A Life of Service is a Life Fulfilled

 

Everyday during my time in Montalcino, Tuscany, I awoke to the warm glow of the sun highlighting the rolling fog in the morning. It didn’t matter the time of day as the place gave a feeling of enchantment at all times that was further echoed by the beauty and charm of their famous Brunello di Montalcino wines that show the heart and soul of the Italian Sangiovese grape. As a full day of visiting producers in the area was winding down we would approach one of the most historic Brunello producers as the blue sky deepened its color while the light fell behind the stone buildings.

Fattoria dei Barbi

Fattoria dei Barbi is one of the producers that helped to shape Brunello into the success that it is today. The Colombini family founded the estate in 1790 and a document proves that they sold wine to France, under the wine name of “Chianti di Montalcino”, as early as 1817 yet Stefano Cinelli Colombini (CEO of Fattoria dei Barbi) said that he had found documents that go back to the them selling wine in bulk as far back as the 1300s.

Stefano Cinelli Colombini

Stefano Cinelli Colombini met us outside his family winery, which also had a lovely restaurant on the property, Taverna dei Barbi. Despite Stefano earning a Law degree, he decided to pass on being a lawyer and instead helped grow the family’s business. His maternal grandfather, Giovanni Colombini, accomplished with cousin, Tancredi Biondi-Santi, the herculean task of raising the quality and profile of Brunello di Montalcino wines and that Colombini baton was passed to Stefano’s mother, his grandfather’s oldest daughter, and now he carries it today – although he notes that his elderly mother is always there in the cellars with him as he gestured at a life sized photo of her during our tour.

Stefano was a sweet man with a gentle personality whose eyes would constantly sparkle with delight when he talked about the history of Montalcino and Brunello wines. The Colombini family had an impressive history with important politicians, scholars and nobility that shaped the area through the ages and as the 20th generation heir to their winery and land (that he has divided with his sister), Stefano is the custodian of preserving and sharing their legacy. It seemed each Colombini he pointed out, as we passed their photo, had a fantastic story that accompanied him and it was as if Stefano was taking us in a time machine through several centuries of Montalcino; then we came upon the “saint” of the family.

The Saint

The saint in question was Giovanni Colombini. Giovanni is an important, common name in their family, but this particular one lived during the 1300s in the nearby city of Siena. As we asked about more detail of this saint, Stefano beamed with enthusiasm as it seemed he was quickly going through his ancestors’ biographies as he wasn’t sure if it interested us; but our evident curiosity gave him an opportunity to tell us this saint’s story that he was obviously dying to tell. “He was the richest man of Siena at that time and he was a banker”, Stefano started telling us with a slight smile that indicated his awareness that no one would ever guess that would have been the beginning of a saint’s story. Stefano continued, “One day he came home and found his wife reading a book on the history of saints and he was upset because he wanted to eat and she was so busy reading that she didn’t make dinner. So he took the book and threw it into the fire yet one page remained in his hand; the page spoke of a saint from Florence, a female, who decided to give everything to the poor.”

Then Stefano described in detail the confusion of Giovanni and how his ancestor obsessed over the story of this woman giving her life to the service of others. Through time Giovanni saw his life as foolish because he was devoting everything to money and power when the “only real thing was eternal life.” So he went to the main public space in Siena, Piazza del Campo, and he walked into the halls of government and started scrubbing the floors; he then went into the streets and started washing the feet of the poor, as it was a way to find that special saint trait of humility within himself. Since Giovanni was well-known as the richest man in town, a crowd of people gathered and they were shocked – many thought he had gone mad.

Giovanni told his wife he would leave the trappings of the world to live a life that was completely devoted to service like the story that inspired him; he set up his wife with a life-annuity and then gave the rest of his money to charities. He then formed a group that included devotees who gave up their worldly possessions to spend their lives among the people, teaching the gospel, taking care of the sick and even teaching academics such as mathematics to help educate those that never had the means to be gifted with formal schooling. And those who were part of this order could only accept food, such as bread, to survive and they were never to accept money. Their ultimate fate was explained by Stefano, “But then the order was placed into question by the Catholic Church because they did not speak Latin and only spoke Italian to connect with the local people and so the order was closed. It is a pity as it was really a noble idea to deal directly with the people.”

A Deeper Meaning

I was taken by this story as I myself, in the beginning of my adulthood, considered devoting my life to becoming a Buddhist monk; spending a life serving others, no thoughts about material things, practicing discipline of the mind while debating the age old questions of our times. And I could see the great admiration from Stefano in regards to this particular forefather as he himself has devoted himself to tell the stories of Montalcino, talking to historians throughout the decades; he has even written a book about the various families of Montalcino that he will release soon. But his devotion to preserving this history is purely a passion as there is no real money besides paying off expenses that are gained. This greater purpose is evident in the museum he created on his property that is devoted to all the different centuries of his homeland, as far back as he can find as he is constantly searching to showcase this particular civilization. After my visit with him, it made sense why every other wine producer we visited talked so highly of this winery; not only because of their historical importance that includes them being the first to export their wines after World War II but the generosity of Stefano to spread the “gospel” of Montalcino was the biggest part of it.

The Buddhist monk’s life was not for me; honestly, I think I was using it to hide from issues that I needed to resolve in the greater world and that my place of service was within my community; yet every day it is difficult struggling with all the superficial trappings that is always trying to take one off track of finding deeper meaning to their life. But I think many of us who feel at times useless or lost undervalue our own contributions; whether it be to family, friends, volunteering or even those seemingly small moments when we decide to take the higher road at work to not be ruthless, possibly losing out on advancement, or deciding to help an acquaintance while refusing to receive anything in return. We don’t give ourselves enough credit of how we are servicing the world even if we are not part of some formal order or specific belief system.

Stefano’s story of the saint of the family shows a man who found purpose by simply going to the streets and taking care of all that he could; Stefano has the same philosophy with his passion as an “amateur historian,” as he calls himself, with photos, documents and artifacts that overwhelmingly focus more on the place than his particular family history… he even has bottles, enlarged photos and biographies of many of the other producers in his museum and ultimately he wants all the producers to be honored there. As we constantly peppered him with questions about his extraordinary place in Brunello history, he downplayed it with the idea that his family was lucky and it really didn’t become exciting until the area, that was at one time a dying town, started to become successful as a whole… and it dawned on me that his service to this area is really what makes Fattoria dei Barbi an outstanding producer. It is an example that all of us can live up to everyday.

 

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Fattoria dei Barbi Wines Tasted on October 10th, 2019

2019 has been a long growing season for Montalcino and so many people had just picked grapes during our visit and hence Stefano gave us a tasting of Sangiovese in the first day, second day and third day of fermentation. All of the producers we visited had talked about ’19 as being high for quality as well as quantity and a lot of the juice, as well as grapes we tasted, just coming into the cellar, were already delicious.

 

Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (100% Sangiovese) Wines:

2012 Riserva: 2012 produced rich wines with ripe fruit while still having freshness that was displayed in this brooding, black berried wine with lots of spice and tobacco leaf yet it was vibrant and bright on the long, flavorful finish.

2012 “Vigna del Fiore” Single Vineyard: The Vigna del Fiore is 14 acres (5.7 hectares) in size and it has been cultivated by the Colombini family since the 16th century. Stefano said this is one of the southernmost and oldest vineyards in the whole area of the Brunello di Montalcino and it is known for its elegance. Jasmine tea and juicy cassis on the nose drew me in to find sweet black and red cherries on the palate with hints of tar and crumbly earth that was multi-textured with finely pixelated tannins on the impressively complex finish. Only 3,900 bottles were made.

-2013 “Vigna del Fiore” Single Vineyard: 2013 was a cooler vintage that produced wines with restrained fruit, intense aromatics and crisp acidity. A delightfully pretty nose with violets, fresh oregano and minerality that had a linear structure with chiseled tannins and fierce acidity that gave an energetic lift to the wine that was persistent in its aromatic enchantment. Only 4,000 bottles were made.

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Partners in Life Come in All Forms

It was a hectic day a few weeks ago when I visited the wine producer Weingut Weegmüller, as the harvest started earlier than expected in their wine region of Pfalz, Germany, but one of the family owners Gabriele Weegmüller was still gracious enough to give a tour of the vineyards and winery with a tasting at the end. Despite these wines having been exported into the U.S. market for many years, there was one wine that was still not and that was their Cuvée 3 Schwestern (sisters in English) because the label was not as modern as the other ones. But this pretty label that depicted three young sisters represented the Weegmüller women; Gabriele handling the sales and exports while her sister Stefanie (Steffi) was the winemaker and another sister who passed away. Although the passing of their sister happened many years ago, it was too much for Gabriele to speak about it further and she asked that we move on to another topic.

It was deeply moving to see how much these sisters meant to each other and became evident with how Gabriele would beam with pride when talking about Steffi becoming, in 1984, the first German female vintner with sole responsibility in the cellar. Sometimes with family wineries it is not possible for siblings to work together, let alone run the operation as a team, but it seemingly was an asset with the Weegmüller sisters who were true partners in keeping the family business successful.

Pfalz

The Pfalz wine region is the one that many young, hardcore German wine drinkers are the most excited about as there have been a few rock star winemakers making thrilling dry wines as the climate is warmer and drier than many other regions. Also, it is known for making a significant amount of everyday wine but that is not so surprising as the area’s ease of achieving ripeness makes it possible to make quality wine at an affordable price.

Weegmüller

Weingut Weegmüller was established in the middle of Pfalz, in the Haardt district, in 1685. The winery is currently the oldest in the area that has been continuously owned by the same family. Both Steffi and Gabriele have become great examples for other German women to take leadership positions in the German male-dominated wine industry and they have made sure to place other women in key positions at Weegmüller as well. Weegmüller is mainly a white wine estate with Steffi’s favorite varieties being Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner, as well as Riesling; Gabriele proudly stated, “Steffi is known as the Queen of Scheurebe” and Steffi is part of bringing an interest in the variety. Their Alte Reben trocken Rieslings are known for their intense minerality.

Klundt

One of those up and coming rock stars is the shy yet thoughtful Sven Klundt who is the winemaker for his family winery Weingut Klundt. Klundt is located in the southern part of Pfalz and although it has been the northern area that has historically been the most well known because of a few iconic producers, there has been a shift to look at other areas such as the middle and southern sections to find other producers making high quality wines for a fraction of the price. Sven Klundt is one who is getting noticed, especially his last few vintages. In 2017 he was named one of the 25 “Winemaker Talents of the Year” in VINUM magazine. Sven may have a gentle personality but his top wines are not, especially his Kastanienbusch vineyard site, and they perform like Grosses Gewächs “great site” without breaking the bank but is not labeled as such since his winery is not part of the VDP invitation-only group. From his Extra Brut Traditional Sparkling Sekt to his “Grand Gru” Riesling vertical, it was an impressive lineup that showed that there is an exciting future for the southern area of the Pfalz.

