Wine Memories (The Personal Recollections Of A Wine Lover)
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The next day, after a brisk outing on the shore, we pilgrimaged to a quintessential New England culinary shrine: Lobster Landing. Tarps enclosed an outdoor seating area featuring plastic tables and chairs on gravel. Wind whipped the tarps, but we stayed cozy thanks to space heaters. The blue sky and salty air were invigorating, and youthful day dreams rocked me like waves jostling a fishing boat in the harbor. As a child, I ate lobster once a year, while visiting my aunt and uncle in New Jersey. This luxurious meal came to symbolize passage across the Mason-Dixon line, everything I wanted for the future.
Bonny Doon Vineyard
I was obsessed with the north east as a young person. If I could just get away from the stinking south with its humidity and rednecks and lack of snow, with its disgusting history of slavery and racism implicating my ancestors and, by extension, me, then maybe that gross sensation of guilt and powerlessness would abate. My 12 year old self was convinced that upstate New York and New England were promised lands. Funny where life takes us, and what memories a lobster roll can trigger.
In Connecticut, lobster rolls are made by dipping chunks of lobster in butter, and nestling them into a toasted bun. The soils are chalky but with more heavy clay than in the Grand Crus of the more prestigious neighboring region. The Grongnets typically block malolactic fermentation with sulfur to preserve the racy, chalky qualities of the wine. As it turns out, this style is perfect for lobster rolls, which require no additional buttery flavor. Of course the nexus of this pairing is the sweet flavor or lobster with the lemony and maritime, seashell-y notes of the wine.
We sipped and ate, glancing from time to time at a family seated at the far end of the make-shift room. They were halfway through a jug of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. All of these places received me warmly, but those stories will have to keep for another day. Wine sales reps always know where to find good food, wine, and coffee. And the best part of all is that every few days something unexpected happens, like riding through downtown Chicago to Lake Michigan on a borrowed bike at 7am.
All I can hope for is a proper balance of calm and adventure, fueled by good food, lubricated by fine wine and friendship. It is a great testament to the generosity of my bosses, Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe, that last Tuesday they took their entire staff on a tour of the Willamette Valley. Kate and Tom have a larger staff than one might expect, and we were a group of 14 people: amply tattooed cooks and servers from the wine bar, our accountant, our assistant winemaker, various individuals whose role in the company remains a mystery at least to me.
In the preceding weeks, this excursion had become lodged in my mind as a sort of team-building exercise, minus a few trust falls, plus a few glasses of wine and a vape pen or two. I realize now that Kate and Tom took us to the Willamette on a gorgeous late summer day to heighten our understanding, to remind us why we do this, and to bring us together before the first grapes roll in. For me, it certainly produced the desired effect, and I found myself at the end of the day immensely proud to call these folks my work family.
Our first stop was at Argyle in Dundee. Like Beaune or Arbois, its main strip features many tasting rooms. Yet the pioneers of Oregon wine were hippies, and there is something beautiful about the way they launched Oregon wine culture, including legislation to keep the city of Portland from encroaching on agricultural land.
Argyle makes 80k cases of wine per year. I am human, and as such harbor many prejudices, one major one rooted in the supposed inferiority of large-ish production wine. If the farming is good, and growth is responsibly managed without cutting too many corners, spoofing too much in the cellar, or selling out to a fickle market, the resultant wine should be as good as it was when the production was microscopic.
Caveat: the bigger the winery, the greater the temptation to sell out and spoof out. I should preface my notes on the Argyle wines by mentioning that we did not try the BSA, nor did we taste their Pinot Noir, whence my less-than-stellar impression of these wines. We began with Blanc de Blancs from the high-elevation Spirit Hill vineyard. Heavy influenced by the Van Duzzer corridor, Spirit Hill is a cool site, and early picking helps guard acidity to make a crunchy and focused base wine. I found this bottle to be quite Champenois with its toast, graphite notes, and mineral core.
Next came the Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Noirs. The block used features own-rooted Pommard clone Pinot Noir planted in The wine was earthy and red-fruited with gorgeous raspberry notes across the palate. However I also believe that Blanc de Noirs is a category in which we find less competition from the old world. There are Grand and Premier Crus in Champagne dedicated to the production of world class Blanc de Blancs, but true Blanc de Noirs wines are still relatively uncommon in Champagne, even in prime Pinot Noir villages like Bouzy and Ambonnay.
A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot, and Meunier, this was a pale salmon colored, easy sparking wine that had little to recommend it intellectually, though it was delicious enough for a warm morning in the sunshine. With additional time on lees, the wine had become creamy and savory. A lively conversation ensued about the difference between pre and post disgorgement bottle age, a topic I never tire of.
We stopped at a gorgeous building at the top of the hill housing J. Carriere is the brain child of Jim Prosser, a laid back yet clearly motivated something gent who lead us through an amusing history of his estate. In the late s, Jim purchased a 40 acre farm at the top of Parrett Mountain called St. Dolores Estate.
In the meantime he sources a bit from Temperance Hill and other top sites. The fruit comes from Temperance Hill, the cool vintage. I fell hook, line, and sinker for its lees-y flavors and hints of oxidation alongside a panoply of pithy citrus notes. Carriere was unmistakable. We lunched at Beckham Estate Vineyard also on Parrett Mountain , which in this case meant a pizza truck specially commandeered for the occasion.
Andrew and Annedria Beckham bought this land with the intention of building an art studio for Andrew. Their destiny took an unexpected turn in mids when they planted vineyards on their property. The estate is 8 acres in total, 6. The Beckhams also raise sheep and pigs. Andrew Beckham still teaches art at the high school in McMinnville. Yet the Beckhams claim to fame is their clay pots, and their clay pot wines. Smitten by the wine, they began to research amphorae. Since the clay pot project began, the Beckhams have continuously worked to craft better vessels from better terra cotta mixtures.
They now furnish several domestic wineries with clay pots, and are essentially the only American manufacturer of hand made amphorae. And so we did what all wine professionals do at the end of packed tasting day, we drank beer. Until recently, I could run away anything. Then something changed. I ran all the way from st and Riverside to Chambers and the westside highway, and still felt like shit. I used to think running made me feel good because the brain releases posi-brain-chemicals during and afterward.
Since Trump, the chaos has been so all-encompassing that running no longer delivers a still place in the turning world. Our current political meltdown has created a sort of ethical-philosophical huevos rancheros in my brain, the primary ingredient of which is utter powerlessness to hinder the march of this deranged administration; toppings include rage and fear.
What does one pair with feelings of chaos and powerlessness? One of them is practicing the piano. Minor epiphany. When looking forward strikes fear, look back. Reliving moments of innocence remember when George W. Bush was the worst Republican we could imagine? Fingers crossed we see that distant light when the mid-term elections roll around …. To me, wines of the Herrenberg are tensile and green, like walking in a dewy meadow with stops along the way to smell the crocuses and pick a few wild blueberries. Now, I prefer the subtlety of Herrenberg. Ambling at a leisurely pace through Le Comte de Monte Cristo in French has also proved effective balm for the politically incensed heart.
