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The Languedoc and Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette, Part Seventeen of An Outsider at The Source

I woke at seven thirty and had finished demolishing a fresh pile of baguettes by eight, when we hit the road. Our destination for the day was Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette, in the Languedoc, a major wine producing region in the south of France that stretches from Provence up to the Pyrenees Mountains, with Spain along one border. Many of the predominant varietals there, such as Grenache, can yield a lot of fruit elsewhere, but in the cool weather where Pas de L'Escalette is located the yields are low and the wines more fresh and high-toned. The Languedoc actually produces a huge proportion of French wine, but since a lot of them are high octane, it’s not a largely desirable source for some segments of the US market, where low alcohol is the current trend. Ted had met Julien Zernott and his wife, Delphine Rousseau, of Domaine du Pas de L'Escalette, a few weeks earlier, an event that left him wanting to give the wines another taste. Nicolas Rossignol made the introduction when they all happened to visit his cellar in Burgundy at the same time. Ted hesitated to further the conversation with Julien after an invitation to the domaine because they were already represented in the states and he didn’t want to step on the other importers’ toes. But when as they departed, Zernott gave Ted a couple bottles and they agreed to talk. Ted had been asking himself, “Am I doing the right thing?,” but after wrestling with the possibility of working with Zernott a little longer, he decided, “why not?” He would go into the meeting with no expectations and simply view it as an opportunity to learn more and meet up with an interesting vigneron who had given him a great first impression. We passed through the Camargue river delta, a marshy land where the Rhône River meets the Mediterranean Sea. Camargue Horses, one of the oldest breeds in the world, are indigenous to the area, and a lot of sea salt is harvested there as well. The vineyards around us were flat and thin and Ted remarked that they generally produce cheap and unremarkable table wine. There were many Roman ruins along the road, the remnants of walls and structures from that fallen empire. I was yet again struck by these remnants of ancient history scattered all over France and how the majority of it was vandalized with colorful graffiti. Little red and yellow flowers danced in the Mistral along the shoulder as we passed, and the sky was a shock of dark blue, the thin white clouds distant smudges on the horizon. Though it’s tucked away a little inland from the coast, the Languedoc has long been thought by many to be to underrated in its beauty, and it's free of the tourists that flock to better-known destinations. Further to the north and west we entered the Costières de Nîmes AOC, a huge area also known for inexpensive wines, usually blends led by Grenache and somewhat similar in style to other appellations in the Southern Rhône Valley. Ted works with a domaine from the appellation, Terre des Chardons, and thinks other wines in the AOC would be better if people would make just a few changes, such as adopting organic and biodynamic standards similar to what Terre des Chardons uses. Another producer he used to import from further north in the Languedoc uses natural techniques and sometimes their wines are really solid, while others (as with many natural producers who are more at the mercy of nature), not so much. We bent south around the sea toward Montpellier, where beige, orange and yellow stucco buildings with terra cotta tiled roofs spread out from each side of a highway lined with dense stands of trees. The city was heavily bombed in WWII so most of the structures are more modern than in many other places we had visited, and there was lush greenery and graffiti crawling across every wall on the underpasses. The road turned north and inland again through rolling hills with huge white limestone boulders scattered among the scrub, a landscape similar to that around the 118 between LA and Ventura. We passed the town of Mas Lavayre, situated in an area chock-full of uranium ore, and continued toward the ancient commune of Lodève, which dates back to the Gauls and where the hills are all red with iron rich soils. We were getting into a new territory for Ted, geographically and geologically, and he was clearly excited. “What's getting interesting here is that we're living in an era where the greatest producers in Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire, Germany, Austria, etc, are all in a window to make incredible wines in the increasing heat; they used to have a good season every few years and now five out of six are good or great, but that’s about to change. Right now, it’s much better for consistency in these colder areas, yet as the heat continues to rise, they’ll start to get inconsistent again because of heat instead of the old problem of the cold.” It was strange to think that there could be areas of the world that might actually be benefiting from climate change—the perfect ammunition for deniers. But most of us know that it’s a serious problem, and the beneficiaries won’t be such for long. The navigation system kept giving us poor directions, and after taking a few wrong turns on some narrow side roads, we finally found our way to the driveway of Domaine du Pas de L'Escalette. The winery building is a striking piece of modernism with a limestone tile façade, plain but for three four-by-fifteen-foot glass slots, the center one with a door at the bottom. The structure’s shape, with one rectangle and two symmetrical windowless wings on each side, gives it the appearance of a temple from another world. The delays had us running late, and Julien Zernott was already waiting in the parking lot with his father-in-law and a young couple who were also related in some way that I missed, and who didn’t speak English. Julien is at least six four, and built like a linebacker (another ex-rugby player like Jean-Claude Masson back in the Savoie), with broad shoulders and the belly of a man who likes the finer things. He has cherubic cheeks that pinch his small eyes almost closed when he smiles his gape-toothed smile, which he does constantly. He shook my hand and almost crushed it in his bear paw, introduced his family, then gestured for everyone to jump into his old and dusty SUV. We tore off down a narrow road through some of the most beautiful scenery we had seen yet. The vineyards rolled across wavy land in a long valley between steep hills of the deepest green, with jagged sandstone pinnacles stabbing upward from the ridges all around. The sky was spotless and rich blue, and a cool breeze kept the air under the bright sun mild and dreamy. The space between the vines was pure limestone scree, with thin grasses and weeds poking through on Julien’s parcels. Some of the sections belonging to other makers were bare of green—clear signs of the herbicide that he shuns. The limestone was scattered in every direction, from the tiniest pebble to the billiard ball rocks to the brick and cinderblock-sized pieces used to build the walls winding all over the land. Some were four feet tall, and some were eight, and every stone was stacked and locked together with puzzle-like precision, with no mortar in sight. Julien said that they were built partially to block the wind, but mainly they were just a way to clean up all the extra stones without just piling them into unsightly mounds. In the middle of some of the walls there were little stone huts called Bergers, also built without mortar; they look like igloos constructed with carefully stacked rocks instead of ice blocks. Inside, there were large stones to sit on around a fire pit in the center under a ventilation hole in a ceiling propped up by wooden beams. Apparently these were used by shepherds who worked the sheep in these hills in a distant past, before they were vineyards. And in the decades since, they’ve been used to warm the fieldworkers on the coldest days. In any case, there was no way I could look at a stone hut and not think, “Middle Ages,” and maybe even, “Bring out your dead!” When Ted inevitably brought up the extremely rocky soil under our feet, Julien said that it was remarkably easy for the vines to get down into it, to squeeze through the tiny spaces in the scree. Julien pointed at a few hectares of vines that he had planted in 2003 and said they were yellow because of a recent cold snap; he has planted twenty hectares of different varietals since 2013. He then nodded at more of his parcels nearby, some sixty-year-old Grenache and eighty-year-old Carignan. Andrea took photos of the landscape from every angle, and I would bet that they were almost all keepers. She and Ted got shots of Julien as he spoke, and he was camera friendly, smiling and allowing for countless candid action shots as he made gestures all around. Ted noted that all the biodiversity of grasses coming up between the rows made it clear that they were employing organic and biodynamic techniques, Ted's ideal conditions for healthy fruit. “But we live with the animals,” Julien added. “Small deer and boar eat the grapes. People hunt but don’t kill them all, so there will always be more. The grapes are always in danger.” As with every vigneron we had met so far, Zernott is always walking a fine line to preserve his crop, in one way or another. He took us over to a corner of his property that comes to a point at the top of a hill where two of the tallest stone walls meet. I turned around and was struck by a stunning view of the entire valley that opened out from where we stood in the tip of a giant, inverted V. There were countless patches of different greens of grass and vines, and the mix of deciduous and pine trees growing from the scattered pastures below the towering crenulated hillsides that cradled the valley around us. There were two square sitting blocks arranged around a cocktail table fashioned from one long stone. He showed us a small branch protruding from a nearby tree. It looked different from the others around it and was braced to a limb with some sort of tape; though it was grafted to a wild plum tree, in a few months it would produce cherries to snack on. He walked over to one of the walls and pushed on the edge of a big block, which was really just a thin stone façade, actually a small door that swung open on a hinge that revealed a hidden cubbyhole behind it. He reached inside and pulled out a bottle of rosé and a clutch of glasses. We all gathered around the stone table and tasted the crisp and refreshing wine, still cold from its chilly stone storage, despite the bright sun and warmth of the day. It was the perfect accompaniment to the herbal breeze. We returned to the winery and were greeted by Julien’s wife, Delphine. She smiled warmly and shook our hands from behind a sleek modern marble bar in a tasting room with cork-tiled walls. Julien told us that she runs the business side of things, raising his palms in a playful, “I have no idea what that entails,” manner. She also created all of the labels for the wines, which Ted immediately complimented for their simplicity. One series that I found particularly charming had tiny recreations of their children’s footprints walking up the side of the bottle. As she poured tastes, including a beautiful blend of mostly Grenache with some Carignan and Syrah, followed by their Syrah dominant blend, Julien said, “you need to learn enology so you can forget it. It’s important to just observe the wines. It’s fine to know how yeast works, but we don’t add commercial yeast to anything but the rosé, where it’s necessary. Everything else is naturally occurring yeast. You have to work with your heart and not with your head. We honor the terroir. We look for the holy grail.” Ted nodded vigorously with a big smile on his face. What Julien might not have known was that it could have been Ted himself who had spoken these words, verbatim, all the way down to the “holy grail” comment—one of his favorites. It was no wonder that they had hit it off back in Rossignol’s cellar; this guy was totally speaking Ted's language. Then Julien said, “I prefer elegant wines over power,” to which Ted responded with a wry grin, “I do, too. I prefer a woman in my glass, not a man.” It took a quick moment for the words to sink in, but once they did, Julien released a loud chuckle and nodded in kind. Julien led us through a tall sliding door to a big room lined with relatively new, wooden Stockinger barrels, then through another door where there were some older barrels and his steel tanks. We tasted a few of his aging wines from his pipette as he and Ted broached the subject of import. After this visit, Ted was all in, and Julien sounded interested as well. They agreed on pallet allotments for the coming vintages and that was that: they were in business. We were out of time and needed to get on the road again. When we asked Delphine where we might pick up a sandwich, she quickly said she’d make us one herself and invited us up to the house, a low slung annex to the winery that seemed certain to have been designed and built by the same people. The glass front was almost entirely open to the view of the valley, and eight or so friends and family sat around a long table on a covered patio, playing cards. They smiled and waved and beckoned us to join them and asked us where in the states we were from. It was a beautiful picture of the incredible life that Julien and Delphine have crafted for themselves. Inside, a teenage girl offered me some almond brittle from the oven, which I gladly took and instantly devoured, then silently wished for more the second it was gone. Delphine cut into a big loaf of rustic bread, spread gobs of fresh butter on the slices, grabbed from a thick stack of jambon de Bayon and pieces from a wheel of local cheese and piled it all together. She gave us each big hugs and sent us on our way. A quarter mile down the road, I tore into the sandwich, which was, of course, glorious (Hallelujah! Another ham and butter!) and I had finished mine before Ted even unwrapped his. He would remark—not for the first time, or the last—that I eat way too quickly. I don’t know why he kept harping on it; he knows I was raised by wolves.

