Authors Posts by Hawk Wakawaka

Hawk Wakawaka

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A wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold. aka. #firekitten

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Alquimie: Breathing New Life Into Drinks

Alquimie Magazine

Australia’s Alquimie almost immediately became one of my favorite drinks magazines when it launched in 2013. A year later, they were already up for awards celebrating them as among the best magazines of Australia.

The journal goes in depth into the world of wine, spirits, and morning drinks with a regular accent on food (baguettes appear in the current release).

Best of all, the focus remains on quality writing and gorgeous photography. Editor Josh Elias asks his contributors to only write on what they truly love, what fascinates them. It’s easy to deliver quality work under those conditions.

Alquimie ships internationally (which is how I get it), and has free shipping in Australia right now. So, if you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend it.

Here’s the link: https://alquimie.com.au

Alquimie Edition 5 + an article on Dirk Niepoort

Dirk Niepoort Article Preview

preview + cover images courtesy of Alquimie

In September 2014, Dirk Niepoort let me follow him through four days of harvest in the Douro. We took side trips north to Vinho Verde and checked in on his consulting projects as well. The experience was transformative for me. I fell in love with Portugal.

In Alquimie Edition 5, I’ve written and illustrated a small glimpse of the experience looking at the progression of Niepoort’s work as a winemaker, and specifically at his most recent vintages. The article is also illustrated by my interpretations of four of his wines. I’m thrilled to appear in a magazine I admire so much.

Also in Edition 5 are in depth looks at the Rhone Valley, Mexico’s mescal, and aperitifs. The issue starts shipping this coming week.

Interested in purchasing a single issue, or subscribing to Alquimie?

Here’s the link: https://alquimie.com.au/shop/

Check it out!

 

The Essence of Wine: A Book by Alder Yarrow

The Essence of Wine

image courtesy of Alder Yarrow

Alder Yarrow’s book, The Essence of Wine, brings together striking photographs of 46 iconic wine notes — cherry, lime, honey, paraffin, among others — with alluring prose of the same element — photographs of strawberry coupled with writing on the same, for example.

While the series at the core of the book appeared originally on Alder’s highly regarded wine blog, Vinography.com, holding the coffee table book in hand changes the experience for the reader.

Side-by-side the photographic representation of the note with Alder’s writing offer the reader an opportunity to feel the visceral impact of the writing and imagery more directly. That visceral experience is at the heart of the book’s strength. Together, the thought of tasting notes becomes a sensual experience unexpected from mere print.

The Essence of Wine offers the reader a unique opportunity to enliven their experience with wine. Ultimately, it’s a chance to become a better taster. For the connoisseur, reflecting so singularly on one wine element at a time brings greater clarity. For the newer wine lover, understanding.

To read more on, or purchase The Essence of Wine here is the link on Alder’s site: http://www.vinography.com/essence_of_wine.htm

I asked Alder if he’d be willing to meet to discuss ideas implicit in the book more throughly. The transcript from our conversation is below.

Together, we discuss how the book took shape, the role that visual representations — photographs and illustrations — of wine notes have in understanding wine, and the experience at the core of wine appreciation.

Imagery and text blocks from The Essence of Wine appearing below are all courtesy of Alder Yarrow.

Tasting the Visual: A Conversation with Alder Yarrow

Alder Yarrow at Mt Etna Alder Yarrow at Mt Etna, April 2013, image courtesy of Alder Yarrow

Elaine: Can you tell me about how the three of you – the photographer, Leigh Beisch, the food stylist, Sara Slavin, and yourself – worked together for your book, The Essence of Wine?

Alder: I approached Leigh with the idea. I would run across people, as I am sure you do too, that say, I read these tasting notes, and I have never tasted something like, you know, lychee. Is that some kind of metaphor, or do they really mean that they taste lychee in the glass? And I’m like, no, really! there are wines that taste like that! So, that is something that I wanted to help people with.

Early in my wine tasting and appreciation that was something I wanted and needed. I’d see these tasting notes that talked about wines that taste like chocolate but I’d never had a wine that tastes like chocolate, and I wouldn’t have known where to start if I wanted to. So that was the idea. And Leigh was great. She said, I have an art director that I think would be perfect for this. She works with Sara on her more commercial shoots.

Elaine: Yeah, I was looking through her site, and it looked like they work together a bunch.

Alder: Yeah, and Sara was on board with it. So, she said, give us a list. What should we shoot? So I made a list. I wasn’t sure how many of these they were going to be willing to do, so, I started with some core flavors and aromas, and I squished some together. So, rather than do raspberries and pomegranates and strawberries separately, I decided, okay, well, we’ll just do red berries.

E: Right. Or, like, tropical fruits I saw you put together.

A: Yeah. Exactly. And so they would just come up with a vision and one of two things would happen. At first I was in the studio frequently with them just sort of watching them do their thing, and, when they wanted an opinion, offering it. Occasionally, they would ask for clarification. They would say, okay, Alder, you gave us raspberry, pomegranate, cranberries, red currants… is one more important than the other? And I’d say, oh yeah, raspberry is the more important here, focus on that. Then they would shoot, and I would get 3 or 4 candidates from Leigh’s shoot, and I would select the one I wanted. Often there would be only minor variations. With the lemon shot, the variations I got were, like, one drop of lemon juice, or, two drops of lemon juice on the mirror. I can remember the green bell pepper I was like, these all look like the same images? And Sara’s all, oh no! One of them definitely has more water drops than the other!

Green Bell Pepper without water dropletsGreen Bell Pepper with water droplets

two examples of Green Bell Pepper images chosen between for use in The Essence of Wine
(Alder selected the image with water drops)
courtesy of Alder Yarrow and Leigh Beisch

E: That’s so funny. Really specific and subtle.

A: Yeah!

So, most of the time they needed very little direction from me. And I was content, as a beggar that can’t be a chooser, to let them express themselves. And they understood from the beginning that the idea was to create an archetypal image of this fruit, or foodstuff, or flavor that was not clichéd.

E: The thing that struck me about the book is how well the two work together – the language and the imagery.

A: The imagery always came first. They would create the image. They had a long list of flavors and aromas, and I never knew what they would be shooting on a weekly or biweekly basis. It was just a matter of what Sara found at the market or whatever.

E: Right. They did it seasonally, and the writing was inspired by the image?

A: Yeah. Basically, that week the image would be strawberry, and I would ask myself, well, what have I got to say about strawberries? Sometimes I would take cues off the image. A lot of times it was just trying to get myself into a particular mindset. When we say something tastes like strawberry, what does it really taste like without using the word strawberry? Or, what are the associations or connotation that these fruits, and flavors, or foodstuffs have for us? And then, where did they come from? How do we have limes, and where do they come from, and how long have they been around, and do they have meaning beyond their flavors? Then other things were just research. Like, is there cultural significance to mint? and where did that come from? and that sort of thing.

E: I really like that in both the photography and the writing there are a lot of textural elements. The one that comes to mind is blueberry, and cherry too. In both you talk about the feeling of the skin, but then as you pop through that, that creates this flavor. Then, immediately, there is the flavor of the meat, the fruit inside, and that’s a different flavor. There is this real visceral feeling to the writing rather than just flavor notes.