As an adolescent I was obsessed with the French Revolution. The historic events are fascinating, and the novel is full of back-stabbing shenanigans, fearless heroes and dastardly villains. The Riesling binge continued with Stein Weihwasser Feinherb. Weihwasser means holy water, and this bottle is truly divine.
I remember this wine as primarily refreshing, with a hint of sponty reduction and a core of zesty citrus fruit. Imagine my surprise when the wine was gorgeously aromatic, marked by the same walk-in-the-meadow vibe as the Falky, but more delicate and lacy, less powerful and ripe, tense and nervy, but soft like wild rose petal and iris, perhaps a hint of lilac …. It seems Ullie is somewhat of a fanatic whose specialty is restoring ancient, barely workable sites in the Mosel that are prohibitively steep and in danger of going fallow because no one wants to work them.
In other words, he specializes in labors of love. The aura of this book is dark and weird, ironic and bleak. Its genius lies in its ability to seduce the reader into pondering the nature and repercussions of freewill. This is one of the first existential novels, and its haunting depths are more resonant to me now than they were when I was young.
I approached this bottle with minor trepidation. Thus there is lots of variance in sweetness between Feinherb wines. For me, Feinherb is often the perfect balance. Many Riesling obsessives take the position that sweet wine is the apotheosis of German Riesling. With residual sugar, the panoply of flavors broadens, the tongue tolerates even more razor sharp acidity, the wine becomes longer lived. And so what if I harbor a quiet preference for dry and off-dry?
Does that make me deaf to the ultimate tones of great German wine? Where the Feinherbs were green and blue, the Kabinett was green and gold, like a ripe grape barely flecked with brown. The palate was relentlessly crunchy and sheer to the finish, which delivered a pinch of skin tannin and a mouthful of rhubarb. I was momentarily transported as I sipped to May 8th of last year, an enjoyable ride through Alsace into Germany with Amanda Smeltz.
I found a clue in my notes from the visit. It was certainly no less delicious than the Falky and the Stein for its sweetness, and with pleasure I corked up the bottle after two small glasses to return to the next day. To those few who made it through this long and meandering post, I say: let us enjoy as much beauty and Riesling as we can in the moment, and if looking forward for inspiration seems futile, look backward, a distant light just might emerge from the mist. The journey stuck with me. In retrospect, the reason this trip resonated so powerfully is that I loved the work.
Happily, Division Winemaking Company came my way, and with them I have the opportunity to work markets across the U. Going on tour with a wine company is not unlike going on tour with a band. National selling differs from regional selling. National sales takes me to major cities, also off-the-beaten-path places in America, and allows me to dip into their wine and food scene for a couple of days. I meet the players and see how the game is played in those markets. I spend time with portfolio managers and sales reps, which is both taxing and fun.
Regional sales made me a specialist: a specialist in New York booze laws and customs, New York restaurants and retail stores, New York distributor portfolios. I was relationship-rich. I do not think one of these jobs is superior to the other. Both have major pros and cons. There are two things that draw me to national sales: the opportunity to travel the United States, and the consequent opportunity to celebrate small and burgeoning wine markets.
On the other hand: adventure! Life in Colorado is fairly staid and calm. It was time to sleep with some cities — including the big mac-daddy of them all: New York, my former home. There were vivid green trees everywhere, moisture in the air, thick, soft light, southern voices speaking syrupy sentences dripping with irony, pimento cheese to feast upon, cicadas chirping loud as hell at night. There are quite a few buyers of New York origin in Charleston, which became a running joke between the sales rep and myself.
Not that having New York wine buyers around is necessarily a good thing, or a sign of progress, but New York buyers do tend to push the envelope, to demand of their local reps the wines they used to buy in the metropolis. The sales rep, I should mention, is a gentleman named Kevin Kelley who is doing a smashing job not just for Division, but also for my former employer Selection Massale, for Portovino, for Jose Pastor Selections these portfolios are all over Charleston , and more.
Kevin is as good a rep as they come. Graft is a new wine shop on King Street run by a couple of cool, young dudes named Miles and Femi. Miles worked as an assistant winemaker for Antica Terra in Oregon, and really knows his stuff.
Femi, too. The booze laws in South Carolina allow these guys to have both and on and an off-premise licenses, so one can drink a delicious glass or bottle with snacks! Their clientele is young and hip like them! Monarch Wine Merchants is a gorgeous shop further north on King Street run by a soulful guy named Justin who clearly has a hard-on for sparkling wine to equal my own.
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My wine bar takeover at Stems was followed by an opera performance during which I sat outside with Matt and Kevin, sipping a flight of Chenin Division, Rochers des Violettes, Franz Saumon , enjoying the warm spring evening, getting tipsy and righteously eaten alive by mosquitos. Then we went to a dive bar that reminded me so much of the dive bars of my youth that an unbidden tear welled in my eye. Out of the city, I was in the rural southeast of my youth: crumby trailers with American flags in the yard alongside busted old hoopties with missing tires, swampy marshlands, Bojangles and Waffle House, poor and rich, black and white, living totally separately, yet right next to each other.
I stopped to pee just outside Hilton Head at a dumpy junction where I was the only white person to be seen. Vestiges of slavery, segregation and racism still alive and well, an impoverished black community adjacent to a wealthy, white golfing town. The rest of the month, bright sunshine beams down on Colorado, melting any snow on the ground, and bathing the rockies in gorgeous light.
Does that make sense? By pretty much any standard, the weather in Colorado is excellent.
From my limited observation, once the thing is legal, it becomes normalized. People who use it are free to indulge in high quality, safe product. Many people asked me when I moved here if I was planning to enter the marijuana trade. I truly believe the pot industry should learn from the wine industry.
Wine bathes in a sheen of luxury and quality; pot, by contrast, has a sort of fog of illegality and moral reprehensibility billowing around it compounded, of course, by Jeff Sessions and other haters in the government. Of course these associations with pot are rapidly changing.
Both drugs can be good or bad depending on who you are and how you use them. The stark reality is that I cannot find a good loaf of bread in this town, but hell, no one eats bread anymore, right? More importantly, there is good 3rd wave coffee here! It looks and sounds as though the yuppification of Fort Collins is in full effect. People are priced out of Denver and Boulder, and are moving to their environs in droves. The grad students and hip professors need somewhere to go besides the tap room and the whisky bar. They need somewhere to go where the college students are not.
On to wine. When I repped in New York, there was always open wine in my life.
I rarely cracked bottles from my personal collection because there was no need. This is a wine I tasted out of barrel in the winter of At that time it was gloriously high acid, hard, and vivid. This bottle had seen six months under my bed in Brooklyn with no temperature control, followed by a journey across the country through frigid temperatures. It was expressive and fresh as a daisy. They are not sous voile, but have that lovely whiff of oxidation that softens the green apple and lemon and stones. Like most of my favorite textured, high-acid whites, this wine grips the inside of your mouth as though coating it with a fine film of stone.
At the end of moving day, I was so tired and so hungry that the only thing to be done was order a pizza. Recalling my friend Raj Vaidya extolling the virtues of Burgundy and pizza, I gave this counter-intuitive pairing a try. I love Burgundy more and more with every bottle. It speaks to the acid lover in me, and I appreciate its rusticity.
