Wine Memories (The Personal Recollections Of A Wine Lover)

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Helena and began an unwitting apprenticeship at Freemark Abbey. World-class Carneros Pinot Noir became an all-consuming quest. I functioned as VP of sales turning winemaking responsibilities over to my former assistant, Larry Brooks. There I learned about making Cabernet. I attribute to this final Bouchaine chapter of my life in wine to the most profound understanding of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With my appointment to Bouchaine came the reemergence of the student of wine. Keep an open mind, challenge assumptions. Ever remain a student. My job as a winemaker is to make wine, not just be a custodian of the fruit.

Wine by the definition of fermentation is spoilage arrested at a prime time on its path to acetaldehyde, vinegar or other disgusting end products. A winemaker must make a decision about the optimum harvest then balance the must appropriately if necessary with respect to acidity, sugar, and other healthy fermentation precursors. New appreciation for the inimitable power of Chardonnay to express layers of complexity and subtly as it so deftly responds to a variety of winemaking intentions and inputs. Pinot Noir, ever the capricious and precocious child, rewards humility and patience.

Harvest each unique vineyard with your best intuition, protect the wine from evil, allow it to express itself with a minimum of interference, trust in providence. Be cautious and circumspect with your blends. Assuring that the wines sell. Negotiating with the American distribution system. Navigating the pervasive compliance issues that plague our industry. Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

This event has been ongoing for over 30 years It provided a nucleus around which the Oregon winemaking community specifically and the international pinot noir community in general, could grow. The relatively swift rise of Pinot Noir to a position of worldwide success and respect can defensibly be attributed to these seminal symposia. Stephen is an unsung Oregon wine industry hero as he was the first to introduce Oregon Pinot Noir to the nation through his distribution company, Cary Oregon Wines. Larry Brooks is a consummate student of wine and has become a renowned consultant.

I hired him as my assistant in the founding of Acacia. His scholarliness quickly transcended my knowledge to become the most significant source of winemaking information to inform my life in wine. His wines are subtle, complex, compelling, and contemplative. Leo McCloskey has left an indelible mark on the pursuit of wine quality with his research into wine chemistry chemistry. He and his company, Enologix, revolutionized winemaking protocols as he discovered quantifiable quality markers correlating wine critic scores with chemistry and methodology.

He and Larry Brooks worked closely together and had the most profound influence on my perspective governing the making of quality wine. Dick Graff, The original terroirist ferreted out his beloved limestone and built his iconic Chalone winery. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work under his vision during my tenure with the Chalone. Brad Webb taught me the basics of winemaking science during my tenure at Freemark where he was a partner and later as my guiding consultant during the startup days of Acacia.

I have come to appreciate his curiosity and scholarship. He has had full responsibility for the wines at Bouchaine. The quality is outstanding.

Bonny Doon Vineyard

I think he has the potential to have a profound impact on the California wine scene. All wine regions are equally capable of producing engaging and interesting wines. What appears on the surface to be a straight forward inquiry seems the most daunting and challenging to the powers of recollection for anyone whose life has been pervaded and innervated by wine.

So this innocent question has precipitated a profound searching of my mental archives with one recollection leading to another; opening doors long pushed to but not locked on a life in wine. What follows is a loose chronology of markers, touchstones, and punctuations over a life devoted to wine. There are no great wines, only really good wines amplified to that status by circumstance at a moment in time. Wine in a great moment in time encompasses not only the immediacy of the moment but everything that has come before.

Many of the indelible wine memories were seminal events in my neophyte development, launched into the shallow sea of neophyte knowledge. These were wines that ultimately shaped my taste and goals in wine; ultimately defined the style that I would covet. Wines that engaged me inspired me and often taught me humility. I suppose every wine lover remembers the first case of wine they ever purchased. Pinot Noirs struggled in Napa Valley since those from grape growing areas deemed marginal at the time, such as the Carneros, had not yet been recognized for their potential.

That was an eye opener regarding the potential for California Pinot Noir grandeur. We visited the Tate Gallery in London. This was the vintage of the decade and these two wines were lauded as iconic. So reeling with curiosity and the providence of fate we decided to splurge on this chance of a wine lifetime. The wines perfectly fulfilled our expectations. The Mouton a bit darker and fuller, the Lafite a bit more refined but in short perfect, flawless. Therein was the ah-ha moment.

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There was no mole on the cheek of beauty. That flawlessness was the flaw. The wines were less compelling then they might have been as my curiosity was totally fulfilled. Of course at that time, 40 years ago, I had little appreciation for what goes into the appearance of effortless perfection and would no doubt have a different take on the wines. But the lesson still stands with regard to the intriguing imperative of slight imperfection that defines uniqueness in the ideal. During the planning stages of Acacia winery Jerry Goldstein and I found ourselves enjoying a weekend at the Heritage house, a renowned old hotel on the Mendocino coast in Northern California.

At the same time the enigmatic quality of the label, allows the customer to invest his or her own set of meanings into the illustration. Why did I use this particular conceit? Proper, cool climate Syrah has such a strong perfume — white pepper and bacon fat — rotundone is the relevant molecule, by the way — in my febrile imagination, I thought of it almost as a vaguely illicit substance or at least one, like certain kinds of cough syrup, heavily regulated by governmental authorities.

We hope that our customers appreciate these fine details. In fairness, not all of our labels have turned out to be majestic works of art. Perhaps shamelessly incorporating popular culture into the label does not represent our finest moment, but again, I am often incapable of passing on what I imagine at the time to be an amusing visual pun.