Newsletter June 2022

Süditrol’s St. Magdelena vines shot from Fliederhof winery, May 2022 May, Europe’s new summer month… As we descend upon Germany via train from Milan through the Alps, our group of four are all wounded and bloated from a massive intake of beef tartar, vitello tonnato, agnolotti, ravioli, gnocchi, and a near overdose of Nebbiolo (if that’s possible… well, maybe it is with the tannins of young ones…). We are in Germany for a day and then I’m off to Iberia for two more weeks of visits with another group of our staff who are joining me there as the others head home. I packed light for this forty-day bender, as sparingly as I ever have for a journey of over a month: four pairs of pants, two sweaters and a long jacket have taken up precious space in my bags since I left Prague at the end of April. It’s strangely hot this year and especially dry too. Climate change is really starting to weigh heavily over here and everyone’s concerns are more heightened than ever, despite 2021’s colder year in many locations, with great losses in some areas due to mildew pressure. In the past, climate change was a talking point in the midst of each vintage’s woes, but today, perhaps elevated by the post-pandemic shutdown period (hopefully post!), Ukrainian invasion and inflation ridiculousness, the mood is heavier than ever, especially after so many years of wackiness with the twisting of seasons. In many parts of Northern Italy it has only rained three times since November and what has arrived didn’t deliver enough. We just left Barolo and Barbaresco and many of the Nebbiolo vines were already flowering in those areas and their surroundings, around May 20th, which means a harvest will likely be in early September. There isn’t anything to do except hope for some relief, but it’s already quite late to slow things down enough to extend the season. I started the trip with ten days in Austria and the Czech Republic accompanied by my wife, Andrea, where we found the best Napolitana pizza I’ve had outside of Campania, at Pizza Nuova (which has a fabulous Italian wine list too), and a great wine bar, Bokovka, both owned by the same clever company. When Andrea left, JD, our Los Angeles sales rep, arrived. After a great visit with our Austrian team—all highlights, honestly, between Tegernseerhof’s 2019s, Veyder-Malberg’s 2021s, Malat’s 2019s and 2021s, Weszeli’s 2017s, and Birgit Braunstein and her cool range of progressive and well-made, biodynamic natural wines—he and I jumped down to Milan to grab Victoria, my sister and Office Manager, and Tyler, an Aussie expatriate who represents us in San Diego and Orange County. We all have serious farmer tans now just in time for the real summer months and big setbacks on our beach bellies. There is far too much to say about my trip here, and I wish I had time to share it all. What I can say is that I am very proud of the producers we represent in Austria and Northern Italy. Perhaps the biggest surprise for our team was the quality of wines coming from our four producers in Monferrato: Crotin keeps nailing it with inexpensive but serious wines and some new bottlings, too; Spertino is becoming a problem because the international demand for this true vinous artist is putting a pinch on our allocations; La Casaccia, a new producer for us, was probably the most unexpected knockout visit for our group with their masterfully crafted range of Barbera, Grignolino and Freisa (the latter is simply inconceivably delicious, perfumed, and subtle but generous as any Freisa I’ve ever had); and Sette, a new winery working biodynamically that lived up to my hype for my staff with their head-turning wines from Nizza. Alto Piemonte and Langhe also had a spectacular showing with the most notable highlights being Monti Perini’s yet-to-be-bottled 2017, 2018 and 2019 Bramaterra wines, Davide Carlone’s upcoming 2020 entry-level wines all grown in Boca, Dave Fletcher’s 2019 four Barbaresco bottlings that were simply a stunning breakthrough for him (an already very good, young winegrower) and Poderi Colla’s 2019 Barbaresco Roncaglie, a true masterpiece and unquestionably the top Barbaresco I’ve had from them. There’s so much more to add, but we’ll get there another day because now we’re off to Spain and Portugal. In next month’s Newsletter, I’ll give the play-by-play and note the highlights from my final two-week leg of the journey. New Producers In June we have a real boatload of wine coming in (unapologetic pun intended). It’s hard to know where to start because there are so many good things arriving. All the new wines this month are from France, except a lone Spanish wine made from one of our new French producers who plays by his own rules, Imanol Garay. Also arriving in the warehouse are new wines from Arnaud Lambert, Thierry Richoux, David Moreau’s 2019s, finally the 2020 Dutraive wines, Francois Crochet’s 2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette, Pascal Ponson “Prestige Cuvée” Champagne, and finally a reload from our lone Bordeaux producer (for the moment), Cantelaudette. Because there is so much, I’ll only highlight a few, starting with our newest additions. Aside from the two new producers we will explore today, there are over a dozen more we signed on with over the last six months or so whose wines will finally be arriving by the last quarter of the year. We have new wines coming from Chile (Itata), Saumur, Montlouis, Champagne, Bordeaux, Piemonte, Abruzzo, Douro, Setubal, Alentejo, Azores, Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, and Sicily—finally, after five years of poking around the island. We are in the middle of exciting times at The Source and we greatly appreciate the support from you who continue to work with our talented team and consider the wines from our constantly evolving portfolio. It’s because of you that we can continue to do the work we love to do. Imanol Garay, Southwest France/Northern Spain Spanish/French former engineer and barrel broker, Imanol Garay, un vigneron libre, follows no wine rules (other than some labeling requirements for his French/Spanish wine blends) and believes in terroir not only as the concept of specific site or even region but as a contiguous philosophical thread practiced in different places that may be forged into one wine. A resident of southwest France, his cellar is in Orthez, only a short drive from Spain’s Basque country. Before starting his project, he worked with French natural wine gurus Richard Leroy and Vincente Careme, among others. Some vineyards are his own, some he rents and farms, and some fruit comes from friends with the same deep respect for nature aligned with their life philosophy. He has another project in Spain’s Txakoli region with friends, Alfredo Egia (also in our portfolio) and Gile Iturri, labeled Hegan Egin; some years he makes Rioja, others Navarra, and always a lot of French wine. Cautiously walking the natural-wine line, his pursuit is of the clean yet uninhibited, void of unwanted animally smells (the mouse, the horse), and instead with wonderful character-filled and potently nuanced, high-energy wines filled with joy and authenticity, like the man himself. Imanol Garay We start with Imanol’s 2020 Clandestinus, a Pyrenean red wine from Spain’s Navarra grown on limestone bedrock with brown topsoil. CLANdeSTINUS is a play on words regarding Imanol’s family history, the Stinus clan, from (de) Alsace in former times, and a “tribute to all those who have crossed mountains, seeking a better life.” The mix is equal parts Grenache and Graciano, the latter a less well known and very promising red variety with an incredible structure led with, at times, jarring acidity when not fully ripe, but gorgeously savory with tight dark red fruit. As all of Imanol’s wines, it’s made without any additions throughout vinification, with some added after malolactic fermentation where it receives a sparse amount of sulfur prior to bottling. Élevage takes place over a ten-month period in a mix of 228-, 600- and 700-liter French oak barrels with mostly old wood and a small portion of new. Clandestinus dances on its toes around the danger of a natural wine disaster while delivering a non-stop barrage of juicy, slightly baked fruits and roasted nuts, and sweet, northern Spanish countryside rusticity—think leather, chestnuts, and cured meat. I observed this young and surprisingly voluptuous wine for days after opening it, waiting for it to succumb to exhaustion after its vigorous dance, but my wife fell under its spell and finally finished it off before I could stop her—a surprising act from someone who usually has little interest in red wines that hit 14% alcohol. Diving into Imanol’s highly sought after whites with unfortunately extremely tight limitations on quantity are his Ixilune (pronounced “itchie-loo-nay”), French whites grown in and around the Madiran and Béarn appellations, without the appellations on the labels. These are very special whites indeed, and we took whatever Imanol would allow from the two vintages available. Both are deep in reductive, minerally elements (à la Richard Leroy) and need a moment to open and express their rolling hill, limestone and alluvial terroirs. The 2018 Ixilune is composed of 70% Petit Courbu from d’Aydie, and 30% Petit Manseng from Soublecause. The élevage takes place in 225- and 500-liter barrels of young but no new French oak. Free of sulfites through its time in wood, a first and final addition was made at bottling. The 2020 Ixilune is a blend of 25% Petit Courbu and 25% Petit Manseng (both from Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh), with the difference, a rare white grape with a long tradition, Raffiat de Moncade, cultivated in and around the village of Orthez. The potentially high-yielding Raffiat de Moncade produces relatively neutral white wines, often expressing soft, white flesh fruit notes and flowers. It offers this blend with the other two higher-toned and more tense fresh grapes a gentler mouthfeel and softer aromas. The 2020 Ixilune is similarly aged in 225- and 500-liter barrels of young French oak and 10% in a small amphora. Always searching to work around sulfur, Imanol was confident enough to bottle this white without adding any. Given his successes with his no-sulfur Txakoli project, Hegan Egin, the 2020 Ixilune appears to follow in those very successful footsteps. Both wines are 14% in alcohol, but fresh, tight, minerally (alongside its beautiful reductive elements) and as mentioned, surprisingly unbreakable for days after opening. New Producer: Nicolas Pointeau (Domaine de la Sablière), Chinon Due to the severe shortage of Saumur red wines from Arnaud Lambert, Romain Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West, I began to search for some young blood in the Loire Valley’s Cabernet Franc world, especially outside of Saumur, to add a little variety to our Cabernet Franc range. I love the wines of Saumur, but I’m also interested in finding other things throughout the rest of the Loire Valley, a region we adore. Marielle et Nicolas Pointeau I received a tip from one of our top winegrowers about the wines of Nicolas Pointeau, a young vigneron working his family’s Chinon winery organically with his wife, Marielle, in Domaine de la Sablière. Any tip from great producers is worth exploring, and a few years ago they met Nicolas at an event and pointed me in their direction—this is how “discovery” in importing works most of the time (nearly all the time), rather than knocking randomly on doors and cold-calling in other ways. A lot has happened between my introductory tastes of his wines in the summer of 2019, with the 2017 and 2018 vintages, and what is in the bottle now, with the 2020 vintage. The conversion to organic farming and a few more years of experience in the cellar, Nicolas made wines convincing enough to jump on his wagon. Pointeau’s organic Chinon vineyards on alluvial soils used for the entry-level Chinon wines Nicolas’ wines will not yet revolutionize the Cabernet Franc wine scene because they are made in a very straightforward way without much “hand in the