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Newsletter August 2022

Boca Vineyards of Davide Carlone located in the Alto Piemonte foothills of the Alps (Download complete pdf here) Prelude to our New Italian Arrivals Scene I Wines from Sicily, Campania, Liguria, Abruzzo, Lombardia, Valle d’Aosta, and even many parts of Piemonte, like Alto Piemonte, existed in relative obscurity up until less than a couple of decades ago, even for those considered “Italian Wine Specialists,” most of whom seemed to be from Italy. It was a time when boutique Italian wine importers found limited success in fine wine retail stores but couldn’t (and still can’t) break into the big-brand Italian restaurant wine lists. Slowly, they began to chip away at traditional restaurants run by Italians and the French-dominated import wine programs in restaurants outside of the corporate mold. Many restaurants that were already working heavily with boutique French wines had few openings in their small Italian section for something interesting. And of course, there were exceptions that were already ahead of the game. I remember pre-millenium sommeliers and wine-trade pros making fun of backwater areas in Italy that grew food-producing crops in-between vine rows (“what fools,” most of us blinkered wine pros thought), and that much of Italy was still nearly medieval. Many of Europe's great terroirs of that time were finely manicured dirt and rock vineyards with not much else that resembled anything natural. Cover crops were around, but we know that’s no substitute for a region’s natural biodiversity. Winegrowers that produced actual, edible food inside their vineyards for their family and animals were thought to be simple-minded. Many of us wondered how these rural Italians could possibly think they’d make high-quality, authentic, terroir-focused wines with all that mixed agricultural input from so much life and biodiversity between their rows taking energy away from the vine’s productivity. Most of us don’t think like that anymore at all.  Creative chef culture began to play with more Italian products and recipes mixed into their largely French-influenced food. These changes ever so slowly shucked sommeliers from the outdated Court of Master Sommeliers study program traditions that had little to do with indigenous Italian wines other than their glut of data-filled flashcards. The doors had finally started to creak open for small-house Italian importers to focus on this new terrain, and the momentum quietly began.  Recession in the late 2000s forced restaurants with deep cellars into a selloff. Furthering the movement toward smaller producers were the reduced budgets restaurants now had as they tried to return to normalcy and refill their cellar bins. They also shifted to much shorter lists with constantly changing selections, which not only opened the doors for those who had previously tried and failed to break in, but also for young and hungry new importers, like us. To support the uprising and force customers to venture away from Chianti, Brunello, and Super-Tuscans, some Italian restaurants even purposely began to leave them off of by-the-glass lists (and a few off their lists altogether), explaining that if they had a Chianti by the glass with the other nine reds poured, Chianti would sell 80% of the time, leaving some of the others to deteriorate before the last glass was poured. The indigenous Italian wine market cranked into full boom and it’s no longer a movement, it’s now an establishment. In 2004, after eleven years of bouncing around between more than a dozen restaurants and working three harvests in Santa Barbara wine country, I quit my final restaurant gig at the then famous Santa Barbara wine outpost, Wine Cask, where I was the Sommelier and Restaurant Manager. I sold all my possessions (except my small wine collection and some childhood collectibles) and headed off to Europe for a six-month bicycle trip through its famous cities (and hit their museums), and worked through just under a hundred wineries throughout Austria, Germany, Northern Italy, France and Northern Spain. I don’t know how many times I paged through A Moveable Feast during that time, and I finally felt like I was living that bohemian life for those six months—in a tent one day and a winegrower’s guest mansion the next; it’s a life that I often crave to reenter today. I haven’t been able to just up and quit a job like I used to, sometimes a couple times or more a year, ever since I started our wine brokerage and import company fourteen years ago.  My lengthy bike-powered pilgrimage that brought me through Barolo and Barbaresco kicked off a new beginning (or more accurately, obsession). Already lightly seasoned and interested in the epic Nebbiolo wines of the Langhe, it was the painful biking up Barolo’s steep and windy hills for visits with many famous vignaioli that gave me an even greater respect for these wines. We were often gifted with bottles from our tastings or managed to buy wines directly from the growers at a poor-bicycler discount to take back to our campsite and infuse ourselves with the intoxicating fog of Nebbiolo.  Most of the dozen or so restaurants where I worked before my time at Spago Beverly Hills and then Wine Cask had sparse selections of Italian wines but were flush with French and Californian, along with dashes from other countries here and there. Burgundy was, even in the early 2000s, still a slightly esoteric category for the general population. Often unaccounted for is the 2004 movie Sideways as one of the pivotal turning points of Burgundy’s move into the mainstream. With Pinot Noir’s place in the story as the protagonist and Merlot the antagonist—which was just too close to Cabernet for it to avoid collateral damage—it became the new global trend, absolutely crushing Syrah’s rise and bringing Merlot drinkers to an existential crisis. With many of these new Pinot enthusiasts (Noir seemed to be globally dropped from the name outside of label requirements, like Cabernet no longer needed its partner Sauvignon) with bigger budgets eventually graduating to Burgundy. It may be hard to believe for those who walked in the door in the last ten years, but wines like Beaujolais were not a significant category for even the mainstream wine enthusiast, and Jura was frightening for all but the fully committed Francophile with a high tolerance for the unusual. I admit, I myself took a while to come around to Jura wines too, but I certainly did. A Burgundy saying that must have gasped its dying breath about a decade ago that went, “Bought only on presell and closeout,” seems ridiculous now. The “presell” part of the saying remains truer than ever while the latter couldn’t be further from today’s market demand. Perhaps the start of the twenty-teens marked a turning point (at least for our company) where Burgundy importers no longer had to discount to finally get them out the door—with the exceptions of 2011 and 2014. Believe it or not, around 2009, a Beverly Hills wine merchant closed out some 2005 and 2006 wines from Jean Grivot, D’Angerville, and even some Roumier, among many other producers represented in the US by Diageo. I paid about $30-$60 per bottle, depending on the cru.  The wine world has gone completely mad on pricing. Elite and micro-producer prices are embarrassingly stupefying and never worth the price, and the great secrets once whispered only among the trade are a thing of the past, seemingly for good. Only ten or fifteen years ago you could find truly amazing deals, or at least easy access to just about every top wine from Burgundy without any additional and unusually high markups. In Southern California (surely elsewhere too, but this is where I used to snag them), D.R.C. could be found inside grocery store glass cabinets in Santa Barbara with standard markups (including La Tache and Romanée-Conti); Rousseau’s Clos Saint-Jacques and Clos de Bèze collected dust at Wally’s; Clos Rougeard and Thierry Allemand were kicked around the concrete floor at Wine House for probably an entire year before the last bottles found a home, and gray market Fourrier and Raveneau sat across each other bored for months in different corners of Wine Exchange, waiting for me to drop in and fill an entire grocery cart for $60 or $70 a bottle—a little extra on top for the time, but pennies compared to today.  Piemonte’s Langhe wine regions have also had a severe uptick in interest and investment in the last years. Like all the other great wines, I could walk into those same L.A. retailers ten years ago and get just about anything I wanted: G. Contero, G. Rinaldi, G. & B. Mascarellos, Burlotto (which had an outrageous climb from $60 to about $300 in two years), etc. The greats of Barolo (more than Barbaresco) seemingly snuck right out of reach in only a couple of years for those of us with modest and medium budgets, just as Burgundy did more than a decade ago. These unwelcome departures left many of us unquenched for the noble tastes and particular house styles. Truly great Barolo and Barbaresco can still be found at fabulous prices (just look at Poderi Colla), but there are so many with medium to high prices that are more likely to underdeliver than live up to expectations.  Fret not, dear reader! It’s not a time solely for lamentations for our past access to today’s elites! The horizon is always full of new arrivals from forgotten or overlooked lands that once shined with success before falling out of sight, many of which were showered with praise by the royalty of the past, their noble grapes preserved by generations of working-class heroes who kept them alive. But with the price increase crisis of the Langhe and soon Alto Piemonte, how can any other Piemonte region compete in quality with Barolo, Barbaresco, and the wines of Alto Piemonte? Where in Piemonte could possibly be next? My hunch might surprise you, or maybe it won’t because you’re already on the trail… La Casaccia’s Monferrato vineyards in Cella Monte Prelude to our New Italian Arrivals Scene II The Monferrato hills are filled with untapped potential. Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking: “Come again?” (Long pause) But please, allow me to explain. How exciting can Monferrato possibly be? Does the market even take this region seriously? These were regular thoughts when we first began to focus on importing Italian wine in 2016. Prior to then, my company that predated The Source brokered Italian wines in California for almost a decade with a few different Italian importers. The importers we worked with played a quiet but influential role in the emergence of backwater Italian wines. One was strong in Italian and French “natural” wine producers before natural wine stormed the market. (Eventually he went out of business, partially because he was way ahead of his time, and the other part was that in the end he was a crook.) The other continues to successfully run a collection focused on clean craftsmanship with most of the selection from the Italian road less traveled. Each had their token price-point Monferrato producer or two, usually a couple Barbera d’Asti, but not much more.  I never set out to plant a big flag in the Monferrato/Asti area. Like the Italian wine importers I once worked with, I was in search of a token Asti producer to supply us with some value Barbera. Then something happened, something that has happened many times before: I witnessed potential that needed a strong and friendly nudging. Sette’s Vino Bianco Exciting Potential? How? Why? Who? Monferrato’s first advantage starts with the fact that they have few expectations for the wines they produce. (Probably the most pertinent is the expectation that they should have good prices and be cheaper than Langhe wines.) Most importantly, many don’t play the Nebbiolo game, so they don’t have the burdensome weight of navigating today’s grape royalty. Nebbiolo-land comes with familial and regional baggage. The iron-grip of the most recent generational lines that built the family up from the poorest area of Italy to one of its wealthiest isn’t keen to let the kids wander too far off the path. Ok, they can tinker with Dolcetto, or even Barbera, but Nebbiolo used for their Barolos and Barbarescos? The vignaioli of Barolo and Barbaresco are no longer just grape farmers and winemakers, they’re bigtime businesspeople, and their task now is to push the same rock, the same direction, every vintage. Monferrato’s fewer expectations can lead to freer thinking as a community. Freer thinking leads to greater experimentation. Experimentation leads to breakthroughs. Breakthroughs change the game. When games change, people follow. Monferrato has their own historical grapes, which means they won’t always be second or third division Nebbiolo land. They can be first division Barbera, first division Freisa, first division Ruchè, and, what I believe could be the most significant category uptick, they undoubtedly will be first division Grignolino—a variety that was considered grape royalty for centuries.  Another advantage is that they have the terroir with enough talent to go beyond “good value wine” and into the world-class. The ingredients are there: limestone and chalk with extremely active calcium, sandy limestone, gently sloping hills (preferential to steep ones with looming climate change toward hotter temperatures) with great variations of soil grain to put grapes on their most favorable soil types (Grignolino on sand, Freisa on clay, Barbera in the middle), tremendous biodiversity with swaths of indigenous forest between vineyard parcels and sometimes right in the middle of them along with a multitude of intended crops (well beyond the occasional hazelnut grove as seen in much of the Langhe’s prized vineyard areas where grapes aren’t suitable), and a climate that’s conducive to organic and biodynamic vineyard culture. Vineyard soil cut demonstrating the layered geology at La Casaccia of limestone, chalk, limestone-rich clay and siliceous sands The x-factor here is that Monferrato’s growers surely include ambitious and creative kids with dreams to build. Their parents and grandparents lived in relative isolation in this Italian backcountry while other nearby regions went from poverty to wealth in a single generation. Most of the Gen Xers are in the family driver’s seat, the Millennials are working side by side with mom and dad, and the Zoomers are at school, and all three of these generations are exposed to the world around them through their social media feeds. They have witnessed the incredible success of Langhe. They see that their northerly wine neighbor Alto Piemonte is not only rising, but it has also arrived in a big way. They realize the potential of the natural wine movement and many will want a piece of it. (But do it cleanly, please!). There are now openings to make whatever style of wine they want because there are fewer shackles; they can stay and improve on the traditional course passed down for generations and/or get creative in their own way and veer from tradition. Whatever the path they choose, I think they will have more freedom than the average kids of Barolo or Barbaresco, in fact, more freedom than any other Nebbiolo-focused region. Another factor is immigration, and I don’t mean people from other countries, but those from neighboring Langhe. With the increase in frequency of the Piemontese selling their most prized vineyards to foreign investors for fortunes nearly impossible to recoup in the wine business (that is, without flipping the property to the next high-bidding trophy hunter), how does any financially challenged Langhe youngster filled with inspiration and great knowhow (from a family that works for the landowner or in the cellar) get out of first gear? They have to move.  This is what happened with the young Gianluca Colombo and his business partner, Gino Della Porta, with their new Nizza-based winery established in 2017. Gianluca is a consultant for many reputable Langhe producers, and he also makes his own small production Barolo wine. Gino is a mastermind, connected throughout the wine world, responsible for helping develop one of Italy’s most important importers, and helping to manage some of Italy’s most recognizable small cantinas. Only minutes into meeting this two-person comedy act, with their incredible proficiency and ambition for their project, I knew they would be a force; not only a force for their own project, but I am sure they, and others walking the same road into Monferrato, will inspire other producers in the Monferrato hills to break through the glass ceiling of their own making.  Two New Monferrato Producer Snapshots (Their wines covered in greater detail further below) Sette's Gino Della Porta and Gianluca Colombo Sette, Nizza Monferrato The Monferrato/Asti area is Piemonte’s new wine laboratory, and experimentation is extensive at Sette, where they’re looking to expose new dimensions of their local indigenous varieties. The comedic and talented duo of the experienced wine trade pro, Gino Della Porta, and well-known enologist, Gianluca Colombo, founded Sette in 2017 with the purchase of a 5.8-hectare hill in Bricco di Nizza, just outside of Nizza Monferrato. Immediately, a full conversion to organic farming began, followed by biodynamic starting in 2020, the latter being a vineyard culture still considered somewhat radical in these parts. The wines are crafted and full of vibrant energy with focus and only a soft polish. There’s the slightly turbid and lightly colored, juicy, fruity, minerally Grignolino, and their two serious but friendly Barberas, among other goodies that will trickle in with time. Sette’s game-changing progressive approach and delicious wines (with total eye-candy labels) should ripple through this historic backcountry and bring greater courage to the younger generations to break out of the constraints of the past and move full throttle into the future. La Casaccia's Rava family, Elena, Margherita and Giovanni La Casaccia, Casale Monferrato Even in Italy it may be impossible to find a vignaiolo who emits as much bubbling enthusiasm and pure joy for their work than La Casaccia’s Giovanni Rava; la vita è bella for Giovanni and Elena Rava, and their children, Margherita and Marcello. Working together in a life driven by respect for their land and heritage, they also offer accommodations in their restored bed and breakfast for travelers looking for a quieter Italian experience. Their vines are organically farmed and scattered throughout the countryside on many different slopes with strong biodiversity of different forms of agriculture and untamed forests teeming with wild fruit trees. Their traditionally crafted range of wines grown on soft, stark white chalk with layers of eroded sandstone are lifted, complex and filled with the humble yet exuberant character of the Rava family. New Italian Wine Arrivals Monferrato Reds Grignolino is coming. I don’t just mean that we have some arriving this month (which we do), I mean Grignolino is coming. We have seen a considerable increase in interest since our first batch arrived from Luigi Spertino, followed by Crotin’s—the latter of which easily fits into the by-the-glass range, while the former does not. We went from about a hundred cases between the two each in our first years to more than triple that this year with none left in stock six months after their arrival. Grignolino is coming, I say! This year, with the addition of our two new producers, Sette and La Casaccia, we have doubled that quantity just for the California market, and it's only double because that’s all the producers could provide. Grignolino is the perfect Piemontese grape variety for today’s market. Its pale color is enticing and reminiscent of fresher vintage Nebbiolos with those unique Giuseppe Mascarello-red tones but with an even lighter hue. Seduced by their constant emissions of pheromonal scents fluttering out of the glass, accented with dainty, sweet red and slightly purple flowers, tart but just ripe berries and a little flirt of that indescribable but inimitable Piemonte red wine spice and earth, I remain smitten, if not completely infatuated. Superficially, simply made Grignolino is invitingly poundable, delicious fun, but in more intimate encounters its interior strength reveals firmness, respectability, nobility.  Mauro Spertino’s Grignolino, labeled with his late father’s name, Luigi Spertino, is what spurred my crush on this grape. Mauro (pictured above) has the magic touch surely mostly learned from his father, who revolutionized the method in which to navigate this charming grape that has a thin skin but more tannin-rich seeds than other Piemontese grapes, including Nebbiolo. Mauro is a bit of a magician in the cellar, so there’s no doubt that he took it to the next level to where it is today. Many think his Grignolino leads the category in Piemonte, and I agree. One answer for tannin management with this seed-heavy grape is to employ shorter macerations with pressing once the interior grape membranes break down, but prior to fully exposing the seeds to the alcohol when the extraction of these harder tannins can happen. With this approach, one can also pick earlier to highlight the variety’s natural charm with an even redder, crunchier spectrum of fruit ripeness—for me, the hallmark characteristics I think serve this wine better than those with more wood contact and ripeness on the vine. All of this makes for a wine with a lot of pleasure while retaining its regional DNA. Grignolino seems to me to be close in its ethereal characteristics to Nebbiolo. Grignolino’s time in the sun is on the morning horizon. Ideal for today’s consumer in search of lighthearted but authentic and terroir-rich wines, it offers the classic cultural tastes and smells of the Piemontese wine, but under the right touch with much less pain. Piemontese reds are known to beg for food, but despite Grignolino’s naturally high acidity and Dolcetto’s bigger tannins (another underrated, delicious Piemontese grape) they don’t need food to deliver harmony and are quite fun to drink alone. Both are immediately accessible and fair well when made with a simple approach in the cellar, unmarked by wood aging if wood is employed at all.  According to Ian D’Agata in his book (a must for anyone serious about Italian wine, or just simply interested), Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, the Grignolino wines were prized as far back as the thirteenth century but lost favor in the last thirty years and were replanted with other grapes that had a stronger market value in the Langhe and elsewhere. D’Agata pushes the merits of Grignolino in his book and loves the wines, and I understand why. I’m only a little disappointed that it took so long for me to see its light! It seems to have all the ingredients to really thrive in today’s market that’s more than willing to pay for the highest levels of nobility and extremely fine subtlety in the sip. I would even venture a guess that if Grignolino had held court in prized Langhe vineyards that with today’s swing for many from power to elegance, it may have held the number two spot just below Nebbiolo, leaving Barbera and Dolcetto to duke it out for third. I think Grignolino can be that good but clearly within the more gentle wine context, it can have big tannin and acidity. What brave soul would dare rip out Nebbiolo in a prime position in Barolo or Barbaresco to see what happens with Grignolino in its perfect spot? Any takers?? Maybe many would need to get over their addiction to the smell of money first… In places like north Monferrato, under the labels of Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese, they can be gorgeous and with, on the average, a little more substance due to their greater limestone marl content mixed in with sand than Grignolino d’Asti’s sandier soils, without losing their freshness and charm. Of course, these regional soil elements vary from plot to plot, so broad generalizations often need to be thrown out the window. Between the Grignolino from our first producer from the area, Crotin, followed by Spertino’s game-changing wines, and now wines from both La Casaccia and Sette, we have a very special collection.  Starting with what I perceive as the most elegant and light of all these perfumed and somewhat dainty Grignolinos is Luigi Spertino’s Grignolino d’Asti. About as lithe as a red wine can be, its light red, slightly orange-tinted hue is pale enough that in a dimly lit room you might think there’s nothing in the glass until you hold it up to a light to illuminate its striking color. Despite the lightness of the wine, a rosé it is not. The palate is a showcase of fragrant classic varietal notes of fresh berries and subtle but sweet, darker-hued flowers, and its light but firm texture marks the separation from what a rosé would maintain, as do the complexities of the grape skin phenols forged through the fermentation with a longer skin contact (which is about eight to twelve days, depending on the year). After four or five months in steel, the wine is bottled.  All four are elegant, but perhaps next in line for the most elegant is Sette’s Grignolino Piemonte DOC, a wine that will not arrive until some months from now. Its delightful turbidity and time spent in Tava amphoras for eight months coupled with its sandy soils brings a more lightly creamy texture and body resulting in a more playful interaction. (Tava amphoras are cooked at extremely high temperatures which tightens the porosity significantly over those cooked at lower temperatures, leading to customized micro-oxygenation level for Sette’s amphoras that have similar porosity to that of a 15/20hl oak barrel and also impart no taste to the wines.) My first bottle of their 2020 convinced me that I could easily make it one of my weekly pulls from the cellar. Riding the line between well-polished, medium structure and texture, this finely tuned Grignolino is bottled fun, just like the owners of their project, Gino and Gianluca. Unfortunately, similar to Spertino’s Grignolino, it will be in short supply when it arrives in early fall.  La Casaccia’s Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese “Poggeto” could be viewed as sharing the middle spot with Sette on the elegance chart. There may be no region more historically famous for high quality Grignolino that still focuses on this grape as a category leader than the areas around Casalese. I’m newly addicted to the style of the La Casaccia wines crafted with the mind, big heart and happiness of Giovanni Rava and his wife, Elena, and their charming, contemplative daughter Margherita. Always grown on the top of the hills on the sandiest soils loaded with chalk, the wines are filled with the spirit of deep joy and generosity of the family delivered with impeccable craftsmanship. La Casaccia’s style may be the most classical in the sense that they don’t go to the extremes as Sette with their modern touch of turbidity coupled explosive aroma, or Spertino’s sushi-style Grignolino, but rather an ode to the traditional craft in search of a spherical balance throughout the entire wine.  Crotin’s Grignolino d’Asti “San Patelu” may be the most glycerol and full-colored but bright red for this naturally pale variety between the four. The Grignolino at this cantina always shows the nuances of the vintage but typically leads with dense but bright perfumes of the grape’s classical notes, a little Ruchè-like in perfume and weight, in a Burlotto-esque, Verduno Pelaverga way, senza le note di pepe bianco. Crotin’s Grignolino usually shows the greater structure between the group, likely a hallmark of their comparatively colder region, and the direction of the family with the advice of Cristiano Garella, their consulting enologist with a sharp eye for detail and an unflappable commitment to finding the truth in wine without applying any greasepaint for the international market. Ruchè caught me off-guard. I don’t recall tasting this grape prior to a few years ago at the cellar of Crotin with some of our staff and the other co-owner and General Manager of The Source, Donny Sullivan, and I don’t think anyone who tasted some would forget it. I saw a bottle of Ruchè sitting around in the restaurant of their agriturismo with a label on it I didn’t recognize, so I asked about it. Federico Russo, the eldest of the brotherhood (and seemingly their leader), happily pulled the cork as he told me that they made the wine for that winery. As explosive as any wine can be out of glass, it had an array of perfumed bright red berries, red ripe stone fruit and spice brightened my face with delight. My first thought wasn’t whether I liked it or not, but was a realization that today’s market interested in unapologetically perfumy and delicious wines could blister through a wine like the one in my glass, wowing first-timers with its pleasure bludgeon. (This especially applies to winebar by-the-glass programs.) About two minutes later I blurted out, “This wine is delicious,” with Donny nodding his head in time with mine, scrunching his eyes and giving me his half-smile that says, “This is a no-brainer.” So I asked Federico, “Can you make some for us?” Shortly after returning to Portugal, Federico sent me a six-pack of the Ruchè producers he thought were best representative of the region to give me a better context. Most of the wines were quite high in alcohol, which made them harder to appreciate than the one he made, which was 13.5%. Crotin’s 2021 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato “Monterosso” is the second year they’ve bottled the wine that they had already been making, this time in their cellar under their own label. Our first year we brought in fifty cases to test the market and, after a strong showing that made short work of the 2020, this year we have more than double the quantity, though we could’ve easily bought a couple hundred cases more if they’d had the stock. The grapes come from an organically farmed site mostly on an alternation of contrasting red soils with a lot of iron and chalky limestone. The wine is raised in stainless steel vats until the following summer for bottling. Crotin’s style contains this flamboyant variety; it’s nuanced rather than pushy, and it’s easy to say yes to a second glass, unlike five of the six he sent me that clocked fifteen degrees or more of alcohol. I believe Ruchè has an opportunity in today’s market, but from a long-game perspective, the other producers may need to reel in the punchy fruit and spice, otherwise the grape may burn brightly on the market for a minute only to fizzle out just as quickly. After Grignolino, Freisa slowly worked its way into my favor, and one day I met the one I wanted to marry. I never paid much attention to it other than being privy to its genetic relation to Nebbiolo but being known for lacking the same level of finesse, depth and ageability. What put Freisa into my radar initially were the ones from the great producers like G. Rinaldi, G. and B. Mascarellos, Cavallotto, Brovia, and Vietti, who all keep it in their ranges still. (They must still have them for a good reason, no?) It’s true that youthful Freisa can approach with the grace of an angry bull, but in the right hands, it’s untamed nature can at least be harnessed and led toward a gentler appeal so that maybe it ages into something unexpectedly wonderful. I have a hunch that Freisa will eventually gain the respect of the general international community of Italian wine lovers. It just needs the right ambassadors, although the mentioned Barolo producers are not a bad start! However, it’s merely a guess because I don’t know, but I bet the Freisa still grown in Barolo and Barbaresco is positioned on the vineyard in subordinate locations to Nebbiolo. Few winegrowers can justify keeping Freisa in a prime time Nebbiolo spot, if not only for historical preservation, then for financial reasons. I don’t plan to stand on the hilltop to shout the universal merits of Freisa as I will with Grignolino (although there is one that swept me off my feet), but at the very least I’d say it’s an inexpensive entry-ticket to authentic Piemontese reds that covers all the bases and can under the right shepherding and prime vineyard position yield very special results. In a Decanter article I read about Freisa, Ian D’Agata is quoted as saying that aged Freisa is sometimes hard to distinguish from Nebbiolo. Despite my lack of experience with this, I believe him. Crotin’s Freisa d’Asti is one of those wines crafted in a traditional way, despite spending all of its time in concrete and stainless steel. What I mean by traditional (which I don’t think was specifically concrete aging for a short period as they do) is that the wine is not vinified to embellish the fruit. It’s built on structure and subtle aromas and in context within the full range of Crotin’s other reds—Barbera, Grignolino, Ruchè, and now some Nebbiolo—it’s the most savory and least fruity wine in the range, although it still has plenty of fruit that comes through more when enjoyed independently of the other wines. This version is for the old-guard Italian wine lovers, and for the price it makes it all the more attractive for the same seasoned buyer who gets sticker shock around every corner of the Italian section of the wine shop now; well, except with wines from the Monferrato hills! I don’t know what Giovanni Rava did with La Casaccia’s Freisa Monferrato “Monfiorenza,” but it swept me off my feet. Their Grignolino is lovely and one of the best concrete-aged, fresh, beautiful, and substantive wines in the Grignolino world, but their Freisa rendered me speechless with an ear-to-ear smile the first time I drank a bottle of the 2019 last summer with the family on a breezy and warm summer night. I didn’t know Freisa could do that! I went to La Casaccia to ask Giovanni for their Grignolino’s hand in marriage but left the alter with his Freisa! That day I also had the best wild cherries in my life—clearly a day to remember. I’m not sure about this wine’s ageability, but who cares; it’s a wine to feast on in its youth and wait as patiently as possible for the next scrumptious batch. We received only 60 boxes of the 2019 vintage but a lot more of the 2021 is in route soon. I think the 2021 is going to be just as good. Despite its non-native status in Monferrato, Barbera is the local sheriff and the breadwinner. Apparently, the variety originated in southern Italy centuries ago (perhaps Sicily or Campania, but the debate about its origin and actual arrival to Piemonte is still alive) and began its mass proliferation sometime after phylloxera hit. Today, it’s ubiquitous in much of Piemonte and there is a lot of it in the marketplace, which, thankfully, keeps the prices down, even from producers in Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbera is indeed a bit of an outsider in Piemonte. It’s easy to spot in a blind tasting of Piemontese wines because of its abundance of acidity and lack of tannins—the exact structural inverse of Dolcetto. It also typically requires a greater alcohol potential to achieve phenolic ripeness that moves it away from hardened tannins (the few that it has) and the potential for unbalanced high acidity. Barbera is also uniquely suited for its best results with warm summer weather during the daytime and nighttime, the opposite of the others Piemontese grapes that need the daytime heat but colder nights to reach their heights—another clue to its possible origin from the south where day and nighttime temperatures don’t fluctuate like those in the north or deep inside the Apennine range.  Monferrato is a Piemontese territory that dates to medieval times and includes much of today’s provinces of Asti and Alessandria. It’s a little confusing how they separate the region out, but think Toscana with its two main wine provinces, Siena and Firenze (although there are ten Toscana provinces in total). We have delicious Barbera wines coming in from all four of our producers, but they are also all quite different. Both Crotin’s Barbera d'Asti and La Casaccia’s Barbera del Monferrato “Guianìn” are classically styled Monferrato Barbera without much “hand in the wines.” Both are raised in neutral, non-wood vessels and grown on calcareous sands with Casaccia’s a higher content of chalk. Perhaps Crotin’s is more defined in acidic profile and slightly denser body with darker fruits only nuanced by red. La Casaccia’s is gentler and less compact but with the same depth as Crotin’s. Our two Asti producers of Barbera, Sette and Spertino, make two very different wines inside its most revered appellation, Nizza, the newest member (since 2008) of the Italian DOCG family. Nizza is special and what many consider to be the leader for this grape variety for the entire globe. As many writers add to that shared belief, the Langhe could be the top spot were it not for the prized exposures reserved entirely for Nebbiolo—and rightly so! Sette produces two different Barberas, both grown inside the Nizza DOCG, within the commune Nizza Monferrato, from the same 5.8ha plot in conversion to organic (2017) and biodynamic culture (2020) on a south face composed of calcareous marls and sandstones: one bottled as Barbera d’Asti, made from vines with between 20-40 years old on chalk and sandstone, and the Nizza (also composed entirely of Barbera; pictured above), from mostly 80-year-old vines on limestone, chalk and sandstone. For both Barbera d'Asti and Nizza they use an old Piedmontese winemaking technique of waiting for the must to reach 10-11 degrees of alcohol and then use a wooden grid to submerge the cap for a more gentle infusion approach for the latter two-thirds (or more) of the maceration time to softly extract while the wines reach their textural balance as it is tasted daily. This process lasts between 30 to 50 days, depending on the vat and the year, with Nizza always a bit longer than the Barbera d’Asti. Following the pressing, the Barbera d’Asti makes at least a year of aging in the cellar with concrete vats prior to bottling and release, while the Nizza is aged for a year in 30hl Stockinger barrels followed by six months in concrete. The result for both of these wines is their softer structure than the typical Barberas from the Langhe, but also with more savory notes and more profound depth. Sette’s Barberas are extremely serious wines with massive potential. They are on the more technically tight craft side without sacrificing their approachability and friendliness. Sette is an extremely promising new cantina. Spertino’s Barbera “La Bigia” is another demonstration of Mauro’s alchemistic touch and the unique signature on his wines. I never imagined that a Barbera could taste and evoke such emotion as his, and in this fuller style. He somehow manages to create duality between bright light and deep darkness in the same wine. Its twenty-year-old vines grow in sandy calcareous soil and the grapes spend around twenty days fermenting, then the wine is aged in the cellar for half a year in old 5000-liter botte. Aromas of a dense, fresh wet green forest, with taut but mature wild black berries, black currant and a potpourri of underbrush swirl out of the glass. The palate is powerful, supple and refined, like the final polish on a marble sculpture. The naturally bright acidity inherent to Barbera keeps this brooding wine that tips the scales in alcohol content toward modern-day Barolo while remaining in perfect harmony. Like all of Mauro’s wines, this is singular unto itself and must be experienced. Monferrato Whites I didn’t realize it until I began to write, but the only three white wines we import from Monferrato are all very different and a little atypical for the region.  Mauro Spertino’s range is unique in that he has both wines that are full, powerful and still graceful, while others are ethereal, subtle and as light as can be while still maintaining a clear voice of their terroirs. Spertino’s Metodo Classico fits into the latter realm. Mauro’s 2018 was a thrilling start for his first try at it (but still not surprising with this guy’s golden touch), and the arriving 2019 is a natural step up for a few reasons: it was a better year for Pinot Noir than the hot 2018 vintage, and he had one more year under his belt to make his preferred micro-tweaks. The vines were recently planted toward the top of his extremely steep, sandy calcareous vineyard in Mombercelli, but cleverly placed on its north face to preserve as much freshness as possible. The wine is vinified in stainless steel and spends twenty-four months on its lees before disgorgement. It’s very pretty wine. La Casaccia’s Chardonnay is grown on almost pure chalk and it tastes like it. It’s a fabulous alternative for those in search of terroir-dense limestone Chardonnays with a smile-inducing price tag. It’s probably true that no one is rushing out in search of Monferrato Chardonnay, but if zippy, fresh, and minerally Chardonnay is your thing, you should give it a go. It’s loaded with all of that indescribable magic imparted by extremely calcareous soils—think Burgundy’s stainless-steel Chablis, or Hautes-Côtes Chardonnays. I expect our first batch to evaporate at its bargain price.   We know Moscato as a still wine is one of the hardest sells. Once I received Sette’s Bianco entirely from Moscato, I was skeptical as I pulled the cork. (Though its gorgeously inviting label, pictured further above in the newsletter, could sell just about anything inside.) I tried so hard not to like it before tasting it because I could already imagine it on our closeout list. However, once in the glass you may share my same surprise. The annoying, cloying characteristics of Moscato are absent and all that’s left are its most flamboyant traits, toned down by its eight-hour skin contact before fermentation, its aging in Tava amphoras, and its light leesy haze. There are so many pleasantries it’s hard to dislike, even if it’s not your typical style. Stylistically, there may not be a much better pairing for nigiri sushi with its floral and gentle spice notes, and texture similar to unfiltered sake, a perfect match for sticky rice under raw fish with ginger and wasabi. Alto Piemonte Fabio Zambolin, Costa della Sesia/Lessona My visit last year was business as usual, nothing particularly new to report, just another good time with Fabio and his delicious wines. But a couple months ago during our visit, I found him and his tiny production overwhelmed by orders from all over Italy. Restaurants were asking for unusually high quantities of both wines—apparently the result of a series of tastings in Rome and Milan. Last year we took greater quantities before the demand went through the roof and we have the same this year despite the newfound fan base. Lucky us!  Both of Zambolin’s new arrivals are 2019s, a Piemontese vintage we’ve all waited for since the grapes came off the vine. It lives up to the hype and I suggest if you want these you should speak up soon. We are not yet sure if that frenzy from Italy will carry over into the US too. As many of you who already follow Fabio, you know that his garage-sized operation and his tiny plots of land are in and around one of Alto Piemonte’s most historically celebrated regions, Lessona. Fabio has a bureaucratic challenge in that his winery is out of the Lessona appellation but his vineyards are inside its borders. This makes his wine only qualify as Costa della Sesia appellation. His Costa della Sesia Nebbiolo “Vallelonga” is purely Lessona from a terroir perspective. The overall style here is finesse over power, a combination offered to the wine because of its sandy volcanic soils, and, of course, Fabio’s stylistic preferences. Zambolin’s Costa della Sesia “Feldo” is also grown inside of Lessona but doesn’t adhere to the grape proportions required to fit within Lessona’s DOC rules. A field blend of old-vine Nebbiolo, Vespolina and Croatina, I never imagined this blended Piemontese wine without a dominant grape variety would be one of our top sellers; Feldo continues to prove my first instincts wrong with every delivery. It has gobs of festive aromas and flavors (at least compared to other wines in an area known for often producing more solemn, strict wines in their youth), with even a dash of pretension—it’s well-made Northern Italian glou glou. There’s a lot of seriousness tucked in there too—not surprisingly considering the perfectionism with which Fabio organically farms his vineyards and his meticulous work in the cellar. David Carlone, Boca We finally have our second batch of Davide Carlone’s wines arriving. The first set was gobbled up in a craze during my visit to California in November, when I showed them on three different occasions with our teams between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. (Big shout out to SD! The restaurant scene down there is happening; I was impressed.) Most of the buyers looked bewildered, like “Where have these been all my life?” I thought the same thing the first time I tasted Davide’s new wines too and was convinced he is the real deal; someone to contend with, and someone to know. His newest releases will not disappoint. When we first started to work with Davide only a little more than a year ago, there was plenty of wine to buy—post-Pandemic stocks. But since then we’ve already been moved into the allocation game because of the high demand.  We were able to circle back for some more of the very successful 2018 Croatina, but the rest are new vintage wines. The 2019 Vespolina was one of the stars of our first showing and for many tasters it was their the top single-varietal bottling of Vespolina. The follow-up vintage, 2020 Vespolina is strong despite tough competition from the glorious 2019. The 2019 Nebbiolo is a shoo-in: it’s one of best vintages on record with an ideally lengthy season (with the well-known Alto Piemonte enologist, Cristiano Garella, claiming it was the best of his professional life that started in 1998); it is perhaps the world’s most compelling red grape among only one or two contenders for top spot. It delivers high-altitude freshness with full solar exposure contrasted by cold Alpine nights grown on volcanic rock, a multitude of special biotypes (about eight or nine in this vintage with more to come), and utterly pure Nebbiolo goodness raised in steel. The 2018 Boca is a spice rack of Nebbiolo biotypes (minimum of 85% Nebbiolo at Carlone) with 15% Vespolina. Both go through spontaneous fermentations on the skins (fully destemmed) for around a month for the Nebbiolo, and the Vespolina for 14-18 days. The wine is aged in 25hl Slovenian oak botti for eighteen months and then prepared for bottling. The different biotypes from all over Piemonte give this wine a great breadth of complexity, allowing it to hit a broad chromatic range of octaves from tenor to baritone to bass, all in wonderful harmony. However, the biotypes with bigger structure (mostly from the south, in Langhe) are reserved for this wine, while the more delicate ones are used for Adele. The 2017 Boca “Adele” prompted me to personally get in the game with Carlone by cellaring some wine in the US and Portugal. Boca Adele, named after Davide’s grandmother and his niece, is the higher toned of the two Bocas. It is made the same as the Boca appellation wine and is also a blend of 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina but is mostly composed of the picotener family of Nebbiolo biotypes which typically impart more elegance and softness to the wine than the clones from further south. Adele’s final blend is decided by blind tastings, but Davide and Cristiano tend to favor the picotener biotypes (particularly 423 and 415, which they describe as having wild fruit with a greater retro nasal finish and a stronger vibrancy that lingers longer on the palate). It’s a refreshing hallmark of some producers in Alto Piemonte, particularly many who work with Cristiano, that the top wines are often the most elegant and sometimes the lowest in alcohol, whereas many regions continue to place the “bigger” wines at the top of their hierarchy. Ioppa, Ghemme Ioppa continues their steady rise under the direction of enologist Cristiano Garella who was asked to work with the family in 2016 just prior to the unexpected passing of their visionary owner, Gianpiero Ioppa. Cristiano made an immediate impact and today we benefit from more than five years of his contribution to help them sculpt their wines. The 2021 Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo Rosé “Rusin” is one of the most consistent and refined, pure Nebbiolo rosés out of Piemonte, and their extremely pretty and upfront 2021 Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo makes these two incredibly good for by-the-glass programs, or when slightly chilled down for a warm summer night when Nebbiolo beckons you but the big hitters are too much. It’s often that I comment with many new arrivals that there are severe limitations, but I am happy to say that we have a good supply of these two wines that should last two or three months—perfect for the second half of the warm season. We have anticipated the arrival of Ioppa’s 2016 Ghemme for a long time. As mentioned, it was the first year it had Cristiano’s full attention and he and Andrea Ioppa applied some slight adjustments, the smallest of which can change things immensely and up the game. Prior to his arrival Ioppa already made very good and extremely ageable wines but their rusticity and unbridled tannins called for a decade in the cellar before release. Today, those rustic tannins are curbed earlier on, but still the Ioppas are clever enough to hold back their top wines for so long before release. We all know that 2016 was a banner year for Piemonte, especially for Nebbiolo, which makes up 85% of this blend with the remainder 15% Vespolina. After a mere four years of aging in large 25-30hl Slavonian botte, it spends an additional two in bottle prior to release. Their Ghemme cru sites, Santa Fe, composed of a deep clay and alluvial soil, and Balsina, a light mixture of clay with more sandy alluvium deposited by glaciers, are mixed together from a larger portion of younger vines, resulting in a brighter and more vigorous Ghemme than the two single-site bottlings. As always, Ioppa’s top wines need a good aeration before digging in to find their best moments. Lombardia Togni Rebaioli, Valcamonica A two-and-a-half-hour drive east of Alto Piemonte lies Erbanno, the village of the super “natural” winegrower, Enrico Togni (pictured above). One of my new favorites, Enrico dances to the beat of his own drum.  To say this, and to add that he’s“a true original” is perhaps a bit cliché, but for some who carry their full meaning, it’s perfectly fitting. A deep lover of nature and animals, he names his sheep and considers them his friends and visits them every morning and night. His verdant, terraced limestone vineyards tucked underneath sheer cliffs are lush with nature from the constant rain, filled with a cornucopia of vines, fruit and nut trees, potato rows, and grains with various garden spots scattered about. He believes that his other agricultural outputs are as important to him as his wines, explaining that as a farmer it’s silly that one should make only wine and no other products, and that once one focuses on a large grape production they move too far away from a healthy, natural ecosystem. But with Enrico and his mostly controlled chaos comes unexpected things, like the first vintage we imported with many labels on the wrong bottles—cases of three different wines with the wrong labels… I knew him personally at that point and the quantity of mislabeled bottles wasn’t enough to create a big problem, and it brought his Loki-esque touch straight to the market, even from afar. Enrico crafts some of the most delightfully fun and beautifully etched examples of lower alcohol wines with real substance—wines that glide smoothly on the palate but leave the mark of their terroir in the wake of each sip. First to discuss in the batch of new arrivals is his  2019 Vino Rosato “Martina.” Made entirely of Erbanno, a wine considered part of the Lambrusco family (an extremely large and not entirely related umbrella of grape varieties), there is no doubt that it’s one of the most captivating and uniquely complex rosés I have frequently imbibed. During a visit to Enrico’s cellar, some of our staff, JD Plotnick, Tyler Kavanaugh, and I were wowed by the 2020 rosé we tasted out of concrete. For Tyler, it made his top five list of the entire trip, and it made my top fifteen wines of my spring trip covered in last month’s newsletter. A rare rosé worth seeking.  Enrico also makes a regular red wine version of 100% Erbanno labeled as Vino Rosso “San Valentino.” The incoming vintage is 2020, a clearer and finer expression of Erbanno than the 2019. Dark in color but zippy and lightly textured, it's earthy, brambly and woodsy, with foraged dark berries and welcoming green notes. Erbanno, also known as Lambrusco Maestri, has thick dark skin and is very resistant to fungus, a built-in protection needed in this rainy part of the world. Interestingly, Enrico says that it rains more here in the Valcamonica during the summer than the winter. Last is Enrico’s 2020 Nebbiolo “1703.” I adore Nebbiolo—top billing in the world of grapes for me—and I especially love the ones that don’t knock me out with high alcohol. Enrico’s sits at 13.2%, and it’s the only one of its kind to be found commercially in his area. Enrico found some Nebbiolo in his father’s old vineyard and decided to propagate. Like us (and I mean you, too), he’s infatuated with the variety but also struggles with the rising alcohol levels and easy access to the good ones. He needed some for the house, so he planted. (At the time, he didn’t know what biotypes were but later learned they are lampia, michet and chiavennasca.) Fortunately for us, he has far more than he can drink with his family—including his partner, Cinzia, and their young daughter, Martina, who apparently has the best palate in the house! Valcamonica is a glacial valley with limestone cliffs on one side and volcanic hills on the other. Enrico’s terraced vineyards are on limestone, facing south. The style speaks to this rock type with its full but balanced and elegant mouthfeel, that matches the cooler climate and the green of the countryside. It’s as elegant and subtle as Nebbiolo comes, and highly expressive of its landscape with its cold stone, refreshing demeanor, and all the telltale notes of classic Nebbiolo.