This is in fact my very favorite Bonny Doon label, done for us by the Canadian illustrator, Gary Taxali, and was created for a wine we made for our wine club from the very obscure grape, Freisa. We made no less than three different versions of Freisa and were equally challenged in selling any of them. This was for a dry red-style, and as you can see, we juxtaposed these two striking images side-by-side, definitely creating a bit of dramatic tension.

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Somewhere we had tracked down quotes from Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, writing about how they really felt about the Freisa grape. To tell their story, great producers in Europe of an older generation will typically, maybe stereotypically, rely on the authority of the appellation itself, or the authority of a representation of the domaine or chateau on the label, such as you might find on a classified growth Bordeaux — based on the implicit French article of faith in the immutable hierarchical order of things.

For some of us mineral-head wine geeks, this is just catnip, a major turn-on, but to the average North American Joe Caymus, this in fact can represent a major turn-off. We do, after all, attempt to make some reasonably serious wines from time to time. For example, we have been fortunate to source Syrah grapes from the superb Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria, which has helped us make some fairly grown-up wines.

For wine bottles are magical vessels assembled by magical elves who toil joyfully without complaint for the benefit of the discriminating, gentle consumer. But it is important to remember that creating a memorable and successful package is a collaborative process between the label designer and the consumer. It has been a sincere pleasure to talk to you today. Dark saturated color, with a very rich savory mouthfeel and a preternaturally long finish. This likely makes no sense to the rational mind, but one is struck equally by both the rusticity and elegance of this wine — it is if the refined Burgundian Clement had a rustic cousin, Clem in Provence.

There is no more appropriate wine currently produced on the planet than this one to complement a beef daube. The 30th Anniversary release of this, our flagship wine. A beautiful wine — dark and mulberry in color as in nose. One scents cool loamy earth with suggestions of raspberries and Damson plums. And sure enough, on the palate the wine is also an essence of velours. Very bright, deep ruby color, lots of black fruit, mulberries and cherries on the nose.

There is a pronounced minty, almost alpine pepperiness, which is the unmistakable hallmark of Bien Nacido Syrah. This is profoundly good news for the long-term prospects of this wine and for those who still possess a capacious cellar. Medium, vivid ruby color, with an incredibly lifted, ethereal floral aroma — almond blossoms, violets, sandalwood and wild strawberries, almost, dare I say, Burgundian in aspect. On the palate, a dreamy weightlessness this is a good thing!

The kind of wine that drives wine aficionados to drink, being a wine of great charm, elegance and intelligence. With decanting and time , the wine seems to grow in both body and depth. Certainly one of the most charming Cigares of memory. Aging potential after that: years. Alcohol by Volume: What a difference a day makes! Dark woodsy, fairy-tale nose — juniper berry and crushed pink peppercorns, licorice. It goes something like this: Juiciness, fruit but not confected or overripe , brightness, exuberance, joy, and not least, a sense of savoriness.

We look above all for balance and for liveliness, for vinous qi. This wine is still incredibly young and just wants to jump out of its shoes. But the ripe stems impart a beautiful source of tannin, giving the wine a real spine; they protect it from the cold and unforgiving world it will ultimately have to confront. Have a little bit of everything in your group?

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These dynamic selections offer a diverse collection of tastes and approaches to suit every niche. Cover all of your bases with this collection. With a subtle and haunting perfume, this wine is all about elegance and restraint. Rosehips, cassis, fraises de bois, citrus rind, with a wonderfully austere stony finish. A truly versatile option to consider as you drum up your Thanksgiving wine pairings.

Le Cigare Blanc remains a great vin de gastronomie , pairing well with rich, buttery dishes. Anaerobically perfected in 20 liter glass demijohns on its lees, this wine represents the peak of elegance in the Bonny Doon Vineyard range. Pairs equally well with simpler fare, like cheese. Wild plums, blackberries, Griotte cherries and licorice of course.

The tannins are soft and supple, and the wine has so much persistence. Benefits enormously from decantation, and is ideally served in large balloon Burgundy glasses. Pair with lamb chop with a minty chimichurri, or even a bit of briny grilled eggplant. These popular selections make for fantastic Thanksgiving wine pairings, and pair seamlessly with a traditional Thanksgiving menu from start to finish.

Roasted veggies make a great accompaniment, too! Your roasted turkey will be stunning with Cunning. Griotte cherry lozenge, lush, full texture, tobacco, and the unmistakable umami-rich flavor of beef bouillon serve well with traditional Thanksgiving staples like Turkey and savory stuffing. Tannic and meaty in the lower registers; peppery, fruitful and delicately floral in the top, all the while showing great balance and harmony. Perfect with a standing rib roast. Our late harvest Grenache Blanc dessert wine is extremely well balanced with acidity.

Coconut, papaya, pineapple, pear and quince paste in the nose, and a suggestion of dried fruit. Pairs effortlessly with pumpkin pie, apple tart, or a course of nuts and cheeses. Different from each other as they may be, these unique selections are sure to bring the family together. Introduce your loved ones to unique and delicious finds that can fulfill even the most particular tastes in the room. Pairs deliciously with a wild mushroom risotto, roasted turkey roulade, or even smoked duck. A perfect wine to have in your glass on a chilly evening by the fire.

Calling all sherry lovers! Its unique production process imparts a distinctive nuttiness with definitively sherry-like qualities. Serve it before dinner as an aperitif, or alongside Mediterranean cuisine. Also pairs well with French onion soup, or even oysters on the half shell. A sweet white wine that can charm even the most delicate of palates.