Wachtenburg Winzer

After visiting Weegmüller and Klundt I honestly thought it was going to be disappointing to visit a coop in the north as such a visit doesn’t have the same personal impact as family wineries. But the wine coop of Wachtenburg Winzer was a wonderful visit as a sense of community was brought by the Managing Director, Albert Kallfelz; Albert talked about the grape growing families (members of the coop) like they were old friends and it was lovely to see many of their faces on the walls of the tasting room. The vineyards come from the Mittelhaardt which has been historically known as the best in Pfalz; remarkably, the area can receive around 2,000 hours of sunshine and Albert joked that it was a much better place to live than the Mosel wine region where he grew up. The wines were delicious and a real value as some of their entry level wines were only a few Euro and even with the added cost to import and distribute in the U.S. they would still be an incredible bargain.

Partnerships That Last

When it comes to the best types of partnerships they are always the ones that last and that does not always mean in the literal sense. Some of the most important people in our lives – family, friends, spouses or mentors, leave a strong mark and these people never leave us. It doesn’t matter how we originally became connected as all that matters is that they were interwoven into the fabric of our spirit. But it can still be painful when times get tough and stressful and you wished that she was there to help you in that way she always did. It is something that these very different wineries all have in common as Sven Klundt has a great partnership with his family that allows him, at such a young age, to take the winemaking reins and the Wachtenburg Winzer brought together families with prized vineyards that formed a partnership of building a modern winery so they could make quality wine. And it is undoubtedly part of the story of the Weegmüller sisters who are all represented on that bottle of Cuvée 3 Schwestern – they started together and they are still together, at least in spirit.

 

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Tastings at Wineries on September 11th, 2019

Most of the wines below are dry wines and even those that had a small amount of residual sugar tasted dry and hence why there is no reference to the sweetness level of the wines.

Klundt

-2017 Klundt, Pinot Extra Brut Sparkling Sekt: Mainly Pinot Noir with some Pinot Blanc made in traditional style with 16 months on the lees; riddling by hand. Fine bubbles with hints of cherry blossom and white stone fruit.

-2016 Klundt, Pinot Noir “Obsession”: Obsession (name of Sven’s small town) notes that this is a village wine as opposed to some of the single vineyard bottlings that Sven makes. Fresh thyme and cinnamon with juicy black cherry fruit and silky tannins.

-2017 Klundt, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve: This wine is a joint project with Sven’s friend Benjamin Ehrhart. Lemon rind with white flowers and hint of green mango.

-2017 Klundt, Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc) “Obsession”: This is from 30 year old vines. A fun nose with anise seed, cardamom, citrus blossom and a juicy, fresh palate.

-2016 Klundt, “Kastanienbusch” Riesling: Sven gave us three different vintages of his single vineyard Riesling “Kastanienbusch” that is considered a top site. The soil is called Rotliegend and it is thought to be created by the collapse of the Rhine rift valley 40 million years ago. Nectarine with intense minerality and smoke that had a fierce energy and a breathtaking sense of purity of fruit on the finish.

-2017 Klundt, “Kastanienbusch” Riesling: Creamier than 2016 with more floral notes and a touch of sweet fruit on the mid palate that was round and crisp on the finish.

-2018 Klundt, “Kastanienbusch” Riesling: Ripe peach fruit with sweet spice and more lush fruit that expanded on the flavorful sustained length.

Weingut Weegmüller

-2018 Weegmüller, Scheurebe: A crossing of Silvaner and Riesling – it is one of Germany’s most successful crossings. Stone fruit and wild flowers with a linear body.

-2018 Weegmüller, Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc): Rich body and golden apples.

-2018 Weegmüller, Cuvée 3 Schwestern: Equal blend of Grauer Burgunder (Pinot Gris), Scheurebe and Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc). Broad body with exotic fruit and candied chilies.

-2018 Weegmüller, Vom Gelben Fels Riesling: A blend of Rieslings grown on various soils. Smoky minerality with baked apples and hints of fresh herbs.

-2017 Weegmüller, Herrenletten Alte Reben (Old Vines) Riesling: The Herrenletten vineyard has old vines planted in sandstone and calcareous soil. Very spicy with a saline minerality and rich concentration.

-2016 Weegmüller, Herrenletten Alte Reben (Old Vines) Riesling: Wet stones with Asian spices and rounder body than the 2017 with a long aromatic finish.

-2017 Weegmüller, Pegasus Rieslaner Spätlese: Rieslaner is a crossing of the Silvaner and Riesling grapes. Apricot jam with hints of lemon rind with bright acidity.

-2017 Weegmüller, Von 4 Morgen Riesling Auslese: Fierce acidity with ripe stone fruits and pear syrup flavors with a mixture of violets.

Wachtenburg Winzer

-2018 Wachtenburg Winzer, Blanc de Noir: Made from Pinot Noir with a light body with pretty red fruit and gentle bubbles.

-2018 Wachtenburg Winzer, Rosé “Junge Winzer”: Pinot Noir rosé with ripe strawberry fruit and a textured body with spice on the finish.

-2018 Wachtenburg Winzer, Riesling “Wachenheimer Fuchsmantel”: This comes from Riesling that was grown on sandy clay soil with a layer of limestone; it had a rich weight with dried pineapple and stony notes.

-2018 Wachtenburg Winzer, Riesling “Wachenheimer Gerümpel”: Riesling grown on loamy, sandy soil with basalt deposits and a gentle southern slope which gives full exposure to the sun. Candied orange rind with complex notes of cumin and a marked minerality at the core with a hint of lemon verbena on the finish.

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We Need to Listen if We Want to be Heard

Photo Credit: © Abir Sultan EPA Shutterstock

The world around us is changing faster than most of us can keep up, and combined with the idea that the internet and over-saturation of news makes it all too tempting for even respectable newspapers to go for the sensational spin, it is a difficult time to have a balanced viewpoint. Yes, journalism is vital to a free democracy and I vehemently support it but we are living in times where tribalism (my team is better than your team) reigns supreme and it becomes which side is bad and which is good instead of actively trying to understand different circumstances to ultimately better the world for everyone. In this world of demonizing any group that slightly opposes our own views, many get caught in the crossfire.

Israel

As an American, I am welcomed, for the most part, around the world with open arms (and no, I don’t tip in places where tipping isn’t part of the culture, but always at least 20% in New York City of course) and I never spend that much money as I am always on a tight budget, and so there are other factors at play. For one thing, the US has a very powerful media and entertainment industry that reaches the globe so many will be familiar with some aspects of the melting pot of cultures that exist here, and when someone is familiar with a people they seem less threatening. The idea that we are so diverse with our ancestry, lots of us being mutts, many people around the world can see themselves in our TV shows and movies. And so, for the most part, whether traveling around Europe or Vietnam or Indonesia or China, I have always met friendly people, outside of those trying to sell me something, that were happy to help me out or just wanted to pick my brain to learn more about my personal American experience… as well as me trying to learn more about their world. There have only been a few exceptions but those insults hurled at me by strangers were then followed by xenophobic comments against other countries as well and I realized in that moment that the issue is with that particular person’s prejudices against anyone not superficially exactly like them.

But there are other countries that are not so lucky and they only get one sliver of its world shown around the globe – Israel certainly falls into this category. One of the greatest things about being a poor, or even struggling middle class, person in New York City is that if you are lucky enough to live in a multicultural neighborhood, you meet people from all areas of the world; some Europeans, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, Palestinian and Israeli, as well as a whole array of countries and cultures are represented. Every financially struggling person is dependent on their community to survive, and so, in my case, I depended on people with all sorts of origins as they depending on me to get by; very early in life I realized that I couldn’t judge a people by its government and that things, in general, are a lot more complicated than waving a magic wand to create peace.

Diversity of Culture in Israel

Whether you agree or disagree with the current Prime Minister (PM) of Israel and his conservative party, it is still important to note that there are around 17 parties as a whole represented in the Israeli government and the last election for the PM was pretty close. I’m not going to get into politics and judge one side against the other as that is not the point, but it is the idea that there are all sorts of different types of people in Israel that each see a different path to get to the same place; the same can be said about Palestine, China and America. But unfortunately, only one type of Israeli news sells internationally, when in reality it really only makes up a tiny percentage of the average person’s life there.

One falsehood commonly believed in America that I will dispel is that the ancestry of the Israeli people does not go beyond Europe and the Middle East, as most of us probably would guess. In fact, there are people who have come from South America and parts of Africa – especially Ethiopia as some Ethiopians are Jewish. Also, the second largest city in Israel, Tel Aviv, is one of the top LGBT friendly cities in the world to visit and they host the largest Pride parade in the Middle East and Asia. The city of Tel Aviv is broken up into different worlds as there is the clubbing, beach scene that reminds one of Miami, the European quality of the cafés surrounding the tree lined walkway of Rothschild Blvd, and the free, liberal, open minded atmosphere that is represented by the smell of marijuana in the air.

I was even surprised at all the street art that I witnessed, even in the supposedly conservative city of Jerusalem, as well as fun craft beer bars and the still lingering smell of cannabis in the food markets (I guess they are not that conservative), which was a fun contrast after visiting the Old City which contains holy sites for Christianity, Islam and Judaism – highly recommended even if you are an atheist as it is a pretty incredible place.

Photo Credit: Tabor Winery

 Wine Regions

Like its people, the topography of Israel is quite diverse as it is a long thin country and it has various microclimates and aspects. It is possible to ski on Mount Hermon, in the Golan Heights, in the morning and later that day go scuba diving in the Red Sea to explore the coral reef; ranges in elevations are as extreme as the Mount Hermon ski resort located at 6,690 feet (2,040 meters) above sea level contrasted by the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, at 1300 feet (396 meters) below sea level. So one can only imagine the multitude of terroirs for the wide variety of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and indigenous varieties such as Marawi, Dabouki, Bittuni and many, many more.

There is a proposal to change and update previous wine region categories (currently: Galilee, Golan Heights, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and Negev) to reflect the realities of today. They are as follows:

Galilee (Upper and Lower)

The Upper Galilee is a mountainous area in the north of Israel – forests, plunging peaks and stony ridges and Israel’s most beautiful vineyard region. The soils are heavy but well drained. They tend to be a mixture of volcanic, gravel and terra rossa soils ranging from altitudes of 1,150 feet (650 meters) to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters). Winter temperatures range from 32F (0C) to 59F (15C) and summer is 54F (12C) to 86F (30C) with around 800 to 1,000 mm of rain a year. The Lower Galilee is situated near Mount Tabor with 656 feet (200 meters) to 1,312 feet (400 meters) in elevation and soils that are volcanic and limestone with 400 to 500 mm of rain a year.

Golan Heights

Photo Credit: Golan Heights Winery

The Golan Heights is a volcanic plateau rising to 3,940 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level. The area benefits from cool breezes from the snow covered Mount Hermon. Temperatures can be as cold as 20F (-15C) in winter and 55F (12C) to 85F (30C) in the summer with 800-1000 mm of rain a year.