wine.” His entire range is solid, unpretentious, and not over-thought or overplayed; they deliver tremendous value and exist squarely in the realm of lightly structured, delicious, gravelly, black earth, lovely red and dark-fruited, perfectly ripe and deliciously savory Cabernet Franc. Their vineyards in Chinon are largely on alluvial soils with some on shallow topsoils above tuffeau limestone bedrock. The alluvial soils make for wines with a little more gentleness on acidity and palate roundness without being too rich from the soil and much less solar powered than Cabernet Franc wines from further south in western France. If you are familiar with Arnaud Lambert’s range (as are most restaurant and retail buyers who work with our portfolio), think Les Terres Rouges, or Montée des Roches, both grown on Arnaud’s richer soils of the Saumur-Champigny commune, Saint-Cyr en Bourg, but maybe a little less dense given the loamier soils than the clay-rich soils of Saumur-Champigny. Even more, Nicolas’ reds represent his conviviality and hard-working nature; when I drink them, I am always reminded of him in his well-worn vigneron’s clothes, with a smile from ear to ear. The Pointeau cellar Within the range of the three Chinon reds that will land, the 2020 Chinon “Tradition” is the first in line and raised in only stainless steel tanks and comes from gravelly soil on large terraces. The wine does indeed have gravelly textures (classic for the variety), a good mix of dark and red fruits, graphite palate and nose, on a light frame. The 2020 Chinon “Tonneliers” is raised in old French oak barrels (called fûts de chêne in these parts, rather than barrique) and similarly grown on gravel soils as the “Tradition” bottling. The difference here is maybe just a slightly fuller body and rounded edges though with a similar fruit profile. The time in wood also imparts more savory notes and a slight softening of the fruit notes. The 2020 Chinon “Vieille Vignes” comes from parcels with a greater tuffeau limestone presence, further uphill from the vineyards used for the other bottlings we imported. Finer lines and a deeper core with additional mineral notes alongside the variety’s ubiquitous graphite notes, this stainless-steel-aged Cabernet Franc has great purity and depth for Nicolas’ gentle and easy style. The average age of vines for all the cuvées is around forty-five years, with the Vieille Vignes closer to eighty. All the Chinon red wines we imported from Pointeau are bottled between March and June after their vintage year. New Arrivals Richoux, Irancy We have a fabulous group of wines coming in from Thierry Richoux and his fils, Gavin and Félix. The baton is in the process of being passed from Thierry to them, which explains why some labels display their names, and others have Thierry’s. Since 2017 a few things have changed at this organically-run domaine. The boys have incorporated some new techniques, most noticeably a gentler extraction and the use of smaller barrels, where in the past they were aged exclusively for a year in stainless steel, followed by another year in large foudre between 55hl-85hl capacity. They are also experimenting with notable success with smaller total sulfur additions and holding out on the first addition until the wines are ready to be bottled. Much of these changes will be felt in the years to come more than those that arrive today. We adore the old-school style of Thierry and hope they will stay close to it, but it’s obvious that Gavin and Félix are making a few advancements instead of experimental setbacks. Félix, the youngest of Thierry and Corine Richoux’s sons We have a reload of 2017 Irancy and our first batch of 2017 Irancy “Veaupessiot”. This vintage expresses the beautiful fruit nuances of this warm vintage that ripened when the fruit was still dominated by red tones. In the 2005 vintage, Veaupessiot became Richoux’s first single-cru bottling of Irancy, and for good reason. While a good portion of Irancy sits inside the amphitheater shape that surrounds the ancient village, there are many prized sites just outside of it, or on the south-side of the south hill of the appellation. Veaupessiot is on the outside, at the southwestern end of the horseshoe-shaped appellation as it opens toward the west. The slope is moderately steep and ends near a ravine that cuts in below it, and an incline far too steep for vineyards. Other vineyards look like they could be as good, but that’s the fun and mystery of great vineyards; it’s not what’s above that determines the great sites, it’s what’s below. Richoux recognized this early on and it remains the most well-balanced single-cru wine in his range. This wine will have good moments early on but certainly has the chops to age as effortlessly as Richoux’s many wines have time and time again. The Richoux family’s wines are bulletproof and remain one of the greatest deals still to be had in all of Burgundy among top domaines. Richoux Veaupessiot parcel to the left of the road Les Cailles is Richoux’s second single-cru bottling and is more powerful and structured than Veaupessiot. It’s spicier, more mineral and with more formidable tannins, requiring extra time in bottle as well as aeration once opened to find its peak moment. When it gets there, it arrives in a big way, but we must be more patient than with Veaupessiot. 2015 Irancy “Les Cailles” will surely be the best yet put to bottle (that is released), and this year is a perfect vintage with its boosted ripeness and softer tannins; this means that it will require of you less patience to find its moment upon opening compared to the previous three releases. (The first year of Les Cailles was bottled in 2012.) The 2015 Veaupessiot is an extraordinary wine (that sold out in a flash), which means that Les Cailles will be nothing short of impressive for decades to come. It will be interesting to see Veaupessiot and Les Cailles duke it out over the years, and it would be best not miss a vintage from either of them to experience this intriguing comparison. Les Cailles is situated on the north hill of the amphitheater facing south. The vines are over seventy years old and contribute added depth. South-facing old vines of Les Cailles Arnaud Lambert, Saumur Yet another group of wines from Arnaud Lambert is arriving. We have a lot of coverage of his wines in our newsletters and on the website, so I won’t take a deep dive here. On the boat are reloads of the Crémant de Loire Blanc & Rosé and some new releases of single-cru wines. It seems we have some of our barrels marked in Arnaud’s cellar! In the Saumur Blanc department, we have the 2020 “Les Perrieres”, 2018 “Bonne Nouvelle”, 2018 “Coulee de St. Cyr”, 2018 Clos de la Rue, and the 2018 Saint-Just “Brézé”. Quantities are minuscule on some of these, so please go easy on us if we can’t fill your requests. In the red department, the new release of 2019 Saumur “Montée des Roches” and 2018 Saumur-Champigny “Clos Moleton” will arrive. Quantities on these two wines are very limited, so get ahead on those and reach out soon if you are interested. Brézé’s tuffeau limestone diversity from stark white to light orange due to a higher iron content Jean-Louis Dutraive, 2017 Dutraive, Beaujolais Finally, the 2020s from Dutraive will arrive. We opted to wait until all the wines were ready in this vintage (some fermentations ran a little later than expected) before we brought them in, which resulted in some unexpectedly lengthy delays. The 2020 vintage was relatively uneventful and without demoralizing natural elements such as frost or high mildew pressure. However, it was a warm year all around. The difference between some of the other warmer seasons of late is that the vines had a good natural yield that was only curbed by the summer heat, concentrating grapes and making for riper wines. The most positive element of the year was that the growers were able to choose when they wanted to pick, resulting in balanced fruit. Dutraive’s wines in 2020 are fresher than many of the recent years thanks to the naturally balanced crop load. The recent warm years that had early season losses to nature’s elements affected the final balance of the wines due to too much of the vine’s focus on the little quantity of fruit they produced. As usual, quantities are very limited. Dutraive’s Clos de la Grand’Cour vineyard in Fleurie Pas de L’Escalette, Languedoc Julien Zernott and Delphine Rousseau have become one of the Languedoc’s leading producers for substantive wines with higher tones and greater freshness than the typical wines from this massive area of France. During the pandemic many producers were understandably forced to seek out new markets for their wines while their traditional markets, including France, waited out the pandemic. That, in conjunction with the rest of the world taking notice, is why our allocations are more limited these days. I apologize in advance for an unusually small quantity of wines from this young (still!) and progressive duo. Escalette vineyard with walls constructed from “clapas” 2021 should be a great year for French rosé. It’s probably the coldest year since 2013 and offers a lot of freshness to the wines, especially after the long string of warm years, particularly between 2017 and 2020. Escalette’s 2021 Ze Rozé is a slightly top-heavy wine sourced from some of the better red grape parcels—no specific parcels are isolated for the rosé. Here, compared to most Provencal rosés similarly composed of Grenache, you can expect more body but on a rather tight frame due to the higher altitude, rockier limestone bedrock and topsoil, and the constant fresh winds that blow through this narrow valley. The blend this year is 65% Grenache, 20% Carignan for greater flesh and deeper fruit, 10% Cinsault for more lifted and floral aromas and 5% Syrah. The 2021 Les Petits Pas also benefited greatly from the cooler year, yielding a very fresh red. From the moment the Les Petits Pas was created, Julien and Delphine’s intention was to add a charmer in their line of wines that didn’t take itself too seriously—hence the full color pinkish red label with neon green, baby footprints. Pas de L’Escalette is nestled up into an ancient roadway that connects the Languedoc to the north by way of France’s central mountain range, the Massif Central. This is cooler wine country, far from the Mediterranean, so it’s plenty cold at night, even in summer, and this is what imparts their wines with more zippy freshness and crunchy red and dark fruits, which make it a perfect wine for warm weather. Les Petits Pas is a multi-parcel blend from organically farmed vineyards on limestone terroirs, typically a mix of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignan. Each of these grapes naturally carries ample freshness, magnified by a little chill, making it anything but heavy on a sunny day. It is indeed compelling for us wine geeks, but it’s more of a drink-it-don’t-think-it wine. Les Petits Pas doesn’t constantly tug at your sleeve begging to show you how good it is, it’s just good. Les Clapas Rouge, named after the limestone rock piles (clapas) found in the vineyards, is led by Syrah, which makes up 50% of the blend. The Syrah is entirely vinified in whole bunches, and Delphine says they never destem Syrah because the stems add so much complexity; they’re mixed in for the fermentation and contribute what one might expect: heightened freshness, texture, and exotic green, animal nuances. The remainder is a mix of 30% Carignan and 20% Grenache, both co-fermented with 50% whole clusters. The latter two grapes contribute more of the suppleness, but the combination of the three—all extremely noble grapes—make for a wine broad in dimension and full in flavor. After its three to four week “infusion” fermentation (which simply means no big movements for extraction) the wine is polished up over fourteen months in 50-hectoliter upright wooden tanks and a single 20-hectoliter foudre. It’s racked once in the spring and the only sulfite addition (no more than 30mg/l, or 30 parts per million of total SO2) is made just prior to the bottling, without any filtration.