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.

Newsletter January 2023

Forteresse de Berrye and its historic vineyards (Download complete pdf here) The Dam Broke? There is a lot about to happen in the first quarter of this new year as we unexpectedly had ten containers arrive in November; normally, we receive two or three in a single month. Things had been running so late over the last year and a half that we ordered very early to try to get ahead of any delays, but now the dam seems to have broken (we hope). Imports sometimes stretched to as much as seven months coming from France right after the pandemic (less in other countries), and maybe now we’re getting back to something more manageable. November isn’t the best time to launch new producers into the market so with these nine new ones (three from the Loire Valley, two from Douro, and one each from Alentejo, Rioja, Etna, and Tuscany), we’ll be staggering them out over the coming months. This newsletter will introduce three of our new producers imported exclusively in the US by The Source. Because there’s so much material, it’s helpful to download the attached pdfs in order to read up completely on each of them; otherwise, this document would be a book. First is Forteresse de Berrye, the epicenter of a wonderful new renaissance within a historic commune of Saumur, ten kilometers south of Brézé, a place with similar potential for Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc as that now-glorified hill. The new owner (since 2019), Gilles Colinet, a former botanist, converted to organic culture straight away, and his first efforts are promising. You’ll then meet Giacomo Baraldo, a fabulous young producer from Tuscany with years of experience all over the world (including Burgundy) who’s crafting refined and distinctive Sangiovese single-site wines at high altitudes, and a diverse, exquisitely crafted and compelling range of white wines, most notably from Chardonnay vines planted on limestone and clay at high altitude with massale selections gathered from Corton-Charlemagne, Saint-Aubin, and Puligny-Montrachet. Finally, we’re proud to offer the wines of Quinta da Carolina. This quinta is run by one of Portugal’s young superstars, Luis Candido da Silva. He’s currently the head winemaker of the non-Port wines at Dirk Niepoort’s empire in the Douro. Under his own label, he crafts stunning white and red still wines from north facing, high altitude hills in the Douro. These three are a great trio to start the new year. Quantities from each are limited, so if something strikes your interest, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Quinta da Carolina vineyards in the foreground overlooking the Douro Download Forteresse de Berrye Profile Download Giacomo Baraldo Profile Download Quinta da Carolina Profile California Trade Events In February we’ll put on more sit-down trade tasting events showcasing some allocated, limited, and new producers. Please ask your salesperson to book your seat as they will be limited. We plan to schedule quarterly tastings because there is so much to show and because we’ve had a great response to them. On the billing: Wechsler’s 2020 Riesling crus, Veyder-Malberg’s 2021 Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, 2020 Artuke Rioja single-site wines, 2020 Collet Chablis grand crus, and some of our new producers, Vallée Moray (Montlouis), Vincent Bergeron (Montlouis), Tapada do Chaves (Alentejo), and José Gil (Rioja). February 7th: San Francisco at DecantSF from 11am -3pm February 8th: West Hollywood at Terroni from 11am-3pm February 9th: San Diego at Vino Carta from 11am - 2pm   New Terroir Map It seems that I’ve waited forever to finally release this terroir map of Portugal’s Douro. Now that we have two new producers from there, both truly special people (also very different, and making quite different styles of wine), we can finally put this one out there. The grape key was put together with the help of Luis Candida da Silva from Quinta da Carolina because I am simply not qualified to organize such things with so many complex and relatively unknown varieties as these! This map, as with all of our terroir maps, was also done in collaboration with Ivan Rodriguez, a PhD student and MSc of Geology from the University of Vigo, along with my wife, Andrea Arredondo, our graphic designer. Ivan has become a close and very special friend and also a part of our team. He is an incredible resource and helps with our many educational projects where science needs to be better understood. You can download the map by clicking on it which will take you to our website to download it with the three additional pages of support material. New Arrivals Veyder Malberg Bruck vineyard directly in front and Brandstatt in the upper left Veyder-Malberg 2021 Rieslings and Grüner Veltliner Crus Veyder Malberg’s 2021 vintage will also be trickling out over the next few weeks, starting with the entry-level wines and then the top wines shown at our tasting events in the first week of February. Austria continues to have slam-dunk vintages every other year with their Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. First it was 2013, then 2015, 2017, 2019, now 2021. A big fan of all, but more 2013 and 2019 than the others, it’s likely 2021 will be the best of the bunch. They are so fluid and tense, aromatically fine yet with the right pressure. Never did I think (with very strong lean toward Riesling) Grüner Veltliner would rival a great producer’s Rieslings in a top vintage, but 2021 is without question for me the best vintage for this variety I can remember—at least from the likes of our great growers there, Peter Veyder-Malberg, Tegernseerhof and Michael Malat. The top Veltliners seemed to have somehow swapped out the extra fluff and broad palate weight for finer, lacier, minerally profile, like a young prodigious progeny of Riesling and Veltliner. The Rieslings are as good as it gets. It’s simply a banner year, a throwback to the old days in overall structure and profile with a bright but tensile, sunny smile. Peter gave us the opportunity to go long on this vintage because he accidentally shorted us on the 2020. We were happy to make up the balance of what we would’ve normally gotten, and from this incredibly fantastic year. One could write a book of tasting descriptions for a year like this, but they’re already going to be in such high demand that I don’t want to promote too much. My advice is to get everything you can! Not only from Veyder, but all of your favorite producers. They will surely age beautifully and they do indeed sing gorgeously now. Jean Collet 2020 Chablis Premier and Grand Cru What follows is a commentary on the 2020 vintage from our July 2022 Newsletter, which was a preface to the offer of Christophe et Fils 2020s. I haven’t changed my thoughts on this vintage (though it includes a few editorial changes), only that I’m even more convinced of their quality. The 2020 season was not as hot as 2018 and 2019. While 2019 may have jumped a little further from being described as “classic” Chablis due to its riper fruit notes (but with a surprisingly high level of acidity for this warm year), some hail 2020 as “classic,” “early but classic,” and “a great vintage.” I don’t even know what “classic” means anymore with regard to Chablis, or anywhere else. Do you? I know what “great” means to me, personally (with emotional value topping the list), but my “great” may not be yours. Our current frame of reference and experience sculpts all of our preferences, and our formative years will always be present as well. People who’ve been in the wine business for decades have different associations with wine than those more recently seduced by Dionysus. Classic Chablis? I haven’t had a young Chablis that vibrates with tense citrus and flint, a visible green hue, shimmering acidity, and coarse mineral texture all in the same sip for a long time—so long that I can’t even remember the last vintage where I had those sensations with newly bottled Chablis. (Of course, a recently bottled wine still high-strung with sulfites can give that appearance but the wine will display its truer nature a few years after its bottling date.) Chablis is different now. Burgundy is different. Everywhere is different from a decade ago and obviously even more so than from two decades ago. With the composition of today’s wine lists and their one or two pages of quickly-changing inventory compared to extensive cellars of restaurant antiquity, most of us have developed different expectations—if not completely different perspectives—for wine now than what “classic” used to imply. (The idea of “classic” from more than twenty-five years ago when I first became obsessed with wine now conjures images of chemically farmed vineyards and their spare wines.) 2020 may be fresher and brighter than the last two years in some ways but maybe with less stuffing than the similarly calibrated 2017s, a vintage I loved the second I tasted the first example out of barrel at Domaine Jean Collet. Maybe we can call 2020 “classic,” but if picking started at the end of August, would that “classic” be graded on a curve? The artistic Romain Collet Snapshot of 2019-2021 Romain Collet says that both 2019 and 2020 were very warm vintages that experienced about the same losses of 10-15% from spring frost. The 2019s were picked in the first week of September, while 2020 began one week later—though the budbreak of 2020 was earlier than 2019, perhaps lending some credence to the use of “classic” when categorizing this year because the season was longer than it would otherwise appear if one only considers the harvest dates. 2021 was a cold year and this one will surely ring true as a classic Chablis vintage. They started picking at the end of September and finished on October 6th. Considering how late they picked with the loss of 30-40% of their 2021 crop to frost, this should make it quite a strong vintage for those in search of what’s considered a truly classic vintage style. We’ll see, but if the Collet’s 2021s are any indicator of what’s to come, the classicists will be very happy, even though there was chaptalization on many wines across the appellation to get them up past 12% alcohol. Chaptalization was always a known element with classic Burgundy wines but in the last warm decades we don’t talk about it much anymore; alcohol levels are naturally high because it’s gettin’ hot! Romain’s intuition for managing each year’s challenges continues to surprise—and pleasantly, of course. In cold years, the wines are classic, and with Raveneau-esque fluid sappiness and the element of attractive green notes—green apple skin, wheatgrass, green grapes, lime, sweet mint—though they’re also perhaps a little bonier and more square. (Raveneau is Romain’s inspiration in overall style and each year he creeps a little closer to it.) In warm years the wines maintain structure, though with rounder and more tropical fruit notes, while being more taut than one would expect. 2020 is indeed another successful year for Collet. The quantities produced are less than the years before, but the good news is that they’ve kept our allocation relatively the same. Arriving are the 2020 and 2021 Saint-Bris made from purchased fruit from one of Romain’s longtime friends. These are a good (and needed) counter for the low quantities of Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and their neighboring, less famous appellations. Saint-Bris neighbors Chablis but was planted to Sauvignon Blanc instead of Chardonnay because it’s extremely rocky, with less topsoil, better for Sauvignon and not so good for Chardonnay, which needs more topsoil. Despite the spare soils, the wines are full compared to others from the appellation, and they represent a great value from this talented producer. Butteaux at the bottom of the picture, Forêts where the road turns right, Montmains (though it includes the previous two lieux-dits) is further toward the village on this hill slope, grand crus all the way in the back and Vaillons on the hill just to the left along the forested top. Left Bank Premier Crus As usual, we have the star-studded lineup of premier crus, starting with Montmains, a selection of fruit from the original Montmains lieu-dit that sits closest to the village, on the rockiest soils the Collet’s have for this designation. As one would expect from this topsoil-spare site, this is one of the most minerally wines in their range and Romain exemplifies its character with a steel élevage. Part of the Montmains hill is subdivided into two more well-known lieux-dits (that can be labeled as Montmains as well but seem to rarely be these days) are Les Forêts and Butteaux. Here we find more topsoil in both sites compared to the rows closer to the village. Les Forêts’ young vines usually prove to be the most exotic of their range while Butteaux with its old vines and heavier topsoil with massive rocks in it is one of the stoutest, and in a blind tasting it could easily be confused for a grand cru wine on weight and power alone. Vaillons shot in Vaillons The long hill of Vaillons parallels Montmains just to the north, separated by Chablis village vineyards on the same Kimmeridgian marls as the premier crus but face more toward the north—the sole reason for their classification instead being appointed premier cru status. Vaillons is often my “go-to” Chablis in Collet’s range of premier crus when I want a balance of everything. It’s minerally due to the very rocky soil, and has good body because of its 40% clay in the topsoil. Tension is always there no matter the vintage because of the richer, more water retentive soil that makes for a longer and less hydric stressed season compared to other sites with sparer soils. The majority of the vineyard faces southeast with some parcels due east, bringing an advantage from the morning sun and less so the baking evening summer and autumn sun. Though not as hot as the right bank with the grand crus facing more toward the west, it shows its breed with a constant evolution rising in the glass due to the many different lieux-dits parcels blended into it. I believe that Collet is the owner of the largest portion of vines on this big cru hillside, making for that sort of MVP character without anything missing due to the large stable of parcels to choose from. Given its size, it is also the largest quantity of wine from any single Collet premier cru we receive. Montée de Tonnerre in the center and Mont de Milieu to the right Right Bank Crus The Collets are advantaged with a fabulous collection of vineyards from both sides of the river, though most of their premier cru land is on the left bank. While the left bank wines could be characterized as more mineral dominant than the right bank, there are indeed exceptions. I’ve often said that Mont de Milieu is one of those wines that, though it is on the right bank, is very left bank in style compared to the grand crus and many of the other right bank premier crus. There are also few who bottle Mont de Milieu. Over the years this wine was always good but less impressive than many in Collet’s range, at least for me. These days, I lament the small quantities we are allocated (based on past purchases) because the most recent versions are starting to fight for top billing in the premier cru range. There is no doubt that the 2021 version of this wine is one of the top of the vintage, if not the top premier cru (at least very early on during a tasting this last November at the domaine), and the 2020 is a great prelude to what will arrive next year. We only have ten cases to share, so they will be judiciously allocated. There is no greater call in the Chablis premier cru world than Montée de Tonnerre. Yes, it’s like a grand cru in some ways, mostly in how regal it is, but it is its own terroir as well. Positioned between Mont de Milieu and the grand cru slope, just a ravine away from Blanchots and Les Clos, it finds the balance with a gentler slope in many parts than the grand cru hillside which has many different aspects and greater variability between the crus. Collet also has (in very small quantities) the grand crus, Valmur and Les Clos. Their Valmur is situated at the top of the cru on its south side, facing northwest, which was less ideal for a grand cru decades ago but perfect for today’s shifting climate. Stout and minerally, I believe it to consistently be one of the greatest overall wines in our entire portfolio. Les Clos is its equal but perhaps more extroverted and even slightly more balanced, gilded with Chablis’ royal trim and the sun’s gold. The topsoil toward the bottom of the hill is deeper and richer, bringing an added advantage against the hydric stress of warmer years, though disadvantaged in fending off frost. Don’t forget to download the pdfs of Forteresse de Berrye, Giacomo Baraldo and Quinta da Carolina! We go deep!

