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Monthly Archives: April 2014

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Five Decades of Mayacamas, PBFW

Mayacamas Panel, PBFW

from left: Kim Beto, Andy Erickson, Antonio Galloni, D’Lynn Proctor, Brian McClintic

At Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Antonio Galloni moderated a panel celebration of Bob Travers’s tenure at Mayacamas presenting a five decade vertical of the famed Cabernet beginning with Travers first vintage on the estate, 1968, and closing with his last, 2012.

New Mayacamas winemaker, Andy Erickson, included Travers’s own notes on the vintages tasted, and discussed the history of the property along with the recent shift in ownership. To comment on the individual wines presented through the panel were also Kim Beto, D’Lynn Proctor, and Brian McClintic. From the audience, Joel Peterson, winemaker of Ravenswood, also offered valuable insight to the discussion.

At the end of April 2013, it was announced that Charles and Ali Banks had purchased the property through their investment group, Terroir Capital. The purchase arrived after years of discussion over the possibility between Banks and Travers. Banks’s long term respect for the property, and Travers’s work there drew Banks’s interest in the purchase.

Since the change in ownership, Erickson has spent extensive time speaking with Travers, reading his notes, and studying previous vintages to smooth the change in winemaking.

In fielding questions from the audience, Erickson was pushed to consider the contrast in style between the winemaking he’s shown through other labels, such as his own Favia, and that historically housed at Mayacamas. It was clear from the tenor in the audience that there is trepidation over whether the new team can maintain Travers’s style of site expression. Most revealing of Erickson’s responses, he closed the panel by admitting his work with Mayacamas in 2013 has pushed him to rethink his previous understandings of ripeness. Mayacamas Cabernet picks at lower brix levels than other sites, and ages beautifully.

Attending the Mayacamas tasting and panel discussion was a genuine honor. Receiving a vertical that carved the complete arc of Travers’s tenure from first to final vintage at the site gave an extra sense of elegance and respectfulness to the experience. To say the wines are special is an understatement.

The Cabernet of Mayacamas, 1968 to 2012

Mayacamas Cabernet Vertical 1968-2012click on image to enlarge

Travers’s iterations of Mayacamas Cabernet give a beautifully organic sense of seamlessness. The vintages I’ve been lucky enough to taste celebrate sophisticated rusticity — the dustiness of mountain fruit with tobacco and earth components carried through sometimes rugged, while well-executed, tannin balanced by juicy length. Even the riper vintages aren’t afraid of earth components, refreshing green pepper accents, or tannin born of a view. They’re wines that come with a real sense of life in the bottle.

Joel Peterson commented on the Cabernets of Mayacamas pointing out that with their greater acidity, structural tannin, and rose/floral aromatic line they can readily be compared to Barolo, and perhaps even more appropriately than the stereotypical Napa Cabernet. He continued by noting that Mt Veeder, with its unique environment and expression, really needs to be considered on its own, rather than encapsulated simply as part of the Napa Valley.

In describing the winemaking, Erickson laughed, describing it as “wilderness winemaking.” Travers accomplished his purity of expression with decades old wooden vessels housed in an even older rock building, a road that was sometimes impassable, and very little electrical technology.

Tasting through the Vertical

The vertical began with 1968, Travers first vintage, and a wine made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Traver’s notes expected that the wine “should age until the late 1980s” the wine was still drinking beautifully with energetic structural integrity, and beautiful mineral length. The wine had aged into a delicate flavor presentation with lovely floral aromatics and lift, well integrated with leather and earth components. Erickson shared with us that Travers’s notes stated “suggestion retail $4.50.” The 1968 vintage was primarily Mt Veeder Cabernet from the Mayacamas site, but included some fruit from the Alexander Valley.

The 1973 offered impressive structural integrity, and youthful strength. In a single word, this was a wine of purity. Aromatics of lavender and tobacco flower are joined by light cigar and rose petal, freshly opened green pepper and hints of jalapeno. The palate carries elegant juiciness with a focus on smooth tannic brawn.

The 1981 vintage offered the only wine that showed a sleeping phase, wanting time in bottle to show itself. Still, it carried recognizable kinship to its brethren giving lavender, cherry blossom, and light jalapeno aromatics rolling into an especially tannic focus on an earthy (though not fully showing) palate with a light menthol edge.

By the late 1980s, Travers was incorporating Cabernet Franc and Merlot into his Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromatics of the 1989 offered leather and light cigar accents coupled with creamy, delicate earthiness and light rose. Through the palate, the wine brought a vibrant, lifting red with silky, strong tannin, and a juicy crunch. This is a wine with lots of power that fills the palate giving a pert and vibrant lift.

With 1992, the wines began to shift from the fully integrated, while lively earth and leaf, flower and mineral elements of the first half of the tasting, into more apparent youthfulness of fruit still coupled with earth and flower accents. The red fruit focus of the 1992 married itself to the grounding elements of white truffle and oregano oil accented by evergreen carried through silken tannin, and a pleasing plush mouthfeel.

Beginning with light aromatics, the 1999 gave incredible juiciness on still such a young wine. The wine carried beautiful balance, long long lines, red fruit and redwood forest with less apparent flavor differentiation. The wine showed as less varied in that sense than earlier vintages but with the structural verve that will keep it developing well beyond Bob’s typical predictions.

With 2007 youthful red cherry perfume, red plum, and rose potpourri began to carry too the darker berry elements of young Cabernet. The vintage showed a beautiful purity of fruit expression on a body of fresh, juicy elegance and silken tannin. It’s a yummy, luscious wine with a bit riper fruit and a lot of structural focus.

The Mayacamas vertical was completed with a barrel sample of Travers’s last vintage, 2012. The dark berry focus of young Cabernet swirled through aromatics and palate here alongside fresh smashed cherries married to the lift of licorice blossom, redwood forest, and wet gravel on a body of plush tannin focus.

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To read more on Mayacamas in the last year:

From Eric Asimov: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/dining/calming-words-from-a-vineyards-unlikely-new-owner.html?_r=0

From Jon Bonné: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thirst/article/An-improbable-guardian-takes-over-at-Mayacamas-4703491.php

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With enormous thanks to Bob Travers for his dedication to Mayacamas.

