Sharing a Song in Our Heart & Wine in Our Glass

On a cold, rainy day, I found myself eating upscale comfort food at The Dutch in the trendy area of Soho, Manhattan, while drinking wines from Napa Valley and Anderson Valley… just a typical day in the world of wine. But although I have been connected with this world for over 12 years, I still cannot help but have moments of thinking “How the hell did I end up here?” On this particular day, I traced my journey with Remi Cohen, the Vice President and General Manager of Lede Family Wines, and she reciprocated with an interesting early twist to her journey.

 

Remi Cohen

Me and Remi

Although Remi ended up in Napa, she originates from the East Coast, born and raised in East Brunswick, New Jersey. She was planning to become a doctor and was all set to go to medical school, but right before she enlisted in a summer internship to work in a hospital, she decided to spend her summer interning at a fruit farm. During her internship she learned that one could get a master’s degree in making wine and she ended up going to one of the top programs in the world at UC Davis. I loved how her eyes lit up as she said, “Who knew you could get a graduate degree in wine?!?” Since then she has never looked back and has covered every aspect of the wine trade, from the vineyard, winery, bottle to sales around the world… she ended up getting an MBA as well. But like so many of the top wine people, she has warmth and an ability to immediately connect and share.

Cliff Lede

Our conversation extended to Cliff Lede (pronounced lay-dee) the owner of Lede Family Wines… a man who grew up in his family’s construction business in Canada and fell in love with Napa Valley in the 1990s. His wines are interwoven with the very essence of his heart, naming certain plots of his Napa vineyards after his favorite rock songs such as the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”; he even named his new set of wines, that are made from his purchase of vineyards in the cooler climate Anderson Valley, FEL after his mother – Florence Elsie Lede.

Cliff Lede Vineyards and Poetry

Cliff’s adventure as a wine owner began in 2002 when he purchased 60 acres (24 hectares) in the infamous Stags Leap District in Napa Valley and founded Cliff Lede Vineyards. He is a man who seems to be always inspired by the land, illustrated by naming one vineyard “Poetry” because it yields grapes that produce a wine that is the epitome of finesse and purity due to the stressful conditions of the site, reaching one of the highest elevations in Stags Leap District.

Napa Valley

On the outside, Napa and New York City couldn’t be more different from each other; New York is gritty and loud while Napa is picturesque and serene; but there is the interesting connection: people from the around the world come to live in both places and there is a communal feeling of people sharing their stories. I’m not 100% sure of the exact moment that I was hooked by the desire to be a part of the wine world, but it seemed to always come in and out of my life, and each time I found myself tasting wines with people from around the world, I felt less alone and that the wine, food and even my surroundings seemed so much better due to the conversations. It is the sharing that has hooked most of us in… it is not just Remi’s bottle of wine for her to drink, or my story to keep to myself, or even Cliff Lede’s vineyards for him to only view – it is for the enjoyment of anyone who feels a song in their heart when they drink a lovely wine among good people.

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Tasting with Remi Cohen on April 4th, 2017

2016 Cliff Lede, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: Cliff Lede Napa Sauvignon Blanc is already known as a top wine in the category and proved it with delicious fruit and an overall precision. 82% Sauvignon Blanc, 14% Sémillon, 3% Sauvignon Vert (Muscadelle) and 1% Muscat Canelli… I wonder if it is the only US white Bordeaux blend that has all three varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon & Muscadelle)… honeysuckle, gingerbread and lilac with creamy yet bright, juicy stone fruit flavors on the palate.

Also, a side note about the Sauvignon Vert (Muscadelle): European producers will say it is either another old clone of Sauvignon Blanc (such as in France also called Sauvignonasse) or in Friuli they say it is called Friulano ….but Sauvignon Vert in California is Muscadelle (it even states it in the current Oxford). The vineyard that has it was originally planted in the 1940s. I just wanted to make sure this didn’t cause any confusion with people who are used to the European Sauvignon Vert.

2015 FEL, Chardonnay, Anderson Valley: No MLF or new oak and so this wine is lively with lemon confit and white peach flavors – still good fleshiness on the body and beautiful, pure grapefruit finish.

 

2012 FEL, Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley: The Savoy Vineyard is recognized as one of the benchmark vineyards in Anderson Valley for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was nice to taste one with some age and it was singing! A velvety texture with burst of ripe strawberries and cassis that had hints of forest floor and thyme – complex and refined.

2014 Cliff Lede, Scarlet Love, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The Scarlet Love is one of their superstar blends that include two special plots: Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” in their Twin Peaks vineyard and from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” in their Poetry vineyard. This wine is a knockout with a lush, concentrated body that has an explosion of cream de cassis and lavender, and has an underlining tapenade note that opens even further on the finish with visceral pleasing aromas of truffles and fresh leather. A profoundly full-bodied wine that had invitingly manicured tannins across the long, flavorful finish. Drink now or cellar for up to the next 20 years.

2014 Cliff Lede, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Merlot. This wine is composed of small lots from their best blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected clones and rootstocks. An intoxicating nose of lilacs and exotic spice, with intense gravelly minerality that is enhanced by a firm structured body with a good amount of acidity that gives it a sense of graceful purpose with an outstanding precise length. Drink now or keep for the next 15 years.

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Enjoying Wine and Food from Alsace, with a Side of Philosophy

With a beautiful golden guinea fowl in front of me and drinking wines that were inviting yet never over-zealous, I sat there taking it all in… the charming bistro of Le Coq Rico and the enchanting sounds of conversations in French. For a second, I thought I was in France, specifically the region of Alsace, as I was, at one point, surrounded by Owner/Chef Antoine Westermann, who is a legend from that region, and Alsace wine producer Rémy Gresser while sipping his delightful Alsace wines. But we were in New York City having an Alsace experience with conversations that meandered from food to wine to deeper philosophies of life.

Rémy Gresser

Rémy has a big, imposing frame yet he could not be more gentle and sensitive in his demeanor. He was very keen to talk about the increase in female ownership of Alsace wine estates, but he also noted that although his father was the one who technically ran their family winery and vineyards, Domaine Gresser , it was his mother who tasted the wines and shaped the stylistic choices as a producer. Rémy said his own palate was shaped by his mother and always leans towards wines that are refined and elegant as she would always prefer. When we were tasting his 2015s, he even remarked that he preferred the cooler 2014 vintage because it was more subtle…although many people seemed be more drawn to the wealth of fruit flavors in the ‘15s.

Gender Roles in Wine

We ended up discussing women’s roles in the past compared to the present. Centuries ago it was thought that women were the weaker sex not capable of being able to do anything beyond running the household; perhaps this came down to the practical fact that many women did not survive child birth and so you needed someone else who had a probability of living longer to support the family. As time went on it became the norm for men to go out to the world to carve out a career or run the family business. Interestingly, in China, since people are relatively new to owning their own businesses, that around 50% of them are owned by women. This was explained to me by a Chinese friend as being contributed to the lack of having a history of entrepreneurship and so there were no previous barriers created for women in the first place.

Rémy had a wonderfully simple idea that people should take the roles they are best suited for, no matter their gender or any other superficial factor. From his perspective, his mother was always in charge but he whole heartedly agrees that living in a world where female leadership is openly recognized is the best for a balanced society.

Who must do the hard things? He (She) who can.

My conversation with Rémy reminded me of a line from Trevanian’s book Street of Four Winds about the Paris revolution of 1848, “Who must do the hard things? He who can.” Through the years I always tried to interpret what that line meant on a more universal level – at first I thought it meant that only a few people who had what it takes, whether they were men or women, could take on the fierce challenges of fighting the good fight in the world. But through time I have altered that viewpoint. Who is to say what the “hard things” in life are? Is not staying home with small children just a difficult as running a business? Recenly, I met one woman who said that her husband stayed home with their baby while she worked… they didn’t plan it that way but it just made sense since she liked working more than being home and he liked staying home with the baby more than working.

Or sometimes life presents us with a path that we thought we would never follow, we never envisioned ourselves living, because it never occurred to us that it was an option. Simply the act of getting up everyday and trying to live an honest life filled with decent acts makes us capable of doing the hard things in life.

As I sat there with Rémy and a couple of colleagues, it was wonderful to be able to enjoy an exquisitely golden bird and taste wines that begged for another sip as we openly talked about our various opinions with smiles, laughs and pausing here and there to allow the opinions of other people to expand our own minds. These are the moments in life that I cherish, that I depend on to grow… these are the moments that will mend a broken world.

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Wines Tasted at Lunch with Rémy Gresser on March 31st, 2017

All of the wines are from Rémy’s Kritt vineyard in Alsace, France, which comes from predominantly gravelly soil that produces wines with a great purity and expression of varietal characteristics. Alsace is a wine region with various types of soils that are capable of showing the ranges of complexity for different grape varieties.

2013 Domaine Gresser, Kritt Pinot Blanc: 100% Pinot Blanc. If you are like me, perhaps you have had your share of Pinot Blancs that have very little distinctive varietal characteristics, and I was nervous that this one was going to be the same. Thank goodness I was wrong – it was brimming with apple-y deliciousness and peach flavored cream with a spicy finish. 12.5% abv & 3g/l residual sugar

-2015 Domaine Gresser, Kritt Riesling: 100% Riesling. The 2015 was a warmer vintage for Alsace and a good contrast to the cooler 2014 vintage (side note: 2014 is a great vintage for sparkling Crémant) and so this wine had good generosity of quince paste and honey suckle flavors that had a nice lift of citrus peel on the finish. It was absolutely dreamy with the guinea fowl at lunch. 13% abv & 4g/l residual sugar

2015 Domaine Gresser, Gewürztraminer: 100% Gewürztraminer. Typically, I find the Gewürztraminer fruit a bit muted when they are made in Alsace (its noted home) as compared to Chile…not saying one is better or worse – just different. But the pristine lychee flavor on this wine really made this wine jump out of the glass, the floral aromatics taking a backseat to the fruit flavor. I thought leaving it at 12.5% abv with 10g/l residual sugar was a good choice as there was never a sense of it being too sweet and there was none of the heat that one can get on the finish of a Gewürz… it was so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of this bottle.

