It was so much fun to be a part of this year's Wine Experience Sommelier Team. For the seminars, we opened up over 100 bottles of 1977 port and decanted them off the sediment, vetted several Gaja bottles for a comparative tasting, opened wines for pairings for the Chef's Challenge (Barboursville vermentino was paired with Chef José Andrés' dish!), and tasted a through a special vertical of Chateau Margaux.
In 2016 I was researching for an article about passito wine. At the suggestion of a winemaker friend, I took up a tiny project to learn more by going through the process and making a small amount of it. I thought I could gain more insights into the production side if I watched a wine through from harvest to bottling. With the help of some friends, I harvested about 10 small lugs of grapes, dried them by fan, pressed them in a tiny basket press, and fermented the juice in a glass demijohn. I held back a small beaker of inoculated juice to add to the demijohn of must-- but only as a last resort if I couldn't get a ferment started with the native yeasts.
I lost the demijohn of wine to a bad fermentation. But I did make about eight tiny bottles of tasty passito dessert wine from the beaker-- meager gains from a small experiment. Though the amount of wine is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I learned much about winemaking in the process. The palpable, tactile joys of handling the grapes, the smells and sounds of a fermentation-- all these things brought me closer to wine.
Hearing the satisfying "glug" as a gas bubble first made its way through the air-lock and signaled fermentation had begun, watching CO2 bubbles churn during the fermentation as tiny universes of yeast worked through their micro-life-cycles, and performing mundane tasks like siphoning without disturbing lees-- all the small decisions-- increased my appreciation for the motions and quotidian labors of winemaking. I always knew these things happened, but by performing them, I saw them in a new light.
Outside of educational experiments for professional growth, I still approach 'sommelier winemaking' with extreme caution. And yet, just yesterday I found myself bottling some experimental PetNat to see what happens... There's a certain gravitational force that pulls a wine lover to make wine. I already relish the day when I can pop the first bottle of PetNat, irregardless of what quality it might embody. I'm now viscerally connected to that wine and to this vintage. I can only imagine that this fierce connection to the casual wines I've "made" must be much more intense for the great winemakers of the world.
A splendid chameleon, the 1980 Musar white presents differently every time you stick your nose into the glass, and just when you think you can finally nail down what it is, it changes yet again. This is a wine to sit down with over the course of a day or two, and revisit every few hours.
I opened this up by myself, in a new house, with belongings in boxes that made cardboard skylines against a wall in each room. The 1980 Musar was a good choice to commemorate the experience. As I drank it, I had fleeting thoughts of insightful comments from the late Serge Hochar. I came for sips between the newly-freed contents of each settled box, and the wine slowly unpacked on me. It became a bottle inexplicably linked with the christening of my new home.
Once again, the phenomenology of wine emerged from a bottle whose producer had been intent to create such experiences.
In Serge's own words, (circa May 2013), "My white wine is for your brain. My white wine is way more complex than you could ever think. These whites mature long after the reds."
I'm frequently re-amazed at the nascent power of communication locked inside of wine bottles. The elemental expression of the producer-- or lack thereof-- can't help but be obvious.
A few months later, looking for that same bottled charm, I splurged and opened another 1980 Musar white, but it wasn't the same. How could it be? That's not what these wines were made for.
You might not believe it by the verdant land in the above photo, but the original 2-acre vineyard narrowly escaped engulfment by a raging forest fire less than a year ago. It was refreshing to see how nicely the mountains have recovered.
The new vineyard includes a bit of gamay, but only enough for one barrel. Dennis loves Cru Beaujolais, and "theoretically, this site should be ideal for gamay," he says, due to the granite soils. "As our plants age and as we add different clones, I think we're going to make good pinot noir. But I think we're also going to find that our site would be much better for Beaujolais-style wine." Personally, I'm hoping for some Passetoutgrains-style bottlings, and there is also talk of potential aligoté (fingers crossed!).
To test indigenous yeasts, they'll get a small fermentation going in the vineyard. Then, they'll smell it. If there are off-odors, they've only lost a tiny amount of grapes. If it smells good, they'll add more grapes to it and encourage the microbiology that is already there.
In 2016, the Vroomans began to experiment with stems by including 25% whole-cluster to the pinot noir fermentation, which can significantly change a wine's character, especially when it comes to aromatics. I'll be curious to taste it on release, and also to see how whole cluster might come to be used at Ankida Ridge.
In their 6-7 years of winegrowing, Ankida Ridge has dialed in a house style. Their inaugural vintage of 2010 made an impact on the international wine community, and if they released another bold and ripe wine like it, they might get the kind of accolades that ripe pinot noirs tend to receive. But as Ankida Ridge moves toward an estate model, their style has shifted toward a kind of winemaking that matches their home harvest by showcasing mountain aromas and highlighting a play between acid and subtle fruit. They pick at a lower Brix, now, and are capturing local nuance and complexity in their recent vintages.
Dennis says of the 2010 wine, it has "over-the-top flavors and over-the-top aromas." The wine is indeed much bolder and riper than their current bottlings. Special as it was to taste the 2010, it's interesting that Dennis prefers what they are making now, as if he has become a part of the terroir, and his palate has calibrated to their home site.
Rhone varieties have a storied history throughout California. A few months ago, I traveled throughout the state to chat with winemakers and learn about why they love working with Rhone varieties. I wove their thoughts together into an audio essay-- click here to listen to the podcast episode that tells their story.
I’m Erin, and this is my wine blog. Here, you'll find information about wines from around the world, and Virginia.