckoner got his start doing vineyard work alongside Callaghan. Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks was inspired to start making wine after tasting one of Callaghan’s whites made for Dos Cabezas before Bostock started there. Today, Callaghan, and Bostock also pair with Keenan, and Tim White of Iniquuis Cellars to make the collaboration project, Kindred, a wine that showcased the state’s incredible structure in 2011, and its quaffability in 2012.

KindredKindred, a wine collaboration between Todd Bostock, Kent Callaghan, MJ Keenan, Tim White, Nov 2014

“The industry was small in the early 1990s,” Callaghan explains. “There was a little burst of growth when we started, and then another burst of growth in the mid-2000s. In the middle, it was pretty brutal for a while.”

What proves impressive about Callaghan’s work is not only that he started growing grapes in Arizona at a time few others did, but also that he survived the decade long economic dead zone that visited the state’s industry after his family started. In the middle, he continued to improve his winemaking.

Today, Todd Bostock owns Dos Cabezas Wineworks along with his family, and also collaborates with Dick Erath who started Cimarron Vineyard near Willcox. Erath is best known for his Erath Winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon, where Bostock also made his first Pinot Noir.

Bostock stepped into winemaking in the midst of what Callaghan called the brutal period. In the early 2000s, when he started with Dos Cabezas he worked several years essentially unpaid while also commuting several hours to a day job in Phoenix.

“I would stop off in Sonoita and talk to Kent,” Bostock tells me, describing how he coped with the years of working two full-time jobs in order to step into wine.

“One time I think he gave me $40,” Bostock says laughing. “I was crying to him that I had no money. We’d talk, and trade bottles.”

Once Bostock was able to relocate full-time to winemaking, he tells me, he found alongside Callaghan a community of local winemakers that would spend time tasting and talking about wines from around the world. When I mention Bostock’s story to Callaghan he’s surprised at first, and then agrees.

“There was this core group.” Callaghan says. “People that really love wine. We were spending a lot of money on other people’s wines, and drinking it. It’s like this process of osmosis. You know when your wine is great, and when it’s not subconsciously.” He reflects for a minute.

“You know, that [winemakers tasting wines from all over the world] more than anything else has probably helped the industry improve.” Callaghan says. “That’s how you discover new varieties to try planting too.”

Nikki Check, Director of Viticulture at the Southwest Wine Center of Yavapai College in Verde Valley, emphasizes the importance of varietal choices as Arizona continues forward in wine. Check’s background rests in sustainable agriculture emphasizing soil nutrient dynamics.

“A lot of our vineyard sustainability,” she explains, “comes down to how much we can make better decisions on our varietal selections.” Varieties that are better suited to a region need less intrusive management. “Then it’s a matter of having more reasonable crop estimates,” she continues. “Because together that would then result in less water usage, less pest potential, and all those things.”

Bostock and Callaghan both are experimenting with small plantings of a wide range of varieties.

When I ask Callaghan to name a few showing well in his vineyard he immediately lists Tannat, and Graciano. They’re the newest of his plantings, but already thriving. He’s also trying Gruner Veltliner, he tells me just to see how it does.

Bostock has found Petite Sirah to be well suited to his site, as well as Rhone varieties both reds and whites. He’s experimenting now too with Picpoul Blanc.

Thanks to Keenan’s efforts, Buhl’s Vineyard is also getting revitalized with a range of both Italian and Spanish varieties.

In discussing inspiration from other people’s wines, Bostock, Callaghan, and Keenan each also mention the work being done by Ann Roncone at Lightning Ridge Cellars.

“Her new Aglianico is the best I’ve had in Arizona in quite a stretch,” Callaghan tells me.

Cresting the Wave with Quality

Maynard James Keenan, Southwest Wine CenterMaynard James Keenan discussing his acre of Negroamaro growing at the Southwest Wine Center, Nov 2014

The ground swell of quality that’s been rising in Arizona led in the last few years to establishing a two-year Viticulture and Enology degree through the Southwest Wine Center. Keenan established the first acre of vineyard, a Negroamaro block, for the Center that helped secure its status as an official program, rather than just a series of classes.

The program is also just beginning to partner with University of Arizona. With both programs already known for their work in agriculture, the partnership raises exciting questions about if they might work towards a future four-year viticulture degree.

“I think we’re at the crest of a wave where hopefully quality is taking over,” Michael Pierce, Director of Enology at the Southwest Wine Center, explains. “There is an awakening of knowledge, and [recognition of] what to do [to make quality wine].” Pierce also makes wine for his own label Saeculum Cellars, and his vineyard partnership with his father, Bodega Pierce.

After gaining winemaking experience in New Zealand, Oregon, and Tasmania, Pierce credits Tim White of Iniquuis Cellars for helping to bring him back to Arizona wine. Both White and Pierce previously worked for Arizona Stronghold before leaving for other projects. White’s work with Stronghold helped establish the quality that gained it national recognition. It was during that time, White offered Pierce a job, but it was the unique conditions of Arizona that brought Pierce back.

“There is a unique terroir here,” Pierce explains. “We get a lot of dried herbs, desert spices, the scent of palo verde in bloom. As people get a taste for it, and see quality producers are there, the attention will continue to grow both in state and out.” Palo verde is a tree common through the Southwest and unusual for its ability to photosynthesize through its bark, rather than only its leaves.

“The thing I really like about Arizona is our unique terroir,” Check, agrees. “I think it’s about low fertility soils. We get a lot of chalky, earthy tones, rather than the real fruity tones you might get elsewhere. I feel really lucky to be part of the boutique style production happening here that’s really setting the standard for quality in the state.”

Maynard James Keenan pouring JudithMaynard James Keenan playfully “somm’ing it up” as he pours Caduceus Judith, Nov 2014

Back in Keenan’s cellar Gillian Welch is playing. We’ve just tasted through some Caduceus whites, and a dry Lei Li rosé of Nebbiolo Keenan named for his wife. He’s opening now a vertical of the Caduceus Judith bottling, wine from the vineyard where we started the day, and he named for his mother.

The first vintages of Judith pour 100% Cabernet. As the vines began dying, however, Tempranillo was planted. In the middle vintages, then, Tempranillo begins to accent the Cabernet, then the roles switch and Cabernet accents the Tempranillo, until in recent vintages it disappears.

