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Meeting with Mike Roth

Mike Roth

Mike Roth and I are drinking wine at sunset. Behind him the hillsides are colored purple and ribbon clouds echo the color. We’re sitting outside though it’s January. The year has forgotten to turn cold and trees are already early-blooming in town.

Earlier this year, Roth changed directions. He stepped away from his role as winemaker at Martian Ranch. Under Roth’s direction, the label became a darling of the wine geek community, celebrated by Jon Bonné in both The San Francisco Chronicle, and his recent book The New California Wine. Roth’s style there revealed a focus on freshness, delicacy, lower alcohol levels, and the honesty of vintage variation.

The move has given Roth the opportunity for more time with his family, wife Karen, and boys Eli (11) and Oliver (8). It’s also pushed him into the chance to express his views of wine unhampered through his own singular project. Next month he will launch his own new label, Lo-Fi. The project brings Roth’s focus on freshness front and center, driven by his view that wine is what he calls “a proletariat drink,” a beverage meant for the masses.

Tasting Wine with Mike Roth

Mike Roth

My goal in meeting with Roth is less to talk about his history as a winemaker — that story has been told — and more to develop a clearer sense of his palate. I ask if he’ll choose at least three wines he really loves for us to taste together, and talk about. I want to see his new project, Lo-Fi, through a broader framework — Mike Roth’s views of wine — and recognize it there.

I ask Roth to tell me how he started in wine, winding eventually to the story of our particular bottles. “I wanted to be a chef originally, so wine was still that taste kind of idea. I’m from New Jersey, and my mom is from Finland, so not really a hot bed for wine. I found it through food.” Roth’s original connection to wine shows in how he wants to enjoy it now as well.

In telling me how he chose our bottles, Roth first sets up the context. It’s not enough to tell me about each bottle. He wants me to understand where he’s coming from. Roth admits too that the bottles were less an idea of life long favorites, and more about what was appropriate for the evening.

As we taste along, we’ll be snacking with food. “I think of everything as accompaniments. I don’t drink a lot of wine on its own. If I just want alcohol I make myself a cocktail. I think of wine in terms of food,” he says. “I think wine is the ultimate condiment. It makes the food you eat taste better, the conversation more interesting, and the people you’re with more attractive.”

The Question of Beauty in Wine

Tasting with Mike Roth

We begin our tasting with a Loire Valley white made from one of the unsung grapes of that region — Francois Cazin’s Le Petit Chambord made from the grape Romorantin. “I thought with cheese and everything, the rillettes, it would be fun.” The wine tastes to me like Spring sun — bright and full on the palate, a touch musky still from rains, with a hint of sweetness leaning towards summer. It’s meant to get you excited for what’s to come.

We’re both quiet for a minute. “It has a neat kind of honey mushroom thing.” Roth comments. “It’s got that flinty, musty kind of character. That is different. It’s not the standard.” Roth reveals he originally found the Cazin in the midst of a Chenin kick. He purchased the wine assuming it was Chenin, then discovered something else inside the bottle. “The thing I like about Chenin is the same almost oxidative, nutty, musty, waxy character.”

The conversation about Cazin’s Le Petit Chambord rolls into a discussion of Roth’s thoughts on beauty. He refers to the 1970s and the then-common idea of an actress like Bo Derek as a beautiful standard. The poi, Roth says, was that she was naturally beautiful. It was something in her uniqueness that elevated her aesthetic.

Roth then reveals his frustration. “When did the idea of beauty go from a real, natural beauty as the perfect 10 to the idea of beauty as perfection through plastic surgery? Wine in some ways has gone through a similar change — with a focus on perfection, and being too polished.” The result becomes a sea of wines that taste almost the same.

The discussion leads to Roth considering the idea of benchmarks in wine. A lot of California winemakers reference analogs in known regions such as Burgundy as a claim to legitimacy in their own approach. Doing so keeps the attention always elsewhere, instead of looking at what California can do. Roth returns the focus to California’s own history. It leads to discussion of his time in Napa Valley.

“I worked at Grgich, and at Saddleback. I am proud I learned from Gus and Nils. Grgich had this real idea of consistency. He made that 1973 Montelena in the Paris tasting. We could say he made that same wine in terms of quality every year.”

Winemaker Gus Brambila worked alongside Mike Grgich first at Montelena, then moved with him to Grgich. Roth worked with Brambila at the Grgich facility, inheriting insights from both mentors. In discussing the work of Brambila, I feel Roth fill with a sense of calm confidence. “As a winemaker in California, we can hold that up as a benchmark. I learned a lot there.”

