Search term: abe schoener

The Carnal, the Corporeal, the Somatic Indistinguishable from Each Other: Conversation w Abe Schoener

Interpreting Doctor Schoener: A Video by cdsavoia

Earlier this week I got an email from Miguel de la Torre. He helps generate the cdsavoia video project, which creates short films presenting the work and personality of creative individuals in five fields — music, fashion, fine art, wine, and design.

As many of you already know, winemaker Abe Schoener and I have kept a sort of on going conversation. Both of us originate as professors of philosophy that somehow left that world to enter the world of wine. The trouble and promise of philosophy, however, is that it never leaves you. The on going conversation, then, has been based partially in Schoener and I sharing the compulsion of purposefully choosing sensual (that is, bodily) life with thought, of educated pleasure, of unbridled but directed curiosity.

Because of previous write-ups I’ve done on Abe, Miguel wrote to share the new video cdsavoia has just produced on the work and world of Abe Schoener, and offered me the chance to release the video here on my site as well. I took a watch before accepting, but it’s worth the view — charming, smart, well made, and a bit irreverent (the combination I look for in anything I do).

Check out the video here:

Or, you can watch it directly over at cdsavoia here:

If you’ve got time, take a look at their other video interviews too. They’ve got another recent one on winemaker Matt Dees of Jonata, the Hilt, and Goodland Wines too.


Thank you to Miguel de la Torre.

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

A Report on Tragedy and Comedy: Red Hook Winery, A Guest Post by Abe Schoener

The following is a guest post written by Abe Schoener, winemaker of The Scholium Project, and one of the founders and winemakers of Red Hook Winery, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. The text of this post has also been shared with his Scholium Project mailing list.


A Report on Tragedy and Comedy, by Abe Schoener

Dear Correspondents–

I am writing you from Red Hook, Brooklyn, on a beautiful warm sunny day. I wish that I could send a hundred photos. There is so much tell you and words are not enough. I am writing from a pier with water on both sides– the south side looks across the Red Hook Channel of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor to Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey; the north side looks across the Buttermilk Channel to Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty. Wild ducks live near the breakwater shore; ferries, tugboats and their charges ply the water constantly. These days, we see a lot of police boats and Coast Guard cutters racing across the water. This is because we are at the center of a zone of water-born devastation.

I work at a winery here on this pier. I helped to found a winery in Red Hook in 2008, and I have spent many wonderful days here, making wine from New York grapes. I have learned so much from and with my friends and colleagues and have treasured both the experience and our accomplishments. It is not enough to say that there is a world of difference between making wine in Brooklyn and in Napa. I will leave it to your imagination. But what you must know is this: we have found some amazing vineyards sites in the warm, fertile soils of Long Island, and we have made some wines as good or better than anything I have made in California. I will save details for another message. When the storm hit New York, Red Hook was like a breakwater. No zones in the storm’s path in NY suffered worse damage from the raging waters. On the morning that the waters receded, my colleagues reported to me that the winery had been destroyed and that all was lost. Within another day, I got a somewhat more studied (and optimistic) report. We had no power, no doors to close, no working equipment. But very few of the wines, fermenting or in barrel, had been been flooded by water or swept away. It was a miracle. We are still not sure how much might have been contaminated indirectly (through the barrels staves, by swirling vapors), but we knew that we had a new task: no matter what the final result, we must work to save everything that we could.

I flew out as soon as I could. Meanwhile, Mark and Christopher and Darren and Ben and 20 volunteers cleared the tumult of barrels and swept away the fruit spilled everywhere onto the floor. On the fourth day, we began working on the wines again, in the dark, using headlamps and flashlights. We tasted everything and made a triage chart. Some wines still needed pumping over; most were at the end of their fermentations and needed to be drained away from the skins and seeds. We began work draining the tanks of red wine by gravity, into large open vessels that we would then bucket out of to fill barrels. Over the next couple of days, we drained the puncheons of white wine by gravity, bucket, and eventually by a tiny generator-powered pump. Yesterday, we finished draining the puncheons of red. Except for one still active Cabernet fermentation, every wine is now safely down to barrel. We don’t know how much wine is spoiled, how much contaminated– but in a certain sense we do not care. We had work to do.

Why am I telling you this? I learned an important lesson, reflecting on my colleagues and friends working tirelessly in the cold, dark stone warehouse that is our winery. Among us for three days was a winemaker from Piemonte who had originally come here to promote his wines to the important New York market. Instead, he showed up one morning at the winery and could not stay away. For three days, he held hoses, swept the floor, filled barrels. He could not stay away and nor could we– even though none of us had any assurance that we could finally save anything. Our work was in a certain sense an end in itself.

Winemaking is an act of devotion: devotion to the wine in front of you, still young and needing your husbandry to reach its best completion; devotion to the grapes, the grapes harvested to make wine at your hands; but most of all: devotion to the vineyards and the people who own and farm them. None of us had any doubt: we had a natural and irrevocable responsibility to make sure that the grapes grown by Ron Gerler and Joe Macari, by the Matabellas and by Sam McCulloch, that the fruit of their vines, harvested at length, after months of tilling, pruning, thinning, mowing– that these did not go to waste. Storm, hurricane, flood, absence of power, a forklift that would never lift again– no excuse, no impediment: we had a responsibility to make the very best wine and make sure that a whole year’s life in the vineyard was not in vain.

Our devotion flows from the fact that the essence of winemaking is not something silly like blending or ordering the right barrels: the essence of winemaking is preservation and transformation. Both of these can take place with the least of our intervention or supervision; this in turn emphasizes that we are not creators but shepherds.

We were in that cold, dark building for four days– Luciano, from Monforte d’Alba, with other responsibilities in an important market; Talia, a writer with deadlines; Allison and Matt with restaurants to run- we were all there for the same reason. No shepherd would abandon a flock on a stormy hillside. Not his flock, not his neighbor’s. When you take on certain tasks, you accept certain charges and responsibilities and they take residence in your bones. It is wonderful to feel that charge, so deep and so viscerally; and wonderful to respond to it.

This is a report on the close of harvest. Normally, I would not report on Brooklyn– it is another venture, not Scholium. But I rushed from California to come here, leaving my noble and precociously wise interns in charge of the Scholium winery. And my mind has been forced to reflect on two places at once, but one truth. The harvest in California has been my best ever, in every respect. The quality of the fruit, the quality of the wines, the youthful interest of the wines (some of them are already fascinating!), the happiness and efficiency of our work– never have I had a year like this. And my friends and colleagues who grow grapes and make wines– all of them are celebrating. This year, there was no suffering in Napa or Sonoma or Lodi or Suisun– only gratitude and elation.

And then a winery in Brooklyn is demolished and a whole year’s harvest threatened. It made me think right away of the two sides of a coin, inseparable. And made me think of the emblem of the Theater: two masks together, Tragedy and Comedy, inseparable. And this in turn made me think of a very important line in Plato’s Symposium, a beautiful dialogue about love, but also about drinking. The story ends with Socrates compelling his two remaining drinking companions (they had drunk the others under their couches) to agree that “it is in the power of one and the same man to know how to write both comedy and tragedy.” This line has always mystified me and spurred me to thinking, but I never felt that I understood it fully, or knew why this question brought the dialogue to a close. I still do not; but I feel somewhat closer, brought closer by my recent experiences in agriculture, in winemaking, in working in a harbor: in other words, by having my hands and my feet, and my heart and my head, in the physical, unbending world of Nature– not in the filmy, pliable world of books. I learn every year how close the wedding-celebration of comedy is to the funeral march of tragedy. Winemaking– like farming– is shepherding, but it is always no more than a breath away from spoilage.