Tasting the vintages I am struck first and most by the site. I can taste the hillside we walked earlier. The fruit flavors shift with age, and as we move from the Bordeaux to Spanish variety, but more than that the site shows through. It’s a scent of chalky earth moonrock, dried herbs, and light spice, lit up from behind by the fruit of its variety.

***

This week’s article “In Defense of Natural Wine” was rescheduled to next Wednesday to allow this piece on Arizona wine.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Considering California Sparkling Wine

Michael CruseMichael Cruse at Cruse Wine Co. smelling his pet-nat Valdiguie, November 2014

“We really want to make a California sparkling wine with all that entails,” Michael Cruse of Cruse Wine Co, and Ultramarine sparkling wine, tells me. All it entails includes the ripe fruit flavors characteristic of California’s sun, a feature that historically has tended to work against quality sparkling wine in the state.

California sparkling wine remains a difficult category. The California conundrum of too much sun and not enough acidity has so far largely kept it from achieving the balance and brightness in the glass wine geeks love. It’s never achieved the respectability Champagne immediately garners, and wine lovers rarely brag about it.

However, in recent years a shift has been happening. Boutique size wineries all over the state have begun popping open small scale sparkling projects. Last year the Pet-Nat craze coming from France began taking over California wineries.

Pet-Nat style sparkling wine seems more do-able for small production wineries. The approach offers the advantage of far less intervention, little equipment, and far less time to get those bubbles in the bottle than methode traditionnelle style wines. You can turn around a pet-nat wine in as little as a year, versus the several years required by the other approach. But most pet-nat bottlings remain incredibly hard to find. One of the tastiest versions to come from California last year, J. Brix 2013 Cobolorum sparkling riesling, for example, only had 17 cases made. It’s hard to start a quality revolution with such small numbers.

At the other side of the category, methode traditionnelle (that is, the same method used to make champagne) examples rely on far more input from the producer. Thanks to the work and expertise required, many of today’s champenoise style sparkling wines found in the state are made by large scale wineries. Such wineries do successfully churn out bottles but most California examples blend grapes from multiple locations producing wines with the state’s clear fruit expression but little character.

In reality, California has had little of its own sparkling tradition. The closest we’ve come was with the work of Paul Masson on the cool slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Masson’s work with California sparkling wine brought international attention to the category. He was able to continue his work through Prohibition selling his wines for sacrament and medicinal purposes, but after Masson’s retirement, his vineyards shifted to still wine production.

The difficulty with sparkling wine rests in its technical elements. Elevating the category truly to the level of fine wine depends upon an expertise grown not just from transferring knowledge but also in hands on experience. Even the apparently approachable style of pet-nat suffers at the same point it gains popularity. While it seems far easier to make, in truth making clean pleasurable versions depends upon yeast health, numbers, and viability that doesn’t consistently come from simply throwing wine in the bottle.

The improvement of any craft depends on a sense of critical mass intersecting with critical brilliance. Critical mass offers the foundation of interest to support development of knowledge and maintain its momentum. Critical brilliance brings together creativity with the backbone of experience to give it traction. For California sparkling wine, the coalescing of all these elements brings the opportunity of elevating the category to a level that truly means fine wine.

Enter Michael Cruse.

Tasting with Michael Cruse

Michael CruseDiscussing Methode Traditionnelle w Michael Cruse in front of his 2010 Ultramarine Sparkling Wine, Nov 2014

Though it’s only just starting to be released this month, Cruse’s sparkling label, Ultramarine, has already achieved a kind of cult status. That’s saying something as he explains not more than twelve people have even tasted it yet. From those twelve, however, its secured distribution through California, as well as within the tricky New York market.

Cruse’s cult status rests not only in the wine itself, but also his perhaps still hidden influence. Thanks to the underdeveloped history of California sparkling, few in the state could be considered consultants in the category. Those few with the knowledge tend to be secured by larger houses. With Cruse’s experience and custom crush facility, Cruse Wine Co., he’s become the go-to sparkling winemaker for several well-respected clients throughout the state. Over the next several years, sparkling projects Cruse has helped give focus will begin appearing across California.

Finding a Passion for Sparkling

Cruse’s path hasn’t always pointed towards sparkling wine. With an undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cellar Biology, emphasizing Biochemisty, from UC Berkeley, Cruse was certain he’d continue to a PhD. Stepping into research through labs at Berkeley, and UCSF, while also publishing, his path to graduate work seemed certain. Then something changed. He began to recognize others he met doing post-docs in science proved unhappy. Over time, the shift in perspective meant he began wondering if he could apply his love for lab work in another field.

“It took into my mid-20s to realize I could get paid for a real job.” Cruse laughs. Working through a formal education includes its disadvantages. Students rarely or barely earn money during their degree training. Then continuing into academic life, researchers learn to sustain themselves through minimal pay while doing loads of unpaid research under the umbrella of advancing their expertise and education. But for the curious, that same environment supports their passions.

“What I love about academia is that no one is ever telling you that isn’t how you should be spending your time,” Cruse explains. “People are always studying, writing, researching, working on something. I had a lot of kinship with that kind of work.”

When Cruse did make the leap out of academia, the transition wasn’t immediately easy. “Moving into a regular job as a lab oenologist,” Cruse tells me, “I would have night terrors because I didn’t know what to do with my brain.” The continuous problem solving of a research laboratory differed from the more repetitive work in a wine lab but the challenge of the transition eventually led him to his work with sparkling wine.

The mechanics of Cruse’s research work rested in reviving lab techniques established in the 1980s, but forgotten by the end of the last century. “I was in the library,” Cruse says, “looking at transcripts and papers from the 1980s figuring out how they were doing their work so we could apply it.” The library research provided solutions where lab knowledge otherwise failed. Such a lesson eventually became the salve for his night terrors as well.

While transitioning from oenologist, into cellar work, and then to assistant winemaker for red wine wineries, Cruse got curious about sparkling wine. Doing library research on old methods, then applying them to sparkling home wine experiments became his after work project.

“I was in the library looking at books from the 1880s, from before people had these [contemporary winemaking] machines to see how they made sparkling wine.” He explains. In 2010, he would make his first bonded California sparkling wine, the current release Ultramarine.