A: That was me really trying to think about actually experiencing one of these fruits. But there is also an analog to that experience in the world of wine. For me, plum is a great one. There is such a distinct difference between the flavor of the skin, and of the fruit for me, and wine somehow manages to capture both. There is that really distinct sour flavor of the skin, and that sort of snap to it as your teeth go through, and, then, the rushes of sugar and sweetness, but also acidity as you get the flesh and the juice in your mouth. That experience, I think that is why fruit appears so many times in tasting notes. The experience of eating fruit like that and the texture, and flavoral journey that you go through just in taking that first bite, wine does the same thing on our palate. You get astringency at a certain point, and you get sweetness at another point, and you get that kick of acidity inside your mouth at another point.

E: Yes, that makes sense. I feel like the more you read the book the better taster you can become. Elin McCoy’s review said it was the perfect gift for a connoisseur or a newbie. I really agree with that. There is such a crisp clarity to each note that I found myself better understanding what it means for me to claim I taste or smell that in a wine. It was this really nice opportunity to really take in the imagery and the writing, but also to more deeply understand what it means to talk about wine in this kind of way.

A: That’s great. I take that as a huge compliment. I think the book for me was a little bit of a journey in trying to tease apart, to puzzle out my own sensory appreciation for wine. Why it’s so magical to me.

It’s not just that this wine tastes like these individual flavors. It is that this wine also evokes cherry. I mean, there is a difference between perception and evocation, and there is a difference between pure sensation and the meaning that that sensation has for us. As you saw, I had a great deal of fun with some of the nostalgic aspects of some of these flavors, like, watermelon. For anyone growing up in the United States watermelon is summer, and the freedom of childhood. It is just unabashed pleasure. For many of us, that is as much what watermelon tastes like as the greenness of the rind that moves to the bright berry sweetness of the flesh, and all that stuff.

Graphite for The Essence of Wine

Perhaps if you were well-behaved or maybe just lucky, your teacher sent you to the edge of the classroom with a tightly clasped fist of yellow, where you had the pleasure of producing those wavy ribbon-like curls of beige and gray that litter many a school day memory. There may come a time when, like the clack of a typewriter or the stutter of a rotary phone, children do not recognize the smell of a freshly sharpened #2 Ticonderoga or FaberCastell. But for now, the scent of shaved or pulverized graphite brings instant recognition.

from The Essence of Wine, courtesy of Alder Yarrow and Leigh Beisch

E: Your book helped me think more too on something that I do – the difference between writing about versus drawing about wine, because it parallels in some ways the presentation of your book with photographing a flavor note and writing about that same note. For wine lovers reading about wine can be so alienating. There is an immediacy to tasting wine that reading about the same wine just doesn’t have.

A: Right. Writing about wine is never better than the real thing. You can never write anything about wine that surpasses the experience of the wine itself.

E: Yes, I so agree. I would love to hear your thoughts on the challenge of writing about wine. My thought is that wine lives in the senses, so to speak. The experience of drinking a glass of wine is visceral, and immediate, all about flavors, aromas, texture, and even the color of the wine. But when you are just focusing on the writing side of it, you take wine out of the senses, so to speak. Philosopher Merleau-Ponty talked about how analyzing something alienates you from it. Writing about wine alienates it from the senses. I think that is part of the challenge of writing about wine. That you have this visceral, lived, sensory thing, and now we are pulling it into the abstract to write about it, trying to make it live there in abstraction, but it doesn’t.

Something people tell me about my illustrated tasting notes …I bring them up just to reflect on the experience of your book’s photographs… I have had people say, when I see one of your drawings I know if I’ll like the wine or not. When I read a tasting note I can’t tell. I think that because drawings are visual, or, our reception of drawings is visual, there is an immediacy to them that parallels the immediacy of the nose and mouth when we taste wine. So there is a way in which a visual representation of the notes of wine keeps wine in the place wine belongs – immediate sensory tactile experience. Does that make sense?

A: That makes a lot of sense to me. I think that operates probably in a number of levels. I am just speculating here. I think as organisms we are still triggered by things in our external environment that are matters of survival for us, or used to be. Like, when you are learning to appreciate wine, figuring out what you taste is very difficult, and there is a physiological reason for that. When we smell, that sensory stimulus bypasses the language centers of your brain. So when you smell something, it goes right to your amygdala. When we were apes roaming the savannah we needed to be able to smell something and know instantly if we were going to die because we ate that meat, or be fine because we ate that meat. There are lots of other environmental cues for that too, and those sorts of cues are encoded in the physical structures of our brain and our physiology.

I think we have archetypal information in the structures of our brain about food. Like, a ripe piece of fruit triggers us in a way that is non-verbal, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if representations – photographs or drawings or otherwise – did the same thing for us. If being able to see in one of your visual tasting notes thyme, and tobacco, and graphite, and cherry, and licorice root didn’t conveniently, and helpfully bypass conscious narrative thought, and reinforce whatever else we may be doing in the process of appreciating those aromas and flavors in wine in ways that are very helpful to us as organisms. That’s my way of agreeing with you. That I think there is probably real power there that is very different than the spoken and written word.

E: Your book helped me think through that, but it also made me realize that by putting your writing and the photographs side-by-side it changes the power of the writing, and the imagery too. In your book, there is such a marked relationship between the imagery and the writing that together they become something more than they are on their own. The writing is lovely on its own, and the photographs are beautiful on their own, but there is a way in which something else happens when you put them side-by-side. You have the book open and there is this full page, full-blown image, and, like I said, the imagery is very textural because of how they’ve treated the materials that they’re photographing. Then, on the other side there is your writing, talking about the visceral feeling of breaking through the skin, and the bitter taste that comes to the mouth, and then a wash of flavor and juice. There is an immediacy in the imagery that then somehow, makes the writing feel not so abstract. It kind of allows the two to live together in a relationship that enriches both. The photographs, that already have a life of their own, take on more life, and the writing pulls you in even more. It feels more visceral too. The combination, it’s a way of bringing life back to wine.

Cherry from The Essence of Wine
Biting into a perfectly ripe cherry represents one of life’s perfections of flavor and sensation. The firm skin parts under a modicum of pressure, and a gorgeous melody unfolds on the tongue — high notes of juicy acidity, rich baritones of velvety sweet red fruit, an earthy alto bitterness of skin, and a tangy tenor quality burst in the mouth in a way that makes it all too easy to overindulge.

from The Essence of Wine, courtesy of Alder Yarrow & Leigh Beisch

A: For 20 years I have had this quote on my personal website by one of my favorite photographers named Frederick Sommer. The quote is, “Life itself is not the reality. We are the ones that put life into the stones and pebbles.” I guess I thought of that because what I hear you saying is that the image on its own… I mean, it’s over simplifying to say the text tells us what to look for in the image. I know that’s not what you’re saying, and I wouldn’t say that either. There is something more dynamic going on there, but I guess maybe one way of thinking about what you’re describing is that what the text does is force you to look not just at the image, but to look at the image in your mind’s eye of that thing. It makes a connection between those very real visual stimuli, which is like, look there are some cherries there, but then it also asks you to use that image as a jumping off point for your own memories, sensations, and appreciation for that thing. For me, the question would be, how does that work when there is a fruit or flavor you have never experienced? Like if you’d never had a lychee before would that additive quality still be there or does that only happen when you are accessing your own sense memories of the thing?

