Happiness is Picking Community Over Competitive Edge

Around a month ago, just before the Paso Robles masterclass kicked off here in New York City, I was able to hear the story of renowned importer Robert Haas, who passed away earlier this year, as told by Robert’s son, Jason Haas. We had a small group discussion about how Jason’s grandfather owned Lehmann Bros., one of the first Manhattan retail shops to receive an alcohol sales license after Prohibition, and which eventually became Sherry-Lehmann; when Jason’s father graduated from college in 1950, he was sent to France to seek out producers that could be sold in the family’s retail store. In 1966, Robert Haas, who became an advocate for the wines from Alsace, Burgundy, and the Rhône Valley, started a relationship with the Perrin family, owners of Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape (in France’s southern Rhône Valley) that would become an important partnership with Tablas Creek Vineyard, in Paso Robles, and directly increase the quality of US wines made from Rhône grape varieties.

Paso Robles

Winemaking and wine grape growing actually started in the Santa Margarita Ranch area (today part of the Paso Robles AVA) in 1790 by Franciscan Friars. Eventually, in 1983, Paso Robles became an AVA (American Viticultural Area) and it was one of the largest un-subdivided AVAs in California, over 600,000 acres (243,000 hectares) with 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares) planted with vines, until 2014 when it was officially declared to have 11 sub-AVAs. The declaration of these already locally known sub-AVAs was a big step in regards to publicly acknowledging the diversity of sense of place (aka terroir) as well as brought to the forefront that there were a multitude of wine specialists in Paso Robles excelling in various types of varieties and styles.

I have to admit that from my own perspective, I knew very little about Paso Robles, and I was more familiar with the nuanced differences of Burgundy villages and Barolo communes as my past New York City wine experiences had a major focus on European wines. But Paso Robles, which is dead center in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, not only has a range of soils (over 30 parent soil series) with it having the most amount of calcareous and siliceous soils in California but it also has some of the most extreme swings in temperatures, with a 60 degree swing happening just a week before the masterclass, 104 F (40 C) to 42 F (5 C); these factors ripen the grapes to the point where one can “taste the sun and fruit” yet retains the acids for freshness and allows for longer hang times that helps with phenolic ripeness of the skins and seeds. The Paso soils (majority calcareous, siliceous and clay) contribute to a high pH that helps to produce quality wine, in some instances, such as Giornata’s Nebbiolo growing smaller grape bunches that are like the ones produced in Piedmont. The top Paso Robles wines express an aromatic and textural complexity that are breathtakingly enticing in their generosity and overall sense of finesse.

Despite only having 6% of vineyards planted with old Zinfandel, Paso Robles is still seen by many wine drinkers as a place for big, lush Zins. But there is so much more to Paso, such as Italian wine specialist winemakers like the producer Giornata. 49% of the area is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and offers bang for buck value when it comes to well-balanced Cab wines (example Ancient Peaks Winery Cabernet Sauvignon retailing for $22), and it is the heartland of American Rhône varieties due to the great investment that Tablas Creek Vineyard placed into the area.

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek Vineyard was established in 1989 (included in the Paso Robles AVA in 1993) by the father of Jason Haas, Robert, and the Perrin family, the owners of Château de Beaucastel, as stated above. As one can imagine, many people in the wine world wondered where the eminent importer Robert Haas and the iconic Perrin family would lay down roots in California when their search became known. Jason said that even though the world was shocked when they picked Paso Robles, no one was more shocked with the outcome than the Haas and Perrin families. At first this dynamic partnership thought Sonoma would be the ideal place for their New World wine endeavor but when they discovered the calcareous soils of Paso (also found in the sub-soils of Châteauneuf du Pape), as well as the opportunity for dry farming (Paso soils absorb winter rainfall for distribution during the growing season), and Paso’s extreme swings in temperatures which are ideal for late ripening Rhône varieties such as Roussanne and Mourvèdre, they knew Paso was the idea place for them. And despite having hotter days than Châteauneuf du Pape, Paso Robles has cooler nights and so the overall average temperature in Paso is slighter lower.

Raw Material at the Heart of Quality

As the seminar progressed and I kept hearing other Paso Robles wine producers talking about using cuttings from Tablas Creek to start their vineyards, I had to ask Jason Haas how many producers used cuttings that were originally brought over by his family’s winery. Jason first started off, this slight detour in the conversation created by myself, by saying that his father and the Perrin family members knew that the biggest thing holding back quality wines based on Rhône varieties in California was the raw material. And so Tablas Creek first started a grape vine nursery before they started to actually make wine. They brought in 6 cuttings of each type of clone (as that is what the US government allowed for mandated quarantine reasons) and then they reproduced these clones to plant for themselves. Well, once US producers heard about their superior clones from the motherland, they wanted to purchase them. A conscious decision was made by Jason’s father and his partners that they should not make these clones proprietary, despite potentially giving them a huge competitive edge in the marketplace, as they wanted the quality bar of US Rhône wines to significantly improve across the board. Over the last 20 years, the Tablas Creek nursery has sold 5 million grape vines to more than 600 vineyards up and down the West Coast, from Paso Robles to Washington State.

Competitive Edge Over Community

When we choose to have a competitive edge over community, despite being able to superficially thrive as an individual, we betray our inner life, as the inner life of a person’s spirit cannot continue to exist if there in no connection to community.

I know that to be true because even though I had no resources, family, or anyone to teach  me survival skills when I first came to New York City when I was 18, I immediately realized that the diverse, lower income community that I lived in would have my back – just like I would have theirs. And please don’t get me wrong – I would never recommend any 18 year old to do what I did, but in my case I had no choice, but it was an incredible lesson in the idea that life is so much more fulfilling when you realize that you will not end up on the streets because of your neighbors, and most importantly, that most of us need very little to make us happy when we have a community to support us.

Now, 25 years later, I find myself as a struggling middle class person running into too many people who seem depressed because they are desperately trying to find validation through an outward success of being in the top of their field while at the same time feel disconnected to those around them. Please don’t take these statements as judgment because I can see how the world around us forces the aspirational middle class to base their worth on achievements, and what we own in comparison to others; that has little to do with inner values and ethics, and all of us fight every day to find a sense of worth in a world that subliminally tells us that we are worthless.

“Alone, we can do so little, together, we can do so much.” –Helen Keller

Amongst the fierce turmoil in the US, I still feel proud of certain aspects of our society. We certainly take the idea of freedom to the ultimate level… it can be wondrous at times… and horrifying at others. But I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today, especially considering my lack of family background, if I wasn’t in the US. But where the United States of America is failing many of its citizens is in its lack of community in pockets throughout the country… community allows us to trust that no one, or no company, will cross boundaries in their desire for success where it becomes detrimental to the society as a whole… but ideally this is done by the free will of others knowing there is only one type of success – uplifting the community.

This is something that Tablas Creek knew from the beginning and still continues to place their energies into… there is a reason why the blog on their website has won many awards (I have been an avid reader for years) – because they openly share their knowledge, and passionately wave the flag for Paso Robles. When we try to climb every mountain ourselves we set ourselves up for disaster… but when we realize that there are many mountains we cannot climb, and if we can at least assist others in those achievements, we will always be successful.

 

***Top Photo Credit: Tablas Creek Vineyard

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Wines Tasted at Paso Robles Seminar on October 2nd, 2018

SRP means Suggested Retail Price

2017 Giornata, Fiano: (SRP $30) 80% Fiano, 13% Trebbiano, and 7% Falanghina. This wine was zesty from first sniff with citrus peel and intensely wet stones that had peach pit on the palate with lots of bright energy and a slightly bitter finish, as one always expects with Italian whites.

Co-owner Brian Terrizzi was there to talk about his winery and he said that once they got some publicity for producing wines made from Italian varieties, many Paso Robles grape growers who grew Italian grape varieties started coming out of the woodwork to approach Brian and his wife Stephanie (who manages some properties that have Italian grape varieties) about purchasing vineyards. This lost Fiano vineyard wasn’t really being farmed as it was part of a divorce settlement. Brian said he wants the variety and place to speak for itself so he does very little to the wine with minimal amounts of SO2.  A small percentage of Trebbiano and Falanghina are added to top it up because the Fiano is a small property. They sell out of this wine really quickly – only 70 cases are currently made and they are hoping to increase production by a couple hundred cases.

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit de Tablas Blanc: (SRP $45) 55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc and 17% Picpoul Blanc. I have tasted the Esprit de Tablas wines many times as they are the iconic wines from this area that are stylistically like the great Château de Beaucastel wine, yet with more of a Paso edge. This white blend was multidimensional with honey covered juicy stone fruits, white flowers and nutmeg with a fleshy body that had a shock of electric energy on the finish.

Based on Château de Beaucastel Roussanne wine (honeyed, rich) yet with more acid and brightness added by the Picpoul. This wine is treated like a red wine and fermented in 1200 gallon size fermenters (foudres aka large wooden vats), then bottled for a time, and then it goes back to barrels to age. Tablas Creek is certified biodynamic and organic and Château de Beaucastel has been organic since the 1960s.

-2015 Thacher Winery, Cinsault: (SRP $42) 100% Cinsault. Such a treat to taste a 100% Cinsault, especially when it is fermented as whole grape clusters because it illustrates how this grape can be the “Pinot of the Desert”. The nose was so alive with sweet red cherries and perfume with a sharp, linear body that made it fierce and fun at the same time.

This wine is from the Glenrose Vineyard in Adelaida District, a cooler, higher elevation sub-AVA in Paso Robles (Tablas Creek is located there). Hand harvested, foot trodden, native fermentation, bottled after 12 months un-fined and un-filtered, minimal SO2, no additives, no enzymes or no nutrients added. Recently Thacher has changed direction into a more natural direction – they sell 95% of this wine direct to consumer as there is a cult following for it.

Glenrose is a crazy vineyard where the owner terraced it because it was too steep and it now looks like a ziggurat. Unfortunately, the owner of the vineyard didn’t realize he would need to take off the topsoil when terracing, and so the vines are chiseled into the limestone bedrock and the pH was too high for the vines, and so then he had to run sulfuric acid through his irrigation lines so his vines would take up nutrients. Now if that is not commitment and passion I don’t know what is! Most of this vineyard is planted with cuttings from Tablas Creek.

2014 Giornata, Nebbiolo: (SRP $45) 100% Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo from Paso Robles! Say WHAT?! But you better believe this baby from Giornata delivered with rose oil, mushroom, dried herbs and hints of cherry with marked acidity and tannins that formed an intricate lace in the body of the wine. Nebbiolo loves the higher pH in the soils that Giornata has selected.

Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi started with a barrel of Nebbiolo in 2005 as Stephanie was managing a vineyard of Nebbiolo at the time. This wine comes from the Luna Matta Vineyard which is 1,750 feet (533 meters) high and Brian said that they believe the climate and soil conditions are similar to those of Piedmont. No manipulation in the winery as Brian said that he wants the drinker to identify it as Nebbiolo.

2016 Ancient Peaks Winery, Merlot: (SRP $20) 100% Merlot. Cocoa dust intermingled with espresso with an interesting smoky note that had fresh plums on the finish, and all for only $20.

Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, VP of Operations for Ancient Peaks Winery, is a 4th generation Paso Robles resident, and as well as working for Ancient Peaks (2nd generation winery) for 12 years, is part of the family of one of the owners. The families that own this winery are proprietors of 14,000 acres (5700 hectares) in Santa Margarita Ranch AVA (takes up 50% of this sub-AVA) which is in the southern most part of Paso Robles, near the Pacific. There are just under 1000 acres (405 hectares) planted (the rest is cattle ranch) and Amanda said that when you are in the vineyards the only thing you see is vineyards and the Santa Lucia Range. Their vineyard is mainly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as those are their biggest sellers, but they have 70 different blocks delineated with 17 different varieties and they plant vines for smaller producers such as the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo vines they are planting for Brian Terrizzi (Giornata) who will use these grapes for his new project called Broadside.

Also, Amanda talked about the importance of Tablas Creek helping to bring quality grape growing to the Paso area with their research, investing, spreading the word, and how much it has meant to their community. As she said, there was not a lot of hope for development of an economy with the generations that came before her.

2015 Villa Creek Cellars, Avenger: (SRP $55) 70% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre. As a Syrah lover, I really liked the chewy tannins that had broad shoulders with BBQ smoke notes that were balanced by a juicy finish.

Most of the fruit for this wine is sustainable based in the Willow Creek District which is also a higher and cooler area in Paso Robles and is known for super star cult Rhône producers.

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit de Tablas: (SRP $55) 49% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 5% Counoise. Overall breathtaking balance, savory and sweet with truffles and sweet red cherries, and an underlying intense minerality that was lifted by the bright finish. I can’t remember the last time I had a Rhône blend, especially Mourvèdre dominant, that had such finesse within its decadent deliciousness! The winery practices are similar to their white Esprit de Tablas.

2016 Ancient Peaks Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon: (SRP $22) 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot and 3% Petite Sirah.  I noticed the cooling influences during the night with dried thyme that had black berries with a gravelly finish. The noticeable structural shape on this Cab brought this mid-level wine to another dimension of enjoyment. Again, Ancient Peaks price is astonishing at $22.   

Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety planted the most at Ancient Peaks with just under 300 acres (121 hectares) and they are looking to plant more Cab with Petit Verdot being an important variety to blend that helps to give structure.

2016 Booker Vineyard, My Favorite Neighbor: (SRP $80) 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 11% Petit Verdot. Peppery nose with a plush body that evolved with layers of complexity that included sweet tobacco leaf and pencil shavings that were fleshed out with ripe blackcurrant flavors that had brawny tannins that had just enough give to make it a wine that begs for another sip.

Booker Vineyard is owned by Eric and Lisa Jensen and their fine wine selection of “My Favorite Neighbor” pays tribute to those people in their community who have meant a lot to them. The 2016 is a label that depicts Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Wines – the Jensens worked for Stephan right before they decided to start their own winery. It may seem unconventional to place a rival wine producer on one’s label but that seems to be the beautiful Paso way.

Some quick tidbits of information about Paso Robles AVA:

-Like Napa, there is a conjunctive labeling law that states if a winery uses one of the AVAs that are entirely enclosed within Paso Robles that they also need to note on the label Paso Robles AVA (Example: Tablas Creek Vineyard wines will say “Adelaida District” and “Paso Robles”).

-The coolest part of Paso Robles is in the south and it becomes warmer in the north but all of the areas get drastic swings in temperatures.

-The Paso Robles soil will absorb water during the winter, gaining up to 50% more weight per unit volume, and gives the water back to the vines when they need it during the growing season.

-Paso Robles spans 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean to 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean – so there is a fair amount of range east to west and there is almost as much distance north to south, 30-ish miles (around 48 kilometers).

-The calcareous and siliceous soils in Paso Robles were created by the old Pacific seabed being pushed up when the Santa Lucia Mountains were created.

-One of the wettest vintages in Paso Robles was 2015 when a Hurricane got lost and dropped a significant amount of water over the Paso area in July of that year.

 -Desert conditions in the summer and wet in the winter, especially on the western side.

-Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 acres (2023 hectares) of vineyards and today has over 200 wineries and 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares) of planted vines.

 

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Curiosity is the Most Powerful Thing You Own

The dark purplish-blue sky seemed to drape over the mixture of stone carved buildings contrasting with metal and glass skyscrapers looming above me in midtown Manhattan. It seemed like, overnight, we were losing more daylight as the mystic night came in fierce and fast, taking with it the frivolity of summer to replace it with a sense of wonderment of the mysteries that wait for us to discover them.

The People make the Dinner

I was going to Le Bernardin for a wine dinner celebrating the 30 year friendship of Alain Dominique Perrin (who is famous in the luxury world for spearheading the renaissance and international development of Cartier) and Michel Rolland (who is one of the preeminent wine consultants around the world) and their collaboration of Château Lagrézette. I practically never go to evening events while I am home in New York City as I like to keep farmers’ hours when I can and there is nothing more important than having dinner with my husband. Additionally, I like to have deeply personal and intimate conversations with wine producers, as my focus is on the human condition; a large celebration, and especially an evening event at a formal restaurant, is usually not conducive to such an intention.

Around three years ago, I received an invitation to a small dinner with Alain, my first meeting with him, as well as only a couple other media people, at Le Bernardin. Despite my rule of not going out for dinners and fear that the formal atmosphere wouldn’t be conducive to soulful conversation, I could not help but be tempted, as a wine nerd, by the idea that Château Lagrézette, an estate in Cahors, made Viognier wines. Anyone who had the guts to make Viognier in Cahors I had to meet. It ended up being a night I will not forget, filled with deep conversations as Alain was a man who liked to cut through the BS and get to the heart of the matter, and the people he surrounded himself with were real, thoughtful and approachable. And so I knew that I wanted to be a part of this celebration as I admired the man. It was also a great opportunity to get to know more about the friendship he had with Michel Rolland, as well as meet the human being behind the “famous wine consultant” label who has seen more than his fair share of unfair caricature-like portrayals.

The Past Never Completely Leaves Us 

The celebration dinner had around 20 people in attendance and included such luminaries of the wine world such as Kevin Zraly. As I was enjoying a bubbly aperitif while talking to Mike Colameco (a 45-year veteran of the restaurant industry and today is the host and producer for ‘Mike Colameco’s Real Food’ television show on PBS) about the importance of gratitude, an exchange of chance that clutched at my heart happened… Mike approached Kevin Zraly and said that many years ago he worked in the kitchen of Windows on the World restaurant, which was located on top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and as many of us know, was destroyed, along with many of Kevin’s former colleagues. From 1976 to 2001, Kevin Zraly was the wine director at that legendary restaurant that helped to shape the American wine scene as we know it today. After 9/11, he struggled with deep depression and left the wine world for a time. Thankfully for us, he came back and devoted most of his time to teaching and inspiring others about wine, while he himself was renewed by learning and being inspired by others… still to this day finding excitement in the various ways people communicate about wine. It was a special moment that harkened to a time that none of us will forget, remembering those that will never be forgotten, and the knowledge that it is always important to never get stuck in one place, to keep moving towards the next unknown that will ignite our fire in different ways.

Château Lagrézette

Before we started dinner, Alain introduced himself saying, “I am Alain Perrin and I am the owner of Château Lagrézette and that is all I am. The hero is Michel.” Alain spoke a little bit about the history of Château Lagrézette, it being one of the oldest wineries in France, going back to the 15th century with Malbec vines planted. Alain said he possessed a document that suggests that the first vintage of Château Lagrézette was in 1503, and although there were other artifacts found in the château that link it to being around since the 13th or 14th century, the oldest official document Alain could find that points to the winemaking of Château Lagrézette was the aforementioned.

The Day the Police Came

Despite Alain being a man who has probably seen it all, he is still filled with great enthusiasm and Château Lagrézette seems to offer an endless number of revelations to encourage his curiosity even more, as every nook and corner offer a new ancient object that has a story that Alain seeks out. He proudly publicly proclaims that his estate has been making wine “since 1503”, which he knew would ruffle some feathers as he is a relatively new winery owner. “One day,” Alain said, “the full brigade of the wine police (around 5 or 6) came to my door and I knew why they were coming.” The brigade told Alain that there was a complaint of him committing false advertising by saying that Château Lagrézette has been making wine since 1503. So Alain asked the head of the brigade, “Do you read old French?” As the man was perplexed by his question, Alain proceeded to show him the official document that said Château Lagrézette had indeed been making wine since 1503. “The man became white,” Alain said with a warm and playful laugh, and he told the officer, “Next time Mr. So and So complains, call me first.”

Alain and Michel

It was wonderful to witness the interplay between Alain and Michel, long-time friends and partners in resurrecting Château Lagrézette, both amazed at how this historic estate, tucked away 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of Cahors, has given them more surprises in its diversity of soil that creates Malbec wines that express different terroirs, as well as some sections being ideal for premium Viognier wine which is only traditionally seen in Northern Rhône, France. One of the things that was so refreshing about Michel Rolland was his excitement to find the new frontier of wine, joking that he would love to go in one of Elon Musk’s shuttles to plant vines on a new planet, so he could experience and learn something completely new; Château Lagrézette was, in a way, a new frontier for a man born and raised around 155 miles (250 kilometers) from Cahors in Pomerol, Bordeaux… a legendary wine commune now, but back when Michel was young, it was quite an unknown wine appellation. He has been completely taken aback by the sophisticatedly complex wines that each parcel is capable of and while he never really thought that he would be making Viognier, when he had seen the results from particular plots of Château Lagrézette, it made him a fan of this variety. It was thrilling to be around two men who have lived a pretty full life be more excited by the prospects of the future than they have ever been.

“Curiosity is the most powerful thing you own.” –Anonymous

Lack of curiosity can smother us in ignorance, such as the little misunderstanding in regards to Château Lagrézette’s rightful place as one of France’s oldest wineries, and in a more detrimental way, can keep segments of society from ever seeing an argument from another’s point of view. Encouraging curiosity can keep the glimmer in the eyes of one of the world’s most famous and prolific wine consultants, and can show someone a way to go on when their whole world has literally come crashing down.

 

***Some contribute the quote “Curiosity is the most powerful thing you own” to James Cameron but others question whether he was the originator of this quote.

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Château Lagrézette Wines Tasted on September 27th, 2018

2015 Le Pigeonnier Blanc: 100% Viognier. Intoxicating on the nose with clove and rose oil with juicy peach flavors on the rich palate with smoky minerality on the expressive finish.

The Le Pigeonnier Viognier comes from a 2.5 acre (1 hectare) single vineyard within the 49 acre (20 hectare) Rocamadouor vineyard. Vines are 14 years of age and the yields are low at 25 hectoliters per hectare. The vineyard soil is alternating layers of dense chalk and a soft, permeable clay encrusted with marine fossils (Oestra Virgula). This wine was aged for 9 months in 40% new French oak and 60% in 2 year old French oak.

2012 Paragon Massaut: 100% Malbec. Rich, sweet blueberry fruit with notes of violets and crumbly earth interlaced with the decadent fruit. A full bodied wine that had an elegant shape with firm yet polished tannins.