Organic and Biodymanic French Summer Reds

It’s summertime and while we tend to veer toward drinking bubbles, rosé and white, reds still have their occasion. The six red wines in our offer come from six different organic and biodynamic growers. What I’ve chosen is only one of the many wines each of these growers makes. So, don’t stop with these, dig into their other wines by clicking their link, because there is so much pleasure and fascination to be found in each wine we import directly from these producers. I’ve written a brief summary about the wines in The Skinny. If you want more, like I always do, you’ll find a more extended piece below that I enjoyed writing, titled, A Faux Seasonal Affair, which also includes a more in-depth overview of the wines. The Skinny 2017 A. Peraccia Ajaccio Rouge "Prestige Cuvée" There’s x-factor for days in this exotic and spicy red from Corsica. Thanks to its proximity to the sea, the granite soils and most of all, the lovely Sciacarello grape, this wine is a dandy. It looks and expresses like a wine from the Reynaud family of wines (I know the Rayas comparison is overused, but these wines really go that direction), but tastes Corsican. It’s one of the most compelling wines we import and we’re only able to get very small quantities. 2016 A.D.N. Patrimonio Rouge Patrimonio is often Corsica’s most rustic, manly, hairy-chested wine, but A.D.N.’s takes a leap into a more elegant world with this wine primarily composed of Niellucciu, the island’s adapted version of Sangiovese, the famous grape from Tuscany. This wine is suave, with gobs of crunchy bright red and black fruits and lots of texture, and the full range of the island’s smells and sunny demeanor. 2013 La Madura Saint-Chinian "Grand Vin" If one were to measure a wine’s merit by the length of its finish, layers of complexity and quality of craft, this wine would rank near the top. It’s a clean and full-throttle old-school style red mix of Mourvèdre and Syrah aged in concrete and old oak barrels. There’s not an ounce of slack here, just layer upon profound layer of texture and nuance; and it's savory to the bone—perfect for a night of long conversation in the cool summer night air. 2017 Jean David Seguret Rouge This is singing Provençal dialect in a bottle. Jean David concedes all to his nature-filled terroirs and the old-vine Grenache, Carignan and Counoise blend in his Seguret makes the wine deep and vibrant but a refreshing take from one of the Côtes-du-Rhône’s best kept secrets. If you miss more crunchy redness in your southern French wines, this is a good place to recapture it, as these wines are picked with ripeness that truly hits the mark. 2018 Pas de L'Escalette Coteaux du Languedoc "Les Petits Pas" It is only a matter of time before Languedoc reds shake the misconception that they are all bruisers. It is indeed the biggest region for French wine production—often of the mass variety, but this size also brings diversity in the terrain that can translate into some zones that make for crunchier style reds. Escalette’s organically farmed vineyards are in one of the coldest zones of the appellation, far from the Mediterranean. This is a sweet spot on rocky mountain terrain that preserves the tension and high-toned aromas in this Grenache, Syrah and Carignan blend. 2017 Roc des Anges Côtes-du-Roussillon "Segna de Cor" This biodynamic winegrower is going to almost single-handedly change France’s Roussillon. (Yup, big claim…) Their wines have snap and freshness, and stick out like a beacon of hope for this region known for its exhaustive reds and fortified wines. For any serious wine drinker or Francophile, these can’t be passed over if one wants to stay in the know. This wine is a mix of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. A Faux Seasonal Affair (The Extended Skinny) I have many fond memories of Southern France, and I relive most of them at least twice a year with Pierre and Sonya, the extraordinarily talented cooks and two of the most loyal and generous friends I’ve ever had. Mas La Fabrique is their private country home in the Provençal village, Graveson, located between the ancient papal city of Avignon and the Roman city, Arles, to the south. Here the fire in their kitchen is never dormant for more than a couple of hours and the subject of food never ceases. Meals are planned days in advance and sometimes weeks. Even more than a month before I come, Sonya begins to press me for exactly what meals I will partake in and on what days. If only I were as good at business planning as they are with their meals. The contents of La Fabrique’s meals are sourced from local purveyors, including the fabulous outdoor market located in the former Roman outpost, Van Gogh hospital locale and current celebrity hotspot, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and whatever you can’t find there you can get a little further south at the mile-long market in Arles, another Roman and Van Gogh hangout. The best nights in Provence are in the summer, when dinners are outside under the starry night sky and the occasional chaotic whistle of the forceful woosh of the cleansing mistral winds through the cypress trees and the constant, mesmerizing chirp of countless invisible cicadas. Once past the aperitif, which usually involves rosé on ice (yes, I do this sometimes too…) and the almost certain first course of cold fish, seafood or vegetables followed by fresh, taut and salty white wines, the main event begins. Of course a lighter red is the right start because its still hot out and the sun is still strong, but when the mountains and trees begin to shield the sun, and the cool, sometimes thick, soft air eases the parched earth and the trees and flowers, and the wind fans a welcome damp freshness to the skin, a chilled, sweating bottle of southern French red is the proper transition into the night. Many people carry the idea that it’s sort of a faux pas to drink full flavored, richer reds in the warmer evenings, but I don’t subscribe to this at all; we just have to wait for it to cool down a bit first and drink the red with a deeper chill than room temperature. Some think southern French reds, and other reds like them, only fit into occasions almost exclusively for cooler months. While it’s true that these heavier wines naturally compliment richer, stronger flavored dishes served with more regularity in cooler times, my summer night meals in France are often chock full of flavor and richness too, especially when the produce has regained its natural, non-greenhouse and hydroponic flavors, and the meat courses begin to make their way to an open flame. And anyone who has spent time in the south of France and dined with the French or lives close to the ocean where it can be hot in the day and sweater-worthy at night knows that the only thing faux is the idea that full-flavored red wine is a seasonal affair. Red wines somehow enrich the meal in ways that whites and rosés don’t, no matter what time of year it is. It seems to better pair up with the deeper conversations that arise later in the night, relaxing us while softening our concentration and rendering us fully present. It helps us shed the weight of the world that then somehow remains absent until after lunch the next day. Big southern French reds, like Bandol, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or medium-sized Saint-Chinian or Côtes-du-Rhônes somehow fit into almost all occasions, and every season. Let’s remember to forget those false ideas ordained by those who forgot how to live! Do it the southern French way, where red wine is the occasion whether it is le dîner à l'automne, en hiver, au printemps ou en été. Wine Stories I adore A. Peraccia's Prestige Cuvée. We get too few bottles from this Corsican gem in Ajaccio, and the only thing that stopped this minuscule allocation from disappearing as quickly as it did last year was that they had only just arrived a few months before the world shut down, so this is a rare opportunity for everyone to pounce on. A bear of a man, Laurent Costa is the one-man-show who works his vineyards by hand, employing biodynamic and certified organic practices. Rich in beguiling x-factors channeled by Corsica’s queen red grape, Sciacarello, and the iron-rich sandy granite vineyards soils, Laurent’s Ajaccio red wines are unexpectedly captivating and complex for extremely modest prices. First timers may be taken off guard as the utterly compelling and peculiar characteristics far exceed the expectation of the price of this wine, and like any wine of true breed, you need to be patient with this one to see all of its dimensions. The color is lightly rusted garnet; the aromas are effusive, exotic and savory; and the palate is compact with a core of sappy, glycerol orange-tinted red fruits and refreshing mineral textures. It shares a similar temperament and x-factor with some uniquely individual wines, like those from France’s legendary Château Rayas and Corsica’s Abbatuci, a couple hours’ drive south, and Sicilian Frappatos by COS and Occipintini, and Langhe wines made by Guiseppe Mascarello and Fabio Alessandria, from Burlotto. The comparison to these luminaries may seem overindulgent (and it is only when comparing historic pedigree with some of the wines these producers make), but in delivery, Laurent’s wines speak the same heightened dialect and holds its own. Moving north and further toward the east in Corsica, we arrive at Patrimonio, one of the wine world’s most complex geological spots. Granite is the most dominant geological feature for wine production on the island, but here there is the full gamut of sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rock, sometimes even within the same vineyard. This makes for an immense amount of palate texture and depth of complexity in the resulting wines. This wine, an exciting expression of Patrimonio, is crafted by Emmanuel Gagnepain, one of France’s most well known enologists, a man with a penchant for elegance over power—quite the contrary to most enologists charged with the job of point catcher. The A.D.N. Patrimonio is grown on limestone and schist from a few different parcels and is a blend of mostly Niellucciu (believed to be from the same parent material as Sangiovese), a grape with good acidity and structure, with smaller amounts of the more elegant and high-toned aromatic, Sciaccarellu. Limestone imparts more muscle and broad complexity while the schist seems to impart more deep mineral/metal characteristics and sharper angles. The 2016 is especially refined for a Patrimonio red wine. The vintage was perfect for those who like some freshness, and the palate texture is rich in mineral sensations. Overall this organically farmed wine is a solid balance of the rustic and the suave, with good upfront red fruits and already revealing great secondary and tertiary characteristics akin to a good Brunello, minus the power, pain and high alcohol. It's a lovely wine, great with food, and a clear demonstration of the genetic and cultural heritage shared between Italy and France on Corsica. This organically farmed wine is such a steal when considering the price and delivery. And with the extra years in bottle, La Madura's Saint-Chinian "Grand Vin" has opened up into its prime drinking window with many more years to continue its upward climb. Another blend of different bedrocks, topsoils, and grapes, the range on this wine is vast—truly… Mourvedre and Syrah take center stage and are collected from many different parcels grown on limestone, sandstone and schist bedrock, with topsoils heavy in rock derived from the bedrock and clay to cement it all in place. All of these elements contribute in different ways to the blend, giving broad impact on the palate with just the right amount of cut to keep it fresh and enticing. Once opened, the dense perfume of southern France opens up fields filled