E: There is such a richness to the images in your book, and I think that is why the number of water drops, or the number of lemon drops are so important. It is aesthetic, but it is also about, how ripe do you want this to seem? Like, you can feel that even if you don’t exactly know the flavors.

Have you gotten comments or feedback from newer wine lovers, from people that are taking the book up as a first foray to learning about wine?

A: Yeah. I know people in the wine industry that have given it to their spouses, and I have subsequently run into their spouse and had their spouse say, thank you! I finally fucking understand what he or she is talking about! I get it now. That’s been really gratifying. And I have people I know from my day job that have said, I am really enjoying this. I am understanding better where these flavors come from.

E: That’s great. It’s an interesting way to approach it too. Focusing in on just a specific taste, and expanding how we think about each individual one, it’s a flip from how we normally think about this sort of thing. In the wine industry, we tend to start from the wine, and then come up with a list of notes about that, but your book reverses that, and says, no, let’s start with this single note, just cherry, just chocolate.

A: Honestly, isn’t that how we all start wine appreciation? If somebody hands you a glass of pink wine for the first time you’re like, uh, okay, and you taste it and you’re like, this is really good, it kind of tastes like strawberries. That’s always first I think. But we don’t often do enough to honor that aspect of wine appreciation. I mean, it’s funny how in the world of wine we very, very quickly leave that very sensorial world of flavor and aroma, and move into the idea that now you have to know something about who made it, and where does it come from, and what grape is it, all that stuff, when really most people are just like, oh! It’s dark and rich. I like that.

***

Vinography: http://www.vinography.com/

Alder Yarrow’s The Essence of Winehttp://www.vinography.com/essence_of_wine.html

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Andy Smith in the Vineyards of West Sonoma Coast and Green Valley

Andy Smith in Jentoft VineyardAndy Smith walking through Jentoft Vineyard, West Sonoma Coast, Jan 2015

“It’s okay to blend,” Andy Smith, winemaker and partner of DuMOL Wines tells me. It is morning and we are walking through the rolling hills of Jentoft Vineyard, a site near Occidental DuMOL planted specifically for blending.

Smith has agreed to spend the day driving me through DuMOL vineyards. We’re discussing the region but also his evolution as a winemaker.

Jentoft is unique for DuMOL in that it is one of only a few sites they farm in the rolling hills off Occidental Road.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, DuMOL made a name for itself making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the Russian River Valley. More recently, the team has expanded further into sites hugged by the hills mere miles from the Ocean.

The addition of these cooler climate vineyards also reflects the winery’s shift towards a leaner style over the last decade.

But for Smith, the winery’s move into sites near Occidental is not just about climate.

“People talk about climate, but, for me, the soil makes the flavor. Soil is the building blocks of the flavor, and the climate is the vintage variation.” Together, Occidental vineyards have something unique to offer.

“To me the wine [in this area] always has a sense of air-oir, not just terroir, a conifer-spicy element.” Smith says.

Blending DuMOL 

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

I ask Smith if he’d ever make a single vineyard bottling from Jentoft.

“I think the single vineyard thing,” he says, pausing briefly, in the midst of answering, no. “There has to be something distinctive, and agreeable, and verifiable, and repeatable. I am sure this site can make a distinctive wine that is a distinctive part of a distinctive blend.”

DuMOL bottles a number of single vineyard sites, but has developed and farms even more. The goal for DuMOL is to bottle excellent wines rooted first in their own farming. Some sites, in Smith’s view, offer that beautiful component within a multi-site blend, while other sites carry their own sense of completeness.

The point is that high quality vineyards sometimes best serve as components in a blend rather than on their own.

Developing a site’s character, be it is for blending, or single bottling, takes time. Jentoft, for example, was planted in 2007.

“This site is just starting to come into its own for us.” Smith explains. “The first year a vine gives fruit can be quite nicely structured and well balanced. Then, the next few years the vines are like unruly teenagers. Around eight years a vineyard starts to find its balance. Then around fourteen years there is another plateau, and vines become much more self regulating.”

What that means today has changed from viticultural views of even ten years ago.

“That is the fun part of the change in the last ten years,” Smith says. “From the idea that we need to tell the vine what to do. Today farming includes beautiful cover crops, insectiary rows, and then seeing the results. For me, that is the exciting part. You can taste the results as well. The wines taste better at lower alcohol.”

Evolving the DuMOL Style

I ask Smith about his evolution as a winemaker. We are discussing Smith and his contemporaries from the early days of DuMOL.

“We were young guys in the late 1990s,” Smith says. “Starting out making rich wines. Now many of us are making lighter wines, with aromatic perfume. You know everything is different.”

But the change in style, Smith points out, occurred as part of a larger context, not driven by wine alone but the overall food culture.

“In the late 1990s, the scene was booming. Restaurants were booming. Chefs were going on with pork fat, and the wines reflected that.” Big flavor was not just a Parker fancy, but a cultural fascination.

“Some of my wines, I go back, and taste, and wonder, what was I thinking?” Smith laughs. “But, you know, it was the taste of the day. Now we have less new oak, and less toast. We have really moved to a more ethereal style with more perfumed aromatics. If you want more honey in your chardonnay, or more cassis and black fruit in your pinot noir, you pull leaves and expose clusters. Now we avoid sun exposure on the fruit.”

Smith’s reflection on sun exposure gets to the core of how DuMOL has shifted its style from bold flavor to graceful richness – DuMOL’s wines today a dance of movement and flavor.

“We’ve pulled back the wines as the farming has improved too.” Smith points out. “You can’t just go on and say, I am going to pick at 21 brix. You have to take a few years getting in tune with the farming, the soil health, and all that.”

DuMOL Today

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

DuMOL’s focus on farming has helped the label grow at a judicious rate, focusing on quality as it allows for growth. It’s maintained such an approach by expanding its volume only as its farming allows. As a result, quality remains in the hands of the DuMOL team, relying on fruit they’ve cultivated to match the house style.

“That’s part of our philosophy.” Smith explains. “I don’t like any extremes – no extreme pruning, no extreme exposure to the grapes, not too much, if any irrigation. Vines are a crop we maximize, and you maximize that by making the vine work hard, not stressed but hard.” I ask Smith to say more about how he maintains that middle line in the vineyard, avoiding extremes.

“The soil health is, of course, really important.” He responds. “Water is available for the vine. The roots are really deep now but because they haven’t been force fed water, they don’t binge on it. Vines are self regulating. They take what they need, and don’t take too much. When you over irrigate, you force the vine to take what you give it, and it takes and takes and takes, then collapses and ripens through dehydration.”

Then there is the architecture of the vine.

“The way we farm with tight spacing, we are looking for grapes that are bright and fresh, with thick skins though we are achieving that without exposing the clusters to sun. It gives more herbal complexity, dense deep tones, and bright fruit.”

The result shows through beautiful integrity from bottling to bottling.

DuMOL wines offer concentrated flavor and structural density with bright fruit, and delicious acidity across varieties thanks to the farming, while cellar choices preserve the wines’ pleasing texture and freshness. The combination Smith describes as his winemaking goal.

“I like texture, but I also like freshness. Any texture or density,” Smith clarifies, “should come from the vines.”