Of Corse, Part 3 of 9: Josée and the Alérian Plains

The fog lifted by the time we started back over the schist mountains toward the eastern side of the island to visit one of Manu’s most colorful clients, Josée Vanucci, from Clos Fornelli. We crested the ridge and as we wrapped around the last hill we were greeted by a stunning view of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Once we hit the coast we headed south and into the Alérian Plain, named after the small coastal town of Aléria, an important Roman naval base for centuries now home to only a couple thousand inhabitants. Vineyard land on the Alérian Plain falls into AOP Corse, a broad reaching appellation without distinction. Josée’s vineyards are located on the foothills of the Castagniccia Massif, and the soils are deep clays tinted red by a plentiful iron content. Schist rocks were deposited from the eroding mountains and are scattered throughout with other alluvial gravels. The nights are cool and the days warm, so it’s a perfect place for viticulture. From the outside, the winery looks like a small white rectangular Cessna-sized airplane hanger with green rollup garage doors and CLOS FORNELLI written in big block red letters. On the inside, it’s a jungle gym of numerous floors and mid-level rooms, trap doors, hidden tanks, slanted concrete slabs with open drain gutters routed on the sides, and walls slathered with waterproof dark orange and white epoxy. There are only a few large oak barrels in the cellar and the rest is jam-packed with stainless steel and old concrete tanks. Last year, Manu introduced me to Josée as an American importer and she immediately switched to English, even when she spoke to Manu. I found her demeanor much more Italian-like than French, as is the accent on her English. I told Manu that if she could get into bottle the quality and purity of what she has in her vats, she’d really have something. She was fun to taste with and talk to and I had looked forward to seeing her again. Things had changed within the year, and it was noticeable in all the wines we tasted. We tasted the 2017s, most of which were still in vats. Of course, Manu had his usual critique for some of them (he has no reservation openly doing this, even with his top producers) and she admitted that 2017 was a challenge, as it was for everyone. I thought they tasted delicious and exciting. After a vat tasting that was as promising as last year, we went to the tasting room for the moment of truth. As she poured some of her other 2016s, I grew anxious to try her Sciacarellu, La Robe d’Ange, the one I remembered most from last year for its lifted, exotic aromas and endless charm. We tasted her 2017 La Robe d’Ange Vermentinu that had just been bottled. It was solid, but I preferred the salty flower power mineral bomb we tasted out of a different vat just thirty minutes earlier; she makes a couple of bottlings on each cuvée. Finally, she poured us the 2016 Sciaccerellu, La Robe d’Ange, and I couldn’t take my nose out of the glass. It was delightful and I thought it hadn’t suffered even the slightest loss from the bottling. The sensual aromas and the palate were equally inviting and I knew I had to bring this wine back to my friends in California—I was sure that some of them would go crazy for it. Risking misinterpretation with someone I didn’t know well, I candidly admitted to Josée that her wines were more pure pleasure than edgy and super sophisticated, and that I would be happy to just sit down and drink them by the pitcher because they were so delicious. She looked pleased and exclaimed that that is exactly the kind of wine she wants to make. Just like her, they are full of life, unpretentious and bring good vibes. I thought, we have enough intensity and seriousness in our portfolio, why not bring in some more just for pure pleasure?! These wines don’t seem specifically designed for the cellar; they’re for drinking early and we could always use more of those. A few days later I emailed Josée to ask if we could import her wines and she happily accepted. Running about forty-five minutes late, we hit the road from Clos Fornelli to Propriano, a small coastal village on the other side of the island—our third time from one side to the other in one day. Josée and Manu debated how long it would take and she insisted that he was nuts for trying to get there before everything closed, especially at that time of the year, when there aren’t many tourists on the island. Next Week: Of Corse, Part 4 of 9: “The Missing Link Between Rayas and Romanée-Conti?”

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.

Jean-Noël Gagnard & The Magical 2017 White Burgundy Vintage

It's been a long wait, but Jean-Noël Gagnard's 2017s finally made it. Within our group of restaurant sommeliers, Jean-Noël Gagnard has some seriously devout fans that have snapped up our minuscule supply for their restaurant programs since we began to import her wines a decade ago, starting with the 2008 vintage. Perhaps it’s because the range is a match made for classical French countryside cooking that doesn’t stray too far off the path and into trendy winemaking. While Gagnard's Chassagne-Montrachets drink beautifully without an accompaniment of food, it’s a pity not to pair them up with something like slow roasted chicken, or even a richer French classic fish preparation, like à la meunière—a dish I think could be a top choice with the aromatic and taste profile of these Chardonnay wines.Is 2017 one of the white Burgundy vintages of a generation? For a quick anecdote about the 2017 Côte d’Or whites, I will borrow the words of Pierre Morey (by way of a conversation with his daughter, Anne), a quiet legendary winegrower who made his reputation as the régisseur (the wine director) for Domaine Leflaive during twenty years’ time. He played a largely influential role in Leflaive's conversion to biodynamic farming, along with his own biodynamically-run domaine, Pierre Morey. As I recall, Anne stated her father said it was among the most beautiful Chardonnay fruit he has ever seen. What else is there to say? A Brief Story & Details On The Wines The style at this Chardonnay focused domaine is one of subtlety led with gentle sweet golden earth tones. Often found in Caroline’s range of whites are beautiful wild mushrooms scents of chanterelles and porcinis, brown butter, dried herbs and always some kind of citrus tones, often like a Meyer lemon or the unique purity of an Amalfi Coast lemon grown on steep limestone terraces overlooking the Mediterranean. It’s hard to know exactly why her style is unique in this way—I can’t find another that I could say is a mirror image—and even to ask her why her wines are the way they are brings her to a full smile, often bursts of laughter, followed by little explanation except that it’s just the way she does it. In the cellar, the wines are made in a straightforward style, and thankfully gimmick-free within a white Burgundy world of too much of one thing, or not enough of another. There are no games with reduction, so the perception of mineral nuances is textured and aromatically present and finely tuned. Flashy wood techniques and other fooling about simply aren’t her style either, just a confidently crafted set of wines that demonstrates—and concedes to—the differences between their terroirs with striking clarity. When one does organic farming like she does (along with certification for it), as well as following many biodynamic principals and treatments, a soft touch in the cellar seems the logical approach. We begin with Gagnard’s Hautes-Côtes de Beaune "Sous Éguisons." This small Chardonnay parcel was planted in the early to mid-2000s high above Saint-Aubin, west of Chassagne-Montrachet. It’s delicious and serious Chardonnay deeply marked by its terroir: 430-450 meters of altitude (30% higher than most that lie on the Côte), colder weather than vineyards on the Côte d’Or main slope, spare clay and limestone rock topsoil and limestone bedrock. This is the highest energy and frequency in her range of still white wines and over delivers on expectations, even from this special winegrower. Gagnard's Chassagne-Montrachet "Les Chaumes" is always a tough one for us because of the quality of the wine and its price—at least for those who have a budget for Burgundy—and the minuscule quantity we get each year. Burgundy can be confusing and when one tries to dig into the lieux-dits of premier cru wines it can get a little hairy, but few more than the south side of Chassagne-Montrachet. In this specific area of the commune, known for its darker red clay soil, the premier crus, Boudriottes and Morgeot, are singular parcels in their own right, but they can swallow many of the less famous premier crus surrounding them and put their names on the label despite being different vineyards. To make it more confusing, there is a parcel of premier cru also named Les Chaumes, but Gagnard’s village parcel Les Chaumes abuts the premier cru, Boudriotte, just to the south. This wine always exceeds the expectation and given its proximity to one of the village’s most well-known vineyards, it’s no surprise. Gagnard’s parcel of Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chaumées (not to be confused with the previous village wine, Les Chaumes) begins at 300 meters altitude and faces northeast on a relatively steep slope composed of shallow rocky white clay soil and limestone bedrock. It sits within the mouth of the east to west valley that opens up into Saint-Aubin and is exposed to cooler winds than those more protected in the middle of the Côte and far away from the valley. The characteristic trait of this type of terroir is expressed by Caroline through strikingly fine cords and a harmoniously high, but gently flowing analog frequency. Given this terroir’s natural tendency for tension, freshness and excesses of stone and mineral-like impressions, it’s all tucked into its read-between-the-lines style. This is not a tour de force Chassagne, but a tour de finesse. Les Chaumées' discreet nature will resonate with those who enjoy quietly beautiful, confident and thoroughly complex wines. The Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Blanchot-Dessus is one of Gagnard’s best wines. It’s grandiose in a grand cru way with its heavyweight body and richness for a good premier cru price. The premier cru, Blanchot-Dessus, (not the village lieu-dit close by), is the story of seemingly an unlucky fault break in the limestone bedrock that may have led to this vineyard ultimately being stripped of the name, Blanchot-Batard-Montrachet, which if it weren't it would have catapulted it into eternal glory as the sixth Montrachet grand cru. Now it's one of the few remaining secrets for Burgundy insiders. There’s a lot more story behind this vineyard (which you can read about here), but suffice it to say that with only three cases imported each year into California, and with this banner year, it's a no-brainer for those with a bit of money set aside for special and rare bottles. The Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets is Gagnard's top premier cru; some consider it to be the grandest cru on the south hill of the commune. Gagnard’s parcels are prime, and located in En Caillerets on the spine of the hill and Les Combards, higher up on the slope. The other two vineyards within the commune that can be labeled as Les Caillerets are Vigne Derrière and Chassagne—yes, a vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet is simply named Chassagne. What’s interesting about Gagnard’s parcels is that they are either quite steep (Les Combards) or on what appears to be more of a strongly convex section (En Caillerets), making for—in theory—even less topsoil than others that have a more concave slope, like much of Vigne Derrière, the vineyard just north of En Caillerets with the village on the other side. What a convex hill slope means is likely more cut, freshness and stoniness to go along with Les Caillerets’ fabulous body. The only critique I would dare to send the direction of Les Caillerets (and this is a stretched criticism) is that sometimes it’s too good at everything—like the MVP-type quarterback in American football that can throw perfectly and run with the speed and agility of a spooked deer. Caillerets’ imperfections are few. However, its shortcomings may be found by those who adore the imperfections in a wine that make it stand out, so long as the losses are made up with authenticity and honesty—for me, this is often the case with wine, and friends too. Everything is in line with Les Caillerets and it’s a tough one to beat, and criticize. Once the cork is pulled, take your time; this wine needs it. It will show you its magnificence one slow layer at a time and will surely earn your respect, as it confidently carries the reputation of Chassagne-Montrachet on its very capable shoulders. One extremely memorable bottle of Gagnard's Santenay Rouge 1er Cru Clos de Tavannes was opened for me on a recent visit to Caroline's cellar. It was decades old (I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t tell you what vintage it was!), and it floored me. It made a permanent believer out of me concerning the quality of Pinot Noir that is often overlooked in Santenay and Chassagne-Montrachet. Clos de Tavannes sits just across the border toward the southeast from Chassagne-Montrachet on perfect red wine soil: iron and calcium rich red clay and limestone. My suggestion is to forget about this wine once in your possession and occasionally check out its pretty label—one of my favorites in Burgundy. Caroline L’Estimé, the winegrower for decades now, and daughter of Jean-Noël Gagnard, destems the grapes completely but isn’t afraid to extract old school tannins to create a wine designed for the long haul. This renders a young wine with a stern palate but strikingly bright red fruit aromas that can be misleading for its early approachability. We were allocated only 48 bottles of this wine and a few will make it to my cellar, as they do each year. 2017 should offer a wine with much more upfront appeal than past years, but I’d still suggest to wait.