with the lavender and thyme that permeate the aromas. The palate has a balanced density with red earth, molten iron, meat and chaparral. As the wine unfolds, its softer sides take shape and offer up more red and purple fruits, Middle Eastern spices, coffee, garrigue and a deep, salty and mineral freshness. We’re all in on this one and if you like a little gentle oomph with your wines, this is a must. Being organic or biodynamic is a way of life, not just a philosophy reserved for the fields, or an effort to keep up with a current marketing trend. The age of extraction and chemical farming continues to lose ground, and Jean David, one of France’s humble and often overlooked heroes was ahead of the curve when he went full organic in 1979, a radical move at the time in a region overwrought by chemical farming within one of France’s main breadbaskets, Provence. His home is Seguret, a small wine-producing village set on the fringe of the better known wine appellations, Gigondas and Vacqueras, and further to the west, the most famous, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Seguret should be more well-known, but I’m happy to say that it’s not. It remains quaint and not overrun by tourists (at least in the off-season) with the occasional painter in the street working away, or a man sitting alone on the back of his truck playing the guitar for his own pleasure—both of which my wife and I saw on the same day in Seguret with not another soul in sight. It’s an inspiring village of narrow rock passageways, thankfully not suitable for cars, with sometimes just enough room for one person at a time to pass. Seguret is an epicenter for geological studies and contains countless different rock formations from different epochs that date as far back as almost two hundred million years, with everything that’s happened up to now piled on top. Largely composed of limestone, clay and sand, the vineyards of Seguret begin low on the Ouvèze River terraces with soils derived from river deposits and work their way up toward the steep Dentelles de Montmirail, a jagged uplift of vertically positioned rocks, largely composed of limestones. It is geologically complex and so are its wines, especially for such modest prices. In these parts, there is always potential for high alcohol, power, extraction and prematurely aged, brown-tinted Grenache wines; but in Seguret the story can take a brighter more fresh turn, as it does with Jean’s wines. Protected by the Dentelles mountain range and the cool winds that flow through the Ouvèze down from Mont Ventoux, the great white limestone capped mountain of Provence, the wines can be more garnet red and dark pink on the rim of the glass, indicating less oxidation in the aging and earlier picking of the fruit. Jean’s fresh-tasting wines are balanced by the cold winds from Ventoux at night, the fifty-plus-year-old vines of Grenache (55%), Carignan (25%) and Counoise (20%), the concrete tanks the wines are vinified and aged in, the almost non-existent use of sulfur, and Jean’s pension from an organic, artistic way of life with the sole purpose to capture the true essence of his countryside in his finished product. They are true wines, with their tastes a result of concession to their land and its historical culture, truly worthy of attention from anyone looking for something honest and without pretension. From the moment the Pas de L'Escalette "Les Petits Pas" was created, Julien and Delphine’s intention was to create a charmer in their line of wines that didn’t take itself too seriously —hence the full color pinkish red label with neon green footprints, inspired by their children. Pas de L’Escalette is nestled up into an ancient roadway that connects the Languedoc to the north by way of France’s central mountain range, the Massif Central. This is cooler wine country, far from the Mediterranean, so it’s plenty cold at night, even in the summer and this is what imparts their wines with more zippy freshness and crunchy red and dark fruits, which make it a perfect wine for warm weather. Les Petits Pas is a multi-parcel blend of organically farmed vines on limestone terroirs with a mix of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignan. Each of these grapes naturally carries ample freshness which is magnified by a little chill, making it anything but heavy under the sun. It is indeed a compelling wine for us wine geeks, but it’s more of a drink it, don’t think it kind of wine, high brow and low maintenance at the same time. It doesn’t constantly tug at your sleeve begging to show you how good it is, it’s just good. Roc des Anges is not the kind of domaine you expect to find in the Roussillon. Marjorie and Stéphane Gallet, both transplants from other parts of France (the Côte-Rotie area and Normandy, respectively), have constructed a biodynamic wine sanctuary in the Vallée de l’Agly, a nearly deserted vineyard land dominated by co-ops and famous for producing fortified wines. (The locals continue to abandon vines every year because the yields are tragically low and make it one of the most difficult places in France to make a living with vineyards.) Since she began the project in 2001 (at age twenty-three), Marjorie’s intuitive and peaceful contemplation has resulted in wines that carry a signature of purity, focus and elegance unlike anything made in the region. They are low alcohol, hands-off, mind-on wines bottled by varietal from single sites on specific and unique soil compositions. In smell and taste, their structure and style more closely resemble that of their earthy and salty cousins from the middle of France’s Loire Valley. The Segna de Cor is their starting block red, and it’s a knockout, as is their entire range, which I cannot recommend enough for their compelling interpretation of this part of the world. Senga de Cor is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah grown on schist. She picks the grapes weeks earlier than everyone else, and at first, her neighbors thought she was crazy. It’s impossible to think that now, and it was only a matter of time before someone came along and went against the grain to begin the reshaping of an entire region’s image. They’re doing it and the wines are fabulous.

Of Corse, Part 8 of 9: Porto Vecchio and the Shrinking World

The drive between Sartène and Porto Vecchio is beautiful and the day’s sunny, cool, windy weather was perfect for this cinematic dreamscape. We drove by the famous natural sculpture, Lion de Rocapinne, a granite outcrop atop a hill shaped like a perched lion that faced south, like it was guarding the island. The lion’s mythological story is of an impossible love and a sad hero who committed suicide and was then transformed into this natural monument. We wrapped around the bottom of the island and tried to make out Sardinia. Last year with Manu there was only a little haze and we could barely see it; I couldn’t keep my eyes off it until we turned a corner and it was gone. Without Sardinia in view this year I was transfixed on the beauty of Corsica’s southernmost granite beaches. The hillsides close to the beach were stripped of most of their soil and left with only short green shrubs that grew from cracks in the rock, with every curve, nook and color variation of the sea beyond. Without another landmass in sight, it felt like we were on the edge of the earth, alone, winding through a land of extraordinary beauty and tranquility. As the sun set behind us, the whispers from the wind came through the windows and after three days of wine madness, we were spent and said little. We slowly rolled into downtown Porto Vecchio, inside the gulf, and checked into our rooms. I had seen so much beauty in Corsica that Porto Vecchio was just another pretty face and I went straight to my room without marveling at all it had to offer. I laid down on the bed backwards and propped my feet up on the wall for fifteen minutes, which wasn’t nearly long enough; I could’ve passed out on the bed until morning. Instead, a dinner had been arranged and we were expected. Only one more act to play. We drove to a spot about ten minutes away to meet with the vignerons who came from mainland France for a tasting that was organized by a well-known Corsican sales guy, Pierre-Marie. At this point, I felt a little out of my comfort zone because I was a sort of accidental guest who was backstage at a great show only because of my trip with Manu. The awkwardness of the moment vanished in the parking lot as soon as I saw Julien Zernott and his wife, Delphine Rousseau, make their way out of a car next to us; it’s easy to spot Julien, a 6’5”, 300 pound giant towering over a crowd of Frenchies. They own a small domaine in the Languedoc, Pas de l’Escalette, and visited me in Santa Barbara just before I left California for France. They were fast becoming some of my most regular French friends and I was set to meet them again at their domaine the following week. Not only that, Pas de l’Escallette is another one of Manu’s clients. Accompanying them was a well-dressed guy in snazzy eyeglasses, with a full but cleanly trimmed beard and suave, modern Spanish-style clothes, form-fitted to his thin, sturdy frame. By first take, he reminded me of one of those brilliant guys I know who always have a slight mischievousness tucked into their bright smiles. His name was Thierry and his handshake was warm, his eyes connected to the moment, and I knew I was going to like him. Once in the wine shop, I shook the hands of a number of people I’d never met before. When I’m introduced for the first time, I rarely remember names (except Thierry, just minutes before) because I’m so focused on the energy of the person and what they look like, and not as much on what they are saying. It’s a terrible habit and something I attribute to my general lack of focus and again, that nearly deaf right ear. Toward the end of the apero, I saw that Delphine was talking with the only woman in the group I had yet to meet. Before I approached them, I warmed up my French with a young Corsican couple for about fifteen minutes, which helped me lose my apprehension. They were an interesting pair who had just begun making infused spirits under the label, U Massicciu, and had been invited to the party to share some of their products with everyone after dinner. I went over to Delphine, who introduced me to her friend as her California importer. Of course after all my preparation to speak French, the woman immediately switched to perfect English, even after she asked me which I would prefer. I told her my first name and with bright, surprised eyes, she said, “Ted…, Ted Vance??” I smiled, equally surprised. “Oui, c’est moi.” I couldn’t imagine why she would know my name, or why she seemed bewildered, as if she had just met Bond… James Bond. But the wine world is small and as I get older, it gets smaller. You spend enough time working around Europe and the degrees of separation shrink exponentially. Her name was Anne-Charlotte Genet, and just the night before I happened to request her friendship on Facebook. She had liked a pic I posted the day before of my visit earlier in my trip with Romain Guiberteau, one of the Loire Valley’s most exciting winemakers, and after realizing we had plenty of mutual friends I thought we should connect. Who would’ve known that I’d meet her in a wine shop in Corsica the very next day? After we had a laugh, Anne-Charlotte revealed that she “worked” for Charles Joguet; I found out the next day at the tasting that it was her father’s domaine. I appreciated that she didn’t feel the need to give me her resumé within five minutes of meeting me. I’ve always liked the Joguet wines and it was nice to meet her and learn about her family’s domaine. The sales agent, Pierre-Marie, stood in front of me with a big smile under his wine-soaked eyes and long nose. He was as happy as a dog on the beach rolling