The first impression is lavender, immediately followed by candied citrus peel and musk melon, with the slightest trace of bitterness. Ideal with a savory course like foie gras or a blue cheese cake appetizer, but also just fine as a dessert wine with a fruit dessert. A bit of spice plays nice when pairing the Moscato Giallo! Looking for more Thanksgiving wine pairings and ideas? For more wine suggestions, or for more pairing ideas, check out our holiday packs. Not to worry though, as the unanticipated excess will go into our next vintage of Vin Gris de Cigare , which has been continuously a vintage sell out.

In the broader scheme of things, this year seemed to fall in line with the more historic pre-drought years. Picking times were about weeks later than they have been in the last 4 years, and quantity was above average. A couple of heat waves put us on edge for a moment, but just as the Brix measured sugar content in grapes often jump up during the heat, they also have the tendency to back down when followed by cooler temperatures, allowing for a little more hang time, balance, and structure.

My friend, Guy Miller, who is a physician, biochemist and deep thinker about the role of electrochemistry in biological systems, walked into the Bonny Doon Vineyard tasting room more than twenty years ago, and somehow in very short order, struck up a conversation about redox chemistry with me. These are the questions I posed to him, with a bit of annotation:.

Great Burgundies after opening will often remain fresh for as long as a week or even longer. Nebbiolo from Lessona grown in very low pH soils that are also very high in iron will go weeks if not months after opening before the appearance of any acetaldehyde. Limestone soils also with miles of internal surface area represent a strong and recognizable terroir , but it is not really thought of so much as mineral, more as producing wines with greater length and finer perfume. The identification of transient organisms in wine that are not easily plated, is still very rudimentary.

Might reduced iron or some other metallic element be the key? Obviously, fermentation creates highly reductive conditions, so presumably all elements that can be reduced during fermentation are reduced. But under cellar ageing conditions when the wine has re-equilibriated, might there be particular redox couples that are favored that would continue to keep relevant metals in the more reduced state? A winemaker, of course, has a somewhat different trajectory in mind. Perfect pitch in a wine is generally correlated with the creation of certain optimal growing conditions for a given variety — the most ideal set of conditions that will dependably produce a recognizable, distinctive fingerprint, beginning with its typical climatic conditions — absolute number of sunlight hours, likely as well, the arrayal of those hours during the growing season based on latitude, to other considerations of air temperature minima and maxima , soil temperatures, rainfall, relative humidity, degree of cloud cover, etc.

The physical characteristics of the soils are utterly crucial: water-holding capacity, soil texture, clay content, trace mineral content, exchangeable cations and anions, effective soil rooting depth, location of water table, and the physical orientation of the vineyard also crucial — degree and aspect of slope, surrounding geophysical features.

Of course, one cannot overlook the role of the farmer in optimizing the degree of congruity between the plant and the site. His decisions as to rootstock selection, row spacing, row orientation, training method, plant density, degree of thinning both shoot and cluster thinning , harvest date, and other cultural practices are crucial in determining overall grape quality.

In warmer, dryer conditions, such as one finds in California, northern and eastern exposures would be absolutely optimal. While there are definitely good outward signs of vitaceous virtue [6] — small clusters, moderate internode length, moderate vigor and moderate natural crop load, healthy appearance of the leaves, evenness of ripening, etc.

Marilyn without the mole would just be another pretty face, and not the icon. So, you can look at all of the obvious manifestations of grape quality; what are the more subtle qualities in wine that elevate it from very good to mind-bendingly great? I think that it is absurdly difficult and wrong-headed if not impossible to try to figure out how to create the conditions necessary to replicate Burgundy. What is true beauty in wine, and how can we potentially predict its manifestation simply by observing grapes in situ, and in particular, identify the truly exceptional one or ones in amongst a very large crowd?

This is not an easy question to answer at all. Leaving aside the vast chasm of aesthetic differences that separate certain gung-ho wine enthusiasts for the currently prevalent New World style from those of us right-thinkers who value the more subtle beauty and restraint of Old World examplars, beauty in wine is found in a great diversity of wine styles. There are great or beautiful wines that are highly concentrated — a Sagrantino from Umbria or Tannat from Madiran, for example, densely dark and tannic, heady in alcohol; these can certainly be extremely interesting and satisfying wines, but not necessarily the ones that I reckon are able to express real elegance; they might just have too much to say.

And then there are the weightless, pale and elegant wines of the Jura, Liguria and elsewhere, evocative of some of the qualities that we esteem so greatly in red Burgundy. Their elegance is often under-appreciated because what they do, they do in a much quieter fashion. I believe that there are likely an infinite number of solutions to how to produce a great wine from a given site; what is most interesting to me personally is to figure out how to produce from a range of possible grapes on a given site a wine a wine that absolutely honors the integrity of the site while remaining congruent with my own aesthetic sense.

The fact is that grapes that are not grown in the right location generally fail to even connect with an expression of basic varietal character, so further refinement of the search might be gilding the lily. But if one could look perhaps for differences in aromatic potential — what are the necessary precursors needed for complex aromas — that might be quite useful.

A beautiful wine somehow is able to create a dance between these two elements. But note that we are trying to achieve a couple of different objectives and the methodology would differ a bit for the two ends. But the far more complex problem is that we are also talking about breeding new varieties de novo , i. My guess is that it will be very unlikely to discover the new vitaceous Mozart or Einstein, i. Paradoxically, I believe that while the flavor sensation of this grape might be unique, it will likely provoke a kind of haunting recognition.