***

DuMOL makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a small amount of Viognier from Sonoma County.

DuMOL Wines: http://www.dumol.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Saveur Celebrates

Sav

Saveur Magazine, one of the nation’s top food publications, hosts an annual celebration of the top food and drinks blogs putting forth categories from Best Baking & Desserts to Best New Voice. This year they also celebrated drinks through multiple selections including Best Beer Coverage, Best Spirits or Cocktail Coverage, and Best Wine Coverage.

It’s fantastic to discover new sites each year through Saveur‘s blog award finalists. I’m excited too by the caliber of sites throughout this year’s selections.

In Best Wine Coverage six sites were selected, including my own. Here’s the link to vote: http://www.saveur.com/content/blog-awards-2015-vote

It’s so much fun to be named with these five people for wine as I feel as though we’re out their together in some virtual world having an ongoing party, enjoying each other’s favorite wines. They’re each people I already enjoy sharing such time with in person, or look forward to getting to know.

Here’s a brief look at each of the five other nominated sites, and what I appreciate about their work. Part of what I enjoy about blogs in general is that as you go in depth in the subject matter, you also form a virtual relationship with the writer. That couldn’t be more true than with Saveur‘s six wine blog selections. We’re a quite varied, while passionate bunch.

If you don’t know these sites already, you should! Check them out. Links are included below. The order here reflects the order Saveur used on their own voting page here: http://www.saveur.com/content/blog-awards-2015-vote

1. The Feiring Line

The Feiring Line

banner from The Feiring Line website

Alice Feiring proves to be one of wine’s greatest champions for less interventionist winemaking, alongside organic and biodynamic farming practices. Her work writing about wine has brought her around the world seeking examples of such technique, leading to two published books and another on the way celebrating her perspective in wine. As a result, she is also one of the most ready tasters of anyone for such wines, and has channeled her experience into a 9 per year newsletter looking closer at her favorite examples. On The Feiring LineAlice shares of the moment interviews and insights into producers such as recent examples like a 25 year vertical tasting of Corison Cabernet held in NYC, her reflection on the work of the recently passed Burgundy legend, Anne Claude Leflaive, or previously breaking news such as the trial of French vigneron Oliver Cousin. If you want to know more about the world of less interventionist wine, while gaining perspective on the people behind them, and falling in love with Alice’s decided and clear perspective, her site can guide you. Her newsletter is even better.

Here’s the link to The Feiring Line: http://www.alicefeiring.com

Here’s more info on her newsletter: http://www.alicefeiring.com/newsletter

2. Not Drinking Poison in Paris

Not Drinking Poison in Paris

banner from the not drinking poison in paris website

Having previously served as a sommelier, Aaron Ayscough now lives in Paris working in the world of fashion (so cool). His love for wine continues though and he has used his site Not Drinking Poison in Paris to champion the world of natural wine in France while also reporting on the arc of change he’s seen in the drinks’ scene in his new home city. Aaron’s simultaneously smart and clear writing has garnered him a dedicated following. His goals with the blog are to share the other side of the city – where people on vacation might not see, where movies never show – celebrating the drinks’ professionals devoted to what they do, and the work that gets them there, while also writing in depth profiles of producers he loves to love. My understanding is that Aaron is also working on a collection of essays for book publication. Keep an eye out for it. His writing is worth following.

Here’s the link to Not Drinking Poison in Parishttp://notdrinkingpoison.blogspot.com

For more on Aaron: http://imbibemagazine.com/qa-with-aaron-ayscough-of-not-drinking-poison-in-paris/

3. Wine. All the Time. 

Wine all the Time

banner from the Wine. all the time website

A little bit sexy, a little bit fun, a little bit all about wine, Marissa A. Ross brings together her background in comedy writing with her views on wine and a touch of the indulgence that helps make LA (where she lives) what we love – sunny, fashion, wine bottle selfies. With that combination, Marissa offers a uniquely friendly west coast perspective in her wine drinking commitments. Her site, Wine. all the time, also delivers wine insight from the perspective of a lifestyle blogger. That is, it’s not just reviews of wine. It’s reviews of wine in context – the context of how the wine makes you feel as well as how Marissa found it in the first place. With that we also get to glimpse behind the scenes of her travels (recently to Napa, for example), how she feels about her age, and what holidays, kissing, or gifts mean to her.

To check out Wine. all the time.http://www.wine-allthetime.com

For more about Marissa: http://marissaaross.com

4. Jameson Fink – Wine Without Worry

Wine Without Worry

banner from Jameson Fink – Wine Without Worry website

Bringing together his background in wine retail and wine service with a sense of playful insight in his writing, Jameson Fink knows how to reach what the consumer wants. His work on Jameson Fink – Wine Without Worry has brought him all over the world exploring the current trends of regions globally, while also launching him into editorial positions leading wine content in multiple top sites on the web. It’s his sense of insightful accessibility that drives his site’s devoted following – he knows a lot about wine and delivers that through jovial recommendation. To add another layer, Jameson has also taken forays into interviewing artists and creatives deepening his explorations in wine with thoughts from photographers, food afficianados, musicians and more. He also hosts a regular podcast series covering topics ranging from wines for summer, to wine with bbq, and in depth producer interviews. Jameson is the go-to blogger for Washington wine.

Check out Jameson Fink – Wine Without Worryhttp://jamesonfink.com

For his podcast: https://soundcloud.com/jameson-fink

5. Vinography: a wine blog

Vinography

banner from Vinography: a wine blog website

Having began his site Vinography in 2004, Alder Yarrow has been blogging about wine almost longer than anyone else on the internet. His work has followed the evolving wine scene of California, as well as the restaurant scene of his home city, San Francisco, while also keeping up with wines around the globe. Indeed his site is as likely to host an in depth profile on a California producer as it is a wine tasting of the Douro Boys in Portugal, or one of the lead vigneron of France. He also keeps his readers updated on wine events happening in the Bay Area, and reports on the industry’s current news. In other words, his site is an impressive all arounder. In addition to his writing at Vinography, Alder writes a monthly column on American wine (looking primarily at California) for JancisRobinson.com. Recently his new book The Essence of Wine was named one of The New York Times top wine books of 2014.

To check out Vinographyhttp://www.vinography.com

To learn more about The Essence of Winehttp://www.vinography.com/essence_of_wine.html

6. Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews

Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews

banner from Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews website

Since you’re already here, I’ll spare you the summation of my own site. YOU’RE READING IT, silly.

In case you want to check out a bit more about me though…

To read more about my views on writing versus drawing about wine: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/news/entry/elaine-chukan-brown-wins-frank-prial-fellowship

To learn more about how I fell in love with wine: http://imbibemagazine.com/interview-with-elaine-chukan-brown/

Vote Wine!

The Saveur awards are not only that fun virtual party where we all hang out drinking each other’s favorite wines (I’ve brought champagne from Bereche and Prevost, as well as Pinot Meunier from Eyrie and Best’s Great Western).

The awards are also a chance for you to get to know new websites worth reading. The other five featured here are among the best you will find anywhere on the web, so check them out to find more to enjoy about wine.

Now is your chance to vote wine. All six of us finalists would love you to pop on over to Saveur and vote wine! With these six sites you can’t lose.

Here’s the link: http://www.saveur.com/content/blog-awards-2015-vote

Cheers!