I ask Roth what he learned through the experience. He returns again to the point of consistency, naming too Nils Venge at Saddleback, and Grgich Oenologist Gary Ecklin, then keeps his answer simple. “If you keep your cellar clean, you don’t have to add a bunch of things to your wines. Everything they did was so clean.”

The Peasant’s Beverage

Mike Roth

We open the second wine, Cedric Chignard’s Fleurie Les MoriersWhile Roth pours I ask him again about his self-espoused proletariat ideals. “I always wanted to work in a trade. My dad instilled that idea in me. I always thought, if you weren’t tired at the end of the day, you hadn’t worked. Wine is a craft, a trade. It captures that idea.”

We taste as he talks. The wine is a little tight on the palate but it carries that carbonic floral lift through the nose, and an easy juiciness. “A wine like this is meant to be thirst quenching and delicious.” Roth says. “I am not knocking people that want to drink or make show stoppers. I love fresh wine. It’s lower alcohol, and just has a kind of freshness to it. The idea that its just simple, but it’s better than water or soda.”

He smells the wine again, then continues. “I think the perceived pretentiousness of wine in this country goes against it being enjoyed as a beverage.” Roth says. “I like the idea that wine is a peasant’s beverage.” Roth references the history of winemaking in Europe. People that worked the land were often paid with a portion of the crop. Wine, then, was made in a workers’ back yard as a portion of their food for the year. The rustic simplicity of that Roth admires.

Keeping Wine Lo-Fi

Mike Roth

Finally we open Roth’s own wine — an unlabeled bottle that’s been winking at me from across the table since we sat down. I tell Roth that the most thrilling thing to me is an unlabeled bottle of wine — who knows what treasure could be inside.

In venturing into his own project, Roth is beginning with a small production release to come out this winter under the name, Lo-Fi. The Lo-Fi wines he describes are classic to the aesthetic he’s revealed through his tasting — light touch winemaking, fresh focused, meant to be drunk young, affordable, for food. There is even a field blend, the ultimate expression of taking grapes as they are.

The Lo-Fi wine Roth has opened is his 2012 Carbonic Cabernet Franc from Coquelicut Vineyard, unsulfured, and made in neutral wood, then bottled by gravity. He makes sure the bottle is good then pours me some. As I taste I can feel Roth quietly smiling, that calm confidence glowing from him again. I nod about the wine, it still on my palate as I push it through with air. The wine is full of dark floral lift, and flowered herbs.

Roth nods back, “if you put it in a blind flight of Cab Franc, I don’t think you’d pick up that it’s a California wine.” It isn’t that Roth wants to deny the California piece. He celebrates benchmarks and possibilities of his state. It’s that he’s excited to have made something delicious that is also a bit surprising — Cab Franc, a grape of natural beauty.

***

Lo-Fi Wines will be releasing this winter in small quantities.

***

Thank you to Mike Roth for making time to share wines with me.

Thank you to Karen, Eli, Oliver, and Jason and Angela Osborne.

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

The Seven Percent Solution: 17 Wineries, Crazy Grapes

Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg did a bang up job hosting a media and trade portion of the upcoming 7 Percent Solution wine tasting (Sarah even created a fantastic book listing wineries, wines, providing note space, and a clever business card holder). The public tasting occurs Saturday.

The event celebrates wines from 17 wineries in California developing their portfolios with lesser known, lesser planted varieties. As the story goes, approximately 93% of the vines in California rest in only 7 grape types. The 7% Solution brought together wines with a focus on the remaining few.

There wasn’t a bad wine poured, and there were a few excellent wines too. It’s hard to choose favorites in a group like that. Some wineries shared unreleased wines, others older vintages and first tries, and a fair number of unicorn wines appeared–wines of such small production they’re spoken of but seen only by the pure of heart that truly believe in their existence. I believe.

RPM’s 2012 Gamay was one of my genuine favorites. Grown in pink granite, there is a nerviness to this wine that accents its flavors beautifully. The RPM Gamay is all about subtle complexity pulsing through beautiful tension. It gives a richness that washes over the mouth with just a pinch of traction through the finish, and beautiful aromatics.

The 2012 Abrente Albarino from Bedrock and Michael Havens remains a favorite (I had enjoyed it too last weekend). Where previous vintages were perhaps softer in the mouth, the 2012 brings in 40% fruit grown in limestone to balance the rich flavors of the Stewart Vineyard with the tension and zing of the Watson. It’s a gorgeous, stimulating combination.

Ryme Cellars woos me with their 2010 Aglianico, a wine others commented may be their best vintage of that grape. The dark fruit comes through with a light bodied presentation and well integrated spice to offer complex freshness.

The Forlorn Hope 2011 “Que Saudade” Verdelho really sings with a fresh, feminine, musk I can’t get enough of–all outdoorsy, pert, and interested, with great viscosity and range of flavor.