I will know this smell and taste; it will be familiar to me when I smell it for the first time. How do you foster a brilliant biome in your vineyard? A healthy vineyard biome does not itself make a great wine, but is certainly critical to the optimal expression of terroir ; it would be enormously useful to understand all of the activities that favor this formation. It would be interesting to learn how feasible it is to actually change the vineyard biome. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may be a bit easier to do than changing the gut biome. He invented MOX as a cost-effective solution to taming the very fierce Tannat.

Patrick thought about wines the way that Chinese doctors envision living beings, as dynamic systems, with a sort of unique life arc or trajectory. Wines of terroir most typically express a degree of minerality but terroir itself pertains to the unique fingerprint of the qualities of the wine attributable to its place of origin.

As such, I think of terroir as more of a pattern or form than a tangible material substance — seemingly more of a wave than a particle. Withal, a set of growing conditions that allow for the greatest likelihood of the plant achieving homeostasis, e. The practice was particularly effective in the visualization of the freshness of vegetable produce, but also ultimately was used as a reasonably accurate diagnostic for certain sorts of cancer.

Mineral wines are absolutely striking in the density and complexity of the crystals. In general, it seems that white varieties do a better job in transmitting soil characteristics, presumably because they are comparatively less cluttered with dense flavor elements, such as tannin. Not surprisingly, it is the relatively neutral quality of certain varieties such as Chardonnay, but also Savignin and Chasselas that make them ideal translators. Higher acidity wines a necessary but non-sufficient criterion for ageability with a persistent element of fruit like Riesling are perhaps ideal.

But, understanding what makes a given variety or biotype a better transmitter of terroir than another is an enormously deep question, and related to the central mystery under discussion: What is true beauty or greatness in wine? I would bet that for real complexity, you want at least a certain number of differing biotypes of a given variety. Would be interesting to look for the precursor of this compound. For this, I think that one would have to look to the work being done by parfumiers , and I reckon one would soon be deep into a very abstruse metaphysical conversation.

Might the suggestion of decay carry with it a haunting intimation of our own mortality and for that reason create a sense of resonance? But there is clearly something in the scent of Pinot that we recognize as resonant with the human organism itself; perhaps it carries molecules similar or identical to human sex pheromones? Obviously, the sterile offspring would be discarded, the anomalous funny-looking ones would have to go. I think that for someone who has worked with a grape for a long time, there may exist something like a Platonic ideal.

However, maybe after tasting through the fruit of hundreds if not thousands of Timorasso x Timorasso vines, one might well begin to hone in on some of the prevalent if not essential flavor elements. In a sense, growing grapes is like growing any other fruit or vegetable. The tasks are to get sufficient nutrients to the crop and to avoid disease. If the answer is no, then what winemakers or viticulturists do in the vineyard is nothing more than what good fruit and vegetable farmers do.

But most fruits and vegetables will not find their way into a beverage like wine that is unique and distinctive, with aesthetic qualities that can produce extraordinary, life-changing experiences. And while there are certainly things that are very important in educing the expressivity of a site, hence, complexity in the wine — evenness of ripeness achieved by crop thinning, shoot positioning, etc.

How you ended up there is always a great mystery. Having said that, there are certainly some practices, viz. Soils that are rich in minerals as well as those that have a lot of internal surface area are also quite interesting — schistous, calcareous, granitic, volcanic, all quite interesting. Silty, sandy loam not so much. In much of California I feel that north and east facing slopes are particularly interesting to mitigate the effects of bright afternoon sun and our very dry climate.

Fog, alas somewhat of a vanishing commodity, is also particularly useful in preserving finesse in wines. In my own case, I happened to dream about Popelouchum before I actually saw it, and once I saw it, it was clear that it was an incredibly special place. But this — having a prophetic dream — is not an entirely reliable method for making a vineyard selection. Eliot, is what I seek. Again, the main tenet is that if you are growing grapes that are exceptionally well-suited to the site, you are not compelled to make heroic interventions in the winemaking process — correcting the acidity, potential alcohol, etc.

Having said that, I am gradually inching toward the more radical view that a great site such as Popelouchum, for example might enable you to grow a fairly wide variety of grapes successfully with the likely exception of Pinot noir. I think that as tasters we do get imprinted on certain styles of wine that we continue to return to. In my case this is Burgundy. I find that the wines I am most consistently drawn to are ones that have a sort of weightlessness and power or persistence at the same time.

Someday soon , I aspire to make wines that could truly be characterized as vins de terroir, wines more expressive of place, where I will be more focused on revealing the characteristics of both vintage and site, and have a much lighter hand as far as my own stylistic preference. But great wine, like great music, should touch the emotions. How is that done? Inspiration touches us when it reveals possibilities that we never dreamt of; a great wine does this easily. I also believe — and forgive the slight New Ageyness of this — there is something like the taking of the holy sacrament when one consumes a vin de terroir.

The main problem I have with New World wines is that they are largely derivative; they are often at best pallid imitations of more successfully congruent European efforts. An original wine inspires us in the same way that the discovery of a new species of flower or discovery of a new planet inspires us; it makes our experiential world richer. The problem with New World wines, at least as I see it, stems in part from how we grow our grapes and how we treat our soils; if we use drip irrigation and crop at high levels in less than appropriate climates usually too warm , we never achieve true vins de terroir.

