Organolepticians # 88
Just a few short weeks ago our oldest grandchild graduated from Berkeley High School, and will shortly be college-bound (headed to Wesleyan). Just a few weeks from now, our youngest grandchild will begin first grade, in Decatur, Georgia. In perhaps only a few days Edmunds St. John will be heading into its 30th harvest, another really early one.
There have been several events this year in which I’ve participated that have caused me to reflect in earnest upon my time in this realm of wine, in an effort to wrap my brain around what has transpired therein, over the past 42 years.
Near the end of 2013 I received a lovely invitation to a February dinner party in Napa, at the home of colleagues whose work I very much admire. I was one of three winemakers invited, and one of the others was a gentleman whose wines I first sold 40 years ago, when he released his first (1972 vintage) Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Spring of 1974.
At that time, when I visited this vintner at his home on the Silverado Trail, to taste that ’72 Cabernet, I’d been the wine-buyer for a fairly new wine shop in Sausalito for a mere six or seven months and had very gradually begun to suspect that there were some truly new and exciting things going on in the world of California wine, as yet undiscovered by the public at large. There were, for example: a Riesling, and a Chardonnay from a fellow named Grgich, up at a place called Chateau Montelena. And a new Zinfandel from a French-born vintner whose father had been the cellarmaster at Lafite! A stunning Fumé Blanc from a place called Dry Creek! And lots more, as well! All wines the likes of which seemed to have had no precedent in California, in the entire period between the end of Prohibition and the year 1974!
And here was this Cabernet, with its glorious, rich, stately bouquet, and it’s velvety tannins, a wine that seemed, by its nose and its taste, to signal its origins in the ground nearby, below the bluffs where ‘Stags Leap’ in the moonlight! I was sufficiently flabbergasted by how much the wine impressed me that I ordered 20 cases on the spot. My boss thought I’d lost my mind, but ten days later, when those 20 were sold, I took 20 more. By the time the vintner’s stores were exhausted, I’d mamaged to sell some 70 or more cases of the stuff. A couple of years later, at a famous blind-tasting sometimes referred to as the “Judgement of Paris,” his 1973 Cabernet was the wine that dramatically changed how the world thought of California wine.
The February dinner party was an especially lovely event, and the chance to spend a bit of time with someone I’d felt so inspired by was a great treat. (We chatted about his original wines, and he asked if I’d bought his ’73. He was very glad to know I’d bought it before Paris!) Our very gracious host was pouring his own delicious 2013 rosé, there was a whole spit-roasted lamb, glorious local vegetables, and a great spirit of conviviality ruled the evening.
Then in March of this year, I was invited to participate in a pair of tastings called The 7% Solution, featuring wines from a fairly small number of wineries around Northern California, made from grape varieties that represent 7% or less of all the grape acreage in California. We’ve been making wine from pretty much “weird” grapes ever since we started, back in 1985, so we felt right at home.
The other wineries were ones I’d heard of, but many of whose wines I hadn’t yet tried. A lot of what I’d heard had been through Jon Bonné, who writes wonderfully about wine for the San Francisco Chronicle, and whose book “The New California Wine,” has helped to focus attention on wines heretofore not given much heed.
Interestingly, quite a number of the “new” wines represented at the 7% Solution tastings were made from grapes grown on vines planted many decades ago, from varieties that have generally never been considered of sufficient interest to warrant the attention required to make first-rate wines from them. It was stunning to discover what the results were when this new set of vintners lavished that very attention on them! Perhaps most impressive to me were the myriad renditions of Carignan from vines at least my age, that shone like jewels among the wines on offer. In some quite real sense, the way forward also seems to be the way back.
And so I find myself thinking, some forty years later; I am again witness to a kind of marvelous renaissance, and the spirit of it is quite moving, and I feel lucky to be present, as the new generations emerge.
And so the seasons go, round, and round; and in that spirit, we offer, from the magical 2013 vintage:
2013 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Red
Exceptionally juicy, sappy, fresh gulpable happy red wine with laser focus. As much fun as ever.
$21.00 per bottle
2013 Rocks And Gravel
(50% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah-grapes from Unti Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg, Sonoma County)
As this wine has developed, first on the vine, then in fermenter, and tank, I’ve come to feel that I’ve been waiting 29 years for the chance to make this wine! It’s wonderfully fresh, pure and lovely, with a very subtle structure that hides easily under all the supple fruit! A wine that seduces, one graceful sip at a time.
$29.00 per bottle
AND FROM THE EXCEPTIONAL 2012 HARVEST:
2012 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah
Very much like the 2011, both aromatically, and flavor-wise. A bit more intensity, a little more structure. There’s much to like here now, but this is a very good candidate for five or six years in the cellar. Terrific Apple Hill Syrah from a classic California vintage.|
$32.00 per bottle
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