Chorey is a rustic appellation, and this is not a wine to coddle you with cloying fruit. Its blackberry brambly with a hint of dusty graphite and fruit seed on the palate. I have neither the money nor the drive to drink the fancier stuff, and so humble Burgundies like this are perfect for me. In other news, I miss my friends in New York.
Relocation to an entirely new place is a lonely business. My aunt gave me this book for Christmas. As much about what brought them to the city as what made them leave, each author brings the reader into her experience of the allure and the heartbreak the city. In the summer of , I was a year into my career in the wine business. Things were coming together … kind of. My mom had cancer, but she seemed relatively stable.
I could not yet discern the writing on the wall, but in retrospect that was willful denial as much as anything. In the summer of , there was one blemish on the smooth facade of my life and it was my ex-boyfriend R, whom I could not get over. I found out that he was moving to New York during a drunken fight we had outside a bar in Chapel Hill. This fantasy involved a one bedroom in Dumbo ha! It was a nice picture, save for the fact that I had no desire to live in New York. The mind is a funny thing. In spite of my ambivalence toward New York, when I found out R was moving, I became intensely jealous of his upcoming adventure, and regretful of our breakup.
The rest is history. In the winter of I came to New York to make a career for myself in wine, and to see what destiny held in store for R and myself. Things went swimmingly for the first seven years or so. I easily found interesting work. If you are willing to work hard and are relatively intelligent, New York will suck you dry. My knowledge of wine continued to deepen. I met the movers and shakers, and eventually became a known entity in the industry.
If you brace yourself against the flow, you become like an ineffective butterfly-er flailing away tons of energy to advance barely at all. During those years I lived in North Brooklyn, having moved to Bushwick when the neighborhood was on the brink of becoming the stylish and affluent hipster paradise it now is. After the financial crisis of , it was easy to find relatively inexpensive housing closer to Williamsburg, so my roommate and I did that … and then finally circa , I found my dream Brooklyn apartment. On the border between Green Point, Williamsburg, and Bushwick, this place was far from all the trains, but miraculously close to everything, tucked away in an industrial wasteland by the BQE.
Owned by an older Polish couple, the building had a charmingly european feel that I was drawn to instantly. There was a spacious deck that proved ideal for warm weather entertaining. The neighborhood was full of the things I like: third wave coffee, over priced sundries, local bakery sourdough. It was my only New York apartment that felt like home, and it took over half a decade to find.
When I lived in Bushwick, R and I still knew each other. We knew each other for many years in one way or another, until finally the differences were too great, and our grievances against one another too numerous to remain friends. Our parting coincided with my move to Green Point, with growing up in general. I could say with finality that my life was no longer the dive bar and the struggling musician. My life was wine geekery, trips to France to meet growers, clients and sales and dining in restaurants that provoked jealousy in my hometown friends.
When I left on my various trips, I felt better; when I returned I felt worse.
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There were many tearful cab rides home from the airport, staring out the window at the ugliness. I want to have the same certainly in my gut that I had when I arrived. Single men in New York in their mids are the worst. None of these guys were bad people, but when I scratched the surface of our interactions, I found a void of both intimacy and integrity for which I was equally responsible.
Not wanting to consign myself to these childish dating rituals, I went back to my imperfect relationship with J, hoping against hope that we could make it work. N, a man from my childhood came back into my life after a seven year hiatus. Then in the winter of , the elderly Polish couple who owned my building in Brooklyn decided to sell. The new buyer more than doubled the rent, and my roommate and I were extruded onto the New York real estate market, grappling with the stark reality of what our salaries got us as in this rapidly gentrifying corner of the world.
A big part of the motivation to be in New York is ambition. Ambition brings us there, and ambition makes us feel like failures if and when we leave. Ambition makes us tolerate the harsh and stressful conditions of our daily lives. The city was a bracing wind that never stopped blowing, and I was a lone leaf slapped up against the side of building, a hydrant, a tree. In order to leave, I had to relinquish some of my ambition. Or rather, I traded it in for a slightly easier life. My priorities have changed a lot over the past couple of years.
I no longer need to taste every wine, to dine at every fashionable restaurant, to rub elbows with celebrity sommeliers and importers and writers. I no longer have something to prove to my industry. I do, however, have something to prove to myself: that I can take my dissatisfaction, my agency over my future, and create change, that I can be happy somewhere else. I moved to Colorado just after Christmas. They offered me an amazing gig helping them grow, traveling the country selling their wines, which I happen to really like.
They offered me the opportunity to learn more about winemaking by working the harvest with them in the fall. I was going to tell you, and one day I will tell you, but something happened this week that cried out for documentation. Last month my boss sent a rather surprising email.
In it he told us that the company was going to begin representing a very high end sherry house called Bodegas Alonso. Apparently of impeccable reputation in Europe and Japan, Bodegas Alonso had decided that New York would be its next market. The email was surprising because … how do I put this? I love sherry, and I drink it often. The bottle is Jura-esque … so is the wine. My boss sent us some information about Bodegas Alonso, which I read several times trying to get my head around the story, and basically told us that for three days in early November we were to drop everything and make sure their importer, a fabulous woman named Jill Mott, was put in front of as many of the best buyers in the city as possible.
Full-disclosure, my reaction was mixed. I think that perhaps what my Cigare experience has tried to teach me is a certain sort of humility. Cigare has always been a sort of performative exercise, and always strongly bounded by my own significant limitations. In the same way that many students learn how to take tests so they can do better on tests rather than actually learn something truly valuable, learning how to make high point scoring wines really only teaches you how to make high point scoring wines.
If you find out that you have acquired a facility for doing this, I believe it would take an enormous amount of self-control not to exercise this gift. Perhaps with the current version of Cigare I had in fact achieved all that I was truly capable of mastering on my own; it was certainly time for a paradigm shift, and like it or not, it has come.
It is now time to say goodbye to an old and loyal friend, and to look forward to the thrill of the discovery and exploration of the new and joyous wines that await. Le Cigare est mort; vive le Cigare! For the record, that is not the case. It is the style which is changing—to an earlier to drink, more approachable, and one trusts commercially far more viable proposition.
Vive le Cigare! Preliminary blends suggest that it will still be utterly delicious, indeed dangerously quaffable, just no longer a vin de garde. I was clever or at least intuitive enough to realize when I started that I was essentially shooting in the dark, working with unknown grapes and with minimal winemaking experience, I really had no choice but to blend different things together with the hope that somehow I could fashion a coherent, reasonably complex whole.
Robert or St. Marvin , doubts might arise as to the ultimate value of your proposition. When someone asks him about why he is intentionally mispronouncing the words, he says that due to the sound distortion built into the recording and re-broadcasting process, mispronouncing the word actually ends up having it heard correctly by the ultimate auditor. No question that our minds are always actively seeking neat categories in which to place the objects we encounter on an ongoing basis; the most interesting wines of course are sui generis and verbally accounting for them strains our ability to adequately describe them.