Natural and Sparkling?

Michael CruseMichael Cruse discussing site and technique, Nov 2014

Through his still table wines, and pet-nat Valdiguie for Cruse Wine Co., it looks easy to describe Cruse’s work as happily fitting with the family of natural wines. He avoids additives, doesn’t cold stabilize, and minimizes or avoids sulfur when the wine will remain stable.

His unsulfured Cruse Wine Co. 2014 Pet-nat Valdiguié is made with an interest in affordability put alongside admirable vineyards. Tasting it, the wine proves to be the cleanest example I’ve tasted of a new world pet-nat, all rose blossom aromatics cut with a leafy, herbal freshness that fills the palate through a delicate foam.

Indeed, with Ultramarine too, relying on older texts as he did, also bolstered his more minimalist approach to winemaking. But there he becomes reticent to describe his approach as natural.

“Sparkling wine is a very techniques driven wine,” he explains. He’s referring to making wine through methode traditionnelle. “Whether you agree with a natural wine approach or not, you’re going to use the same technique.” For Ultramarine, Cruse avoids additives, cold stabilization, and innoculation as well.

“But am I going to use a riddling aid? Yes. Will I add dosage? Yes. A dash of sulfur at disgorgement? Yes. Trying to claim sparkling is a natural wine becomes a stretch.” Still, the wine is undoubtedly unique — single vineyard, single vintage with each bottle hand riddled, and disgorged. When I push him he finally responds, “I guess you could say we’re minimalist.”

Finally, I ask him to further explain his earlier comment about California sparkling wine with all it entails.

“For me, I want the wine to be noticeably California. That doesn’t have to be flamboyantly fruity.” He explains. “It is intense, and flavorful, and strong. That is the site.” He says. It’s an answer that exemplifies the quiet humility he somehow couples with certainty.

Inspired by the grower producers of Champagne, Cruse focuses Ultramarine production on fruit only from the Charles Heintz Vineyard. It’s a site he believes offers exceptional farming for sparkling wine.

The lemon curd and pastry elements of the bubbles resemble flavors found in still chardonnays familiar to lovers of the vineyard. But the graceful long finish, and cut mineral edge speak to a fine wine elegance brought by the hands of its producer. And there we discover the California balance of Michael Cruse.

***

To sign up for the Ultramarine mailing list: http://www.ultramarinewines.com/joinus/

For more on Cruse Wine Co.: http://www.crusewineco.com/

***

Next Wednesday‘s column here: “In Defense of Natural Wine.” Post update: Wednesday Nov 12 article will post Thursday Nov 13 due to travel delays.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

2

Brown Bag Wine Tasting

Brown Bag Wine Tasting

I’ve already mentioned here how much I enjoy William Shatner’s new series, Brown Bag Wine Tasting on Ora.TV. It’s interesting for its thoughtfulness. I’m as curious about what Shatner picks up on in the person he’s speaking with, as I am in what he or she shares, as well as the irreverent stuff they end up saying about wine.

The following episode though is my favorite so far. It’s one of the earlier editions, thus the claim for Throwback Thursday. Here Shatner interviews a marijuana dealer named Dominic learning about Dominic’s business model, and how he came into that line of work. Finally, Shatner introduces Dominic to his first taste of wine — the arc of discovery Dominic takes there is both hilarious and sort of fascinating for its honesty.

More than all that though, the rapport between the two men charms me. It’s something not often seen between a celebrity and a regular Joe — Dominic calls Shatner on things he says a couple times and asks him questions like Dominic’s leading the interview too, he’s up front about where he’s coming from, and Shatner clearly enjoys it. The subject matter of course is provocative, but my interest in the interview is more about the dynamic, the ease between the two men. In the midst of it little insights of human character (and, yes, eventually wine too) pop up all along the way.

The opening when they’re first discussing each of their views on herbalization is hilarious. Check it out.

 

Cheers!

 

Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Somms15 Sommeliers for Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

To open their Top-100 festivities this year, Wine & Spirits hosted their inaugural Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on Monday of this week. The event was designed to seek out, and celebrate the new classics of domestic wine.

As Wine & Spirits editor, Joshua Greene, explained, the last six months have been spent preparing for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt event. Towards that end, five teams of three sommeliers each from around the country were selected. Each team was then assigned to visit a different domestic wine region tracking a particular varietal expression for that region. In traveling the region, they were meant to study the region’s specific viticultural conditions, and then select six wines to represent a coherent picture of the breadth and typicity of their region’s unique terroir. Along with each region’s flight, the sommeliers offered a ten minute informational presentation.

Joshua Greene introduced the event. Following are notes from his introduction, followed by a brief look at each of the flights.

Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

“Sommeliers like competition. They often test themselves, whether in sommelier exams, going to Tex-Somm, or otherwise. We wanted them to do something collaborative. Rather than battle on their own, we decided we would have them work together, and then compete in groups. To win, they would have to work together.

“[In this context,] what does winning even mean? Rather than finding a wine that would be hardest to guess in a blind tasting, [for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] it is about finding a wine that would be the easiest to guess [as from its region] in a blind tasting. We asked them to go out and find the future classics, that really describe the place the wine is from.

“[The Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] is also about travel, and getting to know the place. I got into [wine] because I like to travel. A lot of wine travel you see is more about lifestyle, and expensive. We decided we wanted them to do something more like The Amazing Race.

“While there they would select six wines meant together to be broad, and precise, [expressive of its region]. We’re asking them to show you a really specific connection between the place and the wine. We want them to show you that connection so that when you taste the wine you really feel that connection. We asked them to really think, what is terroir? and what is a great wine?

“Our staff got together and chose five sommeliers we really enjoy working with, and asked them to choose a team of two more, and then choose a specific region and varietal focus.

“We’d like you to think about these wines as you taste, as to where it is from, not do I like this wine?, but where is it from? how it communicates to you as a drinker, as a taster.”

Joshua Greene then introduced the first group from the Finger Lakes. Following are brief notes on the five group presentations.

Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

The quality of wines throughout was impressive. It was a pleasure to be able to taste these, to see the selections chosen to represent each region, and to be included in seeing the work each group had done together.