The use of herbicides kills beneficial soil microflora that work to extract minerals from the soil. Not that North American palates are particularly keen on wines that express soil characteristics or vintage variation. A vibrant microbiology also seems to inure plants against disease and untoward stress. Growing grapes on the appropriate site largely obviates the need for heroic interventions — acidulation, dilution of alcohol, etc.

Biodynamic practice relies to a great extent on the cultivation of imagination and intuition — what is precisely the right preparation to apply and when should I apply it? Being a successful biodynamic practitioner is, I believe, a lot like being an acupuncturist or homeopath; you are guided in large part by your intuition, but it is primarily based on your acute powers of observation. I think that most of the ingenuity is a matter of figuring out how to do the right thing for the grapes in a way that is not insanely cost-prohibitive.

Farming organically or biodynamically in a successful manner is often a question of managing your calendar thoughtfully and executing things like weed control or mildew control in a timely fashion. So maybe as much organizational skill is needed as ingenuity. I have recently come across an Italian fellow, who is considered more or less the grand-master of pruning. He is in some rarified viticultural circles considered a great celebrity. But, this technique is based on very, very careful observation not what one typically finds with many pruners as much as on creativity or imagination.

So, his technique is really getting closer to an I-Thou relationship — with a vine! Many winemaking families spend countless centuries in this discovery practice. And it goes without saying that we are living in a very dynamic world engendered by global climate change, a phenomenon which itself is endangering the expression of terroir.

Arguably the most interesting wines I ever made were in my earliest vintages when I understood essentially nothing, but I was somehow more connected to the Universal Intelligence. In this case, I was able to achieve that because I truly was a Beginner. Years ago, it was clear that a certain block of Loureiro grapes in our vineyard in Soledad were so behind schedule in ripening that there was absolutely no possible way they could potentially ripen during the growing season.

This was already now early October and they were really far off from ripening. I directed my colleague to drop half of the crop on the ground immediately to accelerate the ripening process of the fruit that remained. The fruit that stayed on the vine did pick up its ripening pace and we harvested it in late October at maybe 21 Brix barely, just limping over the finish line. In fact, these stragglers, which were just showing the faintest traces of dehydration, were sweeter than the fruit we had harvested from the vine and had very intense flavor development.

We ended up picking them up off the ground and using them in the final blend; the resultant wine was absolutely stellar. Wine language has grown pretty impoverished, I think, becoming more Babel-esque with every passing year. If you say, hypothetically produce a wine that is rather different than anything else out there, how do you begin to communicate a sense of its value? Typically these features spontaneously arise from great terroirs that are farmed thoughtfully.

You can compose a wine by blending through trial and error and some intuition with the intention of creating or better, discovering some of these aesthetic elements, but a blended or composed wine will very seldom have the same degree of integrity and seamlessness as a wine that is naturally complex without artifice. One most interesting results is that we found that the imposition of a strong stylistic element, such as what one achieves by the deployment of glass demijohns — this adds a lovely textural element as well as a strong savory element, complexity, and generally works to better integrate a wine, but counter-intuitively, seems to work best in wines that have relatively less dense flavor profiles, i.

It seems that denser wines carry their own strong center of gravity, and just need to be handled a bit more circumspectly. The amount of subjectivity that exists in evaluating a wine is just staggering and truly humbling, and one must be systematically on guard as far as making decisions based on anything like single impressions. You need to taste a wine over and over to really get a sense of what it is all about, and where it is going.

If readers to wine journals only knew…. I think that a wine that can engender the desire in the taster to thoroughly let go, as it were, is one of very rare beauty. We are getting set to launch a fairly ambitious crowd-funding initiative in a few short days, 1 which will allow us to continue to establishment a very unusual vineyard, Popelouchum, as I call it, in San Juan Bautista.

And of course, if we get sufficient investment, we can really make this thing come to fruition a lot sooner than later. When I first purchased the property in San Juan Bautista, it was really with the somewhat generalized notion of producing a wine of place, or vin de terroir, as I understood that term to mean. I had no choice but to go for it. Allow me to share with you a bit about how I make decisions, or more accurately, how I imagine I make decisions, what I tell myself about how I make decisions.

On some level, this is part and parcel of a short of characterological deficit, the inability to commit, a tragic weakness that has plagued me as a young person and for many years thereafter. But, it does seem to sometimes happen that a notion will present itself with an unusual degree of luminosity, clarity and coherence, and in some very real sense, I just know.

Things tend to get a bit muddled in dreams. I would work out the finer details later. As I am doing to this day, and will likely continue to do so for quite some time.


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Planting a vineyard from scratch in a new viticultural area with a new methodology and a brand-new set of new grape varieties poses a whole set of unique challenges. If you make a mistake in the set-up of the vineyard, it may take you at least five or ten years to realize your error, and then another five or ten years to rectify. I had thought — at least up until last week — that I had a pretty good plan in place.

There are two leading commercial rootstocks that seem to have very good drought tolerance, P V. What else do we possibly talk about but Grenache? It turns out that she has had very good luck growing Grenache on yet another rootstock called A V. She feels it is especially well suited for Grenache, and finds she is able to get by with just one baby irrigation annually; she likes it because of its banzai-ing effect on what is otherwise the Brobdingnagian nature of Grenache, a somewhat zaftig variety, to put it delicately.