Cigare Volant has become my sort of go-to trope, if you will. But what could be more appropriate to the Luftmensch that I am? A real pity, as these were absolutely stellar wines. Or in the heart or in the head? Being able to shift significant volume through the retail off-sale channel, that is to say in wine shops, may actually be a big part of the answer. But, because we find ourselves in what perhaps might be termed the Cali Yuga sic , i. There actually have been some recent exceptions to this datum, viz. I think that perhaps the more evocative, poetic, emotional language of the wine itself ideally referential to place and to the natural world makes the far more compelling argument.
The Querry cider and the Proper Claret, likewise, should all have been home-runs—great value, great packaging — but they were not.
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On the side of the wholesalers and retailers who represent our wines, we have not made their life particularly easy with the initiation of so many new products in our portfolio; they have often wondered at times where to find the unifying thread of our sometimes eclectic product line. Remember, BDV was still an utterly unknown winery, with distribution limited to California. So, I published something I called the Vin Gris Digestivo, a monthly publication with jokes, stories and factoids about pink wine, along with a tally of number of extant cases of non-vintage Vin Gris remaining in inventory.
This was pre-internet, so it was a printed letter sent to our wholesale and retail customers. It was frankly a sort of David Letterman-ish thing to do, but it came from a sincere desire to creatively engage customers and shift the damn wine that was languishing in the warehouse. Maybe people had more time on their hands in the day to attend to this sort of foolishness, or I just wore them down, but eventually we were miraculously able to sell all of the wine.
My mother, Ruthie, who sold the wine for a while in Los Angeles, greatly helped this effort. But rather, it seems imperative to try to develop the wit, the sensitivity, to discern the possibilities of certain micro-niches that exist within the larger macro-environment, wherein one might successfully thrive. It has never really felt appropriate to talk about what went wrong, if you will. I welcome the day when fewer words are needed, and the wine can perhaps speak for itself to a much greater extent. I started out in the wine business with the relatively ambitious intention of making The Great American Pinot Noir, which is to say, a wine more or less thoroughly Burgundian in style, as I understood that to be.
I felt it important to signal my intense and sincere francophilia in this earliest effort, so I more or less copied the style of the Louis Latour and Hubert de Montille labels. This was for me my very Introductory Course, Wine Labeling , if you will. The label is so simple and elegant. In fact, in the beginning I just wanted to make simple, elegant wines asnd wine labels, and of course, naively believed I could just let the wine itself do the relevant salesmanship. Boy, did I have a lot to learn! Here are some of the very earliest labels that we did.
Same basic concept as the Pinot Noir, but without the benefit of varietal designation. Thank goodness in those days selling wine was a lot easier to do than it is now. These bottlings, as you might imagine, did not exactly set the wine world on fire. At this time I was beginning to spend some time with a fairly obscure Albanian wine merchant, called Kermit Lynch, who had a little store in Albany, CA.
Kermit was and is a great fan of the wines of southern France, and I had a simple idea that maybe the varieties of southern France would be well suited to the Central Coast of California, a hypothesis that has in fact luckily been borne out. But what to call it? My first thought was that I needed to somehow clue customers in to the fact that was a wine made in the style of a Chateauneuf.
My own pretentions notwithstanding, I had always thought that domestic wine labels pretending to be quasi-French were more than a little pretentious, if not just doonright silly. But remember, it can be a two-edged sword; he who lives by the yucks, can also die by yucks, as I was subsequently to learn at great cost.
We even managed to get some Morse code dots and dashes embossed on the label. The moment I read this I immediately thought that this would make a better label for a faux-Chateauneuf, because it was funnier and a more all-encompassing joke, i. Again, the idea was to reference the context in this case, Chateauneuf , take a classic look but do something slightly subversive with it, with the idea of letting the knowledgeable wine-drinking insider in on a private joke.
I would be remiss in not mentioning that I have been very privileged to work with Chuck House, the brilliant label designer responsible for the Cigare label and so many others. It was a relatively subversive idea at the time to use humor on a wine label; eccentric Walter Taylor in New York was the only one to have tried it and he was generally regarded as a kook.
The customer identifies with the person who he or she imagines appreciates this sort of wine. Joel Peterson is an absolutely brilliant marketer. He somehow was able to capture the quintessence of a Ravenswood Zinfandel wine drinker — someone who will simply not abide wimpy wines. The brand loyalty generated by the sort of identification of the customer with a brand is absolutely impressive. Joel told me that so many people had the Ravenswood logo actually tattooed on themselves — the design is, truth be told, a form of a very powerfully iconic and hypnotic swastika — that he took the initiative to produce Ravenswood logo applied tattoos.
The one thing I do know is that customers sometimes project their fantasies about who you are based on the clues you provide them. Definitely a more disinhibited wine consumer than say your buttoned-down Bordeaux drinker. Definitely like to party, if you will; this label spoke to them. Obviously, Ralph is a genius illustrator, but working with him has had its challenges. Ralph does not take direction well. We produced a number of wine labels that were thought of as being slightly subversive or at least highly irreverent — one of course was Big House, so named because of the proximity of our vineyard to the storied Soledad prison.
For the record, Chuck House modeled the illustration after the Alcatraz prison, which was architecturally a lot more interesting. Big House was far and away our most significant wine brand, and while it was a great commercial success, there is no question in my mind that it may have slightly tainted the perception of the overall gravitas of the brand. It is therefore a bit ironic that one of our most recent packages, La Bulle-Moose de Cigare, features, well, a moose, which seems to be, in fact, a critter.
But, the reality is that when we lined it up side by side with a bunch of other potential label designs, the darn pink moose really stood out on the shelf. This would seem to not necessarily be a terrible thing, but we shall see. My better angels prevailed and we never produced such a label, but part of me suspects that it would have been a great hit, as it were. I wish I could promise you that. I used to imagine that I understood what were the relevant elements for a successful wine — impeccable value, brilliant package, compelling story, being part of a dynamic market category.
The number of factors that bear on the success of a particular brand is now nothing short of staggering. So, Chuck House drummed into me the desirability of showing on the outside of the bottle what a customer would find on the inside, and I think, perhaps in retrospect, I took his words perhaps a bit too literally. We went through a fairly long period of producing what you would call see-through labels, where part of the story was told on the front label and part of the story was told on the inside part of the back label.
So, literalist that I was, the first design brief I gave Chuck was to illustrate an attractive Asian woman on the front label, who, when we observe her, has been reading a very heavy German philosophical tome, Kant, perhaps, and growing drowsy, has just fallen asleep. One then beheld as if through the looking glass, her dream on the inside part of the back label. For the dream tableau, I had asked Chuck to draw a quaint Alsatian or German village, and in the illustration include a bunch of naughty Freudian dream symbols — mysterious flying cigars and a train coming out of a tunnel, that sort of thing.
Chuck and I were set to meet at a Mexican restaurant in Rohnert Park that day to finalize the details of the label. But as fate would have it, the Mexican restaurant was temporarily closed owing to some health inspection issues, and we ended up eating at a Japanese sushi restaurant instead. What we found was that if you pasted the sushi fish on the back of the bottle and you looked through the bottle and turned your head a certain way, it would look as if the fish were swimming around, and this seemed awfully cool.