Coastal Plain

The Coastal Plain area can range from sea level to 330 feet (100 meters) and the vineyards are along the Mediterranean Sea. It is a hot, humid region but most of the vineyards have been replaced by real estate and other more desirable places have been established to plant vines.

Central Mountains

Mount Carmel, the Menashe Hills, the Shomron Hills and the Judean Hills make up the Central Mountain Region. The main concentration of vineyards is in the valleys surrounding the winery towns of Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina, benefiting from the southern Carmel Mountain range and cooling breezes off the Mediterranean Sea. This was one of the first regions planted with vineyards by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, as mentioned before, and the elevations rise to almost 500 feet (150 meters) above sea level with a Mediterranean climate and 400 to 600 mm of rain a year.

Photo Credit: Judean Hills Quartet

The Judean Hills is known for having a few small superstars with higher elevations with some reaching 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) giving them cooler weather. Many Israeli wine experts consider the Judean Hills to be the leading region for white wines due to the amount of limestone in the vineyards as well as the high elevations; the soils are thin terra rossa on a bedrock of limestone. Also the vineyards tend to be in nature reserves, surrounded by Mediterranean herbs as well as fossils found in the vineyards, showing the ancient history of this region.

The southern tip of the Central Mountains is Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest planted forest with over 4 million trees, and is the meeting place between the mountains and the desert.

Judean Foothills

The Judean Foothills is made up of small vineyards and many tiny wineries, bisected by the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There are rolling hills with chalky soils and clay loams. Some areas reach almost 1,000 feet (300 meters) above sea level and it averages around 500 mm of rain a year.

Negev

Photo Credit: © Rostislav Glinsky Shutterstock

Only a tiny percentage of vineyards are planted in the Negev desert but it is seen as the frontier for Israeli winemakers as the swings in temperatures are extreme and it has many pockets of microclimates, such as the world’s largest erosion crater, Ramon Crater, creating a much cooler environment. There are also high altitude vineyards that go over 3,000 feet (915 meters) and the dry climate creates low disease pressure; one of the biggest issues for the Negev vineyards are roaming camels that sometimes eat a vine to its roots but in the grand scheme of things, it is certainly manageable. There is only 50 to 100 mm of rain per year.

It has Taken Some Time to Find Their Own Sense of Place

Israel has an ancient winemaking history that is said to go back 5,000 years but it was discontinued for a time once there was Muslim rule in 700CE and winemaking didn’t return until Château Lafite’s Baron Edmond de Rothschild decided to plant vineyards, starting with Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, in Israel during the late 1800s, building a modern winery (for the time), and giving Jewish refugees a place to become grape growers, eventually giving the land and winery to his workers.

For a time, the wine industry was on hold in Israel until the 1980s when they brought in technology from California and then tried to make wines just as good as France and California – two places that have greatly influenced them. But during the past couple of decades they have realized that they need to find their own sense of place and style and the definition of wine regions are being created… and in a way this is just the beginning of unlocking what is unique about this Eastern Mediterranean country.

Israel is fascinating in the sense that it is an ancient winemaking country that was discontinued for a time and so they focused on trying to live up to other places once they restarted their tradition in making wine instead of digging into their own hidden jewels. But that is changing as the wine world does want something different, something exotic, something authentic – and Israel has that in spades – and so they have been finally embracing what makes them different while balancing the knowledge that has been passed on by other successful winemaking countries.

This evolution of the wine industry is in line with the growth between Palestinians working with Israelis and there is even a dating app to connect young people on both sides, as with each generation they will find more ways to come together even if it is, for now, just on a small scale here and there because those in power on both sides are making it difficult. But the last thing we should do is punish a whole nationality because we disagree with their government as there are many that are working everyday to bridge connections and that will only get stronger with time. All of us will get to a point when we will have to make a choice between wanting to be absolutely in the right and leaving others in the wrong, or be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that we misjudged others so we can stop repeating history. One will tear us apart in ways we still cannot imagine while the other might, unfortunately, continue to be an unattainable dream; all of us need to make that step forward as people can’t hear us if we don’t start off listening ourselves.

 

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This post was inspired by the Wines of Israel seminar at the Society of Wine Educators Conference in Washington DC.

 Wines of Israel Tasting/Seminar on August 16th, 2019

-2018 Dalton Winery Pét-Nat, Upper Galilee:

This Pét-Nat (Pétillant-Naturel) is a great example of the current experimentation going on in the Israeli wine scene. Dalton was one of Israel’s pioneering wineries to explore the use of Mediterranean varieties and their head winemaker Guy Eshel (U.C. Davis trained) is given a certain amount of wine by owner Alex Haruni so he can experiment with various techniques such as natural winemaking.

This wine is majority Sémillon coming from sustainable vineyards in the mountainous area of Upper Galilee which is known for its mixture of volcanic, gravel and terra rossa soils with some parts having limestone.

Sémillon began fermenting in tank with native yeast and just before completion was blended with a small amount of sweet Muscat of Alexandria and transferred to bottle where it completed fermentation. The fermentation in the bottle causes the wine to be effervescent and also slightly cloudy.

The wine has aromas of fresh bread and honeysuckle with grapefruit and green apple flavors that has a lively, bright finish.

-2017 Recanati Winery Reserve Marawi, Central Mountains (Judean Hills):

Recanati Winery is owned by Lenny Recanati, a native of Israel with ancestral roots stretching back to Italy, and this winery fulfills Lenny’s life-long dream to produce truly world-class wines. His chief winemaker Gil Shatsberg (U.C. Davis trained) has helped make Recanati one of the most heralded Israeli wines in the US as well as Israel.

The variety Marawi (Arabic) , also known as Hamdani (Hebrew) is one of a handful of ancient indigenous varieties that are being researched in Israel and Recanati has been placing a focus in finding and working with indigenous varieties such as this Marawi first commercially released in 2014 and now they have a red indigenous variety on the market called Bittuni.

This Marawi is actually sourced from a vineyard in Palestine located in the region of the Judean Hills in Bethlehem. The grapes are dry farmed at 2460 feet (750 meters) from a small 1.5 acre (.6 hectare) vineyard from 30 year old vines. The vineyards has limestone and clay soils and the grapes are hand harvested.

They are still experimenting with this wine trying to find the ideal expression of varietal characteristics and sense of place and the 2015 was more mineral driven while the 2016 had more stone fruit and this 2017 has a combination of the flinty minerality, juicy apricot, lanolin and honeysuckle notes with a hint of spice from its time in one year old French oak.

2016 Jezreel Valley Winery Argaman, Central Mountains (Jezreel Valley):

Jezreel Valley Winery is a boutique producer that was established in 2012 by founders Jacob Ner-David and Yehuda Nahar with a goal of creating wines that have a unique statement and they have done that by becoming a specialist of the Argaman variety (an Israeli wine grape that is a crossing of Souzão and Carignan), and they have received high praise for their efforts.

These grapes are sourced from the agricultural moshav, Givat Nili, that is referred to as the “Tuscany of Israel” because it is a small village surrounded by vineyards, fruit trees and gardens. It is a single vineyard located in the Central Mountains area in Israel that is hand harvested.

This wine aged 15 months in 300L second year French oak.

This Argaman has a deep ruby color and soft tannins which is characteristic of the variety with juicy wild berries, forest floor and singed rosemary with a lovely freshness on the finish.

2011 Somek Estate Winery Carignan, Central Mountains (Mt. Carmel):

Somek Estate Winery was founded by Barak and Hila Dahan in 2002 with the aim of producing quality wines that reflect the terroir of the Zichron Ya’acov in Mt. Carmel which benefits from the southern Carmel Mountain range and cooling breezes off the Mediterranean. The winery only uses grapes from their family vineyard cultivated since 1882.

The owner, Barak Dahan, is a 5th generation vintner in Zichron Ya’akov, Mt. Carmel, as his ancestors first came to this town in 1882 to work on Baron Rothschild’s newly established vineyards at the time; and his family has been growing Carignan for five generations.

The wine is from a single vineyard estate of 40 year old Carignan.

It was aged for 24 months in French oak and allowed to age in bottle for two years before being released. Some bottles have been held back such as this 2011 so to offer older vintages to the market.

This Carignan has an intense minerality that has notes of limestone and brambly berries with wild sage with hints of baking spice and fine-grained tannins.

2016 Hayotzer, Arza Winery, Lyrica GSM, Central Mountains (Judean Hills):

Hayotzer Winery is the boutique winery of the Shor family, who established their first winery in 1847 in the Old City of Jerusalem. The winery operates on the belief that wine is a work of creative art representing the person who made it and the place where it’s grown.

These grapes come from the area of the Judean Hills in the Central Mountains and the area has warm days and cooling winds from the Mediterranean that moderate the temperature with cool nights. The soils are thin terra rossa and stony on a bedrock of limestone. The vineyards in the Judean Hills are planted among nature reserves and fossils in the area show the ancient history of this region.

This is a blend of 40% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 25% Mourvèdre that was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months.

Delicious nose of crushed stones and black cherry with notes of fresh flowers, Herbes de Provence and juicy blackberry on silky texture.

-2014 Golan Heights Winery Yarden 2T, Golan Heights:

Golan Heights Winery was established in 1983 by four kibbutzim and four moshavim (cooperative communities). The winery has planted 20+ grape varieties in 28 vineyards divided into roughly 450 blocks, at elevations ranging from 1310 to almost 3940 feet (400-1200 meters) on the volcanic slopes of the Golan Heights.

This is a red blend of the Portuguese varieties Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão made famous by the high quality wines of the Douro Valley.

The grapes were harvested from two vineyards in the Golan Heights: Springs Vineyard at 2300 feet (700 meters) and Geshur Vineyard at 1300 feet (400 meters) above sea level.

This Yarden 2T was aged for 18 months in (40% new) French oak barrels.

This 2T has a real silky texture with good mid-palate weight of ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit yet has an overall sense of finesse that was highlighted by a smoldering earth and spice cake notes. A wine with real weight yet very food friendly.

2014 Tabor Winery Malkiya Cabernet Sauvignon, Upper Galilee:

Tabor Winery was founded in 1999 in the Galilee region by four families of grape growers who have been growing grapes uninterrupted for over five generations.

This Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a single vineyard at an elevation of 2382 feet (726 meters) on Mount Malkiya in the Upper Galilee. The topsoil is terra rossa but underneath, only eight inches (20 centimeters) down, is one of the most unique soils Tabor’s viticulturalist, Michal Akerman, has ever seen in Israel. In English, it is called “a lot of stars” since there are limestone rocks throughout the soil that gives the visual impression of this name. She said that it was a piece of land that many of the local people thought to be undesirable for any type of crop, but that she somehow, to their amazement, was able to produce the best Cabernet Sauvignon she has ever seen.

The grapes were hand-picked and only the free-run juice was used and then aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels with an additional one year of aging in bottle.

This wine has a nose of blackcurrant leaves and cloves that has a stony minerality with well-knit tannin and juicy cassis flavors that has an overall sense of elegance.