Thank you for reading such a long message. Just let me know when you want to hear less from me.

With very best wishes


Red Hook Winery is offering “Survival Packs” — collections of their wine, still intact, available for sale. To find out more visit their site here:

To read more on the history of Red Hook, and the impact of Sandy on the area plus the winery, check out this thoughtful post by Allon Schoener:

To hear more from Abe on the state of things at Red Hook Winery, check out this podcast with Levi Dalton on _I’ll Drink to That_. Episode 42:


Reflections on a Tasting with Abe Schoener: Dancing through Family, Nietzsche, and Tragedy

Abe Schoener and I had a conversation about tragedy.

My senior year of high school, my uncle Jay died of pneumonia. It was September. I had a cross country running race and we had to dress up for such days. I was up earlier than usual to put on an outfit I was uncomfortable wearing when my mom knocked on the door. She said my uncle was in the hospital. His friends had rushed him to the emergency room, then knocked on her window in the middle of the night. As a result, she was with him when he died. It took a while, but weeks later she told me the receptionist had brought her directly back to my uncle’s curtained room in the E.R. He couldn’t speak with his lungs too full of fluid but when she entered the room he turned towards her and cried. Within a few minutes he entered cardiac arrest, and in twenty minutes he had died.

In his book, Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche builds on his ideas already explored in his earlier text, The Birth of Tragedy. There Nietzsche considers the painful revelry he sees as peculiar to the phenomenon. In Nietzsche’s view, the pain of tragedy reveals to us our own limits. It is in losing someone we feel attachment to we come to recognize the finite nature of our power and our lives. We cannot save them. In the same moment, we are forced too to see we cannot save ourselves. We will die. For other philosophers, the reality of our mortality brings with it a burdensome pessimism. Schoepenhauer treated the negative as defining human life. Earlier in the history of philosophy, Aristotle took tragedy in art to be a kind of therapeutic for our countenance. In experiencing second hand feelings of grief, fear, and terror by watching the tragic hero (like, Oedipus or Agamemnon, as in the case of Ancient Greek tragedy), we are cleansed of some tumult associated with such feelings, and thus find ourselves more stable, and stronger after. For Nietzsche, such a view is naive, perhaps even damaging. Instead, the all consuming pain of loss, and fear of our own mortality found in tragedy reveals to us a strange duality. It is in facing the stirred up feelings experienced in the death of another that we discover reason cannot provide all answers. Some things are simply unexplainable. The sensuous pain of loss dominates us and we must face an inexplicable edge that defines the limits of human existence. At the point of death we have no knowledge. What is interesting in all of this, is that, for Nietzsche, it is precisely when we allow ourselves to go into these feelings that we come to recognize our own brilliance. Tragedy, for Nietzsche, carries in it a two-fold experience. We are thrust into a horrible pain, and find through it a defiant pleasure. Tragedy forces us to recognize the limits of our own powers, and yet in entering that feeling we come to see our own power of persistence. We will die. Surely. Yet, here we live our human lives, demanding they be more than our own mortality simply by persisting. This two-fold experience is the source of Dionysian revelry, for Nietzsche. It is only in our facing the realities of decay, and decomposition that are the death cycle, that we see then too how life is a perpetual process of defiant transformation.

The family I was born into was four generations strong into my early 20′s. My great grandparents raised us through their simple constancy. We were lucky enough too to have grandparents, my parents, my sisters and I. My senior year in high school, when my uncle died, began a five year period of dismantling what my family had been. He died, unexpectedly, followed by my grandmother, my great grandparents, my other uncle, and finally my grandfather–more than half those deaths sudden. Two generations gone from us, and half of a third also lost. In that same time period, my father’s brother, other more distant extended family, and two of my own friends all also died. Those five years marked what my mother calls a stripping to the bone. Any pretense, or room for drama was lost. In the midst of so much grief there is room for little else. In the same time period, my oldest sister was diagnosed with what was supposed to be a lethal brain tumor, given eighteen months to live. By god’s grace she is still alive, so beautiful. It’s been eighteen years. In the same time period my oldest niece, Melissa, was also born, my great grandparents, then, witness to the wonder of five generations–a family they put into bloom. One of the gifts of simply persisting.

Abe Schoener and I had a conversation about tragedy. It started over a barrel of botrytis infected petite sirah. The year had been suddenly wet, in the end, and the clusters were covered in mildew when harvest time came. It was a situation many faced by throwing out fruit, but the berries revealed there was still juice in their meat. So, Schoener and his team foot stomped them. The vats after were slicked by a film of off-white growth on top–the mildew pushed off the skin. The wine now carries the smoothly tannic balance possible with a petite sirah, alongside concentrated fruit and spice notes associated with a late harvest wine, both without sweetness. It was a wine I’d heard Schoener was working on and I couldn’t wait to taste it. Then, there we were meeting in person for the first time (both of us careful in selecting our outfits for the occasion hoping to impress the other), tasting from barrel a wine that was strange in its brilliance. It’s been two weeks since and from a set of around twenty wines, the petite sirah is the one I crave. It drinks like its been touched by the edge of spoilage and come back to tell its story. Like its structure is more than the damage it could have endured. The acidity knows what its capable of being, so it just goes ahead turning in the barrel. The fruit dances through stages of vibrant and concentrated, dusty and fresh somehow all there together. The wine is not sweet like sometimes associated with late harvest grapes, but it is deepened, darker, and more raisined than it would be otherwise.

Schoener’s wines are seen as strange for the American palate. Even if his wine making techniques have their analogues abroad–with the oxidative elements purposefully done in Jura, or traditional Rioja, as examples–still, Schoener’s wines work against what’s more common for the mainstream–fresh fruit, or fruit jam presentation–of a still young U.S. wine industry. I ask him to talk to me about his wine making choices, so he explains. He wants his wines to be a pleasure to drink, he says, but he also wants them to make you think. He’s unclear how to accomplish this purposefully, yet, sometimes by intention alone the motivation succeeds. He wants his wines to go ahead and get right to the edge of what it is to be wine–a way to prove they are no longer fruit–then, to find their way back from it. What he’s learned from wine making, he says, is that if you start with a healthy vineyard, and then give the wine its own time in the barrel, it will self regulate. It will have moments when you think it is undrinkable, and, from the perspective of a more traditional wine making style, when you think it may be flawed. But if you let it persist, on the other side you’ll find a wine ready to bottle that is still marked by that edge, yet full of pleasure. I ask him about that idea of the edge again. That edge, he tells me, that’s the analogue to tragedy–where the wines have come right up to the border of something, and shown they are more than it. In this way, he wants his wines to cause pleasure, to be fun to drink, and at the same time, he wants them to make you think, to make you think of tragedy.


Thank you to Burt Coffin, Paul Sutton, and Aaron Pinnix.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Driving California Wine 7: My (Alternate Universe) Life with Abe Schoener

Alternate Realities

In some universe only a few clicks alternate to our own, I am married to Abe Schoener. Our wedding was three days ago and the celebration was one of the most ruckus, fun, easy going, and hilarious love fests I’ve ever attended. Though we kept it low-key, photos of the ceremony nevertheless made it to the cover of Wine People Magazine, the wine celebrity gossip rag featured by every good grocery store check-out across the Alternate-United States.

