Organolepticians Number 80
I saw Bob Dylan and his band the other night, at the Greek Theater here in Berkeley; I must have seen him eight or nine times over the past 44 years. Just making a statement like that kind of makes my head spin around a little.
I was a kid when I saw him the first time, back in December of 1965, at the Berkeley Community Theater. Hell, he was a kid. (Or should I say The Kid?) He was there with the Hawks (later to become The Band), and the place was full of counter-culture icons: Ginsberg, Baez, Neal Cassady, Kesey, Michael McClure, everybody who was nobody disguised as anybody. He played all eleven minutes plus of “Desolation Row,” and it sounded just like it did on the record. I walked by the auditorium with some friends the next night, at about the time the show was ending, and you could hear “Like A Rolling Stone” way down the block, blowing right through the walls of the building. It was that loud at the Greek Saturday night, but it couldn’t have been more different. It seemed like he managed to break most of the rules of time and space. There were too many moments when I’d find myself wondering what year it was, and which “I” was listening to which Dylan.
It had been that kind of day, one that opens up the creases in the brain. I’d visited my sister, the only person in my life I’ve known for all of my life, whose own life is coming, it would seem, to its end, soon. In the few weeks since I learned the gravity of her illness, I feel I’ve begun to see my own time here in a different way. In a way the Dylan concert amplified that sense. The gradual failure of his voice over the years, which didn’t at all diminish his ability to give a commanding performance, dramatically changed the way he performed each song. I had a sense that he counted on the fact that an awful lot of people in the crowd knew all the words, anyway, and that it freed him to find a way to deliver each song with optimum force, without having to rely on his voice to carry the words. And he’s moving in a much more restricted way, even as he dances to his tunes in the role of bandleader. (I kept thinking there was something ever-so-slightly Michael Jacksonesque about his persona as he moved.) So when he sang, in Spirit On The Water: “you think I’m over the hill; you think I’m past my prime…” the crowd drew in its breath, as though they’d seen a fragile old man stumble, and feared he’d break like Humpty Dumpty, and then when he sang “let me see what you’ve got, babe; we could have a whopping good time…” the crowd burst into cheering. We were eating out of his hand.
The day after the concert, I drove to Healdsburg to pick a very small amount of Mourvedre. I needed the grapes to ensure that I’d have sufficient wine to keep my new concrete vessel filled; the Syrah and Grenache I’d fermented in it just barely filled it, after pressing, and eventually some will evaporate, through the concrete, and I’ll lose some when I rack. I picked nine boxes in about an hour and a half; it was quiet, and I really enjoyed doing the work myself. Then some fellows that had been picking other grapes for the vineyard owners, came over and picked five boxes for me. It took them all of six or seven minutes.
Picking grapes, especially from vineyards grown to a trellis system, can be pretty tricky; it can be hard to find the stems, and since Mourvedre stems tend to lignify,they can be hard to cut through. Enough force needs to be exerted, sometimes, that a slip or a careless move can have serious consequences. Since I was alone, my primary focus was on minimizing bloodshed. I succeeded, admirably, I think.
After weighing my load (just under 500 pounds), I headed down to the winery, where I proceeded to change into shorts, and applied my bare feet and the muscles of my legs to the task of crushing the grapes, which I’d dumped into two 45 gallon buckets. The grapes were extremely cold, (It was in the 50’s, cloudy and drizzly, in Dry Creek Valley, when I was picking.) but the work was short, and, again, satisfying. And I’d managed to get the fruit in ahead of the wild storm that blew in a couple of days later.
The 2009 harvest is the 25th for Edmunds St John, and that sure takes some getting-my-head-around, too. Stirs a lot of memories, makes me wonder which “I” is remembering? I’ve been reading lots of stories about the greatness of the ’09 harvest in California. I’m ready to reserve judgement, as usual, until the wines are in bottle, and to let them tell their stories when it’s time.
Harvest began September 1st, with Gamay from the Barsotti Ranch, near Camino, from a planting we instigated back in 2005, inspired by the possibility of growing Gamay in decomposed granite soils, as it’s done in the northern sections of Beaujolais, where the best wines of that region are grown. In all three years that this planting has produced grapes, the structure and color, aromatics and texture have been superb, and the vines are still babies! Once again we were able to pick beautifully ripe fruit with a low enough sugar concentration that the alcohol is below 13 %.
The same was true with the Gamay from Witters, our original planting, at 3,400 feet elevation, east and a little south of Barsotti. These grapes came in on the 2nd, and both rosé and red seem fairly dazzling thus far. Great acidity, as always with Gamay, and marvelous perfume and texture. As these vines have gained some age (now in their 10th year), and become ever more rooted, the quality has moved forward each of the last several years, in ways I find really exciting.
I crushed a very small amount of terrific Syrah from Wylie vineyard this year, which was picked on the 6th of September. Very small grapes this vintage, and an intense wine is the result.