Thank you to Antonio Galloni, Andy Erickson, D’Lynn Proctor, Kim Beto, and Brian McClintic.

Thank you to Charles and Ali Banks.

Thank you to Sarah Logan.

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

 

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Heritage Wines of California at Pebble Beach Food and Wine

Pebble Beach Food + Wine Heritage Wines of California panelfrom left: Morgan Twain-Peterson, Gillian Balance, Ray Isle, Tegan Passalacqua

Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine celebrated heritage wines of California on a panel at this year’s Pebble Beach Food and Wine. Bringing together Morgan Twain-Peterson and Tegan Passalacqua of the Historic Vineyard Society, with Master Sommelier and wine educator, Gillian Balance, the discussion offered an introduction to terroir specific vineyards of California through ten wines of Northern California.

Attending the Heritage Vineyard Society panel was a lucky treat. The event was one of the first to sell out for Pebble Beach Food & Wine this year, and the crowd waiting to get into the panel was not only early but pushed against the door waiting for it to open. It was a fantastic panel discussion bringing out not only the value of the ten individual wines (shown below) featured, but also of the importance of historic vineyards more broadly. Following is a look at the discussion and the wines.

The Value of Older Vineyards

To open the conversation, Isle highlighted the point that older vineyards are not just old vines, but plots of land that offer cultural value beyond their simple economic value. Twain-Peterson and Passalacqua have worked with vineyards throughout the Northern part of the state for decades.

Twain-Peterson grew up with the interest through work in wine with his father, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. However, he began his own passion for the work at a young age making his first wine thanks to grapes from a family friend at the age of 5. Though he must have had assistance at such a young age, he selected the type of fruit he wanted himself–Pinot Noir. He now has his own label, Bedrock Wine Co.

After work with wine in South Africa, Passalacqua has spent the last decade with Turley Wine Cellars driving between vineyards throughout Northern California and into the Central Coast, scouting new sites, and managing vine health to then make wine for the label. More recently he has also launched his own already celebrated label, Sandlands.

The depth of experience with older vineyard sites shared by Passalacqua and Twain-Peterson is some of the deepest in the state. Again and again, however, the duo witnessed brilliant older vineyards being ripped out for merely economic reasons. The experience was repeatedly devastating.

Older sites offer more direct insight into any sense of California terroir. As vines age they adapt to the conditions of their site. The adaptation means that their growth and fruit production are unique to the place in which they are grown, not replaceable by simply getting fruit from another site. Younger vines can offer abundant fruit but tend to be more expressive of their variety and clone. As vines age, however, clonal distinctions fade to the backdrop and site expression steps to the fore.

As Isle pointed out, however, older vineyards don’t just contain older vines. Sites in California planted prior to Prohibition still produce beautiful fruit, offering a link through the state’s otherwise broken viticultural history. Many of these vineyards are also still owned and farmed by the families that planted them. Grandchildren that first walked the rows with their now deceased relatives thus maintain a connection with their own history. As the panel emphasized, agriculture reflects culture, rather than just being agri-business.

Many of the older sites that Twain-Peterson and Passalacqua valued were unknown, however. So, when faced with the destruction of one of these vineyards few people even realized what had been lost. Frustrated with the trend, the pair got together with several others, including Mike Officer, of Carlisle Winery, and David Gates of Ridge, to found the Historic Vineyard Society, a non-profit that registers, maps, and raises awareness of older vine sites in an effort to preserve them.

Heritage Wines of California

Heritage Wines of California panelthe ten wines of the Heritage Wines of California, PBFW panel
from top left: Hanzell Ambassador 1953-planting 2007 Pinot Noir; Bedrock Wine Co Gibson Ranch 120-yr old 2013 Grenache; Idlewild Testa Vineyard 2012 Carignane; Neyers Evangelho Vineyard 2012 Mourvedre; Turley 1880s-planted Library VIneyard 2012 Petite Sirah; Turley Kirchenmann Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel; Limerick Lane 1910-planted 2011 Zinfandel; Carlisle Winery Carlisle Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel; Ridge 2012 Geyserville

In choosing the ten wines for the panel discussion, the group selected examples made from vineyards legally established more than 50 years ago, with more than 33% of the planting still containing original vines. Farmers of older sites will individually replace vines with cuttings of the originals as issues develop in particular vines. As a result, older vineyards often reflect a patchwork of ages but with a predominance of original vines, and a root in original vine material.

The first challenge for older vineyards existing today rests in surviving the fancy of economic trends. However, being established at a time with less potential intervention means such sites were also, by luck or intention, established in locations that can genuinely support healthy vines. As Passalacqua pointed out, because of the lack of technological intervention previously possible, older sites represent land genuinely good for grapes. If it was too hard to grow healthy grapes there, the site was going to be pulled out for farming an easier, more lucrative crop.

As the panel explained, vineyards older than 50 years represent access to an older paradigm “before a more recent intellectual and technical shift in vineyard technology.” More than 50 years, ago sites were planted dry farmed with older (pre-trellising) techniques. Such sites, as a result, reflect not only older vines but sites brilliant for vineyards.

The Wines of the Panel

The wines as a whole were impressively vibrant, with complex expression and flavor concentration. The ten panel selections showed a predominance of elegance, with just a few examples of winemaker experimentation or a touch of vineyard funk. Following are notes on the individual vineyards and wines.

Hanzell, Ambassador Block, 2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley
In the 1953-planted Ambassador block, Hanzell grows what is believed to be the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir vineyard in North America. As Gillian Balance explained, the site is “one of the most spectacular vineyards ever seen” offering incredibly low yields and “a benchmark for what great California Pinot Noir should be.” The 2007 carries a beautiful, easy purity of expression offering layers of fruit, earthy-herbal elements with stimulating while delicate tannin, built around a graceful backbone.