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What is Success?

Photo Credit: Michael David Winery

All of us want to live a “successful life” but that can mean various things to various people. To some, it can mean earning money, and even that within itself can vary – simply having the means to cover the essentials in life is a success to some, or having a nice lifestyle without having to compromise on things can be termed as successful to others; or success can be contributing to the world in a valuable way by devoting yourself to a cause or breaking dysfunctional cycles that we were raised with, thereby bettering the world by our centered presence… but whether we have achieved success, or were unable to reach one’s goal of success, there always seems to be new goals that appear or our own sense of what is successful can evolve with age. When it comes to the wine world, the idea of success can be just as complicated of a concept as it is not limited to the wine regions that get the highest average price for a bottle of wine or the one that is held on a pedestal and sought after by wine connoisseurs around the world… sometimes success is more subtle than that and it accounts for the community as a whole.

Lodi Wines

The Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area) is said to have a Mediterranean climate that consists of warm days and cool nights; its proximity to the San Francisco Bay (90 miles East) helps to influence the wine growing areas of Lodi, according to Stuart Spencer, Executive Director, Lodi Winegrape Commission and owner/winemaker of St. Amant Winery. Snooth Media held a virtual Lodi wine tasting and seminar led by Leslie Sbrocco who was joined by Stuart Spencer and Adam Mettler, director of wine operations/lead winemaker at Michael David Winery as well as winemaker at Mettler Family Vineyards. Stuart went into more detail into what makes Lodi an atypical Central Valley wine appellation by explaining, “Sacramento and Stockton are North and South of Lodi [respectively] and both are inland seaports and Lodi is nestled in between the two of those cities just west of San Francisco and as temperatures rise in the valleys, cool air comes from the San Francisco Bay, the Delta region, and that creates a very distinctive climate.”

Photo Credit: PRIE Winery

The first vineyards in Lodi were said to be planted in the 1850s and actually one of the wines that was tasted during the virtual tasting was PRIE Winery 2016 Ancient Vine (1900, Block 4) that was made from vines that were planted in 1900; shockingly this wine retails for only $29 and it was beautifully balanced, complex and elegant as well. PRIE is one of the newer wineries in the area that started to appreciate some of these old Carignane (Carignan) plots that have been safeguarded by generations of growers. Lodi is also known for very old Zinfandel vines (it’s considered the Zinfandel Capital of the World) and makes a wide range of styles such as fresh and restrained to lush and decadent. Stuart Spencer said, “What is often lost on people is Lodi’s significance to the California wine industry. We have been growing grapes for over 150 years but for many of those years we lived in anonymity and many of the large California wine companies have liked that… and we have been their best kept secret” as he referred to many of the bigger California wine producers blending Lodi grapes into their wines.

Freedom

Stuart also expressed with delight how Lodi was evolving as he has been working with the wine commission for about 20 years and when they first opened their visitor center in 2000 there were only eight wineries. But he noted that each year there was another winery opening and more experimentation being employed by passionate winemakers being drawn to the area. Also, those grape growers that were barely getting by who were growing unconventional grapes are seeing an increase in interest of wine producers looking for something different.

Stuart talked about a Lodi grape growing family that had planted vineyards with “up to 50 German varieties” and around 10 to 15 years ago they were considering pulling out their Kerner variety as well as everything else because wine producers didn’t want to buy it. But a winemaker named Markus Niggli, who is also Swiss, wanted their Kerner as well as other interesting varieties and the Kerner has become a cult success – now other producers even want to buy it; there is so much demand that the grower has a waiting list for their Kerner.

Back in September of 2016, I had the chance to talk to Markus Niggli during my visit to Lodi. I was really impressed by the Markus Wine lineup and the idea that they were using varieties such as Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Bacchus, just to name a few, and I was curious how a winemaker from Switzerland ended up in Lodi. He talked about how he initially came to Napa Valley and found that he was limited in what he could do with regards to finding real opportunities to experiment with wines. Then, when he came to Lodi, he saw the potential of all the longtime growers who were growing underappreciated varieties in various microclimates and soils that suited an array of grapes. In his opinion, there were not the huge financial barriers that one finds in Napa which can limit artistic expression and opportunities for those coming from an unconventional background.

Unfortunately, Markus wines were not part of the tasting but another innovator in Lodi was tasted by the name of Acquiesce. Stuart talked about Sue Tipton starting this winery that makes practically all white wines (there is currently one rosé) in Lodi, known as red wine country, ten years ago. He laughed because people thought she was a little bit crazy for trying to accomplish such a thing yet she proved all of them wrong and makes elegantly aromatic white wines that were pivotal in showing Lodi’s potential for white wine. Sue uses rarer white grape varieties found in the US such as Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette Blanche and Bourboulenc.

Adam Mettler reinforced that Lodi was going through an exciting time, “We have had great growth not only in plantings of vineyards but with numerous wineries and lots of success here; really, Lodi has become a hip, fun place to make wine and there are new winemakers and new varieties being tried out all the time.” Stuart elaborated that the Lodi growers/winemakers are separating themselves from the bigger companies and they are making their own wine, they are making single vineyard wine and varieties that are interesting to them as well as some classic varieties like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Idea of Success Not being Stagnant

Photo Credit: Michael David Winery

Lodi has had many stages of success – first being able to just make a living off of farming grapes, then the ability to save old vines by making money off of the trend of White Zinfandel, finally getting some recognition with Lodi being named Wine Region of the Year in 2015 by Wine Enthusiast, as well as Adam Mettler being named Winemaker of the Year in 2016. But in a way, the previous unfair lack of recognition of the area has kept it from becoming too tainted by unscrupulous outsiders who invest so much money that it takes the power out of the hands of the multi-generational growers and makes experimentation impossible; when there is lots of money on the line, the ability to take risks become nonexistent. Lodi is a diverse wine region not only in regards to the mixture of microclimates, soils and grapes that include Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian and Southern Rhône varieties but it is a place that is open to all those willing to do the work to fulfill a passion, regardless of pedigree.

And in the end, the explosion of creativity with these new wineries that are not controlled by outside big business keeps things on a fair playing field with those multi-generational wine producers who are finding a recently renewed interest in their wines allowing them to be financially sustainable for generations to come. It is not the type of success that hits you over the head and gets a bunch of headlines but it is the type that enables passionate outsiders to have an opportunity to carve out a small name for themselves while reigniting an interest in the more established wineries and vineyards that make it possible for future generations to succeed; just imagine if we could find this type of success for the country as a whole… we would certainly be much more united and looking at a much more hopeful future.

 

***Top Cover Photo is Credited to Michael David Winery

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I was not able to attend this Snooth virtual tasting but I was able to taste the wines and watch the video another time which can be viewed here

Also, it was noted during the tasting that the first three wines are all from young sites, the Pinotage is under 15 years (4th wine) and the Carignane (5th wine) is from vineyards planted in 1900.

2018 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, “Ingénue”, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, California: White blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc and Picpoul Blanc. Perfumed nose with dried apricots and a rounded body that had good weight with lots of focus on the dry finish. Only 350 cases made, $32.

2018 m2 Wines, Vermentino, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, California: 100% Vermentino. A white wine with key lime and blanched salted almonds that was fresh and had a saline minerality on the finish. Only 250 cases made, $20.

2018 LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards, Aglianico Rosé, Lodi AVA, California: 100% Aglianico. Chalky minerality with ripe strawberries and zingy cranberries that had a floral lift on the end. $20.

2016 Mettler Family Vineyards, Pinotage, Lodi AVA, California: 100% Pinotage (cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault). Adam Mettler said, “Honestly I didn’t have a lot of experience with Pinotage until five years ago when we started making this one. It has always been a nice wine with dark fruit, medium body so I haven’t had that many problems.” – which was his response to Pinotage being hit or miss in South Africa. I definitely got the dark fruit with nice smooth medium body like Adam said and it was simply a delicious, well balanced dark fruited wine with baking spice and a good amount of acidity. Only 350 cases made, $25.

2016 PRIE Winery, Ancient Vine (1900), Block 4 Spenker Ranch Vineyard, Carignane, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, California: 100% Carignane ancient vines that were planted in 1900. Dried flowers and crumbly rock on the nose with a surprisingly bright flavor of vibrant red fruit, smoky tea notes and pepper that had fine-grained tannins. Only 70 cases made, $29.

2016 Michael David Winery, “Ink Blot” Cabernet Franc, Lodi AVA, California: Mostly Cabernet Franc with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah added. Michael David is the most well-known winery in Lodi and has been vital to its past as well as present wine industry. This is the first Lodi Cabernet Franc produced by Michael David Winery and comes from a nine acre vineyard located on the west side of Lodi very close to the winery itself. Adam Mettler noted, “This plot tends to be the most ripe with black fruit, less herbaceous than the others. It is always the block that presents itself as the best.” This Cabernet Franc was lush and decadent with juicy blackberries and cherry pie with a hint of sweet tobacco and cocoa dust and had silky tannins. Adam went on to explain the Ink Blot series as single varietal red wines that come from inky grapes such as this particular Cabernet Franc (as certainly many Cabernet Franc are not inky) as well as Tannat and Petit Verdot versions; also, each variety has their own ink blot, as he describes it. $35.

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The Papers that Hold the Pride of a People

As the glow of the sunset across the vines lit my inner soul on fire, I could hear calls to dinner that came from inside the centuries-old, beige, Southern Italian castle. At first I didn’t want to acknowledge the need to go inside as the golden sky defied it, and then, as if by design, the sun seemed to instantly disappear as if to nudge me inside… before I knew it I was frozen at the door by the shear beauty and beckoning mysteries that were tucked away in the stone-vaulted room. There seemed to be an infinite amount of delicate wine glasses on the tables that shimmered under the various pools of light.

Finally, I forced myself to walk inside as I felt the anticipation of the crowd behind me and I tried to quickly survey my surroundings… stone carvings in the wall, a distinguished looking book here and there, side hallways that were illuminated by the warmth of lights that foretold that there was more to come. But then I saw a series of old papers that seemed to be handwritten notes of some kind that were framed and hung side by side along the wall. My chair was too far away from the papers to decipher any notion of the Italian script but close enough that they were always in my line of sight… through time they built my curiosity as it seemed odd to have hand-written papers with scratch-outs in such a grand dining room.

Radici del Sud

I was in Puglia (Apulia), invited by the Radici del Sud association to be part of their 2019 exhibition that brings buyers and journalists from around the world to taste, judge and explore the wines of Puglia (Apulia), Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. One of our evenings was spent visiting the Agrinatura estate between the Andria and Castel del Monte areas in Puglia that produces the wines of Giancarlo Ceci.

Giancarlo Ceci

The owner, Giancarlo Ceci, met us outside to talk about the existence of their ancient estate that has existed for at least 200 years as well as having eight generations of farmers in the family. Giancarlo said he has lived on the estate his whole life and only briefly left when he went to University for agriculture; when he came back in 1988 he was convinced that organic was the only way to farm.  Giancarlo said that “my father and everyone was against the idea” but he continued pushing until all their vineyards and farming practices were 100% organic, starting with his first steps 31 years ago. He said that from that time, he had only one philosophy – “balance.” Through time Giancarlo became a believer in biodynamics as he feels no other system “manages the soil as completely” as it does.