Anyhow, while I greatly loved the illustration of the quaint and naughty dream vil lage, I thought that the sushi would ultimately make for a more memorable label and perhaps speak to how the wine could be used at table. Alas, we never were particularly successful in selling the wine in to sushi restaurants. When I mentioned that I intuitively moved in the direction of using humor to contextualize my homage to Chateauneuf, I imagined that I would have to use the same strategy of deploying disarming humor to even begin to sell my first case of wine made from gasp Italian grape varieties.
You can see that Chuck and I are not shy about the inspiration we get from other illustrators. Again, you had to look through the bottle to see what the fisherman had caught, which turned out to be a boot in the shape of Italy, a cunning metaphor for the fact that I was myself utterly caught up by the enchanting wines of la bella Italia. But, it is interesting how you can try to play with the form and tweak it, in this case towards representing a more serious and hence expensive wine.
Against all odds, we produced a very good Nebbiolo from our Estate vineyard in Soledad. Good luck with selling domestic Nebbiolo, but we did with this sort of illustration inspired by the commedia del arte, manage to achieve a bit of a fine art quality to the label, which might have theoretically helped us in being able to command a higher price point, were this not such a challenging category. The brilliant label was not able to overcome the structural difficulty in selling domestic Nebbiolo.
You can see that Italians themselves are not immune to playfulness on their labels with the very best of them, such as you see in the Vietti series done by Gianni Gallo, being truly fine art illustrations. I cannot stress how important the quality of the illustration is, however playful the subject, if you are serious about conveying a degree of gravitas about the wines. As I mentioned, Walter Taylor of Bully Hill was the first one to really use visual humor on a wine label. He was in the day generally written off as a deranged nutcase, but as you can see, the wine business has subsequently discovered the pop art form.
While Bonny Doon was once among the very few to produce wine labels in a sort of jocular style, this style has seemingly exponentially proliferated, each trying to outdo the last in terms of the vividness of its visual appeal. I probably should have said this at the beginning of this presentation, but I do sometimes feel that I owe the wine world a formal apology for whatever part I played in helping to unleash this onslaught of total goofiness and questionable taste.
Forgive me for I have Cardinal Zinned. Anyhow, to return to this phenomenon: Perhaps with these sorts of labels, wineries are trying to connect with the easily distracted millennial generation, but it seems like a race to see who can capture the putatively nano-second attention span of the millennial drinker. Obviously, there are many messages that are potentially communicated through the label, beginning with the obvious ones.
There will be no questions on the test about, God forbid, terroir. I have to share with you what was either the very best or very worst Bonny Doon package in history, which we did for our Wine Club. Applying these labels to the bottle required several advanced degrees in topology, but say what you will, the package was quite memorable. And, amazingly after 10 years or so in the bottle, the wine actually came around and tasted quite good. After I sold the Big House and Cardinal Zin brands, I was casting around to try to find a wine that I could produce in reasonable volume that could help us in the all important world of le cash-flow.
I wanted to make a wine that would stylistically remain in the realm of southern France, if possible, and of course, reaffirm my abiding interest in the contribution of terroir or sense of place to the wine itself. I wanted to somehow capture the the sense of place of Oakley and Antioch, CA, and if you know the area at all, somehow this photograph of an abandoned couch in the vineyard very cogently expresses the je ne sais quoi of these ahem charming Delta towns.
The wine itself was wonderful, got great reviews, but many of the wholesalers just hated the label and adamantly refused to carry the wine. It was explained to me that NRA enthusiasm for the label notwithstanding, there were in fact some tender-hearted customers who were not crazy about this particular detail. I still sentimentally love this label, but perh aps irony is dead. Not being one to easily quit, we re-did the label and this is a magnificent effort by the brilliant Steven Solomon, who does the graphics for Terroir Wine Bar in NYC.
Radically changing package designs on a brand that is still teetering is not a particularly great recipe for success, so with a great sense of disappointment, we stopped making this truly worthy wine. Get it? Chuck House loved to make torn paper collages from ephemera — newspapers, train ticket stubs, that sort of thing. In lieu of a capsule, we had a special top-hat created for the package. Occasionally, we would make a wine that was a commercial success, well despite the fact that the label was just not right.
It was an enormous headache to apply and to quality-control on the bottling line. We then changed to this second, self-adhesive label, which I confess I never really liked. It looked quite a bit like a crime scene. This is a series of labels designed by the very talented, mononomial Bascove. Here, I was trying to use the label get out in front of the problem of the non-recognition of these somewhat obscure varieties, to help facilitate the beginning of a conversation.
Attempting to sell wines made from these sort of oddball varieties years ago was in fact a sort of death-defying kind of feat in and of itself. This was a gesture to try to represent or exteriorize the essence of the wine itself on the label. So, we invested a kind of seriousness through the fine art aspect of the label and by historical association. At the same time the enigmatic quality of the label, allows the customer to invest his or her own set of meanings into the illustration.
Why did I use this particular conceit? Proper, cool climate Syrah has such a strong perfume — white pepper and bacon fat — rotundone is the relevant molecule, by the way — in my febrile imagination, I thought of it almost as a vaguely illicit substance or at least one, like certain kinds of cough syrup, heavily regulated by governmental authorities. We hope that our customers appreciate these fine details. In fairness, not all of our labels have turned out to be majestic works of art. Perhaps shamelessly incorporating popular culture into the label does not represent our finest moment, but again, I am often incapable of passing on what I imagine at the time to be an amusing visual pun.
This is in fact my very favorite Bonny Doon label, done for us by the Canadian illustrator, Gary Taxali, and was created for a wine we made for our wine club from the very obscure grape, Freisa. We made no less than three different versions of Freisa and were equally challenged in selling any of them.https://ilmicchuckcen.tk
Wine Memories: The Personal Recollections of a Wine Lover by Lenard Davis
This was for a dry red-style, and as you can see, we juxtaposed these two striking images side-by-side, definitely creating a bit of dramatic tension. Somewhere we had tracked down quotes from Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, writing about how they really felt about the Freisa grape. To tell their story, great producers in Europe of an older generation will typically, maybe stereotypically, rely on the authority of the appellation itself, or the authority of a representation of the domaine or chateau on the label, such as you might find on a classified growth Bordeaux — based on the implicit French article of faith in the immutable hierarchical order of things.
For some of us mineral-head wine geeks, this is just catnip, a major turn-on, but to the average North American Joe Caymus, this in fact can represent a major turn-off. We do, after all, attempt to make some reasonably serious wines from time to time. For example, we have been fortunate to source Syrah grapes from the superb Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria, which has helped us make some fairly grown-up wines.
For wine bottles are magical vessels assembled by magical elves who toil joyfully without complaint for the benefit of the discriminating, gentle consumer. But it is important to remember that creating a memorable and successful package is a collaborative process between the label designer and the consumer. It has been a sincere pleasure to talk to you today. Dark saturated color, with a very rich savory mouthfeel and a preternaturally long finish. This likely makes no sense to the rational mind, but one is struck equally by both the rusticity and elegance of this wine — it is if the refined Burgundian Clement had a rustic cousin, Clem in Provence.
There is no more appropriate wine currently produced on the planet than this one to complement a beef daube. The 30th Anniversary release of this, our flagship wine. A beautiful wine — dark and mulberry in color as in nose. One scents cool loamy earth with suggestions of raspberries and Damson plums. And sure enough, on the palate the wine is also an essence of velours. Very bright, deep ruby color, lots of black fruit, mulberries and cherries on the nose. There is a pronounced minty, almost alpine pepperiness, which is the unmistakable hallmark of Bien Nacido Syrah.