Newsletter July 2021

The mostly abandoned historic center of Masserano in Alto Piemonte New Terroir Maps One of the obvious requirements of being a wine importer is that you really need to know as much as possible about the wines you import, the regions they come from, and who’s who in the region—especially if your principal customers are the top culinary restaurants and fine wine retail shops in the US. I knew next to nothing about Iberian wine five years ago, but I’ve been determined to learn as much as I can and have benefited greatly from the experience of people in the industry who paved the way in this landscape long before me. My preoccupation with preparation has pushed me deep into the two Iberian countries where we are now focusing much of our attention. Through the process of trying to catch up on these regions I hadn’t really noticed over the last fifteen years, I began to create educational material for my coworkers at The Source to pass on to our buyers. Shortly after starting this compilation, I realized that there was a serious shortage of really useful information on these areas so that many of our customers could connect the dots as well. A basic list for the new additions to our producer roster, including general data, vinifications and terroir overview in bullet-point format extracted directly from the growers would’ve been easy, but such oversimplification would have left too much unsaid. As is common when seeking answers about wine (and life), each path led to endless opportunities for learning and lessons in humility. This insatiable curiosity led me to embark on a year-and-a-half long terroir map project with the young University of Vigo MSc Geologist and PhD student, Ivan Rodriguez, and my wife, Andrea Arredondo, a Chilean whose career focus has been on graphics and web design. The first series includes seven maps with details on climate, grape varieties, topography and geology. On the list so far are Portugal’s Douro, Vinho Verde and Trás-os-Montes regions, as well as Spain’s Jamuz, Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Arribes, Monterrei and Rías Baixas. Our general focus will mostly be on regions that are currently less well-covered. I put out a teaser in our April newsletter for our Trás-os-Montes map, but the first official release will be the map of Ribeira Sacra, along with a relatively extensive essay on the region that I researched and wrote last year. The text is based more on my own findings than from other printed or web resources in the way of input from local vignerons and highly-involved and knowledgeable restaurant professionals. The most notable source from this last category aside from a group of vignerons, was Miguel Anxo Besada, a complete insider and the owner of two restaurants, A Curva and Casa Aurora, located in the coastal Galician towns of Portonovo and Sanxenxo. There is often not enough credit given to the influence skilled wine professionals have on winegrowers, how much they expand everyone’s exposure to and context with global wines, often playing a major role in the development of a winegrower’s palate. Miguel is a sort of guru in Galicia, a sounding board where local growers can bounce ideas to help them develop global perspectives. There are others with whom I’ve spent time with as well, such as Fernando and Adrián, from Bagos, in Pontevedra, who wield tremendous influence by way of their extensive global wine lists and their strong desire to share and spread the word on good work from any region. And I absolutely must include the globe-trotting duo from Bar Berberecho, José and Eva, who have a medium-sized but very well-curated list. I met Miguel on my second trip to Galicia and wanted to go back to soak up what he had to say about a number of the great wines from the top producers there. After he opened a full case of wine for us to taste, he refused to give me the bill for them or the dinner! That’s what it’s often like with the crew in Galicia. These maps and our work to support the winegrowers we import along with the rest of the entire region’s wine community are the fruits of my travels here, and my hope is that I can be helpful in spreading the word and clarifying a few things about the region. New People At The Source The well-known former sommelier, winery and restaurant owner, Kevin O’Connor, has joined The Source. Kevin and I worked together at Spago Beverly Hills back in the early 2000s where he initially assisted the late Master Sommelier, Michael Bonaccorsi, and eventually took over the program for many years. During his time at Spago he started a winery with Matt Lickliter called LIOCO, and after he moved on from there he returned to the restaurant arena for a while, but has now signed on with us as our National Sales Manager, among many other things that he is well equipped to do, what with his deep experience in the industry. We are lucky to have him on board. We have another fabulous new addition with Australian former sommelier and wine buyer, Tyler Kavanagh. Tyler worked for numerous spots in California, most recently at San Francisco’s extremely well-curated, Italo-centric program at the wine shop, Biondivino. I’ve known Tyler for nearly seven years as he moved through various spots in California from San Diego, Tahoe, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco. I’ve always been interested in working with him because of his extremely friendly demeanor and thoughtful approach to wine. He will be holding the post as our wholesale sales representative in San Diego and Orange County—lucky for us and for the buyers in those markets! New Arrivals France Pierre Morey’s 2018s will be available at the beginning of July. As mentioned in a previous newsletter, 2018 is a wonderful vintage for Chardonnay. The white Burgundies I’ve had so far from that year have been a great surprise. I recently had dinner in Staufen im Breisgau, Germany, with Alex Götze, from Wasenhaus, who used to be a cellar hand at Domaine Pierre Morey for quite a few years. We opened a bottle of 2014 Meursault Tessons and talked about Morey’s wines and how their typical path after opening starts with a concentrated wine that after an hour or more it opens remarkably and rewards the patient drinker. Layer after layer of finely-etched minerally nuances and palate textures begin to slowly overtake the more structured elements that are initially dominant. 2014 is obviously a very good white Burgundy vintage and this wine direct from the domaine didn’t disappoint. David Moreau continues his upward climb within his Santenay vineyards. Santenay is not an appellation one thinks of immediately when they think about Burgundy, but it says something that it used to be the home of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and there has to be a good historical reason for this. So maybe it’s time to check out a wine from one of the top producers in the appellation. David’s wines lead with aromatic earth notes and fruit as a secondary and tertiary element, which, for me, makes them the ideal type of Burgundy with food. My tasting with him in the cellar last week showed once again that he’s still on the rise. It’s been too long of a long dry spell with regard to our stock of wines from Thierry Richoux. If you ever came to my house in Santa Barbara before I moved to Europe, you’d know how regularly I drink his wines, because I truly love them. The 2015 Irancy Veaupessiot and the 2016 and 2017 Irancy appellation wines are about to arrive. The 2016 is deeper and perhaps more concentrated because of the extremely low yields, while the 2017 is perhaps brighter and more ethereal than any Irancy I’ve had from Richoux before, an influence no doubt from his two boys, Félix and Gavin. These young and very cool dudes are taking the domaine in a slightly different direction. Their approach is a lighter touch with the extraction, more stems and more medium-sized oak barrels (as opposed to mostly foudre) for the vineyard designated wines, lower SO2s and with a later first addition—all common in today’s global movement of many small, sulfur-conscious winegrowers. Nothing of this offering is to be missed, especially the 2015 Veaupessiot, perhaps the most compelling wine yet bottled at this extremely talented Burgundy domaine that has developed a strong cult-like following in recent decades, and a very long history with private customers from Paris who drop into his tiny village on weekends and scoop up as much of his product as they can. Anthony Thevenet is staying his course in producing a more substantial style of Beaujolais while maintaining high aromatic tones. It’s impossible for Anthony to make completely ethereal wines because much of his range is from one of the deepest stables of old vine vineyards in the region, which naturally means huge complexity potential but a touch more ripeness and concentration. I’m not sure of the average age of his family’s vines, but they are all very old—the eldest planted around the time of the American Civil War. We brought in the 2018 Morgon and Chenas appellation wines, and the 2019 Morgon Vieille Vignes from 85-155 year-old vines, and the 2019 Morgon Côte de Py “Cuvée Julia” from 90 year-old vines and named after his daughter. All are worthwhile considerations, but the latter two wines in particular shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for anyone interested in a little exercise in terroir soil and bedrock comparisons: both wines are made exactly the same way in the cellar with the Morgon V.V. grown purely on granite bedrock, gravel and sand, and the Morgon CdP on an extremely hard metamorphic bedrock and a thin layer of rocky topsoil. They’re both impressive, especially in 2019 with all their bright red tones. Some other goodies landing soon are Corsica’s Clos Fornelli and the Rhône Valley’s Domaine la Roubine. Clos Fornelli is one of our fastest-selling wines, so don’t wait on those. They offer stellar value out of Corsica and they’re such a pleasure to drink. We don’t talk too much about La Roubine because there are loyalists who typically snatch these wines up as soon as they arrive. Sophie and Eric from La Roubine make small amounts of Sablet, Seguret, Vacqueras, and Gigondas, and their wines have been notably absent over a couple of vintages because we’ve missed our opportunities to procure some. Their organically grown grapes, certified as such in 2000, are all whole-bunch fermented for at least a month in concrete and up to forty-five days with the top wines in the range. Tightly wound (a good thing for Southern Rhône wines) and without a hair out of place, they’re also chock-full of personality and emotion. Spain It’s great to be on the road again in the more familiar territories of Italy, Austria, Germany, and France. I’ve been so focused on and excited with what’s coming out of Iberia and what luck we’ve had curating a collection of producers there that I can’t seem to get enough of. My wife and I drink wine every day with dinner, but these days, when it comes to reds, we often opt for wines from our neighborhood of Galicia and Northern Portugal with low to moderate alcohol levels. Unlike with Iberian wine regions, there seems to be less territory to “discover” (or rediscover) from a terroir perspective in countries like France, where the new ground seems to mostly be in exploring different cellar techniques. In Iberia, it’s not really about cellar tinkering, despite some trending toward more elegant wines there (as is much of the world), it is often a full reboot of nearly forgotten terroirs or entirely overlooked regions with bigtime potential. Finding new things in Iberia gives me the same feeling of joy as when you I someone who has some ordinary job walks onstage on one of those TV talent shows and within seconds makes my jaw drop as a small tear wells in my eye because I’m just so damned happy to watch an unknown talent emerge onto the world stage right in front of my eyes. New wines from deeply complex, multi-faceted terroirs seem to pop up every other week in Iberia, often with the reworking of a patch of land abandoned by a family one or two generations ago. It’s exciting, and the infectious energy of the winegrowers has influenced me to sink a ton of my energy in their direction for many years now. I get an adrenaline rush from this place and it has increased my already uncontrollable enthusiasm for wine. On the docket is a small batch of Ribeira Sacra wines from Fazenda Prádio and Adega Saíñas, the long-awaited arrival of Cume do Avia’s 2019 Caíño Longo (along with more from them), Manuel Moldes’s Albariño “As Dunas,'' grown on pure, extremely fine-grained sandy schist soil, and César Fernandez’s “Carremolino," a red wine blend from Ribera del Duero from pre-phylloxera vines and others planted more than eighty years ago. There is so much to say about each of these wines and there will be a lot of information coming down the pipeline throughout the month. Italy In the first eight years of our company’s existence, we brokered a couple of Italian wine import portfolios in California and fell behind on that front as an importer. After parting ways with the last of the importers, importing Italian wines directly starting five years ago was slow going because importer competition in Italy had already reached a fevered pace, what with the exploding popularity of the backcountry, indigenous wines that appeared center stage on progressive wine lists about a decade ago. Social media’s influence has been a huge part of this because it opens opportunities to completely unknown growers who sometimes become world famous in a very short time. The good news is that the people we’ve found with the help of our many sources (the true origin of our company’s name) have yielded some fabulous opportunities. We start this month with Basilicata’s Madonna delle Grazie and one of their top Aglianico del Vulture wines, Bauccio. Every call with the family winemaker Paolo Latorraca (and there are many) ends up in a conversation about Bauccio; they’re obsessed with it and I understand why. It’s one of two wines they produce only in the best years when there’s an even longer growing season in what is already one of the world’s latest regions to harvest grapes for still wines. It comes from their finest, old-vine parcels and it’s a steal for the quality and price. It’s very serious vin de garde and drinks amazingly well now too. The new release is the 2015, a spectacular vintage with perfect maturity, balanced structure, full volcanic dirt textures on the palate, and gobs of flavor—well-measured gobs, but gobs nonetheless. The soil here is black volcanic clay mixed with blond, soft, sandy volcanic tuff rock uplifted from the bedrock below, and the genetic material from ancient Aglianico biotypes originating from the region tie it all together. Their entry-level Aglianicos, the Messer Oto and Liscone, are getting restocked as well. These two are in constant demand and represent as good as we have for serious wine, at an approachable price for the everyday-wine budget.  A couple of years ago in Andrea Picchioni’s tasting room, I saw a label that immediately grabbed my attention, a one-off for a special cuvée from years ago. I asked if he would consider putting the same label on the wine he calls Cerasa, a delicious Buttafuoco dell'Oltrepò Pavese with more solemn graphics that contrasted the pure joy and generous flavor inside the bottle. Without more than a second of thought, he agreed to the change and also changed the wine’s name to Solighino, a reference to the valley where his vineyards are located. Just look at that label now! It’s beautiful, and you will see when you taste it that it reflects the wine itself. We will also get a micro-quantity of his top wines that are soon to become culty collector wines, Rosso d’Asia and Bricco Riva Bianca. People who are crazy about Lino Maga should pay some attention to this guy. Italians in Italy, who know Andrea and his wines, say that he is Lino’s spiritual heir. His wines find the same level of x-factor as Lino’s, which come from vineyards quite literally just over the hill from Andrea’s, even though Andrea’s are not as rustic. In Alto Piemonte, Fabio Zambolin continues to capture pure beauty with his Nebbiolo vineyards planted on volcanic sea sand. His Costa della Sesia Nebbiolo (actually grown entirely within the Lessona appellation, but it can’t carry the appellation name due to the cantina’s location just a few meters outside of the appellation lines) is simply gorgeous and always a treat. Unexpectedly, Feldo, his blended wine composed of 50% Nebbiolo along with equal parts of Vespolina and Croatina grown just next to one of the vineyards he uses for the Nebbiolo wine, jumped a few full notches with the 2018 vintage. A month ago, when I tasted it in the cellar for the first time, I was almost speechless (yes, I know that’s hard to believe for anyone who knows me) because it may as well have been a completely different wine from any of the past vintages. It seemed like more of a special cuvée-type wine even though it’s still just a Feldo. Mauro, from Azienda Agricola Luigi Spertino I love what all of the growers in our portfolio have to offer. Some are less experienced but still make very honest and pure wines that clearly speak the dialect of their region, while others don’t fit into anyone’s box but there’s nothing off putting about the space they occupy. That’s Mauro Spertino. Mauro, who I fondly refer to as our “alchemist,” is simply one of the most creative minds in wine that I have come across. He makes a range of completely unique wines that all carry the hallmark of his gorgeous craftsmanship and completely authentic persona. Perhaps Mauro’s success and openness to try new things can be partially credited to the fact that he is in Asti rather than Barolo or Barbaresco. Asti is a region with nearly no expectations other than its low price ceiling. Spertino’s wines embrace the inherent qualities of their grapes and terroirs; he accentuates and even somehow cleverly embellishes their talents the way artists often do with the subject of their work, leaving their deficiencies so far from view that they seem to not even exist. Only two of the wines within his range are hitting our shores on this container: Grignolino d’Asti, a wine that redefines this category and has already become a cult favorite for those who’ve had it, and Barbera d’Asti La Grisa, an unusually elegant but concentrated Barbera that is much more substantial than expected. Led by the variety’s naturally high acidity and low tannins, Mauro finds a way to weave in an unexpectedly refined, chalky texture into La Grisa, with a sleek and refreshingly cool mouthfeel. Later this year, we will have his Cortese orange wine (a smart move on making that grape orange), zero dosage Blanc de Noir bubbles made entirely from Pinot Noir on calcareous sands (of which I bought a six pack to share with our winegrowers along the route I’m currently on in Europe), and his amphora-aged Grignolino, another redefining wine for this grape and totally different from the other one in his range.  Sadly, a few days before my recent arrival to Mauro’s cantina, his father, Luigi, passed away. Luckily for many of us at The Source, we were making our way through Piemonte the week the pandemic took hold of Milano in late January/early February of 2020. After our visit with Mauro, we asked to meet Luigi; this, of course, was before we understood how serious the pandemic was and how vulnerable the elderly would be. He extended his large, soft hands for a shake—the hands of a retired winegrower—and he seemed as thrilled to meet us all as we did him. Knowing that it would be a rare and possibly unrepeatable opportunity, I snapped a few quick photos that may have been some of his last. I knew him for only a few minutes, but when you have the pleasure of knowing his son Mauro and his two grandkids, it’s easy to deduce that he was a great man. Luigi Spertino Travel Journal 2021 by Ted Vance At first, I thought it was a little crazy to drive alone from Portugal to as far as Burgenland, Austria, and back home after six weeks of winery visits, but after I got past the long haul through Spain and into France it seemed like maybe I should do it this way every year; I felt freer than I ever have on the wine trail. I packed my pillow (which I unfortunately left at a hotel in Germany three weeks in), a picnic basket full of useful silverware and kitchen knives (not one AirBnB will provide you with a decent knife, even if the kitchen is fabulous), a microplane (I’m obsessed with lemon zest these past few years), oats and nuts, Portuguese canned sardines, corn nuts, Snickers bars (most of which are melted now because it’s been hot!), a drying rack for my clothes, foam roller, yoga mat, a few small weights, a huge pile of Zyrtec pills (it’s high allergy season in June and I promised myself that I wouldn’t travel anymore in June because they are so intense at this time, but I threw that one out of the window because it’s been too long since I made my rounds). I have bags full of photography, video, drone, and sound equipment that seem far too heavy now to get past even the carry-on checkpoint and into the overhead compartments on a plane. Maybe I could get a camper and hit the road in comfort and take my time. It seems like an interesting way to live and I’m sure it would be a lot of fun to do it that way at least a couple of times. You know, #vanlife, but with wine as the guide and the destination. Three weeks after I started to consider this option, my wife called. I thought she had no idea what was going through my mind, but it turned out that I think she somehow suspected. She asked if it was my plan to keep doing it this way moving forward, and the tone of her interrogation changed in a way that I immediately decided it would be best to forget the idea. At least for now. I’ve played the band London Grammar more than any others since I’ve been on the road. Their music, led by the intimate and deeply emotional voice of Hannah Reid, keeps me in a pleasant dreamstate as I develop ideas while staring out the windshield on the long legs of the trip. I mentioned in last month’s newsletter that there were a number of songs my mom used to play when we were on the road when I was a kid, but I never expected that while having breakfast this morning at the Malat’s hotel in Austria’s Kremstal region that Michael’s mom, Wilma (who cooks the best omelets: soft, partially runny, perfect eggs with streaks of the dark orange yolks not completely blended with the whites, asparagus, tiny carrot cubes, and thin and tender cured skillet-fried pork) to put an old Neil Diamond album on their record player. He was one of my mom’s favorites and it occurred to me that Austrian and Iowan moms are not as different as I would have thought. As I fully indulged in their ridiculous breakfast spread (I mean, who serves sautéed chanterelle mushrooms in a buffet style breakfast? The Malats do, that’s who), I never realized until that moment how intense and almost urgent the tempo of a lot of Diamond’s songs feel. I suppose that kept my mom up on those non-stop overnight road trips from Montana to Iowa. On this trip, everything from everyone tastes better than I remember almost any of their wines tasting out of barrel and tank, and I have to remind myself that it’s not just because I was cooped up like everyone else for twelve of the last eighteen months; the world of wine is simply getting that much better from vintage to vintage. It could be that the wines are emerging out of their winter slumber, and like us, they are smiling and feeling more comfortable with the energy and warmth of spring and early summer. I usually tour in the fall, winter and early spring because the summer is often too difficult; it’s tourist season and hotels and restaurants are all booked or unreasonably priced for what you get. But as the world is still recovering, traffic is lighter than normal right now, and I’m taking advantage of that. Andrein, France, a week after restaurants reopened Staufen im Breisgau, 20 June. I’m just a short drive across the border from Alsace. It’s mid-June, but it’s so cool that it feels like the last week of May. Grape season started late this year after a cold and frosty spring brought disaster to the many crops in Europe. The vines were hit hard, but so were many other plants, such as the apricots in Southern France. Two days ago when I was at Weingut Wechsler, a new producer for us in Germany’s Rheinhessen, they said that over the last week the weather changed from cold to hot in a twenty-four hour period. The vine shoots have been growing more than three centimeters a day over the last week now, so fast that it’s like you can stand there and see it happening. The same thing seems to be going on everywhere. I started off this long trip by passing through Douro, in Portugal, and on into Tràs-os-Montes, the country’s most northeastern region, a place that gave me a lot to think about. I stared off into its colorful high-desert landscape covered in oak trees, bright yellow mustard-tipped shrubs that extend at least all the way to Austria, then drove through small canyons of multicolored slate walls carved through low hills in order to make some parts of the highway a straight shot. I usually travel with one or two or a few people (that sometimes rotate out to be replaced by others), but this time I’m alone on the road for more than five weeks, before my wife, Andrea, joins me in Provence on the first of July. At other times I often find myself corralling a group, organizing accommodations, talking to my companions the entire time in the car (don’t get me started on wine, obviously), and making sure they are getting the most out of the experience. I had almost forgotten how to be alone on the road. This year, Andrea was in Chile for a month in January and stayed an extra month because she had an opportunity to get vaccinated there. So I was alone in Portugal for two months during the pandemic, which turned out to be perfectly fine. In fact, I really enjoyed it. I did a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for some time, a two-week juice fast, read a ton of books (absolutely devoured Matt Goulding’s works on travel and food), dug in on Spanish five days a week with my new teacher and now friend, Fabiola, did more research on wine and science, and wrote a lot. Trying to look on the bright side of things, I’d like to say I did the best I could to make it a personally enriching pandemic. Chablis, 22 June. I didn’t spend that much time in France visiting producers on my way to Italy. I stopped by to visit a guy in the southwest who has agreed to work with us, but after learning the lesson about counting unhatched chickens the hard way, I decided to keep the details of who he is to myself until we actually have his wine on the boat, because things sometimes take unexpected turns. La Fabrique, the French countryside home of my dear friends, Pierre and Sonya, was even more on point than ever. Sonya retired a couple of years ago and she’s gone mad in the kitchen, cooking feasts for a party of two during the pandemic, as shown on her social media posts. We had white asparagus for days, served with Pierre’s perfect mousseline, late spring and early summer delicate vegetables, heavily anchovy-dressed red leaf lettuce (my original favorite salad), cherries, (apricots were sorely missed after being almost completely lost to frost this year). They were massive and overindulgent lunches and dinners with Sonya’s unstoppably evil deserts. The problem? I couldn’t run outside to burn it off because the allergies this year are especially horrible because of the late cold and very wet spring, so I definitely gained some weight. The day before I left La Fabrique Sonya and I went to an uncultivated field to pick wild thyme that is now drying at her place, waiting for my return at the beginning of July.  Wild thyme The next day I left to visit Stéphane Rousset and his wife, Isabelle. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, they’re doing a new bottling, labeled Les Méjans, and it’s exciting wine. I also asked them to put the vineyard name on their Saint-Joseph, which they said they’ll do; having just Saint-Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage without much else on the label isn’t helpful considering the tremendous diversity of terroirs with very different soil types and exposures there, even if the reds are entirely made from Syrah, and the whites a blend of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. I passed through Savoie after my visit with the Roussets for a night with my friends, also in the wine distribution business in France, Nico Rebut and his wife, Laetitia. The next morning I passed through the Fréjus tunnel into Piemonte with no one waiting at the border to see the negative Covid test I was ready to proudly produce. I wasn’t surprised. It’s Italy… Andrea Monti Perini (left) and his enologist, Cristiano Garella, tasting the 2018 Bramaterra I visited our four producers in Alto Piemonte, and hung out with my friend of ten years (time is flying!), Cristiano Garella, a well-known enologist in the area. And I had nice meetings with Andrea Monti Perini, in Bramaterra, with his crazy-good Nebbiolo-based wines out of wood vats. As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, Fabio Zambolin knocked it out of the park with the 2018 vintage. The changes the guys over at Ioppa have made in recent years are finally coming to the market. Their 2016s are impressive, and the 2015s are right there with them, but they’ve recently really gotten a more measured hold on the tannins and texture of the Ghemme wines. The biggest surprise in my tasting at Ioppa was the 2016 Vespolina “Mauletta.” I’m almost sure that it’s the best example of a pure Vespolina wine I’ve had, except perhaps the Vespolinas from the newest addition in the portfolio, Davide Carlone. I made the visit to Davide with Cristiano and we tasted through a bunch of wines in vat from different Nebbiolo clones that are vinified separately, and what an enlightening experience that was. The differences between clones is much greater than I expected. We don’t talk about genetic material so much in old world wines as we do with the US and probably the rest of the “New World” wine regions, but we should. It greatly impacts the wine. Volcanic rocks from Davide Carlone's vineyards in Boca, Alto Piemonte, and the hands of Cristiano Garella. After Alto Piemonte, I dropped down to Langhe and crashed at Dave Fletcher’s train station turned home-and-cantina. I love this place. Dave said that before he started the process to buy it from the city, no one else was interested in it. His friends said he was crazy, but when word got out that he was serious, the interest increased, and Dave had to hustle to get his name on the title before he was wedged out. They live in a sort of dreamworld inside that old station; when I’m in it I imagine the antique setting and how so many people passed through it long ago; it’s beautiful, and almost joyfully haunted by their spirits. Dave and Eleanor (Elle), his wife, wisely kept most of the interior space the same, with the ticket counters and the coffee and wine bar. I took full advantage of the opportunity to cook so as to control my food intake, which completely backfired because I think I ate even more food there than I would’ve in restaurants along the way. We enjoyed lamb on the barby (said with Dave’s Australian accent), marinated with anchovy, garlic and some of the French thyme from our friend’s place in Provence, and I turned Elle on to high quality canned anchovies from Cantabria (which she never liked before) and salt-packed ones from Sicily on top of cold, salted butter and fresh bread with a paper thin slice of garlic, dried oregano, lemon zest and a little red pepper—a recipe I picked up from Aqua Pazza, a fabulous restaurant in the Amalfi Coast’s truest Italian fishing village (where residence actually live and work all year round), Cetara. It was exactly what I needed after a week straight of decadent eating on the road. Monti Perini's vineyard (surrounding the small white house at the bottom center) in the Brusnengo commune of Bramaterra, in Alto Piemonte, with the Alps in the background. I met the Collas for lunch at their house up in Rodello, a beautiful village that sits on a long, narrow ridge well above the cold and fog of Alba. On a clear day at their house, you can see the Alps perfectly to the west and north, the Ligurian range to the south and to the east and the northernmost expanse of the Apennine Mountains, which from there run all the way down to Sicily. Bruna, Tino Colla’s wife, makes fresh pasta in a room for doing just that, next to their small cellar, which is loaded with antique wines that Tino has stashed for more than fifty years. This treasure is hidden below the main floor of their four-story house that sits on the top of the hill, situated above all the other homes with just the nearby church blocking a small slice of the view. The cellar is filled with a lot of old wines from the Colla’s Prunotto days and from Cascina del Drago, an estate that covers the better part of a hill, just on the border of Barbaresco, where Beppe Colla used to make the wine and which the Collas ended up buying from the previous owners who insisted that they would only sell it to his family. While our team was on tour in Piemonte when the pandemic first hit Italy, Tino opened up a series of old, irreplaceable Prunotto wines (1980 Barolo Bussia, 1978 Barbaresco Montestefano, and 1968 Barbera) and a red from Cascina del Drago, a Dolcetto wine with fifteen percent Nebbiolo, stole the show. It was a 1970, and it virtually crushed the field of already fabulous old wines. Cascina del Drago is a story that needs to be told because it is an unusual historical wine made from exactly the same blend of grapes from that hill for generations (long before the IGT blended wines were a thing), but the best way to understand it is to taste old bottles. They seem to be indestructible, easily competing for the top position in any range of old Piemontese wines they come up against. Yes, they can be really that good. One of the unexpected highlights of my time with the Collas came in the form of a unforgettable vinegar for a simple, greenleaf salad Bruna made to accompany the zucchini flan, carne cruda di fassone buttuta al coltello (knife-cut beef tartar), salsiccia di Bra, a small raw beef sausage made only in Bra (it’s so wonderful, and also a leap of faith considering it’s raw sausage, but the butchers have done it cleanly with all of those I’ve had so far), and a Bruna-made fresh pasta, tajarin con sugo di carne e funghi, a very thin, flat pasta that takes literally one minute to cook and serve with a meat and mushroom tomato sauce that takes nearly a day of cooking to find the right consistency. This vinegar is the continuation of a vinegar mother started in 1930, a profound experience that they’ve been topping up with mostly Nebbiolo over the years. I asked for a bottle and Tino looked at me as though I asked to be written into the family will for an equal portion of the estate. Sometimes in life you simply need to ask for what you want and you will get it. It would have been an audacious ask if it were anyone but the Collas, but they are like family to me, and I think they often feel the same way.  Beaune, 25 June After a weekend intended to be a respite from excesses of food and wine that turned into a full-blown cooking-and-drinking fest at Dave’s station, I reluctantly left their warm hospitality and headed toward Asti for a morning visit with a cantina whose wines I briefly sold about ten years ago in Los Angeles for one of the Italian wine importers I used to work with. La Casaccia is located in Cella Monte, a village in the Monferrato area of Asti, and is run by Elena, Giovanni and their kids, Margherita and Marcello. Upon my arrival I was greeted by Margherita, a woman in her early thirties who looks barely a shade over twenty, with a big and welcoming smile and an extremely comforting demeanor. She proposed a walk through the vineyards, then a tasting and lunch. Little did I know that many of their vineyards are surrounded by wild cherry trees that were ready for picking. In their vineyard that makes the Barbera, Bricco dei Boschi, Margherita pointed to a tree and said that they were probably too sour still. I picked a cherry anyway and gave it a try. It was one particular cherry tree intertwined with others near the top of the vineyard. The first cherry exploded with flavor and aromatic complexity, like a great Mosel Kabinett Riesling. I couldn’t stop eating them, nor could Margherita. Small, with delicate skins colored from light red to pink to orange and yellow all on the same cherry, I know that they were the most incredible cherries I’ve ever had. The acidity was through the roof, as was the sugar. The only other fruit comparison I can think of is a perfectly ripe and ready to pick white wine grape. It smelled and tasted like a mixture of rieslings from JJ Prum and Veyder-Malberg. Should I have a better cherry in my life, it would be an unexpected surprise. The epic cherries and Margherita's hands After our walk through the vineyard with conversations about their family and other non-wine things, like yoga, vegetarianism and the organic life (not just organic vineyards), she felt so familiar, like we’d been friends for years. The weather was overcast, slightly warm and lightly humid, just perfect for an outdoor tasting and lunch. After working through Giovanni’s range of authentic and emotion-filled reds (most notably the entry-level Grignolino, Freisa and Barbera wines) and a racy, undeniably delicious stainless-steel raised, vigorous limestone terroir monster of a Chardonnay grown on their pure chalk soil (think: a trim Saint-Aubin sans oak aging but dense in that limestone magic along with the exuberance imparted by a fanatical, fun and quirky winemaker), we sat for a lunch prepared by Elena. It started with an egg and vegetable tart, followed by fresh cheese-stuffed raviolis made by a well-known local pasta maker just a few villages away who used to own a restaurant known for excellent pasta. He has since closed it to focus only on pasta making—lucky for everyone in the region because these raviolis were special. Next stop, Spertino. I could contemplate and try to write about Mauro Spertino’s wines all day, but the only descriptions of what he renders with each wine that would truly do them justice would be in poetry, a skill that I haven’t even attempted to develop. Bottled under his late father’s name, Luigi Spertino, all are almost completely different from other wines around him—perhaps not only in Asti, but in all of Italy, or even the world. He lives in a middle of nowhere part of Piemonte, but in his lovingly rich family surroundings he finds what appears to be the same inspiration and genius-level creativity found in the countryside by many former city-dwelling Impressionists of the late 1800s; his ability to imagine and realize his dreams in liquid form is that rare. I imagine him lying awake at night staring into the dark thinking about how he should move a hair here and a hair there to next time outdo the marvel (at least for me) that he has just put the finishing touches on and bottled. In this July newsletter, I’ve written more about Mauro and the wines I tasted during my visit. It was truly inspiring, and if I should classify the wines we work with on artistic flair and originality, his are so far out of the box and perfectly tuned that I may have to consider him to be one of the most important in our portfolio. Next stop was with the Russo brothers in northwest Asti, Federico, and the twins, Marcello and Corrado. I always seem to be in a rush when I see these guys and I often feel like I’ve missed something they wanted to share with me, or show me. Maybe it’s just that they have so much to share. They are as generous in spirit vis-à-vis food and drink as anyone I know, and spending just an afternoon, evening and the following morning once a year never seems like enough. When I arrived to visit them it was already late. An early summer storm was imminent and I wanted to get some drone footage of their vineyards while there was a dash of sunlight and a pregame of drizzle in the air before the downpour. I didn’t want footage from up high because Crotin’s are not particularly exciting vineyards; I wanted to show how they are different from most of the region because their vineyards have mostly recovered from the abandonment that began after the last of the great wars. They are some of the closest Asti vineyards to Torino, so they are some of the last to be recovered. Their vineyards are surrounded by wild forests, open pastures, and diverse agricultural fields, mostly hazelnut and fruit trees, which all seems to be felt in their lively wines. What I thought would be some easy shots of flat vineyards ended up with me taking a twenty minute drive to look at a new Nebbiolo vineyard that sits around 480 meters (higher than Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, for example), on white, calcareous sands with blue-grey marl. The vineyard is spectacular and not at all flat, and their desire is to produce a wine from it that should be drunk younger, a sort of equivalent in style to a Langhe Nebbiolo raised in steel. Regardless, I expect a very special wine from this vineyard, especially with the mind of one of the world’s most talented young Nebbiolo whisperers, enologist Cristiano Garella, as a strong influence. Exciting! Next Newsletter it’s a continuation of my loop around the Alps through Italy’s Lombardia and Sudtirol, then up into Austria and over to Germany en route back to Champagne and Burgundy. Ciao for now.