Nero di Troia

Later that night, inside the vaulted dining room before dinner commenced, Giancarlo gave us a vertical of his Nero di Troia wine Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” (meaning “To My Father”) and we were given the different profiles of the various vintages as well as an introduction to the Nero di Troia variety and its history in the area. The red grape Nero di Troia is technically listed in the Italian National Registry as Uva di Troia but as there has been a recent focus on it in the region of Puglia, many producers thought it better to have a more approachable name. It was a favorite for blends and actually was exported to France and other parts of Italy to bring color, aromatics and a sense of grace to the wines. According to Giancarlo, despite not being an easy variety to grow due to its “fragile” quality making it susceptible to parasites and mildew, it was kept by farmers because it was highly prized for the attributes it added to a blend and so money could be made on exporting it. It was uncommon for grapes in Southern Italy over 50 years ago to be grown for anything else besides as a daily supplement to give calories but thankfully it survived, and over the past 20 years there has been a focus on making single variety Nero di Troia wines as the grape deserves to be known on its own merits.

Then, at one point, Giancarlo gestures to those papers on the walls, the ones that I kept eyeing, wondering, thinking about during the whole time, and he said that they were invoices. As he talked about the demand of Nero di Troia in other wine regions, he pointed to the framed papers on the wall “here are all the documents of the invoices from the 1800s that we were writing for our wine importers in France as well as a company in Italy.” It was a moment that took my breath away as I was not expecting it; out of everything in that room, these old, stained papers with scratches and scribbles meant the most to him.

What Money Can’t Buy

It must have been a good financial situation for grape growers in Puglia, especially during the times when people were dirt poor, to be able to have a steady income but I’m sure many of these growers felt like a part of them died a little bit every time their indigenous grape from their ancestor’s land was shipped off; that distinctive grace and complexity was awarded to another grape, another place, another people. That type of pride in the fact that the region has reclaimed one of their cherished grapes for the world to see means more than anything that money can buy. And so, that is why I understood that those were the most valuable items in that grandiose room; they were symbolic of those people who once felt like they had to keep their heads low who can now finally lift them up high.

 

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Tasting of Giancarlo Ceci Wines June 5th, 2019

The designated wine area, Castel del Monte DOC & DOCG, is known for its calcareous soil with limestone. Giancarlo said that this is a critical component as it slows down the maturation of the Nero di Troia variety so it doesn’t get too much body or sugar and keeps its “grace” developing phenolic maturity and aromatic complexity.

 2006 and 2008 Vintages

Dry seasons, it was pretty much dry throughout the both seasons which caused a lot of stress during budding that remained during the ripening of the grape and for this reason the grapes developed a lot of phenolics. There is a lot of power in 2006 and also in 2008 which are not the same but pretty similar.

2007 and 2009

More rain than 2006 and 2008 during July and August and so the grapes had a longer hang time which helped to develop more complex aromas.

2006 Giancarlo Ceci, Parco Grande Rosso, Castel del Monte DOC: 70% Uva di Troia, 10% Aglianico and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. There wasn’t a 2006 of “A Mio Padre” because this is the year Giancarlo Ceci’s father died so he didn’t make a 2006 vintage of it. Dusty earth with fresh blackberries with firm tannins that had a hint of spice on the finish.

2007 Giancarlo Ceci, Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte DOCG: 100% Uva di Troia from their “Grand Cru” vineyard. Dried herbs with cedar box and brambly berries that expanded with sculpted tannins on the length.

2008 Giancarlo Ceci, Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte DOCG: 100% Uva di Troia from their “Grand Cru” vineyard. Dried red cherries with smoldering earth with structure and power that was lifted by fresh acidity.

2009 Giancarlo Ceci, Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte DOCG: 100% Uva di Troia from their “Grand Cru” vineyard. Rich, silky tannins with lovely floral and baking spice aromas that had a fine textured finish.

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A Loss in Life Can Create Open-Hearted Richness

Leola Watts is a woman who has had to suffer through one of the most imaginable losses – her son passed away at the tender age of 34. She said, “I was lost. I was literally lost. He was my baby.” In the face of a great tragedy it can seem impossible to go on, and some do decide to crawl into a hole and die, but others find a way to take that deep pain and turn it into love, then give that love to those that desperately need it.

Chablis 2017 Vintage

Chablis is a designated wine area that is in the most northern area of Burgundy; actually it is closer to Champagne than to the rest of the designated Burgundy wine areas such as Côte d’Or. Recently, many of you might have heard about the extreme frost Chablis received in the beginning of April or even more shocking were the photos that flooded the internet showing icicles on the vines, or the beautifully tragic photos of tin containers filled with a flammable substance burning for many hours during the night trying to protect the delicate buds. Well, unfortunately this threat of frost is starting to become a common experience and Didier Séguier, William Fèvre’s Cellar Master, said that they lost “50-70%” of their yield in some of their Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards during another spring frost in late April of 2017.

Open-Hearted Richness

Leola Watts decided to take the path of turning her sorrow into love by volunteering for The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA)’s Foster Grandparent Program. She is currently assigned to the first grade class at Montclair Elementary School. According to NYSOFA, “Foster Grandparents offer emotional support to children who have been abused and neglected” and Leola gives her heart to each child – the entire student body calls her “Granny”. The other teachers found out that Leola was anonymously buying the kids much needed gloves, hats and scarves during the wintertime as well.

In the same way that a devastating loss can be an opportunity to give affection and kindness to kids that desperately need it, it is like the grapes in the Grand and Premium Cru vineyards of William Fèvre that become rich and generous since, in many cases, over half of the buds were lost in the spring of 2017. There was a lot more energy in the vines than grapes to give it to, and so, an immense amount of vitality and potential went into each grape. And William Fèvre, despite going through difficult times, is striving to find greater expression in their top sites. Didier Séguier noted that they are using “natural yeasts for Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites” and sometimes for their village wines as well, if the grapes are pristine. Also, they started biodynamic practices in 2010 on the right bank of Chablis with all their Grand and Premier Cru plots, and all of their vineyards are organic. Didier talked about the importance of this sense of place by stating, “the expression of Chablis is the expression of the soil. We don’t make Chardonnay, we make Kimmeridgian soil wine.”

Investing in Potential

It can be crushing to be given such a horrible blow in life; many times, the only way to go on is to find how one can turn tragedy into purpose. Of course, William Fèvre is trying to find the best ways to deal with highly destructive frost, as well as hail, but they also realize the importance of investing in the health of the vines, making them stronger, better able to handle the ferocity of life. Leola Watts said that the Foster Grandparent Program “saved my life” but I’m sure that she is not only giving comfort in the form of winter clothing to those six year old kids, she is strengthening their potential with love, and I’m certain she is saving some of their lives as well.

 

***All of the above photos are credited to William Fèvre

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Tasting of 2017 William Fèvre Grand and Premium Cru Chablis Wines on March 6th, 2019

The term “Domaine” notes that it is a vineyard owned by William Fèvre. Also, William Fèvre owns 15% of the Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis. And for those who don’t know, as it can get a little confusing, all Chablis AOC wines is made with 100% Chardonnay.

Didier Séguier said about the 2017 vintage “We started harvest the 4th of September and very small yields with 15-25hl per hectare; but perfect grapes because the weather was perfect. We decided to harvest a week earlier for acidity.” Also, “The wind the last two weeks before harvest reduced the yields and concentrated the sugars and acidity.”

2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume: Citrus zing with concentration and good acidity, citrus peel and has a real mineral backbone.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Montmains (Domaine): This Montmains Premier Cru vineyard is known for its upfront minerality, which it did display along with an energetic, quince flavor that had a long finish of lime blossoms.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons (Domaine): This Premium Cru represents all the different types of Chablis terroir within its vineyards. Tropical, juicy fruits with hints of chalk and white flowers with marked acidity that lifted the richness.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre (Domaine): The oldest vines they have are in this plot, planted in 1936 – over 80 years old. White peach skin with crumbled rock that had a rich, creamy body with a stunning purity on the persistent finish. This really over-performed as a Premier Cru.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros (Domaine): Delicious generosity of ripe nectarines with enchanting nose of lemon verbena with a thrilling vitality on the focused palate.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros ‘Côte Bouguerots’ (Domaine): These vineyards have a very steep slope with a gradient of more than 30%. This was an outstanding wine that had fierce, steely acidity yet an intense richness of multilayered fruit flavors that was laced with saline minerality.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses (Domaine): A textured Grand Cru with upfront minerality with hints of lemon confit and dried flowers that finished with an incredible elegant and finesse that made it powerful with its shear beauty.

 

2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos (Domaine): These vineyards have soil mixed with fossils and stones (lots of Kimmeridgian soil) with 31.5 inches of limestone as well as the majority of vines were planted by William Fèvre’s father in the 1940s. An exotically spiced wine that had golden apple and honeysuckle flavors with an oyster shell edge that danced in my head for the next hour. These wines warmed my heart with their generosity while still keeping their elegance and sense of freshness and place. Chablis does not need to be austere to deliver nobility, if anything, the addition of rich fruit and lack of hardness makes these the type of fine wines that are felt by the heart.

Extra side notes:

-Gravity pressing

-They harvest in small baskets

-Vinify plots separately and then blend

-These wines that I tasted above were only bottled two and a half months earlier

-William Fèvre vinifies 30% in used large barrel for six months for texture while the rest is vinified in stainless steel

-Many of the vines were planted by William and his father during the 40s and 50s – so lots of old vines – small yields

-Chablis is the only place that makes still Chardonnay wine from Kimmeridgian with England making sparkling wine from Chardonnay in Kimmeridgian soil

-William Fèvre has been practicing sustainable growing in their vineyards for nearly ten years now and they have just obtained High Environmental Value (HVE) status

-William Fèvre is not the largest producer of owning Chablis vineyards overall but they do own the most amount of Premier and Grand Cru sites: around 130 different plots

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Distant Lands Inspire the Exploration of Truer Sense of Self

Traveling to far-flung, vastly culturally different places is challenging on many levels and at times extremely exhausting. When one lives such an already overwhelmingly challenging life trying to survive, such as I’m sure many of you do, it may seem odd that someone like myself who feels overwhelmed ever week, or anyone else for that matter, would want to spend her small amount of vacation time visiting a place that offers so many obstacles – the best way I can explain it from my own experience is that this type of travel gives you a chance to tap into a purer form of yourself.

Louis Gaspard d’Estournel

Louis Gaspard d’Estournel is considered the founder of Cos d’Estournel – the ‘Super Second’ Left Bank Bordeaux wine in the most northern area of the Médoc, Saint-Estèphe, for the Grand Crus Classés wines. d’Estournel inherited the properties of Cos and Pomys in 1791 and even back then he was a believer in the terroir (sense of place) of the hill of Cos. And so that is how Cos d’Estournel started, and despite it being located in an area that had issues ripening tannins, it was placed quite high as a 2nd growth in the 1855 classification.

