Take My Wine…Please

June 21, 2012

Joe Roberts of 1winedude.com fame recently posted a video manifesto of sorts about how wine bloggers should behave when asking for samples from wineries.  It was commonsensical and appropriate: Observe the golden rule.

More important, from my perspective, was Joe’s statement, and I’m paraphrasing: as a community, wine bloggers are gaining more and more influence; if an individual blogger understands that she is part of a larger movement that behaves professionally, the community’s (read: the individual blogger’s) ability to gain access through samples, invitations to events, etc. will be enhanced. Couldn’t agree more.

But what this post really is…is an invitation to serious bloggers, videographers, and writers to request samples from me. I want you to taste my wines…and write/talk about them too, of course. Now, I know some will immediately remark on how self-serving this is…and I happily, enthusiastically, and with alacrity…admit it!

There are thousands of brands out there. The vast majority of which serve the very important purpose of making everyday wine that is affordable and drinkable.

My mission is different. I make wine from the Livermore Valley, an appellation that is blessed with the viticultural chops to make world-class wine. My flagship wine is called Lineage. Lineage is my family’s past; my future, and my only vinous weapon against Time’s implacable obligation to erase.  If Lineage becomes one of the handful of iconic wines every serious wine lover must have, then I have done my job. I’m devoting a career to trying to make it happen.

What’s important to remember is that the level Lineage attains isn’t up to me. It’s up to you. Ultimately, the quality of a wine will win out…but the wine first needs the context that only the press and restaurateurs and wine shops can give it.

So, there you go. I’m willing to lay myself out on the line, willing to take the responses as they come.

My preference is to sit down with you at my Winery to provide the context for Lineage and the other wines you taste. If you can’t make it to the Livermore Valley but are serious, and have been communicating about wine, I’ll share with you.

Just comment with your blog url and address, and I’ll get wine to you (while sample supplies last).

Wine’s Superego

June 20, 2012

Gritty, grainy, drying, grippy, emery board, ripe, fleshy, sweet, astringent,chewy,  fine-grained, structuring…Tannin be thy name.

Fruit and acid are the hip, well-dressed kids; the too-cool-for-school, let’s-smoke-pot-behind-the-7-11-rebels. Tannin is the righteous one; the responsible one that gives seriousness and meaning to wine.

If you’ve drunk Cabernet or Grenache or a young La Rochelle Pinot Noir – even – and felt the sides of your tongue or your cheeks go dry…that’s tannin for you. Derived from the skins and seeds of grapes and the wood from new-ish oak barrels, tannin is what gives ageability and a drying, astringent structure to young wines and allows them to age. Supergo to fruit’s id.

I had the chance to taste through a trial of wines today that had commercial tannins added to them. These tannins were natural, derived – too – from oak and grape skins, but they were meant to add to red wines what nature did not give them. The winemaker has many tools at her disposal to make wines better…and  what separates the good winemaker from the not-so-good one is the judiciousness with which those tools are used.

I tasted through several flights of wine, each of which had a control then varying amounts of a couple different kinds of tannin added. Unlike a series of fining trials tasted earlier (that’s another post), the control wines were aided, made more complete, by the structural addition of tannin. For a commercial winery that targets a specific consumer with wines that are carefully made to hit certain structural cues, this tool, used in a limited and intelligent fashion, can be very valuable.

Without a hill to die on, some people would have no fun at all.

So it’s the “balanced” wine crowd now…alcohol levels are too high in California they say. Or maybe it’s the “the pendulum is swinging back” pack with their  synecdoche argument.

Alice Feiring, in a Newsweek article linked above,  stops short of contending that there is a full-scale movement toward lower alcohol wines in California , but one could be forgiven for intuiting that the small set of examples she gives is meant to stand for a(n as-yet-unseen) stampede.

So too with Raj Parr and Jasmine Hirsch founders of the In Pursuit of Balance group who, in their search for “balance,” have found a shibboleth waiting there all along. To be fair though, Mr. Parr admits that wines can be in balance at higher alcohol levels but that alcohol, fruit, wood, and tannin find “harmony” when they are co-equal.

California is a really sunny place, most of the time. Grapevines produce sugar via photosynthesis. Sugar in the grapes gets converted to alcohol when they’re crushed and exposed to yeast. If you read “ripeness” as higher sugar content in the fruit, California is nearly always going to have riper fruit than most European producers (the laws in Europe have something to do with this as well).

So, if warmer weather leads to higher alcohol wines, what do you think cooler weather does?

In the last 2008 and 2009, generally considered fairly temperate years, the degree-days in the Livermore Valley were off of their 30-year average by nearly 3%. And in 2010 and 2011, quite cold years, the same value was off the average by 17.9% and 13.4% respectively.

Sometimes a mystery looking for a solution has one staring in its face. Could it be that winemakers are not changing their style as much as they are just taking what Nature has given them?

Things that are appealing just because they’re different rarely last.

The simple pleasure of unoaked Chardonnay is obvious if one has had his fill of the richer, woodier, malo-y versions.

In the case of the ole Chardonnay switcheroo, though, choosing stainless steel is like turning your cell phone off while you’re on a date with your wife: you’ll be thinking only about the last tweet you missed, the date will end, and your twitchy fingers will be grasping for the on-button faster than you can say uncle.