This 2012 Paragon comes from the Landiech vineyard – from 5 year old vines on the 3rd terrace; yields are extremely low at 25 hectoliters per hectare from gravelly soil. The wine was aged in new French oak barrels for 20 months.

-2015 Mon Vin: 100% Malbec. An outstanding wine that had layers of complexity with cocoa dust and a hint of crème brûlée with forest floor, that had plenty of lush blackberry fruit… generous yet profound, rich yet dignified, and powerful yet nurturing, finished with an elegant decadence.

The vines for the Mon Vin come from a miniscule plot of clay and gravel in their Caillac vineyard that are 35 years in age; extremely low yields ranging between 15 to 20 hectoliters per hectare. This wine was aged for 30 months in 100% new French oak barrels: alcoholic fermentation was conducted in 500-liter new oak barrels, then aged in 225-liter new French oak barrels for 30 months.

Mon Vin was a wine made in secrecy from Alain by Michel Rolland and Alain’s winemaker Claude Boudamani that would represent his intrinsic qualities that nourishes and firmly supports those around him. Michel decided on a unique bottle for this special wine but could not come up with a name, so when they told Alain about the wine made in secret and that it was supposed to be a wine that represented Alain himself… well, of course this revelation surprised Alain, who started to ask, “Mon Vin?” and so they decided that that would be the name.

-1998 Le Pigonnier: 100% Malbec. This wine certainly made wonderful old bones with chiseled tannins and fresh acidity that was balanced by flavors of cardamom poached plums and baking spice that had lots of old world charm on the finish with a note of dusty earth.

The 1997 was the first vintage of Le Pigeonnier Malbec, with Michel Rolland creating this wine with Alain Dominique Perrin. Michel recognized the distinctiveness of the soils and location of the vines that surrounded “le Pigeonnier”, a dovecote that is a structure that housed pigeons or doves, built in the 1600s. The Pigeonnier is a 6.7 acre (2.7 hectare) single vineyard adjacent to their Caillac vineyard near the 3rd terrace.

The 1998 Le Pigeonnier Malbec was the first vintage of this wine to be vinified in a wooden tank. The yield was extremely low at 15 hectoliters per hectare. Grapes were harvested and destemmed by hand. The wine was aged 30 months in 100% new French oak from the Saury cooperage that has a great reputation making wide grain wood barrels that give soft tannins, respecting the wine’s fruit characteristic.

2015 Merveille de Lilas, Noble Rot Sweet Wine: 100% Viognier. A sweet wine that was absolutely delicious and a rare treat with aromas of peach cobbler, baking spice and mandarin orange peel, with only a hint of enticing perfume on the finish. It has a viscous body that offered a bright acidity at the end.

Merveille de Lilas is sourced from the oldest vines of the Rocamadour vineyard (limestone and clay soils) on Alain’s estate (14 years old). The dry days and humid nights allowed for the development of Botrytis (noble rot that concentrates the flavors and sugars) during September 2015; harvested the following October, the wine spent 12 months in new French oak.

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Accepting Challenges

It was unbelievable to realize that not only was the exquisitely grand château I stood in front of actually, at one time, was only a hunting lodge to a more expansive estate in the Brouilly Cru of Beaujolais, in France, but that it was acquired as a result of someone’s weakness for gambling. I stood there slack-jawed taking in the magnificence of Château de Nervers with the family owner Jean-Benoît de Chabannes, with dirt under his nails, hiking shoes on, looking every bit like a wine producer in the midst of the back-breaking work required during harvest time. It was a direct contrast to the fantasy picture that such an estate would evoke – the reality of the work it took to keep it going, especially if one placed winemaking first, and everything else needed taking a backseat to that priority.

Château de Nervers

“It was not that we were gamblers”, Jean-Benoît quickly corrected our initial thinking after he stated that this original “hunting lodge”, Château de Nervers, came to his family to cover a gambling debt. Jean-Benoît’s ancestors had a neighbor that owned a cluster of houses, châteaux, and acres upon acres of land that would be referred to as more of a compound today, called La Chaize. That neighbor had a serious gambling problem and needed to get a loan from Jean-Benoît’s family to cover his loses but eventually this man ended up gambling everything away and he gave Jean-Benoît’s family the hunting lodge I saw before my eyes, 10 houses and 124 acres (50 hectares) of wheat to cover a massive debt he had acquired with them. When Jean-Benoît was a child, he once visited the main castle of the La Chaize compound and he remembers distinctly going up the main stairs, where many portraits of the ancestors hung, and there was one facing the wall… the portrait of the gambler.

Jean-Benoît said in the 1800s, one didn’t have people come over to his or her place for gatherings and so well-to-do families would have a different château all together (called their hunting lodge) for such social obligations. Of course, this was another time when people in the area had much more money. Jean-Benoît’s family were winemakers and so it made sense to replant much of the 124 acres (50 hectares) of wheat with vines – around 116 acres (47 acres) of vines are planted today. His family took over the estate in 1830, during the time when a pest called phylloxera was devastating vineyards in Europe; some of the earliest post-phylloxera vine plantings surround the château, ranging from 130 to 140 years old; these Gamay vines looked a lot younger (trunks were not as thick as you would think) because the soil is poor so the vines have a slower metabolism.

Challenges

Many times it is easy to look at the outside and think someone has it made in the shade, or that they have been given so much luck and life is a breeze. But the more that someone has, whether it is notoriety, a business, or a château, the more daily responsibilities and stresses that accompany such things. There are various challenges that one has to accept and manage in order to continue… one’s life is perhaps more fulfilled but it is certainly more complicated, and if one adds limited resources and cash flow, which would include most family wineries around the world, there are mountains to climb every day for such people that take on certain challenges of life.

When I think about myself and others who have told me their stories… there seems to always be a fine line between making sure there is not too much stress but having enough challenges to give one purpose. That line will change as we go through different stages in our lives and the challenges we feel drawn to will alter in type and scope. For many years, I was content working behind the scenes – studying, researching, doing more than my fair share and many times taking over the obligations of others, and I was at peace that I did not want the greater responsibly of being the person in charge, or going off on my own. But as others took credit for my work while chipping away at my self-esteem, I guess to make sure to keep me down, I saw how I was enabling such a dysfunctional environment that harmed many others caught in the same repressive situation. In a way, I was forced to go off on my own, and there were many things that came with such a move that I really didn’t care for, but I wouldn’t change a thing because I could no longer be a part of a toxic world that I would help to sustain, day in and day out.

Jean-Benoît and his family could have taken the easy way out by selling the estate but then what would happen to the area of Brouilly? Or on a larger scale, the region of Beaujolais? Families like Jean-Benoît’s invested in the community (Jean-Benoît is on the council at his local city hall) and are preserving a heritage, a way of life, protecting other residences, and are key in sustaining this tranquil place. Georges Duboeuf, who has been distributing Château de Nervers since 1976, is a big part of making it possible for this family wine producer to continue to survive, as well as others such as Domaine des Rosiers, in the more northern part of the Beaujolais Crus, Moulin-à-Vent.

Domaine des Rosiers

Domaine des Rosiers has been a long time favorite Beaujolais Cru of mine within the Moulin-à-Vent area; having legendary status as making some of the most long-lived wines with their high acidity. I was thrilled to meet the owner, Gérard Charvet, whose family has lived for a century in the surrounding area. He was in the middle of harvest, like Jean-Benoît, but showed us around; I saw the charming house that was featured on his wine label – it was magic. But Gérard, who emanated kindness, was taken aback by the idea that I wanted a photo with him and that I was jumping for joy in front of his home. At the end of the day, he was a farmer that took up the challenge of keeping his family’s home, vineyards and winery alive with their spirits through his unending hard work and commitment. He had no idea how much of an effect he had on me, a wine drinker of Beaujolais Cru in the far off, contrasting world of New York City.

Inner Void

In many ways, it is wonderful to have a life where we have the freedom to choose our paths – modern conveniences are making life easier, so we can step away from the challenges that scare us… because if we do not have the type of ego that needs to be in charge, then why do it? Well, that is probably one of the greatest reasons TO do it. Because when you have people who are running things for the right reasons, who are there for the benefit of all, taking consequences and accountability seriously, then that is when the world gets better.

I think that is why some of us start to feel that deep inner void. We are first surprised because we were just the kinds of people who wanted to live our lives in peace… love, be loved, and cover the simple things in life. But then we see so many injustices, we see those precious things from our world disappear, and human decency slowly disappear.

We feel like we have no control yet we know, deep inside, that we can be more active, we can be a part of putting ourselves out there for the world we are yearning to keep. That is what Georges Duboeuf has been doing for 60 years with the Beaujolais wine producers who have all taken on the same challenges to fight for what they value… willing to sacrifice an easier life to do so.

 

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Tasting of Château de Nervers on September 6th, 2018

-2016 Château de Nervers, Brouilly Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. I really love how well the 2016 Beaujolais Cru wines are tasting right now. A more classic vintage with lovely aromatics that was expressed in this Château de Nervers. Sweet red fruit with a perfume-y nose that danced in my head as the beautifully shaped palate made my mouth water.

-2015 Château de Nervers, Brouilly Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. The 2015 is a great vintage that seems to need time at this stage to integrate the tannins and for the wines to open. This 2015 had grip to the tannins with deep concentration that had hints of dried herbs and a long lasting kirsch flavor.

-2011 Château de Nervers, Brouilly Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. Jean-Benoît wanted to show us how his Brouilly wines could age with this 2011. Pressed lilacs with ripe strawberries and overall finesse with fresh acidity and a long expressive finish.

 Tasting of Domaine des Rosiers on September 5th, 2018

2017 Domaine des Rosiers, Moulin-à-Vent Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. Juicy fruit with firm yet lacy structured tannins that had a purity of black cherries that danced across the linear body.

-2016 Domaine des Rosiers, Moulin-à-Vent Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. Smoky minerality made this an enticing wine with exciting energy on the palate that finished with dried autumn leaves and freshly picked red cherries.

-2015 Domaine des Rosiers, Moulin-à-Vent Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. This 2015 surprisingly had velvety tannins that were generous and inviting, unlike so many 2015s from this great vintage. It was quite enjoyable right now but will probably still make great bones with marked acidity, intense richness of flavors and complexity.

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We Need More of This in the World

When it comes to the wine world in New York City, you never know where you will find yourself… it could be in a hole-in-the-wall space on a somewhat unsavory street or you can enter a grand space that evokes a majestic history. After a few decades, I have gotten used to having no idea what my surroundings would be like at any moment, or every turn of the corner. When it comes to the spaces that I enjoy the most, it is really dependent on the people who are occupying them. I can be surrounded by luxury with the energy sucked right out of me by draining conversations, or feel reinvigorated by inspiring exchanges in a dilapidated building … and sometimes it will happen vice versa.