Newsletter August 2021

Südtirol, Italy Our first terroir map is up! I’ve been teasing the official release of our terroir maps for a while. Finally, our Ribeira Sacra terroir map is up on our website. It’s the first of seven from Northwest Iberia that we have coming over the next few months. There’s also an essay on Ribeira Sacra on the same page that I wrote last summer that offers a greater in-depth view of this complex wine region. Both the map and the essay are downloadable in pdf format. Each of the vineyard maps have three supplemental pages that help users orient themselves, the first classifies the rock types that are numerically coded on the map page, and the second presents some geological basics on different rock types. We know that rock is only part of the story of a terroir, so on the last page are listed other factors to consider while theorizing about the wine in your glass with what else beyond the cellar and vineyard choices may be at play. The work is surely incomplete on many levels, but it’s a good starting point for what I hope will be an ongoing project. You can find the first one here: New Arrivals Spain We have two new batches coming in from Ribeiro, the most historical center of Galician wine for more than a thousand years. There are good reasons for that too, what with its fantastic balance of medium-to-steeply-angled vineyards, a kaleidoscope of exposure, stunning river valleys, a broad range of metamorphic and igneous rock types, as well as a combination of cold Atlantic winds and the Mediterranean climate coming from the east and south. Bodegas Paraguas’s new vintage of their Treixadura-based wine (more than 85%) is the 2019 El Paraguas Atlantico. It’s grown in three different parcels with different altitudes inside the Miño River Valley and is a mixture of mostly granite soils and a smaller amount of schist. It’s truly the most Côte d’Or-ian white we have from the region in the sense that it has a broader and fuller mouthfeel and the strong presence of mineral impressions, but without many nuances of Chardonnay. With Treixadura it’s all about the timing of the pick; if it’s not done well the acidity plummets. Paraguas does it extremely well and their sole focus is on wines from this grape variety blended with microquantities of Albariño and Godello, both very high-acid grapes that impart more lift in the palate and enrich this already deeply complex and layered wine. There are only thirty cases docking this month, but another thirty are on the way. With so many new producers joining our portfolio, Ribeiro’s Fazenda Augalevada is one of the most highly anticipated. A former professional Spanish futboller turned winegrower, Iago Garrido has begun to turn heads in Spain and there is already a strong buzz in some corners of the US in anticipation of the arrival of his wines. Both his and Paraguas’s wines are ubiquitous on the wine lists of almost every top restaurant in northern Spain, especially those with Michelin stars. Iago’s wines are different from any other in Ribeiro because he works with flor yeast in all of them—a great accidental discovery for him. After six years under the veil of flor, his high-strung white and red wines have started to find their voice with great clarity. Iago Garrido of Fazenda Augalevada These days, there are few wines that find their place on my dinner table more than Augalevada’s (along with those from the guys at Cume do Avia, his friends who introduced us), and it feels like we’ve been already working with them in the US for years, despite this being our first batch to reach the shores. For many, this will be a first introduction to his wines, while anyone who knows them already will see how far he has progressed in such a short time. They are all in very limited supply and we simply won’t have enough to fulfill the demand. Please be patient with us on this one. We hope to get more in the coming years. Augalevada’s range of whites are Mercenario Blanco, a blend of five different white grapes; Crianza Bioloxica, a blend of Albariño and Treixadura; Ollos de Roque, made of Treixadura, Lado and Agudelo (Chenin Blanc); and a 100% Albariño wine from grapes in Salnés, the most famous subzone of Rías Baixas. The two reds are blends, with the first, Mercenario Tinto, composed of 40% Caíño Longo, 20% Brancellao, 20% Espadeiro, 15% Sousón, and 5% Caíño da Terra, all from many parcels throughout Ribeira in the Arnoia, Avia and Miño Valleys. The last red, Mercenario Tinto Selección de Añada, is a blend of 60% Caíño Longo, 30% Brancellao, and 10% Caíño da Terra. All the wines I find are particularly special in their own way, and a few are some of the most compelling wines I’ve had from Galicia, even among the most revered wines from well-known producers. There are more details on Augalevada on our website at France Another new and highly anticipated arrival (at least for me!) for the first time in the US are the wines of Elise Dechannes, a petite domaine under biodynamic culture in Les Riceys, two hamlets (Ricey-Bas and Ricey-Haut) that share a small appellation in the south of Champagne known for its rosé, Rosé des Riceys, just an hour drive northeast of Chablis. The character of the Pinot Noir in this region is exceptional and unique. Through her range (almost entirely composed of Pinot Noir-based Champagnes and one still wine rosé) the through line of deep but elegant sappiness in the palate and ethereal, wildly complex aromas seem to truly come from this particular place. Elise Dechannes Three of Elise’s wines are arriving. The first is her 2017 Rosé des Riceys, a well-worth-it, juicy and tremendously complex and delicious rosé with real stuffing. It alone brings greater meaning to rosé for me than a festive warm weather drink and sits atop a very short list of truly extraordinary rosés I’ve had in my life. Once open, it often shows darker fruits and needs time to show its full range of complexity while it works its way into the higher fruit tones and sweet rose aromas. We have a lot of great Pinot Noir rosés in our portfolio (Bruno Clair, Thierry Richoux, François Crochet), but I’ve not found the same level of complexity in Pinot Noir rosé like I’ve found in this wine, even including the greats we already represent. Unfortunately, there are only twenty cases allotted to us for the entire US each season (I’m working on trying to improve that number), so please reach out to us as soon as possible to try to reserve some bottles. The next is her second tier Champagne Essentielle, bubbles made entirely from Pinot Noir from Les Riceys. The price is only a little higher than her starting Champagne, but for me it better captures the essence of the winery. It’s gorgeous and delivers as much pleasure for a young Champagne as seems possible. The bright Pinot Noir fruit is not subtle and makes for an unapologetically delicious, serious Champagne (2016 vintage, zero dosage) that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also limited. Lastly, the most limited wine is the Champagne Chardonnay. After tasting the range of limited cuvées of which I can only buy 36 bottles of each, the 2012 Chardonnay Brut Nature is a great view into her more distinguished wines. It has a lot to say but needs a little time open to show its finest points. It comes out straight away with a lot of flavor and Chardonnay power and becomes more finely tuned with more time open. Chardonnay can be surprisingly beastly in the south of Champagne on limestone marl and clay, but with the right amount of patience, its characteristics narrow and refined. These days, it seems like Sancerre is viewed as a real commodity on any wine list. Sancerre just sells, and often a great one is not needed for customers to order it. That’s why it’s so great to work on the flipside of that with people as talented as François Crochet, a winegrower in constant pursuit of improvement who every vintage seems to produce some of the most exciting wines in the entire appellation. Even in the warmest years François manages to surprise us all with the tension of his wines and solid natural acidity. Usually, we space out the arrival of François’ wines, so we don’t overwhelm everyone with too many choices, but we are playing catch-up after all of the time that things have been shut down. Three are from 2018, and from most elegant to most powerful, we start with Le Petit Chemarin. This wine has quickly moved to the top of the range for me based solely on its bright mineral characteristics and elevated aromas—a profile that I’ve yet to be exhausted by within my general view of wine. It’s substantial but flies high and always maintains a dainty, but ornate frame. Next is Le Chêne Marchands, the flagship of the winery and the grandest cru in Bué, Crochet’s hometown. My challenge with this wine is that it’s always at the top of the range and sometimes I want his other wines to finally pull ahead of it, the way it’s fun to see an underdog beat the champion; as loved as they are, it’s sometimes nice to see someone else with the gold. Le Chêne Marchands is perhaps the most well-rounded in the range. It has big mineral characteristics, medium to full structure and an endless well of fine nuances and broad complexities. Lastly, Le Grand Chemarin is perhaps the most explosive of the three 2018s. It’s often marked with more stone fruits along with sweeter citrus notes than others in the range. It has a more expansive body and bigger shoulders. It perhaps shares the title of most powerful in the range with Les Amoureuses, but in a denser and stonier way. A few 2019s are also arriving and there will be more to follow. The first is Les Amoureuses, the most consensual and powerfully expressive wine in the range. It has the biggest shoulders of all, and this is most likely due to its numerous clay-rich topsoil and limestone bedrock parcels. Each of its dimensions are strong and seem to tuck any subtleties further into the wine. It’s a perfect Sancerre for four or more people who want to break the ice at lunch or dinner with a nice refreshing glass that doesn’t stutter once the cork is pulled. Les Exils is the outsider in François’ range of Sancerre single-site wines. It’s grown on silex (flint, chert) on a more northerly facing slope, while the others are all on variations of limestone with more sun exposure. Les Exils is perhaps the most mineral dense of all, with mineral impressions that are heavy and dominant in the overall profile; perhaps flintier (a natural expectation from wines grown on silex) than the others and with less presence of fruits and with a grittier mineral texture than what the limestone vineyards impart to their wines. Les Exils is always one of the favorites because it’s a bit of a marvel of minerality in itself, especially when tasted in François’ exciting range. A New Team Member The Source continues to improve, and our level of advancement has always been subject to the quality of the people in our company and the producers we represent. Sometimes we lose ones we don’t want to lose, but we’ve always been fortunate to fill those shoes with other great people. Over the last two months we’ve added two fantastic new additions with Kevin O’Connor and Tyler Kavanaugh, both mature, smart and very well-experienced wine professionals, and most importantly for all of us, a joy to be around. When we first started our company, we went through quite a few people because we couldn’t offer much more than a bag full of good wines to sell and a commission rate. But these days, we are in a more fortunate position to attract top people in our industry and (hopefully) keep them. Early this Spring we were in search of someone to align with our company culture in San Francisco. During a five-month vetting process there were many fabulous applicants that were hard to pass on, but we found one who seems to be the right fit for us: someone who inspires us to be better... Hadley Kemp will join us in the middle of August. Her last post was as the General Manager of Spruce, one of San Francisco’s most notable restaurants inside the Bacchus Group’s top tier collection of Michelin-starred establishments. She worked with the group for around a decade, with some of that time spent as the General Manager and Sommelier/Wine Buyer for an award-winning wine program at, The Village Bakery, prior to taking the helm at Spruce. I’ve never liked the idea of phone interviews and I generally try to avoid them, but two minutes into my conversation with Hadley I had a smile from ear to ear. I knew she would be someone who would offer our company (and any company for that matter) yet another opportunity to up our game through the quality of our team members. More importantly, Donny (the other owner of The Source) and I realized, at this stage of our lives, that she is the type of person in whom we want to invest our energy. We want to work with people who we truly enjoy spending time with. Some say, “work is work,” or “business is business,” but for me, my work and business are my life; they’re very personal as well. I want to enjoy the people I work with and we also want our customers to have a good time with the people who represent us. Many San Francisco restaurants and retail stores will now benefit from Hadley’s great outlook on life, her deep knowledge of wine, and her humble, soft and extremely hospitable and professional approach. She’s a great compliment to Danny DeMartini, the consummate pro we’ve worked with in San Francisco for almost five years now. Wine Feature Poderi Colla Bricco del Drago Written by Donny Sullivan, Cofounder of The Source A tall tale is what it sounded like in 2013 when I first heard of this wine and its aging potential, and with a name like Bricco Del Drago, or, Hill of the Dragon, a little bit of hyperbole seemed pretty likely. But Tino Colla of Poderi Colla has been cited as saying this very prized and historic wine has a hard-to-believe aging potential of 50 years. Of course in my experience of Dolcetto, even if it has a splash of Nebbiolo (15%), longevity of this kind seemed inconceivable, but I didn’t want to question the claim. So began my pursuit of understanding the wine and maybe proving it wrong. Then one night, eight years after I heard the claim in question, I was sitting in Tino Colla’s most-welcoming dining room awaiting a home-cooked meal by his wife Bruna, when we did a blind taste with many great wines, and as it turned out, it was a 1970 Bricco del Drago that was the wine of the night. It was precisely 50 years old and it not only blew my mind, but also those of a handful of my colleagues and fellow wine trade professionals. It was alive, fragrant, regal and as seductive a wine as I’ve ever had: honestly, shocking! I’ve only tasted the one from this vintage, but I’ve tried others from this wine and I can confirm Tino’s statement that this is arguably the greatest and most age-worthy Dolcetto-driven wine in all of Italy...ever! The history and lore of this vineyard and wine speaks for itself. It’s grown on a very steep hill that climbs from around a thousand feet to over 1200 feet above sea level, faces west and has vines of 20, 30 and 50 years of age. The plot has undergone hundreds of years of genetic adaptation, having been planted to Dolcetto for many centuries. This wine has an immense power and structure upon release, while still exuding the aromas of Piemonte and the freshness of the cool fog that often covers its vineyards. This is a very serious wine, contrary to the often oversimplified reputation of Dolcetto. Don’t be intimidated; just be patient and you will find one of the true hidden gems of Piemonte. This time we do know where the diamonds are buried: on the hill of the dragon—Bricco del Drago! Rocca di Montelino, Oltrepò Pavese Travel Journal 2021, Part 2 by Ted Vance Beaune, 26 June I just finished a plate of perfectly in-season heirloom tomatoes I picked up from Grand Frais, a local grocery store with a knack for quality products on a larger distribution scale. The farmer’s market in Beaune was today, but I didn’t feel like tangling with a crowd and waiting in line, even if it was for some of the best ingredients to be found in all of France. Yeah, maybe I was a little lazy… I went for a run this morning for the first time in more than six weeks. This allergy season has been hard on my profession, which relies so much on my nose. Symptoms have been intense and incessant due to the excesses of rain throughout spring and well into June. The last time I went out for a run was in southern Portugal’s Alentejo when I was there with my wife and Constantino Ramos, a winemaker we work with, and his wife, Margarida, on our first getaway in Portugal after things opened up. The run was a terrible mistake. The grass was chest high and the typical Portuguese square cobblestone country road had it bending into the lanes, so every car that passed brushed against it. A few hours later, I could hardly breathe. My nose was firmly blocked for the rest of the day and most of the trip. There was no wind today and it rained pretty good yesterday, so particles were wetted down and I took the run (sans Zyrtec) from downtown Beaune mostly on Chemin des Tuvilains nearly to Pommard and back (I’m too out of shape for more), as the wine writer, Vicki Denig, recommended I do during a tasting with her and Paul Wasserman in David Croix’s cellar the day before. My lungs were working like the clogged air intake on my old 1984 Toyota Landcruiser as it struggled to ventilate the engine while it tried to keep up with the flow of seventy-mile-per-hour California freeway traffic. The first run after a long break is always the hardest. Attack of the Drone A few weeks ago, I headed west from Piemonte and into Lombardia’s Otrepò Pavese (OP) to see Andrea Picchioni. My primary agenda was to do some drone filming of his vineyards. Andrea doesn’t speak English and my Italian has been completely written over by Spanish, so I struggle now to find the words. On this trip, I just spoke Spanish and English with some Italian words peppered in, hoping he’d understand, which he mostly did. I got great footage of the original Buttafuoco vineyards that he works with only one other grower, Franco Pellegrini. OP is overwhelmingly a marvelous place to see, and its potential to reside in the upper echelons of quality wine is grossly underestimated. It’s a shock that there aren’t more outstanding producers in the region. After hitting all his vineyards in the Solinga Valley, Andrea took me up to Rocca di Montelino, a castle that sits at the northernmost point of the Apennine Mountains. I wanted optimal reception for the drone and to photograph Lino Maga’s vineyards as well, for context. Andrea had a hard time helping me locate Lino’s parcels from above because they aren’t as obviously discernable as others, but after my drone battery was two-thirds dead from looking around, we found them. Basically nobody is familiar with how things look from an aerial perspective, including local producers, so it takes us a while to find our bearings. I got a few shots and my low-battery warning started beeping and wouldn’t let up, making me nervous and feeling rushed. I had to hustle it back. It was pretty windy and the drone made its way up through a clearing toward a stone pad just about big enough to land a helicopter—so no problem for a tiny drone, right? I zipped it through some trees without any worry about hitting them (which I did in Portugal a month before the trip and had to replace the drone) and then over the pad to about six or seven feet from me and Andrea. Andrea moved in closer to the drone to get a better look while I was trying to land and a collision sensor triggered, freezing my controls, jerking it backward and along with a gust of wind it quickly pushed back toward Andrea. Everything seemed to suddenly be moving in slow motion as the propellers wrapped against his legs (thankfully he wasn’t in shorts) and as he tried to dance out of the way I stood there helplessly, but amazed at his agility as it stayed on him like an angry bee looking for its target. With the sensors fully restricted, the drone was completely out of my control for a very slow but exciting five seconds. Andrea finally evaded the machine and its propellers slowly met the rock wall, busting up almost all of them and leaving me in a state of complete shock and embarrassment, but I couldn’t stop laughing and was in tears in seconds—a total Johnny Knocksville, Jackass moment. I was speechless. Nothing but English words were coming to mind as I apologized while nearly hysterical with laughter as I analyzed Andrea’s pants to see if the propellers caused damage. Thankfully they’re flexible plastic and he had on a durable pair of old school Levi’s 501s, as he always does when I see him. Andrea smiled in disbelief at the drone all mangled on the ground. I’m sure it was one of the most exciting moments over the last couple years, and he repeatedly assured me that he was okay and took greater interest in whether the drone was badly damaged. It was an easy fix, but I wasn’t at all cool with what happened; I was shaken up and realized the drone had simply gotten too close to him for a landing. We got back in the car and headed down the bumpy road and the whole trip back to the cantina I had to keep turning away from him because I couldn’t stifle the giggles and the tears—indeed, I’m still a mere child at heart… Before I left, he insisted that I sit for some pancetta and focaccia that his mother prepared. Andrea told her about the drone (but not the attack) and then asked when they could see the video. I told them in about a month or so after I edited it, but after a few minutes I realized how cool it would be to watch his mother’s face as she surely had never seen this area where she’d probably spent the last eighty years from a drone’s-eye view. I got the computer out, plugged in the SanDisk card and watched her repeatedly shake her head in disbelief, repeating bello… bello… bello… We live in a different time and some of the things we can do today are almost unfathomable for older generations. Andrea Picchioni’s Buttafuoco vineyards As I watched Andrea’s mother melt, something was also melting in my mouth; the pancetta was extraordinary (not all of them are) and accompanied by a little perfectly baked focaccia with just the right amount of soft crunch in the flaky salt and the crust below, a calculated measure of the stretch of the bread and olive oil dusting. It was dreamy. It reminded me of a discussion I had with one of my Iberophile friends about Spanish versus Italian ham a few years ago, while in Costa Brava. In Matt Goulding’s fabulous book on Spanish culture through the lens of food, Grape, Olive, Pig, he compared the best Spanish hams to Italian, saying, “Yes, Italy produces fine cured hams, but next to a slice of three-year, acorn-fed, black-footed jamon, prosciutto tastes like lunch meat.” I adore Matt’s writing and in a perfect world, we’d be friends who regularly shared food and wine together. However, it’s hard for me to agree with that comment; in my opinion, there’s a time and place for everything. In my experience, Italian cured hams come in many more forms than the Spanish and are less monotonous. The Spanish seem to have found an extraordinary combination with the race of the pig, its diet and habitat, and stuck with it; why change something that’s already perfect? It may be true that jamón de bellota will provide one of the single greatest tastes of cured pig you could put in your mouth, but I don’t find it as pairable or combinable with other foods as some of the very versatile Italian cured hams. The best Spanish jamón is exhilarating but can be somewhat exhausting for me after a solid plate of it, and I need to take a break for a few days before the next ración. It’s kind of like a mushroom trip—you don’t want it all the time, but when you do, it can be life altering. And pancetta and the elegance of Italian cured meats with a higher quantity of fat compared to those of Spain may offer some daylight for me. The fat of this pancetta was extremely fine and elegant, creamy, and salty like a gentle ocean spray breeze, a nice contrast to the profound umami and oftentimes excessively thick greasiness I find in many of the most intense cured Spanish hams. This particular pancetta at the Picchioni cantina was one of the best I can remember. Andrea insisted I have a few sips of his Bonarda Ipazia (twist my arm), a semi-sparkling, dark red wine served chilled, and it was an absolutely perfect match. Val Camonica, Lombardia Back on the road, I set the course for Enrico Togni, a Lombardian winegrower whose wines stunned me the first time I tasted them last February. Enrico invited me for lunch and in typical Italian fashion, I had to nearly run away from the Picchionis because my final destination that night was Bolzano, and I had to get to Togni on time, otherwise I could be staring at a dark hotel and an unwelcoming innkeeper, if there was any innkeeper at all. Enrico lives up in the Val Camonica, a place in the Italian Alps I never imagined existed. Arriving from the south, outside of the ancient city, Brescia, a right turn on the highway leads you into a valley surrounded by mountains to an almost immediate, unexpected and magnificent view of Lago d’Iseo, which has the largest lake island in Italy and Southern Europe, called Monte Isola. It’s truly a stunning image with this island that quickly rises to more than four hundred meters above the surface of the water below, and you’re only able to see its magnificence in bits and pieces as you slowly go downhill from one tunnel on the east side of the lake to the next. Driving through the ancient glacial valley and into the tiny centro storico of Boaria Terme, the streets began to narrow sharply and it became more than an ordinary nerve-wracking ascent, toward Enrico’s house and winery, tucked just below a series of limestone cliffs on the north side of the valley. Had I driven a Fiat Panda like Enrico’s, it wouldn’t have been intimidating, but I was in a Renauld Megane station wagon and I barely made it through a few strips squeezed together by towering stone buildings on either side by an inch or two. My wife would’ve gone completely nuts if she were with me as I carefully and slowly negotiated some hairpin turns while the car’s sensors beeped obnoxiously no matter what I did because there was zero room for error in every direction and no possibility of backing up without destroying the side mirrors of the car, and likely the doors. It reminded me of rock climbing: no direction to go but all the way to the top before calming the nerves. First, it was the drone attack on Andrea and now this. Things seem to go in waves of three, so I wondered if there would be a third on this day. Enrico quit his university studies in Law to get out into nature. Over lunch, Cinzia, his partner and the mother of their daughter, lovingly told many stories about Enrico and his unique obsession with farming, and about some of his vineyard workers that happens to be a flock of sheep he hangs out with first thing in the morning and again later in the night before bed, every day. She also told a story that seemed only partially embarrassing to Enrico about how much he loves animals, and that on his sixth birthday he asked for and got a sheep, on his seventh birthday he got a donkey, at his eighth, a pony—and none of them were the stuffed versions. Enrico Togni Enrico’s vineyards sit on limestone terraces only a half kilometer from volcanic hills across the glacial valley. The grapes of his focus are Barbera, which he makes mostly into sparkling wines, a Nebbiolo still wine, and a few different wines from Erbanno, a member of the “Lambrusco” family that requires almost no treatments in the vineyards because it has a strong immunity to mildew and disease. There are two still versions of Erbanno: one that has almost no extraction and is pressed quite early that he labels as a Rosato (though I asked that “Rosato” be removed from the label because I find that it is more of an extremely light red in almost every way, like a Premetta, a very light Schiava, Poulsard, or even the Galician variety, Brancellao, and it deserves a better fate than to be lumped into the Italian Rosato category) and the other, a darker, more typically extracted red wine version. The lighter red is absolutely wonderful, and I’ve come to adore it after just four bottles and a few tastes in the cellar. The darker version is more gamey and perhaps even better with food. His Nebbiolo wine, labeled as Vino Rosso 1703, is special. It comes in around 12% alcohol, is very light in color and layered with extremely delicate classic Nebbiolo nuances, especially that sun-roasted red and orange rose smell. He said that his great challenge with Nebbiolo is that there are no references for it in his area. He’s the only one who grows it. Before I left, we spent a few minutes tasting his 2020 wines out of barrel and tank. Their purity was mind-blowing, and I wanted to just sit there and drink them for the rest of the day and dream about the reaction of our buyers back in the US. I’m fired up about what I tasted and can’t wait for them to be in bottle. It was a great sendoff before I worked my way through the Alps toward Bolzano for a visit with Falkenstein, a winery that I’ve known about for many years and whose wines I love, and another, Fliederhof, a producer I’ve kept an eye on over the last few years. A slow, four-hour drive through the Alps was perhaps the part of the trip I looked forward to the most since I began to plan it. I’m originally from Montana and I often have a great craving for backcountry mountain terrain; I spent one summer in my early high-school years working in Glacier National Park where the Rockies are gorgeous and treacherous, and totally wild. The Alps are even more beautiful and somehow very inviting, plus they don’t have grizzly bears like Montana, which makes it easier to hang out alone snapping shots with my guard down, to fully take in the clouds that covered part of the bright blue sky and the enchantment of mountains. The air was so fresh, clean and invigorating it was hard to believe I was still in Italy. In fact, I was headed for a countryside civilization that was annexed by Italy after World War I, but culturally is more obviously Austrian than Italian. Some of the locals don’t even really speak Italian because their native tongue is German. The Italian Alps at Vermiglio On the other side of this corner of the Alps I had my much anticipated and first in-person meeting with Martin Ramoser, a young man I was introduced to by Florian Gojer, of Glögglehof, a winery I feel produces the strongest killer combo of red and white wines in the Südtirol; many wineries there are very good at either red or white, but few make extraordinary wines in both colors. I asked Florian, with whom I worked with some years ago, for some insider tips on who was up-and-coming in the red wine arena and he pointed me straight toward Martin. But first, it was a long overdue visit with Falkenstein, whose unforgettable Riesling I had for the first time almost ten years ago, just on the edge of Lago de Garda. Gevrey-Chambertin, 29 June I’m parked on a dirt road facing north with Lavaux Saint-Jacques directly to my left and Le Clos Saint-Jacques straight ahead. I just finished eating a jamon emmental sandwich and a vanilla éclair I got from Pàtisserie La P’tite Chambertine, in Gevrey. I’ve got about two and half more hours before my visit with Amélie Berthaut, in Fixin. The weather is volatile, fighting between intense gusts of wind and solid downpours that last just a few minutes, followed by a bright blue opening above that’s framed by ominous and angry, saturated gray clouds. The juxtaposition of colors between the shade and illumination of the earth and sky is intense and seems unnaturally exaggerated—like it’s all photoshopped. It’s typical of the weather back home in Ponte de Lima, Portugal, which for us is a regular daily light show from our perch behind a big glass wall facing directly west. About fifteen minutes ago, while I worked my way through the sandwich, I thought that I should break out the drone to capture some images of the Côte Saint-Jacques while everyone is eating lunch, so I’d be more likely to go unnoticed. I honestly don’t know all the legalities of flying a drone in France because the information online is vague, and I can only imagine how much paperwork would be required if I were to try to seek out official permissions from each location (if there’s even an easily accessible office that actually does such things for private fliers, which I doubt). I follow the rules I find on the internet the best I can, and I steal as many shots as possible without attracting any attention. I went for it and made a quick loop above Gevrey, landed the drone and quickly packed it up and opened my computer to write. La Côte Saint-Jacques I love eating sandwiches outside on park benches in France—although I ate this one in my car because there was no bench to be found. I still had a fabulous view of one of my favorite vineyards, Le Clos Saint-Jacques, with its slight tilt in my direction toward the south so I could see all the rows behind its famous, beautiful limestone rock wall on the south side. Sometimes a sandwich is all I want while on the road in France, after a few big sit-down meals with a lot of great wine for lunch. As long as the sandwich has good bread, at the very least. This is usually my first choice if the weather is good because for some reason I don’t love dining in French restaurants where there is often too much emphasis on the process, when I just want to eat something with quality ingredients without as much ado. (This rarely happens when I’m travelling with others because not everyone comes to France with enough frequency to forego a great wine list with absolute bargains on rarities that, depending on the wine, would cost more than four times the price on a wine list in a big US city.) France has the best baguettes for sandwiches; while other countries have amazing bread, the baguette medal is firmly in France’s corner, and they cost almost nothing when compared to a good baguette in the US from an artisanal baker. When I first started to develop our import wine portfolio, sandwiches were about all I ever ate for lunch if I didn’t have an invitation. While eating in a park, the French usually give me an extra-long stare, looking at me like I’m some strange creature they’ve never seen before, or like they’re scared of me. But after a smile in their direction, occasionally followed by a non-committal smile in return, there is sometimes a surprising utterance of “Bon appétit!” The truth is, our company’s start was fueled by sandwiches. A little less than three weeks ago, I drove to meet Magdelena Pratzner and her father, Franz, the family who started Falkenstein, a winery located in Italy’s Südtirol/Alto Adige that produces many fantastic different wines (Weissburgunder, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir—all grapes that have been cultivated here for centuries) and many consider the Pratzners to be the most compelling Riesling producer in Italy. The vineyard and winery are located in one of the many glacial valleys in the north of the country, with a typical relief of a flat valley floor surrounded by gorgeous, steep mountains, which creates starkly contrasting shades and colors throughout. All the vineyards in these parts must have the correct exposure on northern positions that provide some angle of a south face, otherwise there is no chance to achieve palatable ripeness. The vineyards here are some of the wine world’s most stunning, and it’s surprising how many are tucked into the valleys of Trentino (the bordering region to the south) and the Südtirol. But what’s even more attractive to me (because I see vineyards all day long) are the north facing hills, with their spring and summertime bright green pastures on equally steep mountainsides, surrounded by forest and a great view of all the terraced vineyards across the way. Falkenstein Walking in Falkenstein’s vineyards in the heat wave that just took hold a few days before, after a very wet and unusually cold spring, it was easy to see how their slab of the mountain is perfect to ripen the late-ripening Riesling grape. Magdelena led the hike up in the stony, sandy terrain of their vineyards, a walk that demonstrated just how steep and slippery they are. The rock types here are mostly medium to high-grade metamorphic, like schist and gneiss, with the latter quite similar to Austria’s Wachau wine region, a place that inspired Franz to focus his energy on Riesling instead of their apple orchards. The sandy topsoil is derived entirely from the bedrock, and unlike many of Austria’s famous Riesling terroirs, there is no loess to be found here in their vineyards, making for Rieslings with a more dense mineral core, a deep, mouthwatering saltiness and acidity, and concentrated but still tight yellow and orange stone fruit characteristics imparted by the generous summer and fall sun, and the massive diurnal shift at nightfall. The first time I tasted one of their Rieslings about ten years ago, it brought vivid images of the Wachau and its gneiss-dominated vineyards—loess, which is commonly found in the Wachau, adds a sort of fluffy, extra mouthfeel to wines, which can be good with Grüner Veltliner, but I prefer Rieslings from purely stony soils derived from the bedrock below, like Falkenstein’s. After our tasting, and a few quickly snapped photos with her very humble, shy but very photogenic father, Franz, Magdelena and I went to Kuppelrain, a Michelin-starred restaurant that serves a more casual lunch, just a short drive west from Falkenstein. It sits above the Castelbello train station, named after the castle that sits on the north side of the valley, right across the small Adige River, no more than three hundred meters away, in full view of the restaurant’s outside terrace that overflows with plants and flowers. I love the food in Austria and I think it’s completely underrated on the European scale. People are always surprised when I praise Austrian food in the same breath as French and Italian and often insist that the average there is higher. And what foodie doesn’t love Italian food? Imagine a marriage of the two at Kuppelrain: a capture of the sun’s generosity in an Italian summer fare and intensely fresh alpine spring greens and pastoral fruits with deep, concentrated flavors. Anytime beef carpaccio is on the menu it’s hard for me to not order it, and Kuppelrain’s is one of the best I can remember. Other than perhaps the shaved parmigiano-like cheese (which is still from only a few hours south), everything was local including the beef, which came from a cut with almost no sinewy parts—just clean, perfect slices that stayed together with each bite wrapped around the supporting ingredients. It was served with chicory, edible purple and yellow flowers, perfectly caramelized miniature golden mushrooms that exploded with salty, buttery, sweet woodsy flavor, and rose-infused salt. I asked to buy a little bit of this salt tinted slightly purple with little pieces of dark dried rose floating around, one of the most simple but special ingredients and I supposed that it has to be done with a specific kind of rose, or flower, but I was rejected. No problem. I’ll go back every time I’m in Südtirol, which should become another annual visit with our two producers there. The St. Magdalena hill, Südtirol, Italy Chez Dutraive, 30 June While I lived in Campania a few years ago, Martin Ramoser sent me samples of their wines labeled Fliederhof. They were mostly crafted by his father, Stefan, and were obviously well made and in a charming but rustic style better suited to their local market than to most of my customers in the US. I find it funny that in the US, a country so culturally diverse, the wine trade professionals have specific expectations about the style of wines we drink from other regions, so the wines they buy need to be a sort of hybrid of what the region has historically done and what we like, when it seems more authentic for us to embrace their tastes if we’re drinking wine from their area. I suppose my comment is really a criticism of me more than others because I also do this all the time. Perhaps it’s really a function of the diversity of our culture and exposure to so many different types of cuisine. Martin and I cultivated a telephone friendship in hopes that we would someday work together, talking a lot about his family’s winery and where they were in their development. Though he’s a few years younger than thirty, Martin’s parents, Stefan and Astrid, gave him philosophical control of the vineyards and he began to inch toward organic farming. During our conversations, I gave him a strong push toward full regenerative farming and encouraged him to make the jump because the market would support it, and his wines at the time were just a shade away from something really special. A year later, they not only fully committed to organic farming, but also to biodynamics. The wines? I was shocked at the progress in just two years. It was a big left turn from more weighted wines toward a more invigorating and ethereal style with wiry tension and brighter fruit tones. Before dinner, Martin told me that their Schiava, labeled under the St. Magdalener appellation, had just been voted the best of the year by the local wine community. Their Lagrein is also wonderful, but I am a sucker for Schiava. I had dinner with the family that night on their terrace overlooking their Santa Magdelena vineyards under a faintly starry sky, just next to the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena, its spire backlit by Bolzano’s city lights toward the south and just over the small hill the church is perched on. It’s during these moments that I wish I spoke the local language perfectly (which here in Südtirol is more German than Italian) or that they spoke fluent English. As I feasted on a simple-looking but gloriously-addictive fresh ravioli stuffed with spinach, ricotta, onion, parmigiano, and a little nutmeg, I wanted to tell Stefan and Astrid so much about what I think about Martin and how they’ve obviously done an outstanding job raising him and how proud I was of his drive and achievement that clearly has taken flight because of their support. Martin speaks perfect English, but it would’ve been strange to ask him to translate those thoughts. With a thankfully negative result on the Covid antigenic test in my hand (that Martin assisted me in getting the day before), I was off to Austria. I would do a straight shot north, pass over the Austrian border in the far west of the country, up into southern Germany, take a hard right to reenter Austria and pass through one of my favorite small European cities, Salzburg. After about seven hours on the road, I would set up shop at the Malat family’s hotel, on the south side of the Kremstal region, just across the Danube from the local wine hub, Krems. Throughout the trip I was always a little nervous crossing borders with these kinds of restrictions and requirements that are vaguely understood by anyone on either side, except perhaps the guards whose authority could turn me right around if they were simply having a bad day and wanted to give me a hard time. But this was Austria, and they’ve always been nice people in my experience, aside from the often startling abruptness of the German language, especially when spoken by law enforcement. The border guards were professional and courteous, quite the opposite of my unexpected run-in with a set of four more police the next day at Stift Göttweig, a famous and impossible to miss, massive and almost ostentatious rock monastery overlooking the Danube River valley, with the eastern end of the Wachau, and most of Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wagram within view. Not surprisingly, my covid test was finally checked at the Austrian/Italian border and it was no problem crossing for me, but the traffic jam filled with container-carrying trucks destined for Italian seaports coming from the other direction was about fifteen kilometers long—maybe even longer. One of the reasons for the extensive freight delays we are experiencing in the US as a European wine importer became obvious as I passed by hundreds of semi-trucks that stood completely still for the entire length of the jam. I felt terrible for those guys. Austria and Germany will be on the docket for next month. It was a great leg of the trip, as always. The Austrians are an awesome and welcoming group. Every time I’m there, I feel more comfortable than in any other country I visit.■