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Jr Films Paul Sloan of Small Vines

Jr films bud break with Paul Sloan of Small Vines

Jr films bud break with Paul Sloan of Small Vines

In Sonoma County, Paul and Kathryn Sloan have been practicing high density viticulture since the late 1990s. Thus, the name of their company, Small Vines.

Devoted to honing their ability to grow healthy, well balanced vineyards, they have studied the viticultural practices of some of the best vineyards in the world, and worked to translate those practices to the unique conditions of Sonoma.

In 2005, they launched their own label (also named Small Vines) selling Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay primarily from the Green Valley subzone of the Russian River Valley.

Walking a Small Vines vineyard with the pair has repeatedly proven to be one of the most fascinating, educative experiences I’ve had in my visits with producers.

I asked if they’d be willing to let me follow them through a full year in the vineyard and winery covering each major stage of a vintage. They agreed.

For the first stage, I asked Jr to accompany me to create her own interpretation of the visit. First filming Paul and I through the vineyard, she then interviewed him on her own to edit and produce the video below. (I’m pretty psyched with the work she did.)

Bud Break and Green Pruning

With an early vintage in 2015, bud break is well under way throughout Sonoma County. As a result, vignerons are starting to look to the next step, shoot thinning, also known as green pruning or suckering.

The process of shoot thinning proves to be one of the most crucial steps of the vintage. When done well, it establishes balanced vine growth, determining how many clusters the vine can support for the year, and setting up the vine’s production for the following vintage as well.

I’ll let Paul, via Jr’s video, explain the rest.

Here’s the direct link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pniINtYL9Qg

Please feel free to share the video with interested friends and family. Jr would also be thrilled to read your comments on it below.

For more on Small Vines: https://smallvines.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tips from Celebrated Bartender, Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria, photo courtesy of 1760

“It depends on what you want from a cocktail.” Christopher Longoria, celebrated Bar Program Manager at the ingredient-driven restaurant 1760 in San Francisco, tells me. “Are you trying to showcase the aperitif, or using a characteristic of it to make something else?”

Known for his creative approach, Longoria relies less on recipes for cocktail classics when behind the bar, and more on a culinary style, thinking first in terms of aromas and textures, to mix drinks. He is advising me on the art of mixing cocktails made from aperitif wines.

Recent years have brought a small boon in California artisanal aperitifs made by small-scale wineries. Longoria has found that these fortified wines, such as vermouth and chinato, offer an advantage behind the bar. Cocktails made from spirits tend to be less aromatic while also higher in alcohol but aperitif wines are able to offer a lot of character at lower proof.

A California Product

Matthiasson 2011 Flora Vermouth

Vermouth in particular has garnered recent attention. Vya and Sutton Cellars hold the spot as two of the most significant examples of American vermouth. Vya makes a range of styles from sweet, to dry, and extra dry, while Sutton Cellars gives a sweet version carrying both citrus and bitter elements.

More recently other small-scale examples have come out of Napa. Last year, Matthiasson released a sweet vermouth tasting of blood orange and coriander, while Massican has now released several vintages of dry vermouth offering a lighter body with citrus and floral notes.

“I use vermouth for different characteristics,” Longoria explains. “It tends to be good for aromatics, and depending on the vermouth, I will use it to make a silky texture.” The type of vermouth makes a difference in how to approach it, Longoria explains. The style – sweet to dry – also relates to the aperitifs weight on the palate.

“A sweet vermouth,” Longoria explains, “acts as the foundation of a drink. It gives it body, earthiness and sweetness.” When mixing with sweet vermouth you want your other ingredients to be lighter bodied, while also complementing the vermouth aroma and flavor. A bit of dry vermouth mixed with sweet can help focus the character of the final beverage.

“Dry vermouth is good for finishing a drink, tightening it up without drying it out,” Longoria tells me. “I use just a touch of dry vermouth to pull the body back in if I use something that would be too rich on its own.” As a result, the drink finishes clean in the mouth, leaving your palate ready for a different experience with the next cocktail.

More unusual aperitifs perfect for mixing have also cropped up in California.

Palmina Chinato

In Santa Barbara County, Palmina delivers a small production chinato made with the winery‘s Nebbiolo, and flavored with locally grown ingredients.

In Sonoma, Vivier Wines has created what might be the only Pineau des Charentes in the United States under the name Sexton-Vivier – made in honor of both the winemaker’s grandmother and his wife. By fortifying pressed juice, rather than already fermented wine, the drink retains a sense of freshness along with a sweet, herbal element.

Cocktails at Home

Sexton Vivier 2012 Pineau des Charentes

How to use artisanal aperitifs at home? Start simple, and play, Longoria says.

“You can take a classic cocktail, and switch up a key ingredient.” Longoria suggests. “Chinato can be used to make a black Manhattan. It works in mixed drinks like a darker, more herbaceous amaro.”

Similarly, Matthiasson vermouth works well in a negroni bringing out a blood orange element that gives the drink a new twist. The Massican or Sexton-Vivier, on the other hand, offer each a decidedly different take on a martini.

“When it comes to gin and vermouth,” or other mid-weight aperitifs, like the Pineau, Longoria explains, “consider the aroma. Gins tend to be really aromatic. If you want to play that up, go with an apertif with complementary aromatics. Or if you want the gin to be the focus, go with a milder one.”

The viscosity also comes into play. In the case of the Sexton-Vivier, its fuller body brings a sweet note to a gin martini, while the Massican keeps a lighter bodied focus on lifted aromatics.

“Making mixed drinks at home,” Longoria says, “it’s all about playing with the ingredients, and getting the palate attuned to it. Start with small portions, and get familiar with your components before you mix them. Figure out what you like, and mix from there.”

Christopher Longoria offered the following tips to get started making mixed drinks from artisanal aperitifs at home, and a recipe for Massican, an off-dry vermouth with a focus on delicate citrus and floral elements.

Massican 2012 Vermouth

Tips for Mixing Aperitif Cocktails at Home

  • Get Familiar with your aperitif on its own – it’s aroma, viscosity, and level of sweetness
  • Mix small portions first
  • Think of a sweet aperitif as the body of your cocktail, then mix with lighter bodied aperitifs or spirits with complementary aromas to accent it
  • Think of a dry aperitif as a way to tighten the body and finish of other ingredients
  • Don’t be afraid to mix different aperitifs together for a low-proof cocktail

Here’s a recipe from Christopher Longoria using the Massican Vermouth.

Aperitivo

Apertivo by Christopher Longoria

Apertivo without ice, photo courtesy of Christopher Longoria

.75 oz Massican Vermouth
.75 oz Bertina Elderflower
2 dashes orange bitters

Add ice, if desired. Stir.

Top with 1 oz. Marotti Campi Brut Rosé.
May also be topped with a Blanc Brut Cava for slightly less fruit flavor.

Enjoy!

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

W20Group.com Acquires VinTank 

W20 Group has acquired VinTank, the wine tech leader in social media analysis and communication. The purchase was just announced this morning.

“W2O is known for their analytics work. They can take a brand, look at all the social media data, identify that brand’s audience, and identify what they like so you can advertise smarter, and even predict future sales.” Paul Mabray, CEO and co-founder of VinTank, explains. “VinTank lets you communicate with them in real time. It completes the circle.”