Sommelier Scavenger HuntJoshua Greene and 15 sommeliers from around the country fielding questions about domestic wines at the end of their Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt presentations

TEAM FINGER LAKES: RIESLING

Matthew Kaner of Covell in Los Angeles, Pascaline Lepeltier MS of Rouge Tomate in NYC, Steven Morgan of Squire Wine Co in Chicago

While viticulture in the Finger Lakes has historically focused on hybrid varieties made into quaffing sweet wines, more recently winegrowing through the area has turned towards crafting serious quality wines in a range of styles. With the oldest bonded winery in the United States, newer producers have the benefit of a wealth of already established geological and viticultural knowledge to draw on in exploring quality wine production. Riesling has risen to prominence as the signature grape for serious wine with a range of possibilities for the region.

The Finger Lakes flight showed good consistency of quality over the broadest range of styles of any of the flights. Due to the vast range of winemaking goals or style choices occurring in the region, this group had the greatest challenge in striking the balance between expressing regional typicity and coherence with breadth. Producers of the Finger Lakes are still exploring the region’s unique signature. That said, the wines all offered distinctive personality, and very good quality at mind blowing value.

* Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling
all stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. a wine with nice clarity, lots of length and “extraordinary personality.” very small production.

* Bellwether 2013 Finger Lakes A&D Vineyard Dry Riesling
ultra small production. captures a nice balance of weight to acid without residual sugar. great mouth watering length.

* Kemmeter 2012 Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling
nice precision, juiciness, and length. clarity, focus, and balancing breadth.

Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the stand out wineries of the region — available, affordable, bring out its personality with food

Hermann J Wiemer 2012 Finger Lakes HJW Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the founders of quality in the region. nice overall balance, with a changeable finish. place along side food for additional balance.

Bloomer Creek 2012 Finger Lakes Auten Tanzen Dame Second Harvest
the wild card of the tasting, a very slow fermentation for additional richness and complexity, with an oxidative style, and a bit of residual sugar. pair with clam chowder to match the fleshiness of the wine, and give the acid something to cut into.

TEAM SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: CHARDONNAY

Ian Becker of Absinthe and Arlequin, Haley Guild Moore of Stock & Bones Group, and Gianpaolo Paterlini of 1760 and Acquerello all in San Francisco

Chardonnay proves to be one of the greatest quality varieties in the incredibly diverse growing region of Santa Barbara County. Though Pinot Noir from the region receives more consistent attention, the potential for quality on its white cousin is very high. The wines selected offered a very linear focus with lots of flavorful fruit expression and mouthwatering acidity.

The team for this flight chose to focus on a very specific style of chardonnay for the region. Within the competition, the Santa Barbara County flight was most expressive of the team’s preferred style, when considering the breadth of styles in the region as a whole. That said, the region’s signature clearly showed through the wines selected, and the quality was very good. This was also the most pleasing, tasty flight of the tasting.

Qupé 2011 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Block Eleven Chardonnay
the outlier of the tasting, the Qupé was the only Santa Maria Valley chardonnay selected, and was chosen out of regard for the heritage it expresses of the region. giving nice citrus curd mixed with olive, this wine offers a oceanic creamy waxy quality familiar of the Santa Maria Valley with tons of mouthwatering length.

Au Bon Climat 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
flinty mixed citrus, with a creamy palate. this wine strikes the balance of restraint, focus, and rich flavor, with tons of juicy length.

Chanin 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
clean, crisp mixed citrus fruit, with a moderately creamy palate and a focus on length

* Tyler 2012 Sta Rita Hills Zotovich Family Vineyard Chardonnay
pleasing reductive tension brings a taut focus to the mouthwatering mixed citrus flavors. nice mineral length

Sandhi 2012 Sta Rita Hills Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
the most linear, and taut of the chardonnay’s shown. all about structure. mouth watering and lightly drying both.

Pence 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
delicate citrus blossom coupled with expressive citrus fruit layered with clay accents on a nervy taut mouthwatering line

TEAM ANDERSON VALLEY: PINOT NOIR

Vanessa Trevino Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club all in Houston

Ranging from a genuinely zone 1 cool climate close to the ocean just into a zone 2 climate a bit inland, Anderson Valley carries the most definitive signature of the region’s tasted. Pinot Noir has risen to prominence as the area’s trademark variety.

The Anderson Valley flight had the tightest, most recognizable expression of regional typicity giving a wash of red fruit, and buckets of mouthwatering acidity throughout. It was the flight in which the region offered the most apparent expression before cellar technique. It was also clear that this is largely due to the area, rather than simply from the group selection, for example.

Drew 2011 Anderson Valley Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir
light carbonic elements on nose, a wash of red fruit through the palate, long mouthwatering finish. wants air to open

LIOCO 2011 Anderson Valley Klindt Pinot Noir
high tone, lifted aromatics, spiced palate. red fruit throughout. lots of length.

Copain 2011 Anderson Valley Kiser ‘En Haut’ Pinot Noir
lots of clarity, tight focus with lots of precise structure but soft red berry and open midpalate

Lichen Estate Anderson Valley Solera Volume 2 Pinot Noir
unique of the flight yet still expressive of the region. red berry fruit with layers and folds of concentration, vintages 2011, 12, 13 blended in solera-type method

Elke 2011 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
bright, crisp red fruit both nose and palate, accents of forest and herb, lots of mouthwatering length

Phillips Hill 2011 Anderson Valley Two Terroirs C&R Pinot Noir
nice cut of red fruit with structural strength, and spiced oak accents throughout

TEAM WASHINGTON: BORDEAUX-VARIETY REDS

Lindsey Whipple of Charlie Palmer Group in New York City, Will Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Mark Hefter of Crush Wine Bar MGM in Las Vegas

The Washington wines selected carried dusty mineral and saline crunch throughout. Five of the six wines grew from Red Mountain, and one originated from Walla Walla. We were also able to taste an older vintage on the final wine. Unfortunately, one of the wines was unavailable for tasting due to unexpected distribution issues.

This was the most challenging flight for me as several of the wines were intensely concentrated, inky dark on the palate. Still, the quality was good throughout.