Travels to India

d’Estournel did not only sell his wines to British officers stationed in India starting in 1838 but he also built Cos d’Estournel to look like an Indian palace, made from French limestone, that has accents suggesting sacred pagodas throughout the property. As I walked around the estate, I felt that the surroundings evoked feelings of South Asia and East Africa (India and Zanzibar respectively) – several artifacts pointed towards many trips taken to exotic lands. This Cos d’Estournel estate showed the commitment, especially during those times, of a man who had more than just a business interest in the East but who was truly smitten and perhaps connected to places he visited.

My husband and I took our first trip to the other side of the world over 13 years ago. It was our honeymoon and we actually had two weeks off – that is a lot of time for Americans – and so we thought we would go to Thailand and Vietnam, never to have that chance again. It was a complicated journey that was tough on the body and mind, as well us getting ourselves into a few harrowing situations. But despite that, we found ourselves not wanting to go back home because we had found the home we were always missing. Of course, we came to our senses, realizing we could never figure out a way to make a living in either of those countries and took some small mementos back – like the carved piece of wood we bought in northern Thailand – to bring back those memories.

I have thought long and hard about the reasons behind us contemplating staying in South East Asia and walking away from everything to live in a place with an unforeseeable future. It is sort of like the path that the character Larry takes in the book The Razor’s Edge – a traumatized American WWI pilot who no longer feels at home in his old life. At one point in the book, Larry has a discussion about a trip he took to India that helped him to find where he belonged in the world. The discussion takes place between Larry and the author, W. Somerset Maugham, who places himself in the book as an observer. In the book, Maugham notes that this conversation can be skipped without losing the plot of the story yet he states that without this section he would not think the book would be worthwhile to write. I first read this book when I was a teenager, and several times in my early 20s, and that one section of Larry talking about his trip to India spoke to me. I never knew why until I was 31 years old in the middle of South East Asia.

Cos d’Estournel

I’m sure there were many Bordelais who did not appreciate the architectural style of Cos d’Estournel when it was first built, and even today, some traditional, old school Bordeaux drinkers refer to the property as being bizarre. Today the property has great appeal to a younger audience of Bordeaux drinkers who love the infusion of East and West – for me it is one of the most beautiful estates I have seen. While I walked around during my visit there, I could not help but think of the man himself, Louis Gaspard, and his own connection to the East. Did he always feel like an outsider and so that is why different cultures appealed to him? Did something happen in his life that changed him to seek out another land to connect to? Or did he end up traveling to distant lands out of a sense of adventure and realized that there was more to life than he could have ever dreamt?

For the main character of Larry in The Razor’s Edge, it was about him being forever changed by war; for myself, I was always an outsider trying to fit in and oddly I felt more comfortable in a land where I stuck out like a sore thumb. There is something wonderful about going somewhere so different that when you travel off the tourist’s path you are treated by people simply as a human being because it is difficult to have any assumptions when people are so far removed from each other. It is a much truer way of connecting, contrasting with the encounters we have with others in our own world where quick assumptions are made based on a few superficial facts. Traveling to cultures that are foreign to us in almost every way frees us to tap into a sense of self that goes beyond the expectations of the societies of our homeland.

Expressing the Terroir that was Always There

In many ways, that has been Cos d’Estournel’s journey as it has always been a great property and certainly one of the top in Saint-Estèphe, but it had always seemed different and placed in a box which has limited its potential by outside expectations and so no one ever thought of this property rivaling the great wines of Pauillac. But instead of trying to turn themselves into a great Pauillac wine like Lafite or Latour, Cos d’Estournel decided to go deep, not being afraid of its atypical or exotic nature – to go on the journey of discovering a whole new expression of excellence in Bordeaux.

The current owner, Michel Reybier, constructed a vat room that involves four vats encased in glass elevators, so no pumping is required, which creates finer tannins in the wines. Furthermore, Reybier and his team have isolated specific plots in their vineyards – 19 different soil types and varying microclimates – and not only can they gear their vineyard practices to these discoveries, but they choose which variety goes where depending on their analysis of that plot. Cos d’Estournel has been on an inner pilgrimage, peeling back the layers revealing that the property is more extraordinary than even its greatest fans could ever imagine and the outside world has been impressed – many Bordeaux wine experts placed Cos d’Estournel on the top of their lists for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages.

All those years ago, Louis Gaspard d’Estournel knew that there was something special about the Cos that seemed of another world, a world beyond Bordeaux, hence it is fitting to have it be such an exquisitely unique place; a place that reflected the dream of d’Estournel that finally makes wine that lives up to that once thought of impossible dream that was inspired by distant lands.

 

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Tasting at Cos d’Estournel on March 26th, 2019

-2018 Vintage-

2018 was a vintage of extremes in Bordeaux and the quality is inconsistent, yet those properties that had luck on their side, as well as the desire and capacity to go the extra mile, produced excellent wines with beautiful texture and complex flavors.

-2018 Goulée by Cos d’Estournel: 73% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet France. This wine comes from their Goulée vineyard that is ideal for elegant Merlot. An expressive nose with notes of broken rock with hints of rose oil that had cinnamon spice throughout with blueberry pie that has tannins that caressed the palate with an energetic focus.

2018 Pagodes de Cos: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. A generous wine that had an open heart with delicious cassis flavors that was also deeply complex with fresh leather and an earthy charm that has an intriguing turmeric root note, finishing with a fine structure. Impressive second wine!

2018 Cos d’Estournel: 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. A stunning sense of grace that left me completely enchanted with a satin texture, incredible linear energy and rich dark fruit flavors layered with cocoa nibs and traces of sandalwood incense smoke that transported me to another place. The finish was breathtaking in its persistence and pure finesse.

-2018 Pagodes de Cos Blanc: 93% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Sémillon. Crisp acidity that gave a wonderful vitality with juicy nectarine flavors and hints of lime blossom and a hint of wet stones.

 

2018 Cos d’Estournel Blanc: 67% Sauvignon Blanc and 33% Sémillon. Honeysuckle with white flowers, chalky minerality and green mango notes made this wine regally exotic with an enticing textural component that at once gave it weight and structure that had an impeccably purity of fruit on the finish. The whites of Cos d’Estournel are extremely impressive although I had never thought of giving them much attention until this tasting.

-2014 Vintage-

2014 vintage was not a super star like the 2016s as it was lighter, but 2014 was certainly more concentrated than 2013 or 2007. Basically it made fresh, classic wines but some areas and estates did better than others with round tannins and a fair amount of concentration. The top estates of Saint-Estèphe did quite well in the 2014 vintage and so it makes sense why Cos d’Estournel proudly tasted us on the red lineup of this vintage.

-2014 Goulée by Cos d’Estournel: 78% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. This had a gamy, savory quality that I liked that was perfectly balanced by blackberry liqueur and had firm tannins that played off of the lush fruit.

2014 Pagodes de Cos: 43% Merlot, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. More forest floor notes on this wine with a gravelly character with a laser focus that gave it lift and fresh black fruit showed on the sustained finish.

2014 Cos d’Estournel: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. I loved the smoldering incense character I got with this Cos d’Estournel, with a nose of dried flowers, fresh herbs and wild truffles that had tannins that felt like silky ribbons across the body.

-2005 & 2003 Cos d’Estournel-

2005 was known as a perfect vintage where everything happened in the ideal way in the vineyards and it was also the vintage that created a whole new standard in Bordeaux. 2003 was one of the hottest in recent history where some elderly people actually died in France from the heat-waves; many of the wines ended up becoming too desiccated for classic drinkers, although a few, such as Cos d’Estournel, were able to make elegant wines with freshness.

2005 Cos d’Estournel: 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This bottle was a lot more open than when I had the 2005 last in January of 2016. Incense and clove notes were still dominating the nose with extra layers of cigar box and stony rocks that still had plenty of that blackcurrant jam on the palate. I still feel it is far from its peak and will only get better with more time.

-2003 Cos d’Estournel: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet. This 2003 shocked me back when I had it last in the beginning of 2016 and it shocks me still today as it is fresh and vital, unlike so many other Bordeaux wines that are dead and dried-out. This is a beautiful wine to drink now as it had sweet spice, round pretty fruit and it was seductive with its plush body yet that sandalwood note was still there with bright acidity and elegance.

-2017 Cos d’Estournel-

2017 is one of those vintages that is difficult to summarize because it is all over the place. For many wines, the quality is a couple notches below the across-the-boards stellar 2016s, but there are standouts, especially in Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. I tasted over 150 wines at the Panorama Primeurs (tasting the wines one year after En Primeur) at Millésima on the same day of my visit to Cos d’Estournel. It was a fun vintage to taste because there was so much variety and there were some shining stars that unexpectedly thrilled me. I will be posting my 2017 notes soon.

2017 Cos d’Estournel: 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. This 2017 was just as extraordinary as their 2016 but stylistically different. Instead of prancing and giving everything at once like the 2016, it was deeper and mysterious as it was always evolving in one’s head with, yes, that incense and spicy note but it had multifaceted flavors of an array of black fruit while being laced with intense minerality. And despite the tannin quality being an issue for some in 2017, the texture on this Cos was fine and outstanding and it made this wine desirable while still being deeply moving in its complexity that seems never-ending.

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Full Circle: Realizing That Paradise Is Where You Started

Turning onto a dirt road, the fear of the GPS no longer being of any help starts to sink in; yet the fear is tempered by the raw beauty of the surrounding forest that enveloped the car with the slowly rolling fog seemingly a greeter to an enchanted place. Once it got to the point where it seemed that one’s destination would never appear, the forest opened up showing a glorious hillside vineyard. It is serene – hawks flying overhead and old redwood trees circling the vines as if they were the ancient protectors of this parcel of land. There is no way to capture this place with a photo – one can only take in the moment. A vineyard that no one would ever guess was there, tucked away like a hidden treasure.

Santa Nella Vineyard

This story was shared with me by the winemaker of Kenwood Vineyards, Zeke Neeley, about his single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Nella as we tasted this wine from the 2015 vintage. Zeke said that the great thing about Sonoma, with its protected 52 regional parks, is that many of these vineyards are tucked away surrounded by nature – and most importantly, that nature could be enjoyed by those who lived and visited Sonoma County. The locals have such a commitment to preserving such a healthy way of life that the Sonoma County Winegrowers has made a commitment to try to get as close to 100% sustainability as possible for their vineyards. In 2018 they reported 97% (58,318 acres) as being sustainable according to a self-assessment and 89% (51,485 acres) actually being certified.