Bordeaux Tasting in Downtown Manhattan

There are only so many hours in the day and it becomes impossible to go to every wine event as a freelance wine writer trying to survive… actually, many times I painfully miss out on great opportunities to talk to a legendary producer or go in-depth into a wine region because, first and foremost, I have work and personal responsibilities that always take precedence. But there was an opportunity to taste the wines of Château Gaby that called for only an hour commitment in downtown Manhattan, the Soho area, with the US owner and his French winemaker. The timing of it worked was for me as I didn’t have a lot on my plate that week, I would already be in the area, and although I have loved Bordeaux wines for many years I had never heard of this château, and I thought it was one of those hidden, small gems that offers bang for buck – proving that not all Bordeaux wines are horrendously expensive.

Château Gaby

As I was leaving for the tasting of Château Gaby, I realized that I wasn’t really sure what kind of space I was going to find myself in since I was heading towards the more charming little corners of Soho that are tucked away among the cobblestone streets, away from the known, more crowded areas. And then, before I knew it, I was in this incredible apartment that was on the top floor of a small, historic looking building that just happened to have one of the most incredible views of the One World Trade Center building from the patio… just something one never sees in Manhattan, a big patio with an open view.

There were only three of us media people there as we talked to the owner, Tom Sullivan, who warmly welcomed us into his home with his overall down to earth demeanor that made me feel immediately at ease. His sense of openness was not only surprising to see as a stranger in his home but when I found out later that he was the founder of Lumber Liquidators, I thought it was funny that he first described himself as simply a guy who started out in construction with just an old truck and a couple of bad checks. Through time, Lumber Liquidators turned into an enormous, public company where the original principles established by Tom were lost to appease investors and he resigned a couple years back. But Tom is still investing in companies that he believes in, such as Gracious Home and opened up a new location in Soho – right in his neighborhood.

All the Right Reasons

Tom, myself and Damien

As I stood on that patio with a jaw-dropping view, I listened to Tom say how he never thought that he would want to place roots in Bordeaux as well… as it never seemed to fit the sort of non-BS, just drink great wine without a fancy pedigree attitude… but after traveling to many other regions around the world, Bordeaux was the place he enjoyed spending his time. He even said that he could easily stay there for months, and so when he came upon châteaux in lesser known areas that were struggling to survive yet had fantastic, organic vineyards (as he has been committed to eating organic for over a decade) he knew he was in trouble… and when it was all said and done, he not only bought Château Gaby, winner of a contest in Bordeaux in 2012 against other top red wines, but also bought Château du Parc, Château Moya and Château Auguste. And when Tom met the winemaker Damien Landourar, who had been making wine in Bordeaux for over 20 years, he knew that Bordeaux was the wine home he was looking for as he immediately felt the chemistry of Damien being an old drinking buddy which was evident during our tasting.

Despite only being there for a little over an hour as I needed to run back home to get some work done, I felt my soul recharged in the simplest way possible. Humans treating others like humans… no weirdness, no competitiveness of who knew more about wine, no walls up, and everyone contributed to that feeling. Maybe Tom was comfortable because we were in his home, or maybe it was the idea that they made sure to invite media (the three of us) who weren’t ambitiously unscrupulous writers ready to write a misleading clickbait piece and so that is why Tom was at ease, or perhaps he is at the place in his life where he knows that although you never know who you are dealing with, you need to be free to be yourself; life is too precious and short. He knows who he is and what he stands for and if someone else doesn’t get it then they are the ones losing out.

As I soared down the street with inspiration after this tasting, I knew that this is what wine is supposed to be about and that I was meant to go to this tasting. Wine’s greatest purpose is to bring people from different backgrounds together, uplifting all involved. We need more of that in the world, and I definitely am determined to keep finding it.

 

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Wines Tasted on September 20th, 2018

2017 Château Auguste Rosé, Bordeaux AOC, France: 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tom said he was immediately attracted to how well the vineyards were taken care of on this 74 acre (30 hectare) organically farmed estate on the Right Bank of Bordeaux. He feels this estate produces pristine fruit with an incredible freshness that he thinks is suited to rosé as well as an everyday drinking red wine (we tasted the red from the 2015 vintage as well). The rosé had a bright acidity with flavors of fresh black raspberry that had a hint of wet stones on the finish. The 2015 red (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) had deeper red currant and plummy fruit flavors with a generous round texture that hit the spot as a delicious go to red that is offered at a good price.

2015 Château Moya, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux, France: 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux is a more specified area in the Right Bank of Bordeaux, and of course as many of you know, the Right Bank is the home to great Merlot dominant wine. These vineyards are also organic as that was a big factor for Tom. This wine had a beautiful spice laced nose with toasted walnuts and smoldering cedar drifting from the glass that was balanced by a filled out palate with ripe red and black fruit.

2015 Château du Parc, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru AOC, Bordeaux, France: 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. For those of you into the fine wines of the Right Bank, you probably are very familiar with Saint-Émilion and their elegantly rich expression of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc grape varieties. This was a big wine with broad shoulders that had blueberry preserve flavors that were highlighted by an enticing floral note. Chewy tannins and concentrated fruit makes this wine a must with steak or even lamb would be a good pairing.

2015 Château Gaby Cuvée, Canon-Fronsac AOC, Bordeaux, France: 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. After I had this wine, I said to myself “I need to drink a lot more Canon-Fronsac from the Right Bank of Bordeaux” because this was outstanding. This wine had a deep concentration of fruit yet retained an overall finesse with finely sculpted tannins and a regal tension with underlying minerality. This wine really shows how it came from quality clay and limestone soils that were lovingly organically farmed… a stunner. No wonder it won a 2012 competition that was held in Bordeaux, France to determine the best red wine; 596 top Bordeaux wines entered and were blind tasted in 90 sessions by over 180 wine connoisseurs and the 2008 Gaby Cuvée came out as the favorite. The Cuvée is their strictest selection of the Gaby vineyards.

-2010 Château Gaby, Canon-Fronsac AOC, Bordeaux, France: 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The estate of Château Gaby has been making wine since the 1660s and it is wonderful to see it get new life with an owner like Tom who is committed to organic farming as well as bringing the estate back to its glory – it is open for visitors if you ever find yourself in the area. Despite this 2010 not being the cuvee, I found it completely delicious with its seductive savory grilled meat nose intertwined with dried herbs and plenty of fresh red currant and boysenberry fruit… the kind of wine that made me fall deeply in love with Bordeaux in the first place… it was the perfect wine to finish the tasting as I could see the sunset behind the One World Trade Center in the distance. A wine that I would keep with me that was a reminder, that yes, this is what Bordeaux wine should be!

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The Extremes of Wine

Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Around 11pm on October 8th, 2017, Pierre Birebent was abruptly woken up from a deep sleep by his daughter saying that his phone had been ringing several times… in his half-dazed state, Pierre looked at his phone and saw messages that said there was a fire… he quickly woke up and immediately jumped in his truck and started driving down the road with a fierce intensity envisioning the worst case scenario as panic furiously pumped through his veins and heart.

Pierre is the winemaker and vineyard manager for Signorello Estate and the messages on his phone were left by the owner of the estate, Ray Signorello Jr., who was in Canada at the time. Pierre was telling us this story on November 11th, just a little over a month after it happened, at the Wine Bloggers Conference taking place in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California. The conference had been planned for over a year, but when one of the worst periods of California wildfires (from October 8th until the 30th of October) hit a significant part of wine country (according to Cal Fire: over 245,000 acres were burned, 100,000 people were forced to evacuate, estimated 8,900 structures destroyed, and 43 lives lost), many of us planning on attending the conference thought it would be cancelled. But word got back from the various wine participating counties that they needed us to come to the conference and talk about their wines, their tourism (most of the tourist sections were untouched) and to inspire people around the US to support them.

From my perspective, I had overwhelming anxiety that I felt like I needed to go out to Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, (4,658 homes were destroyed in the wildfires) as soon as possible… I didn’t know how I could help out, but as I saw all the people I knew in the wine industry in California talk about the merciless infernos coming and going, swiftly changing direction, many having to evacuate and re-evacuate many times, some losing everything, watching it all play out on Facebook while the national news barely talked about it, I felt like I needed to be there and be prepared to do whatever they needed me to do. It was the same feeling I had living in downtown Manhattan during 9/11. I did not want to flee, my overwhelming pain made me want me to stay and find some semblance of grounding and peace by being of some use in my home of New York City… of course it took many years to find our grounding as a city.

Pierre Birebent

Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Pierre is no stranger to devastating events that can alter the rest of a person’s life. Before coming to Napa, he lived with his family, sixth-generation vintners, in Algeria. But when he was only 2 years old, his mother fled with him to Spain when the Algerian War broke out. Pierre’s father, Paul, stayed behind to look after their vineyards until one day he and a worker were attacked; Paul escaped but the worker who had warned him of the attack from the distance never made it out alive. Then the Birebents picked up the pieces of their lives and were able to pool their resources to buy undeveloped land in Corsica; after they built roads and prepped the land for vineyards they were able to rebuild a family winery and legacy for future generations. Pierre, who knew that he would not have much free time after he took on the responsibility of his family farm in Corsica, decided to spend his youth studying at the Montpellier University in France and working in Napa to gain more knowledge and experience to bring his family’s wines to the next level of quality.

Unfortunately, tragedy would hit his family again in Corsica when Pierre’s father, Paul, was attacked by people in masks and bound with rope with his vineyard crew, as his house, his winery and farm equipment were burned in front of him. The toxic emotion of envy had eaten away at Corsican locals who turned to terrorism to take out their rage on those who were successful and not considered real Corsicans. Everyone escaped with their lives but Pierre, who was in Napa at the time, decided to stay in Napa Valley as there was no future with his family winery; he eventually settled at Signorello Estate and lives in St Helena with his wife, Nathalie, and his children, Paul and Isabelle; Pierre’s parents retired to the Riviera.

Signorello Estate

There was Pierre, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, reliving another traumatic event in his life that he hadn’t yet even been given a chance to process. When Pierre arrived at Signorello that night, he saw that there were only a few bushes, a garden and trees on fire so he was hopeful that he could put out the fires himself with a hose that he grabbed. One of his guys was there to assist him with extinguishing the fire with another hose but before they knew it, the fire had jumped to the roof assisted by the high winds. Pierre gave his worker a damp handkerchief to hold over his nose and mouth while Pierre held his t-shirt over his own to combat the brutal smoke that blew in their faces. They stood there and fought the fire as best they could but within 45 minutes, it had consumed the entire building. By that point the police had arrived and forced Pierre and his worker to leave; once the police left, Pierre went back towards the inferno to try to put it out… he tried 3 different times but he had gotten to the point where he was gagging from the black smoke and his assistant physically grabbed him yelling, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!!!”

Pierre was able to make it to his crush pad and stainless steel tanks that were in the midst of fermenting his grapes – there was a mesh top above the tank to give it shade and he hosed them both down, spending 15 minutes soaking the mesh top. It finally got to the point where he had to get back a few hundreds yards away (so the smoke didn’t kill him) and in Pierre’s words he just, “watched what happened”. Pierre’s head slumped down and his voice broke as it lowered into his gut as he sat there on the panel struggling against his intense emotions to get the words out. Pierre then said that he called the owner who was in Canada so he could let him know what was going on “and that was it”… a profound silence hit the room as Pierre took a few breaths. It took 3 days before he was able to visit the property again since there was a police blockade; the vineyards and cellar were untouched, the wine which was tested (by a lab) was not affected by smoke taint, but their main building, tasting room and offices had burnt to the ground.