Bedrock Wine Co, Gibson Ranch, 2013 Grenache, McDowell Valley
Bedrock sources fruit from the historic Gibson Ranch McDowell Vineyard, featuring Grenache trees more than 120 years old. The vines on the site are head trained but having been largely left to their own devices over the years, vine height is often taller than people. Harvesting the fruit includes ladders, or standing inside the body of the vine itself. As Twain-Peterson explains, he loves the wines of Gramenon, and from Beaujolais, and so chose to use some whole cluster fermentation to call on the characteristics of those wines. The Bedrock Gibson Grenache carries lots of fresh red fruit lift, moving into a purple and violet palate with tons of mineral crunch and pleasing texture.

Idlewild, Testa Vineyard, 2012 Carignane, Redwood Valley
Though Zinfandel often takes credit as California’s historic grape, Carignan established itself through the same regions as its spicy cousin. The two varieties complement each other in the glass with Carignan bringing a meaty earthiness to Zinfandels fruit spice. Examples of Carignan can be found on its own as well. The Idlewild Testa Carignane brings elegant richness to juicy dark fruit integrated with a deeper spice and ginger accents. Isle laughingly described it as “bright, zingy, like tap dancer wine.”

Neyers, Evangelho Vineyard, 2012 Mourvedre, Contra Costa County
As Passalacqua explains, the Evangelho stands as a rolling vineyard of blow sand — decomposed granite literally blown down from the Sierra Nevadas. It can be a challenge moving through the site to sample fruit, like walking long distances on a beach. One of the advantages of growing vines in sand, however, rests in phylloxera’s inability to prosper in such an environment. As a result, vines can grow on their own roots giving more direct expression, and greater balance in the final wine. The Neyers Evangelho Mourvedre gives dark fruit, dried maple (no sweetness), and natural spice concentration lifted with clean, fresh fruit and melting tannin.

Turley, Library Vineyard, 2012 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley
The Library Vineyard grows in the heart of St Helena wrapping the back sides of the town library. Planted in the late 1880s, more than 24 different varieties, including some unidentified, grow in the site. In this way, the Library Vineyard is not only adjacent to the town library, but is in itself a library of historic cuttings from around the Napa Valley. The Turley Library Petite Sirah wine is full of concentrated complexity beginning with opaque aromatics and violet perfume, then carrying the perfume into the palate with layers of sarsaparilla, mandarin zest, dark fruit, and natural (not barrel) coffee accents.

Turley, Kirschenmann Vineyard, 2012 Zinfandel, Lodi
Growing in what is known as the Peninsula section of the historic Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi, the Kirschenmann Vineyard showcases the lighter fresh fruit profile offered by the sands of the Lodi region. Passalacqua himself now owns the Kirschenmann Vineyard, having purchased it with his wife directly from the family that farmed it for generations. The Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel carries perfumed red aromatics, rolling into a fresh palate of white and red cherry accented by pink grapefruit spice, white pepper midpalate accents, and suave melting tannin.

Limerick Lane, 1910 Zinfandel Block, 2011 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
In the Northeastern section of the Russian River Valley, Limerick Lane owns their historic Estate vineyard, originally homesteaded and planted in 1910. From the site some of the most respected names in California wine history have made wine, including Davis Bynum, and Ravenswood. Maintaining a block of the original vines, Limerick Lane produces a field blend Zinfandel. The 2011 carries redwood, earthy, and savory black olive notes through a drying midpalate and long finish. Note: though the panel papers named this the 2012 vintage, the wine poured was actually the 2011.

Carlisle Winery, Carlisle Vineyard, 2012 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
Growing on the Eastern Bench of the historic river floodplain in the Russian River Valley, the Carlisle Vineyard proves one of the most varietally diverse sites in Northern California. Thirty-eight different varieties prosper in the site. Carlisle Winery produces a field blend Zinfandel featuring the mix. Carlisle Vineyard is owned by Mike Officer, one of the board members and founders of the Historic Vineyard Society. The Carlisle field blend Zinfandel gives red fruit lift and refreshing pink grapefruit accents carrying forward into a creamy palate with layers of rich maple (no sweetness), cocoa powder, cracked pepper, and touches of loam.

Bedrock Wine Co., Bedrock Vineyard Heritage Wine, 2012 Sonoma Valley
Founded in 1854, Bedrock Vineyard carries rich heritage including the attention of U.S. Generals, a state Senator, survival through Prohibition, and now ownership by what Twain-Peterson refers to as the The Peterson-Deininger-Kenworthy-Burney Braintrust. The Bedrock Wine Co Bedrock Vineyard blend brings together Carignan and Zinfandel with 20% mixed field blend from the property’s historic vines. The wine gives lifted fresh purple fruit integrated with fresh herbal, earthy elements and light pine through creamy flavors on a lean, drying palate.

Ridge 2012 Geyserville, Alexander Valley
Another historic field blend site, Ridge’s Geyserville wine brings fruit from the Geyserville vineyard featuring vines more than 130 years old. The field blend includes Carignan, Zinfandel, and Mataro (aka Mourvedre), a combination classic to the warmer areas of Northern California. Ridge has been making wine from the site since 1966. The Ridge Geyserville spins with perfumed floral notes of cherry blossom, dried rose petal, and forest violet, moving into a touch of forest floor, cocoa, and savory soy elements through the ultra long finish.

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For more on Heritage Vineyards in California, read Ray Isle’s excellent article: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/the-battle-for-americas-oldest-vines

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Thank you to Ray Isle, Gillian Balance, Tegan Passalacqua, and Morgan Twain-Peterson.

Thank you to Sarah Logan.

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

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Drinking Gewurztraminer with Matzo Ball Soup

Gewurztraminer Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

This week I couldn’t kick the Matzo Ball Soup craving so Jr and I spent an afternoon making it from scratch. By grating fresh ginger into the Matzo Balls, and using a touch of parsley on top of the chicken broth, the soup worked beautifully with Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer produces naturally pungent, easily recognizable aromatics. The grape naturally generates higher sugar levels, leading to a predominance of off dry-to-sweet styles of the grape, or higher alcohol level dry wines. Acid levels also quickly drop in the variety. As a result, Gewurztraminers readily have a fuller mouthfeel, and oily or slippery texture. All combined, cooler climates do better for the fruit. With lower temperatures, a grape that can tend towards blouse-y flavors and feel maintains greater structural focus, and can more easily hold the juiciness to balance its fuller palate.