Avennia 2011 Columbia Valley Sestina Red Wine
funky unusual nose, dusty mineral crunch through palate, bell pepper throughout

* Delille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate
nice acidity, opens and lengthens significantly with air, elegant finished, balanced concentration

àMaurice 2011 Walla Walla Estate Red Night Owl
intense concentrated palate, good tension, lots of length, inky dark

Upchurch 2011 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
highly concentrated, inky dark, challenging intensity

Fidélitas 2011 Red Mountain Optu Red Wine
unfortunately, do to a mix-up with distribution we were unable to taste this wine.

* Cadence 2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
nicely balanced, aged wine with the dancy feet to balance the fruit concentration and dusty tannin. pleasant, beautiful.

TEAM NAPA VALLEY: CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Michael Madrigale of Boulud Sud in New York City, Josiah Baldivino of Bay Grape in Oakland, Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill in New York City

Team Napa Valley balanced their presentation of Napa Valley Cabernet with both valley floor, and differing mountain expressions of the fruit. The wines selected also paid tribute to a range of historic houses well respected for their quality contributions to the development, and sophistication of the region’s wine.

This flight was most successful in hitting the balance of the three elements requested of the sommelier team in choosing their wines — coherence, breadth, and typicity of the region.

Robert Sinskey 2009 Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley SLD Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
concentration, intensity, dark polish

Robert Mondavi 2011 Oakville Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
considered the 1st growth of Napa Valley, Mondavi owns the largest portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard. this is a wine of concentration, polish

* Corison 2010 Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
offering characteristic floral aromatics, and nicely balanced, mouthwatering palate

* Mayacamas Vineyards 2008 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
still ultra nervy youthful wine, pleasing mouth watering length and nice palate tension

* Smith Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
the most distinctive of the cabernets selected, the Smith-Madrone shows refreshing bell pepper aromatics, and ultra mouthwatering length

* Diamond Creek 2008 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
pleasing mountain tannin and dustiness, nice acidity, want to revisit

***

The winning team of the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt will be announced at the Wine & Spirits Tuesday evening Top-100 tasting.

Post Edit: It was announced tonight that Team Napa Valley won the Wine & Spirits 2014 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Congratulations Team Napa Valley!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Meeting Prudy Foxx, Santa Cruz Mountains

In July 2013, The Sommelier Journal invited me to accompany their sommelier Terroir Experience through the Santa Cruz Mountains. There Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticulture, the premier viticultural consultant for the region, hosted us for a tasting, and discussion of some of the unique winegrowing elements of the Mountains.

This weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers’ Association hosted their annual Grand Pro tasting. Fifteen of us were asked to come together to taste and rate 120 total wines (each of us tasted 60, with the wines being distributed through 3 groups) of the region.

To open the tasting, Prudy Foxx guided us through a survey of the varied character of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Following is a portion of what Fox had to share with us. Her discussion focused on three key factors of terroir–climate, soil, and socioeconomic elements.

Prudy Foxx Talks Terroir of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Prudy FoxxPrudy Foxx, July 2013

“When it comes to the idea of terroir, some people mention climate conditions, and soil, and stop there, but I have found over the years there are a lot of human elements that factor in.

“I do believe wine comes from the vineyards. That’s why I spend all my time out there. I took it too seriously.

“Capital investments in the vineyard, how care and maintenance is done, all factor in.

“You have to have healthy soils. There needs to be life in the soil, so the vines can take up minerals, or micronutrients from the soil. Some people call it minerality, but it’s that the vines need to be in live soil to take up micronutrients to grow.

“I am all about vineyard aspects [the angle and direction in relation to the sun of the vineyard slope]. There are so many different aspects in the vineyards here. The San Andreas Fault runs through the AVA. If you look over the appellation, it’s like folds in fabric, all these different folds of land, cliffs, and aspects in all different directions.

“If you look at either side of the fault… you can actually go down to Watsonville, and look at the fault itself. You can see the Pacific plate rubbing up against the North American plate. The fault, and that activity has a big impact on the soils here.

“At the top of the Mountains, you get more rock. Then, as you come down towards the bottom [of the Mountains] there are colluvial soils that have eroded from the top, and mix over alluvial soils near the rivers. So, you get a lot of different soils depending on where the vineyard is, and all those soil differences affect the flavor [of the wine].

“The Santa Cruz Mountains are a series of ridges. On the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains you have close proximity to the ocean, and maritime influence. But then at the top [even close to the ocean] at 3000 ft there is less coastal influence. The fog comes in but below you so you can get a lot more radiant heat. In some of those areas people are trying some Italian stuff because it is just so hot [in comparison to lower elevation within the fog zone].

“Then on the Saratoga Hills side of the Mountains it is generally warmer, and is good for consistent ripening of Cabernet. But, again, it really depends on where you are located, and what direction you are facing. The temperature and conditions will be really different depending on the aspect of your vineyard slope. [Even in the Saratoga Hills side of the Santa Cruz Mountains,] it could be cool enough to grow Pinot Noir.

“The Santa Cruz Mountains is all about hills, and valleys, and slopes, and how the slope really captures light and heat. The direction of the slope influence what light the vineyard receives, and the heat it has to absorb. Different soil types absorb heat at different rates, so influence what the vines receive.

“Grapes can grow almost anywhere, in almost any conditions. That’s why it’s one of the oldest forms of agriculture. But one of the things grapes hate is wet feet. It’s one of the worst things you can do to a vine, wet feet. We don’t have that problem here [thanks to the elevation and slopes].

“There is a big diversity of soils. Some of the higher areas have a mudstone. As they dry out the soil hardens, and turns into rock. At that point it begins to act like clay [just in the sense that] as it dries out it is very hard to re-wet. That is part of why these years after years of drought are hard on vineyards. Areas with those sorts of soils, it is very hard for that soil to get re-wet.

“But then we have areas with red soil, areas that are almost like pure sand, loamy sands, rock…

Shatter occurs [when the clusters get wet from fog or rain during flowering]. Whether it happens depends on the weather that vintage. If it happens, it affects the flavor.

“How you train the vineyard also impacts the flavor of the wine. Cane pruning, versus cordon, versus [other types of training], all impact how the fruit grows, and so also the flavor. Pruning can have an important impact.