Martine’s Wines is the exclusive importer for Rémy Gresser in the United States.

 

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A Dragonfly Invites Us to Reflect Our Light in Powerful Ways

I remember being a small child, spending a lot of time in my backyard staring at all the little insects flying around…wondering to myself what it would be like to lightly bounce about, seemingly giving such wonderment to observers like myself. One day, I was taken aback by a beautiful butterfly that landed on my t-shirt. It was remarkable with intricate black laced shaped trim on the edges of its wings that contrasted with a light purple color dominating the inside. It was delicate and fragile, and I wanted to keep it in my room, thinking that it would be safe there, protected from the harshness of the outside world, so I brought it to some fake flowers on the windowsill in my bedroom. The next day, I woke up to find it dead…

I was horrified and distraught because I thought I had killed it, not knowing at such a young age (around 8 years old) that butterflies don’t live very long. But a lesson stuck with me that I would learn over and over again… a lesson that was recently reinforced by another magical creature, a dragonfly of sorts, in the form of a superstar winemaker, Pam Starr.

Pam Starr

A few weeks ago, I met Pam Starr, owner and winemaker for Crocker & Starr in Saint Helena, Napa Valley, for the opportunity to taste her wines and to learn more about her story. Our lunch was held in midtown Manhattan at an upscale Greek restaurant called Avra Madison Estiatorio; the room was filled with professionals looking polished in their well-tailored suits. As I approached our table, there was Pam beaming with excitement, and we wound up talking about everything under the sun, with 4 ½ hours passing too quickly and finding myself outside hugging her and not wanting to say goodbye.

Pam Starr has an impressive resume, while entering the wine world without any connections. She worked a part time job while finishing a degree in Fermentation Science from the prestigious UC Davis and followed with an internship at a winery where she stacked barrels. Some questioned her decision in starting a career that seemed to be a one-way ticket to a life confined to manual labor. But she was hooked on winemaking and explained it by saying, “I was simply smitten – the way one is when falling madly in love. Winemaking is mysterious, it’s sexy, and it’s magical.”

Crocker & Starr Winery

Eventually Pam ended up becoming the winemaker for Spottswoode Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley, where she started to conceptualize her ideal expression of Sauvignon Blanc way before it became an accepted variety in Napa. Then, in 1997, a meeting with a San Francisco businessman, Charlie Crocker, who owned a 100-acre estate (40 hectares) in Saint Helena, Napa Valley, would introduce the idea of them partnering to start a winery. Without Pam knowing that this opportunity would present itself, she knew exactly the way she wanted to tend the land and the vision for her wine: to find natural balance and harmony. Pam left Spottswoode to start Crocker & Starr with Charlie, who liked the picture she painted for their future winery and he certainly knew she had the skills and experience to back it up.

But Pam did not want to be just a winemaker, she wanted to be part owner while never compromising on any aspect of Crocker & Starr, so she needed to first find income from other avenues and juggled consulting jobs for many years. In Napa, it is easy to assume that people just have money thrown at them and all they have to do is show up and play, but that is not the case with Pam. She was not going to take the safe and measured path. She was going to place all her sweat, blood and tears into creating something that transcended our mundane lives; to not only create magic for herself but to share it with others.

Dragonflies

One of Pam’s wines, Casali (Italian for Farmhouse, or as they have adapted it to mean House of Celebration) has a label with a court jester and a dragonfly. By the time we tasted this wine we had already talked for a few hours and gotten a sense of each other, so she brought up the symbolism of the dragonfly. She said that, typically, she doesn’t like to bring it up but she thought I would appreciate it. Pam talked about the power of dragonflies. They carry the wisdom of transformation and adaptability in life. They represent joy, lightness of being and invite us to dive deeper into our feelings. They are magical creatures that are part of the fairy realm.

Pam was aware of how odd it must seem for someone who has spent her life grounded in science, who could happily talk in detail about soil analysis and fermentation techniques, to have not lost that connection with seeing the magic in everyday life. Pam is like a dragonfly… she lives gently on the earth spreading joy to all, yet she is powerful and agile, capable of migrating across oceans, moving in any direction, and changing direction suddenly if needed.

Joy and Lightness of Being

As a child, I wanted to keep that butterfly safe from the world… so it would stay beautiful and gentle… I could find some solace from the rest of the big, scary world outside with this tiny, gentle creature. But trying to keep anything joyous from the world only diminishes its light – whether it is our self or others. It is only through the testing of our strength do we know real beauty, real joy and a real sense of living in this life with a lightness that uplifts and never overwhelms.

When I left my lunch with Pam, I felt as if I was walking on a cloud. That is what dragonflies do with their presence, and in this case, it was Pam’s very being, coupled with her wines. Dragonflies take you on a magical journey that finishes with the revelation that the magic was within you all along.

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Crocker & Starr Winery Tasting with Pam Starr on March 30th 2017

2015 Sauvignon Blanc, 87% from Saint Helena & 13% from Oak Knoll, Napa Valley: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. 12% of this wine was concrete egg fermented, which adds an incredible texture to the wine. Pam’s eyes lit up when she talked about her concrete egg and she said that she felt like a kid when it arrived. Fresh, zingy flavors of lime blossom and Guava with a sexy viscosity (who knew Sauvignon Blanc could be sexy?) finishing with a hint of minerality.  It will even win over red wine drinkers. The Wine Director of the restaurant came over and said she had to meet Pam because this was one of her favorite wines. 1200 cases made.

2014 Cabernet Franc, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 99% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. I have said this before and I will say it again, you do not know the full potential of Cabernet Franc until you have it from Napa. Charming aromas of violets and spice with juicy raspberries and a bright finish… this could bring some of those devoted Cabernet Sauvignon lovers to the Franc Side. Only 548 cases made.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Place, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the oldest plantings on their property, 40 year old vines, called Block 3. This plot produces grapes with small, concentrated clusters. Black cherry, truffles and crumbled rocks gives this surprisingly accessible wine layers of complexity with great vitality that carries through the superb length. Only 572 cases made.

2014 ‘Casali 7’, Saint Helena, Crocker Estate, Napa Valley: 92% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. This wine is inspired by Pam’s desire to bring great friends together to celebrate exceptional wine experiences. The 7 represents their 7th edition of making this wine. A full body with silky tannins, exciting layers of flavors that slowly unraveled with exotic spice, espresso bean and star anise.  To me, this wine really represented an extraordinary quality that Pam possessed: an authentic transparency that takes one on a journey of beauty, elegant generosity and pure magic that allows one to fly. Only 553 cases made.

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Southern Portugal’s Wines Will Not Allow History to Define Them

Photo Credit: https://www.esporao.com/

Two categories stick out when we think of wines from Portugal, Port and Vinho Verde. Funnily enough, these two styles of wines could not be more different. Port is a fortified sweet wine made from red grapes (there is a small quantity of White Port made from white grapes) and Vinho Verde is typically a high acid, fizzy, light white wine made from white grapes (although there are some red and rosé versions). Many think the popularity of these styles were due to the British, a couple centuries ago, starting to ship Port to the UK during one of the times when they were on bad terms with the French, and Vinho Verde’s close proximity to the Douro Valley, where the Port was made and exported, helped with their international recognition.

But that left Southern Portugal wine regions to languish in obscurity. A dictatorship, military coup and process of unraveling existing systems brought tough times especially to the southern wine region of Alentejo, since there was little global awareness of their area. Esporão has taken on that great challenge with an open heart and generous spirit to protect and preserve their culture while building a better future.

Herdade do Esporão

Photo Credit: https://www.esporao.com/

Herdade do Esporão is one of the oldest estates in Europe, having its boundaries demarcated in 1267. José Roquette purchased the estate in 1973 with a dream to produce exceptional wines while they were living in oppressive times as the authoritarian dictatorship, Estado Novo, was running Portugal. Then, on April 25, 1974, there was a military coup that overthrew the regime, remembered today as the Carnation Revolution. Although this event would help Portugal in the long run, it created a tremendous amount of turmoil for many years. But José’s dream did not die, only deferred, and so Esporão was able to produce their first wine when they were finally separated from the mandatory co-ops, for the 1985 vintage. They were able to have this opportunity to produce their own wines when Portugal joined the European Economic Community – later becoming the European Union.

Esporão is now overseen by José’s son, João Roquette, and their mission is not just to survive or make decent wine; they have placed all of their energies and resources to preserving the local varieties, as well as international favorites, with an experimental vineyard with over 180 grape varieties. Their grand estate employs many of the local people as well as brings tourism to the region. Their sustainable commitment includes going 100% organic in 2021 while already achieving a reduction in water waste (11 million liters) and a conservation of thousands of acres of land as a wildlife refuge. They are even experimenting with bats in the vineyard and they have hired someone to check their guano (aka poop) to make sure they are eating the ‘right’ insects that are the ones causing problems for the vines.

One of Esporão’s mantras: “To make the best products from what nature provides in a responsible and inspiring way.”

And under the heading of “Who We Are” on their website, they note a preference for non-conformity stating: “We want a better world with opportunities and dreams to pursue. We are bold regarding what we propose to do, believing that the effort and persistence to achieve this will help us find new ways forward.”