Working with major brands such as Verizon, Intel, Red Bull, and Warner Bros., W20 Group has won multiple innovation awards for their work.

In purchasing VinTank, W20 Group gains unique technology that allows them to incorporate the next step in brand building. With VinTank software, W20 Group customers will be able to not only better understand their audience, but now also connect directly across social media platforms.

The acquisition proves significant for multiple reasons – This type of sale of a wine technology company is unprecedented. By combining the resources of W2O Group with the data of VinTank the insights into the wine industry to be gained should be monumental. The ability to communicate directly with customers that VinTank offers W2O Group will have reverberations far beyond wine.

Successful Wine Technology

This is the first time a company from completely outside the wine industry has purchased a wine technology company. VinTank effectively created software for the wine industry that can scale beyond the wine industry.

VinTank’s success in wine technology is unique. The wine industry proves to be one of the most difficult industries within which to successfully advance social media technologies due to the industry’s own resistance to such change, and most winery’s limited financial resources.

“I’m really grateful for the challenge of building this kind of technology within the wine industry.” Mabray says. “There was this sense of banging my head against the wall but that eventually gave insight into what we needed to do.”

Wine tech success stories are few. While many such companies have launched, very few have succeeded. Successful examples include Ship Compliant, Wine Direct, and VinTank itself.

Gary Vaynerchuck stands as another clear leader in wine technology, thanks to his early success with the Wine Library video series. However, it is significant to point out that Vaynerchuck’s current success is largely thanks to his quickly stepping outside the confines of wine itself.

What makes VinTank significant beyond the wine industry? 

“We’d already made software to work beyond wine,” Mabray explains. “But as a self funded company we needed to stay focused on wine so our attention wasn’t divided. Now the development conversation can expand and prove what the software can do both in and outside of wine.”

VinTank’s power beyond the wine industry rests first in how brands can communicate directly with customers. It also depends on VinTanks ease of use.

Currently, VinTank software pinpoints social media mentions for specific wine brands giving their customers the ability to identify who is talking about them, as well as the opportunity to communicate with those customers directly. Even more importantly, it allows you to communicate with those customers in real time.

If someone mentions a wine brand on Instagram, via the VinTank app that winery can respond in Instagram. Same with Twitter, Facebook, Delectable, blog platforms, and more.

Part of what makes VinTank so easy is that to have these conversations, wine brands don’t have to be logged into every social media platform. Instead, they can communicate across any of them from within the VinTank app.

Now imagine that same capability for any brand in any industry, not just wine.

In an age where customers more than ever want to feel directly connected, VinTank technology makes communicating directly with those customers possible. It also makes the noisy chaos of social media understandable.

As significant as the VinTank acquisition is for industry in general, it promises to change the wine industry as well.

The Next Step: Analysis

“We have the largest set of data on wine consumers in the industry,” Mabray points out. VinTank analyzes one million social media conversations about wine per day and has now for years. “I’ve always wanted to dig into that data but haven’t had the money to hire analysts. W2O already has data analysts in house.”

The insights into the wine industry made possible by this merger are unprecedented.

“We will be able to do things like predict variety popularity before a boom,” Mabray explains. “We will be able to predict leading regions, varieties, and brands based on social media interaction.”

Such analysis will also give insight into key influencers – the people that impact wine sales and increase interest in particular wines just by talking about them.

VinTank already has the ability to identify who the influencers are, and the impact of their message through how it spreads online. With W20 analysis, VinTank will also be able to predict new influencers before they happen.

Imagine companies being able to use such insight to connect with those influencers directly.

The Power of Influence

Part of what VinTank technology has already helped make clear is how influence in social media operates.

“We look at people that might not have a huge audience,” Mabray explains, “but whose audience listens tightly to what that person says.”

An individual with a small number of followers on social media could have more impact than someone with a much higher number of followers when at least two elements are in place – followers trust and act based on what the individual says, and the followers also influence others.

The point is simple – “Who influences the influencers?” Mabray points out. “We can identify not only who the key influencers are, but also who influences the influencers in microwaves from the side. Someone might be a key influencer, but who has direct lines to him or her” and influences his or her decisions?

The importance of such insight is crucial in the world of social media where key influencers might not even be known critics, but instead simply people that speak up about certain subjects like wine.

The Future of VinTank: A Commitment to the Wine Industry 

“W2O is committed to the wine industry, and we’re committed to staying,” Mabray explains. “James and I both live here [in Napa] with our families. We’re not going anywhere.”

While W2O Group is not a wine company, their purchase of VinTank includes a commitment to the wine industry. Indeed, VinTank has been looked at by other companies but part of what convinced VinTank to accept an offer from the W2O Group is its ongoing commitment to the wine industry.

What W2O offers the wine industry is greater resources. “They’re a company with resources, and they’re dedicating those to the wine industry.” Mabray explains. “We can now expand our work for the wine industry.”

VinTank’s Napa office will remain open.

VinTank CEO Paul Mabray will lead the business side of W2O Group’s software division for data driven engagement. VinTank CTO James Jory will lead the technology side of the same division.

“We’re essentially two sides of the same coin,” Mabray says. “We come together.”

***

To read more on the VinTank acquisition:

The official press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150330005194/en/W2O-Group-Acquires-VinTank-Social-Engagement-CRM#.VRlDRVz4vFK

VinTank’s own blog post about it: http://www.vintank.com/2015/03/the-next-chapter/

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

I Rosati di deGusto Salento a Lazise per l’anteprima Chiaretto Bardolino

Earlier this month I traveled to Garda Lake in Italy’s Veneto to attend the Bardolino Anteprima. My main focus for the event, however, was in tasting the current releases of Rosati.

This year’s Anteprima brought a celebration of rosé made from Indigenous Italian varietals. With this in mind Chiaretto, from the Bardolino region’s grape Corvina, was poured. The Bardolino Consortium also invited the winemakers of Salento Rosato, rosé from Puglia’s Negroamaro. We were lucky enough to taste all of the current releases of both Salento Rosato and Chiaretto.

Italian media, I Move Puglia.TV, attended the Bardolino Anteprima and interviewed journalists on their impression of the wines. After finishing the comprehensive rosati tastings, they asked me to describe both wines — first the Salento, and then Chiaretto.

Here’s the interview.

Thank you to Francesca Angelozzi and Gianluca Lubelli for including me.

For more from I Move Puglia.TV check out their over view video here, with links to the other interviews: http://www.imovepuglia.tv/video/308-i-rosati-di-degusto-salento-a-lazise-per-l-anteprima-chiaretto-bardolino

1

Visiting Gist Ranch Vineyard

Nathan Kandler and Tommy Fogarty at the top of Gist Ranch VineyardNathan Kandler and Tommy Fogarty standing at the top of Gist Ranch Vineyard, Oct 2014

Spin the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA on your finger like a basketball, and the spot where it balances is Gist Ranch Vineyard, owned and farmed by Lexington Wines. The site sits on the Pacific plate in the Skyline subzone of the appellation. Gist Ranch grows Bordeaux varieties.