“Light levels affect development of anthocyanins and phenolics, [and the thickness of the skins]. When you have a lot of sun exposure, the plant wants a place for all that energy [from photosynthesis] to go. The fruit is a heat sink for that energy. So, sometimes leaving a lot of fruit on the vine in conditions like that can be really important. It might seem counter intuitive because we tend to think low yield is better, but not always. [How much fruit you leave on the vine is part of the overall vine balance, and depends on all these conditions.] When you have too many leaves on the vine, you’re going to get a real green development of underripe flavor in the wine.

“When people talk about making your vine suffer, it is not always a good thing. There are times when leaves are no longer photosynthesizing [because of how the vine is suffering], so the grapes are only ripening [gaining sugar] because they are dehydrating on the vine, not because they are receiving what they need from the vine. [The grape gains sugars, but the seeds are not ripening. It results in wine that tastes overripe and underripe simultaneously.]

[…]

“Terroir includes climate, the temperature, the rainfall… all of which vary depending on the time of the year. It includes the soil, which is part of the infrastructure, and the drainage of the vineyard. It impacts the texture, the minerality, the chemistry of the wine. There are also the socioeconomic aspects of the vineyard. [How the vineyard is planted, or pruned is part of the infrastructure of the vineyard, and is a matter of labor in the vineyard.] Some of this is a matter of what you can afford, your capital investment, and also of how you take care of your workforce, if they can afford to live and work there all year. [The capital investment in the vineyard, how much equipment is needed or used, the labor, how hand intensive the work is, the growing, the farming. All of this factors into yield. Yield can vary in some elements by vintage.] All of these are elements of the terroir.”

***

Thank you to Prudy Foxx, and Megan Metz.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Truchard Vineyards & Winery

Truchard Vineyardslooking towards the fault line that runs through Truchard Vineyards
— each hill contains a different soil type, and grows a different grape variety

One of the first to plant in North Carneros, Tony Truchard began establishing his Truchard Vineyards in 1974 at a time when others thought growing vines in Carneros might be crazy. Even more unusual, his thirst was for Cabernet. He remains to today one of the few people growing the variety in the area. Consistently 10 degrees cooler than the heart of Napa Valley where Cabernet thrives, people at the time believed Carneros wasn’t warm enough to ripen grapes.

Planting his first vines on his own by hand, Truchard persisted thanks partially to the inspiration of his neighbor, Frank Mahoney, who had already established Carneros Creek Vineyards near by. Mahoney was among the first to bring drip irrigation to the area, a technology developed for reclaiming the deserts of Israel, and today used through California wine country.

Beginning first on a 20-acre parcel, the disadvantages seen by others in Carneros would become an advantage for the Truchards. With the lack of agricultural promise, neighbors offered their parcels to Truchard for purchase. Buying land as he could afford it, today Trucard Vineyards grow over 200 planted acres on 400 contiguous acres all north of the Carneros Highway.

While South Carneros proves flat and entirely clay pan, North Carneros rolls with hills and fault lines. The fault line that cut through Truchard Vineyard has pushed such a range of soil types that along the retaining pond each hill includes a different soil type, and thus also a different grape variety. In volcanic ash they’ve planted Syrah, in clay Merlot, clay with limestone a mix of both Bordeaux and Burgundian varieties, in sandstone they also grow a mix of grape types.

Today Truchard is considered one of the premium growers of Carneros, with 12 different planted varieties including Zinfandel, Tempranillo, and Roussanne most unusually, but also each of the 5 Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. Most of their fruit sells to quality producers, but they also produce their own wines under the Truchard label.

Truchard Wines

Truchard WinesMost incredibly, Truchard has avoided raising wine prices. Today, Truchard offers some of the best quality for cost in Napa Valley. While the label does include two reserve level wines (available to wine club) coming in around $75, the remainder of their portfolio ranges between $25-38. Finding a quality North Coast Pinot Noir, or a Napa Valley Cabernet at those prices is almost unheard of.

Truchard wines offer nice mouth watering acidity, vibrant flavor, and pleasant clean fruit throughout. They are wines with easy presence — nicely balanced, well integrated, stimulating and never forceful. The standouts in yesterday’s tasting include the 2013 Roussanne, 2010 Tempranillo, and 2011 Zinfandel. That said, any of these wines would do well at the table. Following are notes on the current portfolio.

* Truchard 2013 Roussanne, Carneros Napa Valley $25
Pretty, lifted aromatics are followed with vibrant acidity through a creamy palate of light (not sweet or heavy) almond paste, citrus blossom and curd with a delicate white pepper finish. The 2013 Roussanne will age nicely, but is beautiful and yummy now.

Truchard 2012 Pinot Noir, Carneros Napa Valley $35
Offering pretty, bright red aromatics the 2012 Pinot Noir carries forward with a nicely focused, mouth watering palate of raspberry bush and cranberry. This is a nicely balanced wine with a taut, lean, and pleasing palate.

* Truchard 2010 Tempranillo, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Both nose and palate here carry red, and red violet fruit alongside pretty rose and violet elements, and a hint of molasses throughout. The palate is wonderfully mouthwatering and fresh, with polished tannin, and an ultra long finish.

* Truchard 2011 Zinfandel, Carneros Napa Valley $30
A unique Zinfandel offering high tone red fruit and mixed exotic spices, the Truchard Zinfandel offers wonderfully mouth watering acidity, easy tannin, and an ultra long finish. This is a yummy pizza and pasta wine.

Truchard 2010 Merlot, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Keep an eye out for the 2011 Merlot as the 2010 is already almost sold out. The Truchard Merlot carries the recognizable blue fruit and flower midpalate of Merlot filled out and lengthened with nicely the integrated herbal traction of Cabernet Franc. It’s a nicely balanced, and surprising combination for California Merlot.

Truchard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros Napa Valley $38
Giving screaming good value, the Truchard Cabernet hits that balance of doing well with age on it and drinking well now. Carrying black currant, a touch of pine, and refreshing red and green bell pepper this wine has tons of flavor without over extraction on a nicely structured frame.

Truchard 2012 Syrah, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Wanting the most time in bottle, and the most air upon opening, the Truchard Syrah brings inky dark aromas and flavors through a perfumed musk and pine lift. The same carries into the palate touched throughout by an ashen patina carrying through an ultra long taut finish.

***

Want to read more on Truchard Vineyards?