Following are notes from six dry examples — two each from Alsace, Alto Adige, and California.

* Elena Walch 2013 Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
Alto Adige in Northern Italy stands as both the origin, and one of the most celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer. Elena Walch offers a beautiful dry Gewurztraminer that lifts from the glass with nicely focused fresh rose aromatics then moves over the palate with ultra juicy crisp length. White nectarine, orange blossom, and light chamomile keep the palate nicely focused, crisp, and well integrated with a slippery mouthfeel. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. I kept returning to it through dinner, and after.

Elena Walch 2012 Kastelaz Vineyard Designate Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
On a steep hillside above the village from which Gewurztraminer gets its name, Tramin in Alto Adige, Elena Walch grows the fruit for her single vineyard designate wine. Kastelaz. The site has produced quality fruit for generations. The Kastelaz brings a lighter, rounder focus to the aromatics and palate, carrying white peach, honeysuckle, pear blossom, and chamomile tea alongside light spice elements. Aged on its lees, the Kastelaz gives a creamy, nicely balanced palate. Though this wine offers slightly more residual sugar, it carries nice juiciness, and natural acid levels that bring it in as a dry wine.

Hugel 2011 Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 14.15%
Alsace proves another of the more celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer, with the area regarding it as a signature grape. For Hugel, it is a flagship variety. This dry Gewurztraminer carries cooked pear and lifting almond leaf aromatics rolling into a perfumed white stone and orchard fruit palate accented by chamomile tea. There is nice focus here, pleasing texture, and a long finish.

Domaines Schlumberger 2008 “Les Princes Abbés” Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 13.35
Meant to celebrate the long history of the region, Domaines Schlumberger‘s “Les Princes Abbés” portfolio uses portions of Grand Cru fruit from classic varieties. The aromatics keep a focus on freshness and delicate precision carrying crisp red apple, anjou pear and birch bark from nose to mouth. With just a kiss of sweetness, the juiciness of Les Princes Abbés keeps the wine fresh on the palate.

* Thomas Fogarty Vineyards 2012 Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, 13.3%
Taking fruit from a cool, windy vineyard in Salinas Valley, Thomas Fogarty VIneyards delivers one of the nicest examples of a varietally expressive, dry style Gewurztraminer in California. Giving a touch of skin contact to broaden the palate, and develop textural complexity, the wine delivers very lightly toasted croissant with hints of orange blossom, dried rose petals, and lychee all on a crisp, juicy presentation. This wine brings nice freshness, focus, and length.

Gundlach Bundschu 2012 Estate Gewurztraminer, Sonoma County, 14.5%
Showing off the exuberant side of Gewurztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu‘s 2012 highlights the pungent lychee and oily-slippery mouthfeel typicity of the grape. The nose carries lychee and spice greenery rolling into a flamboyant, perfumed mouth of lychee, melon rind, and lily pollen. The 2012 shows the broad character of a warmer profile typical for the variety. I have to admit the expressiveness of this style is overwhelming for me.

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Each of these wines were provided as samples.

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post-edit: I finished this write-up in the middle of the night after a two week run of not-quite enough sleep. My apologies for the creatively varied mis-spellings of Gewurztraminer in the original posting.

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

 

Skype Drinking with Jameson Fink

In the midst of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 Jameson Fink and I became friends. In October 2013, we were able to do a joint wine trip through Dry Creek Valley. We have other joint trips planned for this upcoming year. It’s one of the gifts of wine blogging — you can develop genuine friendships with people you might not have met otherwise.

In the midst of our tour of Dry Creek in 2013, Jameson suggested we find a way to collaborate. Ultimately, we decided to begin by sharing quick visions of our respective states. He’d select two wines from Washington. I’d choose two from California. We’d send them to each other, then via Skype taste, drink, and talk through the four wines.

Following is Jameson’s write-up from the experience. Over on his site, Wine Without Worry, you’ll find mine later today. Here’s my write-up over on Jameson’s site: http://jamesonfink.com/washington-meets-california-with-elaine-chukan-brown/

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Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink, Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

Hi there! I can’t believe I’m talking over/invading Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews for the day. You might remember me from such adventures with Elaine as “Touring Dry Creek Valley with Jameson Fink”.

The Washington Wines

So what wines from Washington State would I send Elaine’s way? Well, I knew I wanted to send her a couple weird bottles. And by weird I mean distinct and unusual in the most satisfying of ways. So I contacted the folks at Whidbey Island Winery and they were nice enough to send each of us a couple bottles for consideration.

Ferry to Whidbey Island Winery

ferry ride to Whidbey Island Winery, photo by Jameson Fink

I definitely wanted Elaine to try something from the Puget Sound AVA. While the vast majority of grapes for vino in Washington come from east of the Cascade Mountains (think Walla Walla, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, etc), there’s some cool stuff happening much closer to Seattle. Therefore, a bottle of 2012 Siegerrebe was dispatched to California.

This Puget Sound white wine is intensely aromatic. Elaine commented, “I’m drinking it through my nose.” (Not literally. I was watching her via Skype so I can confirm this was just a figure of speech.) It’s light and refreshing, clocking in at a summertime porch-pounding compatible 11% alcohol. If you like the intense aromatics of Gewurztraminer and Moscato but without the oiliness and/or sweetness, get a bottle in your fridge, posthaste! And when you’re hungry, pair that Siegerrebe with anything full of veggies and herbs. Like fresh rolls. (But skip the peanut sauce.)

Whidbey Island Vineyards

Whidbey Island Vineyards

The accompanying red wine from Whidbey Island Winery was their 2011 Lemberger. This bottle, unlike the Siegerrebe, is filled with grapes brought in from Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley. Lemberger is a grape that, because of its unfortunate name, doesn’t get the love it deserves. WHERE IS THE LEMBERGER LOVE?!?

This wine reminds me of what would happen if a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel swiped right on each other’s Tinder profiles. It’s fairly light on the palate but finishes with some brawny spiciness. This bottle would be really intriguing with less new oak as the Lemberger has enough going on to not need that flavor boost. I’d be curious to try it with neutral oak or perhaps nothing but steel. But if you find Zinfandel too monolithic, Lemberger awaits with a more gentle approach followed by an emptying out of the spice cabinet. Outstanding BBQ/outdoor grilling red.