Fight to Soar Not Just Survive

Photo Credit: https://www.esporao.com/

It was such a pleasure to not only taste these wines – that are an insane, jaw dropping value – but to see a family that had every reason to walk away from a dream decide to hold on to it, and continue to do so, to the betterment of the larger community. When I think of the many times that I thought I could not get beyond the hurdles life gave me, I would think of others that had inspired me to take responsibility for my own happiness, and I pulled myself up through the darkness, until eventually, I could see the light. Sometimes, at times, I think if I didn’t fight for a better existence, where would I be today? I pose that same question in regards to Esporão. What would have happened to the local community if the Roquette family decided to walk away from a seemingly impossible situation?

Esporão is a beacon that lets us know that our past or even current path doesn’t have to define who we are as a person, as a group, as a region or even wine producer. The fight for excellence in every aspect that touches them as a producer is a fight they proudly take on every day. And the next time I’m having a tough day and I feel I don’t have the energy to shine my inner light to the world, I will pick up a bottle of Esporão and remind myself to fight the fight beyond surviving, SOAR!

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My Esporão tasting on March 23rd, 2017

2015 Herdade do Esporão, Duas Castas, Alentejo: A white blend of 65% Roupeiro & 35% Alvarinho (the blend changes ever year as they like to experiment with the over 180 grape varieties they have planted in their sustainable research vineyard). Lime blossom, flowers and white stone notes with a crisp finish.

2015 Esporão, Reserva White, Alentejo: Another white blend, this one of 40% Arinto, 40% Roupeiro and 20% Antão Vaz with the majority vinified in stainless steel and a small portion in oak. Juicy mango, honeysuckle; rich body with zingy acidity.

2015 Herdade do Esporão, Trincadeira, Alentejo: A single varietal red wine: 100% Trincadeira (small, thinned skinned berries) with silky texture (yes, they can make silky textured red wines in Portugal!), black raspberry and a touch of herbs.

2013 Esporão, Reserva Red, Alentejo: A red blend with 40% Aragonés (another name for Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was interesting to learn that Alicante Bouschet, an atypical red grape that has red skins and flesh (typically, red grapes only have red/dark colored skins and a clear flesh) has been adopted by Portugal as a local variety – living there around 70 years. Originally, it came from southern France, in the Languedoc. I loved the earthy, savory quality with this wine – granite, fresh leather with solid structure and firm tannins finishing with dark brooding fruit. Its suggested pairing with beef cheeks sounds like heaven.

Esporão’s commitment to preserving Portuguese culture and improving its future now extends to the Douro Valley with their purchase of Quinta dos Murças, which dates back to 1714.

2014 Quinta dos Murças Assobio Red, Douro: A great value red table wine. This wine represents three of the top varieties in the area with 40% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 40% Touriga Franca and 20% Touriga Nacional. Fresh red and black berries and mint that has lots of flesh and friendly tannins.
2011 Quinta Dos Murças Reserva, Douro: The grapes for this wine come from the oldest vertically planted vineyard in the Douro Valley. For those of you who know the Douro, most of the vineyards are terraced, but this one was planted by a man who was inspired by vineyards in the Mosel and he planted this vineyard at the very top – that way if it didn’t work out, no one would know about it. Well, the concentration is incredible and after this vintage, 2011, a portion of this vineyard will no longer be blended into the Reserva since they will make a separate 100% single vineyard from it in 2012. But this Reserva is already extraordinarily concentrated with ripe black fruits, lavender and gravelly rock with muscular tannins and a rich, flavorful finish. Another tasting after it had been opened for a couple days and it was still going strong… I would hold on to this for at least another decade. Also, grab whatever is left on the market because this is the last Reserva from the vertical vineyard… and the single vineyard will be made in tiny quantities and fiercely allocated.

Quinta dos Murças 10 Year Tawny Port, Douro: This 10 Tawny Year Port is unique as it has a significant number of barrels that were discovered after the purchase in 2008 that seem to be around 30 to 40 years old (adding younger Port to give it more of a 10 Tawny stylish profile to get the demarcation) but it has a complexity beyond its stated years. The lush flavors of butterscotch are balanced by orange zest and a chalky minerality. The superb length of flavor finishes with roasted almonds and sea salt.

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Australian Wine Gives Me Courage to Withhold Judgment

I think all of us battle fighting judgments, preconceptions… whether it is assuming qualities of an acquaintance based simply on appearance or background, or about a wine from a certain region. I can’t blame anyone for trying to sum up people or things as quickly as we can because it may be a way to connect, or protect ourselves, or live in the denial that we are in control. But what does our anticipation of a person, situation or even wine cost us? Do we wind up never living in the moment? Never really get a good sense of a person or a wine because our experience is always filtered through our own baggage?  It is always nice when someone or something shows us that the world is a lot more wondrous than we could have ever imagined…life offers surprises until our last breath.

 Connecting Through Our Struggles

It typically takes a while to get comfortable with a stranger, but sometimes a bad start to the day could potentially give two people a chance to connect past the formalities and measured tendencies of a first encounter. This was true for my encounter with Kim Longbottom, the owner of Henry’s Drive, who had the nearly impossible task of trying to go from uptown Manhattan, in New York City, to downtown, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  (A side note, in NYC, many firemen/women and police officers have Irish ancestry, and so, a big section of the city is blocked off for all the precincts to march.) Kim was certainly overwhelmed when I met her for lunch at Benjamin Steak House, as she was coming from a nightmare Uber ride, dragging her suitcases with her as she was heading directly to the airport immediately following our meeting.

What struck me about Kim was that although she certainly could have allowed herself to indulge in some self pity regarding her horrible day, she instantly showed concern for me and all those around her.  Later, she spoke about her daughter, who was a college student, as well as her friends.  This thoughtfulness and her innate attention for detail was woven throughout each of her wines. Kim’s wines have a subtlety, elegance and sophistication that was nurturing and gave just the right amount of generosity – not too overbearing, not too austere.

Henry’s Drive

Kim and her third-generation pastoralist husband, Mark Longbottom, planted their vineyards in Padthaway, Australia, in 1992. Although she originates from the famed wine region of Marlborough, New Zealand, her wine style is distinctively her own. With the unfortunate passing of her husband in 2010, she was left with taking over Henry’s Drive on her own. She is one of the few women who is the sole owner of a winery of significant size in Australia.

It was also interesting to learn that she recently hired a new winemaker, Andrew Miller. A few years ago, via email, I had reached out to Andrew for help in understanding the process of winemaking, and he was a great help. Andrew has an impressive resume, as he previously worked for a top wine corporation, flying around the world giving his expert opinion on various wineries in different regions – but when I contacted him, he couldn’t be more down to earth and just seemed to be a compassionate type of person. When I mentioned to Kim that I had that connection with him, she admitted that she was initially a little concerned that he would not be happy working for a single winery after working for such a huge conglomerate. But when she talked to people who knew him, they said they could see him wanting a change, which ended up being true as he now gets the chance to focus his energies and astute nature on directly making wines himself, as well as the added benefit of spending more time with his family.

Getting the Most Out of Living

It is natural, through time, to get bogged down by the daily rat race of life…perhaps we start to feel that everyone around us just wants to use us, compete with us, or in this case, that many of the wines we taste seem the same. We get to a point where there is nothing interesting, or exciting about life anymore. But it is good to keep in mind that there are people who are authentic around us, with opportunities to connect on a deeper level. Just as there are Australian wines that are surprisingly refined in their elegance, we just need the courage to open ourselves to the experience so we may recognize them and shout about their existence to the world.

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Henry’s Drive wines tasted on March 17th, 2017

All of the wines are from Padthaway, which is part of the Limestone Coast in the South East area of South Australia. It is considered to be a moderately cool grape-growing area that is known to produce long-lived wines of high quality. There are less than a dozen wine producers in Padthaway. Their soils are predominantly limestone with a top soil of red loam “terra rossa”.

The Pillar Box line, which was unveiled in the 2005 vintage, is named for the red Pillar Boxes (mailboxes) that first appeared in the Padthaway region in the 1850s. This line was designed in 2005 to make affordable, accessible wines that expressed the elegance and freshness of the Henry’s Drive style.

2015 Pillar Box Red (10th Vintage):  70% Shiraz and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The X on the label celebrates the 10th vintage. Fresh black currant with mint and hints of cinnamon that has round tannins and a bright finish. Fruit was sourced from Henry’s Drive’s Padthaway vineyards.

2015 Pillar Box Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. This wine, just like the one before, has great restraint. Lovely notes of espresso, dried herbs and spice that were delivered with fleshy goodness, yet it was fresh with a good structure that was simply delightful. Fruit was sourced from various sites across the Longbottom family vineyards.

In 2014 Kim started the “H” line of wines that were created to show an even more subtle version of varieties paying homage to the French origins of these wines.

2014 Henry’s Drive “H” Chardonnay: 100% Chardonnay. I had this Chardonnay first but wanted to place it in my notes after the Pillar Box so I could keep all the Henry’s Drive wines together. A long time ago, I was turned off of New World Chardonnays, but there are some that I have been having lately that are re-igniting my love for them. This is one of them! Kim talked about how she loved a more graceful, fresh style and this certainly was the epitome of grace and charm. Golden apple with delicate layers of almond paste, spice and marked acidity with beautifully integrated oak. Fruit harvested from Henry’s Drive’s hillside vineyards. Only 383 cases made.