It dawns on me that we are already growing own-rooted Grenache in our nursery, with radically close spacing, and very minimal irrigation. The own-rooted vines pretty much approximate the vigor of vines grafted on R, and if they can go without water without shutting down, that will be pretty good evidence that we might be able to space them a lot closer than we imagined.

Somehow, however, the universe seems at least some of the time to catch me before I go splat, and provide some just-in-time answers. Which brings me to the next category of grapes I want to grow: oddball and distinctive varieties that will uniquely express themselves at our site. Put another way, to simply grow grapes that will produce wines that I like passably well is just not going to cut it. I want to make wines that at least have the possibility to thrill me doon to soles of my shoes. What wine makes me deliriously happy? Well, that would be great red Burgundy, of course, but it is of course impossible to make red Burgundy in San Juan Bautista, much less anywhere outside of Burgundy, France.

But the fact remains that Burgundy haunts me and others, to be sure in a way unlike any other wine does. My error was in imagining that I might achieve a sort of Burgundian jouissance by growing Pinot noir somewhere in California but where, oh where? It has taken me almost thirty years to let go of that idea and to come around to the idea that what I might more realistically aspire to create is a wine that somehow does some of the magical things that Burgundy can do, but maybe do other things as well that give it its own unique charm.

How might one even begin to express the elusive Burgundian magic, but to mumble something about its sometime ability to take you through the other side of the Looking Glass, the crazy thing it does with dimensionality on the palate, as it dramatically changes from the softest spoken, quietest Method-schooled actor, leading into a Pacino or Nicholson-stylized explosion? I, am likewise, pretty crazy about that grape. I come from that area Liguria , in fact.

So my new friend, Federico, and I shared a bottle of the Dringenberg and over an hour or so, observed that the wine underwent what could only be called a Burgundian unfolding. One solution is to plant more Pinot. Done: and the results from California and Oregon, and from across the Southern Hemisphere are encouraging.

Another solution though, is to find red wines which work in their own climate zones in the same kind of way as Pinot does in Burgundy. Anfosso really meant that Rossese tasted or smelled like anchovies, just that there was a sort of savoriness, or umami quality that the grape can express. Some of the savoriness in wine comes from its tenure in the cellar, to be sure, from the healthy digestion of yeast lees rich in glutamate in the ageing process. But, there is a quality inherent in some grapes that imparts a compellingly earthy, sexy scent, not unlike that of truffles, humus or sous-bois.

Whatever this quality is, it imparts a certain kind of magic, as if one has been let in on a secret. And the methodology for doing so is presenting itself to me with a sort of searing clarity. When I visited Clos Cibonne I observed an enormous disparity of ripening within a given vine — just a crazy degree of variability. So, with a few slightly breathtaking leaps of logic: Maybe growing some, that is to say, many, many Rossese from seed this inhibits the transmission of virus might enable us to find individual vines particularly well suited to the San Juan site, and maybe even some with the absence of the very odd, tragic odd ripening pattern.

I can think of no more rewarding pursuit for the next ten years but to seek to identify these stellar individuals. I honestly know of no other white wine that is as complete as this. The wine is a blend of Ribolla gialla, Picolit and a relatively smaller percentage of Verduzzo. We have some Ribolla gialla growing in the nursery at Popelouchum, a few survivors, it seems.

Something fairly catastrophic happened to wipe out most of the population from the grape nursery where we had ordered the plants ; it is still early going to really assess its suitability. But, I was fortunate enough to attend the first Ribolla Fest, 20 under the auspices of the late George Vare, a wonderful man who had the foresight and persistence to bring the grape to California.

He can be credited for setting the groundwork for some of the most exciting white wines currently coming out of Napa!! I had tried in the past to actually grow Picolit and Verduzzo at our vineyard in Soledad. Picolit is said to possess very good natural acidity, and can have a very persistent complex fragrance — peaches, apricot, coconut and hazelnuts. Here was an opportunity to gain another data point. Maybe it had been stored badly? I was told that this had been the first vintage that Jermann had produced and that subsequent bottlings were a lot more vibrant.

But here is where I have to look very carefully at my own process. I like Picolit for its potential complexity good , for its acidity very good , 22 but what I also really like about it is that it is a female grape, and therefore very easy to breed no need to go through the tedium of the grape flower emasculation. I went to Burgundy, and risking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, brought back some special Samsonite clones of Pinot noir. The presence of limestone in the soil is considered by many to be a sine qua non for great Pinot, so I schlepped in enormous truckloads of limestone into the vineyard I was planting in the eponymous hamlet of Bonny Doon.

I found some Basque shepherds who hooked me up with sheep manure go figure, but sheep manure is actually really helpful for the expression of minerality , planted the vines on very close spacing, as is the custom in Burgundy. Despite these heroic efforts — I was really obsessed with Pinot at the time, more or less lived and breathed it — the resulting wine was really nothing to write home about.

I postulated that since it was warm and dry in southern France, warm and dry in the Central Coast of California, maybe the varieties of southern France would do well here. Long story short, they did well indeed, or at least the ones that I managed to find and grow, though in retrospect, they just as easily might not have. How could I possibly make this work? I had never studied marketing in school, and in fact, the whole idea of actually trying to sell something made me and continues to make me more than a little queasy.

But when you have to rely on your wits to succeed, i. I thought to myself — these people are absolutely nuts, but what a great idea for a wine label! But the wine business at least in those days was oh so serious, and most everyone wanted to display a great degree of gravitas on their label. If you can send the meta-message that wine on whatever level can be fun and an adventure you can connect with customers in a special way. These wine-like beverages are the products of extremely cynical marketers and most of them are utterly execrable. The market remains littered with the droppings of the menagerie of critter labels and other labels that are just unspeakably crass.