The California Wines

So, what of the California wines sent my way? I was really excited to see (though not to type, jeez, what a long name, here goes) a bottle of 2011 Varner Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block. Phew! So thirsty. I’m a huge fan of the Santa Cruz Mountains, like Ridge Monte Bello (DUH!) and the wines of Mount Eden Vineyards, who make killer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and one of my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons from anywhere IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Anyway, back to the Varner. I love California Chardonnay and I ain’t afraid of oak on it, either. What makes the Varner notable is its exquisite balance between fruit, oak, and acid. How balanced is it? It’s more balanced than a seal with a beach ball on the tip of its nose being cheered by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch snacking on popcorn with a judicious amount of organic butter and native yeast.

Or, as Elaine more elegantly put it, this Chardonnay has “rich flavor with so much graceful movement.” Can I get avian on you? Let me paraphrase what Elaine went on to say. The Varner, which develops in a most intriguing manner in the glass, is like a great blue heron with a weirdly elongated form that moves in ways you don’t expect it to. You can’t compare it to other birds because they are the only ones who move like that.

This wine gets a Clive Coats-ian “very fine indeed”.

Next up? The 2012 Wind Gap Syrah Sonoma Coast Majik Vineyard, which also, like the Varner, proved to be magical in the glass. Like a conjurer. It has a very minty, menthol-y, eucalyptus-y, pine needle-y nose and was very earthy yet extremely light on first sip(s). Its a wine that really needs significant time to open up. I gave it a double-decant about a ½ hour before we began but give it hours to properly plump up or stash it in your cellar for a few years. It certainly gained steam throughout the course of the evening.

What makes this Syrah distinct among all of the offerings from Wind Gap? Elaine deems this bottling from the Majik Vineyard to be “the most aromatic and a little strange.” And strange in the way I described weird earlier. As in intriguing! And not intriguing in a way where you are choking down tiny eye-dropper sips while looking for the exit door. More of a “yum I want more” or “I’m sticking around for this rollercoaster…OF FLAVOR” kind of intrigue. Elaine channeled Alaska when describing this wine, likening it to “tundra berries grown in peat”. (Note: Whole Foods does not carry these. I asked.)

Thanks to Elaine for the fascinating and fantastic wines and letting me blather on all over her blog which, like the Varner, is very fine indeed!!! I look forward to our next adventure via Skype. It won’t be a California/Washington exchange, but rather a theme based on a style of wine we both hold near and dear. Elaine, would you care to make the announcement? Drumroll, please….

OH HOW WE LOVE ROSÉ! That’s what we’ll exchange next time — we’ll each select a favorite still rosé, and a favorite sparkling to send to the other, then Skype.

Cheers!

***

Thank you to Pax Mahle for providing the Wind Gap sample.
Thank you to Jameson Fink for being awesome.

 

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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

4

West Coast Grenache Noir

This recent weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted their Spring event featuring the largest U.S. Rhone-focused tasting in the country, the induction of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas into their Hall of Fame, and two educational seminars. The second seminar focused in specifically on West Coast North American iterations of Grenache Noir, looking at the work of eight winemakers from distinctive regions, and moderated by Luke Sykora of Wine and Spirits Magazine.

Grenache Noir Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

In selecting Grenache as a focal point, the seminar turned its attention to characteristics of the world’s most planted Rhone variety. Depending on site and winemaking style, the grape offers a medium bodied wine ranging from bright red juiciness with supple tannin to more weighted fleshiness and darker red-to-purple flavors.

Though the variety is prone to dropping acid, it can offer a wash of flavor with lots of juicy flow when picked before acids drop. The tannin of the variety too tends towards the lighter side, analogous to Pinot Noir in tannin presence. Many winemakers take advantage of the characteristic to offer more delicate expression, but in good Southern Rhone tradition blending with even a touch of other varieties such as Syrah can increase the heft of the final wine.

In selecting the wines for the panel, the Rhone Rangers Educational Committee chose to pick wines from distinctive regions. Though Grenache proves to be the world’s most planted Rhone variety, its development in California and Oregon vinification is still in its earlier stages. As a result, a number of the wines shown represented the first vintage of working with the grape, even from experienced winemakers.

Bob Lindquist of Qupé opened the panel expressing his affection for the variety. He brings a wealth of experience with Rhone grapes from Santa Barbara County to the table. As example, because Grenache varieties are prone to oxidation their aging before bottling needs to be carefully considered. However, as Lindquist discussed, Grenache does better texturally with some slow oxygen exposure. With that in mind, it is rare to see Grenache aged in Stainless. Most winemakers choose oak, though some are also starting to use concrete, to allow for slow air exchange.

The delicacy of Grenache favors neutral oak. However, making the point about the importance of site, Chris Cameron of Broken Earth on the Eastside of Paso Robles explained that, with the warmer temperatures of their region, small portions of new oak help showcase more flavor complexity in the wine.

The Rhone Rangers Grenache Panel Wines

The panel showcased well-made examples of Grenache from a range of growing conditions. Half of the wines presented as still quite tight in their presentation currently due to age, thus wanting more time in bottle or more air before drinking. Following are notes for each of the wines.

Quady North, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2012 Grenache “Bomba”presented by Herb Quady (95% Grenache 5% Syrah)

From Southern Oregon, the Quady North Bomba offers a rocky rusticity with lots of palate tension moving through a long juicy finish. The wine is quite young right now wanting more time in bottle to open but showing structure that speaks well for its future expression. The aromatics give dark cherry musk moving into a brighter palate with the full range of cherry elements–red cherry, cherry blossom musk, branch and leaf oil–all accented by hints of pink grapefruit oil. The palate is tight right now but carries a pleasing tension, and good juicy length.

Mounts Family Winery, Healdsburg, CA, 2011 Grenache Estate
presented by David Mounts

Using fruit from Dry Creek Valley, the Mounts Estate steps out of the glass with a mixed red fruit carbonic lift moving into a darker fruit palate. The wine is still tight on the palate wanting more time in bottle. It moves from smashed red cherry and raspberry blossom into floral musk accents on a line of cracked pepper and a perfumed, lightly drying finish. The nose right now is rather singular and lightly cloying, but there is a nice textural element to the moderate tannin and good tension through the palate.