Zeke talks about Kenwood’s plans for sustainability with not only having their own vineyards being 100% certified sustainable, moving towards organic in their estate vineyards, but trying to get all the farmers they deal with to become certified sustainable as well; right now he estimates that “90-95%” of the vineyards outside of their own estates are sustainable. Yet trying to get multi-generational grape growers to become certified has its challenges as the paperwork can be scary to people who know a lot about working their land but do not know that much about the outside world. On the positive side, Kenwood is there to assist them as well as the Sonoma County Winegrowers who will help them with the logistics of becoming certified for free.

Kenwood Vineyards

Zeke became the winemaker for Kenwood around 2 ½ years ago. He has an interesting background as he initially started in the BioTech industry working on cancer research until he found himself at UC Davis studying for an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology. For about a decade, Zeke had been a winemaker in Napa Valley with experiences at two very different wineries; the first, Trefethen and the second, Orin Swift. Trefethen is a family owned winery that only works with their own estate vineyards while Orin Swift is a much bigger enterprise sourcing fruit from “60 different vineyards and working with four separate facilities.” Both experiences taught him a lot in regards to great terroir as well as juggling the logistics of managing a multitude of vineyards. Zeke said that a new winemaker is expected to bring innovation to the winery that he is joining and so there is an expectation for him to take things to the next level. Kenwood already has all the goodies when it comes to modern technology and his innovation is to make the wines better year after year. “That is the only innovation I can offer” said Zeke and he continued, “If we are not improving the wines every year, we are failing.”

The Barn

Despite Kenwood making their single vineyard wines since the 1970s, expanding to a more selective process with their Six Ridges line a few years back, such as the Russian River Valley ones I tasted below, there is a more concentrated focus in finding top performing vineyards among the plethora they source from in the Sonoma area with new projects such as the first vintage of The Barn – a wine that represents the heritage of the past with the energized direction of the future. Many of you will know Kenwood’s wines as those bang for the buck ones found in your local corner stores. Of course, giving a more general taste of Sonoma County for $16 is still important to their mission of making these wines accessible to all, just like allowing the natural beauty of the area to be enjoyed by everyone, but there are a lot more hidden vineyards and attention needs to be given to expressing their brilliance instead of blending it away – that is where Zeke comes into the picture. It is no small feat to visit several vineyards (that are not so accessible) on a constant basis to find the next stars but he is up for the task.

The name and label of The Barn is an homage to Kenwood’s restored old winery which is now their tasting room that was originally established by other owners in 1906; not only did it survive the changing of various hands throughout the decades, but it has survived Prohibition, WWI, WWII, the devastating 1906 earthquake (which was their first vintage) as well as the economic collapse after this tragic event. Zeke looks towards his four best vineyards and takes the strictest selection of premium fruit from each, and then, after the various plots of wines are aged for a year, there is a final selection to create The Barn and then it continues to age – the first vintage is 2016. It was singing the day I tasted it and showed the potential of Zeke being the custodian of these vineyards.

A Coming Home

Zeke said that, in many ways, working for Kenwood was like coming back home because he grew up in the Bay area of San Francisco – just south in Daly City. He spent his summer vacations at his grandparents’ home in Sonoma and he remembers it being “paradise”. Even before he went into the wine industry, he and his wife would drive up from San Francisco and take his grandparents out for lunch and go wine tasting, and sometimes they took them to Kenwood. Again, that was before he changed paths to go into the wine world and so he feels he has come “full circle”. Sometimes we have to step away from home for a while to truly appreciate everything as it is and to cement the idea that it is every bit the paradise that our young minds remember.

***Photo Credits for First and Third Pictures Above Belong to Kenwood Vineyards

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Kenwood Vineyards Tasting on March 12, 2019 with Winemaker, Zeke Neeley

 2017 Six Ridges, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: 100% Chardonnay. This wine only has around 25-30% new oak (French and Hungarian) as what he is shooting for is to showcase the fruit with only partial malolactic and some battonage for body. It was a pretty wine with elegant white peach and a hint of spice and white flowers that was slightly creamy yet invigorating on the palate as well.

 2016 Six Ridges, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: 100% Pinot Noir. This is a blend from selected vineyards that displays different aspects of Russian River Pinot like the above Chardonnay; some linear and tart and others lush and fruity to create a multilayered wine. This wine had a rich concentration with strawberry reduction balanced with dried sage and a brightly flavorful finish.

2015 Single Vineyard Santa Nella, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: 100% Pinot Noir. This single vineyard had more vibrant fruit with fresh cranberries and black cherries that had a thrilling energy with a touch more tension; it had complex aromas on the finish with anise seed and a stony minerality.

 

-2016 The Barn: 100% Pinot Noir. This bottle had only been opened for 30 minutes (kept in the bottle) and it was singing from the start – remarkable. Zeke sources from four of his best vineyards and takes the top selection from each, and then, after a year of aging, he makes the final selection and it goes back to aging some more. The Barn is on another level with an incredible richness of cherry pie, cocoa powder and pressed lilacs with baking spice that had an extra layer of hints of forest floor and wild morels.

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The Way to Enlightenment

The people who seemed closest to enlightenment who taught me many of my values couldn’t have been more outwardly different from each other; my childhood next-door-neighbor’s mother who came from a poor background in Mississippi who always was so compassionate to everyone who crossed her path, the mother of my superintendent in my old New York City apartment building who spoke only Spanish and my time communing with her that went beyond language barriers, or a yoga teacher who lived an extreme, monastic life that based his life on social justice. All of these people have their own pile of hurtles in life yet they all lived by a similar philosophy: you have to find a way to work around the reality of the world while never forgetting your soul along the way.

Burgundy

For each of us, what feeds our soul is different and sometimes it is not so easy to recognize what will nourish it when we feel removed from it. It is not the same thing as ethics as I think an ethical code is more concrete… but what keeps that empty feeling at bay, relinquishes us from the constant battles with ourselves to endlessly find worth through superficial accomplishments? I have found, for myself, it is those things that stir our passion yet there is no real logical reason to pursue it except that it makes our heart skip a beat… and keeps our existence from being purely pedestrian. Burgundy wines, especially those from smaller producers, are those that fall into the category of feeding some wine lovers’ souls.

Burgundy makes no sense in so many ways… the weather is brutal (too much rain=disease, frost during Spring=tiny yields and hail=complete destruction), they work with mainly only two grape varieties in a place that has vintage variation (not giving much of an opportunity to blend different types for difficult years) and they work with one of the most challenging noble grapes in the world: Pinot Noir. Burgundy constantly enflames your heart as it will never exactly be what it was before… it is always evolving as a wine that expresses a specific snapshot in time from a particular place that is at once transcendental and illogically exquisite in how it moves you.

Back in February, I attended a wine/media tasting for Terlato Wines, a U.S. premium wine/spirits importer. I was surprised to see that this tasting only showcased the wines of three small Burgundy producers, as usually winemakers on this small of a scale are only known by hardcore Burgundy wine nerds and they are typically imported by much smaller importers. Long ago, Terlato established itself as one of the main luxury wine importers in the U.S. with the vision of its chairman, Anthony Terlato, and the help of his sons Bill and John Terlato. It was a mystery to me why would they gamble on these wines.

Mysteries of Life

I think there are many times when we are mystified by others’ reactions as well as are never able to explain our own motivations to people whose souls are not fed in the same way. These motivations may have been woven into our mental wiring from birth or our early childhood experiences – those moments that flooded our minds with feel-good chemicals in our brains. My next door neighbor’s mother (the type of woman who didn’t bother taking the cigarette out of her mouth before she cursed someone out) and my environmentally-conscious, vegan yoga teacher couldn’t have been more different but there was one mantra in common that they both lived by – you have to first conquer paying your bills (a lifetime pursuit, and yes, life is unfair when it comes to surviving) before you can even attempt to try to save the world. No one can be enlightened or even preach such a path if they are not dealing with the harsh realities of what surrounds them.

It is certainly quite an undertaking to be a long-standing, fine wine importer in such a competitive market and it takes leadership that chooses the logical path to success at each turn. But it was interesting to talk to vice chairman, John Terlato, as he shed some light – that this collection of artisanal Burgundian producers was an actualization of building these relationships for several years. He said that Terlato’s commitment to quality, which is centered on an expression of sense of place, was taken to another level with these wines. He openly admitted that others were critical of taking on such a portfolio, but as he enthusiastically poured a 2001 Bâtard-Montrachet from a decanter into my glass while beaming with joy, he noted that sometimes you need to get behind what you believe in… and when he tasted these wines and talked to these producers about their vineyards, there was no doubt in his mind that these were the wines that represented the heart of his portfolio.

Slipping Off the Edge

It is a constant balancing act – trying to fulfill your responsibilities while reminding yourself of why you take on these responsibilities – day in and day out. I remember when I first moved to New York City around 25 years ago with no family, no connections and no idea of how to function in the world… I was so overwhelmed with working as much as I could since I felt that that was the only way to continue my existence in NYC – so downtime was few and far between. But every time I had a package delivered to my tenement apartment, the superintendent’s mother would accept it and I would have to go down to get it from her… she always welcomed me into her home and made me something quick to eat and sat there across from me, talking in Spanish with a big, beautiful smile on her face. Many times I felt anxious since I came from a dysfunctional home where I was an accident and not wanted, so I felt that somehow I was intruding on this woman’s time and she was being nice out of unnecessary obligation. But when I look back, I realize that despite never knowing what she said to me, it fed my soul to spend time with someone who seemed to cherish my company, and perhaps I did the same for her. Back then I didn’t know what nourished my soul, but thank goodness the Terlato family has no doubt what does.

 

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Terlato Burgundy Wines Tasted on February 25th, 2019

The list below is broken up into four different names yet Domaine Pierre Labet is made by the same producer, as well as in the same winery, as Château de la Tour – the name Château de la Tour is reserved for their Clos-Vougeot vineyards. All of the Blanc wines are 100% Chardonnay and all of the Rouge wines are 100% Pinot Noir with the exceptions of where it states that it was made from 100% Aligoté. Any wine that has a name in quotes without having Premier Cru preceding it notes a specific vineyard that has not been classified and any wine starting with Grand Cru will have the specific Grand Cru vineyard noted after it. Finally, Vieilles Vignes means old vines.

Domaine Michel Niellon

2016 Bourgogne Chardonnay Blanc: Moderate palate weight with a hint of hazelnut and bright acidity.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc: Richer, more textural body, with energy and fleshier peach fruit.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Champgains” Blanc: Linear with hints of stone fruit yet minerality dominated.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos de la Maltroie” Blanc: Intensely stony with pretty white flowers and focused.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos St Jean” Blanc: Broader but still had white chalky notes with a long flavorful finish of golden apples.

2016 Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet Blanc: Sensational acidity that had a nice bite with complex nose of limestone, citrus blossoms and honeysuckle that had a rich, expressive finish.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: Wild flowers with baking spice and fresh raspberry fruit.

2006 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Vergers” Blanc: Smoky minerality with slate and exotic spices that still had marked acidity with subtle fruit and a thrilling precision on the finish.