Friends hologram-skyped in from all over the world, while a select few others were fully-physically present, giving a series of toasts teasing the Schoener-Wakawaka union for its Thor themed origins. Katherine stood with me as Abe and I held hands beside the brackish waters of Southern Napa, and he and I are now on our way to Spain to honeymoon with the grapes. Hawk Wakawaka Jr. (age 12) and Johanna Jensen have become fast friends and have big plans to play through Napa for the summer. It’s all very easy going and beautiful.

This Reality

In planning the drive up California Wine Country, and inviting Katherine to come with me, I advised that she keep in mind I’d be working, then asked her what she’d like to be sure and do. She answered thus, “I want to drink chardonnay, and hang out with Abe Schoener.” So we did.

In meeting with Abe, we were lucky enough too to connect with Abe’s right hand, Johanna Jensen, taste with Wine Maker Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope wines, and share dinner with Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars as well. Write-up to follow. In the meantime, here are photos.

Tasting with Matthew Rorick

Dinner with Tegan, Johanna, and Abe


Thank you most especially to Abe Schoener, and Johanna Jensen.

Thank you to Matthew Rorick.

Thank you to Tegan Passalacqua.

Some of these pictures taken by Katherine (and in the entire series of California pics, including any posts I might not have mentioned it)–thank you.

Dear Pam, thank you for hosting me last night. It’s been so good to be with you.


Katherine is now back in Flagstaff already. Today I shoot up the West Coast to Seattle (I’ll be driving into the night) where I will leave my car and then fly out to Bristol Bay, Alaska. My cell phone won’t work there. I’ll have some internet access but it’s unclear how much. My family will be commercial fishing for salmon.

It’s my first trip back in seven years. My family from all the way back still lives there on the windy Western Coast of Alaska in Spirit. They’ll be talking to me as I travel the tundra. I’ll post pics and explanations of the salmon industry, my family’s history, and the area, but also write-ups from the last two weeks of wine travel. Wish me luck. Alaska is a different world. When I speak to my parents these days the pace of conversation is intensely slow, their voices have slipped down into their belly, and they talk with a lilt of village accent. Soon I’m sure I’ll be doing the same. Cheers!


(As for you, alternate universe where I’m on my way to Spain sitting next to the surprise love of my alternate-life, you’re one of my favorite places to visit. Take good care of the fantasies.)

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Caves 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006

Abe Schoener, Scholium Project winemaker, as Thor

click on comic to enlarge

Considering the Meaning of the Germanic-Norse God Thor

From the 8th to 12th centuries a campaign to Christianize Scandinavia ensued with missionaries first venturing into Denmark and over time slowly establishing a network of churches through Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and later Finland. During this time period, many people in the regions became nominally Christian but simultaneously showed resistance in other ways. One way in which this is seen is that the god Thor stood as a popular symbol of working against the demands of the missionaries to instead maintain ones own commitments, even while the larger system of Christianity stayed in place. People were seen wearing symbols of Thor to express such interest. In this way, the symbolic history of the god Thor includes working against the larger social system in place without necessarily undoing it.

Thor now is often recognized as a kind of storm god, because of his pictorial associations with lightning, and other cloud formations. However, scholars have found that Thor’s deeper associations actually included family, community and fruitful health of the fields. The god does bring lightning with him as he travels when needed. He is also connected with the growth of oak trees, fertility, and healing. Further, it has been found that Thor has carried a presence across centuries of tradition, reaching from Ancient times all the way into contemporary interest. Over time he has been seen with many nicknames, even while the symbols surrounding him are consistent. (I promise talk of Thor will be relevant in a moment.)

Tasting Orange Wines: Italians Alongside California’s Scholium Project

Several weeks ago several of us tasted five orange wines–three Italian and two from Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project–alongside each other. (For more on the Italian orange wines, and a picture of the wines that shows their rich color and opacity side-by-side check out Thursday’s post. Incidentally, the name Thursday actually originates in honor of the god Thor. Honest.) In tasting the five wines together a family of style showed itself between the Italian wines on the one hand, and the Scholium wines on the other. There was a kind of textural quality common to each set that differed from that of the other. Orange wines vary so much from the kinds of wine most people are used to it can be challenging to describe the experience of tasting them. In seeing how the Italian wines diverged from the Californian it seemed metaphor best captured familial congruence. While the Italian wines drank as if they embodied themselves in the glass, the Scholium wines had a focused, sharp precision as if they were shooting light from the glass before you’d even finished pouring them.

Wine Maker Abe Schoener

Abe Schoener of Scholium Project has become a kind of mythical figure with a strong cult following. His wines deviate so consistently from the mainstream perception of California wine style they take on their own sort of cult of personality, associated with the perceived personality of their maker, but garnering a following of their own. On the wine geek-hipster side of things, much of the passion people hold for Schoener’s wines arises out of their departure from the nominal style of California. He does his own thing within the surrounding region without falling to expected styles of the area, and without changing the way the overall system works either. California is comfortable with what it does in wine.

Schoener also garners a following, however, from his own personal story, and the commitments he brings to his work. Originally a philosophy professor, in the late 1990s Schoener began to grow tired of academia and turned to deepening his knowledge of wine. While touring and learning in Napa Valley he eventually connected with wine maker John Kongsgaard and assisted with him for a year. As the story goes, at the end of the year, Kongsgaard sent Schoener off to begin making wine on his own believing he had gained the knowledge to step into his own production process. Taking a risk, Schoener gave up academic life all together and began funding his wine interests with credit cards and a couple of small financial supporters.

Schoener avoids the claim that he purposefully makes wines that taste different from his area’s surrounding wine makers. But he readily admits that he experiments with various production techniques and describes his wines as a project in which he’ll try something new and hopefully learn to emulate those he admires. Schoener also states that his goals are to let the wine manage itself, so to speak, while also producing a style that reflects the place, the harvest year, and the grapes themselves. However, Schoener’s wines often show such difference from how the involved varieties are usually expected to taste that he avoids naming the grapes on the label and instead offers the name of the vineyard from which the fruit was harvested, and a title he believes captures that particular wine’s personality (most often historical literature references).

Creating Scholium Project Review Comics

My wine comics generally include some visual reference to an element from the wine label being reviewed. However, the label of Scholium Project wines consistently carry an elegant presentation of the first proposition of Newton’s Principia. I’ve drawn a Scholium wine previously and as such wanted a different challenge of presentation for a comic of these wonderful wines. In reflecting on the original experience I had with Scholium orange wines alongside the Italians the reference to light shooting from the glass stood out. Between the similarity that description has with lightning, and the god Thor’s association with the health of fields, as well as oak, fertility and healing I realized two things. Thor is connected to a range of elements deeply entwined with the wine makers life, and, like Thor, Schoener would seem to have the ability to wield the power of lightning. To put it another way, Abe Schoener–a newly found nickname for the god Thor.

Scholium Project The Prince in His Caves 2010

click on comic to enlarge

100% Sauvignon Blanc

The Prince in His Caves is an orange wine produced entirely from Sauvignon Blanc. It has been an ongoing project of Schoener’s released now for a handful of years. Illustrative of Schoener’s commitment to developing his abilities, the Caves project has been produced with a similar basis of technique–foot stomping of grapes with extended skin contact, thus making it an orange wine–each vintage but with tweaking of the details of production to allow for recognition of that year’s grape qualities. As such, the Cave project is very vintage driven.