Campovida, Hopland, CA, 2012 Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyards
presented by Sebastian Donoso

Their first vintage working with Grenache from Mendocino, the Campovida Dark Horse Vineyard brings an integrated fruit-earth-floral aromatic forward into the palate. The wine offers both red cherry and blossom, with floral powder notes showing through a savory cracked pepper mid-palate and accents of pink grapefruit zest. The wine is still tightly focused in its presentation but gives a nice juiciness to tannin balance and good length.

Miner Family Wines, 2012 Grenache, Hudson Vineyards
presented by Maura Christoffers

The Miner Family showed their Grenache sourced from Hudson Vineyard in the cooler Napa region of Carneros, the first crop yield year for the fruit. The wine gives soft red cherry with wild pink rose through a spiced and mint lift aromatic carrying forward on the palate with a light cherry powder mid-palate and clay finish. The wine offers an easy acid-tannin balance, and long finish.

Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play, CA, 2010 Grenache, Sharon’s Vineyard
presented by Greg Baiocchi

With fruit from a small, high elevation planting in El Dorado county region of the Sierra Foothills, the Baiocchi Sharon’s Vineyard gives the nervy tension characteristic of granite slopes. The aromatics here offer feminine perfumed lift with accents of green chili. The palate offers a smooth powdered cherry blossom and cracked pepper mid-palate with powerful flavor, strong structural tension, and a round floral finish. There is a ton of presence to this wine, with textural tannin and plenty of juiciness to keep it moving through a long finish.

* McCay Cellars, Lodi, CA, 2011 Grenache
presented by Michael McCay

My favorite of the wines on the panel, the McCay Grenache offers a sense of completeness that makes it ready to drink now with a distinctiveness that stands out within a line-up of Grenache. Showing alpine strawberry and wild cherry throughout, on the palate the wine gives the suave tannin of a sandier site with nice juiciness. There is a beautiful flavor-to-feel balance, and nice palate contact-to-movement dance, that both carry through with lots of delicate (without being weak) prettiness.

* Qupe, Los Olivos, CA, 2011 Grenache, Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard
presented by Bob Lindquist

Growing their fruit in Edna Valley, Qupé‘s Sawyer-Linquist Vineyard offers nice complexity with ease and a great focus on grounded juiciness. This is a nicely made wine giving lifted perfume of red cherry tree, touches of strawberry, and menthol accents carrying forward into a light pleasing palate with ruby grapefruit peel and integrated fruit spice through a long juicy palate. This wine is full of mouthwatering flavor.

Broken Earth, Paso Robles, CA, 2012 Grenache Estate
presented by Chris Cameron

From the warmer side of Paso Robles, the Broken Earth Estate carries the most overt accessibility with a spiced finish of the wines on the panel. This Grenache focuses in on the pinker side of red fruit aroma and flavor carrying red berry candy powder elements through the mid-palate and accents of ginger powder with light clove touched by black pepper through the finish, all on a body of melting tannin and juicy length. I have to admit that this wine is not my style as its focus stays more on sweet (not sugary) pink-red fruit flavor but it is a well done example of its type.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers, and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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

 

2

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project

The Lodi Native Winemakers

Lodi Native Winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, Michael McCay, Tim Holdener, Chad Joseph. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

Propelled by an idea of Randy Caparoso, six Lodi winemakers have produced and released the Lodi Native Project, a collection of six different Zinfandel wines made from six separate heritage vineyards of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The winemakers include Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Layne Montgomery of m2 wines, Michael McCay of McCay Cellars, Stuart Spencer of St Amant Winery, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Vineyards & Winery, and Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines.

What defines the collection rests in technique. The wines are individually made using only ambient yeast fermentations, in neutral vessels, without the addition of anything beyond sulfur, without alcohol reductive techniques, and avoiding fining, or filtering. The wines, in other words, are produced with minimal intervention. The goal is to offer the best expression of the vineyards themselves.

The Wealth of Lodi Vineyards

Weget Vineyard w Chad Joseph and Layne Montgomery

Standing in Weget Vineyard, Zinfandel planted in 1958, Mokelumne River AVA Westside, with Chad Joseph (left) and Layne Montgomery, July 2013. Photo courtesy Randy Caparoso.

Lodi offers some of the highest concentration of quality old vine material in the state of California. As vines age through vintages, they adapt their growing patterns to the conditions of their site, becoming more responsive to the intersection of factors–soil type, water availability, drainage, mineral content, sun, wind, and humidity exposure, etc–unique to their environment. The result yields fruit expressive through aroma, flavor, structure (and even color and size) of its peculiar vineyard.

Younger vines, on the other hand, grow instead with the vigor of their variety. Not yet adapted to the demands of their vineyard location, younger vines produce grapes with resounding fruit flavor, but not necessarily showcasing the elements unique to their growing location. For wine lovers hoping for the taste of a place, then, such potential rests in older vineyards. In a state dominated by vineyards twenty years of age and younger, Lodi’s older vineyards could be understood as viticultural wealth.

However, Lodi commonly gets underestimated by wine media who take the region to produce only overripe mass market wines. Misperceptions of ripeness depend partially on misunderstandings about Lodi climate. As part of the central valley of California, Lodi is taken to be far warmer than it actually is, perceived to match temperatures of growing areas south like Modesto. In actuality, Lodi benefits from the Sacramento-San Joaquin RIver system, or California Delta. The Delta forms a gap in the coastal mountains that pulls cool air from San Francisco Bay over the growing regions of Lodi keeping the area cooler than the rest of the Central Valley. As a result, Lodi day time highs average similarly to mid-to-St. Helena Napa Valley with a cooling breeze hitting daily by mid afternoon.

Wanting to find a way to help improve awareness of Lodi’s quality vineyards, Caparoso brought together the six winemakers to develop a project that would become Lodi Native. Together the group focused in on the question of how to best express the wealth of Lodi vineyards. Towards such ends they agreed upon working with older sites utilizing minimal intervention winemaking techniques. The result is a collection of six distinctive Zinfandels offering juicy while crystalline focus on the character that is Mokelumne River.