2014 Henry’s Drive “H” Syrah: 100% Syrah. Vivid flavors of rhubarb, with rosemary and sweet tobacco, carried by fine tannins and a great energy that gives this wine a nice lift. Fruit harvested from the Henry’s Drive hillside vineyards that have deep, sandy loam over thick limestone terroir. Only 272 cases made.

The Henry’s Drive is their premium line from some of their top plots. The postal theme is carried throughout with the label showing a depiction of a postage stamp created in the 1950s. Henry’s Drive’s name honors Henry John Hill, proprietor of the 19th century mail coach service that once ran through a piece of property that is currently owned by the Longbottom family.

2012 Henry’s Drive Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon: 65% Shiraz and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is one of Kim’s favorite wines and I can see why. It has decadence with a flavor of cocoa nib that is balanced by dusty earth and a body that envelopes you with a big, warm hug, yet it is secure with its firm grip. It was nice to see two heavy hitters like Shiraz and Cabernet dance so seamlessly together – neither dominating the other. Fruit sourced from vineyards with soils that have red loam over limestone in Henry’s Drive’s vineyards in Padthaway. Only 735 cases made.

2012 Henry’s Drive Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. An intoxicating smoky minerality with blueberry compote and allspice. The acidity is simply stunning on such a generous wine and gives it an invigorating shape that brings you back for more. This wine comes from red loam and limestone soils in the Henry’s Drive vineyards. Only 785 cases made.

Magnus Shiraz is sourced from a unique site situated on the hillside within the Longbottom family vineyards in Padthaway. The vineyard was planted by Kim’s late husband in 1996 and he uniquely planted the vines in pairs – their trunks twisting around each other. Only 496 cases made (six-bottle cases).

2012 Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. Kim said they started picking the fruit earlier, as well as aging it longer in fine grained French oak, giving it more overall poise and refinement that gives a real sense of definition to this opulent wine. They sold off the fruit for the 2011 since it did not reach Kim’s extremely high standards, and hence, why we tasted the 2012 and 2010. The 2012 had a much more lively impression with evident acidity, with hints of eucalyptus, lavender and star anise dancing about… a wine that offers some serious muscle as well as great intellectual contemplation… such as Sherlock Holmes. A true renaissance wine!

2010 Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. The 2010 is a richer, more textured wine that is grounded with dark wild berries intermingled with toasted coriander seeds and thai basil. Although this wine is more concentrated with broader shoulders, it still has a linear energy that gives this wine class and style on its prolonged finish.

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One of the Truths that Renews our Humanity with Bordeaux

My fondest memories involving Bordeaux wines are not so much connected to my visits at their insanely beautiful châteaux, or that I was drinking a particular vintage that was part of fine wine history… it is the conversations from the heart with some of the prominent people in Bordeaux that I remember as being the most precious. These revealing discussions show that many of the key influencers in the fine wine Bordeaux region have become more and more aware of their actions having consequences. Bordeaux wants a greater legacy that goes beyond their legendary 1855 classification or even greater than being the fine wine capital of the world…and my recent experience, reassuring me of the progressive consciousness of Bordeaux, happened in the capital of the US – a Montrose wine vertical in DC earlier this year.

Château Montrose Vertical

Every January, Panos Kakaviatos, wine educator, wine writer and founder of Wine-Chronicles, holds a Bordeaux vertical of one of the great châteaux on the Left Bank with Bordeaux collectors, experts and journalists/writers in attendance. It always takes the form of a wine dinner with courses paired with a flight of wines, with breaks in between the courses for an opportunity to discuss the vintages, and perceptions before and after tasting of the wines at this stage of their lives.

Hervé Berland (left) and Panos Kakaviatos (right)

Deliberation of each flight was led by Panos and Hervé Berland, Managing Director of super second Château Montrose, as well as being a long established important figure in Bordeaux. There were various aspects discussed of the Montrose of the present, as well as the past, that were explained and examined… but one question started a little bit of a heated debate: Why are they becoming organic?

Over the past decade, Château Montrose has been making significant changes – a complete renovation of the cellar room and all existing buildings, reduced sulfur levels in their wines, drones that take infrared photos of the vines, and the conversion to organic in their 90 hectare (222 acres) vineyards. Some people present at the dinner were skeptical of whether organic was necessary or would benefit the wine consumer.

Bring Back Balance, Bring Back Humanity

Hervé said that it was essential to first taste the wine made from the 15 hectares that have been farmed organic since 2015 before deciding on committing to organic farming for the rest of the vineyards. The wine had to be just as good as before, and in his experience he thinks that it has gotten better through time. But he mainly emphasized that there is a growing “international concern” in France of the “use of chemicals in the vineyards” and he confidently stated that organic “is the future”.

Early last year, in the center of Bordeaux, there was a protest march against the use of pesticides after a controversial documentary aired on French national TV regarding the high use of pesticides – the figures were leaked from a database listing agricultural pesticides purchased between 2008-2013; it was revealed that the Bordeaux region was at the top of the list. Although there has been no direct link to the higher national rates of cancer in Bordeaux and this report, it does make one think, especially since some high profile Bordeaux legends have passed recently from a private fight with some form of cancer.

When we are children, we are shown though advertising, and perhaps by the examples of those adults in our lives, that a successful life involves a particular type of car, size of house or fine clothes; hopefully we realize that although there is nothing wrong with buying desired luxury treats with our hard earned money, we know those things are not what makes us who we are or show our worth as a human being.

I have loved every visit to Bordeaux and it is a region and city that has become more aware of making things nice for all their inhabitants no matter their level of status; from greatly improving the once unsavory city of Bordeaux, as well as the top Grand Cru Classés, such as Montrose, taking a more serious look at how their vineyards are affecting their employees and community.

Despite Montrose’s gravelly vineyards being categorized as a “terrace 4”, on the same level as Château Latour’s vineyards, they are evolving to the next stage of achieving success and prestige – by living a life of service with compassion for the world around them. This is the final truth of how to renew humanity… and at the end of the day that is the one hope we have for a better world.

“Teach this triple truth to all:
A generous heart,
kind speech,
and a life of service and compassion
are the things which renew humanity.”
-Buddha

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Wine Dinner with Château Montrose vertical on January 24th, 2017

I’ve done something different with my tasting notes this time. Instead of giving full, individual notes, I thought it would be more interesting to give brief comparisons of the wines in each flight. The flights were arranged by Panos Kakaviatos and the Executive Chef, Ryan Ratino, with the consideration of pairing it with each dish as well as making an interesting flight by grouping newer and older wines. All bottles came directly from Château Montrose with the exception of 1989.

 

 

Flight: 2012, 2008, 1995 with Wild Hare Terrine (elderberry-frisee-shallot)

The 2012 was tight and firm yet had an attractive underlying sense of minerality, 2008 was gorgeous and simply breathtakingly balanced (originally, this vintage was underrated but later many Bordeaux lovers had come to sing its praises) and the 1995 was showing its age with intense savory notes, yet its supple body made it simply enjoyable for those who like lots of earth and little fruit – a vintage that does not make a pronouncement of sophistication but rather gives a warm handshake of enjoyment.

Flight: 2010, 2009, 2003 with Quail Egg (truffle-grits-cured yolk)

Of course, 2010 and 2009 were stunning and showed the greatness of each vintage while highlighting the different qualities, such as the ‘10 having lots of structure and ‘09 having lots of flesh. The 2003, a hot vintage, and many think the wines are over the hill at this point, was in a tough lineup with some outstanding vintages yet it was still fresh with a plusher body.

Flight: 2005, 1990, 1989, 1976 with Octopus (coco beans-oxtail-fennel)

The 2005 has a New World glycerol, lush quality with sweet cherries and many of the traditionalist wine drinkers in the room said they liked it but it wasn’t Bordeaux to them, and certainly not a St. Estèphe super-second like Montrose, but although I prefer more structure I found its uniqueness refreshing. The 1990 was pretty with a pure raspberry note (surprising considering its age), 1989 was more savory and tight although seemed a bit closed still (89 was the only vintage that didn’t come directly from the Château and was generously donated by Panos and a couple other collectors so there might have been bottle variation), and the 1976 was my favorite – biggest shock of the night. ‘76 was known as a hot year and many wines from that vintage are now considered past their prime (dried out), but this one was bright with beautiful blackberry notes with hints of tar and leather that added to its complexity – Hervé said Montrose picked their grapes early that year and it certainly is still paying off.

Flight: 2000, 1986, 1985 with American Bison Strip Loin (root vegetable-hay smoked potatoes-jus)

2000 was singing and generous with a great sense of place displayed by hints of crushed gravel, 1986 was tight and austere – Hervé noted that he actually preferred not decanting this vintage (all bottles where double decanted at least a couple hours before tasting), 1985 gave animalistic notes of seared meat balanced with stewed plum notes and  paired well with the Bison.

Flight 1998, 1982, 1970 with Meadow Creek Dairy “Mountaineer” (apple butter-levain-hazelnuts)

1998 had manicured tannins and complex aromatics of forest floor and pencil lead, 1982 had rougher tannins with a hint of herbaceous quality on the finish that was best with the cheese and the 1970 (a vintage that is known for bottle variation) showed nicely with real charm, expressed by floral and spicy aromas and fine tannins dancing across the light bodied palate.

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Success is Living a Life with a Purpose

Photo by David Silverman Copyright © 2017 dpsimages. All Rights Reserved. www.dpsimages.com

Two Riesling wines from the same producer sat before me – a 2014 and a 2015 – yet they had two different bottle shapes. I was told by the producer that the reason for the difference is because Israel is perceived to be surrounded by “enemies” so everything is extremely expensive to import, especially if one needs it within a couple of days. I was talking to one of the most fascinating wine producers I have ever met – Rami Bar-Maor, owner and winemaker for Bar-Maor, a winery in the Shomron, southern Mount Carmel area (although Rami takes issue with these names as a regional wine designation). Rami actually disagrees with this perception and does not believe in the concept of enemies – he expressed his discontent at even the notion of such an idea.