“There are not a lot of Bordeaux varieties on the Pacific plate,” Lexington winemaker Nathan Kandler explains. We’re standing at the top of the vineyard looking west. Through a low point in the mountains you can see the ocean. “David Bruce is just over the next ridge to the south. Big Basin is due west. We’re 13 miles from the ocean.” David Bruce and Big Basin are two wineries known for their Pinot Noir.

Risking a Site

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA proves one of the most geographically varied in California. From above it appears like folds of cloth undulating in a series of north to south ridges, vineyards all aspects and slopes of varying degree and elevation.

One of the first truly mountain-based appellations in the state, the region rests between two moderating influences — the Pacific at its west, San Francisco Bay to its east. As a result, its lowest points are defined by the reach of fog — 800 ft on the eastern side, 400 ft on the west. The highest peaks climbing over 3000 ft.

The region rises from a conjunction of tectonic plates. Soils vary widely from ridge to ridge, and slope side to ridge top, thanks to the persistent activity of the plates. Gist Ranch stands atop the Pacific plate, an unusual spot for Cabernet.

“We started planting [Thomas] Fogarty [Vineyard] in 1980,” Tommy Fogarty, GM and son of the winery founder Thomas Fogarty, explains. Thomas Fogarty Vineyard and Winery rests in the Skyline subzone of the Santa Cruz Mountains, known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while also making quality Gewürztraminer, and Nebbiolo.

“The site clearly wanted to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Fogarty continues, “but dad and Michael [Martella, founding winemaker of Fogarty] love and knew Cabernet so always wanted to work towards that. Then they found the Gist site, and Michael thought it could grow Cab.”

The idea proved controversial.

“Even fourteen years ago,” Kandler points out, “it was hard to get temperature and atmospheric info.” No one knew for sure the growing conditions for the site. At the time it was planted as a Christmas tree farm with no need for temperature monitors. Neighbors Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, and David Bruce of his eponymous winery weighed in. “Draper agreed it could grow Cab. David Bruce said it would never ripen.”

“We bought the property,” Fogarty adds. “We put in temperature monitors. Two years later we started planting. We have real time weather reporting here on the site now, and have for a couple years, so it’s interesting to see the impact storms have here compared to up there [at Fogarty.]” Though the two locations are only a few miles apart they host markedly different meso climates.

Seeking Cabernet

“Dad always wanted to do Cabernet.” Tommy explains. “His reference to start was Napa until he found Ridge.”

Michael Martella, and Thomas Fogarty, the co-founders of the winery, loved Cabernet. In the 1980s it was generally understood that California Cabernet’s natural home was in Napa. Ridge would bring attention to Bordeaux varieties in the Mountains, but even so, it was too hard to source Cabernet from Santa Cruz.

As such, Thomas Fogarty Winery would purchase fruit from the Stag’s Leap district of Napa Valley beginning in 1981, then turning to Yountville from 1986 to 2006. It was an unusual choice for a Santa Cruz winery known for Pinot Noir to make Napa Cab but it was a matter of affection.

Tasting one of the mid-1980 Cabernets with Kandler and Fogarty it’s a lovely, quaffable wine with the giving complexity of an older Napa Cab, but it also feels stylistically distinct from the other Fogarty wines of the same time period.

“We bought Napa Cabernet until 2006,” Kandler says. “Then it didn’t make sense anymore to make Napa Cabernet as a Santa Cruz Mountain winery.” By then the Gist Ranch Cabernet was also available.

The Fogarty team could turn their attention to local fruit but Santa Cruz Cabernet turned out to need a total rethink in approach from Napa Valley fruit.

Getting to Know Gist

Lexington Wines

“Gist is its own project.” Fogarty explains. “We realized it’s not just Fogarty Cabernet, so we started a different label, Lexington.”

Getting to know the Gist Vineyard over several years allowed a new sense of exploration for the Fogarty team. Though Gist Ranch sits mere miles from the Fogarty site, and in the same subzone as well, the Gist vineyard has its own style and perspective. Over time, then, the Fogarty team realized Gist was thoroughly distinct from Fogarty wines.

“We have done a few vintages of vineyard designate Cabernet from Gist for Fogarty but it’s not just Fogarty Cabernet.” Kandler says. “This fruit gives me a whole new energy in the cellar.”

A few years of getting to know Gist Ranch fruit after having worked with Napa Valley Cabernet gave Kandler the advantage of perspective.

“I’ve learned a lot in ten years or so of making wine from Gist Ranch. What my friends do with Napa Cabernet doesn’t translate.” Santa Cruz Mountains offer a distinctive structure and fruit expression from its North Coast cousin.

“When I made wine from Gist like I would with fruit from Napa, Cabs from the site would end up seeming more tannic.” Kandler describes. But Gist Ranch Cabernet turns out to be a great lesson in perception versus actual composition.

“Actually though it’s the acid levels more than that it’s more tannic.” Kandler continues. “The wines taste more tannic than Napa Cab, but if you do analysis the numbers tell you the opposite. It’s more about tannin management. It’s about tannin-acid balance.” To find that proper balance, the Fogarty team went deeper into the vineyard.

Farming Gist

Julio Deras, Vineyard Manager

Julio Deras, Gist Ranch, and Fogarty Vineyard Manager, August 2013

“I don’t know if it is just my Pinot Noir background,” Kandler says, describing his work with the Gist Ranch Vineyard. “But I am really trying to wrap my head around these blocks to understand them. So we micro farm, and micro ferment, and try to learn from the vineyard. As a winemaker you only have limited time and energy. Spend your time thinking about the vineyard, and the vines. The more time you spend thinking about the site, rather than thinking about barrels and yeast in the cellar, the better.”

In recognizing the contrast between different blocks, Kandler’s most important guide rests in Julio Deras, vineyard manager for both the Gist Ranch, and Fogarty sites.

“That’s one of the things that is so great about working with Julio as vineyard manager.” Kandler explains. “He really understands about variability of ripening in one vineyard, and picking based on that. He walks the vineyard and tastes looking for that. Julio has farmed here from the beginning. He has been with Fogarty for 20 years.”

As he continues, Kandler speaks with a deep intimacy of the various vineyard blocks. “We have four Cabernet blocks,” Kandler says. There are four and a half acres of Cabernet planted in the midst of thirteen total planted acres. “Thinking about the two southern blocks, they are more about power and strength. The two northern blocks give more the cassis and the fruit. The thing about these Bordeaux varieties, is it is so much more about blending.”

Tasting through previous vintages of Gist Ranch Cabernet bottled under the Thomas Fogerty label shows Kandler and Deras’s increase in understanding. The wines are delicious but show a more seamless focus, greater structural balance, and a greater sense of easy integrity as they progress. It’s a mastery that comes from greater health in the vineyard, and also a stronger understanding of its peculiarities.

Growing Bordeaux Varieties

By the 2011 vintage, Fogarty and Kandler felt they’d found their clarity with Gist Ranch, and were ready to release them as their own Lexington wines. The first, current release includes three varietal wines — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot — as well as a tête de cuvée, the Apex. (Though in 2011 the Apex turns out to be predominately Cabernet Sauvignon.)

The other Bordeaux varieties of Gist Ranch prove unique as well. “The top portion where the Cab Franc, and Merlot are planted are a little less vigor, and a little more challenged.” Kandler says.