Good & Bad of Wine

I remembering sitting there, as close as I could to the panelists, each one taking their turn to talk about their own personal experience as Pierre did… there were two sessions back to back, and since I had taken non-stop back to back sessions, I needed to go up to my hotel room to get some work done and call my husband. The stories were heavily weighing on me, and although I have already written a couple of posts about the conference since that time, it has taken me this long to write this post, the most important one, in my opinion, as I was waiting to see how it worked out for Pierre and Signorello.

Wine has been a big part of my life, and I love it deeply because it is intertwined with the human condition, but there are sides of it I can’t stand, such as some people’s obsession of the superficial. As I came back down from my hotel room after getting some work done and talking to my love, still processing the trauma that so many people had shared during the last two sessions, I had a run in with another attendee of the conference as I walked through the front lobby. This man asked me where I had been and, since I had already had a previous conversation with this acquaintance about having to go to my room to work, I replied, “I told you, I needed to get some work done.” Well, at that point, he started to say that I was probably off drinking some fancy wines in one of the off-schedule parties because I seemed like the type of person who would do that and then proceeded to give me a hard time for not hanging out to go drinking with him… I’ll remind you, again, this is someone I barely knew.

Funnily enough, I have never been to one of those parties in the hotel rooms, not that I have anything against them, but I was there for the sessions and the one-on-one heart to heart talks I have with people who are kind enough to share their journeys with me. That man I barely knew got ugly with me and I felt like I was verbally punched in the gut… don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of good at the conference, but then there is the bad because it is all part of the world of wine… Looking back, it was interesting how in such a short time of a few hours, I had experienced the extremes of the wine world watching some people coming together as a community during traumatic events and others becoming petty in their narcissistic desires, even in the face of others losing everything.

We Need to Believe

 I have recently read that Signorello Estate opened a modular-unit tasting room so they could resume giving wine tastings to visitors. The owner, Ray Signorello Jr., made a commitment to rebuild 3 days after Signorello burned down, but at the time, it still seemed to those of us on the outside that there was a question mark if they would be able to continue… but luckily, despite being given some fierce blows, they have come back with Pierre at the helm. California is still getting some tough hits by wildfires; the only way they can keep continuing, keeping an important part of American wine culture alive, is if those of us who do believe in them support them with our purchases, with our visits, and with our deep compassion and empathy for the people who are struggling to keep the legacy of great California wines alive. As much as there were times when I wanted to walk away from the wine world because of nasty comments from people who barely knew me, or narcissism that makes one not care that a bunch of people right in front of them just lost their homes and means to support themselves, I sometimes run into a beautiful person that makes me believe that there is still lots of humanity and love in the wine world… and that is all we need, to have someone make us believe when we are losing hope.

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Tearing Down Snobbery & Embracing Generosity

***Disclosure: Avery Books gave me a free review copy of the new Wine Folly book that I talk about in this post.

As some of you may already know, not only was I on the other side of the wine world, working distribution and retail, but I had spent many years studying and learning about wine. Since I have lived in New York City (for 25 years), I have run into every sort of person who falls in love with wine, from my first introduction among artists from all over the world in the early 1990s bringing modest wines with their stories of traveling as backpackers as we sat on the floor of our hole-in-the-wall apartments, to being surrounded by people who made wine a competitive sport, something used to establish a pecking order… the former made me deeply passionate about wine while the latter chipped away at my very being and made me almost walk away from it entirely, throwing away what I had devoted so much of life to…

I first discovered Wine Folly, a website and impactful social media presence of infographics, articles, and videos, sometime around 2013 (Wine Folly started their website in late 2011). I was in a really bad place in my life at the time… I was working insane hours, barely sleeping a couple hours a night, hardcore studying every aspect about wine (which I had been doing non-stop for 5 years at that point) and dealing with some intense personal trauma that was dragged out for many years. What made this tough situation even worse is that I was surrounded by some people who turned wine into an elitist beverage that was used to determine someone’s worth. It seemed that I couldn’t escape this toxic energy and I was getting to the point where I wanted to just walk away from it all, until I found Wine Folly on the internet. Their fun and playful photos, the great infographics and an overall energy that wine was supposed to bring everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, together started to light that passionate fire within me again. Despite being born in 1975 and not considered a millennial, I have really embraced the generosity and joy that many millennials have brought to social media, and Wine Folly was the first to do it on a grand scale.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack are partners who are the owners of Wine Folly. Justin Hammack developed the site’s infrastructure so it was a free, open-resource for wine knowledge while Madeline is not only the face of Wine Folly but she is a certified sommelier with a background in design – the combination of both led her to create Wine Folly’s legendary wine infographics. I was thrilled when they released their Wine Folly book that covered the fundamentals, styles of wine and wine regions in a digestible, visual way that was accessible to everyone. It is no surprise that it became a best-seller.

Madeline Puckette

Over the years, I have been given a chance to meet Madeline a couple of times as well as hear her speak. She is so raw and honest about how she came to wine. Her beginnings started out as a beautiful curiosity to learn as much as she could, then she unfortunately found herself surrounded by a crowd that seemed glamorous, but was toxic, to finally finding her own voice and creating a way to take away the mystery of wine while keeping the magic. She is one of the things that helped me find the courage to bring my own voice to wine… to bring my love and my passion, without worrying about those that would mock or criticize.

Wine Folly: Magnum Edition

I was sent a free copy of the new Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide, by their publishing company Avery Books which was released today, September 25th. It is an expanded version with 100 pages more than their original book with a food and wine section as well as a deeper look into previous subjects that they have covered with a greater ability now to verify the accuracy of the information in the book; those who know anything about trying to verify information in the wine world know that it is a tremendous task that seems impossible at times. It will absolutely become one of my new wine resource books, as well as a wonderful book to share with those at all different stages of acquiring wine knowledge.

Gratitude

Madeline makes no bones about not being perfect or the mistakes she has made in the past, but she works fiercely everyday with her partner to provide wine information to all in a way that is generous and approachable, creating an environment that brings people together… which goes back to the original purpose of wine. I don’t write book reviews but it means so much to write about how much her work has meant to me, how I feel this is exactly what the wine world needs, and how I may not be doing what I am doing now if it wasn’t for her example of empowering yourself, no matter your background. Thank you Madeline and thank you Wine Folly.

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Our Existence Shaping the World

As I sat on top of a limestone escarpment towering up from the ground up to 1617 feet (493 meters) in the sky, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy about the thoughts that flooded my head… if my life was erased, like someone blowing dust off a piece of paper, what would have changed in the world? Would it be for the worse? Would it be the same? Seeing the fierce force of nature such as the prehistoric site of the Rock of Solutré was not only a marvel to behold as I approached it, but it was even more powerful to hike to the summit. There I sat with a glass of beautiful white Burgundy wine, a Pouilly-Fuissé (as we were in the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé itself, specifically in the commune of Solutré-Pouilly) and since we were in France, we were allowed to drink from wine glasses and of course drink a lovely French wine despite being at a public government protected site.

There was a frenzy of activity as we made our way to the slick marble top as other travelers were enthusiastically taking photos, as we did, but once I was able to sit still with my wine, by the edge of the escarpment, overlooking the endless view of vineyards, I could not help but have my peripheral vision go out of focus and feel all my attention become a laser going straight to my gut… how impossible it felt for a little being like myself to be able to shape the world in that moment.

Duboeuf

I was in Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, because I was visiting the place where it all started for the man who brought Beaujolais to the world. In 1933, Georges Duboeuf was born into a winemaking family in the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. But his path was not meant to be of an average winemaker, as by the age of 25 he had already invented the modern bottling line for estate bottled wines as well as beginning his long relationships with wine growers in Beaujolais. He did everything from bringing wine samples to the great culinary city of Lyon, to introducing legendary chefs such as Paul Bocuse to the idea that wonderful wines came from Burgundy’s southern neighbor, and bringing these wines around the world, starting with the initial relationship with importer Alexis Lichine.

At one time, French wines were very different than they are today, mainly because of issues with transporting and storage of the wines. Georges Duboeuf realized that wine consumers living in major French cities, let alone in various areas around the world, were not experiencing the true beauty of Beaujolais even if it was to be found in their market; part of what makes many Beaujolais wines irresistible is the lovely fresh fruit and until Georges came along, many wine drinkers never really knew the special qualities of Beaujolais wine.

Promoting the Producers

When Georges Duboeuf first started to visit the wine producers of Beaujolais, he was taken aback by the idea that the wines were not only so much better having not left the cellars, but that the frivolity and celebration that was part of the mainly agricultural region was part of the truly joyous experience of having these wines. Georges’ engineering mind was able to come up with ways to bottle these producers’ wines; previously, many had been selling their wine in bulk, but the inventions in the process of bottling and the actual construction of the bottle itself allowed the intrinsic charm of the Beaujolais Gamay grapes to be captured and retained. He first started making “domaine bottlings” that promoted that particular wine producer and their history. Through time, as the true beauty of Beaujolais wines won many wine lovers over, there was a bigger demand for the Cru wines, such as Morgon or Fleurie, and so Georges came up with the “flower” Duboeuf label wines that would give producers the chance to keep their higher quality selection in their domaine bottling while Duboeuf sold the second selection in their own label offering a broader view of each Cru at an affordable price.

During my recent time in Beaujolais, I visited many of the wine producers who worked with Georges Duboeuf, and all spoke about how the Duboeuf family would pay the highest market price for their wines and/or grapes and in return demands high quality while keeping within their appellation style. One such producer was Château des Capitans from one of the ten crus, Juliénas, which offered wines that had elegant structure, pristine red fruit, smoldering earth and silky tannins as I tasted their 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages. The Château des Capitans founders had Burgundian roots, which was evident by one of the roofs of their castle where their cellar was located… just like Georges, despite being of Burgundy origin, they fell in love with the wines and way of life of Beaujolais.

At Château des Capitans, we discussed how the next step for Beaujolais was to indicate superior vineyards, or as they would call them, lieu-dit (small geographical area bearing a traditional name), such as the Les Capitans, La Bottiere and Vayolette – plots that have been historically known as quality sites in Juliénas; all of the aforementioned plots go into the domaine bottling of Château des Capitans and the other vineyards found around the Juliénas cru go into the Duboeuf Juliénas “flower” bottling. The Duboeuf family wants each producer to keep their identity while balancing the demand for more value driven wines such as their “flower” label, as well as their newly released Pays d’Oc varietals from Southern France (whose grape growers have been struggling to survive for decades now) and of course, the epitome of the joyous Beaujolais life of friendship and fun represented by the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau.

It’s a Wonderful Life

As I sat at the top of the Rock of Solutré, after a packed week of visiting all of the wine producers and grape growers of Georges Duboeuf in Beaujolais, I could not help but think of the old black and white film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, George Bailey is at the end of his rope on a bridge contemplating ending it all because he felt like a failure in life. But he was given the gift by an angel to see what his world would have been like if he hadn’t existed… it is a bleak world and he sees so many people within his community suffering because he wasn’t there. I started to think what would have happened if Georges had never have gone to Beaujolais, or invented the modern bottling line, or decided to bring these wines to the world. Beaujolais does not have the proximity to Paris as Burgundy does and so the road to bringing these wines to the world was not only a feat that many could not handle but it is still a struggle that the Duboeuf family fights for everyday.