on a dead seal to have most of his great producers in Corsica at one time. He probably knew I was a little uncomfortable and he dispelled that immediately with a solid, welcoming handshake. I was in, and it was time to relax and enjoy the show. After tasting a load of Corsican breads, cheeses and meats with a bunch of bubbles from some of the producers (man, do the Champagne guys stick out like a well-manicured thumb in a group of vignerons) we headed to the American style burger joint just next door for dinner. Sure, why not a burger in Corsica instead of some insanely delicious seafood? Being the foreign guy, I didn’t know what to do about seating, so Julien grabbed me and sat me down. To my left was the daughter of Yves Canerelli, all of about nine years old, while Manu was on my right at the end of the table. Thierry sat across from me and Julien to his right. I had no clue that these two would end up being the most mischievous of the bunch, cheerleading the party to devolve into raucous laughter and hijinx more quickly than I would have expected. Thierry engaged with me immediately and asked about my involvement with the group and who I was. I told him about importing wine, working with Manu and my interest in Corsica. I still didn’t know who Thierry was, so I asked. It turned out that he was Thierry Germain, one the Loire Valley’s very best vignerons. I’d heard so much about him but I’d never seen a picture before and was totally taken off-guard by how different he looked than I imagined. The old saying about dogs looking like their owners can be said about wine and their winemakers, but I guess I just didn’t even think about that when I thought about Thierry’s wines. His Loire Valley wines from Saumur and Saumur-Champigny were indeed like him: extremely polite, well-dressed, engaging, thoughtful, intelligent, with a classy demeanor and not a hair out of place. I was truly surprised and immediately had a good feeling about him, though there was no possibility of working together because he works with Kermit Lynch and is surely happy to be there; I was just impressed with him as a person and saw that we had a shared passion for wine. He repeatedly insisted that I visit him the next time I was in Saumur and I happily accepted. I knew by reputation that he’s a super technical and perceptive vigneron, almost surgical with his wines and there’s nothing overlooked in any bottled by his hand. I was looking forward to picking his brain. Pierre-Marie was glowing as he walked up to our table with some kind of Corsican swagger (whatever that is), carrying Pandora’s Box. Julien’s blue eyes went neon as he stuck his monstrous hand in the box and pulled out a cigar that was about the size and look of a big blood sausage. It was no doubt the biggest cigar I’d ever seen, and a fitting size for Julien, a former rugby player that would’ve been a lineman in the NFL if he were born in the US. Thierry grabbed one too, gave it a sniff and asked for the lighter. We hadn’t even ordered dinner yet and they lit up and instantly changed the atmosphere of the entire restaurant. I looked at Manu and he smiled sheepishly, cocked his head to the side and shrugged his shoulders. Within minutes, there was smoke billowing out of more than a dozen frogs and it seemed that every waft of smoke was sent my direction. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The stench of my clothes when I went back in the hotel was so bad I thought about leaving them in Porto Vecchio, but decided to just put them in plastic bag so they wouldn’t ruin everything in my suitcase. With cigars still smoldering as we ate our dinner, we went from one magnum of Corsican wine to the next. There were some pretty good ones, but the white and red from Clos Canarelli stole the show and were in the best company of top domaines in Corsica. They were a fine pairing with the white fish crudo entrée followed by the American style burger I ordered. Manu and I had the same idea and snuck out of the restaurant early, long before the group completely exorcised the demons that had built up over the last month of being stuck inside during the unexpected cold and rain. It was one of the wettest late winters/early springs in a while and they were all anxious to get to work their vineyards before they were overwhelmed by what would come with the quick temperature shift on the horizon. After a bout of weather like that the vines will play catch up fast. This would be the last party before the 2018 season was suddenly in full swing. The next day we put in some good time at a tasting that started at ten in the morning. There were some top producers there, and highlights included Abbatucci, Clos Canarelli, Vieux Telegraphe, Charles Joguet, Thierry Germain, Pas de l’Escalette and Yves Leccia. Yes, for those familiar with Kermit Lynch’s portfolio of producers, it seemed like a small Kermit tasting without Kermit. It was great to taste and meet all these superstar vignerons. When I arrived I immediately looked for Pierre Richarme, the owner and vigneron of the Corsican domaine, Pero Longo. He walked in ten minutes after us and quickly caught my glance. We shook hands and the smile I couldn’t forget from last year was on full display as we tasted his wines and sat for lunch together with Manu. Manu poured his own wines, GRVins, which we import to California, and they showed beautifully amongst many of Corscia’s best. GRVins is a tiny negociant business where Manu buys organic grapes from some of his best producers and their top parcels (both undisclosed). He supplies all the materials, including 600-liter French oak barrels usually crafted by the cooper, Atelier Centre France—the fastest rising star of the barrel world, and one of my favorites (if I had to choose between new oak barrels). Before Manu and I left the tasting I went back to taste Pierre’s range and tasted them one more time. On the way out the door I asked him if he’d let me represent Pero Longo in California—a moment I had planned before I went to Corsica. I had a good feeling about him from the start and wanted to be a part of what he’s doing and where he’s going to go with his son involved. He was happy to hear that I was interested and answered with a resounding yes. Next Week: Of Corse, The Last Chapter: A Reflection on Experience from the Inexperienced

The Everyday Dozen

We know our business is not going to save the world. But we’d like to help brighten as many moments as we can. We plan to continue offering you deals over the next months with our overstocked goodies that were originally destined for our restaurant customers. We can’t keep them forever and our growers always have another pile of wines ready for us once we're through with the ones we have. While we have hundreds of excellent wines, this short list has some classics that you might be familiar with. As you choose your dozen bottles, or meet the $300 minimum, to get our 20% discount, these wines will help you build your order. They are more in the middle-of-the-road style, and universal enough for just about anyone searching for a lot of pleasure and intellectual stimulation out of the same bottle. The Sorgente Prosecco project was born out of the mutual desire for The Source and a special undisclosed estate (sorry I can't specify who) to work together on this Prosecco wines. The proximity of these vineyards to the Alps and the Adriatic Sea brings an ideal temperature characterized by large diurnal swings from day to night. As you may know, this is crucial for a proper Prosecco to remain true to form (bright, fresh, minerally) and function (pleasure over intellect, although both are strong here.) Limestone and clay are that magical mix of soils that impart many of the world’s great wines with interesting x-factors. Yeah, it’s still Prosecco, but it’s a good one. And it’s been noticed by some of the best restaurants in New York, California and Illinois where it's poured by the glass. (The dosage level between the two wines is 12g/l for the Extra Dry and 5g/l for the Brut, which means that the Brut will be the drier of the two.) The Château de Brézé Crémant de Loire is another wine in our collection that over-delivers for the price, especially when considering the exhausting effort made to craft such an inexpensive sparkler from one of the Loire Valley’s greatest terroirs, Brézé. This now famous commune in Saumur is known for its laser-sharp Chenin Blanc wines, and fresh, bright and extremely age-worthy Cabernet Franc. The blend here is about 75% Chenin Blanc with the rest Chardonnay; the latter is used to soften up, add body and round out the edges of the extremely tense character of the Chenin grown in the coldest sites of this already frigid hill. Our next gem comes from the Wachau, Austria’s most celebrated wine region. It’s hard to dispute the Mittelbach Federspiel Grüner Veltliner as likely the top value wine in this region from stellar winegrowers. What’s more is that it comes from some of the region’s most revered terroirs, like Loibenberg, Kellerberg and Steinriegl. So why is the price much more than fair? The grapes come from mostly young vines from a set of recently purchased vineyards for Weingut Tegernseerhof, the producer of this wine. Martin Mittelbach, the winegrower, wanted to observe how these new wines performed for some years in the cellar to determine what sections would go into his top wines, and what should go into his entry-level wines. For now, it's all in one cuvée and it's classic Mittelbach style: crystalline, energized and pure. Emmanuelle Mellot's Sauvignon from the Loire Valley is grown not too far from Sancerre, her hometown and the location of her family’s historic domaine, Alphonse Mellot. However, this wine is made by one of her close friends (who asked to remain anonymous) in support of Emmanuelle’s negociant project, which focuses on satellite appellations close to Sancerre. To keep the wine straight and easy to drink, but still loaded with the unmistakable mark of Loire Valley Sauvignon, the natural fermentation and the aging takes place exclusively in stainless steel tanks. While it’s indeed marked by the region’s classic characteristics of citrus fruits, mineral elements and freshness, it’s a gentle and easily accessible Sauvignon Blanc. Arnaud Lambert's Saumur Blanc "Clos de Midi" is our top selling single white wine to restaurants for by-the-glass programs. We usually struggle to keep it in stock, but the coronavirus has changed that, at least for now… Once you’ve had it, it’s easy to imagine why somm culture can’t get enough. For an experience that combines an immense amount of intellectual stimulation and pleasure, it’s hard to get a more complete white wine than this for the price. It comes from one of the colder sites on the now famous Brézé hill, and with Arnaud’s soft touch there is a fine balance between tension and generosity. It’s never easy to pick a favorite wine, especially if you’ve made it a habit of drinking well with Europe's best wine regions. That said, we can’t say which rosé in our collection tops our list, but if we were to choose the most complex and energized, it would probably be François Crochet's Sancerre Rosé made entirely of Pinot Noir. A textbook example of finely wrought Sancerre rosé, this is hard to keep your hands off, but keep in mind that it will age effortlessly for numerous years. (Tip: Don’t believe the myth about the ageability of rosé; especially Pinot Noir rosés from northern France. They are often even better the year following their release.) A short maceration on the skins here typically laces the wine's charming but deeply layered nose with the essence of elegant green citrus, sweet pink rose, passion fruit, and fresh green herbs. This wine gets top honors if you need a little extra complexity and tension in your rosé. Another wine that has reigned supreme for many restaurants