Cume do Avia Is The Source’s Most Revelatory Producer In The Last Years

If your wine world revolves around natural wines, wines of true terroir identity that are as unaltered as possible by the hand of the grower so as to remain pure, with high-tones, and vigorous, deep textures, then read on and get ready to buy. You won’t want to miss these. Cume do Avia’s wines are rare. Most of them are limited to just over a hundred bottles of each wine for the entire US market, and it wasn’t anticipated that we’d still have them in our inventory at this point. But Covid-19 has opened the door for you, and I am thrilled to introduce you to these wines if you don’t know them already. This lot that just arrived in California was transferred to us from our New York warehouse, where they barely missed their opportunity to put on a show in the Big Apple for some of the world’s most talented sommeliers running wine programs in the city’s best restaurants. Our California team’s 2018 allocation evaporated in days upon arrival and these wines certainly would’ve been long gone out east, too. The Wines at a Glance (A more in-depth write-up is further below) The Colleita Tinto is simply too good for the price. Its delivery is astounding and profound for those who like high-toned, low octane wines that drink as much like a white as they do a red. Brancellao is a grape that can render a wine as brightly hued as a glass of Campari and is the most seductive and elegant in the range. Caiño Longo, a bright red in its youth that can quickly take on a darker hue with only a little age, has an electrical charge and vigorous energy. The Viño Tinto Sin Sulfuroso is a marriage of red and black grapes and bottled without any added sulfur. It continues to surprise as it matures, and keeps getting better, despite its naked life free of sulfur. Their other red varietal bottlings available on our website, Sousón and Ferrón, are ink-black beasts, tight and trim, gritty and earthy and almost savage when young. Be forewarned, these last two wines must be experienced but they will not be for all takers, only those who don’t discriminate against unbridled energy, because they are that. All of the Cume do Avia wines are aromatically intense and have a mouthfeel full of tremendous freshness and intensity. Their range of red wines is a unique and exciting addition to the resurgence of the Iberian Peninsula’s many awakening wine giants. A short story and a deeper dive into the wines Constant Evolution On the narrative arc of our lives inside the wine world, some producers come along that redirect our compass. For me, the first was the legendary California Pinot Noir producer, Williams Selyem, whose wines I was able to drink with surprising regularity at a restaurant where I worked in Scottsdale Arizona back in the late 1990s. The chef and owner, Ercolino Crugnale, came out from California and brought his personal wine collection out to the middle of the desert, where he opened his own seafood restaurant. He planned to put his collection on his wine list, but once he got there, he was told that in order to legally do so, he would have to sell it to a distributor first so they could sell it back to him. Lucky for me, Ercolino decided we would drink it all together after dinner services instead. At Restaurant Oceana I was generously treated to so many of California’s best 80s and 90s wines from Ridge and all the names in California Cab, but it was the Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs that really made an impression on me. What came next was Jean-Marie Fourrier, with his 1999 vintage. I was spoiled by Fourrier's wines early on thanks to the late Christopher Robles. Chris carved out a massive allocation of Fourrier’s wines for the Wine Cask Restaurant, in Santa Barbara, where I ended up working as a sommelier, back when it had a list of more than two thousand carefully selected wines. There were many life-altering wines on that list during the year and a half I worked there, and we were drinking wines like Fourrier’s famous Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jacques for a mere $57 a bottle after our employee discount, and it seemed we had an endless supply of the stuff. Now his Clos Saint-Jacques runs from three hundred to a thousand dollars a bottle, depending on the vintage. We had about a full mixed pallet of his entire range of wines from that truly great vintage that we soaked up daily, along with tons of the other best wines in the world generously allocated to Wine Cask. Once I became a wine importer, things changed drastically. I got to know my heroes personally, which upped my game considerably from those years as a wine-country dreamer to the full, daily immersion of someone in the thick of it. There were soon countless producers that few knew about yet that eventually became synonymous with The Source. Austria’s Veyder-Malberg showed up on my radar in 2010 (thanks to Circo Vino, an Austrian wine importer), along with France’s Loire Valley rising star, Arnaud Lambert, and the discovery of his laser beam Chenin Blancs of Brézé, followed by Thierry Richoux and his singular, giant-slaying Pinot Noirs from the unassuming and minuscule ancient village, Irancy, in the far northwestern corner of Burgundy. Poderi Colla, one of the greatest and all too often overlooked families in all of Piedmont, suddenly caught my attention at a Barolo party overflowing with great wines, when I’d never heard of, had or seen their wines among the vast sea of Barolos, a region I thought I knew a fair bit about at the time. And at the same moment I fell head over heels (like so many others worldwide) for Jean-Luis Dutraive’s wines, which he kicked off with his spectacular run from 2012 to 2014, before Beaujolais blew into the mainstream. Then there was Green Spain… In northwestern Iberia, just above Portugal is Galicia—a part of Green Spain. Galicia is one of the most obvious places in all of Europe clearly with the ability to achieve so much, but with enormous unmet potential. It has a rich history, a deep well of indigenous noble grape varieties and terroir systems, perfectly suited to produce a broad diversity of deeply complex wines. I only began learning about it in depth about four years ago, shortly after my wife and I took our month-long honeymoon in Spain in an attempt to actually get away from wine for a moment. On our journey in the heat of late September and early October, we found ourselves off the wine path and in the world of the tourist, and it took only a couple nights of the famous bruiser red wines from Spain before we began our retreat to beer and Albariño in an attempt to stay fresh and clear-headed so we could enjoy each oncoming day. Once we got home, my friends, Rajat Parr and Brian McClintic, who both resided at my house in Santa Barbara at different times (the latter for years), kept pushing me in the direction of Galicia with so many good wines from Envínate, the now famous producer from the Ribeira Sacra with a ubiquitous presence on all serious wine lists, worldwide. Then JD Plotnick joined our Source team and stoked my Galician embers into a full raging fire. He’s freaky about Galician wines (and wine in general, which makes him a particularly effective and respected salesperson) and it has been a major focus for him for many years, long before Envínate nearly single-handedly put Galicia into mainstream wine pop culture. Enter Cume do Avia The most beguiling wines give the impression that you’ve never truly fallen in love like you have with the one currently in your glass. My first taste of Cume do Avia was at a restaurant in Sanxenxo, at Bar Berbereco, with Manuel Moldes (known to his friends and family as Chicho) and the owner of the restaurant, José (Salvo) Esperon and all of our better halves. Salvo brought out a bottle of Cume do Avia’s Colleita 5 Tinto. I asked if I could taste another wine from this producer because I loved one I was drinking, but was trying to temper my excitement since one-offs happen a lot. But if they could back it up with another wine, it was on. Brancellao was that second wine, luckily for all of us it was incredible, and the rest is history. The wines I first tasted out of barrel with Diego Collarte, one of the family partners of Cume do Avia, seemed to carry the full weight of his family’s collective dream—I’ve never been so moved by the energy of a moment as I was the day I met him and heard his unfiltered, brutally honest view of the challenges they needed to overcome to arrive at that moment, and I knew that I had found as true a diamond as I’ve ever found in the rough. The grit and heart-filled determination of this tribe has led to a range of red wines in 2017 that are raw, honest and inspiring. The nature of the spare and intensely focused wines from the 2018 vintage turned what little noise was left in already impressive wines into wines of greater precision and stark clarity. Diego assures me that this is just the beginning. I believe it. Cume Do Avia Wines In-Depth Raw and enticingly naked, the Colleita 6 Tinto is the charming starting block for Cume do Avia’s range of honest and sparsely touched wines, made from a blend of indigenous red Galician varietals. Caiño Longo (40%) and Brancellao (26%) bring elegance and taut red fruits, and the balance from Sousón (34%), the dark, agile beast side with a deep, vigorous acidity. It’s angular but still soft and restrained, and drinks as much like a white when its young as it does a red, save its glorious, dainty and fluttery red wine characteristics, and the influence of its three-week fermentation with more than a third from whole bunches. A shade over 11% alcohol, it’s aged in an ancient, restored chestnut foudre, and is replete with mineral and metallic impressions derived from its soil mixture of granite, schist and slate. (No matter the scientific debate on how these characters come to a wine, these soils vividly mark their vinous offspring.) Its freshness is a waterlogged forest with tree bark spices, exotic sweet green pastoral herbs and wild red and black berries never touched by a direct ray of sunshine. It’s refreshingly cool, like fog rising from a slow moving river; like rain; like wet, brisk wind. It’s a wine from the Ribeiro and it tastes like that land looks and feels. Cume do Avia’s Brancellao is dainty, thin framed, soft spoken, and subtly powerful. It’s equally as compelling as the other wines in their range of reds, but its charm flows ceaselessly from the first sniff and sip. It’s more suave and with far less than one hundred cases produced annually, Brancellao is still the largest production of their single-varietal wines. It’s extremely fresh, bright and beautifully transparent, and reveals many facets in time, all filling out together as it unfolds. One moment it speaks of Italy’s alpine influenced wines such as Premetta and Schiava; or France’s Massif Central red, Saint Pourçain, a Mugnier-like Pinot Noir from Burgundy; Poulsard from the Jura; lightly extracted old school California Russian River Pinot Noirs from the 80s and 90s like Williams Selyem’s coastal vineyard sites after decades of cellar time. In the glass it smells and tastes of the first red berries of the season, sweet green citrus and bay spice. The palate ceaselessly expands in depth and weight, with the start as light as a darker rosé and that evolves like a fresh, cool vintage red Burgundy from a high elevation site on stony soils. That said, I have no illusion about this wine’s pedigree when comparing it to Burgundy because it is not constructed like one in the cellar. It was crafted for a shorter life, but over hours of tasting it finds unexpected heights that show what its potential could be if modifications were made with the intention of aging it longer. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling prospect in the resurgence of the Spain’s Ribeiro (and perhaps within Galicia) than Caiño Longo. If there were ever an extroverted bright light within all of the noble red grapes of the world, this could be a contender for the top prize. Cume do Avia’s interpretation is almost outrageous and appears to be some kind of mythical legend from a fantasy land. It’s grown on a mix of granite, schist and slate soils, and is a lightning bolt of freshness with an atomic level of expansive energy. In its youth, it bursts with a broad, mouthwatering spectrum of piercing lines, sharp angles, seductive curves and concentrated energy. (My descriptions may seem indulgent, but this wine is like a high-grade stimulant for the nose and mouth.) When I first tasted Cume do Avia’s 2017 Caiño Longo from a restored chestnut barrel of over a hundred years old, it was a hair-raising and somehow illusory experience, and one of the most vivid moments of my entire wine career. Instantly smitten by its flamboyantly profound beauty and depth, I asked if it was made from old vines and was surprised when I was told that they were planted in 2008 and 2009. Its sappy palate and lengthy finish is deceptive and easy to associate with a wine rendered from ancient vines whose energy focuses on fewer but more concentrated grapes. When compared to the entire range of Cume do Avia’s red wines, the mood of the Viño Tinto Sin Sulfuroso lands squarely between the opposing bright red and ink-black single varietal wines. Nearly half the blend is Sousón (known in Portugal as Souzão, Sousão or Vinhão), which brings darkness to the color and a strong virile sense of spice, animal, iodine and belly to the wine—though not as much of a belly as many other solar-powered red wines grown on heavier soils. The difference, a blend of one-third Caiño Longo, both the backbone and horizontal core of the wine, along with the radiant Brancellao (25%), bestow together ethereal wild red berry nuances, unremitting acidity and pure joy. It’s spare on fat, but rich in character and personality. Once past its coy first fifteen minutes, this elegant but firm wine begins to aromatically blossom with pointed thrust and beautifully long lines.

2017 Domaine des Croix: A Breakthrough Performance

There are few wines I am more excited for you to drink than Domaine des Croix's 2017s One of the most compelling qualities about David Croix is his directness. He answers all questions candidly, no candy-coating, no embellishment. His wines have similar qualities; they’re honest and straightforward. Respectful. There’s only beauty coming from the wines made from this estate. And joy—the joy of realizing possibilities. David Croix, like many other Burgundians his age, is always on the move. In the early years, his wines were by his own description: “Darker and tighter in the past.” He says that now the vines have changed and so have the wines. The fruit now is brighter and more expressive, and the wines more fun to taste when young. The domaine's conversion to organic culture in 2008 is now really starting to, well, bear fruit… Those secondary and tertiary components mentioned earlier began to take on more of the wine’s expression naturally. Perhaps it was the vines that influenced David’s style, not the other way around? Today, he believes that there is more natural balance in all of his wines. A Brief Story & Details On The Wines Regarding red Burgundy, the two appellations David’s Domaine des Croix is focused on seem to be thought of as second or third fiddle within their classification. Beaune’s premier crus are often placed in the middle to lower end of the totem—surely from all the Côte de Nuits’ main appellations. And perhaps it’s qualitatively (not only literally) scrunched in the middle of those from the Côte de Beaune, under Volnay, Pommard and even slightly lower on the hierarchy than Savignly-les Beaune, which I attribute mostly to the quality of domaines that achieve in the latter, like Bize, Pavelot and other big names from outside the appellation who have been drawn to it, like Lalou Bize-Leroy, Bruno Clair and Mongeard Mugneret. Corton, the quiet brute in the family of red grand crus, is experiencing a makeover and resurgence of interest. It seems to be the best value—if you can say such a thing—red grand cru appellation at the moment in the Côte d’Or, if not matched in price by what some consider lesser grand crus like Echezeaux and Clos Vougeots (at least from many producers), for example. Perhaps the new property taken by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has piqued interest in Corton along with the increased scarcity and absurdly elevated prices of other red grand crus made by a load of fabulous, small production, big-name producers. Corton’s Pinot Noir vineyards seem to be the last of the great hills to be tamed in the modern era, and while its natural attributes may always be more brute than beauty compared to most other Grand Crus, there are those, like David, who are illuminating its finer points. We begin with the Beaune Village, where the plantings range from circa 1957 to 1983 within four parcels. 20% whole clusters are typical and will vary every year. Most of the wines go through the same kind of processing with two pumpovers at the beginning of its natural fermentation and four punchdowns in total toward the end. The fermentation for this wine was short compared to most of the rest of the range with around twelve to fourteen days. It spent twelve months or so in oak before being bottled. My experience with this wine has been that it is an exceptional village wine and I imagine it’s incomparable in its high quality to almost all other Beaune village wines. Croix's Beaune 1er Cru Les Cents Vignes is the best of his Beaune premier crus to drink young. David teases it for its early availability, suggesting a lack of profundity, but we don't see it like that. There's only beauty here. It’s the playful one in the range of premier crus—full of pleasure and no pretension. It sits low on the slope with brown gravelly-clay soil with grèze litée in the upper section and with alluvial soils in the bottom. Grèze litée is an interesting formation in certain spots on the Côte. It’s a small grain rock with sharp angles and often kind of rectangular or square, and about the size of our teeth. It’s a physical component that affects drainage in a positive way, at least when there is rain. In 2017 he used 15% stems and the fermentation lasted around thirteen or fourteen days, followed by aging for thirteen months in oak before bottling. The Beaune 1er Cru Bressandes is situated very close to Savigny-les-Beaune and is high up on the slope. For this reason there are usually no stems employed, because with the high rock content David—like many vignerons his age—feels that they’d contrast the built in textures already present; in this case, the “strong chalky character” David says that this vineyard consistently imparts to the wine. Bressandes is a pleasure for those who seek out great lines, solid mineral textures, lift and cut. This wine comes from vineyards planted between 1983 and 1991, and is usually fermented for eighteen days, and spends a year and a half in barrel before bottling. Further down slope from Bressandes and above Les Cents Vignes, still on the north side of the commune, sits the Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves directly on the mid-slope; yes, the sweet spot, as they say, where the most balanced vineyards in the Côte d’Or sit. And it’s for this reason that it’s perhaps the MVP of Croix’s Beaune lineup. That doesn’t mean that it’s always the de facto frontrunner in the bunch, but it’s likely never far from whatever we may choose as our favorite in the Croix lineup—if it’s not the favorite to begin with. The vines were planted in 1968 in soil made of a mix of brown clay and, you guessed it: grèze is in the house. As already mentioned, grèze litée provides good drainage to balance out the clay’s capacity to be stingy with water—making for a fabulous soil balance that translates to the wine, endowing it with fine but solid textures and a good balance of vertical (mineral, tension) and horizontal (richness and flavor) elements. There are normally 20-25% stems used here, the fermentation lasted around thirteen days and the wine ages for about thirteen months in wood before bottling. Normally one of the wines that may pique the height of one's curiosity in David’s range is his Beaune 1er Cru Pertuisots. The others are somehow predictable, but in the best comforting and reassuring sort of way. This wine always carries some x-factors that are quite difficult to put your finger on… We’re on the south side of Beaune now, close to Pommard, with vines planted in 1971 and 1987 on deep clay soils and limestone bedrock. Perhaps its enigmatic quality is imparted through its cool, mineral texture and the wild berry and fresh savory green herb characteristics—that Pommard-like grit and untamed quality, one all too often these days under-appreciated by newer Burgundy drinkers. It’s got 20-25% stems included for its seventeen or eighteen days of fermentation, followed by a year and a half in wood before bottling. (The hill of Corton is pictured above) With Croix’s two red grand crus the differences begin with their terroirs. The Grand Cru Corton Les Grèves is ideally situated on the eastern slope about midway up, with a good balance of brown clay mixed with limestone rocks and chailles—a sort of flint stone (or in English, a chert; in French a silex)—atop hard limestone bedrock. The Grand Cru Corton La Vigne au Saint is low down on the slope facing south with deeper clay topsoil. Les Grèves gets no stems, La Vigne au Saint gets 50%. (If you haven’t noticed yet, there is a correlation between some cellars where in stonier soils there is less stem used, and with more clay heavy soils there is more stem.) Les Grèves was a 20-day ferment and La Vigne au Saint sixteen days. Both were nineteen months in barrel before bottling in 2017, and in 2018 they will both be bottled after twenty-two months. Perhaps one could speculate that La Vigne au Saint is more upfront, while Grèves takes a little bit of time to perform once the corks are pulled. However, these contrasts vary from year to year and sometimes they are the exact opposite of what's expected. David regularly laments his parcels of Corton as somehow being the lesser of the hill within the grand cru lieux-dits because they are often not considered to be in the same qualitative level as the Clos du Roi, the king of this grand cru's lieux-dits on the hill. But we don’t buy it. A young and idealistic winegrower from Champagne we recently began to work with, Maxime Ponson, said that he believes that in many cases vineyards that take less work to achieve a great result doesn’t mean those that require more work to achieve a similarly great result are lesser vineyards; it’s a matter of effort and understanding what to do to make the best wine you can with each parcel. David does a fine job with his grand crus and they easily rise to the expectation we may have for grand cru wines. Fortunately, they are still priced fairly (for those who can afford to play the in the financially slippery slope of Burgundy) and I would expect that given this vintage, these wines will be a knockout and deliver on the expectations from those looking for a true grand cru experience from a young wine. David Croix’s Corton-Charlemagne parcel is located in Le Charlemagne, an interior subdivision lieu-dit of this grand cru and part of the commune, Aloxe-Corton. His vineyard is just below the forest that caps this three-sided hill, and faces west at an altitude of 320 to 330 meters. The bedrock here is pernand marl, a white calcareous marlstone with a high silt content, giving the rock a grittier texture to the touch than other usual marls within the Côte d’Or. The topsoil is composed of material derived from the bedrock as well as clay and limestone scree from the top of the hill. The parcel’s Chardonnay vines were completely replanted in the mid- and late-1980s. The upper section of Le Charlemagne’s white marls and their higher than average silt content seem to impart “a lot of texture with salinity and tannin to the wines—delicate tannins, sensitive to too much new oak,” David explained. In the most recent vintages he’s moved away from aging in newer wood to allow these finely textured grape tannins to not be covered by stronger and potentially harsher wood tannins from newer oak barrels. He now uses 350-liter barrels with a smaller proportion of new wood, which he views as a good compromise. The 228 and 500-liter French oak barrels found throughout his cellar he views as less ideal given how “dense” this wine is. He believes his Corton-Charlemagne needs longer-term soft massaging through the right amount of aeration without taking on new oak notes to achieve his ideal wine. The longer aging time in the 350-liter barrels builds on the wine’s freshness, its naturally strong core power and intricate complexity. This Corton-Charlemagne is notably more bright and elegant than ever.

Bruno Clair

One could say Bruno Clair is a vigneron’s vigneron. His wines are loved worldwide by everyone lucky enough to know them, and what’s truly impressive is the respect he garners within Burgundy, where his fellow growers consider him one of the greatest of their ranks. They admire his attention to detail in the vineyard, his organic practices (even if he doesn’t bother with certification), and the long hours he and his crews put in. In the cellar, along with his longtime enologist Philippe Brun (they have been called “the Batman and Robin of Marsannay”), Bruno produces wines that are loved for their purity of expression. They show no ego or even style, but just seem to be true to the essence of each individual vineyard. Bruno’s grandfather was Joseph Clair, who created (along with his wife, Marguerite Dau) one of Burgundy’s most celebrated domaines, Clair-Dau. It started in the 1920s, with Marguerite’s family holdings in Marsannay, the Côte d’Or’s most northerly village, which is now starting to be inundated with development from the sprawling city of Dijon. Joseph, just returned from WWI, took over farming and began to grow the domaine. This expansion would continue for the next 50 years, collecting glimmering holdings up and down the Côte de Nuits, from Bonnes Mares to Clos de Vougeot to Le Clos Saint-Jacques. By the 1970s it was one of the greatest estates in Burgundy, made more remarkable because it had been achieved by a humble and hardworking farmer, not inherited via aristocratic ancestors.