On the 8th we brought in the second harvest for a project I’m working on with a friend from Oregon, whose company is AH! Wines: some Cabernet Franc from grapes grown above Placerville. The first wine we made using this fruit also included some Gamay, from Witters vineyard. It’s a seductive blend, made in the style of some wines produced in the Loire region in France. The ’09 Cabernet Franc grapes were lovely, and the wine is shaping up just beautifully. (we’ll probably blend in some Gamay again, but it’s too early to know what proportion. The ’08 version is called Bébamé. This is NOT an Edmunds St. John wine, but can be found, locally, at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, and a few other local joints. Check with Keven at Farm Wine Imports:  999-8944.)
On the 12th of September, on a day which featured some lightning, thunder, and local downpours, Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg remained largely dry, and our biodynamically-farmed Syrah and Grenache came in, in fine shape, and we filled up our brand-spanking new concrete vat, and baptised it with what will become the ’09 Rocks and Gravel. This wine has structure and texture unlike any wine we’ve made so far, and I believe it’s directly attributable to vinifying in concrete. It’s going to be a star! The Mourvedre I picked Sunday is from the same vineyard, and will become a part of this wine.
My Oregon friend and I also undertook a second wine project, on an extremely small scale. The Gamay vines at Witters produced a substantial second flowering, and the resulting grapes were left on the vine when the main crop was picked. By the 19th quite a lot of them had ripened sufficiently to pick, really selectively, for a most unusual wine. Both Don and I really enjoy the very slightly fizzy wine from Spain’s Basque country, called Txakolí (Pronounced : chock-o-lee) The grape variety that produces that wine isn’t grown here in California, (yet) but it occurred to both of us that Gamay, with its naturally high acidity, could, picked at low enough sugar, produce a similar wine (made as a pale rosé, and bottled early, with some of the residual CO2 from the fermentation). Another picking on the 21st gave us a total of just over a ton of fruit to work with. It’s coming along nicely! I keep thinking it would be fun to call it NOTXAKOLI, (Pronounced: not-exackoli) but I have a feeling another name may have been chosen. Stay tuned.
I didn’t get into the wine business until I’d been on this earth for 25 years. I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to steer Edmunds St. John through the maelstrom of the marketplace while simultaneously attempting to bring something new to the landscape of California wine. Who knows what’s next? I just might have a few more tricks up my sleeve!
Meantime: peace to you, in this dark season, turning…
Steve and Cornelia
2008 Heart of Gold (59% Vermentino/41% Grenache Blanc): The second edition of what we like to think of, these days, as the signature Edmunds St. John white. Fresh, light on its feet, with marvelously spicy nose, and lip-smacking natural acidity, making it a great foil for all kinds of things from the sea, from the grill, from the pig or the pike.
$20.00 bottle / $200 per case
2008 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rosé: Most successful vintage so far for our saucy little pink. A fabulous holiday-fare wine, providing bright counterpoint to an array of rich dishes, as well as being a great choice for service as apéritif.
$15.00 bottle / $150 per case
2008 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir: In the seventh vintage from the Witters Vineyard, the Gamay began to offer the tannin that, counter-intuitive as it might seem, gives Gamay the “juicy-ness,” that makes it such a joyous wine to drink. And the gladness-provoking Gamay perfume is becoming ever-more authoritative. This is probably almost as much fun as you can have in a glass. Another great holiday choice, too.
$16.00 bottle/ $170 per case
2007 Porphyry Gamay Noir: We have a little of this beauty left, and it’s got an extra year of bottle age this time around. The perfume is riveting, the texture captivating, the taste almost ethereal. Terroir in action! Gamay loves granite, and Porphyry is a love song.
$20.00 bottle/ $200 per case (limited)
2006 That Old Black Magic: Every now and then you’ve got to cast aside everything you think you know, and invoke the mystery. We found ourselves in that position awhile back, and, in the spirit of the great Little Richard, decided to let it all hang out. [That Old Black Magic, might be something you wish for. If you’re not in too big a hurry, it might be something you fish for. It could be watching you, behind a slender birch tree. You might hear it on your radio, when you’re driving your Mercury. **] Syrah and Grenache the likes of which ain’t often seen in these parts.
$20.00 bottle/ $200 per case
(** copyright Steve Edmunds, 2008)
2005 Syrah “Wylie-Fenaughty”: Over the past couple of years this wine has become a kind of legend. We’re finally starting to run low on it, so don’t let it slip away without getting a few bottles, or a case. Derided by the most influential wine critic in the country. Championed by the best sommeliers in the country. Enjoyed happily by ordinary folk because it’s priced so reasonably. After all, it’s just wine, right?
$25.00 bottle/ $270 per case
18th Annual Fête du Vin Extravaganza
Sunday December 6th, 2009, from Noon until 5PM
At Emmett Eiland’s, 1326 Ninth St., in Berkeley
a Feast for the Senses ! Holiday shopping jamboree !
Old Friends ! New Friends ! rsvp: (510) 981-1510