Sometimes you wake up in the wee hours, for one thing or another, and hard as you try to settle back into slumber, you find yourself wide awake, or it seems to feel like wide awake, except that your mind, somehow, spans that gap between asleep and awake more easily than might normally be true. It’s almost as though a small door straight into your unconscious has opened. Then, maybe the next time you find yourself, you’re remembering something and you suddenly realize there’s a big smile spread across your face, and the details from your memories begin bubbling forth like cold water from a spring, even though you may have no recollection of how those events came to mind in the first place.
So it was, a few nights back, that I began to revisit a birthday party thrown for me by Cornelia, back in August of 1984. That evening began at a restaurant in the hills on the east side of Napa Valley, Auberge du Soleil. We’d reserved a table for eight celebrants, four couples including 5 of our dearest friends, who would be part of our wedding party roughly a year and a half later.
There was a special wine I wanted to share with these folks: a magnum bottle (!) of 1973 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon that I felt, at that time, was very likely the finest, and most compelling red wine from California I’d ever tasted, in what were, at that time, all my 12 years in the business. So Cornelia made a plan to take that magnum with her on a trip to our cabin retreat in the mountains in Mendocino County, a week or so before the party. On returning from there, she would detour through Napa Valley, and drop it off at the restaurant where it could rest, in advance of the celebration, and be decanted easily, before we drank it.
Thinking of the extra effort Cornelia made to get the wine where it needed to be brought up the memory of how, as she headed down the Silverado Trail, on that errand, she was pulled over by a Highway Patrol officer, who said she’d been weaving as she drove. She had been really rattled when she noticed he’d been following her quite closely. Having her attention distracted by him, and also not being familiar with that road, several times she’d had a hard time keeping in her lane. She shared that information with him when he stopped her, and managed to talk him out of a citation, and I’d almost bet he felt glad that she did.
We’d also arranged to book lodging at a B’n’B a few miles north of the restaurant, to ensure that the enjoyment of the celebration didn’t have to be disrupted by driving back to Berkeley after a large meal with wine. As it happened, the place had a modest-sized swimming pool, and Cornelia and I imagined it might be fun to have a refreshing dip in that pool the next morning.
Dinner was lovely; there were many very nice things to eat, we had a little champagne, one or two people ordered cocktails. The magnum was (what else?) magnificent, and in the course of dinner a plan developed: we’d ALL go to the B’n’B afterward! Midnight skinny-dip! Somebody brought some cannabis!
We probably spent an hour in the pool; it was a balmy Summer night, and the water was cooling. Mostly we stood and yakked, and giggled and acted like kids. Eventually we got out of the water, dried off, dressed, and went indoors to play Charades for another hour or so. I think the last birthday I’d enjoyed as much I was probably 7.
It was a memorable Summer; Cornelia and I had spent a week or so at her family’s old farm house, in the Berkshires, earlier that month. It was the first time I’d been with that many members of her family, in a setting where they’d all spent time each Summer, for decades. And it is one of the most glorious places I’ve ever come to know; the landscape at times feel overwhelmingly beautiful. (For me, it felt both bucolic and idyllic: I felt like I’d become part of a story that was enchanting and mysterious)
As I lay awake here in Berkeley the other night, feeling lucky for the way these memories had lived and grown in me like some comforting fire on a chilly night, it occurred to me for the first time, that what I was revisiting was my life just before we hatched the idea to start Edmunds St John, 37 years ago, and that the birthday party that August was my 37th. And here I was, looking back, halfway down all my years, and feeling glad, and grateful, to have been in such good company, for all these years. It’s enough to make me want to celebrate again, every chance I get!
Now, in the 37th year in the story of Edmunds St John, we’re offering the first of our wines from the 36th year, bottled mid-January, 2021:
After all the strange and difficult events of 2020, I, for one, am crossing my fingers that it might have been just an anomalous year, and that things might be calmer in some regards in 2021. We entered the 2020 growing season with less than a third of normal rainfall in the winter that preceded it. In mid-August a freakish “dry thunderstorm” ignited thousands of wildfires around the state of California. I am fortunate that all the grapes I am vinifying come from the upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada foothills, and that no such fires were burning any closer than 130 miles from those grapes. Even so, there was smoke in the air above those vineyards for some time before all our grapes were picked.
Our first pick, on the 24th of August, was at Witters’ Vineyard; we harvested just over three and one-half tons of Gamay there that morning. The fruit was wonderfully ripe at very modest sugar level: 20.4 Brix. pH was 3.28, total acidity slightly over 7 grams per liter.
Grapes were whole-cluster pressed, and, after settling overnight, the juice was transferred to a small stainless tank to ferment.
Gamay was also picked from three separate blocks at Barsotti Ranch on September 2nd, at numbers very close to those from Witters: Brix was 20.3, ph 3.28, and acidity at 6.7 grams per liter. It, too was whole-cluster pressed, and the juice was transferred to stainless to ferment, after settling overnight.
Fermentations began on their own, and proceeded easily over a couple of weeks, to dryness. The tanks were chilled down to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and a bit of SO2 was added to block malolactic. The wine, however, had its own ideas, and for the first time ever, our rosé underwent malolactic anyway! (It seems to have been, speaking of anomalies, one of those strange years when the grapes have a much lower level of malic acid, and it takes almost nothing to push the malo through; it happened with our white wine from 2020 also.)
The wine stayed on primary lees for just over three months, and was subsequently racked twice (once for blending the two lots) prior to bottling, on the 21st of January. The alcohol by volume: 12.5%.
2020 seems to have been a year that produced rosés somewhat lighter in color than previous vintages, though it didn’t seem that the grapes were deficient in pigment. Our ’20 Gamay rosé has a lovely light pink color, with just a whisper of blue at the edges. The aromas are pretty, fresh and ebullient; a gleeful mix of spice and fruit, very typical to this Gamay.
On the palate the entry is lovely, highly energetic layers of spice, pretty berry fruit, a savory highlight of pepper, and pulsing with firm, lively acidity. The finish is long, riveting, and thirst-provoking. For a wine that has been in the bottle so few days, this is really quite a pleasure; a few weeks of settling down in the bottle should have it singing nicely for your supper. (It reminds me, in its just-bottled state, of the 2017 Bone-Jolly Gamay Rosé, for balance and ebullience, its Jouissance! But it seems to have an extra dimension, which I’m inclined to attribute, at least in part, to the completion of the malolactic fermentation; there’s a savoury element there that provides a note of underlying gravitas. On the other hand, perhaps in a wine from a year like 2020 (or maybe every year) there is no jouissance sans gravitas.
2020 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rosé
$23.00/bottle $248.40 per case
(price doesn’t include sales tax)
2019 Heart Of Gold $23.00/bottle (drinking deliciously at the moment)
2019 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir
(Personal favorite vintage of Gamay!)
2018 El Jaléo
(Watch Shake Ridge Ranch shine!)
If you’re thirsty yet email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Spring’s right around the corner!