The 2010 rendition of The Prince in His Caves is a vibrant, enlivening, and at the same time elegant wine showing a surprising mix of characteristics, as must be expected from any orange wine. The alcohol here is fairly high at 14.02% and thus the wine is warming, but the effect turns out pleasing alongside the medium high acidity and smooth medium tannin. This is not a wine that burns. The flavors here show similarities to ginger-peach tea in a manner desirable from the wine glass. Those notes are expanded by a bouquet and flavor of honeysuckle, touches of white pepper, and a surprising, lovely bite of pickled lemon. For such a range of characteristics, the Prince still shows as well balanced. The finish here is impressively long leaving light in the mouth for at least two runs around the block.

Scholium Project San Floriano Normale 2006

click on comic to enlarge

100% Pinot Grigio

Schoener’s 2006 San Floriano Normale exemplifies his willingness to admit when an experiement didn’t really work out, as well as his interest in seeing what he can do to work with it. As he describes it, the acidity on the original version of this wine was so high it was verging on undrinkable. He reblended barrels and aged the wine in a mix of conditions (in the cellar, outside on the patio, back in the cellar, back outside, etc) for five years before bottling, thus turning a skin fermented pinot grigio into an incredibly textured chocolatey, rich fruit wine with tang, both richness and precision, and sherry or madeira like notes. It shows both the oxidative elements of sherry, and the rich flavors associated with maderization.

incredibly, the alcohol on this wine is high at 16.98%. It definitely carries the heat of such alcohol and yet the body of the wine makes it work. My fear in tasting the San Floriano Normale was that with the high alcohol-medium high acidity combination this wine would burn the mouth as it got warmer. Initially I was certain that it needed to be served partially chilled. In actuality the wine handled drinking warm quite well and remained pleasant, without burning as high alcohol and acid together will tend to do.

Both of the Scholium Project orange wines were liked by the group in our tasting, and a couple of the tasters went on to order some of the Prince in His Caves to have with dinner. They’re wines that are fascinating on their own, and also work alongside food.


Thanks again to Kim for requesting the orange wine focus. It’s been fun to delve so deeply into the phenomenon, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it, Kim. There are numerous other orange wines in the world. I have a few more in cellar that will appear here in the future.

If you’re interested in knowing about other orange wines, check out Dr. Vino’s nice long list that includes many of them.

Thank you to Dan for encouraging me to go ahead with the Thor cartoon. I was nervous about doing it but am happy with how it turned out, and appreciate the push to take a risk. I hope Abe Schoener finds it funny as well.


To read the rest of this series, follow these links:

Understanding Orange Wines 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins do to Our Saliva:

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi:

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum:


Have a wine focus you’d like to see explored here through comics and write up? Please feel free to email me at lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (dot) com . I enjoy the challenge, and hearing from you too!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Hand Harvesting 90 vines of St Laurent in California: Forlorn Hope’s Rare Creature

Harvesting the Ricci VIneyard St Laurent, Carneros

Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines champions unusual grape varieties, from uncommon appellations made in small lots, each described by him appropriately as “another rare creature.” One such example, his Ost-Intrigen, arises from 90 vines of St Laurent planted in the Ricci Vineyard of Carneros. With so few vines, Rorick harvests the fruit himself, rather than hiring a picking crew.

As some of you know, I have been following Rorick’s work with the St Laurent, visiting the harvest last year, barrel tasting it pre-bottling, and speaking about the wine on a panel when Rorick was unable to do so due to the 2013 harvest starting surprisingly early.

Starting his work with the Ricci Vineyard St Laurent in 2006, Rorick was able to encourage Dale Ricci to expand the planting of the fruit two years ago to several hundred more vines. 2013 is the first year the newer vines will be ready to harvest effectively tripling his Ost-Intrigen production. Though they grow directly beside the original 90 vines, the younger plants are progressing through ripening more slowly than the originals.

Monday of this week Rorick and his team, Alex Athens and Julia van der Vink, picked the original 90 vines. Following are photos from the harvest, and the prep work done afterwards at the winery. Harvesting St Laurent

The Ricci Vineyard welcomes daily morning fog from the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay. The moist environment challenges growers with potential mold issues, with botrytis setting in early some years. At the same time, the cooler conditions serve the Austrian red grape, St Laurent, by discouraging too-fast ripening and heat damage.

Harvesting St Laurent

The original 90 vines grow side by side in two rows.
from left: Matthew Rorick steps in to harvest one row while Alex Athens and Julia van der Vink begin harvest on the other.

Harvesting St Laurent

The St Laurent is among Forlorn Hope’s last fruit to pick this year. The younger vines are still approaching their harvest point, and will be brought in later. Rorick is also awaiting harvest of his Alvarelho, the fruit for his popular Suspiro del Moro, out of Lodi.

Harvesting St Laurent

The site offered incredibly healthy fruit this year, with great size consistency. In previous years the vines have suffered loss of fruit both from poor early fruit set, and extensive shot berry, with the smaller berries simply falling off at harvest. The 2013 harvest offered beautifully consistent fruit size.

Harvesting St Laurent

long morning shadows fall over Alex Athens and Julia van der Vink as they harvest

Harvesting St Laurent

looking into the healthy 2013 Ricci Vineyard St Laurent clusters

Harvesting St Laurent

Matthew Rorick picking his St Laurent (i love this photo)

Preparing the St Laurent for Fermentation, Tenbrink Winery, Suisun Valley

Preparing the St Laurent for ferment

Back at Rorick’s Tenbrink Winery (which he shares with the Tenbrink family and Abe Schoener of The Scholium Project) Monday’s St Laurent pick weighed in at 969 pounds (not including the macrobin).

Preparing the St Laurent for ferment

Rorick’s preferred approach for the St Laurent fermentation begins when the fruit is scooped whole cluster into a neutral oak puncheon for fermentation. The puncheon allows all of the fruit from the 90 vines to ferment in one environment, with some textural influence, but no flavor influence from the wood.

Preparing the St Laurent for ferment

Small amounts of dry ice were layered into the fruit to help slow the initial fermentation stages and increase the carbon dioxide (CO2) environment around the grapes. By increasing the CO2, Oxygen levels are reduced thereby also slowing the chances of any aerobic bacteria activity during cold soak or fermentation.

Preparing the St Laurent for ferment

For Rorick’s approach, while the fruit is fed into the puncheon it is also foot tred lightly to break up some of the berries and allow juice to come in contact with the rest of the bunch. The method also keeps some berries intact, allowing fermentation to occur within the berry itself. Cooling the early temperatures of the fruit also extends soak time for the juice with its skins and stems, supporting more flavor and structure in the final wine without relying on over extraction.

Preparing the St Laurent for ferment

2013 shows a lot more juice from the larger berry size, with still pretty red cherry and spice notes. Rorick brought the fruit in this year around 22 brix.

Preparing the St Laurent for ferment

After preparing the fruit it was covered to maintain the CO2 environment. Rorick also names each individual ferment to make it easier to communicate with his team about which ferments need to be tested and how each is doing (and cause it’s fun. duh.). After spending the day with Matthew, Alex, and Julia, I walked into the winery to discover they named their original vine St Laurent ferment after me. hee! (Dear Lord, I hope I behave.)


To see last year’s St Laurent harvest photos:

To see the barrel tasting preview post on the Ost-Intrigen:

To see a goofy photo series of running around Alaska with Forlorn Hope and Dirty & Rowdy:


Thank you to Matthew Rorick.