I made one terrible mistake — actually many mistakes — but the one that turned out in the end to be almost fatal was in not properly segmenting or sequestering the various brands that we were producing, which may have ultimately led to something like brand dilution if not brand taint and a more metaphysical problem as well. Allow me to explain. As it turned out, Big House became a very hungry beast to feed and we never seemed to get around to truly polishing the precious jewel that was Cigare.

All along I suspected that I was becoming more and more of a hypocrite. I was writing articles and giving speeches about terroir — that quality in wine that somehow illuminates its place of origin. I was writing about how utterly precious this idea was and how much it enriched our world. But looking at myself in the mirror I asked myself if there was anything at all I was doing to bring myself any closer to the pursuit of a vin de terroir in this lifetime and the production of wines that truly mattered.

Answer: Nothing. A fairly serious medical condition and the birth of my daughter more or less brought my existential crisis to a resolution; I could no longer remain such an arrant hypocrite. So, it was a little more than eight years ago that I sold off our large brands and radically Doon-sized the company by an order of magnitude. I was now going to pursue terroir. I believe that, in retrospect, our core premium brands were substantially weakened by association with the vin ordinaire, Big House. Big House, shall we say, was my one goat, and I fear that the overall brand may have been slightly corrupted by the association with it.

Even the first-growth Bordeaux wines have a second label and in some cases a third label. But it has not been without a significant degree of fear and trembling about the course forward. But the methodology of how I intend to produce a wine of place is quite interesting, and even if it fails to yield a true vin de terroir, I am certain it will make a positive contribution to the viticultural world. I have talked at great length and written incessantly in my blog,. Why do wines of place matter? For the same reason that distinct species of butterflies, birds or salamanders or the discovery of new stars and galaxies matter.

They add richness and complexity to our lives. I truly believe this with all my heart. Presumably, you begin by selecting a grape variety and rootstock that is supremely appropriate or congruent to the site. Another way of thinking about a great terroir is that it is one that is supremely congruent to the variety or clone, i. And yet… this begs the question of whether we can in a short lifetime ever find a degree of congruence of site and variety, rootstock, clone, sub-clone, cultural practice, etc.

Will we ever find a site for a particular set of Pinot noir clones as perfect as DRC has found for say, La Tache, as perfect a match for Syrah as exists in Hermitage, or as brilliant a site for Nebbiolo as you find on certain hillsides in the Langhe? But more to the point, is there any utility in driving ourselves crazy trying to be this kind of wannabe? Does that really create a sustainable model? Perfect congruence is undoubtedly too difficult to achieve in a single lifetime, and maybe even too abstract a notion to entertain, but perhaps there may be another approach that will lead to originality as well as the expression of place.

This idea is based on a number of assumptions, many of them yet untested and unproven, but for me at least representing one possible solution to the question of how one might produce truly distinctive wine in California, as well as how one might grow grapes in a truly more sustainable fashion, especially in light of Global Climate Change. Apart from identifying unique vines optimally suited to a given location, the ancillary benefits of this program might be the discovery of varieties that have a broader utility in the warmer and dryer world that we seem to be creating, perhaps even having enhanced resistance against particularly pernicious disease pressure.

While it would be exceptionally cool to find individual plants that have unique characteristics that are particularly brilliant — this is a bit like winning the lottery — there are potentially other very interesting things to be shown by planting a vineyard comprised of a vast range of germplasm; every plant, in fact, is a little bit different from every other one, rather like fraternal twins. The question is whether considered as a suite, might this large set of slightly differing offspring of common parents produce a wine of new and startling complexity that might not be achievable through a more conventional plantation of a discreet, finite set of clones?

This is another way of asking from whence does complexity in wine arise. Or to think of it another way, might the intentional suppression of discernible varietal character create an opportunity for other aspects of the wine, to wit, soil characteristics or the sense of place to emerge? This has been the strategy successfully taken up by Jean-Michel Deiss in Alsace, in his grand cru vineyards that are comprised of a thoroughly mixed varietal plantation.

Will one have the wit, insight, or even just the dumb luck to identify a set of parents capable of siring offspring with desirable flavor characteristics? In addition to identifying individual plants that might have superior characteristics, the other part of the study is to focus on farming strategies that will enable one to produce wines in a truly more sustainable fashion.

One element of this would be the minimization of external inputs and constrained resources, chiefest among them being water.

A Pinch of History, A Dash of Memoir

Dry-farming, i. All of these strategies aim to create a greater degree of homeostasis, or vine balance, as well as to create Edenic living conditions for beneficial soil microflora, thus amplifying the signal of the sense of place. I dream about an old-fangled vineyard — no trellising, no wire, no end-posts, no irrigation, i. This would be a low-input, and low output vineyard, but the quality should be exceptional. Popelouchum, my farm in San Juan, has, I believe, some pretty remarkable, sexy terroirs — clay limestone, granitic and volcanic soils.

My plan is to systematically sequester the grapes from the individual terroirs, each planted to this very diverse field-blend. I became a winemaker and winery owner some thirty years before seemingly everyone else on the planet decided that they wanted to become one too. In our current age, this seems like a belief system from antiquity. I had studied philosophy and literature and pre-med among other things at UC Santa Cruz, 6 with essentially no career game plan in mind, and took my very sweet time in ultimately securing a diploma; this just drove my parents absolutely nuts, which was, of course, a secondary gain.