Rami is a man who deeply thinks about every nuance of everything, who was forced to accept a different bottle for his 2015 Riesling because he could not get the bottle he wanted, and he talked about his uneasiness of such a predicament saying, “I can’t do anything without any context… everything needs a reason and doing something without meaning is very bad.”

Before we arrived at his facility, I was told that Rami wanted us to excuse its outside appearance – his winery is not a beautiful château-style building, but is located in an industrial park. But as I walked through an alley between the metal clad buildings, a twinge of excitement shot up my back… I had a feeling that I was about to experience a winery visit like no other. The first thing I saw when I walked into the winery was a huge table with various meats, cheeses, breads, and lots of bottles lined up in multiple verticals; information about the winery lined up on a perfect angle with metals clips that were each exactly the same distance from the top and bottom. Everything on that table was placed in a certain way and organized according to an overall concept. At that moment, I knew I was about to meet a very unique individual.

Bikat-Hanadiv

It took no time to figure out that Rami was meticulous, with everything having an intention – a purpose. He was constantly striving to improve, to reach an ideal… even if he was limited in resources and opportunity, he was not giving up. He has not only given careful attention to his vineyards and cellar, but he has also brought his knowledge and experience to other wineries in the area and strongly believes that they can come together to raise the quality and image of their region overall.

There are many issues that Rami has to contend with… one being a name for the region. Many refer to the area as Mount Carmel, although many vineyards have nothing to do with that mountain. The three largest commercial producers in the area cannot agree on a name for their area and Rami believes that the little guys, like himself, should leave the quarreling between the big companies and that they should decide a name for themselves.

Bikat-Hanadiv (translates into “Generous Valley” and said to be one of the oldest wine growing areas in Israel) is the name that he gave his area. He examined the areas that had the same sense of place, aka terroir, and drew lines based on that idea – leaving out historical or political persuasion. Only a couple of months ago, he delineated this wine growing area calling it Bikat-Hanadiv, and gathered 13 wineries – all of them having at least 85% of their land in this designated area – although 4 of these wineries do not have their production facilities there but they have at least 85% of their vineyards within the boundaries.

Rami has been working with his neighbors, as well as his own vineyards, to produce fruit that is complex, naturally high in acid and moderate in alcohol, with structure. They have a high water table in Bikat-Hanadiv and so he does not believe in irrigation. Also, he is a proponent of early “harsh” pruning and stopping other “procedures” (more pruning, tipping the ends, green harvesting) later in the season to find more balance in their area. There are many other concepts that he has implemented in the vineyards, I can’t share them all in one post, but the idea is to stop using what everyone else is doing in Israel and focus on their specific area and make adjustments and alterations accordingly.

Rami said that for his first three years as a producer, he bought a small percentage of grapes from the Golan Heights, a well-known wine producing area in northern Israel, but he realized that he needed to completely invest his time, study and energy into Bikat-Hanadiv and he is “working like hell” to show the “true potential here” by no longer using grapes from any other region than his own. He further added that they had a long way to go, but they have to start somewhere to talk about the region; from this time forward he is adding the name “Bikat-Hanadiv” to his label although it is not a legally defined term so it is illegal to do so.

Rami Bar-Maor

Photo by David Silverman Copyright © 2017 dpsimages. All Rights Reserved. www.dpsimages.com

Orignally, Rami Bar-Maor was an architect who became frustrated by the compromises he was forced to make – so the end result never lived up to his concept and ideal. He was involved in designing a section of Habima Square, a famous public space in the center of Tel Aviv, but the end result did not meet his standards and, today, is still painful for him to look at. Rami, a soft-spoken man, has a great inner intensity with a conscientious desire to improve the world in which he lives.

As a frustrated architect obsessed with creating excellence, he ended up getting into winemaking, interning at the renowned Margalit Winery – many consider Dr. Yair Margalit a genius who wrote one of the preeminent books on wine chemistry. Others in the wine industry told Rami to work at a bigger winery where he could learn more, but once he learned that Margalit made wines in a “primitive way,” he knew that it would fit his minimalist ideal of allowing the grapes to show their true nature.

Rami believes in primitive ways, using knowledge and research to back it up, to express the nature and sense of place of his vineyards.  He does not allow acid corrections, uses free run juice only, with no pressing at all for his reds (he only has one white – Riesling), no filtration, no clarification, and relies on winter rains rather than the use of irrigation. Many think he is mad for trying such practices in a climate that has such high amounts of heat and sunlight, yet he is making it work.

Transparency of Purpose

Rami openly admits that not everything is ideal in his winery, but at least has the intention to improve, to express a true sense of place, and he is working everyday with his neighbors to bring a deep meaning and high quality to his region’s wines. At one point I was overwhelmed with an incredible sense of honor to sit in the presence of someone who had everything against him, yet was not going to stop doing what he thought was right.

I know that many years from now, this will be one of the encounters that I will look back on and say to myself, “Wow, I got to meet someone who planted seeds to change the wine world into a more thoughtful, transparent place.” The only thing that is unknown to me is if he will ever get the adulation that he so rightly deserves, or will he be one of the unsung heroes that helped to bring a real sense of place to the Israeli wine industry that no one in the international community ever hears of. I have a feeling that Rami’s purpose will be served simply if Bikat-Hanadiv is recognized for their unique place and high quality wines… he has very little need for personal celebrity. Either way, I am profoundly grateful to have met someone who truly lives by his elevated ethical principles.

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Bar-Maor Wines Tasted on February 2nd, 2017

***Bar-Maor wines are not, as of yet, imported into the US and they are non-kosher, but I hope to see them in New York City someday soon.

Production is around 15,000 bottles a year.

I have added a lot of side information before the tasting notes of each vertical because Rami thinks about every little thing that is involved in all aspects of being a wine producer and loves to share his mindset and process… I have only shared a small portion of what I have learned from him. Feel free to read everything or jump to the tasting notes.

On most of the labels of the current vintages, Rami uses the word “Rendzina” – the name of the free, eroded white chalky soil –  a Polish word that means “to chat”. When a person walks through the Bikat-Hanadiv vineyards, it sounds like there is someone else there. Rami says the free, decomposed chalky soil has a different chemical reaction with the vegetation than the bounded chalk that looks like crystals.

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Rami believes that whites need a lot more caring than reds, and although they are not in Germany where Riesling originates, he wanted to try it in his area of Bikat-Hanadiv to see if it was possible to create an elegant Riesling. He had problems in 2015: I found the wine tasty, but it is not to his ideal, but he accepts that he doesn’t have control over vintage variation. Also, Rami notes that Riesling will get into stress very early in the season, and so, avoiding tropical fruit flavors is a challenge for him.

The last note about the Riesling, before the tasting notes – he leaves a block of oak in the tank to provide oxygen to the yeast because it is fermenting in very low temperatures and may create hydrogen sulfide – the odor of rotten eggs.

-2014 Riesling: Flinty minerality, lime blossom, smoky with nice backbone of acidity with a linear edge.

 -2015 Riesling: Key limes and juicy peach with riper flavors due to the hotter year but still has a fresh quality.

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The next wine is Tammuz (Summer Blend, aka a wine to drink during the hot Israeli summers) and the label represents the forces of nature: red blend around 60% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Marselan – based on 2014. Rami believes that the flavors in this wine should not last too long… they should come and leave quickly – which, in his mind, is perfect for summer.

Since Rami has an architect’s background, he has a concept for each wine in his head. The Tammuz should be very lovely, the drinker should watch it move up in the air, watch it move along and then, all of the sudden, look up at it again and it is no longer there – it has vanished completely… like star dust. It should not stay in the mouth too long. He says he is not there yet, but is almost there with this wine.

-2013 Tammuz: This was the first attempt at this concept with firm texture yet is still playful with bursts of blackberry, a touch of cinnamon and a clean finish.

-2014 Tammuz: The ‘14 is rounder and closer to what Rami wants as it dances across one’s palate – youthful and expressive and hasn’t been weighed down by life.

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The woman on this label is Lilith. Some think of her as the black demon, who had 1000 baby demons with the devil. The story goes that she was Adam’s first wife but she was complete on her own because she was human born and did not come from his rib like Eve. She was born for her own enjoyment. Others consider her to be the first feminist… and that’s perhaps why some may find her dark. Rami loves Syrah and he is a big believer of growing it in his area – Bikat-Hanadiv. He says it is dark and “dirty” but dirty in a way that people enjoy – it is the siren that people know they should avoid but cannot deny.

Lilith is a red blend of about 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Syrah – based on 2014. Rami says Lilith has “too much” of everything inside.

-2012 Lilith: There is this dark earthiness with lush texture that sucks one into this wine, yet it has a good backbone of structure and acidity with tannins that keeps one guessing.

-2013 Lilith: I felt this vintage had more pretty fruit notes like cassis in the beginning but then there were animalistic tendencies on the finish, and the tannins hook you at the end.

-2014 Lilith: Meaty, charming and funky notes made this wine so much fun, plenty of fruit to keep you hooked with the intense savory, wild qualities. The big, round tannins seems to first gently invite one in, then they become unexpectedly rough and beat you up… but there is always the urge to go back for more.

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The label for Bar-Maor’s Cabernet Franc is based on a 1920s German graphic that shows the idea of humans being in control –we think we are in control, but we are not. Rami believes the same is true of vineyards – he surrenders to the fact that he doesn’t have control over them.