Thank you to Julia van der Vink, and Alex Athens.

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

Sommelier Superhero: Carla Rzeszewski is Faith

As some of you know, I have an ongoing series that has rested dormant for several months drawing Winemaker Superheroes. Abe Schoener opened the genre as Thor. Jason Lett stepped in as Dr Who (Matt Smith’s rendition, to be specific). Angela Osborne appeared as the 8th Major Arcana from Tarot, Justice. Steve Clifton was clearly Superman. In the midst of the series I also drew one Superhero Wine Writer, Jeremy Parzen, of Do Bianchi. Only a few have been drawn in the Winemaker Superhero Series (one because it takes a lot of work but also) because not just anyone can be a superhero. There must be something iconic in the person, a character that exemplifies archetypal traits and symbolism. Recently I had an epiphany for a Superhero Sommelier, and finally have had the time to draw her.

Carla Rzeszewski as the First of the Tarot Major Arcana: 0 – Faith

Carla Rzeszewski as Faithclick on comic to enlarge

Quickly Explaining Symbolism of the Tarot: The Major Arcana

In Tarot, the Major Arcana represent large themes and lessons through a person’s life. There are 21 Major Arcana, each symbolizing a crucial turning point in an individual’s life path. The Minor Arcana (which resemble the cards of a traditional card deck with four suits, numbers 1-10, and royal suites), by contrast, represent decisions that must be made, but of a more everyday nature. Major Arcana are life changing. However, prior to the start of the count of these major lesson cards there is a card marked 0, which represents the pure soul setting out guided only by intuition and good intention to journey forth on the right path whatever it may offer. The card for this journeyer is traditionally called “The Fool,” with the idea of the fool here understood to mean the pure soul, the one that is not muddied by preconceived ideas, or strict knowledge. Instead, the fool travels forth in faith not knowing what the path will bring, instead knowing only that they will face the lessons with open heart and determined foot. The fool is the person guided by synchronicity, assisted by their own commitment to follow what is right for them. With such a figure in mind, the card is occasionally called instead “Faith.”

The deepest lessons from Faith are these. The path is only ever your own–you have been hand chosen to walk it and so it belongs to you. Though you are the only one that can take the particular journey, and you will gain in doing so, it is when you walk it in dedication to something bigger than yourself you receive the greatest gain.

The card also always shows an animal of some sort that brings warning and instinct to the traveler when needed. In most decks the animal appears as a small dog.

Carla Rzeszewski as Faith

In recognizing an interest in wine, Carla Rzeszewski dove into wine study while working as a bartender, finding herself with a sort of special attention for sherry and champagne. Soon after finding her love for the beverage, she was offered the opportunity to become wine director for several new restaurants in New York City. As I understand the story, the reality of stepping directly from bartender into director of a wine program intimidated her mightily. However, one of Rzeszewski’s beliefs is that if you decide you want something, you had better be prepared to embrace it and act for it when it presents itself to you. She accepted the position. Since, Rzeszewski has not only sculpted the direction of multiple wine programs in New York, but also continued her studies in wine by traveling directly to focal point regions, tasting widely, and working with other committed individuals in wine. She has served as a member of tasting panels for the New York Times, been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and spoken at the Inaugural Women in Wine Leadership Conference held last year in New York. She has also consistently offered encouragement to others to hunt and follow their beloved goals.

Rzeszewski represents the figure of Faith from the Tarot in her hunt-the-path patience-determination combo, her open to the life-that-comes passion, her heart that flows in love and exuberance. She is guided here by a bird of creative vision, the symbol of timelessness. In flying highest, with widest wing, this bird offers insight into the full arc of life’s path from the start of flight, all the way into its transformation at times end. It is this broad vision that allows Faith to face any adventure without having to know in advance what will be. In such flight comes clarity and calm. Through her openness, the path she walks is vibrant and rich, represented by the colors shown here throughout.

In her work with wine, Rzeszewski’s choices reflect this same creativity and exploration, a playfulness grounded in dedication to her work. Her love for her work, and the people around her is infectious. It is her friendship that most readily showcases her enthusiasm.

Thank you to Carla Rzeszewski for your good heart. With much love.


To read more about, and hear more from Carla Rzeszewski:

In a recent episode of In the Drink with Joe Campanale:

Sporting her own damn trading card on Eater NY with Levi Dalton:

Getting into Why Sherry? in the Village Voice with Lauren Mowry:

An interview with Maggie Hoffman on which wines age well:

A interview on I’ll Drink to That with Levi Dalton:

Super fun Lady Somm Style with Whitney Adams:

Super star in the Wall Street Journal with Jay McInernery:

There is so much more great stuff online with Carla. These are just a few of my favorites.

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

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa

The Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla Vineyard

Steve Matthiasson

Steve Matthiasson standing in the Vare Vineyard, harvest day 2012

In early 2002, Steve Matthiasson began doing vineyard consulting in Napa Valley with Premier Viticulture Services, connecting, as a result, almost immediately with George Vare, as well as Vare’s home vineyard of Ribolla Gialla and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2.5 acres of Ribolla promised new insights for Matthiasson into the care of whites, as the grape’s vine needs differ from those of other varieties.

Vare had connected already with winegrower’s through Friuli and Slovenia that worked with Ribolla, having brought his suitcase clone from Italy at the start of the new century. Sharing their advice with Matthiasson, Vare and Matthiasson explored the European guidance, and some trial and error on what the grape needed in the vineyard. In the mid-2000s, the pair, along with winemaker Abe Schoener, and Vare’s wife, Elsa, traveled to Friuli, and met too with winemakers in Slovenia.

It was Alek Simcic, Matthiasson explains, that brought he and Vare out into the vines to show them directly how to thin the grape. Ribolla Gialla offers a unique blend of fussy in its early season vine care, but hearty there after. Unlike other varieties, the leaves of Ribolla must be pulled to expose the newly formed clusters to sunlight immediately. As Matthiasson explains, if leaf pull is done early, the clusters form their true yellow color without sunburn. Without sun exposure, the clusters can burn later, or stay green, never adequately ripening and never reaching their enjoyable flavor. The vine also regularly shows extra clusters, with two or three smaller ones on top that never fully ripen, and thus should be removed early to allow the larger, true-ripening formations to grow properly.

Ribolla Gialla's unusual cluster formation

Matthiasson showing me the unusual cluster formation of Ribolla Gialla. The two lower formations, near his hands at the base of the photo are properly ripening clusters. The two upper ones are dummies that detract from fruit quality, and never fully ripen.

With Vare’s support, and small winery space, Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson began their own Matthiasson label, starting their wine business with only 120 cases in 2003. The Matthiasson’s red blend has relied on a truly classic approach to a Bordeaux blend, using the same vineyard too from its inception. Vare also encouraged Matthiasson to use the Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla. The suggestion led to the Matthiasson’s establishing their white blend, based always in a combination of four grapes–Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano–brought together in an utterly clean, straight-to-press style for the sake of freshness.

With the label’s foundation in such an uncommon grape as Ribolla Gialla, Matthiasson realized he needed to secure his label’s future by planting more. With Vare’s permission, then, Matthiasson took cuttings from Vare Vineyard and established about an acre of Ribolla Gialla on the family’s then newly purchased home property. The Matthiasson’s had just moved onto the land in 2007, and the first thing they did was establish the new Ribolla vines. The intention for the Matthiasson Ribolla plantings includes becoming the backbone of the Matthiasson white blend should the label ever need a new source for Ribolla Gialla.