Domaine Ramonet

 2016 Bourgogne Aligoté Blanc: 100% Aligoté. Aligoté is one of the other grape varieties that one can find in Burgundy that is a fiercely acidic white grape. Light, nimble body with a sharp-edged acidity that was extremely refreshing.

2016 Bouzeron Blanc: 100% Aligoté. More aromatic, with citrus rind and jasmine that had a sharp-edge as well yet with more flesh on the body.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet Blanc: Laser focused minerality that was vibrant.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Enseignères” Blanc: Flinty nose with mouthwatering acidity and a thrilling tension.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Boudriotte” Blanc: Hint of nuts with rounder body and allspice with juicy apricots.

2016 Bourgogne Rouge: High-toned red cherry fruit that pranced on the palate.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: More floral, with brooding flavors of dark fruit on the palate that was richly textured.

2014 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Ruchottes” Blanc: Poured from 6 liter bottle. Delicious almond paste with white peach skin and fierce acidity that, overall, was a wine with breathtaking delineation in its expression.

2001 Grand Cru Bienvenues Batard-Montrachet Blanc: Poured from 3 Liter bottle. Richly powerful yet elegant in its pristine purity with mint and lemon confit that had seamlessly integrated oak, a lush body with layers of complexity and a mineral laced, long length.

Domaine Pierre Labet

2015 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” Blanc: Lemon flavored pastries with creamy body.

2015 Meursault “Les Tillets” Blanc: Pure quince fruit that was tingly and fun that had subtle hazelnut notes – a vibrant Meursault.

2015 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes: Intoxicating perfume with more richness than one would expect on a Bourgogne.

2015 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” Rouge: Tight on the nose so may need some decanting, with a wonderful texture that had lots of definition and shape.

2015 Beaune Premier Cru “Coucherias” Rouge: This wine displayed the same textural component of the previous but with more available fruit – blackberries that had hints of forest floor in the background.

2015 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes Rouge: Lots of spice with cinnamon and cardamom that was extremely focused with an edgy energy.

Château de la Tour

2015 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Rouge: Richly textured with lots of generosity for a Clos Vougeot so young that had dried herbs and freshly picked mushrooms that were intriguing.

2014 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Rouge: Fresh tarragon and dried red cherries that had a fantastic finish of orange blossoms and crumbly earth with splendid definition.

2015 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: The nose was singing with violets and ripe blueberries that had more structure and power than the others, with hints of espresso and cocoa powder on the finish.

2014 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: Mineral-rich with marked acidity that had succinct black and red fruit that was well knitted together, with well-judged oak and a sustained, lifted finish that left pressed flowers in my head.

2013 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: The nose was pretty and bright with rose petals and orange peel that was expansive on the palate with cherry liqueur that had fine tannins creating ribbons of silk on the length.

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Taking the Time to Remember What is Important

The mist enveloped the vineyards while the grey skies beckoned with a mystery that filled my heart with intrigue and wonderment. The road wove itself around tall masonry stone walls that enclosed terraced vineyards of grape varieties that made the known wines of the area. As the rain sprinkled on the windshield, patches of wet, red soil could be seen on the hillsides that highlighted the ancient volcanic layers of earth that were interspersed throughout the area. Strangely enough, this gloomy weather was like a comforting blanket that made me fall into a deep meditative state… I was in the protective embrace of Mother Nature as she rejuvenated the olive trees and vines with a break from the sun while giving a vital drink of water to all that needed it.

I was at Anteprima Amarone to assess the 2015 vintage as well as learn more about the current research of the Valpolicella area in northeastern Italy. Unfortunately, I got food poisoning while flying to Verona – not a good way to start off a work trip – and then I spent the rest of the time trying to make sure I didn’t get sick as it was prime cold/flu season. It was an odd experience to get sick on the flight from New York City to my connection in Frankfurt, Germany (I have never suffered from motion sickness) and it was a first for me to throw up while traveling on any type of aircraft, vessel or vehicle – usually, I quite enjoy the soothing movement. I shouldn’t have been so surprised that I could have been in trouble during my flight as the day before I was taking care of my husband while he suffered from food poisoning, and we had eaten the same thing every day before he was inflicted by the food borne illness.

So there I was on a long haul Lufthansa flight, throwing up in the middle of the aisle as I was trying to get to the bathroom while feeling an odd, unsettling sensation in my stomach. Yes, I was that person! If I was in better shape I would have apologized to everyone around me. Again, because this has never happened to me on a flight or any other moving vehicle, I never thought that would have happened or I would have brought the “barf bag” with me.

By the way, I need to give a big shout out to the Lufthansa airline stewards and stewardesses who came to my aide and stayed with me throughout the rest of the flight. They placed me in premium economy as there was a row of seats vacant (and I was glad not to bother anyone else), made me herbal tea with honey, took turns sitting by my side (accompanying me to the bathroom and waiting until I got out), gave me oxygen from an emergency tank and just gave me an overall feeling of warmth and comfort. It was hard to leave them!

Anteprima Amarone

So when I arrived at Anteprima Amarone, taking place in Verona, Italy, I was not in the best shape but my favorite parts of the trip – the learning, connecting with people from around the world and the focus on tasting/analyzing the wines helped to perk me up. And interestingly enough, because my body and mind was so exhausted from trying to recover from food poisoning, I was able to intensely focus in during my tasting of the new 2015 Amarone wines that included 68 different producers. I could taste all the nuances and textural contrasts as my mind was not distracted by anything – I simply did not have the energy – and it was soothing to just sit peacefully there for three hours while concentrating on the wines.

After I finished, a part of me wanted to just go back to my room and rest before I woke up the next day at 4am to take the long journey back home, but there was one producer who I was dying to talk to and if I didn’t talk to them I knew I would regret it.

Vigneti di Ettore

At last year’s Anteprima Amarone (2014 vintage) I discovered a small producer called Vigneti di Ettore – their wine had such a beautiful sense of minerality and purity of fruit expression. And so I made my way to their booth which was downstairs from the 2015 vintage tasting to talk to the grandson, Gabriele Righetti, who is now the winemaker. Gabriele’s grandfather, Ettore, led the Winegrowers’ Cooperative of Negrar, the Cantina di Negrar, through the ups and downs of Valpolicella – even during the times when growers wanted to abandon their vineyards. Although the Vigneti di Ettore vineyards were established in 1930, the grapes were never vinified until 2011. Ettore’s grandson (Gabriele) got the winemaking bug and went to enology school so he could help his grandfather accomplish the dream of producing wines with finesse Ettore always knew in his heart that the land of Valpolicella could yield.

Impromptu Visit

So I went to Vigneti di Ettore’s booth as they were pouring wines to media and wine trade amongst other producers and I was able to pick Gabriele’s brain about what he tries to achieve with his wines. Not surprisingly, it was rooted in purity of fruit and expression of place with an overall freshness and finesse. Earlier, he had mentioned that he could set up a visit to his winery but I thought there was no way that could happen as he seemed overwhelmed with people wanting to talk to him. Then he quickly messaged his father, Giampaolo, to see if he could take me to their winery and within 30 minutes I was in the car with Gabriele’s father as we drove up to the hills of Valpolicella during a cold, rainy day.

It was impressive visiting the Vigneti di Ettore cellar as they were experimenting with using different types of oak in various sizes (Slovenian and French oak/tonneau and barrique sizes) to find the most subtle that would bring out the best qualities of each variety – as some of you may know, Valpolicella uses a blend of red grape varieties to make their four different styles of DOC/DOCG wines: Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto. They only use native varieties, mainly Corvina and Corvinone, but they work with several other indigenous varieties without using any international grapes.

One of the indigenous varieties that has been discovered in recent times is the Spigamonte grape that has a lovely floral and spicy note, and goes with the complex aromatics that all top quality Valpolicella wines aspire to achieve. It also has lots of tannins that can have a round quality when handled correctly, and so, it is great to give a wine structure and ageability. Also, an interesting side note is that Spigamonte was discovered due to the vineyard recovery project that Cantina Valpolicella Negrar implemented, and so there is a special connection to Gabriele’s grandfather.

It was wonderful to see Gabriele taking this winery to the next level with not only a fresh interpretation of these classic wines but also coming up with a fascinating new one called “Arsi”. It is made like an Amarone (drying the grapes after harvest) but the drying period is only for 50 days instead of the 90-120 that is required by the Amarone DOCG and malolatic fermentation is blocked – a conversion of malic acid to lactic acid to make the wine less acidic (typically allowed in most red wines). It was zingy with those complex Amarone aromas and a bright finish. Giampaolo was really impressed with his son’s ability to make such amazing wines and when I also commented on their incredible labels, he smiled as he said that they were made by a friend, and so they were special to the family.

Passion for Traveling

As Giampaolo was driving me back through the mist, he was talking about his love of traveling and meeting people from around the world. He said that it was one of the reasons he has a bed and breakfast call Le Croibe at the winery – which also was attached to his home – is because he greatly enjoys talking to people to learn more about their homes and way of life. We even both agreed how much we would love to travel across the Middle East but that right now was not the best time to do so – hopefully that will change in both of our lifetimes.

It was one of those conversations where I felt so much better for having it and it recharged my body, mind and soul. It is easy to remember what is important when we are in our own homes and dealing with our own personal responsibilities, but the world can be overwhelming… and down right frightening at times when we are placed in harrowing situations. We sometimes feel all alone in our struggle when we are out in the world… but when we take the time, or our bodies force us to slow down, and we are able to see through everything that filters out what is at the heart of any moment, we realize that we never walk alone in this world, which is one of the most important things we often forget.

 

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Vigneti di Ettore Tasting at Winery on February 2nd, 2019

Vertical of 2015, 2014 and 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines that generally have a blend of 75% Corvina and Corvinone, 10% Rondinella, 10% Croatina and 5% Oseleta from 40 year old vines. This is a dry red wine that has had the grapes go through a drying process of around 100 days after harvest.

 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: A wine that was singing and very bright with lots of vitality – raspberry, cranberries and cherries that had hints of spice and an intense energy made it thrilling on the finish.

 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: This wine had an overall finesse and elegance that I immediately loved with aromas of cumin seeds, lily of the valley, rose water and raspberry scone. Its aromas wafted around my head for several minutes after my first taste.

2012 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: An intoxicating nose with black cherry skins, fresh leather and pressed flowers that had a lovely precision and long expression of flavor.

 2015 “Arsi”, Rosso Verona IGT: This wine is not exported outside of Italy but it is a big favorite with young wine drinkers in Verona. Grapes are dried for 50 days and malolactic is blocked. A zingy wine with sour red cherries and black pepper that had a fierce minerality on the mouth watering finish – exciting to see the possible future of Amarone with this wine.

2015 Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: 40% Corvinone, 35% Corvina, 15% Rondinella and 10% Croatina. Grapes dried for 120 days (Recioto DOCG allows 120-150 days) and this is the sweet wine sibling to Amarone. Smoldering earth with rhubarb compote and plum pie that had baking spices with a hint of cocoa powder with a lush, flavorful long finish.

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