Many of us know in life that we get support when we struggle, but once there is any perceived sense of us succeeding in any way, shape or form, we are then left out for the world to criticize and pick apart. Also, many of us realize that when we achieve any type of success that it takes even more energy to not only keep growing in our intention to make a difference in the world but to even sustain what we have already achieved. No matter how many knocks Georges has received, and there have been many over the 60 years, he keeps going because he knows there is so much more at stake than just him, and with his son Franck by his side for many years and grandchildren getting involved with the company, it is a legacy that will live on for many more decades to come.

Beaujolais Nouveau

Georges Duboeuf is probably known best around the world as the man who introduced Beaujolais Nouveau – the wine that is annually released on the 3rd Thursday of November. It represents the young, fun, vital wine that comes from the harvest that year. When I sat with Georges while I visited him in his home, he was insistent that it was not some great marketing plan that he came up with, but it was a practice among those in Beaujolais for centuries. Georges loved the party and celebratory atmosphere these first wines of the vintage brought to the whole area of Beaujolais… it was a matter of how to share this already existing wonderful way of life with the world.

As I visited the largest supplier for the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, Vignerons des Pierres Dorées, meaning “The Golden Stone” as it was in the golden stone area of Beaujolais, I realized how impactful this wine was for so many grape growers. The president of this co-op winery, Sylvain Flache, said that Vignerons des Pierres Dorées was a merger of 3 co-ops (2 of which have worked with Duboeuf for 50 years) and that they had a total of 180 members that represented 1236 acres of vineyards (500 hectares). The vineyard sizes range from 50 acres (20 hectares) to 1.2 acres (1/2 hectare) and the co-op worked with each farmer to help them manage the vineyards in the best way depending on the challenges of each vintage. The co-op also does a maturity test of the various vineyards by asking for grape bunches from different sections to see when each vineyard should be picked. And it behooves the farmers to listen to the co-op as they will be paid based on the quality of the grapes as each farmer will have their grapes inspected upon delivery to the co-op, and so, those who take the most pride in their work will be rewarded. Sylvain said that Georges and his son, Franck, taste samples every day as each vineyard is vinified, making sure to select the best parcels that represent the ideal expression of the vintage. It becomes a badge of honor to be selected for the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and it is a mark of success that gives quality minded grape growers a reason to strive for growing the best grapes.

How many lives does Georges Duboeuf affect? Whether it is the farmers of the grapes, or the people whose livelihood is dependent in some aspect to the success that Duboeuf has brought to the region, or even all of the parties, celebrations, all of the American Thanksgiving meals or international parties that are inspired by the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. How would the world be shaped differently… honestly I wouldn’t want to know.

PouillyFuissé

After our trip to the Rock of Solutré, we visited one of the Duboeuf producers in the Mâcon-Villages area of Burgundy called Domaine des Chenevières. A small family-run producer, the son was the winemaker with his parents there helping while they were awaiting their grandchild to be born soon… you can’t get more family-run than that… and I felt that this is where it all started for Georges in this area. I imaged him as a young man coming up with all these ideas, as many of us do when we are young and filled with hope, but the difference is that he made it happen… he made so many things happen for so many people that would never have the means or resources to keep going on their own… to keep the celebration and love for Gamay going in an area that was, in many ways, isolated from the rest of the world.

I think that is the biggest lie we tell ourselves… that we can’t shape the world, make a difference or be part of something greater than ourselves. The opportunities are there every day… the choices we make lead us closer… yes, we will be given those hits, those nasty comments, those unfair judgmental stings that distract us from trying to improve the world around us… from living our dreams and lifting others around us… but when you see someone like Georges Duboeuf, his humble beginnings, all he has tackled in life, you know that all of us have the power. When we feel we are at the edge of an impossible cliff… when we feel that we are hopeless and helpless… let each of us remind ourselves that the power lives in all of us to make sure the world we value does not come crumbling down like what Georges Duboeuf did for Beaujolais. Let none of us know what the world would be like if we give up.

 

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2017 Vintage Wines Tasted with Georges Duboeuf on September 4th, 2018

Beaujolais Wines

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Beaujolais: 100% Gamay. Blackberries, dried flowers, lots of zing.

-2017  ‘Flower Label’, Beaujolais-Villages: 100% Gamay. Aromatically impressive, brambly with violets; it evolves from sweet fruit to gravelly earth.

 -2017 ‘Domaine de la Fayette’, Brouilly Cru: 100% Gamay. Very spicy with a multi-layered complexity that brings depth to flavors and texture.

 -2017 ‘Flower Label’, Chiroubles Cru: 100% Gamay. Juicy red fruit and cinnamon spice with bright acidity.

 -2017 ‘Flower Label’, Morgon Cru: 100% Gamay. Fresh black raspberry with a richer body and overall earthy quality.

-2017 ‘Jean-Ernest Descombes’, Morgon Cru: 100% Gamay. Big wine with broad shoulders and fierce intensity of fruit. It is exciting to think of how it will evolve with time.

-2017 ‘Domaine des Quatre Vents’, Fleurie Cru: 100% Gamay. Plum pie with a dark, brooding feeling that was energetic with a linear body.

-2017 ‘Château des Capitans’, Juliénas Cru: 100% Gamay. Deeply concentrated fruit that was tightly wound with firm structure… needs more time to age, but there is a depth of complexity that is very intriguing.

-2017 ‘Château de Saint-Amour’, Saint-Amour Cru: 100% Gamay. Pretty rose oil on the nose with fine tannins that created a lace-like structure.

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Moulin-à-Vent Cru: 100% Gamay. Marked acidity with a regal body that was firm yet fine in its quality with pomegranate and dusty earth on the sustained finish.

Burgundy Wines

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Mâcon-Villages: 100% Chardonnay. Golden apple with peach skin and a round, fresh finish.

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Pouilly-Fuissé: 100% Chardonnay. Nectarine flesh with chalky minerality and a hint of spice, and a sensational purity of fruit on the fine finish.

 

 

Note: 2018 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Vintage

The 2018 vintage was just picked as I was visiting Beaujolais a little over a week ago so I didn’t get to taste it in its final stage, but 2018 is a great harvest and I did get to taste many grapes from various vineyards. I could tell that it is a vintage with rich concentration and layers of complexity. And there is thrilling news that Duboeuf will release a Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé this November as well. I’m surprised that they waited until now as it makes perfect sense – I’m excited to try it. It was fun to get a sneak peak at the labels for the 2018 that is the result of a contest that Duboeuf ran giving artists a chance to design their latest Nouveau label.

 

Georges Duboeuf Pays d’Oc Wines Tasted September 15th, 2018

2017 Chardonnay: 100% Chardonnay. Juicy white peach, lemon confit and a hint of the wild Yellow Gentian flower that graces its label finishing with a bright and balanced length.

2017 Pinot Noir: 100% Pinot Noir. Wild strawberries that give rich red fruit flavors and has baking spices interwoven with the lush body with a fresh finish.

2017 Merlot: (cornflower on label) 100% Merlot. The Merlot has soft cassis flavors with baking spices and a sweet blueberry pie finish.

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon: (scabiosa flower on the label) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It hits the palate with black cherry preserve deliciousness and a hint of vanilla bean and toasted oak with dark cocoa powder on the gently structured finish.

 

 

Château des Capitans Vertical Tasted on September 5th, 2018

-2017: 100% Gamay. Deeply concentrated fruit with firm structure and is tightly wound… needs more time but there is a depth of complexity that is very intriguing.

2016: 100% Gamay. Fresh raspberry and strawberries with juicy, mouth watering fruit and lovely dried herbs on the nose. Classic.

2015: 100% Gamay. A great vintage (often compared to 2009) with licorice and tar that had hints of smoldering earth and a shapely body with  a long, expressive finish.

2011: 100% Gamay. Easy going structure with round body, aromas of freshly fallen autumn leaves and fresh berries.

-2009: (from magnum bottle) 100% Gamay. Incredible weight, elegance and generosity all wrapped up with immense complexity with forest floor and tobacco leaf and a fantastically superb length of flavor.

 

 

Domaine de la Colletière Tasted on September 6th, 2018

-2015 Domaine de la Colletière, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. A wine producer who we visited that makes Beaujolais AOC wines for Duboeuf who converted to organic in 2005. It was a wonderful experience to have a lunch made from their gardens and animals from their farm while enjoying the company of the harvesters that were picking the 2018 vintage. This 2015 that was served with lunch was fruit forward, easy drinking, round, spicy and finished with concentrated cherries. A perfect wine to share with the Perol family (producers of Domaine de la Colletière) and the harvesters that loyally come back every year mainly because of their great meals filled with tons of food that satisfy the soul.

 

Domaine des Chenevières (MâconVillages) Tasted September 7th, 2018

-2017 Domaine des Chenevières, Mâcon-Villages: 100% Chardonnay. Zingy quince with lemon confit and a powerful white stony minerality that belied Mâcon-Villages but it was explained that it came from a superior site.

 

 

 

Le Clos Devoluet-Durand (PouillyFuissé) Tasted September 7th, 2018

-2017 Le Clos Devoluet-Durand ‘Les Verchères’, PouillyFuissé: 100% Chardonnay. Exotic fruit such as green mango, papaya and citrus flower with a thrilling amount of tension from mouth-watering acidity and a lime zest finish.

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You Can’t have a Rainbow without Rain

Once we get to a certain place in our lives we sometimes find ourselves revisiting places we had once thought we would never see again. This was my experience going back to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the US, and some might say the world, Big Sur, in the Central Coast of California.

I was first there around 20 years ago…I find it odd to say 20 years ago, but I guess that is what starts happening when you hit your 40s. I was newly married, us only knowing each other a couple months before we tied the knot at City Hall. Not the best decision to make, but what can I say? I was a romantic and I had a lot of issues I was not dealing with at the time. Since I was working a couple of jobs since my first day of living in New York City, I hadn’t had the chance to visit a lot of places – actually, I barely went on a day field trip to somewhere local like the Bronx Zoo, and I didn’t grow up with a family in the traditional sense, so I didn’t have many experiences traveling as a kid. So it was a big deal for me to go out to California, to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, to be part of something, finally, with a marriage; but when we don’t look at the hard issues that plague us from our childhood, we will most certainly make choices based on our dysfunction and not on the healthy future we are trying to build. A few years later, the marriage ended when my then husband had an affair and my world came crumbling down… a ton of bricks hit me and it took a long time to process what had happened, why it had happened, and just to do damage control.

In many ways I felt I never experienced Big Sur during my initial visit because I had so much pain, anger and complete lack of self worth that I was trying to bury deep inside of myself that it was difficult to feel the beauty of the place.