There is a middle path, however. Chardonnay is one of the most noble grape varieties because when it is done exquisitely well, there are few wines that can match its elegance, richness, and sense of vivacity. In an earlier post, I wrote about wines that show balance and life by the momentum with which they move through the mouth; great Chardonnay has this “alive” quality, with richness, too, to make it even more compelling.

The La Rochelle 2010 Chardonnay – Dutton-Morelli Lane is absolutely one of these wines. Grown in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation, this Hyde selection (of an old Wente clone) Chardonnay is farmed by the renowned Dutton family. We only got 2 tons each of the first two years and made just over 100 cases of wine. I wrote in my original tasting notes:

In the nose, this Chardonnay has a staid elegance to it that is driven by the aromas of pear, peach, and subtle orange marmalade. The wine was sur lie aged for an extended period of time, and the notes of brioche and fresh bread are in great balance. This offering was aged in 100% French oak barrels, 40% of which were new (Billon, Rousseau) for about 18 months.  
In the mouth, this wine shows a wonderful tension between fruit and acidity. On entry there is a magical liveliness to this wine; its momentum through the mouth is compelling, lean but not austere. The purity of fruit, mineral-laden mid-palate, and gorgeous acid contribute to one of the finest Chardonnays we’ve yet made.  

The solemnity that obtains just before you cut the perfect limes in half and open them up to the world is over soon…and probably not remarked upon if you are characterized by the adult arrow of focus and not looking for material. But if you are looking…and open to the chance that the all inhabits even the infinitely small, you may notice the way the juice from a freshly cut and freshly squeezed Key Lime ecstatically shades an otherwise gorgeously monochromatic G&T…rendering it subtly but inescapably other…a citrus uncanniness


My wife bought this squeezer, and it seemed silly to me being so small. It made a brief little wave in the force field of our every day, occupying a space at the bottom of the sink before it was rinsed off and put away in a drawer filled with all the detritus of culture…the crab forks, and the tongs that hold snail shells, and the gauges to monitor the progress of raw flesh to charred briands.

I am not an aficionado of tequila drinks so don’t know the value of the Margarita…a class of drinks in which citrus plays a contrapuntal, though necessary, role to the spiny nectar. My idea of the lime is to see it floating ever so coyly in a bath of fine gin, giving over its spunk to the juniper and the ice. It is the peeking garter, the fine young lass just on the edge of the intimate knowledge.
Well, that silly squeezer mechanism does the most wonderful things for the G&T. There is a beautiful fall of juice at the outset. It just goes in so nicely with this metal gadget…so much better than you would get from your hands, and I am a FAN of the do-it-by-hand-I-am-being-an-apologist-for-all-that-is-modern kind of guy. This crisp cataract of citrusy loveliness, way more juice than you’d expect from a lime that occupies the space of a quail’s egg, joins the tributary of gin and the islands of ice, and the barge-y tonic. And into this frothy completeness, I squeeze one more lime and get the perfectly astringent, perfectly clear, clarity-inducing G&T.

When I think of UC Davis, I envision this proudly tree-shrouded citadel of learning inhabited by monks wearing brown robes and cinched by raw cord, their tonsures browned from exposure to the gentle rays of the sun and the breezes wafting off the coast. When you get there, you realize it’s an f’ing oven. There are trees, cork oaks that have never been harvested, but they hunch over in obeisance to the unremitting solar energy. The profs share a sensibility with the monks of Middle Age France; in many ways they are still the keepers of the sacred books and some of them lament the state of the relationship between the learned (them) and the crass money counters who can only sell and do not value the value of wisdom.

Tom Stutz and I went up today to attend a series of lectures on the effects of oxygen exposure to fermenting wines, the intricacies of

The UC Davis Winery

pressing, and the different kinds of tannin that are present in grape skins and seeds and oak barrels and how to manage those to make the best possible wines. There is something undeniably magical about being in this particular academic environment. These are the Avengers of the wine-education world, the best of the best. The image of the cloister isn’t really right. A lot of what these scientists are dealing with is of real-world concern to people trying to make saleable wine. There is a symbiotic relationship: the industry (the Mondavi and Gallo and Jackson families, in particular) has funded the construction of  several of the buildings the department uses as well as endowing a number of the professorial chairs. These assets are used by the faculty and students to help the industry be more profitable and to make better wine, and thus seeding the virtuous research cycle.

Despite the mutual benefit that the faculty and winemakers receive from each other, there is also a very real respect issue that undergirds some of the presentations that we see today. One of the professors mentioned a number of times the “stupidity” of the people on the business side of the business who don’t know what they don’t know, and who don’t recognize the value of what was being summarized in the presentation today. This was a proud and accomplished dude who (I imagine) felt as if he were casting pearls before swine. The oinking chorus was concerned only (again, I’m projecting) with the bottom line and didn’t understand the short-sighted nature of saying no to more research. This professor described himself as cynical and Tom mentioned that you become how you act, referring to his observation that this professor has carried this cynical streak with him his whole tenure at the college.

And while the presentation was valuable in at least a knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake kind of a way, one could question whether that knowledge would lead to wine that was sufficiently better in quality as to make its academic integration worth the effort of the acquisition and the putting-into-practice. As I’ve gotten older, I realize more and more that the real bottom line is that I’m making wine for an audience willing to pay its hard-earned money for it. My own passion to know it all is really only of value in respect to how much service I can put that knowledge to in the pursuit of making that bottle of wine you buy from me the best wine-drinking experience you can have.  We still render unto Caesar what is his and have and will. It’s the only way, in the end, of sustaining that which is given over to the pure.