Looking over the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

looking over the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

The Ribolla at Matthiasson Vineyard was grafted onto roots originally planted in 1997, allowing harvest to be taken as quickly as 2008. With the Vare Vineyard secured for the Matthiasson white blend at the time, Steve chose to keep his own home vineyard fruit for another purpose. That year, Matthiasson made his first single varietal Ribolla Gialla from the Matthiasson fruit. His method was to simply pick, and ferment the wine directly in the vineyard using whole clusters, then pressed at about dryness and aged in barrel in the family barn at vineyard side. The 2008 through 2011 vintages of Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla varietal were each made this way, though the family did not keep the results of the 2009 vintage.

In 2012, however, Matthiasson decided to change his approach. There he chose instead to ferment and age the fruit in winery, striving to make a truly non-reductive, non-oxidative wine of white grapes in a red wine style. For ’12, then, he fermented whole clusters in tank, then pressing it at dryness to age in continuously topped-up barrels. In Matthiasson’s view, the new approach allows for a better focus on site and variety, which he wants. The 2012 will age for at least 20 months in barrel.

Looking over the Matthiasson garden, towards the family barn

looking across the Matthiasson garden, towards the barn

Comparison of the Vare to the Matthiasson fruit depends on examining both the flavoral differences, and the site contrasts. Where the Vare fruit consistently offers baking spice notes (it shows up regularly to me as fermented yellow raisins), the Matthiasson site instead gives a saline expression of celery–Ribolla’s version of herbalness. There is also a more intense concentration of flavors in Vare fruit compared to a more high tone element in the Matthiasson’s,

Differences in concentration are due partially to vineyard planting. Where Vare utilized a traditional Guyot style, 1 cane per vine approach, Matthiasson’s site relies on a Lyre arrangement. To put it simply, one vine at Matthiasson’s Vineyard is doing 4 times the work a vine at Vare’s has to do.

Steve and Koda examining the Ribolla at Matthiasson Vineyard

Steve and Koda examining the Ribolla vines at Matthiasson Vineyard

Site specifics also differ in soil and temperature. Vare Vineyard rests at the base of Mt Veeder, pooling with cool air and fog at night, while heating more during the day. Matthiasson’s, on the other hand, sits in more open valley floor, thus staying a touch cooler in day time, a touch warmer at night. Where Vare soils are truly rocky and volcanic challenging the vines through ample drainage, Matthiasson’s are a mixed loam.

Finally, Matthiasson explains he also manages the Vare Vineyard site differently than he does his own. The reason is simply because of Vare’s own style preferences. At the Vare site the fruit is more thoroughly thinned, a practice Matthiasson tends more to avoid at home.

Tasting the Matthiasson 2010 Ribolla at Friuli Fest 2012

tasting the Matthiasson Ribolla at Friuli Fest 2012

The current release of the Matthiasson Vineyard Ribolla is the 2010. It comes in at outrageously low alcohol of 10.9% with a bit of pleasing funk on the nose alongside fresh greenery and citrus salt. The palate is dance-y showing ground almond cake, with yeast bread elements and a bit of tang on the finish. The wine has viscosity but smooth slippery, ultra light tannin, and a long glow-bright finish.


George and Elsa had long intended to sell their Napa home and vineyard property. Though Matthiasson currently manages the care of the Vare vineyard, there is no lease agreement. As a result, when Elsa succeeds at selling their home, the new owners will determine the future of the Vare Vineyard fruit.


Thank you to Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson.

Pets to Koda.

Thank you to George and Elsa Vare. Blessings to the Vare family.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant: Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant

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

Tasting with Carla, Touring California Wine

A Week with Carla Rzewszewski

I was lucky enough to spend this last week touring California wine with Carla Rzewszewski, Wine Director of The Breslin, The Spotted Pig, and the John Dory Oyster Bar restaurants of New York City. It was all joy.

Her itinerary included a number of other visits besides what’s shown here while I attended different meetings. Here are photos of some we did together.

Visiting Lagier-Meredith

We were lucky enough to start the morning and continue through lunch with Steven Lagier and Carole Meredith. Their wines carry vibrant fruit with a range of flavors. I’m excited about their newly released Zinfandel, the Tribidrag. Carla loved the lush texture and fruit of the Mondeuse.

Mondeuse Bud Break, Lagier Meredith

Mondeuse bud break on top of Mt Veeder

View from the top, Mt Veeder, Lagier-Meredith

Looking over the Zinfandel and Malbec vines (w an apple tree)

Syrah Bud Break, Lagier-Meredith

Syrah bud break (i love these vines colors)

Carole and Carla

Carole Meredith explaining the appellation to Carla, Mt Veeder

the new rose', Lagier-Meredith

Lagier-Meredith rosé of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Mondeuse

The new Zinfandel, Tribidrag

the first release of Lagier-Meredith Zinfandel, named with its older name, Tribidrag

The Syrah line-up

2010 and 2003 Syrah side-by-side tasting, with 2010 Mondeuse

Precious Bane, Dessert Wine, Lagier-Meredith

Lagier-Meredith 2010 Precious Bane Dessert Wine (brilliant w cheese)

Tasting Massican with Dan Petroski

Dan Petroski was generous enough to taste us on side-by-side vintages of his 2011 Massican whites with the just bottled, not yet released, 2012s, including a brand new Sauvignon Blanc. His whites have a textural quality I love.

To read more on the wines here’s my write up on them from last week:

Dan and Carla

Dan Petroski sharing the Massican story with Carla

The Annia blend, Massican

the Annia white blend, Massican

the Chardonnay, Massican

Massican Chardonnay

the Sauvignons, Massican

the Sauvignons, Massican

Visiting Ridge Monte Bello and Paul Draper

Paul Draper and Christopher Watkins at Ridge Monte Bello were generous enough to host us for the afternoon. It was an incredible time including Rachel (aka. Jr.) and Bodi, Paul’s dog, falling in love, our getting to blind taste and give feedback on the potential 2011 assemblage of the Ridge Bordeaux Estate blend, and a tasting through the recently bottled, not yet released bottlings assembled at the Monte Bello site. What a treat!

Notes on the upcoming portfolio release to follow!

Jr at the top of Monte Bello

Jr looking down from 2000 ft in elevation at Monte Bello

Carla and Christopher talking at Monte Bello

Christopher Watkins and Carla talking at Monte Bello vineyards

Doing blind tasting trials of the 2011 Estate blend

blind tasting the 2011 Ridge Monte Bello and Estate blends to determine final assemblage with Paul Draper and Eric Baugher

Blind tasting trials of the 2011 blends

the 2011 Monte Bello and Estate blends

Going into the 1880s limestone caves of Monte Bello

walking down into the 1880s limestone cellar at Monte Bello

Looking into the cellars

Tasting the up coming Ridge portfolio

the upcoming Ridge line-up bottled at Monte Bello (not yet released)

The upcoming Ridge chardonnays

tasting the not-yet-released Monte Bello and Estate Chardonnays side-by-side

Tasting Monte Bello

tasting two vintages of Monte Bello side-by-side 2010 and 1995

Visiting Varner Vineyards with Jim Varner

At Varner’s Neeley Vineyards Jim Varner introduced us to the 2012 barrel presentations of each of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blocks–3 a piece–then tasted us through bottlings of previous vintages. Rachel ended up tasting and advising on the Chardonnays and winning over Jim with her accounts of “a long manchego finish” and “toasty citrus opening.” So, in exchange, he taught her how to climb barrels and use a wine thief. She was thrilled. The wines were beautiful and fascinating.