The Lodi Natives Project: the taste of Mokelumne River

Marians Vineyard Mohr Fry Ranch

Marian’s Vineyard, planted 1901, Mohr-Fry Ranch. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

The Mokelumne River appellation of Lodi gives a distinctive disposition to its wines. The fine grained soils of the river valley bring a suave character to the tannin ranging from the texture of a voluptuous slippery silk to melt away shantung. The cooling influence of the afternoon breeze offers ample juiciness. Together its a structure that is definitively Lodi.

Moving from East to West along the river appellation the flavors markedly shift. The Eastern half of the AVA showcases ultra fine sand to silt soils that give lifted, pretty red fruit and flower character brushed through with a natural baking spice and light musk element I taste as a range from clove to ginger.

Moving West, the appellation approaches the Delta, with water tables coming closer to the surface as a result, and soils shifting to just a touch more fertile sandy loam. The result is an earthier component to the wines, often giving a loamy essence throughout, sometimes verging on a loamy funk. The fruit tends darker in comparison cut on the edges with a hint of celery salt thanks to the Delta influence.

The Lodi Native Wines

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2012

click on image to enlarge

These are six nicely crafted wines that each give focused expression of their site. The minimalist approach is new to many of these winemakers but in each case they executed the methodology to positive effect. These are clean wines. Together the collection offer crystalline insight into the character of Lodi’s Mokelumne River appellation giving pure expression to the vineyards. Separately they each carry the juiciness of wines to drink with food, and the medium to medium-light body that allows them to work on their own.

Westside Mokelumne

The three wines from Westside Mokelumne–Weget, Soucie, and Trulux Vineyards–offer the celery salt edge with loam elements ranging from mere accents to integrated loaminess characteristic of the Delta influence.

Of the three, the Weget Vineyard farmed by the Maley Brothers and vinified by Chad Joseph gives the most singular focus on fruit with a definitively red lift to the aromatics and palate characteristic of carbonic notes. The red fruit aromatics and palate are touched through by blood orange peel, and faint savory spice. I’m super curious to see how this wine will continue to develop. As it is now, the Weget carries the strongest focus on freshness of the collection with those carbonic elements rising from the glass. There are edges through the wine, however, that hint it will deepen in character and develop further complexity with time.

The collection’s Soucie Vineyard, made by Layne Montgomery and farmed by Kevin Soucie, shows the strongest influence of the Westside funk with the loam elements deepening into loamy musk. At first sniff the funk can be surprising but with air it dissipates and integrates into the overall wine. The wine, however, shows up too with lots of juicy lift and pure fruit expression so that the dark earthy elements are paired alongside red juiciness. This wine likes air as the pairing of elements can then open and swirl together.

Michael McCay makes the Trulux Vineyard bottling of the collection giving a wine focused on earthiness accented by floral aromatics and fruit flavors. The fruit and flower show up deepened by evergreen forest and loamy touches throughout and accented on the finish by dried beach grass and celery salt. This is a nicely focused, nicely balanced wine with lots of juiciness and a shantung textured tannin melting into juicy length.

Eastside Mokelumne

The Eastside wines of the collection–Marian’s, Century Block, and Noma Vineyards–showcase the lighter presentation, pretty fruit elements characteristic of that portion of Mokelumne River vineyards.

Marian’s Vineyard, farmed by Jerry and Bruce Fry and vinified by Stuart Spencer, rests on what would be the center line between East and Westside Mokelumne. However, the site showcases the soils more typical of Eastside plantings. The wine offers perfumed, concentrated fruit of an old vine planting with lots of juiciness balanced by light tannin grip. Light clay notes and musk lift appear in the wine and the fruit characteristics mix blackberry pie (without sweetness or jammy character) and red cherry with clove. This wine shows off the naturally concentrated while still lively flavor of old vine fruit.

The Century Block Vineyard bottling, made by Ryan Sherman, offers lots of red and dark cherry with light plum (no sweetness) fruit concentration spun through with natural (not oak) dark cocoa, touches of red currant, and perfumed musk leading into a talcum finish. Though this wine carries lots of red fruit, the fruit is not the focus. Instead those fresh red elements come in clothed with evergreen and dry cocoa bringing a sense of rusticity to the wine.

The miniaturized vines of the Noma Ranch bottling, vinified by Tim Holdener and farmed by Leland Noma, offer lifted fresh red cherry with black cap and sour dark Morello integrated with natural fruit spice and touched by perfumed musk. The brilliance of older vines shows here as the Noma bottling turns out to have the highest alcohol level of the collection but carries it in good balance with lovely juiciness, concentrated flavor, and easy lightly drying tannin.

***

The Lodi Native Wines are available as a complete 6-pack collection sold in wooden box. For the Lodi Native website: http://www.lodinative.com

For Reed Fujii’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140309/A_BIZ/403070305/-1/A_BIZ04

For Fred Swan’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://norcalwine.com/blog/51-general-interest/871-lodi-zinfandel-goes-native

***

Thank you very much to Randy Caparoso, Chad Joseph, Layne Montgomery, Michael McCay, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, and Tim Holdener. The Lodi Natives group invited me to taste these wines with them through early stages beginning in July 2013, as well as to join in discussion of the project. I very much appreciate being able to see the development of the project, as well as the wines. Thank you.

Thank you to Alex Fondren, and Rebecca Robinson.

Thank you to Wine & Roses.

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

 

0

This interview originally appeared here April 1, 2013. Because of recent events it seemed appropriate to repost it today.

***

Touring the Vineyards of Chateau La Barre

for Annemarie, and Jeremy

Callaway_vineyard__winery-620x472

climate meter at Chateau La Barre Vineyards

It’s warm when I arrive for the visit of Chateau La Barre. The weather is a relief for the region after fog and cold for several weeks. The area is known for its continental climate but can also get hit with bouts of severe chill due to the mountain influence from the North. Though the Vosges range is in the distance, it still weighs influence on the vines.