The Comical Chablis Master, Sébastien Christophe, Part Twenty-Three of An Outsider at The Source

After our visit to Thierry Richoux in Irancy, we returned to Préhy to drop Andrea off for some much needed rest. Ted and I paused beside a war memorial across from the Airbnb and stared at it with solemn fascination. In many towns and often on the side of the road, there are statues and monoliths to commemorate each of the great wars, when thousands of locals died fighting the Germans. It was more rich history that evokes so many disturbing images from film and fiction, more history that we just don’t have on the ground in the States, though certainly not the enviable kind. We jumped in the white wagon and drove through Chablis and to the other side, where we skirted Vaillons and Montmains, two hills that demarcate the left bank premier crus of the region. Chablis is a big AOC; just to give it some perspective, the one grand cru known as Le Clos is almost bigger than the five grand crus in Puligny-Montrachet combined. To our left were the grand crus on the right bank, where the producer we were going to visit, Sébastien Christophe, has all of his holdings. We were greeted at Sébastien’s compound by a nice lady who guided us into a tasting room in a low building adjacent to a small house. He was running late and she assured us that he would be along shortly. It turned out that she was his mother, and she lived in the little house with his father; Sébastien’s grandfather established the domaine and planted the family's first Petit Chablis vines in 1959. Sébastien finally arrived, a little frazzled, and peppered us with apologies. He had just come from some of his parcels where he had also lost quite a few vines to the frost. He’s wiry and of medium height, with a kind of fidgety energy, an expressive face and wide, wild eyes that he widens even more when punctuating a joke as he smiles his crooked, gape-toothed smile. He showed us into the next room, which expanded into a big facility with a vaulted ceiling, full of forty-five and ninety hectoliter steel tanks. He expressed disappointment that Andrea hadn’t come, because he had prepared a bunch of jokes for her. He speaks nearly perfect English, but still frequently apologizes for what he sees as his linguistic ineptitude. We passed a couple of his employees, both in white jumpsuits hosing down equipment and the floor, and Sébastien quipped that they should get back to work. They laughed good-naturedly, even though they looked exhausted. Everyone had been up all night tending to the precarious situation. Sébastien quickly said he was kidding and told them to go home. He told us that he usually cleans the cellar himself, but his staff couldn’t tie the vines down yet because it was going to be another cold night, so they were inside doing the cleaning to stay busy. He gestured at one of the tanks and said that for three years he'd been doing natural fermentation after the juice is pumped into the tanks, where it stays for twenty-four hours. In 2016 he'd done a lot less of this, he joked, producing only 70,000 bottles compared to the 140,000 of 2015. Then, half the crop in 2016 had been lost to frost and hail. Usually it wasn’t a problem, so fighting the frost for a second year in a row was discouraging. Christophe started in 1999 with half a hectare, had thirty at the time of this writing, and said he'll stop after he acquires five more. Ninety percent of his sales are in export and the bulk of it goes to Britain. The ten percent of his production that stays in France all goes to high-end restaurants, a fact that surprises and humbles him instead of going to his head. The entire time we were there, he never once stopped being endearingly self-effacing along with all of his playful sarcasm. He took us out to his vineyards in a beat up mini-van, every surface of its interior covered with a thick layer of limestone dust. We passed huge fields of tall green grasses, which he said was young wheat, barley and peas (much of which is grown for animal feed), along with linen. Unlike his grandfather, his father wasn’t interested in making wine. Instead, he farmed grains that were made into cereal, and his family still owns a hundred hectares of those fields. We got out to his parcels and he gestured around us as he explained that they’re divided into three sections. He pointed at the top of the hill, where the soil is predominantly Portlandian limestone, where true Petit Chablis is grown. Then he waved a hand across the middle section where we were standing and said it was a mixture of Portlandian and Kimmeridgian limestone, and the bottom of the hill below us was all Kimmeridgian. Ted excitedly picked up rocks and looked through his loop. Then he handed them to me and I saw what I’d heard him talk about at many of the other visits: the fossilized shells of countless tiny creatures from an ancient, long-gone sea. Every field was yellow-beige and white, covered completely with chunks of stone; there was hardly any greenery anywhere between the vines. As with other fields like it that we had visited, it seemed impossible that anything could grow from a ground so completely covered with rocks. He plows to limit grass, and the surface is too arid for microbial life and for the roots, which forces them downward in search of water. “I’m a tyrant with the vine,” he said, whipping an invisible lash in his hand. Keeping the vines deep also protects them from the rising temperatures during the warmer months, which are progressively getting warmer due to climate change; if they stayed too close to the surface, they would get baked. He works with highly sustainable methods, treating the vines with only one spray of organic weed treatment at the beginning of spring before they plow, and in 2015 they started trimming the vines and putting them into the soil for mulch. He often mends the soils with a little iron to prevent chlorosis, a sort of anemia in plants that can cause the leaves to go yellow when the vine can't absorb enough iron due to a surplus of calcium buildup around the roots. He could easily go for the organic classification, but as we had heard from many other vignerons, he hesitates to do so, reserving the right to resort to synthetic treatments in emergencies so as not to put himself out of business. We got back to the tasting room and started in on pouring the 2016 Petit Chablis, which is bottled in April, along with the Chablis AOC wine, unlike the old vine and premier cru Chablis, which are bottled in September. Sébastien watched Ted with tense anticipation and quickly dropped the caveat that we were sampling them a bit too early. Ted was uncharacteristically quiet with each sip. But he was just doing it to toy with Sébastien, and he finally broke into laughter when he noticed Sébastien’s tension growing. Ted said, “you worry too much,” a point that Sébastien instantly conceded. Ted is a huge fan of Sebastien’s wines and imports them all. But they both noted that 2016 was more concentrated due to the low harvest yield, and it had only been in the bottle for two weeks, so it was still quite closed. Ted waits a month before he lets any of his reps sample and sell the wines he imports; all of the travel can “shock” them, a temporary situation when the wine is constantly shaken during its trip and all of the aromatic and flavor components can go quiet for a while. For some vintages that arrive particularly “tight,” he’ll wait even longer. As Sébastien described his wines in a very animated fashion, the exchanges between him and Ted got more comical by the minute. Sébastien said he was stressed about how people would respond to tasting so soon after bottling, and Ted kept giving him grief for it and pretending each first sip was so-so. We moved on to some of the 2015s, which sell well, but don’t please wine geeks as much as the other because, as Ted said, they’re “lower in acid, less punishing.” It’s clear that many advanced-placement winos need a certain level of intensity to pique their interest. We were joined by Nico and his wife Leticia (whom we had visited in the Alps a few nights before), on their way to a couple of vacation days with their two girls. They got some glasses and jumped in on the tasting and discussion. They had just come from an area of Burgundy where some vineyards were attempting to ward off the frost in the most outlandish way yet: they were flying helicopters over the vines in order to blow the low-lying cold air away. Again I asked if this worked, and everyone gave shrugs and said, “who knows?” Nico remarked that all of his restaurant-owner clients and their customers were crazy about Sébastien’s Fourchaume premier cru for its “hardness.” He and Ted talked about how the grand crus are bigger because they are grown in more clay-rich soil, whereas the wines grown across the Serein River are much more mineral from being grown in mostly stony soils. Ted said he poured a magnum of one of Sébastien’s 2012 premiere crus at his wedding, a few months earlier, to which Sébastien joked, “did it give you a stomach ache?” Everyone laughed, and he added, “No, no. It’s a good wine. If I had the money, I would buy it and keep it all for myself.”

Further into Pandora’s Box

For many years, I knew of this great geologist working her way through Burgundy. I saw her work for the first time when I received a disc, via Wasserman and Co., that Bruno Clair sent to help me with a Côte de Nuits educational seminar I was putting on. The disc, a dossier commissioned by the town of Marsannay, contains geological research submitted with the town’s request that certain lieu dit sites be elevated from village-level to the rank of premier cru. Her work is an extraordinary geological survey of Marsannay. The research goes as deep as you could imagine; any deeper and you’d be digging a hole with no end. Today, the most welcome guest, in any cellar in Burgundy, would likely be the resident geologist, Françoise Vannier. Every vigneron wants her in their cellar so that she can help to literally unearth answers to their questions about the soils relationship with their historical terroirs and its influence on the resulting wine. She admits that it is challenging to be able to identify a soil through the taste of its wine, but she gives it her best shot. I suppose that many vignerons expect that her findings will provide them with a more clear understanding of their wines. I’m sure that they are disappointed to hear answers that only lead them to more questions and further into Pandora’s Box. On this day, it was our turn, and we were ready to be taken further in. The Wassermans knew that I wanted to visit with Françoise and graciously arranged a rendezvous.  We met her in a parking lot in Beaune and jumped into Paul’s car and set the course Southbound towards Volnay and Pommard. She sat in the back next to Helen, our good friend and wine buyer for a number of restaurants in Los Angeles. I was glad that Paul was behind the wheel because I would not have been able to focus on the road with Françoise in the car and the vineyards of Burgundy all around. We all had a twinkle in our eyes as we had been looking forward to this for a long time. Of course, we realized that many questions can take an eternity to answer and usually only lead to more questions – such is life. I knew it was going to be a special day. We all broke out our cell phones and started to record the conversation because we knew we were about to be treated to some of the most memorable – and mind-bending – hours of our lives. Some people want to know why we are on this planet and how we got here. I am the guy who prefers to know more about what I smell, taste and feel in wine. For me, learning about wine is more interesting, and definitely more rewarding, than debating deep and unanswerable questions. Françoise sat in the backseat of the car, enthusiastically waiting, like a puma ready to pounce on any question we had. As we drove down the road towards one of my favorite, but least understood, vineyard areas within Burgundy, someone had to break the ice. But where do you start when you have a guru in your backseat? I threw it out there, “Can you give us an overview of the differences between the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune?” I bet she gets this question every time, and I’m sure she loves the response she gives. “Let’s talk about the similarities first because there are a lot more of those than differences.” I thought, “Damn it! Now I’ve misrepresented myself as a glass half empty guy, and she’s a glass half full person.” Regardless, I knew she was better than me; I could tell the moment I met her. She went through the well-written history of Burgundy by talking about how the region, as we know it, began as a lagoon a couple of hundred million years ago. Then the story started to get more interesting. Between that time and a few million years ago, the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune went through the same geological changes. Many books on Burgundy provide a much more in-depth account of this time, and I would suggest that you look into it as I will not attempt to explain that era. If you managed to stay awake while you read these well-written books on Burgundy, this piece of writing will make a little bit more sense. If you have not, I hope that you will find my account interesting. Françoise quickly moved to what occurred about 2.5 million years ago. She explained that after the tropical zones vanished, the area went through six Ice Ages. At this time, the soil was deeply frozen (permafrost) all year long. During spring and summer, temperatures sometimes rose above zero, but the water could not penetrate the frozen soils. This is how the small dry ravines called “combes” were formed throughout the Cote. They were not created by glaciation, but rather by this heavy water runoff. The combes cleave the hills into distinctive geological zones as well as creating a series of different soil components in the alluvial fans below. As we arrived in the appellation of Volnay, we stopped the car. She got out and pulled out from the trunk a series of geological maps that a Burgundy lover would kill for. Of course, we were not going to kill to get the maps because we didn’t know how to decipher them…yet. In addition, her gentleness, passion and intelligence left us in awe and admiration. She is one of the most warming people I’ve ever met; in her presence, we were melting like beurre d’echire over freshly toasted bread. Now equipped with the maps, we jumped into the differences. She explained that the main difference between the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune is that “you are not looking at the same stair steps.” The stair steps refer to the way the limestone slabs broke apart through faulting. She continued, “The important thing (between the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune) is that the rock is not exactly the same. Because the rocks of the Cote de Beaune are younger, they are richer in the soft marls, clays and shales. Therefore, erosion is easier than in the Cote de Nuits where you find much harder limestones. Because the substrata in the Cote de Beaune is easier to erode, the reliefs are not the same. What is also important is not the age, but the nature of the soils.” Yes, that’s it –what matters the most is how the soil performs in relation to erosion, water capacity, and nutrition. Can you even start to consider the complexity of the ground in Burgundy? Within five feet, things can dramatically change. We always attempt to use generalizations in order to get a better grasp; however, because the soil can change from one vine to the next, the variables are infinite and hard to identify on the surface. This was our first big step into Pandora’s box. As we moved in front of an old quarry at the top of the Volnay-Santenots vineyard, just below the RN73 (yes, there’s an RN73, but no restaurant yet…), she began the next lesson. For authenticity’s sake, you have to imagine Françoise orating with a strong French accent, “Between the villages of Dijon and Nuits-Saint-Georges, the hillside is North to South oriented, but in the Cote de Beaune the orientation is more Northeast to Southwest –here, you cross the faults. When you are in the Cote de Nuits, you are more parallel with the faults. It’s not the same lithology. … In the Cote de Nuits, because there is a lot of limestone, the erosion you have creates a more smooth hillside and a homogenous hill shape than in the Cote de Beaune.” She added that in the Cote de Nuits, the limestone (which are more resistant to erosion), create slopes that are of a concave shape (one notable exception would be the great 1er cru, Les Amoureuses). The topography of the Cote de Beaune, on the other hand, is more convex because you have layers of limestone mixed with layers of marl that are more prone to erosion. The soils are also lighter in color in the Cote de Beaune. “Since the faults were active around 25-30 million years ago, the erosional process has smoothened the landscape since then.” In other words, what you see above is hardly what you see below. Most of us have a reasonably good grip on this concept, but it’s nice to hear it from the world’s leading Burgundy geologist! When you visit Burgundy for the first time, after reading books about faulting and fissuring, and you see a big limestone cliff in the middle of a vineyard, you may have the reaction I had, “wow, that’s some serious faulting!” Françoise explained, “When you have a landscape inside the cote that has what appears to be an open fault, they are likely a result of human activity, usually a quarry of some sort.” Yeah, I know what you’re thinking now, “how is it possible that any human can carve off a huge chunk of Bonnes Mares, or Chambertin and corrupt some of the greatest vineyards in the world?! That’s ridiculous!” Well, that’s what happened. Believe me, before the invention of dump trucks, it would have been a lot easier to build your house in Morey with the rocks from Bonnes Mares than to carry them by horse cart from the nearest non-vineyard quarry, a couple of kilometers away. Humans love to move rocks, and they indulged in this practice more than you would expect, even in Burgundy. Françoise added, “whenever you see piles of stones, you can also be sure that there is a limestone layer just below the topsoil in the vineyard next to it.” “Can you explain active limestone?” Did I have to ask her this question? Of course I did. As we walked away from this former quarry, I saw a shiny white rock that sparked the question. The rock looked so solid that it seemed impossible for the soil to absorb anything from it. Her response: “If you have a piece of carbonate, with the arrival rain water (that is saturated with CO2), it will be easier to erode (the rock) because Calcium Carbonate is CO3 (on one side) and Calcium(Ca) on the other side. With bigger chunks of stone, however, it is more difficult to get more active calcium (because the surface area is smaller compared to the same big rock broken into tiny fragments). The calcium and the carbonate circulate in the water close to the roots, where you have an intense chemical activity. At the end of the root system, you have an extremely acidic zone, which facilitates the dissolution of the rock.” Simply put, she explained that the “active” calcium carbonate is the measure of calcium and carbonate available to the plant. Amongst many other things, having the right amount of calcium is very useful as it helps to develop cell wall strength, enzyme activity, nitrogen uptake, decreased soil salinity and improves water absorption for the vine. On the flip side, the large quantity of active carbonate deposit may create a “casing” that surrounds the root system and may prevent huge elements, like iron, to be absorbed by the roots. For example, the leaves require iron to photosynthesize –this process makes the leaves turn bright yellow. This phenomenon is known in French as “chlorose ferrique”, which we call Chlorosis. She also mentioned that too much calcium carbonate in soils prevents roots from digging deeper. We limestone junkies celebrate its merits around every turn; however, it is important to realize that higher calcium content does not always mean better wine. Of all professions, we in the wine business should know that too much of any good thing can be toxic. The rock I picked off the ground was a piece of hard, white Comblanchien limestone. I was convinced that this rock was physically too hard to give up anything. I was wrong again. Françoise explained that Comblanchien limestone is one of the most active limestones. “During the lagoon phase of sedimentation, the calcium carbonate particles precipitated and eventually under the pressure of the accumulation of this sedimentation, the water was ‘pressed’ out eventually creating almost a pure, hard stone of calcium carbonate. The stone is almost completely white because it is almost solely carbonate crystals –there are no fossils or other formations in it.” She explained that it is 99% calcium carbonate. It is the purest limestone of the bunch. By contrast, other stones in the Cote have 80%, or less of calcium, which is still a high quantity, and the rest is shale. Comblancien is basically a pure mud compaction. She further explained its purity, “Comblancien limestone is very hard to erode, but it is very rich in calcium carbonate. When you erode one meter of Comblanchien stone, you just get 1cm of soil because there is very little shale and clay in the Comblancien limestone.” If you can imagine those proportions: upon full erosion, only 1% of this hard stone’s volume remains. Françoise grabbed her hammer and busted open another piece of limestone inside the Santenots vineyard. We could see all of the small shiny particles of shells broken into pieces by what she called “the action of waves.” It made me pause to conceive that the last time these shells were exposed to air was over 160 million years ago. 160 million years is a staggering number of years to get your head around… Françoise told us about how she used to think that, through taste, she would be able to find a correlation between the rocks and their resulting wines. As she said this, I looked over at Helen who was discretely licking the inside of one of these freshly smashed rocks. I smiled, and she turned a little red, “What?!” she burst out with a laugh. Then Paul started licking another piece of rock. Then I did. How ridiculous we would’ve looked to someone watching from afar… It was fun. We were like a bunch kids in a very savory rock-candy store… As Françoise watched us licking the rocks, she said with a smile, “I found out quite rapidly that this was not the case.” It was fun watching her aggressively smash rocks as she discussed each rock’s history. She explained, “Geologists always break the rocks to see a fresh break. Inside you can see different types of shells, mosses, lichens, oxides and all things that are hiding the true aspect of the rock.” At this point, I want the reader to know that the next three paragraphs are about intensely geeky geological things. There are several interesting stories beyond these dense paragraphs, including one that will likely be a bit of a blasphemous surprise to us Burgundy puritans. If you are interested in geology and its relevance to wine, they are worth a read. I will attempt to explain two central points, as they were explained to us that day, that are crucial when digging into the geological side of Burgundy. You now have my disclaimer: Reader beware… A couple of years ago, when I visited Pierre Morey for the first time, he claimed (as we stood in his section of Batard-Montrachet) that the quality of the clay is one of the most important considerations when discussing terroir in Burgundy. I asked Françoise what she thought about that. She said, “It is very important because it’s where most of the water and nutrients will be stored.” She reiterated, “It’s very important… You have very different types of clay depending on the distance between two sheets. The chemical composition of each sheet will not be able to store as many types of nutrients as other clays. In Burgundy, there are many types of clay, and it's the blend of clays that make it unique, not any particular type of clay.” I want to clarify, briefly, what she means by “sheets”: Under a microscope, clay often looks like loose, torn sheets of papers spreading in all directions. When you move clay around in your hand, those microscopic “sheets” slide around like a stack of laminated papers. This is why wet clay is slippery when you move it around between your fingers. Clay is immensely rich in nutrients, but the trick is to get the nutrients out of this maze of microscopic sheets. Those sheets make it hard for nutrients and minerals to be available for plants. The reality is that most of the biological activity lies within Burgundy’s clay-rich topsoils, not deep into the stones below. Franz Weninger, one of Austria’s great biodynamic minds, once explained in a seminar that the water-sourcing roots are the ones that plunge the deepest into the earth’s dirt. They are not the principal root systems of the plant that gather the bulk of the nutritional components. Those roots are mostly located in the upper sections, closer to the base of the vine. Then there is the shale, which I mentioned a few times in previous paragraphs. I would have been fine with sweeping this one under the carpet. It’s still a difficult concept for me; because it is relevant, I cannot pass this one over. As we drove down through “Caillerets”, one of Volnay’s top vineyards, Françoise attempted to enlighten us on what shale is. She said that geologists talk about shale more than clay. They often use both terms in the same sentence, which makes it seem like these two words refer to the same thing. They do not. She explained, “shale refers to the stone itself, and clay is the mineral.” She opened the box a little wider, “shales are the composition of the rock. Shale is a silicate (to name a few – quartz, feldspar, mica) that is not subject to weathering by the rain and that is not made of decomposed components.” She looked at me with an apologetic pain on her face. She knew I was a bit lost –probably like you right now. She apologized for the complexity of the subject. Paul asked me if that was a good enough answer. I said it was, but it still wasn’t clicking with me, and I sensed that the rest of the crew felt the same way. We started to slowly roll down the hill again, and I needed to get this straight. I was thinking, “If I can’t understand it with Françoise explaining it to me, I will likely never understand it by reading about it in some book.” Thirty seconds further down the hill, I had to ask, “Can we talk about this shale thing again?” She smiled and tried to make it more manageable for my pea-sized brain. “Shale is not a calcium stone.” That helped me breakthrough my limestone barrier. “It is made up of silica, aluminum and oxygen. Like clay, they are made up of sheets and are able to store between the sheets a lot of minerals, water and nutrients. It is a soft stone, and the clay is a component of it.” At this point, I felt like I had just watched the first third of the Christopher Nolan movie “Inception”: It was mind-bending, but I was slowly starting to catch on. The following information helped a lot too: “If you just have clay, you will have some shale (in the soil). If you have a little bit of clay and a lot of calcium carbonate, you’ll have a limestone. If you have more or less, half clay and half calcium carbonate, you’ll have a marl.”  Ok, halfway there…  As I was conducting some research to help me write this piece, I learned that the term shale is a general term for all kinds of clay-rich sedimentary rocks. However, I was left hanging as we drove back up the slope towards the center of Volnay. Later in the day, I brought it up again. I felt the mood in the car drop as everyone probably thought, “here he goes with that shale stuff again…” She explained that the more shale there is in the soil, the more “sticky” the soil is. Ok, that’s something tangible for my brain. “Wait a second. I’ve always thought of shale as a stone. So, are you telling me that this is the starting point on the way to becoming a stone, or the decomposition of the stone?” “Both” she said with a smile, “shale can be both soil and rock.” Got it. Done. As we stood in front of D’Angerville’s most famous vineyard, the Clos des Ducs, Françoise spoke of the “two sides” of Volnay. Most people speak of four, but because we want to keep it simple, we’ll stick to two: The Pommard side and the Meursault side. “(In Burgundy) Geologically speaking you have some small valleys cutting the hillsides; and that represents the different geological environments.” She continued, “There is a bigger (geological) difference between the northern part of Pommard and the southern part of Pommard than there is between the southern part of Pommard and the northern part of Volnay. (Got that?) The limits are between one valley and the other, not the appellation lines.” This distinction is crucial when looking at maps of Burgundy. Almost all maps feature appellation lines rather than geological demarcations. Because she has not yet published the geological maps of Pommard or Volnay, I will use Marsannay as an example. If you look at the geological map of Marsannay below that Françoise created, you will see how the combes cut through the hillsides and how geologically different the sections of Marsannay are.  In order to experience some of the differences, all you have to do is taste the range of Marsannays from Joseph Roty, Sylvain Pataille, Cyril Audoin or Bruno Clair. Like all of Burgundy, Marsannay is a wonderful subject of geological study - especially once it is poured in the glass - and Françoise's geological map should illustrate that pretty clearly. We eventually found our way through Volnay and into Pommard where we stopped at one of the village’s greatest crus (maybe the greatest), Les Rugiens. Fortunately, Françoise was already familiar with Pommard as its syndicate hired her to conduct a thorough geological study. When we arrived, she broke out a diagram of the lithological succession of Pommard and began to tell us about the limestone structures. With an enthusiastic smile, she pulled out a geological map of Pommard. She told us that the first time she came to the village, the vignerons expected her to take out her hammer, start breaking rocks, and explain everything on the spot. What she discovered there surprised everyone in the appellation. To demonstrate this discovery, she grabbed her hammer in front of us and smashed a piece of rock until it broke into a couple of pieces. She showed us the inside of this rock, and confessed that it took her three days to figure out what this type of rock was. She explained that after the fracturing of the limestone – some 30 million years ago – there had been water very rich in magnesium circulating in this specific area. The magnesium is able to combine with the carbonate to create a different type of limestone-like rock, called dolomite. Today, this is the only known location in the Cote d’Or that has this type of stone. So, what is so special about this stone? This discovery gives Pommard, as Françoise says, “a clear specificity.” In addition, the vineyards are rich in magnesium, which greatly contributes to the formation of chlorophyll and photosynthesis for the vine. The vignerons of the appellation confirmed that they are never short of magnesium supply in their vineyards, and now they know why. Pommard has always been one of the most intriguing and complex appellations; this finding makes the appellation unique and special within the Cote d’Or. As we stood next to Les Rugiens, she also mentioned that it is easy to see that Les Rugiens Hauts is influenced by slope wash with whiter stones overlying the dolomite stone, whereas the Les Rugiens Bas has more reddish soil and less dolomite. Paul confirmed that they generate two very different wines. Time to spend some money on Pommard… Then there was the Romanée-Conti story. Towards the end of the day, Françoise told us a story that would make any Burgundy lover cringe. In the southeast corner of the Romanée-Conti vineyard, there is a hollow in the substratta. In her opinion, it was likely a former rock quarry within the vineyard. She said that there are manuscripts from the mid-1700’s(1) that mentioned “carts of earth being brought into the Romanée-Conti.”  The soil in this particular part of the Romanée-Conti is a mixture of both soil in place and an external input, as in so many other plots in Burgundy. Yes, you are reading this right… the greatest vineyard, producing the most expensive wine made in Burgundy (or the world for that matter) has a good chunk of soil that was not formed in its present position.  Further into Pandora’s box… As interesting as this discovery is, it is not one Francoise is excited to share. Like us all (who have made it this far in this story), she is a Burgundy lover, and this finding, to some degree, may take away a little of the romance that defines this region. She told us that some soils from the Cote d’Or show clear evidence that bringing earth from elsewhere was a common practice before the rules of the AOC system were in place, not just in Burgundy, but everywhere. Françoise suggested that when some Burgundy producers had a loss of soil from erosion, rather than buying earth from their neighbors at a high price, they would often go somewhere else to get some cheaper earth. This leads me to the next subject, terroir. Many vignerons believe that man is a part of the terroir.  In my mind, Françoise made a very convincing argument in favor of that perspective.  With her strong and stern French accent, Françoise continued, “At the beginning of the 20th century, we imagined that, centuries ago, the monks just came in and put away the bushes, put in the vines and everything has been created and natural and has never been transformed by human activity.” There was a slight pause, and then she said, “It’s wrong.” She continued, “Human beings have been here a long time. They needed to go from one place to the other. They created roads and built houses and walls by taking stones from the vineyards. Now, it’s a monoculture, but up to the end of the 19th century, you had d’autres cultures, like vegetables, and fruit trees. There were a lot of trees where vineyards are today, but today it looks like a green ocean. If you look at an aerial photograph of Burgundy just after the Second World War, you will also see many quarries where vineyards are today.” As we stood in the most northern part of the vineyards of Pommard, she pointed across the hill, “that part of the Clos de Mouches was a quarry, not a vineyard. It’s hard to imagine at this present time that the landscape has not always been the one we’ve got in front of us.” When we started our day with Françoise, I was excited to bring up a number of concepts that remained somewhat unclear to me. To be honest, I’m sure that most, if not all, of this is in a book somewhere, but most of the things I shared in this article were pretty new to me. Our visit with Françoise was the greatest visit I’ve ever had in Burgundy, and we didn’t even taste a single wine. I guess you could say that she is Burgundy’s rock star, and that was enough. Despite her status, she explores her subject of study with a high level of respect and humility, qualities that are often rare in the “non-vigneron” side of our business. Because she is a thoughtful and open-minded scientist, she explores thoroughly her discipline while keeping in mind that geology is only one of many factors giving wine its expression. I also love seeking out correlations between the taste and smell of wine and their rocks, but I realize that this practice only casts light on one piece of an extensive and extremely complex puzzle. I thought that my day with Francoise would give me a more clear view of Burgundy and wine as a whole. As usual, I was wrong. It only served to spark more questions, more thoughts, and more feelings, not just about wine but about everything that I think I have a decent grasp on. Every day I realize more clearly that reality and my perception of it are not quite the same thing. My visit with Françoise convinced the committed terroirist in me that the role of man in transmitting terroir is as substantial as the role of nature itself. After all, the vines aren’t putting the wine into the bottle themselves… This day with Françoise also encouraged me to engage in a deeper and more philosophical relationship with the nature of nature. Because nature has no ego or insecurity, the more time I spend with her, the more distant I find myself from mine. If a better understanding of wine does not humble the person acquiring it, then their engagement was never really about the wine. Wine is a good reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is still so much we don't know.   (1) Garcia J.P., 2011, La construction géo-historique des climats de Bourgogne, p. 103, note 5, in « Les Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne comme patrimoine mondial de l’humanité », sous la direction de J.P. Garcia, pp. 97-122.