Jim Varner explaining the vineyards location

Jim Varner explaining the Varner vineyards in relation to the surrounding open spaces

Looking over the Bee Block

looking over the Bee Block (Chardonnay) of Varner Vineyards

Jr learning how to climb barrels and use a wine thief w Jim Varner

Jim Varner showing Jr how to climb barrels and use a wine thief

Tasting Varner wines

tasting Varner Three Block 2008 Pinot Noir, 2009 Bee Block Chardonnay, 2010 Amphitheatre Block Chardonnay

Touring old vines with Morgan Twain-Peterson and Chris Cottrell

Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Vineyards does amazing work helping to preserve old vine vineyards throughout Sonoma County and beyond. He and Chris Cottrell work together to restore neglected sites, and enrich others. Together the two of them took us on a tour of several older vine sites in Sonoma County dating to the 1880s, including the Peterson family’s Bedrock Vineyard, the Old Hill Ranch, which is now managed by Bill Bucklin, and the elevation vineyard Monte Rosso.

Besides unlabeled (not yet released) bottles, old vines are my favorite thing. So beautiful and moving.

Bedrock Vineyard

Bedrock Vineyard is owned and managed by the Peterson family.

Morgan talking us through Bedrock Vineyard

Morgan Twain-Peterson telling us about Bedrock Vineyard

Vines from the 1880s, Bedrock Vineyard, Carla, Morgan, and Chris

standing amidst vines from the 1880s, Carla, Morgan, and Chris

Vines from the 1880s, Bedrock Vineyard

1880s vines, Bedrock Vineyard

Old Hill Ranch

Previously established and maintained by the Hill family, Old Hill Ranch is now loved for incredible old vines, including what sounds to be the oldest Grenache in the state. Bill Bucklin manages, and makes incredible wines from the site. He and his wife, Lizanne, are lovely. They have bees! and chickens!

Insectarium flowers for the Bucklin bees

flowers for the Bucklin family bees at Old Hill Ranch Vineyard

Walking into Bucklin Vineyards

Walking into the vines at Old Hill Ranch with the Bucklins

Old Vines at Bucklin

Grenache from the 1880s, Old Hill Ranch

Will Bucklin

Will Bucklin explains the oldest Grenache in Sonoma County to Chris and Carla

Walking back on Old Hill Ranch

Monte Rosso Vineyard

Up at 900 ft in elevation the Monte Rosso Vineyard appears after wretched climbing suddenly full of gnarled tree trained vines surrounded by waist high cover crop, encouraged to enrich the soil. The view is unreal. Imagining the toil the Chinese labor and mules no doubt went through to establish the site in the late 1800s is moving.

View from 900 ft at Monte Rosso

vines from the 1880s at Monte Rosso Vineyard, 900 ft in elevation

The cover crop at Monte Rosso

standing in the cover crop next to 1880s Zinfandel, Carla and Morgan

Monte Rosso

Two wines from the Twain-Peterson Brain Trust

Morgan does good work with old vines–it’s something we need to pay attention to maintaining for the sake of quality in California wine–including make a wealth of them into wine for his label Bedrock. I’m so grateful for what he’s doing.

Joel Peterson, Morgan’s father, stopped me in my tracks with his Ravens Wood 1992 Dickerson Zinfandel. The truth is, I’m a Zinfandel skeptic. If anyone knows what it truly means to be a skeptic, they recognize the genuine skeptic state comes from a sincere love for what is good–the skeptic has high standards and know those can be met.

My love for Zinfandel is so high I only like a small percentage of them. Along with Pinot, it’s one of the over made wines of the world-that is, the most gorgeous examples of wines are made from these grapes, and so are the most over done. The 1992 Ravens Wood drew me back again, and again, and then again another time. I’m so blessed to have had that time with it. Thank you.

Bedrock Rose'

we tasted a wealth of Bedrock wines, here their most recent release, an old vine rosé

Ravens Wood Zin

Looking back to beautiful–the 1992 Ravens Wood Dickerson Zinfandel

Finishing the Week on a Little Boat

To celebrate Carla’s time here, a wealth of her friends in California got together for dinner and wine. We got to taste through a mass of treasured bottles. My daughter started a dance party on the deck before the host could do it himself. I fought through my “there’s a crowd of people” panic attack as I do, and then got back to enjoying myself. And in the midst of it unexpected history appeared…

1977 Mondavi Pinot Noir

we tasted a wealth of other wines through the week, the last night included this: 1977 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir, all porcini, eucalyptus, citrus umami

Rachel walks down the dock

I love meeting people but the truth is I get uncomfortably shy when I first walk into a party (it will usually go away-ish if I tough it out through that inital “I think I am going to die” discomfort) so, my dear daughter took me outside to sit on the water in a little boat and enjoy a soft rain. I grew up on the water so it always calms me right down.

Sitting at dusk in a little boat

Life is beautiful.

Carla is so lovely. It was a wonderful week of simply, with simplicity, enjoying what came, then sharing in conversation giving heart, thought, care, and openness to what we shared. It’s always an incredible blessing to have time with a kindred.


Thank you to Carole Meredith and Stephen Lagier at Lagier-Meredith.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Thank you to Paul Draper, Eric Baugher, and Christopher Watkins at Ridge.

Thank you to Jim Varner.

Thank you to Morgan Twain-Peterson, and Chris Cottrell.

Thank you to Abe Schoener.

Thank you most especially, with love, to Carla. We had such a beautiful time with you. It’s with such gratefulness I discover that we share the world with such a heart as yours.

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

The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 1: Considering Recent History

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this article in The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading”, February 19, 2013.


Circling George Vare: One Way White Maceration Ferments Came into California

George Vare, an investor with decades of experience in Napa wine, celebrates the work of experimental winemakers. For Vare, the passion of young people trying new approaches exemplifies the future of the California wine industry.

Operating outside the mainstream appears as a theme in Vare’s own history with the industry. In early 1995, Vare and Michael Moone decided to step outside the Cabernet and Chardonnay focus of 1980s and 90s Napa Valley and established a new company, Luna Vineyards. Vare had worked for decades already at scouting and expanding the commercial success of now historic Napa wine labels, including Geyser Peak Winery, Beringer Wine Estates, and others. In 1995, however, after considering the pulse of Napa wine, Moone and Vare realized there was room for taking their business in a different direction.

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla, Friulano vineyard

Though Italian immigrants had helped establish the original wine industry through the valley, by the end of the last century, little interest in Italian varieties could be found rooted in the area. Together, Moone and Vare decided to take advantage of that missing piece by making Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio.

The original goals of Luna were to make Italian varietals to rival old world quality. Early vintages were described as carrying “old world austerity and terroir, bolstered by new world fullness and verve” (Boca Raton News 16 March 2003).

In March 1995, Vare and Moone’s Luna purchased a Chardonnay vineyard at what were then the Southern reaches of the Silverado trail. What is remarkable about the story is that soon after buying the 82 acre vineyard they replanted most of the site to Pinot Grigio, establishing 44-acres of the variety by 2000, and increasing from there. At the time, the idea of pulling out Napa Valley Chardonnay and replacing it with Pinot Grigio, was surely crazy. So, the group renamed themselves the Luna-tics. Where Oregon had begun the Pinot Gris experiment as early as the mid-60s, Luna stood as one of the leaders of the grape in California. In this way, the intention to do things differently defined the beginnings of Luna. As John Kongsgaard once explained, the self-named Luna-tics even used to play classical music to the vines.