we work with is Arnaud Lambert's Saumur-Champigny "Les Terres Rouges." It was and still remains one of our top sellers since we first began importing wine ten years ago. The vineyards that make up this lip-smackingly good wine are from Saumur-Champigny’s most southern commune, Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, which makes it one of the coldest areas of the appellation. The fragrant dark earth notes of Cabernet Franc may give the sensation of grapes grown in black soils with wet forest moss, grass and bramble. Its name translates to “the red earth,” but it's grown on light brown clay with alluvial sands atop a bed of stark white tuffeau limestone. The naturally cool harvest conditions of Saumur, the clay and limestone soils, and a life spent in stainless steel tanks renders this medium-bodied wine an absolutely refreshing red quaffer. Of course we have to have Beaujolais on this list! The young Chardigny boys are fast on their way to stardom and they’ve already caught the attention of a few French “natural wine” luminaries, like their southerly neighbor in Fleurie, Jean-Louis Dutraive, and over in the Jura, Jean-François Ganevat, who both have signed on to buy some of their beautiful, organically farmed fruit. The Chardigny Saint-Amour "a la Folie" leads with a punch of charming bright and full red fruit, freshly cut sweet green herbs and warm earthiness. The cellar aging takes place in a mix of concrete, stainless steel, and neutral oak barrels, which keeps the wine full of life. If a wine could indeed exemplify “love” in a bottle, this Saint-Amour may be it. From the moment the Pas de L'Escalette "Les Petit Pas" concept was created, the intention was to be a charmer from the getgo and not taken too seriously—hence the full color pinkish red label with neon green footprints. It's a multi-parcel blend of limestone terroirs with 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignan. It's bottled the spring that follows its harvest to keep it lively and bright. It’s perfect for warm weather because even though it's a red wine, with a little chill it loses nothing but doesn’t feel heavy under the sun. During fermentation they use a sort of soft infusion technique instead of the typical but stronger extraction methods (pigeage, pumpover, etc.) This renders a wine that bursts with fresh red and crunchy purple fruits. Not only does the Russo family’s organically-run cantina make fabulously good “price-sensitive” wines, they produce superb hazelnuts and many other delicious edibles, but their preserves get my full attention, especially the apricot jam. The Crotin Barbera d'Asti has been a constant favorite of many of our top Italian restaurants and others with Italian influenced cooking. It comes from likely the coldest section of Asti—quite close to Turin—which was the first area to be abandoned after WWII (because it had a train station while many other areas further south didn't!) and one of the last to be replanted since. It's a wine that showcases the classic qualities of Barbera, Piedmont’s most widely planted red grape. It’s fresh and textured with soft tannins and mouth-watering wild fruit qualities. Think of those Italian cooking nights without the need to hold the wine so precious; just let it lift your spirit and raise your glass to the brave of Italy trying to save their greatest treasures—nonna e nonno—who still gift our world with the ancient secrets of their splendid culture. After living in Campania for a year, I’ve become crazy for Aglianico (and the Amalfi Coast’s indigenous white grapes and their unapologetically upfront and friendly nature and perfection with salty fish and seafood). Madonna delle Grazie's "Messer Oto" Aglianico del Vulture, is a charmer too, and perhaps the cantina’s most versatile wine with potential to appeal to a broad range of drinkers. It maintains impressive aromas and freshness, while allowing its natural earthiness, beautiful red and dark fruits and an ethereal nose filled with smells of Italian herbs to freely move about the glass. It's named after a fountain in Venosa, from where you can see these vineyards off in the distance. Paolo Latorraca, the winegrower, commented that the wine should be easy to drink, like you're drinking from a fountain. Yes, it's like that. So we end on another truly high note in an ensemble of wines overloaded with talent and modest prices. Poderi Colla's Nebbiolo d'Alba is no ordinary Nebbiolo d'Alba. It sits on a hillside just across the road from Barbaresco vineyards on nearly the same dirt: sandy limestone marls. This estate in Colla's stable of three estates, known as Drago, has a quiet, legendary history; so much so that it inspired Bepe Colla, one of Barolo and Barbaresco’s legendary vignoli, to bet on it and make it the family cantina's home base. The Collas stop at nothing short of treating it with the same reverence in the cellar as they do their Bussia Barolo and Roncaglie Barbaresco. It’s made just the same (in large, old wooden botte) and aged for the same requirement as a Barbaresco—two years before bottling with more than nine months in wood; in this case, the wine is aged for a full year in wood. This is serious juice, and if you want to keep your budget straight and drink special wines on a regular basis at good prices, it’s a must.

Newsletter June 2021

Saint-Aubin vineyard facing Chassagne-Montrachet (maybe En Remilly?) Containers are finally landing As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, wines from Hubert Lamy, Simon Bize, Guiberteau, Brendan Stater-West, and Justin Dutraive are here. Due to the unpredictable delays at the port, Berthaut-Gerbet’s 2018s will unexpectedly arrive in June ahead of many others that were ordered a month earlier! The quality of Amelie Berthaut’s wines continue their ascent, and 2018 will be no exception. As usual, quantities are especially limited on all the wines except the first three Fixin in her range: the Fixin appellation wine, and the two lieux-dits, Les Clos and Les Crais.  Also on the docket are a few Italian goodies. Poderi Colla’s 2017 Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose is still the Barolo to beat for classically-styled wines with higher tones and a trim but substantial palate feel and structure. While in very close proximity, there is often some separation between Barolo and Barbaresco in overall style and level of success in each vintage. For any of you who already experienced Colla’s 2017 Barbaresco and its beautiful Nebbiolo perfume and quick-to-evolve tannins that everyone is ready for with this vintage, the 2017 Barolo is right in the same line. It was a warmer year, especially toward the end, which these days just means delicious earlier on with producers like Colla, whose sharp winemaker, Pietro Colla, appropriately adapts the program by working around any specific “recipe winemaking” agendas when the grapes are received. It also helps that his father, Tino, carries the family’s three hundred years of passed-down knowledge about how to manage the vineyards to achieve great results no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. And once again, the critics acknowledged the consistency of the work these days at the cellar and have rewarded them with complimentary reviews that continue to demonstrate Colla’s knack for consistency and reliability.  Riecine’s 2016 single site wines (Riecine di Riecine and La Gioia) are here too. It’s a vintage not to miss from the team at Riecine. Once Alessandro Campatelli was given the reins to do as he felt he needed, starting with the very clever move to bring back Carlo Ferrini, the enologist who put Riecine on the map in the 1970s and 80s. He also completely removed any new wood from the Riecine di Riecine wine and went all-in on concrete eggs for three years of cellar aging to preserve and also showcase all that beautiful fruit supported with nuances of savory characteristics. La Gioia is the bombastic wine in the range with unapologetic big red fruit and a sappy palate. The team has a lot of fun with their work and it shows in the wines.  Another real highlight is Chevreux-Bournazel (La Parcelle) is also finally reaching the shores of California. We’ve decided that we will call this Champagne “La Parcelle” because the pronunciation of the last names of Julien and Stéphanie are pretty difficult for most Americans. Rachel Kerswell, our National Sales Manager and New York Lead Salesperson, has the most experience with La Parcelle, outside of the many bottles I’ve been able to drink over the last two years here in Europe. My first taste was while I lived in the Amalfi Coast, in 2019. I asked Stéphanie to send some samples over, and there are few wines in the history of our company that were such obvious no-brainers to add to our list. Rachel has written a teaser on the wines, the allotment of which is extremely limited: 48 to 120 bottles of each of the three wines imported for the US. Champagne La Parcelle by Rachel Kerswell “Biodynamic rules seem simple for us. Working without chemical products, without mineral fertilization, without products in the wine and with life, with our animals, with the wild plants of our land, with cosmological influences …” – Stéphanie ChevreuxAmong the multitude of producers who have been looking beyond Champagne’s initial grower-producer movement—a movement of growers that began to break free of the big houses and to produce their own wines, typically focused on single plots—are two young and enthusiastic winemakers, Stéphanie Chevreux and Julien Bournazel, of Champagne La Parcelle. Since their debut vintage in 2012, they have been laser-focused on a more homeopathic approach, not only in the vineyards, but in the cellar too. Upon the acquisition of their first vineyard, a 0.4 ha parcel on the Côteau du Barzy,  Stéphanie and Julien immediately began the conversion to biodynamic practices, and to the naked eye it’s evident their land is happy and thriving. The cover crop is verdant with an array of wild thyme, carrots, tomatoes, fruit trees and all things life. The grapes are manually harvested during the cool, early morning hours, when it’s eleven to twelve degrees Celsius, before the short trip to their tiny cellar where they undergo a gentle press, followed by spontaneous fermentation in old tonneaux. Following the lunar calendar, battonage is performed regularly throughout the winter months to give the wines more “gras,” a welcome layer to balance the naturally high acidity. The wines are never racked (outside of the necessary moment just before bottling), filtered or fined, and SO2 levels are kept extraordinarily low (between 12-37 mg/L) and added just before bottling. 2017 La Parcelle, La Capella La Capella is a 0.38 hectare parcel on a very steep 45-degree slope planted predominantly to Pinot Meunier (90%). The vines are dense, at 5000-6000 per hectare, with small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris interplanted throughout. Deep layers of clay cover chalky subsoils at the bottom portion of the slope, while silex (chert), marne and limestone dominate the upper slope, where you can find just 10cm of topsoil in some sections. The vineyard is situated in a small meander that gets some of the most intense and direct winds within the valley, likely contributing to the natural salinity, yellow citrus and wild herbs, supported by a substantially vivacious and linear palate. The dosage is 4g/L. 2017 La Parcelle, Connigis Connigis is Stéphanie and Julien’s second and, so far, latest acquisition. Luckily, it has never been touched by chemical treatments and has been thriving since they bought it in 2016. The subsoil of this southwest facing, 0.28-hectare parcel on a 30-degree slope consists of hard limestone, chalk and marne, and has deeper clay topsoil throughout compared to its counterpart, La Capella. It is protected by natural borders and therefore benefits from more temperate conditions, resulting in a wine that shows more opulence and roundness upfront. After about thirty minutes open, the palate begins to show a fine sea-spray salinity that balances out ripe orchard fruit aromas, keeping this wine straight and delicate. It is composed entirely of Pinot Meunier and finished without any dosage. 