Edna Valley Vineyard

My recent chance to go back out to see Big Sur involved a trip to Edna Valley Vineyard winery – I had actually sold these wines back in the day when I worked on the distribution side of the wine business in New York City and they were always wines that could sell themselves (balanced, elegant, and over-delivering on price). Edna Valley is a bewitching place with gorgeous farmland that has volcanic mountains throughout giving it a dramatic look; it is over 2 hours away from Big Sur and just south of the charming city of San Luis Obispo.

Kamee Knutson

I was able to spend a lot of quality time with Kamee Knutson, winemaker of Edna Valley Vineyard, and despite it being a great opportunity to gain deeper knowledge about the wines that I had already admired (and it didn’t hurt that they had one of the most stunning tasting rooms I have ever seen) it was just an amazing experience to connect with someone who was always present and giving… from the first moment I met her, she insisted on taking off her sunglasses, even though the sun was directly in her eyes and she hadn’t slept that much due to the fact that they had just started harvest, so she could “connect” – and I was thrilled to know she was a yoga teacher on the side.

Kamee is a flame… I was drawn to her warmth and light… I could tell she had a brilliant mind and a hell of a lot of experience but her main priority was to be open and to make those around her feel good. I can see why many people think she is much younger than her actual age because she has a large amount of enthusiasm and approachability that many of us lose as time takes its toll on us.

In one moment, during lunch, I was talking to her about vintages and asked her about when she goes back and re-tastes different years if she relives what she went through? Kamee immediately talked about the intense emotion tasting past vintages can evoke and she recalled recently tasting the 2011. It was one of those hellish years where many producers had to make the decision between salvaging what they could save by picking early or taking the gamble to let the grapes hang and possibly improve through time – she picked the latter and was rewarded with balanced wines from a ferociously tough year. But Kamee said she learned a lot through such an extremely stressful experience… she mainly learned that she had what it took to make such tough decisions, especially when she was surrounded by the opposing pull of colleagues who were playing it safe.

“If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” -Dolly Parton

After our discussion, I realized what makes Kamee such a bright light is that she takes each moment for what it is and she opens herself up to it – and when she makes that decision every day, she takes in the good and the bad with the benefit of making the soundest choices at the time. I could not help but think as she vividly described the 2011 vintage as she was telling her story that her present nature made it possible for her to make the best choice, and how I could not really remember Big Sur during my first visit because I was not allowing myself to be present in life at that time. I think 20 years ago I was disconnected from so many experiences because I was terrified of all of the darkness that could come up; I was denying myself of getting to the point where I could enjoy the simple joys that had surrounded me everyday.

Despite my daily struggle to live a life that is ever present, I do have my moments when I feel like I don’t have the strength to keep that intention… but when I meet someone like Kamee, I am given a real life reminder that a flame needs to be exposed to oxygen to thrive and if you try to protect it too much from the elements, it will be extinguished.

 

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Edna Valley Vineyard Wines Tasted on August 8th & 9th 2018

 The Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast wines sources their grapes from Monterey County to Santa Barbara County.

2017 Central Coast, Rosé, California: Blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This rosé had brambly fruit with fresh acidity and spice on the energetic finish. A fun rosé!

-2017 Central Coast, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. An ideal pairing is a seafood bake feast (we had one on the beach) and this bright Sauvignon Blanc. It had a mouthwatering lemon peel flavor and hints of green mango with a nice amount of flesh on the body along the refreshing finish.

 –2016 Central Coast, Chardonnay, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. A balanced Chardonnay that had juicy peach notes with only a touch of spice that had a moderate body and baked apple on the finish. This is one of their most popular wines and I can see why!

2016 Central Coast, Pinot Noir, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Black cherry and dried flowers made this wine delicious from first sniff and it had an intense energy that carried through to give it a bright lift.

 2016 Central Coast, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast AVA, California: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah. This wine had everything with boysenberry tart flavors, spice cake and shapely tannins that gave it a structure that balanced the generous fruit.

 

Edna Valley Vineyard Winemaker Series Wines are only available in their tasting room and express the unique characteristics of specific appellations within the Central Coast.

2017 Winemaker Series Heritage, Rosé, Edna Valley AVA, California: Blend of Syrah, Pinot Noir & Grenache. This rosé definitely kicked it up to the next level with wild strawberries, salty minerality and orange blossoms making the view of the volcanic mountains of Edna Valley even that much more enchanting. A velvety texture with a zing of tart cherry on the finish made this rosé a food-friendly companion.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. Sourced from their “Heritage Block” of Chardonnay planted on its own roots in 1973 (not grafted), the combination of the Tepesque clone, climate and vine age results in lower yields with more concentrated flavors. Ripe nectarines with a touch of crème brûlée and nutmeg with a fleshy, sultry body that had a long, flavorful finish.

 2017 Winemaker Series Heritage, Fleur de Edna Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. The Wente Chardonnay clone was used which retains its acidity and gives the wine a delicate floral note. Although this wine is “Chablis-like” in its style, it is 100% Edna Valley cool climate Chardonnay and shows the diversity of the various micro-climates in the area. Lemon zest, green melon and an intoxicating perfume that had a fierce, linear body that was taut and exciting.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Pinot Noir, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Pinot Noir. The Central Coast is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir country and this ‘Winemaker Series’ Pinot Noir from Edna Valley is proof of that. This wine is a special beauty that gives layers of stunning aromatics such as lilacs and cardamom with restrained fruit of wild cherries that has a long, linear finish that was impressive with its delicate nature.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Meritage, Paso Robles AVA, California: 43% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 9% other select varieties. Lush plum pie and cinnamon notes with gravelly earth that finished with tannins that were as smooth as silk.

 

Edna Valley Vineyard Reserve wines are made from the top selection of their grapes of the Central Coast.

2015 Reserve, Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. The Reserve Edna Valley is their richest Chardonnay, keeping in mind that their overall style is fresh and restrained. Kamee Knutson, winemaker for Edna Valley, called this the “Dolly Parton” of her Chardonnay wines and I thought that was the ideal descriptor. Dolly Parton may have been mostly known for her superficial outside appearance but she is a brilliant, extremely talented woman (writing many hits for other singers) who has quietly given large amounts of money to charities over many decades; so there is a lot more than meets the eye. The same can be said for this wine with its immediately satisfying notes of caramelized pineapple, salt water taffy and an underlying wet stone note that makes this wine regally decadent with an inner core that is elegant and all about being a class act.

2014 Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles AVA, California: 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 2% Viognier. Dark cocoa powder, fresh violets, smoky cedar embers and beautiful cassis made this wine hard to resist just by the nose and delivered plenty of acidity, elegant structure and character to the intensely concentrated fruit along the expressively delightful finish.

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The Road that will Last

Rambunctious laughter along with the faint smell of Pringles snack chips drifted around the huge bus that was speeding down the main roads from Venice to Bologna in Italy. One would think we were a bunch of long-time friends as we chuckled at the idea of the bus driver pulling over because the lower hatch, which kept our luggage in the lower compartment area, wasn’t completely shut, imaging our baggage sprawled along the highway. But we weren’t friends, or colleagues; we weren’t even acquaintances… we were complete strangers who all shared one thing in common: our plans to travel home that day got completely derailed.

Vin Natur

I had just finished a trip to Veneto, Italy to take workshops with Vin Natur, an organization started by one of the founding fathers of natural wine Angiolino Maule. While there, I delved into their research and work to deliver consistently high quality across the board when it comes to making wines naturally. Also, it was great to have a group define natural wines led by one of the living legends who started the movement. I ended up blind tasting over 150 natural wines, mainly from Italy, surrounded by the beautiful carvings of the monastery where the events were held, in the charming town of Vicenza, which was a reflection of the grand ideals these wines lived up to… it was an incredible experience with global wine experts from around the world in attendance.

Traveling Home

At the end of these work trips, I am always exhausted because I give every ounce of energy I have to the task at hand; also, being away from my husband takes its toll and I start to get homesick so I was looking forward to getting home at soon as I could. I arrived early at the Marco Polo airport in Venice, an international airport I have flown in and out of many times, because it is notorious for being a relatively small airport that handles an overwhelming number of travelers. I have heard of various people missing a flight out of Venice, despite their early arrival, because of the copious, seemingly endless lines that one needs to navigate just to get anywhere near their gate. But on this particular morning, it was not that bad and I actually got to the gate quite early, only to find out shortly afterwards that there was going to be an hour delay.

Although I did not look forward to staying an extra hour in the cramped Venice airport, it should have still been possible to catch my connecting flight in Dublin, Ireland… but then the dreaded news that there was going to be a 2 hour delay unsettled my stomach – I would not be able to make my connection to New York City. I scrambled to look for later flight options out of Dublin, but before I knew it, people around me were saying, “The flight is canceled!” What made this particular situation even more stressful was the idea that there was no representatives from our airline, Aer Lingus, in the Venice airport and to make matters even more complicated, there was a language barrier that made it difficult for us to understand the situation. When my fellow passengers and I approached the desk in a desperate plea to get answers to our fate, we were met with such perplexing replies as, “You need to figure it out with them” to which a few of my fellow passengers shouted “Aren’t YOU them!?!” All of us on that canceled flight quickly realized that we could only rely on each other… we needed to get to know each other quickly, look out for each other, share information, and most importantly, make sure that no one was left behind.

Strength in Like Minded People

Angiolino Maule and his colleagues got to a similar point when they realized that the only way they could improve and promote natural wines was to depend on each other. Angiolino is a legend with a loyal following but his legacy is not just about his own family winery, it is an integrity he is passionately trying to bring back to the world. He has gathered a diverse group of people who sit on the executive committee of Vin Natur, ranging from other natural winemakers to scientists to former commercial winemakers, that oversees a membership of over 200 who benefit from the research and resources of the collective group. Vin Natur expects their members to not only keep within their guidelines to be considered a natural wine, but they also expect the wines to be fault free. They believe both of these ideals can live in harmony when like minded people combine their energies.

It was interesting to learn that in 2016, 4 of their members’ wines were found to have pesticides when they analyzed 150 samples from their group, as the producers were genuinely shocked. Later on it was found that a couple of producers were buying “organic” treatments from a company that did indeed have pesticides in these treatments and so those producers stopped working with that company. A year later, none of the samples contained any of the 188 different pesticides that Vin Natur has identified, and as a group they were happy to give the producers that had tested positive for pesticides in 2016 another chance, which in 2017 they passed the analyses with flying colors having no pesticides. Despite the group taking any sort of misstep against their rules seriously, with possible revocation of membership, they give their members a chance to redeem themselves the next year as many of these small producers simply need help and guidance, and in the above case, they need to be protected from unscrupulous companies trying to make a quick buck.

Back in the Venice airport, I was shoving a caprese sandwich and a large can of Pringles (I was not limiting myself to the travel size this time!) down my throat because we were given a “one hour” lunch break before we had to return to board a bus that would take us to Bologna to catch a flight that would get us to Dublin around 10pm, with hopefully other flights to get us home the next morning… but within the first 15 minutes of our hour long break, one of the other passengers grabbed my arm and said, “The bus is leaving now!” I was on the phone with my husband, who I was catching up with at the time while trying to eat the fastest meal of my life, so I told him, “I gotta go!” and hung up the phone as I raced outside. I couldn’t blame the Venice airport staff for wanting to get rid of us as soon as possible, albeit with a “f@(k you” look on their face as we loaded the bus; earlier, a couple of the passengers understandably flipped out on that same staff who were really just trying to relay the limited information they were given at the time. It was simply a bad situation for all parties involved. But if it wasn’t for my fellow passengers having my back, I would have been stranded in a very tough position.