I worked for my dad for a year in his wholesale tool and merchandise business. The one certainty I had was that his business — the buying and selling of general merchandise — was absolutely not for me. How could one become at all passionate about selling widgets, or even simply care about the business deal qua deal, which was what seemed to get my dad up in the morning? Can the winemaking life become a sort of spiritual path or even an avenue for personal development?

This was certainly not how I thought of it when I first began. We were all going to have to eventually find jobs, of course, but we also had to find jobs that had Meaning, ideally ones that would nurture us well beyond fulfilling our material needs. While working on my undergraduate senior thesis on the Heidegerian notion of Dasein alas, never to be completed , I wandered into a rather swanky wine shop a few blocks from my parents home in Beverly Hills, where I was staying.

I was not yet even of drinking age. It was almost as if a most intriguing wormhole into a different dimension of experience was being offered. The charge account led soon to temporary employment at the shop the thesis was bogging down by then , and then to full-time employment, if not complete vinous immersion, that is to say, some pretty impressive opportunities to taste the greatest wines of the world, essentially on a daily basis. In a relatively short time I found myself grown into a full-fledged, insufferable wine person. Learning to be a winemaker will help you knit together some of these very disparate elements of yourself and give your life a kind of focus, which, frankly, just between us, seems to be slightly lacking.

I failed spectacularly at making T. Blending the relevant ones together was an accidental masterstroke from a winemaking as well as marketing perspective; 13 it seemed that I was able to intuit a basic winemaking truism that if you are working with grape varieties that are themselves less than perfect in and of themselves, you can perhaps find or create complexity in a skillful blend, thus effectively disguising the shortcomings of the individual combinants.

I am not entirely convinced that winemaking in and of itself makes most of its practitioners more creative, but its work — the alchemical transformation of a baser material into something perhaps sublime — carries with it a potent metaphorical message: If you can transform grape juice, perhaps you can indeed transform yourself. Winemakers are often in the position of having to do many disparate things for their job, calling on very different sets of skills, if not exactly at the same moment, then certainly in the course of a given hour or day; we must become bricoleurs par excellence ; 17 I think that this may make us in all better problem solvers and sparks creativity in other realms.

At least it seems it did for me. If contemplating the gallows concentrates the mind, as Dr. Having no background at all in marketing and a positive allergy to hard-core sales, I realized that like a Paleolithic hominid it would fall to me to fashion my own unique tools de novo to bring down the wooly mammoth that was the burgeoning wine business.

Amazingly and rather fortunately I discovered a truly bizarre ordinance adopted in by the town council of C. I had somehow intuitively grasped some of the basic principles of marketing. So, I accidentally discovered that wine drinkers who also happened to be readers could appreciate a wry and slightly subversive attitude toward the presentation of wine. I found to my surprise that I was, with a little practice, able to write literary pastiches — these were stylistic wind sprints — in my quarterly newsletters, proffering a vinous take on the prose of such figures as Garcia Marquez, Kafka, Shakespeare, Poe, Pynchon, Salinger and others.

As literary parody it was not exactly weapons-grade satire, but it gave me a sense of swimming in blue water, away from most of the competitors, and emboldened me to take further creative risks. Together we created a number of memorable labels, having great fun in the process. When I am fortunate enough to collaborate with a real artist, some sort of aesthetic completeness and magic can occasionally occur.

The winemaking path has not made me a true artist though provided numerous opportunities to cultivate something like an artistic or at least aesthetic sensibility , nor maybe even yet a real craftsman, though I have hope that that may yet come to pass. But, analogous to the dissatisfaction I once experienced in being a mere wine consumer, which compelled me to become a winemaker and to engage on a deeper level, likewise I have in recent years grown unhappy with being a simple winemaker who is still largely a technician with a few marketing skills but not yet a craftsman in any meaningful sense.

In Santa Cruz, where I live, we never quite completely grow up. As a winemaker, this has meant the opportunity to create a lot of interesting wine labels, to make some clever blends, to experiment with new and exotic grape varieties and some unusual wine styles; at best one might think of all of this as a form of performance art, at worst, the occupation of a dilettante. Further, I have developed a deep commitment to meaningful sustainability in farming, to farm with minimal inputs and the lofty ambition of farming grapes without irrigation, for example in an area — San Juan Bautista — that is very, very dry.

Maybe the holiest sacrament of this church is a clod of dirt — one imbued with life, microbial life, at the very least. As a true craftsman in the highest sense, one might be given the rare privilege of becoming a translator of the humblest materiality — dirt and some bunches of grapes — into a great elixir that can move human beings to poetry and other unexpected deeds of great moment. The presumption is that soil characteristics might therefore emerge, and perhaps one might seek to express that very elusive creature, the vin de terroir.

Perhaps everything. But, it feels to me as if I am at the very beginning of my career, connected at least I imagine I am to something much larger than myself. Wine is largely made in service of the ego — you want people to know just how clever you are. Artists or craftsmen are or can often be egomaniacs; their art is the drug that gets them high, but it also allows them a sort of transcendence of their own baser impulses; it is transformative of everyone it touches.

Broadly speaking, you were either a Cab guy or a Zin guy or a Pinot guy. I was a Pinot guy. After all, I loved Burgundy deeply and truly as any proper wine snob did and does. Further, the Great American Pinot Noir had proved to be incredibly elusive at the time.