Check out Tom Riley‘s article for the San Jose Mercury News here: http://www.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play/ci_26078260/napas-truchard-caves-goats-winning-chardonnay

Thank you to Mathew Fitch. CHEEEESSSSE!!!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Nonino Grappa Cocktails

Gritti Palace Hotelthe bar at the Gritti Palace, Venice

Fall’s cooler weather, and aromatic breezes proves a perfect time to shift to warming aromatic cocktails. Part of the Nonino project instigated by the three daughters has been working with mixologists around the world to create unique cocktails using the Nonino distillates.

The monovarietal grappas, and grape distillates by Nonino offer a unique opportunity to play with distinct varietal characteristics. Their distillation process captures grape aromatics in what Giannola Nonino calls “a crystalline purity.” The flavors of each grappa reflects the character of the grape type used, with warmer blue floral notes lifting from the glass in the merlot distillate, and distinctly yellow flower and warm hay aromas for the chardonnay. Nonino’s first monovarietal, picolit, remains my favorite.

The Gioiello, their honey distillate made from acacia honey, too carries trademark flavors of autumn. It’s a beautifully nutty, forest floral aromatic that’s both warming, and spiced on the palate. A lovely sipping cocktail on its own.

Nonino, of course, also makes a tasty amaro that’s great over ice, or in a cocktail as shown below.

While visiting Venice last year we were able to meet several mixologists who were kind enough to share their recipes with me for three of my favorite Nonino cocktails. Each of the three recipes following are easy enough to make at home, and perfect for Fall weather with flavors of apple, rose, and herbal infusions.

(Some of the drinks they showcased brilliantly involved infused aromatic tea smoke, and other complicated ingredients. I don’t keep a vaporizer at home.)

 

Nonino Frozen, Mixologist Davide Girardi, Udine

Mixologist Davide GirardiMixologist Davide Girardi

Nonino Frozen
Mixologist Davide Girardi, Udine

5 cl Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
Soda Water
1 lime
cane sugar
2 mint leaves

Muddle and pound 1/4 of a lime with 2 spoonfuls of cane sugar.
Fill a glass with crushed ice, and Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, and top it up with soda water.
Mix it energetically in the glass in which it is to be served, and decorate it with mint leaves.

Passion Nonino, Barman Mirko Falconi, Gritti Palace, Venice

DSC_0383Barman Mirko Falconi in the library of the Gritti Palace

Passion Nonino
Barman Mirko Falconi, Gritti Palace, Venice

3 cl Grappa Nonino Cru Monovitigno Fragolino
1.5 cl white Cinzano
0.5 cl Aperol
1 cl passion fruit juice
1 cl rose syrup

Shake all ingredients except for the grappa.
Once shaken, pour in a mixing glass,add ice, and the grappa.
Stir slowly and serve in a chilled cocktail glass.
Decorate with peels of apple, melon, and pumpkin.

This cocktail is a lot of fun to play with switching up which flavor of the monovarietal grappa, and what type of fruit juice too. For example, the Picolit grappa works well with pineapple juice.

Nonino Cool, Head Barman Gennaro Florio, VeniceHead Barman Gennaro Florio Gennaro Florio, Venice

Nonino Cool
Head Barman Gennaro Florio

4cl Grappa Nonino Cru Monovitigno Fragolino
3cl Sour Apple liqueur
1 Tbsp blossom honey
drops of squeezed lime

Caramelize seasonal fruit (apple works well) in Grappa Nonino Monovitigno Moscato and cane sugar to use as garnish.

Shake all ingredients, and fill without ice into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with caramelized fruit.

Cheers!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

1

Listening to Giannola Nonino

A year ago a few of us were lucky enough to share two days with the Nonino family. The Noninos are the most well known grappa producers in Italy, known for a series of innovations in production that succeeded in raising the status of grappa worldwide.

While Benito Nonino distilled the grappa, his wife Giannola developed many of the ideas, and packaging that helped raised Benito’s work to such prominence. Today their three daughters are thoroughly involved in running Nonino, and have gone on to continue the tradition of innovation and quality. After working on it for a decade, the three daughters succeeded at figuring out how to distill honey, for example.

If you don’t already know how grappa is made, you can check out my Behind the Scenes at Nonino piece over at Serious Eats, here

While with the Nonino family, Cathy Huyghe and I asked Giannola to share more of her story. Jeremy Parzen translated. The following is a transcript of her story as translated by Jeremy. She begins by speaking of her family history as the foundation of the work she did for Nonino, as well as for how she raised their children.

Giannola’s Family

Ginola Nonino“It’s really important to start this story by telling the education I received from my parents. My father was very learned, well read. They were children of immigrants.

“My grandfather, at the end of the 19th c. immigrated to Argentina from Italy. He was part of a big wave of immigration to Argentina. My father was born in Argentina, then came back to Italy. At the end of the 19th c. a lot of people went hungry in Friuli. There was a lot of suffering. My grandfather left Cividale all by himself.

“Thanks to the priest from Cividale he met his wife. He went to the priest in Argentina and said, I want to get married. I am in Argentina. I want to marry a nice girl with her head on her shoulders. The priest in Argentina wrote to a priest in Cividale. So thanks to the priest from Cividale, and another in Argentina, all by letter, he found a wife.

“He had gone to Argentina so he would put food on the table. You got off the boat in Argentina and they gave you a plow. They said, you can pick land. You put stakes around the land, and work as much as you want.

“My grandma left Italy without knowing anything about this person. They would meet at the other side of the journey, and when she said goodbye to family she didn’t know if she would ever see them again. This is what hunger and poverty did to people. They were forced to make such decisions.

“My grandfather was successful, and finally able to come back to Friuli with my father. At the time my father was 25 years old. He opened a small factory, made plows, and farming equipment. My father for this reason was a great lover of this land.

“He bought land in Percoto, Italy. At that point, my father had a company with 60 workers. At the same time, my father was a very sensitive person, and well read. He began to study customs, and traditions of Friuli. From the time I was very little we were going out and learning about Friuli tradition. That’s how as a young child I learned about indigenous grape varieties of the area.”

Giannola Nonino helped to preserve, and reestablish farming of indigenous varieties in Friuli. They had been illegal, and her work with farmers, and outreach to politicians helped instigate legal changes that supported the reestablishment of indigenous varieties in the region.