All of Us Would Have Had Each Other

Once we got to Dublin, the staff at the Aer Lingus desk more than made up for what had happened and we ended up spending a free night at a nearby hotel, and before any of us knew it, it was the next morning and we were running to our gates to go back home, but not without having a moment to say goodbye to each other. One of the things that most of us had major anxieties about was the thought of having to spend the night at the airport and all of us expressed our relief that was not the case in our farewell. But one of the women said, “It would have been fine because all of us would have had each other.” And I found out that many of us had envisioned all of us sleeping in a circle with our bags piled up in the middle, protected by our collective tribe. It was bittersweet to say goodbye in that moment, as I knew we would never see each other again, but it renewed my faith that there are people who wholeheartedly believe in the power of community – even if it is only for a 24-hour span of trying to get back home.

That is why Vin Natur will succeed where individual producers have failed in the long term. They are not taking the easy road, but by gathering and preserving a group that is trying to accomplish a lofty goal, it is the road that will last.

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Vin Natur Wines Tasted on June 14th & 15th, 2018

It is always complicated to taste a large amount of wines blind within a short amount of time, and so, the following wines weren’t the best of the lot per se, but just stood out in that moment as some may have needed more decanting than others. Of course, considering that the majority of the Vin Natur members are located in Italy, the below list should not indicate that a particular country is better at making natural wines than others.

The following list is only in the order of how the wines were presented in the blind tasting.

-2016 Vini Conestabile della Staffa, “Il Brioso”, Umbria, Italy: Blend of Grechetto & Trebbianco Toscano. This frizzante white wine was absolutely delicious with a mineral drive, mouthwatering acidity and zesty finish.

2016 Tenuta Belvedere, “Wai”, Lombardy, Italy: 70% Pinot Nero and 30% Riesling Italiaco. Another frizzante knock-out with fierce minerality that had a tart, lively edge and a lifted finish.

2016 Il Cavallino di Maule Sauro, “Pri”, Veneto, Italy: 100% Garganega. Sauro Maule, no relation to Angiolino Maule, is one of Angiolino’s students who made him proud by being one of the top wines, scored highly by all the judges. This white wine was generous and complex with pure fruit and bright acidity.

2016 Marina Palusci Az. Agr., “Senzaniente”, Abruzzo, Italy: 100% Montepulciano. Elegant wine (I know it is strange to say this with the Montepulciano variety) that gives pretty fruit, minerality and good energy.

2017 Lamoresca di Rizzo Filippo, “Nerocapitano”, Sicily, Italy: 100% Frappato. Nimble yet concentrated with red and black fruit and a touch of earth, good structure and shape along the long length.

2014 Tenuta Canto alla Moraia, “San Sereno”, Tuscany, Italy: 40% Sangiovese, 20% Colorino, 20% Malvasia Nera and 20% Foglia Tonda. The nose was fantastic, complex and elegant, with bright fruit and floral notes with a round body.

-2016 Cantina Margò, “Bianco Regio”, Umbria, Italy: 100% Trebbiano. This wine would not be for everyone but I really liked the oxidative quality as it was done well. Rich nutty and spicy notes and lovely minerality on the finish.

2016 La Biancara Soc. Agr., “Pico”, Veneto, Italy: 100% Garganega. Any serious natural wine fans will know this wine… from the man himself, Angiolino Maule, and his top wine “Pico”. I scored this wine high on “authentic character” and said “great sense of minerality” which was evident from first sip to finish. Orange peel and beautiful fruit expression made this wine a pleasure to taste and it had a great zing throughout.

2017 Domaine de Courbissac, “L’Orange”, Languedoc, France: 70% Marsanne with a blend of Muscat, Terret and Grenache Gris. This orange wine was just so enjoyable to drink with notes of orange blossom and chalk with an overall elegant, pristine quality.

-2015 Klabjan, “Malvazija”, Istria, Slovenia: 100% Malvasia. This orange wine scored third to highest when I tasted it blind and it was my favorite orange wine. I have no experience with Slovenian wines and considering two other Slovenian producers scored highly for me as well, Reia and Kmetija Štekar, I’m thinking I better seek more out. This wine was multifaceted with flowers, stone fruit, minerality and it was vibrant with an extraordinarily long finish. It was a WOW wine!

-2014 Barale, “Castellero” Barolo, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. Pristine fruit with red cherry, rose oil and smoldering earth with a long finish shaped by well etched tannins.

-2011 Podere Giocoli, “Alione” Chianti, Tuscany, Italy: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo. A lovely nuanced wine that showed the beauty when Sangiovese and Canaiolo work together with overall finesse with intoxicating smell of wild flowers.

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Co-Fermentation – Being Our Best Selves Together

America is a crazy experiment when it comes to mixing a diversity of races and ancestries without one distinctive culture uniting all of us. It is messy, chaotic and just plain scary at times… the fierce, in your face, clashes we have and the constant debate over ‘where does freedom of expression end and the safeguard of a society begin’ seems to never resolve itself. These thoughts were intensified by a documentary I saw recently that addressed the last years of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – a beloved American civil rights leader who, according to his closest friends and colleagues, was a great man who had his own moments of doubt and conflict.

Talbott Vineyards

It was serendipitous that I would find myself in the Talbott Vineyards cellar with winemaker David Coventry talking about the brighter future of Talbott based on a new Pinot Noir which co-ferments 3 different types of clones instead of fermenting each different clone separately and then blending them together… this wine was the only one that could be co-fermented successfully, in David’s opinion, because it was from the best grapes that were all ready at the same time.

Co-Fermentation

Co-fermenting grapes, not only from different clones but from different varieties, is not a new practice; actually it is an ancient one. It was common for small producers in traditional winemaking countries, such as Italy, to have a “field blend” of varieties that were drastically different – even with red and white varieties – and wine producers would pick them all together and toss them all into a vessel to ferment together. As one can imagine, this was more for practical purposes for struggling producers who were just working with the hodgepodge of grape vines that were planted by the previous generations – many of them not even identified. Also, another reason for co-fermentation was due to the idea that one variety seemed to help out a weakness of another while it went through the process.

It was interesting to hear David talk about the idea of co-fermentation as the ideal way of making a Pinot Noir when dealing with high quality grapes that reached a balanced state all at the same time. As some of you California wine lovers may already know, Talbott Vineyards is known for raising the identity of the Monterey area as a high quality winemaking AVA (American Viticultural Area) and so its reputation is set, but bringing on David Coventry as the head winemaker, a man who believes in upping the bar for excellence everyday, a couple years ago is a signal that Talbott has many more achievements in the wine world to come… it is exciting to think what the future holds.

I was lucky enough to get a tiny preview of their future with David as he tasted us on various barrels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in their cellar. When it was Pinot Noir time, he saved the most thrilling for last and that was a wine, the name of it not determined yet, that had the 3 different clones co–fermented as discussed above. As we tasted it, I was blown away… it had everything… intense aromatics, fleshy fruit, lush body, elegant structure and fresh acidity, and then as the finish wafted around in my head, I could hear David explain that it was on another level from the other samples because of the “unified flavor set”.

Better Ability to Co-Ferment

David went on to discuss that what made this 3 clone co-fermented wine possible was Talbott’s project to replant old vines with better clones that were appropriate for each plot. His response to people who are horrified that they are taking out the old vines: “What is important is the piece of ground and how you respect it and focus its power.”

It is interesting when I travel to other countries, and I love to travel, that some people I meet express how terrifying the US seems from the various news clips of the innumerable clashes and they feel sorry for me to be living in such a place. But honestly, I would not want to have been born in any other country because, despite knowing all the tough issues we face on a daily basis, I would never have had the opportunity to be exposed to a multitude of ways of life, mindsets, or expressions of being if I had not been born and continued to live my 43 years here. There is a price for everything and the hard road of trying to create a world where everyone freely expresses their true inner self is the road that I will choose every time. But I do think we can have our own successful co-fermented moments… when we are surrounded by people who decide to be their best and we are all at that ideal, balanced place in our life. Those are the moments that kept Dr. King going and those moments will keep hope alive for all of us.

As younger generations evolve to the next stage, like the old vines getting replanted by newer vines that have a better ability to co-ferment, our diverse society will have more of those ideal moments of co-fermentation.

 

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 Tasting of Talbott Vineyards Wines on August 6th & 7th, 2018

2016 ‘Kali Hart’, Chardonnay, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The ‘Kali Hart’ wines are Talbott’s most fruit-forward expression of their Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. This wine was everything that one wants from their weekly Chardonnay with lush exotic fruit that was balanced by bright citrus peel with a sense of place on the finish. A truly delightful wine that hits the spot every time.

 

2016 ‘Kali Hart’, Pinot Noir, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. Sometimes it can seem impossible to find a very nice Pinot Noir at a reasonable price… but this ‘Kali Hart’ will not break the bank to buy a bottle. Talbott winemaker David Coventry said that all of us have a section in our brain marked “yum” and this wine “pushes that button”. Ripe raspberry with baking spice and hint of Tahitian vanilla bean with a texture that felt like ribbons of silk.

 

2016 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The Sleepy Hollow vineyard brought attention to well-made wine from Monterey, especially from the sub-appellation Santa Lucia Highlands and Talbott is the producer who started it all. This Chardonnay was laced with intense minerality that had lemon curd flavors that brought a creamy quality balanced by vigor that finished with a touch of marzipan.

-2016 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. I love, love this wine and I must admit I have a weakness for great Pinot Noir. Multi-layered wild red berries with a lush body that had a firmer structure than the 2015 below. It had an incredible depth of flavor and complexity with plum pie and nutmeg flavors that had hints of gravelly earthiness and it was stunning in its superb length of flavor.

-2015 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. The 2015 had higher toned wild berry notes than the 2016 that were delicate and pretty in a more ethereal experience. A light and nimble wine that caught me off guard having power in its staying power as it danced in my head all night long.

2014 Diamond T Vineyard, Chardonnay, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The Diamond T 14-acre (6 hectares) vineyard was planted with the Corton-Charlemagne Chardonnay clone in 1982 by Robb Talbott in a virtually soil-free chalky shale on a 1,200-foot mountaintop (366 meters). A lovely citrus blossom nose with hints of acacia and chalky soil that had lots of finesse and energy on the palate with marked acidity and fresh lemon flavors that were balanced with a creamy body along the long, pure finish.

2014 Diamond T Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. From the Diamond T vineyard as well from a selection of Dijon clone grapes. This is a cool climate, producing aromatically complex Pinot Noir that is balanced by low yields for deeper concentration. At first, this wine was brooding with black cherries and scorched earth notes but it transformed in the glass with cinnamon bark, fresh cranberries and a stony minerality that danced on the top of the darker, more sultry, flavors. The velvety texture combined with the complex, dense and bright notes made this a world class show stopper that continued all its delights along an extremely long and expressive finish.

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