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

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

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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

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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

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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: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/20/understanding-orange-wines-2-georgian-amber-wines-pheasants-tears-rkatsiteli-vinoterra-kisi/

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/23/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!

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