To further this cause she conceived of the Nonino Prize for those growing indigenous grape varieties. Paolo Rapuzzi of Ronchi di Cialla famously won the Nonino Prize for his saving Schioppettino by hunting feral vines in the hills along the Friuli-Slovenia border.

Giannola Nonino“My parents taught us how to behave in the world. We were raised not to just be frivolous girls in the world. Our identity was in our intelligence, and how we conveyed our intelligence. We were determined our projects should be conceived without hurting anyone, and we knew we could overcome any obstacle. Never give up.

“I was not a good mother. I was severe. I would try to give them what they wanted but there were rules, and they needed to follow. They had to be good at school, to study. They had to be obedient, and from when they were very little they would get in the truck with me, and we would look for pomace [to make grappa]. But from third grade, they never went to bed without me checking their homework.

“The first thing to give your children is affection. The most important thing is affection. But then you have to teach them how to respect themselves, and how to respect others. You have to do well in school, and you have to play, and when you grow up you should do a job you really enjoy because if you don’t enjoy it it’s going to weigh on you.

“I know I love my children more than anything in the world but I never lost track that they would respect themselves, and respect others. As a mother you want to give them everything but you have to teach your children that anything they receive takes a lot of energy. Other people have put a lot of energy into whatever it is we have.

“My father is the one that gave the knowledge of our land, and the love of our culture to me. But above all he valued keeping alive all of this knowledge because otherwise the cost is the loss of our identity. Just like what she does.” Giannola points to me referencing an earlier conversation, “sending her daughter back to Alaska where her whole family is from. Otherwise all of these roots would just die in the street.

“In a society like we are living now, in the entire world, this is the foundation of this loss of security our children have, this loss of knowledge.

“That is my advice. Convey to your children that knowledge of your land, and your people. It is without this knowledge we cannot live like real people. It is without this that we fight and we kill each other. It is with this knowledge we live as real people.

” I believe my father, as the son of an immigrant who became an immigrant himself is someone who, the values are even stronger in him.

“What I give to my children, and what my grandparents give to me, the knowledge of family, is the most valuable thing we can have.

Growing Nonino Grappa

DSC_0424“First I fell in love with my husband, Benito, then I fell in love with his job. I call it the art of distillery. I hope you have felt the same emotion I felt the first time I watched distillation happening. From that moment I wanted to learn how to distill. It is a magical thing to take the grape, and turn it into a crystalline distillate of the grape.

“The first of December 1973 we made the first monovarietal distillate of Picolit. At noon sharp on that first of December 1973 as the first drops of the grappa came, I drew them to my nose, and I knew our experiment had succeeded.”

Nonino was the first in history to make monovarietal grappa. Winemaking in the region previously made mixed white wine, and mixed red wine without separating grape types. Because grappa is made with the grape pommace, after the wine is pressed from the skins, the material available depended on the style of winemaking already established.

Making a single varietal grappa in order to celebrate the varieties indigenous to the region was Giannola’s idea. She worked with farmer’s wives through the region, offering to pay them in addition to paying the husbands for the grapes in order to secure pommace separated by grape type. 

Prior to Nonino’s innovations with monovarietal grappa, grappa was seen only as a worker’s distillate, not as a drink for finer tables. Giannola also worked to change that attitude.

“It occurred to me at that time that consumers that had a snobby attitude about grappa, they needed to taste this grappa. If we sold it as a normal grappa, they would have refused to taste it. At that time we did not even talk about marketing or talk about packaging. I realized if I put it into a refined container that would make the consumer curious. Then they would taste it, and fall in love with it.

“So we put the grappa in the old medicinal style bottles, and had the label that described which grape variety and its qualities, and the bottles were individually numbered as well, and it was like the bottle had an ID card as well that came with it. All of these qualities together gave our grappa the right to be considered top quality. The packaging was just a means to an end, teaching the public about the quality of our grappa.

“In 1975 we created the Nonino Prize in order to save indigenous grape varieties of Friuli. It was forbidden at that time to grow them. From 1975 to 8 we worked to save, rescue those varieties. Then the law changed, and it became a literary prize. The literary prize started as a way to document realities of farm life in Friuli. Industrial culture may die, but the death of rural farming culture would also be the death of all humanity.”

The Nonino familythe Nonino Family, from left: Giannola, Cristina, Antonella, Elisabeta, Benito Nonino

“My daughters were with me even during the night. My daughters were born in the pommace. All we did was talk about grappa grappa grappa. They fell in love with work.

“Benito and I traveled through the best places for wine in Europe. We decided to make an artisanal distillery for our daughters so whenever the need arose, our daughters would know how to distill because they did it with their own hands. That is when we invented the UE grape distillate, a distillate from skin, and juice, and pulp, and grapes. The UE has the elegance of wine, the aromas and characters and flavors of skins.”

Grappa is made with grape pommace, that is after the wine has been pressed off the skins, what is left is distilled into grappa. The Noninos were the first to distill the entire grape in what they call their UE.

“In 2000, our daughters, so that they would not be outdone by their parents created honey distillate, Gioiello, which was extremely difficult. It was a huge victory for them to prove to themselves that they could achieve the same greatness as their parents.

“As a woman, I always had to battle because I was so determined, and I knew the high quality of grappa my husband produced. I decided we were going to make my husband the greatest distillate in the world. So, in the mid-1960s I started a battle to transform grappa from Cinderella to a quality distillate. I did it thanks to my determination, and especially because my husband is the best distiller in the world.

“He has such intimate knowledge of the raw material, and created a special still to preserve the aromas and flavors, and he is never entirely satisfied, always to make it better and better. I believe one of the qualities that helped us transform, the number one thing we were hoping to achieve was never perfect but the attainment of absolute quality of the best grappa.

“My first trip to New York, I did not speak English, and had no translator but wanted to tell my story. So in front of a mirror I memorized the story in English, and I understood the expression I had to make. I practiced again and again, and it was a great success.

“These were the grapes my father taught me to love. I had to preserve them, or I would have betrayed the values my father taught me to love. Twenty years later, our daughters, we have given them the value of our land, and they have become even more rigorous.

“My story is a story of passion. If I was born again, I would do it the same again.”

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com