His Cabernet Franc gets the highest amount of new oak because he feels it can absorb it and naturally integrates it without losing its own distinct characteristics.

Rami feels Cabernet Franc divides Israeli customers into two groups: Those that hate Cabernet Franc or those that die for Cabernet Franc.

The Cabernet Franc is a blend of around 94% Cabernet Franc and 6% Merlot – based on 2014.

-2012 Cabernet Franc: Mingles a touch of dried herbs with spicy oak, fresh black raspberry fruit with fine, firm tannins that have a regal presence.

-2013 Cabernet Franc: Pretty, intense nose of raspberry with hint of blackcurrant leaves and more velvety tannins.

-2014 Cabernet Franc: Crushed stones and gravel with an intoxicating note of wild flowers and a good balance between structure and accessibility.

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 The Red Moon is Merlot dominant with 2014 being the only one that is 100% Merlot. According to Rami the other vintages needed a little bit of green, and so that is why he added Cabernet Franc.

Originally, he had a single restaurant buy all of his Red Moon, but they kept telling him that they wanted it more subtle to pair with their antipasta, tomato based food. Rami told them that they needed to leave the Red Moon open, without a cork, for 4 days to have it settle down. They listened to him and the wine became more subtle and now goes perfectly with the food.

-2011 Red Moon: 2011 was the coolest season in several years. Sage and black raspberry with soft body. It was the first year he made Red Moon but it is very different from subsequent vintages since it was such a cool year in Israel.

-2012 Red Moon: Bright, expressive fruit with sour cherry (never got that on a Merlot dominant wine), lots of verve…invigorating!

-2013 Red Moon: Plums, dried leaves and wafting aromas of truffles on the finish.

-2014 Red Moon: 100% Merlot. This is an excellent effort, reminding me of some Pomerol wines such as Gazin…Supple and rich yet firm and elegant… opulent while remaining fresh and thrilling. I thought this wine, considering it is 100% Merlot, really showed that Rami is on the right track in his vineyards.

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Rami said that the nature of Syrah is to become reductive… so he does not fight it. It took him time to figure out how to work with this variety. In order to reach complexity without jammy qualities, and seemingly high alcohol, he has to go to the “dark side” of the winery – placing a percentage of the wine in a reductive state in stainless steel. I have to say that I am really in love with his Syrah wines and can’t wait to see where he goes with them.

-2012 Syrah: Although the 2012 and 2013 did not meet Rami’s standards, I found them quite charming with all of the classic gamy, earthy notes that Northern Rhône wine lovers go orgasmic over, yet it had others qualities making it distinctly Bikat-Hanadiv. Hints of black tea and an intense backbone made this a heart-beat-faster sort of wine.

-2013 Syrah: I found this wine very “dark” with lots of brooding fruit and wet earth that was sensual in a rough sort of way.

-2014 Syrah: This was Rami’s favorite – he feels he is starting to understand how to grow and handle Syrah from Bikat-Hanadiv. This vintage had an exceptional balance of the dark and elegant qualities… wet stones, layers of dried and fresh currants and a hint of rosemary, lots of dry extract giving it shape and marked acidity that gave it an exciting finish… a wine that draws the drinker in again and again.

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Archetype Reserve, a red blend of Syrah, Carignan and Marselan, captures the quintessential essence of Bikat-Hanadiv.

The Archetype (prototype of how wine should be made in Rami’s area: not leaning on oak, alcohol or fruit). Red blend of 55% Syrah, 35% Carignan (placed in stainless steel for one year then added to the blend) and 10% Marselan (brings a rim of black fruit to the blend).

Only 1000 bottles produced.

-2014 Archetype Reserve: The first example of his ideal of not leaning on Bordeaux varieties has lower alcohol (13.5% abv) and spends less time in barrels – showing the potential of Bikat-Hanadiv. A deep ruby color that has that notes of dried meats, black cherries and black mulberries, coalescing with hints of tar and a stunning under-note of chalky minerality – juicy mid-palate with a superb length of flavor that finishes with star anise and wild herbs.

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It’s All Part of the Story

I stared down at the gaping holes between the big, jagged, moss-covered rocks, envisioning myself twisting an ankle or worse, as I jumped precariously from broken bedrock to bedrock. Before I had a chance to think that it couldn’t get any more treacherous, I saw a soaking wet, fallen tree blocking our way – my other ‘fellows’ seemingly leapt across it as if they were graceful gazelles – but my legs froze, paralyzed by intense fear. This city girl is used to dodging crack addicts, pickpockets and the constant pushing and shoving that come with the hustle and bustle of New York City, but I am not used to going off the trail in the forest. So, I took a deep breath and got my motorcycle-style city boots over that disintegrating log with only a few skids, slides and a couple touch downs with my hand. As I looked back at my personal achievement of roughing it in the woods, Jim Gordon, Editor of Wines & Vines, observed that we were surrounded by poison oak, which made sense since it had been pouring rain for the past couple days in Napa Valley. Once finally back in my room, I followed his instructions about washing my hands, turning my clothes inside out and separating them, and making sure I didn’t touch my face for a couple of days.

The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley

All of this excitement happened at the luxurious Meadowood resort that provides an amazing amount of privacy to each room (each “room” is actually a little house) on their massive property, with charming trails surrounded by acres and acres of woodland. I was fortunate to receive a fellowship to The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers to not only benefit from the magical surroundings and great professional advice with regards to my writing, but learn from my fellow ‘fellows’ as well.

Jim Gordon, in addition to being a master of spotting poison oak, has had a long lived career as an editor and reporter and he was the executive director of this Symposium from 2008-2015. Although Jim decided to take a step back from organizing this extraordinary event this year, he was still a part of panels and made himself available for counsel.

On the day preceding our jaunt in the timberland, Jim gave an incredibly moving speech prior to a panel discussion regarding ethics in journalism/writing. His words addressed those heroes who are so driven by the truth and finding the unknown side of a story that they risk their lives. As an example, he talked of a colleague who his wife knew personally, who was killed by terrorists in the process of meeting with them for an interview. Even though I do not have it in me to risk my life like those top investigative journalists who help to shine a light on human stories in every pocket of the world, I am obsessed with listening to people’s inner truth – the basis of what motivates and moves them.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

The day following Jim’s heartfelt homage of those reporting champions that shape our world for the better, we attended a panel, at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in Napa Valley, of some of those champions in the wine world who have shaped communication for the better. The session was called “Building a Career” and instead of it being about a list of accomplishments that one would place on their resume, it was a very frank, open discussion about the various journeys that take us to a different place than we once anticipated.

Madeline Puckette, co-founder of Wine Folly, talked about her former intense struggles and seedy life of being an artist; how the only thing she had that was worth anything was a wine magazine subscription that her estranged father sent her. Madeline threw herself into wine, learned everything she could and eventually, used her visual gifts to create infographic posters that spoke to the new generation of wine drinkers. Madeline and her partner have built one of the most successful wine brands on social media as well as a best selling book, and it is all due to their hard work… as she says, she answers ever comment, every message, every email and when someone says she got something wrong – she looks into it, always, trying to improve her knowledge.

Then another kick ass woman (sorry but I can’t help but have a bit of female pride) Leslie Sbrocco, well-known wine TV personality and journalist, talked about how her initial plans of becoming a lawyer, eventually leading her to become the first female President of the United States, did not work out because that world was not conducive with her desire to share warmth and joy to the rest of the world… come on Leslie, you can still become POTUS, look at what’s happening now – you don’t need any direct relevant experience, please… a warm, kind, brilliant woman like you… okay, I’ll stop begging… I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone, especially such a bright light as Leslie Sbrocco.

And then there was the living legend Kevin Zraly, author and founder of Windows on the World Wine School. Kevin holds a special place in many New Yorkers’ hearts. Not only is he responsible for inspiring countless current leaders of the New York City wine industry with his school, but he came up with one of the most successful wine lists at the stellar Windows on the World restaurant, which was located on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center since 1976. Well, all of us know what happened on 9/11, and Kevin not only lost many co-workers that day, but he lost his love for wine, and quite frankly, life. All of us living here (I was living in downtown NYC at the time) fell into a deep depression. Just imagine 8 ½ million people in a dark hole of despair – none of us capable of helping the other.

But someone convinced Kevin that he needed to come back to teaching, to keep inspiring and lifting people’s spirits with wine. At first it was tough, but through time, sharing his love for this beautiful libation and connecting with the people in his classes helped to bring him back… it brought many of us back. His Window on the World: Complete Wine Course  book has sold over 3 million copies and everything in the book is inspired by questions his students have asked throughout the years.

This is All Part of the Story

I ended up getting poison oak on a big portion of the inside of my left wrist. It just started going away and all that’s left is a big scab. But, right now, as I look at that hard coating of skin, I smile to myself. Because at one point, as a handful of us had our ‘survivor’ moment out in the woods, Jim said, “This is all part of the story.” And it’s true – the joy, the pain, the regret, and hopefully the letting go of sadness to live another day to share… are all part of our story.

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Master Tasting with Kevin Zraly at CIA at Greystone on February 23rd, 2017:

CIA at Greystone

This tasting represented the pivotal wines that Kevin had over many of his visits to Napa Valley that held significant importance to him.

1974 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Selection, Napa Valley: A gorgeous silky smooth texture with earthy aromas of dried leaves, forest floor and sweet tobacco. History in a glass!