This is profoundly good news for the long-term prospects of this wine and for those who still possess a capacious cellar. Medium, vivid ruby color, with an incredibly lifted, ethereal floral aroma — almond blossoms, violets, sandalwood and wild strawberries, almost, dare I say, Burgundian in aspect. On the palate, a dreamy weightlessness this is a good thing! The kind of wine that drives wine aficionados to drink, being a wine of great charm, elegance and intelligence.
With decanting and time , the wine seems to grow in both body and depth. Certainly one of the most charming Cigares of memory. Aging potential after that: years. Alcohol by Volume: What a difference a day makes! Dark woodsy, fairy-tale nose — juniper berry and crushed pink peppercorns, licorice. It goes something like this: Juiciness, fruit but not confected or overripe , brightness, exuberance, joy, and not least, a sense of savoriness.
We look above all for balance and for liveliness, for vinous qi. This wine is still incredibly young and just wants to jump out of its shoes. But the ripe stems impart a beautiful source of tannin, giving the wine a real spine; they protect it from the cold and unforgiving world it will ultimately have to confront. Have a little bit of everything in your group? These dynamic selections offer a diverse collection of tastes and approaches to suit every niche. Cover all of your bases with this collection. With a subtle and haunting perfume, this wine is all about elegance and restraint.
Rosehips, cassis, fraises de bois, citrus rind, with a wonderfully austere stony finish. A truly versatile option to consider as you drum up your Thanksgiving wine pairings. Le Cigare Blanc remains a great vin de gastronomie , pairing well with rich, buttery dishes. Anaerobically perfected in 20 liter glass demijohns on its lees, this wine represents the peak of elegance in the Bonny Doon Vineyard range. Pairs equally well with simpler fare, like cheese. Wild plums, blackberries, Griotte cherries and licorice of course.
The tannins are soft and supple, and the wine has so much persistence. Benefits enormously from decantation, and is ideally served in large balloon Burgundy glasses. Pair with lamb chop with a minty chimichurri, or even a bit of briny grilled eggplant. These popular selections make for fantastic Thanksgiving wine pairings, and pair seamlessly with a traditional Thanksgiving menu from start to finish. Roasted veggies make a great accompaniment, too! Your roasted turkey will be stunning with Cunning.
Griotte cherry lozenge, lush, full texture, tobacco, and the unmistakable umami-rich flavor of beef bouillon serve well with traditional Thanksgiving staples like Turkey and savory stuffing. Tannic and meaty in the lower registers; peppery, fruitful and delicately floral in the top, all the while showing great balance and harmony.
Perfect with a standing rib roast. Our late harvest Grenache Blanc dessert wine is extremely well balanced with acidity. Coconut, papaya, pineapple, pear and quince paste in the nose, and a suggestion of dried fruit. Pairs effortlessly with pumpkin pie, apple tart, or a course of nuts and cheeses. Different from each other as they may be, these unique selections are sure to bring the family together. Introduce your loved ones to unique and delicious finds that can fulfill even the most particular tastes in the room.
Pairs deliciously with a wild mushroom risotto, roasted turkey roulade, or even smoked duck. A perfect wine to have in your glass on a chilly evening by the fire. Calling all sherry lovers! Its unique production process imparts a distinctive nuttiness with definitively sherry-like qualities. Serve it before dinner as an aperitif, or alongside Mediterranean cuisine. Also pairs well with French onion soup, or even oysters on the half shell. A sweet white wine that can charm even the most delicate of palates.
The first impression is lavender, immediately followed by candied citrus peel and musk melon, with the slightest trace of bitterness. Ideal with a savory course like foie gras or a blue cheese cake appetizer, but also just fine as a dessert wine with a fruit dessert. A bit of spice plays nice when pairing the Moscato Giallo!
Looking for more Thanksgiving wine pairings and ideas? For more wine suggestions, or for more pairing ideas, check out our holiday packs. Not to worry though, as the unanticipated excess will go into our next vintage of Vin Gris de Cigare , which has been continuously a vintage sell out. In the broader scheme of things, this year seemed to fall in line with the more historic pre-drought years. Picking times were about weeks later than they have been in the last 4 years, and quantity was above average.
A couple of heat waves put us on edge for a moment, but just as the Brix measured sugar content in grapes often jump up during the heat, they also have the tendency to back down when followed by cooler temperatures, allowing for a little more hang time, balance, and structure. My friend, Guy Miller, who is a physician, biochemist and deep thinker about the role of electrochemistry in biological systems, walked into the Bonny Doon Vineyard tasting room more than twenty years ago, and somehow in very short order, struck up a conversation about redox chemistry with me.
These are the questions I posed to him, with a bit of annotation:. Great Burgundies after opening will often remain fresh for as long as a week or even longer. Nebbiolo from Lessona grown in very low pH soils that are also very high in iron will go weeks if not months after opening before the appearance of any acetaldehyde.
Limestone soils also with miles of internal surface area represent a strong and recognizable terroir , but it is not really thought of so much as mineral, more as producing wines with greater length and finer perfume. The identification of transient organisms in wine that are not easily plated, is still very rudimentary. Might reduced iron or some other metallic element be the key?
Obviously, fermentation creates highly reductive conditions, so presumably all elements that can be reduced during fermentation are reduced. But under cellar ageing conditions when the wine has re-equilibriated, might there be particular redox couples that are favored that would continue to keep relevant metals in the more reduced state? A winemaker, of course, has a somewhat different trajectory in mind. Perfect pitch in a wine is generally correlated with the creation of certain optimal growing conditions for a given variety — the most ideal set of conditions that will dependably produce a recognizable, distinctive fingerprint, beginning with its typical climatic conditions — absolute number of sunlight hours, likely as well, the arrayal of those hours during the growing season based on latitude, to other considerations of air temperature minima and maxima , soil temperatures, rainfall, relative humidity, degree of cloud cover, etc.
The physical characteristics of the soils are utterly crucial: water-holding capacity, soil texture, clay content, trace mineral content, exchangeable cations and anions, effective soil rooting depth, location of water table, and the physical orientation of the vineyard also crucial — degree and aspect of slope, surrounding geophysical features.
Of course, one cannot overlook the role of the farmer in optimizing the degree of congruity between the plant and the site. His decisions as to rootstock selection, row spacing, row orientation, training method, plant density, degree of thinning both shoot and cluster thinning , harvest date, and other cultural practices are crucial in determining overall grape quality. In warmer, dryer conditions, such as one finds in California, northern and eastern exposures would be absolutely optimal. While there are definitely good outward signs of vitaceous virtue  — small clusters, moderate internode length, moderate vigor and moderate natural crop load, healthy appearance of the leaves, evenness of ripening, etc.
Marilyn without the mole would just be another pretty face, and not the icon. So, you can look at all of the obvious manifestations of grape quality; what are the more subtle qualities in wine that elevate it from very good to mind-bendingly great? I think that it is absurdly difficult and wrong-headed if not impossible to try to figure out how to create the conditions necessary to replicate Burgundy.