My visit to the winery is unusual, as the Chateau owner is known now for his privacy. He’s resistant to interviews but offered to meet me finally in recognition of his family winery’s up coming tricentennial. Owner and vigneron, Jean-Luc Picard, treats his vines now as an homage to his ancestors.

His invitation to meet arrived with a short but direct explanation: We’re not going to talk about his previous career. It’s the Chateau we’re there to discuss, and, though he’d rather avoid interviews, he respects the work of his family and wishes to celebrate their accomplishments. Prior to retiring to his homeland of France, Picard had had a distinguished career as a fleet Captain, but now he sees that recognition as a distraction from the work he’s trying to do for the region.

Meeting the Picards

Jean-Luc_Picard_2395-620x476

inspecting the vines with Jean-Luc Picard

Before I have the chance to sit, Picard ushers me out to the vineyard. It’s the vines he wants to show me. The Estate’s recent developments are exciting, thanks in part to Picard’s archaeological and historical interests as well.

Winemaking hadn’t been part of Picard’s imagined retirement. He’d grown up in the vineyards with his father Maurice teaching him vine maintenance but Picard’s passions took him away from home. With his older brother Robert devoting himself to oenology, Picard felt free to follow the decision of a different path. The traditions of the Picard estate would rest in his brother’s family.

Then, almost three decades ago tragedy struck when a winery fire killed both Picard’s brother, and nephew, Réne. The loss was devastating, and the future of Chateau La Barre seemed uncertain. Robert’s widow, Marie, was able to keep the winery operating successfully until a little less than 10 years ago when she fell ill. Around the same time Picard was first considering the possibility of retirement. With the news of Marie’s illness, and clear counsel from his friend, Guinan, Picard decided to take some time in France. Then the visit led to an unexpected discovery.

We’re standing in front of a special section of vineyard Picard wants to show me. What’s unique is that the grapes are entirely pale and green skinned, an ancient variety known as Savagnin. The region has been dominated by red wine production for centuries, more recently practicing in traditional techniques of wild yeast fermentations, and aging in neutral oak barrels. As Picard explains, the style is one resembling one of the oldest winemaking styles in France, with the most delicate of grapes, Pinot Noir.

Generations ago Chateau La Barre was instrumental in helping to restore the style, once called Burgundy, through the work of Picard’s great grandfather, Acel. Though the approach was met with resistance initially, ultimately, the family was lauded for their efforts to return to less interventionist winemaking based on the grape types that grew best on the land, requiring less use of fluidized treatments, and more reliance on the vines own unique ecosystem.

Prior to Acel Picard’s efforts, it was more common for wine to be made with the use of replicated nutrient intervention. Acel’s view, however, was that such an approach created less palatable, and less interesting wine. So he scoured the historical records for evidence of older techniques. In doing so, he found ancient texts left from devotees of an ancient religion known as Christianity in which it was believed that God spoke to them through the vines. Though Acel refused the more mystical aspects of the religious views, he found the vineyard practices of the texts insightful, and adopted the technique of tending and selecting individual vines, followed by simple winemaking. Chateau La Barre’s wines soon became known for their earthy mouth-watering complexity.

Picard’s own work builds on the efforts of his great grandfather to return to older techniques but in researching archaeological sites of the region, as well as ancient texts, Picard discovered a subtle mistake in Acel’s efforts. While Acel worked to restore red winemaking traditions known to Haute-Saône, he actually restored techniques native to an area of France slightly afield from the region. La Barre, it turns out, does not rest within the old boundaries of the ancient wine region of Burgundy, but instead a political shire of the same name. Picard himself does not believe this historical reality lessens the importance of Acel’s efforts, it just changes their tone slightly, but he does want to see what can be done to explore the winemaking traditions that really were found closer to La Barre centuries ago.

Enter Vin Jaune and the Ancient Varieties

Jean-Luc Picard standing in his Eline Vineyard

Through archaeological work Picard preformed a sort of miracle. He was able to locate still intact seeds from ancient vine specimens known once to have covered this region of France, Savagnin, as well as seeds for the red variety that had once covered the wine region of Burgundy, Pinot Noir.

Before the destructive effectiveness of the technology was properly understood, Thalaron radiation was tested as a soil cleaning technique during the last agricultural age. The bio-effects were irrecoverable with vineyards throughout the Vosges zone being destroyed and then unplantable for a generation. As a result, a collection of indigenous grape varieties were believed to be lost, including Savagnin, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Once the soil recovered well enough to replant large interests in inter-global varieties took over and any attempts to recover the original grapes seemed over.

During the Restoration period scientists attempted to re-engineer Savagnin as well as other ancient varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but Savagnin proved too susceptible to geraniol instability to engineer. When funding for the project was cut, efforts to restore Chardonnay were deemed the least advantageous and ultimately only Pinot Noir vines were genetically manufactured.

Through intensive research Picard was able to find a cave in the Vosges range containing ancient wooden vessels that proved to have a few small seeds inside. Through similar research he also located similar containers in the area of Gevrey-Chambertin within which he located Pinot Noir. Chardonnay and Cabernet remain extinct.

With the seeds Picard was then able to develop new plantings of both Savagnin and Pinot Noir, and restart sections of his vineyard with them. It is the area with these plantings he has named Eline. It is this he wants me to see.

Thanks to Picard’s efforts we now know there is significant difference in the flavor and aging potential of wines made from the engineered Pinot Noir versus the naturally grown variety. Picard has also discovered evidence from old electronic documents known as The Feiring Line: The Real Wine Newsletter of unique vinification techniques known as vin Jaune that were once used for the grape Savagnin. Through further study he has already discovered the steps to make vin Jaune and is five years into the aging of his first vintage.

I ask if we can taste his Savagnin but he explains it has only been under veil for a little over five years, and needs at least another year before he’s willing to show it. The veil, he explains, is how vin Jaune is made. It’s a film of yeast that covers the surface of the wine and helps it age slowly. When the wine is done it will be named Ressick, he tells me, for a planet that aged too fast.

***

Thank you to Jean-Luc Picard for giving so much of his time.

Thank you to Annemarie for suggesting the interview.

Thank you to Jeremy Parzen for having the background to hopefully get it.

Happy April 1, Everybody!

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