“We have this Merlot growing in sand,” Kandler continues. “It’s really all about structure, so I think it’s pretty unique for Merlot.” Tasting the Lexington Merlot gives pretty red fruit and flower, with loads of structural integrity coupled with a lifting freshness.

The Cabernet Franc too pours unique. “The Cab Franc here actually ripens after the Cabernet,” Kandler says. “We had a stagiaire this year from Bordeaux, and he said, ‘that’s impossible! You pick Merlot, then Cab Franc, then you pick Cabernet.'” The Gist Cab Franc gives just a hint of bell pepper mixed through a melange of dried herbs, hints of chocolate, and electric purity.

Though we couldn’t taste it on its own, Kandler and Fogarty report they’re happy enough with the Malbec that they hope to bottle some on its own eventually too.

I ask Kandler to describe the process of finding his footing with such a unique vineyard site after having worked with the same variety from other locations.

“It’s interesting, in making Cabernet, letting go of Napa as a benchmark,” he responds. “It’s completely different making Cabernet here than in Napa. Then you turn to Ridge because that’s your neighbor, but that is such a specific site, and again really different from here. At some point you have to just turn to your site, and have faith in what you’re doing. That takes some time. I didn’t just come with it.”

***

Tasting Lexington Wines

Lexington 2011 Wines

Lexington 2011 Cabernet Franc Gist Ranch Estate 14.4% 173 cases. Wonderful purity, with an electric hum. Flavors of mixed dried herbs, ground cacao, and just a hint of bell pepper and earthiness. This wine has easy tannin presence, and nice balancing acidity with an ultra long finish. Great for food. Delicious.

Lexington 2011 Merlot Gist Ranch Estate 14.5% 98 cases. Nice brightness, and a sense of brawn without aggressiveness. Concentrated red fruit with an exotic red floral lift and conifer forest accents. Easy, persistent tannin, nice balancing acidity, a saline crunch throughout with graphite accents lingering into a long finish. Intriguing and delicious.

Lexington 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Gist Ranch Estate 14.1% 1223 cases. Lots of freshness, and layers of complexity. Nice concentration, and purity. Light herbal amaro notes mixed through fresh berry, and hints of cassis. Creamy mid palate, nice balance, with a long drying finish.

Lexington 2011 Apex Gist Ranch Estate 14.1% 193 cases. Seamless with a sense of lightness. Mixed herbal lift, with cocoa accents, and fresh cherry with cassis. Nicely done acid to tannin balance on a long drying finish. Will develop beautifully with age, and age a long time.

***

Lexington Wines: http://www.lexingtonwineco.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Di Costanzo Wines

Jr and Massimo Di Costanzo getting ready to film an interview

Jr + Massimo Di Costanzo getting ready to film their interview

Massimo Di Costanzo has been making delicious Cabernet from Farella Vineyards in Coombsville since 2010.

This past weekend, Jr and I met with Massimo, and his wife, Erin Sullivan, to discuss his winemaking, and taste a vertical of his work. I asked Jr to accompany me to interview Massimo herself and create a video from her perspective.

I’m pleased to share it with you here. 

Massimo Di Costanzo, Di Costanzo Wines

The video url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cGCN7sqhuM

Keep an eye out for more work from Jr in the future. 

***

Coombsville Cabernet

Looking up Napa Valley from Farella Vineyards in Coombsville

looking up Napa Valley from the top of Farella Vineyards

“Coombsville is so distinct,” Massimo Di Constanzo tells me. We’re standing at the top of the Western facing slope of Farella Vineyard in Coombsville looking North up Napa Valley. “Coombsville definitely has a signature. That is kind of what drew me to it. People can tell [when they taste the wine].”

Di Costanzo has been making his eponymous Cabernet Sauvignon from Farella Vineyard since 2010, having fallen in love with the site through older vintages of the Farella label.

“The age-ability of the older Merlots, and the other [Farella] wines,” Di Costanzo tells me drifting off for a moment as if remembering the taste of the wines. Then he continues. “I loved that style. It inspired me to want to make wine here.”

Since the late 1970s Napa Valley has steadily built an international reputation on its quality Cabernet. Soil variation, and microclimates of the region offer a range of styles for the grape’s strong frame giving consumers a choice of interest, and winemakers the opportunity to hone their signature through distinct subzones.

In the southern reach of the Valley, Coombsville offers a cooler zone compared to the steady warmth of the Rutherford bench, or the day time highs of Calistoga. The shift impacts the fruit presentation.

“In Coombsville,” Di Costanzo explains, “the wines are more finesse driven. There is good acidity because we are closer to the Bay.”

Though Carneros is regarded as the coolest part of Napa Valley, Coombsville steps just slightly inland from that San Pablo-to-San Francisco-Bays-and-Ocean influence. In Coombsville, the fog still makes its mark but to less degree, allowing enough warmth to ripen Cabernet, enough shift to keep acidity. The difference also impacts soils.

“What’s interesting about Coombsville,” Di Costanzo says, “is a lot of volcanic ash deposits. That’s pretty unique to this area.” The resulting rock serves Cabernet well, giving not only a pleasing ash and mineral cut to the wines, but supporting its viticulture. “Cabernet wants well drained soils.”

So, in 2010, when some Farella Cabernet became available, Di Costanzo took the chance.

“In 2009, I was trying out fruit from a few different vineyards,” he explains. “Then, in 2010, an opportunity for Farella fruit came up. It meant I could do a vineyard designate, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do before, and I had fallen in love with Coombsville. It meant I could pick the grapes, and do less to it to make the wine I wanted to make, which is very cool.”

So, in 2010 Di Costanzo started making Di Costanzo Farella Vineyard Cabernet, able too to launch his wine in the first vintage approved for designation with the then-new Coombsville AVA.

Making Cabernet

Di Costanzo Cabernet

tasting a four vintage vertical of Di Costanzo Cabernet, 2010, 2012-2014

“The only path I saw was to make my own wine,” Di Costanzo explains. “I saved money. I felt inspired to make my own brand. The brands I really loved [and wanted to work with] were too small [to be able to hire someone]. Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs though,” he continues, “and Cabernet is a slow process.”

More tannin driven red wines, like Cabernet, demand time in barrel to age and resolve, but, even with necessary wait, fruit bills still arrive after harvest. Barrels have to be purchased to store multiple vintages, and storage space must be secured. The cost is high, and it takes years before you have wine to release a first vintage.

“You look at the big picture,” Di Costanzo says. “You learn patience. It takes a few years but then once you get there it’s great. You have wine every year.”

The wine Di Costanzo has proves simultaneously prudent and giving, delicious and elegant. His Cabernet shows Coombsville to its advantage offering ample cool fruit flavors, with mouthwatering generosity – perfect for food while still about pleasure.

* Di Costanzo 2010 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 14.3% $85 Wonderfully fresh, and savory, full of mouthwatering length, and supple tannin. This wine offers vibrant aromatics and plush flavor with a focus on acidity. Notes of ash and anise, fresh red fruit, and a dark plum finish. Good structure for aging.

* Di Costanzo 2012 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 14.2% $85 Showing darker fruit expression with fresh floral and herbal accents, the 2012 Di Constanzo Cabernet gives a creamy mid palate with just a bit richer expression than the 2010 ushered forth in a frame of great acidity, movement, and lift. Delicious.

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Di Costanzo Wines: http://www.mdcwines.com

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