 

 

1975 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV), Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour, Napa Valley: This 1975 BV Georges de Latour (my birth year) still had lots of freshness when I had it at the CIA a couple weeks ago. Flavors of tea leaves, sour cherries and mint. It was my favorite wine because of its elegance and complexity – we both seem to be doing well at this stage of our lives J

1986 Beringer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, Napa Valley: Beringer is one of the largest land owners in Napa Valley and it is said that they supply grapes to some of the top producers in this legendary area. And so, Beringer Private Reserve is a super star Napa wine that costs half the price of many cult wines made from their grapes. This 1986 was at a wonderful stage where it had plenty of blackcurrant fruit with layers of complexity that comes with age – tea leaf, cigar box and dried thyme – moderately firm structure with still a good bit of stuffing left.

1997 Inglenook (formerly Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery), Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubicon, Rutherford: 1997 was a great year for quality as well as quantity and this Niebaum Coppola (Inglenook) Rubicon, with its brooding, dark fruit, balanced with hints of lifting notes of pomegranate and dried oregano with a luscious, silky body that draws one in like a beautiful dancer with silk scarves, is proof of the outstanding quality.

-2003 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 1, Napa Valley: This wine had a youthful sweetness with blackcurrant jam, cinnamon and plush tannins that Kevin Zraly and some others said was more in their style of preference with more fruit…. but he was quick to note that it is all personal taste. I like to taste a wine throughout its life, if given the opportunity, and that is why verticals are so much fun! I will take the sweet and the savory stages and everything in between.

 

2003 Robert Mondavi Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley: A stunning delicacy to this wine with purple flowers and bright red raspberry fruit, refined tannins… a wine that satisfies the mind as well as the senses.

 

 

 

 

This one 2012, as well as the following five 2013s, are all modern superstars since these were back to back great vintages in Napa Valley. But the 2012 is a lot more approachable with generous aromatics – the 2013s will need a lot more time to reveal themselves yet they are both structurally built to age.

2012 Louis M. Martini Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 1, Napa Valley: Exotic spice with perfumed ripe fruit and a touch of anise that is enhanced by sweet tannins.

2013 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Selection, Napa Valley: Cocoa powder with crushed rocks and a touch of dried herbs with a firm grip on the finish.

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour, Napa Valley: A sweet spot wine with dried cranberries, a whiff of eucalyptus and interesting hint of graphite … the tannins are elegant and the finish is long and linear.

2013 Beringer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, Napa Valley: A flavorful, robust wine with stewed plums, a lift of pine and lush fleshiness on the sustained length.

2013 Inglenook, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubicon, Rutherford: This wine had a nice approachability right off the bat, considering it is a 2013, with round, inviting body, fresh blackberry flavor. Dusty earth and charcoal add a depth of complexity.

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, 50th Anniversary, Reserve, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville: This outstanding wine is a great homage to the visionary Robert Mondavi with its polished tannins and well-integrated oak. It incrementally increases in flavors on the palate that finishes with a lifted, pristine, breath-taking finish.

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Practical is Beautiful in the Golan Heights

As I passed a wrought iron gate (complete with wrought iron shaped grapes and a golden “CG” adorning the top), walking on a rock covered path surrounded by vines with roses in the front, I found myself facing a remarkable building that had the shape of a bottle carved into the side of it. If that was not enough to draw me into an enchanted world, I then entered the cellar of this winery that had high stone pillars and an elevated area at the end of the room with glowing bottles lined up on an inviting table. Where is this magical world I found myself in, you might ask? I was not in Europe, I was not in Napa… I was in Israel – in one of Israel’s top wine growing regions, the Golan Heights, bordering Lebanon and Syria. I would soon learn that all this beauty had a practical purpose.

Château Golan

I was at Château Golan, a small winery making only 100,000 bottles a year. They own most of their vineyards, which encompass their winery, except for one Sauvignon Blanc plot that they purchase, in the Golan Heights as well, at a higher elevation of 2625 feet (800 meters), as compared to the winery and their estate vineyards being at 1312 feet (400 meters). The Chief Winemaker and partner, Uri Hetz was hosting our visit and fielding some tough questions, I might add. He was trying to explain his beliefs with regards to making wine, making sure we were not misunderstanding his words to be dogma against one type of process or technique or style… he was more interested in the intention of a producer – the intended practical purpose of a wine. Finally, after much back and forth, he talked about a quote that he saw on the wall of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City many years ago as representing his belief.

“Everything beautiful in the world is a result of trying to make something practical; everything ugly in the world is the result of trying to make something beautiful.”

Before going any further, let me just preface this by saying that I cannot find this quote anywhere… so I will not try to make a guess as to who said it or what were the exact words of the original – I am quoting the words that Uri remembers… anyway, it is more important to express what the words meant to him than actually finding the exact wording.

As he says, Uri does not want to make more money, he wants to make a better wine; he doesn’t want to make a beautiful wine, he wants to make one that is tasty and eventually it will become beautiful if he did his job right.

I completely connect with his idea of beauty… as I feel beauty cannot be manufactured or forced, and the most beautiful people and things typically serve a practical purpose…whether they take care of others or simply bring them some joy, they always serve by bringing comfort and happiness to many of the beings in their lives. And the latter part of the quote rings true to me as well, as I think we, as a society, can mistakenly look too much to superficial factors as being beautiful and miss what truly makes someone or something shine – the intention.

Golan Heights Winery

The next stop was the world renowned producer, Golan Heights Winery. If you have ever had any interest in wines from Israel, then you probably know them and recognize their premium Yarden series labels, with the oil lamp decorated with mosaic tile adorning them. They are the third largest winery in Israel, and as we were leaving Château Golan telling Uri that our next stop was Golan Heights, he immediately expressed his great respect for them as a real “professional winery”.

Upon approaching their thoughtfully landscaped visitor’s center, we were immediately greeted by smiling staff with maps of the Golan Heights wine growing area – I quickly realized that Uri’s words about them rang true. They were a great place for visitors from all over the world, there was actually a group from China there at the time, to experience the potential of the Israeli wine industry. Golan Heights Winery served a practical purpose making a great first impression, on behalf of all of the Israeli producers, to many wine drinkers around the world, by the consistency of their wines, as well as how they greet those adventurous world travelers who have the Golan Heights on their bucket list.

 Golan Heights Winery’s commitment to raising the quality of Israeli wine actually goes deeper than what one can taste in their wines and experience at their facility. They were the first ones to come out talking about the leaf roll virus affecting many Israeli vineyards. They admitted that they themselves had vineyards that were afflicted and they took immediate action by grubbing them up, while calling out to other owners of vineyards to do the same in the name of raising the quality of wines in Israel. This is a rare act, as many wine regions around the world keep secrets, or in some cases were in denial, of issues that they were having with their vineyards.

Our Golan Heights Winery experience was co-led by Australian Associate Winemaker Michael Avery, since legendary Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld is said to be a little journalist-shy. But as Michael was taking us to one of their top single vineyards, Bar’on, I had to ask why a non-Jewish Australian would want to work in Israel. His answer was purely the idea of being able to work at the Golan Heights Winery. Their forward thinking, modern facility, coupled with their in-depth study and research involving all aspects of the vineyards and winery could potentially revolutionize the wine world, such as their partnership with French research authority, ENTAV, which is bringing high quality ‘clones’ (aka biotypes) of grape varieties to Israel that are handled in a way to guarantee they are virus free.

Perception Alters Beauty 

Golan Heights, Israel

Even if you take the path to be in the service of others, it does not mean that there is any assurance that others will understand your intention. For example, I knew a kind, sweet woman who would love to dress in neon colors because she loved how it brought smiles to so many people. Another person, who perhaps didn’t know that I knew this woman, made a snide remark about her trying to get attention and showing off. That person was obviously projecting how he/she saw the world, and didn’t consider the idea that bringing joy to others was this person’s intention… and so this kind hearted woman’s beautiful act of wearing something that brought smiles to others was lost on this other person.

Sometimes our practical purpose is not realized by everyone, but it doesn’t mean the purpose is not served. We should not be afraid to give to the world because our gifts might be twisted, or questioned, by those who do not understand gifts without strings attached. Château Golan and Golan Heights Winery both make wines that reflect their beautiful intentions to those wine drinkers who are open to the experience. When we live a life with the intention to serve a practical purpose, we can never fail as there will always be someone who benefits from it, and benefiting others creates a beautiful world.

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Wines Tasted on February 1st, 2017

Château Golan: non-kosher wines

2016 Geshem Rosé: Grapes are grown specifically for rosé, 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, very light pale onion skin color, short time on skins, fresh strawberries with spice.

-2016 Sauvignon Blanc: (just bottled) Whole cluster pressed, divided in barrel and tanks. Flinty minerality, juicy peach on the palate, yet overall restrained and elegant with mouth watering acidity.

-2015 Syrah: (bottled a month & ½ prior to tasting) Smoke, spice, pepper, floral, red fruit, bright acidity and moderate, linear body with fine tannins. Gorgeous wine! Uri said 2015 turned out to be a much fresher vintage than people thought because it was a warm vintage.

-2008 Syrah: Savory, rosemary and thyme, dusty earth with darker fruit and thicker texture.

-2010 Eliad: Majority Cabernet Sauvignon. They pick one or two top parcels out of their eight of Cabernet Sauvignon and will sometimes blend Petit Verdot, Syrah, Merlot or Touriga Nacional, but not usually exceeding 10% of the blend. This 2010, remarkably, had a pretty, pristine raspberry note with well-knit tannins and an overall refined style. Why is it remarkable? Because 2010 was one of the hottest vintages they have had in 15 years, and typically showed a lot of cooked fruit, but this one plot did not – that is what terroir does… and maybe the right practical intention had something to do with it too.