The just released Dirty & Rowdy’s 2012 Semillon with focused earthiness and pleasing texture was being poured on Wednesday out of magnum. It’s a treat.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find the Stark 2011 Viognier, a wine that absolutely fights its fruit’s stereotypes to give great concentration and texture on the palate with a long nervy finish. Two Shepherds’ 2011s are drinking perfectly right now so drink while you can (I think they’re about sold out but he’s pouring them). broc cellars 2012 Picpoul still has that surprisingly fresh-complexity of the 2011 but with a richer flourish.

Scott Schultz is pouring his new whites for Jolie-Laide. They’re a nice pair of Gris wines giving fresh spice in the Pinot Gris, and textural focus in the Trousseau Gris. But you’ll have to keep an eye for an opening as he pours. (All the girls were deservedly loving his table.) The Idlewild 2012 Arneis was all seering, pretty, and textural with layers of flavor. They’re one of the labels that helped get the event started too, so be sure to thank them.

Best of all, the 7% Solution was just full to the brim with good, and super fun people.

Here are some photos from the event.

Ryan, Hardy, Pax

Ryan Glaab, Ryme Cellars; Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy; Pax Mahle, Wind Gap

Hardy, Chris, Nathan, Megan

Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy; Nathan Roberts, Arnot-Roberts and RPM; Megan Glaab, Ryme Cellars; Chris Cottrell, Bedrock Wine

Forlorn Hope, Dirty & Rowdy

Forlorn Hope Wines, Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines

William

William Allen, Two Shepherds

Pax, Mick, Nathan

Pax Mahle, Wind Gap; Mick Unti, Unti Wines; Nathan Roberts, Arnot Roberts, RPM

Broc Cellars

broc cellars Picpoul

Sam

Sam Bilbro, Idlewild Wines

Stark

Stark Viognier

Matthiasson

Matthiasson Refosco (one of the unicorns)

Raj, RPM

Raj Parr, RPM

Raj and Duncan

Raj Parr and Duncan Arnot Meyers, RPM

Scott

Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide

***

Thank you to Pax Mahle. Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Thank you to Kevin, Sarah, and Sam.

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

Rochioli Winery & Vineyards: Meeting Joe Rochioli, Jr. and Tom Rochioli

 

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I was lucky enough to meet with Joe Rochioli, Jr. and Tom Rochioli, and receive a tour of Rochioli Estate. Tom drove me through the property along the Russian River, then let me taste several wines from their substantial portfolio. Because Tom ferments each block separately, he is able to taste the unique differences between what are otherwise uniformly planted and comparable sections of the vineyard. The soil diversity, as well as clonal diversity that typifies Rochioli Estate, along with the dedicated vineyard management generate quality fruit that have made the Rochioli Vineyards, and their wines highly regarded, and award winning.

More on the Rochioli family story, and their wines tomorrow!

***

Regarding Rochioli 2: A Life in Wine, Joe Rochioli, Jr.: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/20/regarding-rochioli-2-a-life-in-wine-joe-rochioli-jr/

Thank you to Tom Rochioli, and to Joe Rochioli, Jr.

Thank you to Kanchan Kincade.

Thank you to Dan Fredman.

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

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Sparkling wines receive a rating that indicates the sugar content (that is, grams per liter), or sweetness of the wine. The most popular of these is the “Brut” (meaning, dry) rating, which is also commonly considered to be the most food friendly.

The Veuve Devienne falls in the the “Sec” rating for sparkling wines, indicating it has a range of 17-32 grams of sugar per liter of wine. This wine does well with the sec style, offering a smooth, very pleasant mouth feel. While this wine certainly falls outside the popular Brut category, it is an easily drinkable, not too sweet style sparkling.

If you’re in the Flagstaff area, you can find this sparkling wine for an affordable price at The Wine Loft, Flagstaff, AZ

Copyright 2011 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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This is truly a special sparkling wine. The me’thode ancestrale used to create this sparkling wine is considered to be older than me’thode champenoise, the approach taken to generate what we understand as a classic champagne style sparkling wine. Me’thode ancestrale creates a softer mouth feel, with fuller body.

From the Savoie region of France, this sparkling wine uses a mixture of primarily Gamay grapes, with a touch of Poulsard, a beautiful combination. Enjoy!

This wine is perfect for Autumn (though I’ll happily enjoy it all year), and, for those of you planning for the U.S.-American Thanksgiving Holiday, I recommend considering Patrick Bottex’s “La Cueille.”

For those of you in Flagstaff, AZ, USA, this bubbly is available at The Wine Loft, Flagstaff, AZ.

Copyright 2011 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com