John Kongsgaard Starts the University

After 20 years of success in the Napa Valley wine industry, Kongsgaard was brought in to Luna in 1996 to establish the house’s winemaking style. Konsgaard had started his career making wines in 1980, side-by-side with Doug Nalle at the now defunct Belvedere Winery. By the mid-1990s, however, Kongsgaard had proven himself as an influential winemaker through his 13-years of work with Newton Vineyards.

In 1997, Kongsgaard and Vare began making regular trips to Italy, originally searching for “the holy grail of Pinot Grigio.” As Vare explained, they searched first in Alsace, and though they liked those wines, the climate didn’t suit Napa. Alto Adige also proved too cold. Finally Friuli gave a closer parallel, and a wealth of influence through small scale and experimental winemakers of the region.

Kongsgaard worked with Christopher Vandendriessche, of White Rock, as assistant winemaker initially. Together they helped establish what Abe Schoener calls a university environment in Luna’s winery. Schoerner had begun working with the team at the end of the 1990s, gathering data on their vineyard sites, but also learning from Kongsgaard as Schoener’s mentor. Schoener makes clear too that Vare supported and encouraged the winery’s university methodology.

By allowing interns to make their own barrels of wine, while also doing their work for Luna, the facility trained a number of young wine enthusiasts that would go on to influence the area’s wine industry. But the approach also effectively expanded the experimentation witnessed by the mentors as well. Kongsgaard has stated that he fine-tuned some techniques he’d go on to use for his own label through the early investigatory period of Luna.

Schoener explains, Kongsgaard had a talent for standing back to let his mentees explore their interests in wine, while being there to facilitate a successful project at the same time. Vandendriessche operates with a similar approach in his work today at White Rock as well. The site served as Schoener’s first winery in establishing Scholium Project, and today facilitates the work of other new winemakers getting ready to release their work.

Learning from Radikon and Gravner

After Vandendriessche chose to move his attention to the White Rock facility, Kelly Wheat was brought in as the new assistant winemaker to Kongsgaard. Wheat began traveling to Friuli with Kongsgaard and Vare, who had already established strong relationships with the winemakers through Friuli and Slovenia. Wheat benefited, then, from the friendships already started with the likes of Stanko and Sasa Radikon, Josko Gravner, and others.

Radikon had begun experimenting with making his wines with extended skin contact in 1994, utilizing open top wood fermenters. Stanko Radikon’s father had talked about techniques used in Oslajve prior to the onset of more contemporary pressed wine techniques. Eventually Stanko decided to invest in using them.

Previously, Radikon explained, wines were made using all of the fruit, rather than removing the skins. The result was to develop wines with greater texture, aroma, and flavor, that also kept longer after being made. The skin contact style of winemaking, then, was historically situated–a normal approach for the technology of the time–but it was also economical–it made the wine last.

Drawing on Georgian winemaking history, Gravner began using extended maceration fermentation in clay anphora in 1996. He had helped introduce the focus and freshness of temperature controlled stainless steel vats to Friuli, thus introducing the winemaking changes associated with newer technologies. But after a friend brought Gravner a kveri (Georgian anphora), the winemaker experimented with the winemaking techniques of that region, known to be thousands of years old.

With both Radikon and Gravner there was an adjustment period while moving to the historical-but-new-to-them techniques. Each winemaker had developed expertise with their previous styles, and were known for making quality, terroir-driven wines. In shifting to the use of extended maceration, however, they also needed time getting to know the effects of the approach. In 2001, Gravner released his first fully anfora based portfolio (though bottlings as early as 1998 are still available for purchase in the United State). In establishing friendships with both Radikon and Gravner, the Luna-tics were able to learn new techniques both through direct witness at the Italian wineries, and through on going consultations had by phone.

Kongsgaard and Vare had befriended Radikon as early as their first trip to the region, meeting Gravner a few trips later. On one visit with Gravner, a barrel with a plexiglass side stood in the corner. Grapes were inside aging not only on lees, but skins, with the wine in such a state for over a year. The Americans were able to taste the wine from the experiment and were pleased at the result, not having heard of such an approach previously. As Vare described it, the wine had a nice weight and texture, without any bitterness.

Showing Skins: the practice moves to California

After returning from a visit with these winemakers in Friuli in 2000, Wheat decided to try the techniques himself and make extended skin contact lots for some of the white wines at Luna.

In 2000, Wheat began making a Pinot Grigio blend that sent 40% of the grapes straight to press before fermentation, while the rest were put through a crusher to allow more aromatic and textural contribution from skins.The technique loosely resembles the impact of older technology that broke up grapes more than simply pressing them, causing more skin and stem influence (and thus both more aromatics and more body) on the juice.

Wheat experimented further however, making small lots of white wine left to ferment like a red. Inspired by his time in Friuli, Wheat located some Friulano in 2001, sourced from the Hollister area (and grown in limestone) and fermented to dryness on skins, working similarly as well with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown in or closer to Napa. The most successful of these, Schoener believes, was the Fruilano.

Having worked with Luna in various capacities for several years, Schoener became winemaker there after Wheat’s departure in 2002. Witnessing Wheat’s trials with skin contact, Schoener encouraged the Luna label to make some skin contact bottlings. Having become more mainstream by that point (Vare was also no longer acting president), the board was resistant to investing in wines without more proven market success. Schoener stayed in the role at Luna long enough to help winemaker Mike Drash take up the reins in 2003, only ever intending to secure a smooth transition from Wheat to the new person. After Schoener dove into his Scholium Project, beginning to make a skin contact Sauvignon Blanc, the now oft mentioned Prince in his Caves, in 2006.

Luna would not be bottling skin-contact only white wines. However, drawing on Wheat’s experience with the approach, Drash continued making what Luna called their Freakout White blend. The wine included extended maceration of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Friulano left to ferment to dryness on skins.

Looking for Texture: Pax Mahle experiments

Over in Sonoma County, independently of the work being done with the Luna-tics, Pax Mahle had started Pax Wine Cellars in 2000. The label had a central focus on Syrah, but made Rhone whites as well. Working against the norm at the time, Mahle was committed to making low alcohol white wines, without the influence of new oak. One of the downsides of whites made in this approach, however, is a textural change in the wine’s mouthfeel–they become lighter, with less weight, and to some people, less interest. Searching for a way to offer more textural interest without reliance on new wood, while keeping alcohol levels low, Mahle began experimenting with skin contact lots in 2003. Just like the adjustment period between a new technique and quality wine necessary for Radikon and Gravner, Mahle explains it wasn’t until 2007 that he bottled a skin contact wine. He wasn’t willing to put a label on something he couldn’t get behind. It took those several years to find a barrel he believed in as a stand alone wine. Prior to 2007 the experimental lots were blended back into other white blends.


To read part 2 in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 2: Variety, Terroir, and Mind Scrambling

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

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


Over the next weeks I’ll be exploring the work of contemporary skin contact wines from California and Oregon winemakers, both varietals and blends. I’ve been lucky enough to taste several dozen examples both bottled and barreled from a range of grape types in both California and Oregon, and to interview a range of people on the subject.

I’ll be traveling in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong as well, however, and so my posts here will be mixed in with updates from Australian adventures.


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