2018 La Parcelle, Côteaux Champenois We have anxiously anticipated this wine from Stéphanie & Julien since we began importing their wines two years ago. Their production hasn’t grown since they acquired their second parcel, so it’s been a give-and-take to bring it to life. The give is 850 bottles of 2018 Côteaux Champenois, while the take is from Cuvée Connigis, which will now be even less available than it has been previously. After the must from Cuvée Connigis is racked into bottle for the secondary fermentation, a portion is left in tonneaux for an extra ten months. This extra time in wood brings just enough finesse to balance the natural electrical charge of this purely Pinot Meunier Côteaux Champenois, while maintaining impeccable balance. Pre-phylloxera vines in the Carremolino vineyard of César Fernández July Arrivals We are expecting a slew of Spanish wines to make their way in. From Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra, Fazenda Prádio should be the first in line in July with a microquantity of his top red wine from 2018 called Pacio. Wines from Adega Saíñas, another Ribeira Sacra producer from one of the colder zones, will follow shortly after Prádio. We’ll have a very small reload on some wines from Manuel Moldes, which evaporated in the first rounds in the bag with our sales team in California and New York. César Fernandez will hit too. César is the guy I’ve talked about in the previous newsletters who spent the last five years working with Comando G, in Gredos. He’s definitely one to watch, but the quantities of his wines from Ribera del Duero are minuscule at twenty cases for the entire country. Fazenda Pradio vineyard in Chantada, a colder sub zone of Ribeira Sacra Arnaud Lambert’s wines will be resupplied in July. Arnaud is killing it with his entire range and it’s honestly hard to keep them in good supply. First in will be the new vintages of Saumur wines from Clos de Midi and Clos Mazurique, and the Saumur-Champigny Les Terres Rouges. He continues to set the bar for price/quality/emotion with all three of these, and we have some of the cru wines arriving in the following months. In the past it was an all-we-could-buy supply, but he’s become more famous now (I guess we shouldn’t have done so much promoting!), so while we still get a great allocation because we were the first to bring his Brézé wines into the US, the world has caught on and the demand is very high. Plan for these when they arrive, or you might be waiting another year for the next vintage to hit. Anne Morey, of Domaine Pierre Morey Pierre Morey’s 2018s will also arrive, and the white Burgundies that I’ve had so far from this vintage have been a great surprise. We often think about the relationship between red and white in the same year, but in 2018 the whites fared very well and not too far off the mark from the previous year. I recently spoke with Paul Wasserman about it and he shared that many vignerons have vacillated between different theories about why the wines are so fresh compared to the reds, like the influence of the high dry extract and a year that somehow favored tartaric acid much more than the usual proportion of malic, which made for very little acidity loss during malolactic fermentation. Also, the higher yield slowed ripening enough and may have created a better balance of phenolic maturity with fresher acidity, and, finally, as I’ve been mentioning for a few years now, the vines may be somewhat adapting to climate change. Lifelong Road Warrior I hit the road again for a long trip through Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and Germany the day after my birthday on May 25th and will return home to Portugal just before the third week of July. I’m going solo since my wife decided she doesn’t like these lengthy marathons anymore, which means lots of windshield time with my own thoughts, on my own timeline, things I’m rarely afforded. I think better when I’m walking or driving and often wish I could be writing at the same time! I’m surprised that I can even put together coherent stories (which is still debatable, anyway) having to sit still for hours at a time. I’ve always needed to keep moving, which made going to school six or seven hours a day and two hours of church every weekend hard for me. Which might be part of why I didn’t do any more of that stuff after I turned eighteen… As elementary school kids, my two older brothers and my sister, Victoria, the youngest (who’s worked with us at The Source since the beginning), and I would find ourselves in the back of mom’s early 80s maroon Chevy station wagon (a color choice of which I’ll never understand) driving from Troy, Montana, an extremely podunk, thousand-person mining town in the northwest of the state, down through South Dakota and on to Minneapolis where we’d sometimes stop to see our uncle, Tom. Our terminus was in Eagle Grove, Iowa, for weeks with our other, much older half-brothers, and the rest of mom’s side of the family. It was on one of these trips when we stopped once for the view at Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park that I discovered my interest in rocks.  I always saved my money, which I mostly earned by sweeping the floor of my dad’s carpenter shop, for $0.10 an hour; I was clearly cheap labor, and seemingly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I spent every dime on little boxes with rocks glued to pieces of thick white paper, their names written below them, and every one of these were precious to me. They were my own personal little treasures that no one else seemed to care about. I especially loved fool’s gold, known in the science world as pyrite. It’s a beautiful mineral, worth nearly nothing, and more attractive to me than gold because I liked its angles and shine. Maybe I was a fool. Or maybe I just saw the value in things that others didn’t.  We passed through the Dakotas and what at the time seemed to be a strange desert landscape to kids who grew up in thickly forested, mountainous Montana countryside with wildlife literally at the front door, and then on into the endless cornfields of Iowa and what the folk musician Greg Brown referred to as “butterfly hills” in his live version of Canned Goods, where the car would go weightless for a second like a boat hitting a big wave while we all screamed and laughed and sometimes got nauseous. They seemed to go on forever and we eventually calmed down as they lost their appeal. I once played that Greg Brown song for my mom and by the end of it she had tears streaming down her face; his stories about Iowa in the days after the last Great War really hit her hard. These eidetic on-the-road memories are also fleshed out by a playlist that included Neil Diamond, Pavarotti, Hooked on Classics Part 1 (and 2 and 3 and…), Julio Iglesias, and Willie Nelson, especially Willie’s song, On The Road Again. Also, too many Hall and Oates songs to recount amid a blur of DTV—Disney’s 80s cartoon version of MTV for kids. My mom was a true romantic, and I’ve come to understand that more as I’ve gotten older. The music on those trips is a unique mix for me, and when I spend time with my wife’s mother, Nancy, down in Santiago Chile, we sometimes get a little sauced together late at night and drift back with Spotify to those deeply nostalgic musical moments. Sometimes I have to fight hard to keep the alcohol-induced tears from welling up, and I think she does too. They were such innocent times when we were kids, when our parents were the age I am now, and I’m sure they’re part of the reason why I’m always ready for the next trip. I like to relive those moments in the back of that ugly station wagon with the backseat always down so we could fall asleep whenever we got tired. We had to play games all day to keep busy so mom could stay focused on these long drives of death. At nighttime on the road, out in the pitch-black countryside with only the car’s headlights and the stars above to light the sky, we would rub our heads against pillows to create static electricity to watch the sparks fly in the dark. My brothers are pretty far along in balding, and I’m not terribly far behind them. Maybe we unknowingly created electrolysis with those pillows…  I don’t know how mom did it, but she’d sometimes drive 1,400 miles during endless summer days with these four unruly kids in the back, only stopping so we could go to the bathroom; other than Rushmore, there was hardly a stop along the route. Sometimes mom wouldn’t even make pit stops, she’d just pass back a cup for us to go in… Hungry? Drink a glass of water… She was pretty hardcore on trips, and some who’ve travelled with me on the wine route have accused me of being somewhere close to that—except that I have a lot more fun along the way and don’t hand over cups instead of a proper bathroom break. Sometime before mom passed away in 2017, while Andrea and I were on our honeymoon in Spain (there’s no good time for your mother to die), she made her final, long journey from California to Iowa in the middle of a winter storm, at age 78, alone. Afterward, she casually told us how she had been blown off the highway by a semi and into a ditch during a blizzard. It was freezing and a complete whiteout. She couldn’t see anything. Thankfully she was close to Iowa, so my oldest brother, Steve, went to get her out. Mom always excelled against unfavorable odds; I suppose having six kids in the world can be useful sometimes. Victoria was furious with her and made her promise not to do any more long trips alone. I don’t think she agreed to it, but it very soon lost its relevance, anyway.  About the time this newsletter is published I will have just arrived in Barbaresco to stay at Dave Fletcher’s rail station turned winery. I will have already passed from Portugal across Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rioja, up into western France’s Madiran for a visit with a very interesting producer (more on that later if everything works out!), across to the Langedoc to visit Julien and Delphine from Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette (always a mouthful to say that name), and a long overdue visit to my friends, Pierre and Sonya, and their massive Provençal country home outside of Avignon, known to the locals as Mas la Fabrique. Surely, I will have eaten loads of white asparagus during my two-day respite there before heading north to say hello to the Roussets, in Crozes-Hermitage.  After La Fabrique and Rousset, I’ll have cut across the Alps, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, popping out into Italy’s Valle d’Aosta and over to Northern Piedmont to visit with our group of four producers there: Monti Perini, Zambolin, Ioppa, and the new one, Davide Carlone. My old friends Daryl and John, Willie, Luciano, and Greg will surely have made many appearances through my Spotify feed before reaching Alba. (I usually save Julio and Neil for those nights with Andrea and my mother-in-law.) You’ll get the rest of the trip’s scoop over the next two months when it starts to get even more interesting as I make my way through Lombardian foothills, Alto Adige, Austria, Germany and back through Champagne, Chablis, Cote d’Or, and finally Beaujolais to conclude my French leg. In the meantime, I’ll post a few things on our Source Instagram @thesourceimports, as well as my own, @mindfullofwine, about things I’m learning along my trip. Until then, drink well! You never know what your last glass will be until after you’ve had it. Better make them all good ones.■