What is true beauty in wine, and how can we potentially predict its manifestation simply by observing grapes in situ, and in particular, identify the truly exceptional one or ones in amongst a very large crowd? This is not an easy question to answer at all. Leaving aside the vast chasm of aesthetic differences that separate certain gung-ho wine enthusiasts for the currently prevalent New World style from those of us right-thinkers who value the more subtle beauty and restraint of Old World examplars, beauty in wine is found in a great diversity of wine styles.
There are great or beautiful wines that are highly concentrated — a Sagrantino from Umbria or Tannat from Madiran, for example, densely dark and tannic, heady in alcohol; these can certainly be extremely interesting and satisfying wines, but not necessarily the ones that I reckon are able to express real elegance; they might just have too much to say. And then there are the weightless, pale and elegant wines of the Jura, Liguria and elsewhere, evocative of some of the qualities that we esteem so greatly in red Burgundy. Their elegance is often under-appreciated because what they do, they do in a much quieter fashion.
I believe that there are likely an infinite number of solutions to how to produce a great wine from a given site; what is most interesting to me personally is to figure out how to produce from a range of possible grapes on a given site a wine a wine that absolutely honors the integrity of the site while remaining congruent with my own aesthetic sense. The fact is that grapes that are not grown in the right location generally fail to even connect with an expression of basic varietal character, so further refinement of the search might be gilding the lily. But if one could look perhaps for differences in aromatic potential — what are the necessary precursors needed for complex aromas — that might be quite useful.
A beautiful wine somehow is able to create a dance between these two elements. But note that we are trying to achieve a couple of different objectives and the methodology would differ a bit for the two ends. But the far more complex problem is that we are also talking about breeding new varieties de novo , i. My guess is that it will be very unlikely to discover the new vitaceous Mozart or Einstein, i. Paradoxically, I believe that while the flavor sensation of this grape might be unique, it will likely provoke a kind of haunting recognition. I will know this smell and taste; it will be familiar to me when I smell it for the first time.
How do you foster a brilliant biome in your vineyard? A healthy vineyard biome does not itself make a great wine, but is certainly critical to the optimal expression of terroir ; it would be enormously useful to understand all of the activities that favor this formation. It would be interesting to learn how feasible it is to actually change the vineyard biome.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may be a bit easier to do than changing the gut biome. He invented MOX as a cost-effective solution to taming the very fierce Tannat. Patrick thought about wines the way that Chinese doctors envision living beings, as dynamic systems, with a sort of unique life arc or trajectory. Wines of terroir most typically express a degree of minerality but terroir itself pertains to the unique fingerprint of the qualities of the wine attributable to its place of origin.
As such, I think of terroir as more of a pattern or form than a tangible material substance — seemingly more of a wave than a particle. Withal, a set of growing conditions that allow for the greatest likelihood of the plant achieving homeostasis, e.
The practice was particularly effective in the visualization of the freshness of vegetable produce, but also ultimately was used as a reasonably accurate diagnostic for certain sorts of cancer. Mineral wines are absolutely striking in the density and complexity of the crystals. In general, it seems that white varieties do a better job in transmitting soil characteristics, presumably because they are comparatively less cluttered with dense flavor elements, such as tannin.
Not surprisingly, it is the relatively neutral quality of certain varieties such as Chardonnay, but also Savignin and Chasselas that make them ideal translators. Higher acidity wines a necessary but non-sufficient criterion for ageability with a persistent element of fruit like Riesling are perhaps ideal. But, understanding what makes a given variety or biotype a better transmitter of terroir than another is an enormously deep question, and related to the central mystery under discussion: What is true beauty or greatness in wine?
I would bet that for real complexity, you want at least a certain number of differing biotypes of a given variety. Would be interesting to look for the precursor of this compound. For this, I think that one would have to look to the work being done by parfumiers , and I reckon one would soon be deep into a very abstruse metaphysical conversation. Might the suggestion of decay carry with it a haunting intimation of our own mortality and for that reason create a sense of resonance?
But there is clearly something in the scent of Pinot that we recognize as resonant with the human organism itself; perhaps it carries molecules similar or identical to human sex pheromones? Obviously, the sterile offspring would be discarded, the anomalous funny-looking ones would have to go. I think that for someone who has worked with a grape for a long time, there may exist something like a Platonic ideal. However, maybe after tasting through the fruit of hundreds if not thousands of Timorasso x Timorasso vines, one might well begin to hone in on some of the prevalent if not essential flavor elements.
In a sense, growing grapes is like growing any other fruit or vegetable. The tasks are to get sufficient nutrients to the crop and to avoid disease. If the answer is no, then what winemakers or viticulturists do in the vineyard is nothing more than what good fruit and vegetable farmers do. But most fruits and vegetables will not find their way into a beverage like wine that is unique and distinctive, with aesthetic qualities that can produce extraordinary, life-changing experiences.
And while there are certainly things that are very important in educing the expressivity of a site, hence, complexity in the wine — evenness of ripeness achieved by crop thinning, shoot positioning, etc. How you ended up there is always a great mystery. Having said that, there are certainly some practices, viz. Soils that are rich in minerals as well as those that have a lot of internal surface area are also quite interesting — schistous, calcareous, granitic, volcanic, all quite interesting.
Silty, sandy loam not so much. In much of California I feel that north and east facing slopes are particularly interesting to mitigate the effects of bright afternoon sun and our very dry climate. Fog, alas somewhat of a vanishing commodity, is also particularly useful in preserving finesse in wines. In my own case, I happened to dream about Popelouchum before I actually saw it, and once I saw it, it was clear that it was an incredibly special place.
But this — having a prophetic dream — is not an entirely reliable method for making a vineyard selection. Eliot, is what I seek. Again, the main tenet is that if you are growing grapes that are exceptionally well-suited to the site, you are not compelled to make heroic interventions in the winemaking process — correcting the acidity, potential alcohol, etc. Having said that, I am gradually inching toward the more radical view that a great site such as Popelouchum, for example might enable you to grow a fairly wide variety of grapes successfully with the likely exception of Pinot noir.
I think that as tasters we do get imprinted on certain styles of wine that we continue to return to. In my case this is Burgundy. I find that the wines I am most consistently drawn to are ones that have a sort of weightlessness and power or persistence at the same time. Someday soon , I aspire to make wines that could truly be characterized as vins de terroir, wines more expressive of place, where I will be more focused on revealing the characteristics of both vintage and site, and have a much lighter hand as far as my own stylistic preference.
But great wine, like great music, should touch the emotions. How is that done? Inspiration touches us when it reveals possibilities that we never dreamt of; a great wine does this easily. I also believe — and forgive the slight New Ageyness of this — there is something like the taking of the holy sacrament when one consumes a vin de terroir. The main problem I have with New World wines is that they are largely derivative; they are often at best pallid imitations of more successfully congruent European efforts. An original wine inspires us in the same way that the discovery of a new species of flower or discovery of a new planet inspires us; it makes our experiential world richer.