 

Golan Heights Winery: kosher wines

Yarden series of wines: The premier label and flagship brand. Each year, the finest grapes from the best vineyards are reserved for Yarden wines. Yarden is Hebrew for Jordan River, which separates the Golan Heights from the Galilee.

Mount Hermon series of wines: Offers quality, flavor and accessibility for a highly pleasurable experience

-2009 Yarden Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Brut: 100% Chardonnay. Toasty notes with zingy green apple and lime blossom flavors.

-2010 Yarden Rosé Sparkling Brut: 76% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Noir. Pale salmon color with wild strawberries and a touch of brioche.

-2016 Mount Hermon White: Blend of Muscat Canelli, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Perfume and tropical fruit with a rich body.

-2016 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc: Herbaceous with juicy peach and lively acidity.

-2016 Yarden Pinot Gris: I was very impressed by this Pinot Gris since I was expecting not to like it, but I loved it. Thai spices, pear, and fleshy body with a long, refreshing finish just makes this a completely satisfying white wine. Interesting side note: 40% was placed in stainless steel, 40% in large barrels and 20% old barriques before bottling.

-2015 Yarden Chardonnay: Sweet spice, vanilla and lemon confit with good backbone of acidity on this wine.

-2014 Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay: A step up in complexity of flavors and texture with nutty aromas, baked apples and a full body with tannic structure supporting its weight.  It was open at this stage but could continue to improve for four more years.

-2015 Mount Hermon Indigo: Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A well balanced, delicious, medium bodied red that can be found on the US market for only USD$15 – not bad at all! Also, the label was drawn by autistic children and a portion of the proceeds go to Alut, an Israeli Society for Autistic Children.

-2013 Yarden Merlot: All the richness that one wants from Merlot, ripe black cherry and chocolate orange peel, yet good freshness gives life to these decadent flavors.

-2013 Yarden 2T: 59% Touriga Nacional and 41% Tinta Cao. Exciting, wild wine with plum, leather and tar, with firm structure.

-2013 Yarden Syrah: Cigar box and forest floor with brooding, dark fruit flavors that are lush yet lifted quality on the finish.

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon: Blackcurrant, sage and basaltic soil with big, manicured tannins that give muscle to the body of this wine.

-2013 Yarden Rom: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 20% Merlot. Yarden Rom is a joint undertaking of Zelma Long, the internationally acclaimed winemaker, and Victor Schoenfeld, Head Winemaker of Golan Heights Winery. Intoxicatingly smoky note with tobacco leaf, black tea and a prodigious length of flavor that was delivered with refined expression. Only 54 barrels made.

-2013 Yarden Bar’on Vineyard: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Syrah and 11% Petit Verdot. The 2013 Yarden Bar’on Vineyard is the first-ever release of a single vineyard blended wine from this vineyard. Opaque color with fresh notes of mint, gravelly earth and graphite with majestic laced shaped structure. Only 20 barrels made.

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon Yonatan Vineyard: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard. Vivid aromas of pine and anise bring a radiant trait to this luscious fruit driven Cab that had a superb length of flavor. Only 29 barrels made.

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon Bar’on Vineyard: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the single vineyard of Bar’on – blended wine previously tasted. Love the precision on this wine – lots of energy – and tons of structure with fine tannins – crushed rocks and wild flowers – pure and expressive with strong sense of place. Only 30 barrels made.

-2012 Yarden Katzrin: 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Yarden Katzrin wines are only made in remarkable vintages. Only 54 barrels made.

-2014 Yarden Heights Wine: A sweet wine made from 100% Gewürztraminer with around 240 g/l residual sugar, but you would never know it since the significantly cool temperatures in the Golan Heights has its trademark bright acidity evident in this wine. Rose bud and lychee syrup flavors made this a fun way to finish this tasting!

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Keeping Vitality in Soil & in Our Soul with Wines from Spain

“I would like to point out the issue of vitality of the soil because usually the person who speaks about terroir does not think about the life of the soil.”

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

This quote got me thinking about how many of us were taught that stress, rough times builds character… just like some of us learn that vines need a certain amount of stress in the vineyards for high quality wine. Well, as countless many of us can attest to, sometimes life can offer too much stress, too much pressure and when the rug is pulled out from under us, if we are already on the borderline of just holding on, we break. It takes time to put back the pieces, and we are never the same, although that is not necessarily a bad thing. We do grow, evolve, and become more complex, interesting creatures from those viciously rough times in our lives. But there comes a time when we get to the point in our journey that we want to stop spending so much time doing damage control and more time just simply enjoying life.

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

The above quote is from consultant winemaker Mario Malafosse. We have been in contact with each other 21 months – just 3 months shy of two years. He wrote to me about one project in particular with Bodegas Barón d’Alba located in the Castellón province of the central section of eastern Spain. Since their wines are not available in the US, it not only took time for them to ship wines from their winery, during ideal climate conditions, but it also took time to hold an interview over exchanged messages. As many of you know, working in the wine world demands long, intense hours with little financial compensation – yet life is enormously enhanced by connecting with people from around the world – we are the artists of the beverage industry. And so when Mario was ready for the interview, I was overwhelmed with work, and when I was ready… well you get the picture… but eventually it worked out.

It is not typical for me to do an interview in such a manner… actually this is the first time I have ever conducted a ‘conversation’ purely over messages. But Mario’s passion and emotional investment in this project was evident from his words… I was intrigued over time and hence I was driven to know more and ultimately to share what I had experienced from our direct messaging conversations.

Bodegas Barón d’Alba

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

The ‘project’ Barón d’Alba started in 2001 with the planting of 37 acres (15 hectares) of vineyards with Macabeo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Merlot, Monastrell, Syrah and Tempranillo, with the idea of finding the greatest expression of these varieties planted in this ancient wine growing area in Spain that had become a neglected and forgotten land. Barón d’Alba built a winery in the middle of their vineyards and called it Clos d’Esgarracordes, meaning ‘the rope broker’ – a name that honors the previous owner of the land who was responsible for sounding the local church bells and broke tons of ropes, due to his strength, in the process of ringing them.  Mario started working as a consultant winemaker with the winery of Clos d’Esgarracordes in 2011 and feels that the work that they are doing to combat the desertification (the process by which fertile land becomes desert) of this land, a significant issue in Spain, is integral to keeping vitality in the soil.

Vitality

When we think of our own body, mind and spirit – keeping the vitality of ourselves going – many times it is the first thing we give up as an adult. As a child we are taught to have discipline, to give to others, to work hard, that life isn’t fair and we experience first hand from those long-lived adults that surround us, who have had the glimmer fade from their eyes, that life can take the best of us. I don’t think it is the hard work, being generous or losing out on the superficial titles and accolades of life that takes its toll… it is the chipping away by unkind words, sour looks and thoughtless acts of others – and as a good person, we mistakenly think that we have to take this intense stress of being stripped of our humanity with an open heart. We lose the nutriment of our inner fire and we start to dry out, the structure of our character alters forming an apathetic being that was once passionate, loving, and filled with joy.

 “I think that desertification of agricultural land would be the next very important issue that humanity has to think about. In general, we observe that a big part of agricultural lands are in process of desertification. It means they are loosing an important part of live organism, loosing structure and they transform themselves in inert and desert land. In a climate dry and with hot temperatures, like Spanish climate, the desertification issue is even more important, the lands are more delicate.” – Mario Malafosse

Fighting Desertification with Vitality Promoting Practices

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

Mario expressed the idea of finding a balanced water and nutrition regime that encourages grapes to mature slowly, leading to more flavors. They have been experimenting with vegetation between the vineyard rows (cover crops) as well as using sawdust and wood chippings packed around the base of the vines to act as mulch to retain moisture in their arid climate. And most importantly, it keeps the original integrity of the soil intact.

When I asked Mario what the most important aspects he tries to achieve with his wines are, his response was profound, “the quality of the wine is defined by its capacity to teach, to surprise and to bring emotion to the person who drinks it”. It was the same answer I would give if someone asked me the most important aspects I want to experience from those people that I meet. I want to encounter people with vitality, and most importantly, I would like to give them the feeling of vitality when they encounter me. For all of us, it is a journey of finding what adds nourishment to our existence and what takes it away… we can’t change everything in our life yet we can always give ourselves permission to step away from an unnecessarily draining situation to recharge our batteries, so that we may have our vitality sparkle in our eyes until our last breath.

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Wine Samples Tasted of Clos d’Esgarracordes

I had to ask Mario about the labels with the swirl on it. He said the swirl represented a grape bunch, which makes sense… but there was the added association of it looking like a rope that was swirled around so that it would also refer to the previous owner “d’esgarracordes” aka “the rope breaker” who the wines/winery are named after.

Also, I was impressed by the balance of the wines – they had bright acidity and solid structure with ripe, lush fruit.

-2015 Bodegas Barón d’Alba, Clos d’Esgarracordes, Blanco “Agotado”, Castellón, Spain: A white blend made from Macabeo, Moscatel and Viognier with opulent flavors of quince paste, mango salsa and hints of jasmine. A touch of blanched almonds with stony minerality adds complexity. Fleshy, mouth filling body that is given lift by refreshing acidity.

2013 Bodegas Barón d’Alba, Clos d’Esgarracordes, Tinto “Barrica”, Castellón, Spain: A red blend made from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Merlot with vivid blueberry and wild strawberries that has sweet tannins and a hint of spice.

2011 Bodegas Barón d’Alba, Clos d’Esgarracordes, Tinto Crianza, Castellón, Spain: A red blend with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, Tempranillo and Syrah that has complex flavors of fresh leather, spice, blackcurrant jam and fine dusty earth.

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