The problem with New World wines, at least as I see it, stems in part from how we grow our grapes and how we treat our soils; if we use drip irrigation and crop at high levels in less than appropriate climates usually too warm , we never achieve true vins de terroir. The use of herbicides kills beneficial soil microflora that work to extract minerals from the soil.
Not that North American palates are particularly keen on wines that express soil characteristics or vintage variation. A vibrant microbiology also seems to inure plants against disease and untoward stress. Growing grapes on the appropriate site largely obviates the need for heroic interventions — acidulation, dilution of alcohol, etc.
Biodynamic practice relies to a great extent on the cultivation of imagination and intuition — what is precisely the right preparation to apply and when should I apply it? Being a successful biodynamic practitioner is, I believe, a lot like being an acupuncturist or homeopath; you are guided in large part by your intuition, but it is primarily based on your acute powers of observation. I think that most of the ingenuity is a matter of figuring out how to do the right thing for the grapes in a way that is not insanely cost-prohibitive.
Farming organically or biodynamically in a successful manner is often a question of managing your calendar thoughtfully and executing things like weed control or mildew control in a timely fashion. So maybe as much organizational skill is needed as ingenuity. I have recently come across an Italian fellow, who is considered more or less the grand-master of pruning.
He is in some rarified viticultural circles considered a great celebrity. But, this technique is based on very, very careful observation not what one typically finds with many pruners as much as on creativity or imagination. So, his technique is really getting closer to an I-Thou relationship — with a vine! Many winemaking families spend countless centuries in this discovery practice. And it goes without saying that we are living in a very dynamic world engendered by global climate change, a phenomenon which itself is endangering the expression of terroir. Arguably the most interesting wines I ever made were in my earliest vintages when I understood essentially nothing, but I was somehow more connected to the Universal Intelligence.
In this case, I was able to achieve that because I truly was a Beginner. Years ago, it was clear that a certain block of Loureiro grapes in our vineyard in Soledad were so behind schedule in ripening that there was absolutely no possible way they could potentially ripen during the growing season. This was already now early October and they were really far off from ripening. I directed my colleague to drop half of the crop on the ground immediately to accelerate the ripening process of the fruit that remained.
The fruit that stayed on the vine did pick up its ripening pace and we harvested it in late October at maybe 21 Brix barely, just limping over the finish line. In fact, these stragglers, which were just showing the faintest traces of dehydration, were sweeter than the fruit we had harvested from the vine and had very intense flavor development. We ended up picking them up off the ground and using them in the final blend; the resultant wine was absolutely stellar.
Wine language has grown pretty impoverished, I think, becoming more Babel-esque with every passing year. If you say, hypothetically produce a wine that is rather different than anything else out there, how do you begin to communicate a sense of its value? Typically these features spontaneously arise from great terroirs that are farmed thoughtfully. You can compose a wine by blending through trial and error and some intuition with the intention of creating or better, discovering some of these aesthetic elements, but a blended or composed wine will very seldom have the same degree of integrity and seamlessness as a wine that is naturally complex without artifice.
One most interesting results is that we found that the imposition of a strong stylistic element, such as what one achieves by the deployment of glass demijohns — this adds a lovely textural element as well as a strong savory element, complexity, and generally works to better integrate a wine, but counter-intuitively, seems to work best in wines that have relatively less dense flavor profiles, i.
It seems that denser wines carry their own strong center of gravity, and just need to be handled a bit more circumspectly. The amount of subjectivity that exists in evaluating a wine is just staggering and truly humbling, and one must be systematically on guard as far as making decisions based on anything like single impressions.
You need to taste a wine over and over to really get a sense of what it is all about, and where it is going. If readers to wine journals only knew…. I think that a wine that can engender the desire in the taster to thoroughly let go, as it were, is one of very rare beauty. We are getting set to launch a fairly ambitious crowd-funding initiative in a few short days, 1 which will allow us to continue to establishment a very unusual vineyard, Popelouchum, as I call it, in San Juan Bautista.
And of course, if we get sufficient investment, we can really make this thing come to fruition a lot sooner than later. When I first purchased the property in San Juan Bautista, it was really with the somewhat generalized notion of producing a wine of place, or vin de terroir, as I understood that term to mean. I had no choice but to go for it. Allow me to share with you a bit about how I make decisions, or more accurately, how I imagine I make decisions, what I tell myself about how I make decisions.
On some level, this is part and parcel of a short of characterological deficit, the inability to commit, a tragic weakness that has plagued me as a young person and for many years thereafter. But, it does seem to sometimes happen that a notion will present itself with an unusual degree of luminosity, clarity and coherence, and in some very real sense, I just know.
Things tend to get a bit muddled in dreams. I would work out the finer details later. As I am doing to this day, and will likely continue to do so for quite some time. Planting a vineyard from scratch in a new viticultural area with a new methodology and a brand-new set of new grape varieties poses a whole set of unique challenges. If you make a mistake in the set-up of the vineyard, it may take you at least five or ten years to realize your error, and then another five or ten years to rectify. I had thought — at least up until last week — that I had a pretty good plan in place.
There are two leading commercial rootstocks that seem to have very good drought tolerance, P V. What else do we possibly talk about but Grenache? It turns out that she has had very good luck growing Grenache on yet another rootstock called A V. She feels it is especially well suited for Grenache, and finds she is able to get by with just one baby irrigation annually; she likes it because of its banzai-ing effect on what is otherwise the Brobdingnagian nature of Grenache, a somewhat zaftig variety, to put it delicately.
It dawns on me that we are already growing own-rooted Grenache in our nursery, with radically close spacing, and very minimal irrigation. The own-rooted vines pretty much approximate the vigor of vines grafted on R, and if they can go without water without shutting down, that will be pretty good evidence that we might be able to space them a lot closer than we imagined.
Somehow, however, the universe seems at least some of the time to catch me before I go splat, and provide some just-in-time answers. Which brings me to the next category of grapes I want to grow: oddball and distinctive varieties that will uniquely express themselves at our site. Put another way, to simply grow grapes that will produce wines that I like passably well is just not going to cut it. I want to make wines that at least have the possibility to thrill me doon to soles of my shoes.
What wine makes me deliriously happy? Well, that would be great red Burgundy, of course, but it is of course impossible to make red Burgundy in San Juan Bautista, much less anywhere outside of Burgundy, France. But the fact remains that Burgundy haunts me and others, to be sure in a way unlike any other wine does.
My error was in imagining that I might achieve a sort of Burgundian jouissance by growing Pinot noir somewhere in California but where, oh where? It has taken me almost thirty years to let go of that idea and to come around to the idea that what I might more realistically aspire to create is a wine that somehow does some of the magical things that Burgundy can do, but maybe do other things as well that give it its own unique charm.
How might one even begin to express the elusive Burgundian magic, but to mumble something about its sometime ability to take you through the other side of the Looking Glass, the crazy thing it does with dimensionality on the palate, as it dramatically changes from the softest spoken, quietest Method-schooled actor, leading into a Pacino or Nicholson-stylized explosion? I, am likewise, pretty crazy about that grape. I come from that area Liguria , in fact. So my new friend, Federico, and I shared a bottle of the Dringenberg and over an hour or so, observed that the wine underwent what could only be called a Burgundian unfolding.
One solution is to plant more Pinot.