Nico’s Way

I had been looking forward to my day with Nicolas Rossignol and the opportunity to do another deep dive into Volnay and Pommard, the famous neighboring red-wine villages of the Côte de Beaune that are so close to one another but are so famously different. Rossignol is one of the best visits a Burgundy lover can make, as rare is the domaine with so many high quality crus of both Volnay and Pommard. It was to be lunch followed by a day of conversation, vineyards and wine. Just as I arrived, the sun finally broke through the dreary clouds on this mid-June day and set the tone for my afternoon. As instructed, I pulled up in front of the church just before noon and waited. The church bell rang and within minutes vineyard tractors sped in from all directions; it was lunchtime in France and everything but eating and drinking comes to a halt. I waited in front of the church, before, circumambulating it in five-minute intervals to make sure I wasn’t somehow missing him. After 20 minutes and four orbits around the church, Nico’s truck finally turned up the main road. Dressed simply in blue jeans and a black sweater with close-cropped, prematurely grey hair (he’s only 42), he greeted me warmly and parked before we turned up the street and into Volnay’s newest restaurant, L'Agastache. Our perfectly prepared three-course lunch (tempura cuttlefish with zucchini, followed by saddle of veal with sautéed chanterelles, and a strawberry-rhubarb dessert) was excellent. We supported it with a bottle of 2009 Roy-Jacquelin Pommard Les Rugiens, selected by Nico, who assured it would be nearly impossible to find outside of Burgundy. By the third glass, the wine had opened up and was showing the depth and complexity one expects from (arguably) Pommard’s top cru. After lunch, we rolled back down the hill to his Bourgogne vines just on the east side of the Route Nationale 74 and from there began working up the slope on an exhaustive four-hour tour of his impressive holdings in Volnay and then Pommard. As deep as we could go without shovels, the soils, rocks, vine management and voice of each terroir was clarified to me as well as any other tour I’ve had in Burgundy. Burgundians are warm, generous people, but it’s hardly typical for a vigneron to spend an entire day with you, even if you import a tremendous amount of their wine. Fortunately, I was able to keep up with his explanations of each vineyard, as I spent three hours in these same two villages two years prior with Françoise Vannier, Burgundy’s most revered geologist. Strikingly evident throughout the vines was the highly distressing carnage of 2016, a year that many are claiming (including, reportedly, Lalou-Bize Leroy, born in 1932) is the worst in memory.  First, it was a frost that froze nearly all of Europe, followed by a vicious hailstorm and now devastating mildew pressure after three months of non-stop rain. Of Nico’s vines, the worst hit were those below the village, where he lost almost everything. Upslope things improved modestly. A loss of around 60% was the average through the lower village vineyards. Indeed, most of Nico’s vines were stripped of most of their production. Some, however, like his Clos des Angles and Cailleret still showed great promise and, miraculously, were almost completely spared of the first two of the year’s calamities. Of course, the jury will remain out until the last grapes are picked, but, if the sun sticks around and finishes out the year through harvest, there will still be hope for a few wines of serious quality. After seeing these extremely diverse terroirs, in Volnay and Pommard, all of the points discussed in the vines came together inside Nico’s cellar.  He makes all of the wines differently, going so far as to vinify separately all three of the soil types within his parcel of Volnay Santenots, “to make a marriage between the elegance of the lower slopes and the power of the rockier upper section.” "You cannot treat grapes even from the same small vineyard area - one section with thinner skins and the one next to it with thicker skins- the same,” he said. “Which extraction are you going to make for them? They have to be managed differently, some with more or less stem inclusion and some with shorter or longer macerations. It’s not a recipe. Each year I have to change one thing or another because I don’t have the same grapes. I know where I want to go and I have many roads to take to get to the place I want to be." Nico further explained his approach using Clos des Angles as an example. He describes the wine as coming from "a big slab of clay” that needs stems to keep it from becoming too fat, fruity and lacking in complexity. I agreed, as de-stemmed versions of this particular vineyard from other domaines strike me as delicious, but not necessarily thought provoking. On the contrary, Roncerets, a greater premier cru with big alluvial limestones and less clay, already makes for an extremely mineral wine and doesn’t need the support of whole clusters. As we tasted numerous vintages, we talked about how often the villages defy their stereotypes—how some Volnays are just as masculine as a Pommard and certain Pommards can be more elegant than Volnay. Nico is blessed to own plots of the some of the very best vineyards within the two appellations—Caillerets, Chevret, Roncerets, Taillepieds, Jarolieres, Argilliers, Les Epenots— all of which clearly express their diverse terroirs. His approach is to evoke the greatest characteristics of each to create a range of wines complimentary to the vineyard material. His thoughtfulness and agility in the cellar eschews programmatic winemaking and opens the door for a more in-depth exploration of the best way to approach each terroir. Of course, if he made them all the same, it would be easier for us to understand each terroir. But nothing would make him happier than someone exclaiming that each of his wines tastes singular and different, vintage to vintage. Like the man himself, his wines can initially seem larger than life, but when you take time to get to know both, they are as refined as they are powerful. Our visit lasted beyond dinner until close to midnight. We concluded at my favorite spot in Beaune, the Maison du Colombier, with its wonderful proprietors, Françoise and Roland. Because it was the first rainless night of summer, it seemed the entirety of Beaune was reveling on the patio, including luminaries like Dominique Lafon, Jean-Marc Roulot, Etienne DeMontille. It was late and I was invited to stick around, but my mind was still reeling from such a densely packed day that even one more great wine would have likely crashed my hard drive. I left it all behind and in the cool air of night wandered up the cobblestone streets, past the church, and down a few tiny roads back to my apartment on Rue Marie Favart. Inside, I sat on the bed and kicked off my boots, liberating my tired feet. It had been a beautiful day, and I bore no regrets of leaving the party behind. It had been Nico’s day, and it ended perfectly. As I sat there, I found myself inspired to write, but knew that if I began this piece, I wouldn’t be able to stop until my next appointment the following morning. Instead, sleep claimed me and I dozed off with the last taste of Burgundy lingering on my tongue. Visit Nico's page here: Domaine Nicolas Rossignol  

A New Story in Chile’s Forgotten Winelands Part 4: Chicken and Lettuce

  Pedro held out a slab of granite that had decomposed almost completely into some kind of dense mudstone. Each mineral crystal was in place as if it were still solid rock. It was amazing; the soil was completely eroded in place. The rock bent a little before breaking with very little effort. It was a fragile soil that was completely available for the vine to plunge its roots as deep as they could go. When the vines dig this deep, Pedro calls it the vine’s “200-million-year-old Michelin three star tasting menu.” “Everyone talks about their soils and how their vine roots plunge deeply into them. How can you really know what your roots are doing if you don’t dig holes to observe them directly? Really... how do you know?” he exclaimed. “People have it wrong,” he continued. “They say meager topsoils will be too nutrient deficient. But there is a feast here,” pointing to the fissures, “that awaits the roots deep in the soils.” We jumped into the car and headed back to have dinner with his family in the coastal village, Pingueral, a town with an entirely rebuilt center, after a tsunami destroyed it in 2010. Pedro said it would take forty-five minutes to get back, but it took an hour and a half. Time got away from us because I threw a flurry of questions Pedro’s way, and he seemed to prioritize answering them over making good time to his family’s house. Unlike the hungry people following us, I didn’t mind. Pedro explained a theory on the vine’s relationship with soil that has gained momentum in the last decade or so. The idea (largely promoted by the well-known French soil scientist, Claude Bourgignon) is that the life and magic happens in the top soils and not deep in the bedrock; perhaps meager topsoils in granitic vineyards, like those in the Itata (similar to France’s famous granite soils of Cornas and St. Joseph) weren’t sufficient for the vine to get all it needed to thrive and develop a deeper range of complexity. Although Pedro acknowledges the logic of this theory, he doesn’t completely subscribe to it. As we drove toward the coast, I asked Pedro more about subsoil fractures and their relationship with vine nutrition. I threw in a concept I’ve heard many biodynamic producers talk about: the need to build up microbial activity in topsoils as a major key to unlock a wine’s terroir. The concept of “building up soils” was always a little strange to me; it seemed the opposite of a terroir wine. Before it was a vineyard, if the land never had particular microbes and all of the sudden these new alien microbes were introduced, wouldn’t that be changing a vineyard’s natural terroir even further? If a topsoil is rich in everything the vine needs, it’s like the vine is eating fast food “If a topsoil is rich in everything the vine needs, it’s like the vine is eating fast food,” Pedro quickly stated. “For example, in clay top soils they have a “full meal deal”: easy to get, quick to give, but no [real contribution to the wine’s] taste.” “Granite topsoil [unlike clay] is a low calorie meal, like a lean but nutritious dinner with only something like chicken and lettuce. But the vine can plunge deep into the granite’s vertical fractures,” he continued, “and while the topsoil’s portion of chicken and lettuce isn’t enough to sustain the vine’s nutritional needs, each foot below the surface gives another serving of chicken and lettuce, and further down more and more portions of chicken and lettuce,” he said, looking at me over the top rim of his glasses. He pushed them up his nose and continued, “this is enough to keep the vine fed, but only on lean and clean food. I want my vines to dine on a healthy multi-course Michelin-starred tasting menu, not fast food.” Pedro’s chicken and lettuce analogy was funny, and it made sense to me. At Pedro’s family’s house we were greeted by his two kids, his wife, Camila, and her mother and stepfather. There was also an innocent and quiet-looking, overgrown short-haired puppy that, when given the chance, mauled you with an endless flurry of jumping, biting and bullying, leaving you with slobber and needle-sharp hair all over your hands and clothes. The family was ready for us with typical Chilean appetizers like shrimp cocktail, crab claws, and abalone baked in cheese. We were handed glasses of sparkling wine from a project of Pedro’s, which was wonderful surprise. Then we tasted through a few white wines from another one Pedro’s Chilean wine projects, Clos des Fou. After a fantastic salmon dinner with a series of international wines, including a magnum of Saumur blanc (Arnaud Lambert’s 2014 Clos de la Rue, which I brought), a Barolo from a lesser-known, but great producer, Marco Marengo, and many more international wines one wouldn’t expect to find in this remote part of Chile, we were ready to hit the sack. Early the next day we were off to Cauquenes, the location of Pedro’s winery. After a two-hour drive, we entered an old, run down, but charming hacienda-style government building that he was able to use as their winery. Pedro brought us into his vat room full of concrete, stainless steel and large oak tanks, to taste through his single-vineyard Cinsault and Carignan wines.   Once you visit a wine’s vineyards and see the soil and rocks it comes from you begin to really understand what you are tasting. After seeing Pedro’s pits and the ancient, newly unearthed stones, they become burned into your memory, giving a perspective on the wine you can’t have unless you’ve been there. The first Cinsault was elegant, like a beautiful Beaujolais. I was pleasantly surprised by how different each Cinsault was. They all went through the same winemaking process, with very little intervention or styling. Each wine had a clear voice, unique to each vineyard. The first Cinsault was elegant, like a beautiful Beaujolais; the second’s exotic and richly perfumed character evoked a strong emotional response; the third was gritty and structured with loads of peppery spice, like it was mostly made of Syrah; and the fourth was dense, with high-toned aromas of damp, green forest floor with wild, tiny black and red berries. I was taken by the unexpected, intensely mineral nose of each Cinsault grown on various granite soils with different physical structures. I later proposed to buy and import them to California as separate cuvées instead of all blended into one, which Pedro currently does. In the palate, all were earthy, mineral and textured with flavors I usually associate with Old World style wines. Embodying the intense, honest, pure and humble spirit of Pedro, I felt like I finally had my first uniquely Chilean wines. At some point in my wine career I wasn’t sure that I would find New World wines with this level of x-factor (metal, mineral and texture), while maintaining the character of a noble wine commonly found in the Old World. I’ve had my fair share of New World wines and so few are as raw and authentic as these. Unfortunately, many New World wines from interesting terroirs are tinkered with so heavily they often need to be psychoanalyzed to find their terroir imprint.   After the Cinsaults, we tasted Pedro’s two Carignans. They seemed to subtly express the scent of pine and eucalyptus that we had smelled at the vineyards the day before, something we didn’t pick up in the Cinsaults. But from this, a dynamic set of richly scented, earthy and spicy reds emerged. It seemed obvious where the forest notes came from, and I asked him to weigh in on that perception. He agreed that it was likely from the trees. The topic of a vineyard’s surroundings and its effect on a wine’s aroma and flavor is another (true) story, but that’s for different article… After a quick sandwich in the laboratory and a tasting of Pedro’s newly bottled wines, we were on the road again to our final spot, Guarilihue. We had only three more hours with Pedro, but they would prove to be some of the most interesting hours of our trip. Part 5 of 6, "Los Reconquistadores" will post next week. Find Pedro Parra Wines here To keep up with this story you can sign up to our email list, or check in next week at the same time and you will find part 5.

Brendan Stater-West

There are a lot of nice guys in the world, but few could be described as more genuinely nice than Brendan Stater-West.  One might ask how a young American guy from Oregon with no winemaking history ends up in Saumur as the assistant vigneron to Romain Guiberteau, one of the most celebrated vignerons in the Loire Valley.  It started with a job in a Parisian wine store where Brendan first tasted a bottle of Guiberteau.  Fortune brought the young man a wonderful French wife, and they moved to Saumur where he asked Romain for a job.  Romain agreed, a move that proved to be beneficial for both. Instinctually driven in the styling of his unique expression of Chenin Blanc and self-regulated by great humility and  openness of process, Brendan has the right ingredients to become a terrific vigneron. If his beautiful first vintage is any indicator, you’ve been given fair warning.  His current boss and mentor, Romain Guiberteau, helped Brendan launch his domaine in 2015 by leasing him a single hectare of land next to Romain’s famous lieu-dit in the town of Bizay, Clos du Guichaux. Continuing his string of luck, Brendan recently met a family from a line of vigerons with no heirs, who own an old cellar in Chacé, a town in the appellation of Saumur-Champigny.  The family wished it to become an active cellar again.  It appears that their wish will come true, as Brendan bought the property and has begun the process of renovating this ancient tuffeau cave and turning it into his own.  Needless to say, things are looking pretty good for Brendan.

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

Newsletter February 2023 – Part One

Quinta da Carolina vineyards to the left of the orange and pink house (Download complete pdf here) Last month we introduced some new producers, including the young Tuscan winegrower specializing in single-site Sangioveses and compelling experimental white wines, Giacomo Baraldo, followed by Forteresse de Berrye, a Saumur producer who bought a historical domaine (former military base) with a decorated vinous history who converted it to organic and now biodynamic culture, and finally, one of Portugal’s most promising talents, Luis Candido da Silva, who crafts a set of unique and gorgeously refined wines in the Douro with his father’s family estate, Quinta da Carolina. Now we have three more newbies represented exclusively in the US by The Source slated to be introduced this month, including wine coming from a historical Alentejo winery undergoing a complete renaissance, Tapada do Chaves. Often described by Portuguese winegrowers as one of the country’s most “mythical” producers of old wines; if you’re lucky enough to taste one from before the mid-1990s, it may surpass all your expectations for aged Portuguese white and red wines. Two more new arrivals are coming in from good friends in the Loire Valley’s Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation whose organic wines offer a beautiful juxtaposition of this underrated appellation where only the right minds are able to crack its code. Vincent Bergeron crafts ethereal wines, both Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir, while Hervé Grenier, from Vallée Moray, produces Chenin Blanc of deep, controlled power, and a very limited supply of red wines from Gamay, Pinot Noir and Côt. California Trade Events Next week we’ll put on more sit-down trade tasting events showcasing wines that are already allocated, some that have limited quantities, as well as those from new producers. Please ask your salesperson to book your seat as they will be limited. We plan to schedule quarterly tastings because there’s so much to show and because we’ve had a great response to them. On the billing: Wechsler’s 2020 Riesling crus, Veyder-Malberg’s 2021 Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, 2020 Artuke Rioja single-site wines, 2020 Collet Chablis grand crus, and some of our new producers, Vallée Moray (Montlouis), Vincent Bergeron (Montlouis), Tapada do Chaves (Alentejo), and José Gil (Rioja). I’ll be in attendance for each of these events, so I hope to see you there. February 7th: San Francisco at DecantSF from 11am - 3pm February 8th: West Hollywood at Terroni from 11am - 3pm February 9th: San Diego at Vino Carta from 11am - 2pm February 13th: Moss Landing (Monterey) at The Power Plant from 1pm - 4pm Visiting Producer At the end of the month, Katharina Wechsler will be making the rounds in California showcasing her top Rieslings. The eastern end of the Wachau New Arrivals A few 2021s from Tegernseerhof have arrived. As mentioned last month in the short on Veyder-Malberg’s 2021 releases, this vintage is truly one of the greats where everything on all levels of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are absolutely top tier: full-on in complexity and range, but light on their feet—a perfect balance. Arriving is the 2021 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel “Durnstein,” a collection of different vineyards around Loiben, principally from Frauenweingarten, the former name of this bottling. Also are the big hits, 2021 Bergdistel Smaragd Grüner Veltliner and 2021 Berdistel Smaragd Riesling. These two wines are a blend of the many different micro-parcels they own, mostly further west of Loiben and into the central part of the Wachau, Weissenkirchen. They’re both showoffs, youthful, and energetic, complex but juicy and delicious. 2021 is the year, so grab what you can and know they’ll age as beautifully as how well they’re drinking young. Fuentes del Silencio’s new releases of the 2019 Las Jaras and 2019 Las Quintas are two wines we’ve been waiting a long time to arrive. 2019 was a special year and showcases the depth of talent in these ancient vineyards revitalized by Miguel Ángel Alonso and his team of passionate winegrowers. Miguel and María, his wife, are doctors (with María still an active surgeon) who set out to bring back the history of Miguel’s birthplace at the east end of Iberia’s Galician Massif. The altitude is high, with the vineyards starting at 800m and Las Quintas reaching above 1000m. This is believed to be the original location for Mencía in its most natural setting, where there’s no need for the acidification that’s done in most other regions that grow this grape prone to lose its acidity in too warm a climate with little temperature extremes. Here, in Jamuz, the harvest is late, usually in mid-October, and the wines speak of this place with its slate-derived soils, the occasional slate outcropping, wild lavender and thyme bushes growing everywhere in this high desert setting, as well as the many pre-phylloxera vines dug deep into the soil that they’re nursing back to health. They started the project in 2014 and now with the 2019s, the sixth harvest under their belt, the wines are finding the extra gears that were clearly imminent with their organic approach in the vineyard and cellar. Arribas Wine Company vineyards in Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes along the Douro River Arribas Wine Company has a few new (but late) arrivals. From their stockpile of extraordinary old vines scattered throughout Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes wine region on the border of Spain to the northeast and Douro to the southwest, they have some of the greatest bargain wines in the entire world. Imagine these ancient terroirs along the Douro/Duero River grown on gnarly slopes and rocks identical to those of Côte-Rôtie and Cornas, though they go for only a fifth of the price for even the cheapest of these French appellations. That’s what you get, but with over forty different varietals blended into some wines, and 10.5-12% alcohol… It all seems like a dream, but it’s as real as it gets. Arriving are the 2021 Saroto Branco and 2021 Saroto Rosé. “The 2021 growing season was nearly perfect as we witnessed very moderate conditions during maturation. In fact, because summer was not hot and nights were unusually cold, maturation was slow and gradual, contributing to excellent acidity in the wines. The grapes for the Saroto White 2021 (which is really like an orange wine) were harvest by hand on September 8th and were foot-trodden in a traditional lagar, totaling three days of skin maceration.” They were then aged in old French oak barrels for seven months. The vine age for this blend of different white varieties comes from 51-year-old vines on granite and clay at 650-700m. The 2021 Saroto Rosé is unfortunately in very low quantities. It comes from a blend of 50% white and 50% red varieties, mostly from the same vineyards as the white and drinks more like an extremely light red, like a Spanish Clarete—a wine somewhere between rosé and red without stinging acidity while being refreshing and in the full red-fruit spectrum. New Producers Tapada do Chaves Alentejo, Portugal I’ve had my eye on Tapado do Chaves for a few years prior to signing with them. We were introduced to the wines by one of my great friends and winegrowers in Portugal, Constantino Ramos. When asked about what old wines in Portugal I should get to know his first suggestion was Tapada do Chaves. Constantino helped find some old wines from the 1980s and early 1990s that were being sold by a Portuguese retailer, and my first experience with them was shocking. Though more famous for their historic red wines, the whites were just as good. Everything aged well, even though the bottles looked like they’d been on top of some Portuguese guy’s countryside fireplace for a couple decades and had low fills and corks barely clinging to the insides of the bottles. I bought another mixed three cases of old wines and shared them with friends from Galicia. Soon, the source of the old bottles dried up but I was convinced that I should investigate, even though I was told the most recent wines were not the same. It was true that they weren’t, but a visit to the vineyards showed what was coming. One of the many gorgeous old wines tasted over the last four years Tapada do Chaves’s legacy in Portugal’s Alentejo is legendary, though there were many speed bumps along the way, such as the Portuguese dictatorship (1933-1974) and the sale of the estate in the late 1990s to a sparkling wine company that faltered on quality of the Tapada do Chaves wines for decades. In 2017, with the purchase by Fundação Eugénio de Almeida, led by one of Portugal’s most celebrated oenologists, Pedro Baptista (known for the highly coveted Pera Manca wines), it began to regain its footing. Biodynamic farming was immediately incorporated on this unique granite massif on the side of Serra de São Mamade, which towers over the flatter lands more typical of the Alentejo. The whites grown in vineyards planted in 1903 and massale selections replanted some forty years ago are a blend of Arinto, Assario, Fernão Pires, Tamarez and Roupeiro (among others), and fermented and aged in stainless steel and old French oak barrels. The reds, from vines planted by Senhor Chaves in 1901 are a blend of Trincadeira, Grand Noir, Aragonez and Alicante Bouschet. All are aged in older French oak barrels, then bottled and released around seven years after the vintage date. Today, Tapada do Chaves is selling their new releases of white wines from when they first took over, but the reds still have some years to go before the change of direction into biodynamic culture and a fresh new take from Pedro Baptista. During a meeting with Pedro, he told me of the history of the winery and about how, when he was a little boy, his father used to take him to Tapada do Chaves to collect their yearly allocation. Though he’s new to Tapada do Chaves, it’s not new to him. This famous estate weathered the dictatorship and continued to work independently while few in Alentejo (and all of Portugal) did. Portuguese white wines may be the most underrated white wines in the world. Since moving to Portugal in 2019, I’ve had many examples of aged white and red wines for such a low price that have truly been astonishing, though the most interesting for me have been the whites. Tapada do Chaves is no exception. The old whites that didn’t fail due to bad corks were incredibly good—fresh, slightly honeyed, minty and medicinally herbal, salty, deeply textured like a very old Loire Valley Sancerre without the varietal nuances of Sauvignon Blanc. My first interaction with the 2018 Tapada do Chaves Branco was extremely encouraging. In a blind tasting with some other trade professionals along with some other wine samples from Portugal, it stole the show. It stands as another strong example of the talent of Portuguese white wines made from a blend of many grapes. Despite the wide variety of fruit, the terroir elements are always there, along with the high quality of the replanted vines from massale selections taken from the unique biotypes grown inside of Tapada do Chaves’ walled and gently sloping vineyard on granite rock atop the massif. After the tasting, I put what was left in the refrigerator for more than a month, uncorked. I forgot about it after tasting it once the day after the first tasting. Then I started to taste it again over the coming weeks to check in, a little here and a little there; it was bulletproof. I remain shocked at the resilience of this wine and its inability to be fatigued. Based on this and my experiences with the old wines from this estate, I believe that it has the potential to age very well—not only to be sustained, but to improve tremendously over time as so many Portuguese white wines do. The 2018 Tapada do Chaves Branco Vinhas Velhas comes from the ungrafted 120-year-old vines first planted by Senhor Chaves in 1901. This wine is profound but will greatly benefit from time in the cellar—a long time. It carries many similarities to the first white in the range, except that it’s denser and more concentrated. One could simply retaste this wine for a month and add, brick by brick, a new tasting note with each soft turn of its evolution. To drink it quickly would be to miss witnessing its splendor. There are few cases imported because there are few made from these historic, nationally-treasured vines. It is indeed a little expensive, but in twenty or thirty years you’ll be happy to have captured a few bottles to share with your kids or grandkids. Vincent Bergeron Montlouis-sur-Loire, France Timid and cautious yet gently charismatic, middle-aged (born in ‘78) but youthful and spirited, with a heart of gold and a deft touch with his craft, the gracious Vincent Bergeron discovered his calling to the vigneron life while walking the streets for la poste, trading in antiquities, and periodically working construction. These were simple trades, though perfect for young ponderers like Vincent, at least for the moment. He received degrees in Art History, Literature, and Agriculture, had many different work experiences that were capped by the viticultural mentorship of Jean-Daniel Kloeckle, Hervé Villemade, and Frantz Saumon. The latter gifted him with a tractor, a small Pinot Noir vineyard and part-time cellar job, and Vincent commercialized his first wine in 2016 (though he’d tinkered with various bottlings since 2013)—500 bottles of bubbles that all went to a Japanese importer. When he talks about his project, he always starts with his great appreciation for Frantz’s generosity, the man who gave him such a jumpstart. He and I were introduced by Montlouis-sur-Loire local, Gauthier Mazet, also a new vigneron (practicing since 2020) and wine industry connector, who lives by the river in the epicenter of Montlouis’ bloom of amazing producers. They’re all making deeply inspiring wines from an underdog appellation in minuscule quantities, most of whom sell almost everything to Japan and very little in France. This includes Vincent Bergeron, as well as two others who’ve also trusted us to be their US importing partner: Hervé Grenier, owner of Domaine Vallée Moray, a craftsman of densely mineral and emotional wines that embody the focus of a scientist maker in his second career as a vigneron, and Nicolas Renard, a forcefully independent and elusive natural wine wizard, a virtual ghost whose wines are nearly impossible to acquire. He transcends style and mode with no-sulfur wines, both white and red, that are simply in their own stratosphere, easily holding court with the best examples of x-factor-filled, dense, moving whites in the world, and reds that captures the essence of the earth and human in a bottle. I first saw Vincent on a cool and sunny spring morning in one of his vineyard parcels close to downtown Montlouis. With his thick mane of lightly salted pepper flowing in every direction, he wore casual well-worn clothes stained by hard work, and he shied away from the camera as I stole a few shots before our official greeting. His hands are those of a true vigneron; they were strong from a life of labor, dirty from the vines and caked with earth, swollen, scratched, scraped, gouged and bloodied. He seemed a little self-conscious to be shaking my hand, and I instantly knew I’d like him: it was impossible not to. Vincent is rare in today’s world of self-aggrandizing young vigneron talents—sometimes appointed by the wine community and often by the self, as “rock stars.” Many of them seek celebrity and membership in idealist tribes rather than going for truth and an honest view into this métier, this art, and above all, this craft, a marriage of homosapiens and nature. Vincent is a vigneron’s vigneron, a human’s human, an uncontrived example of how to live and simply let be, spiritually, without trying to be “someone.” He only tries in earnest to be himself—not for the world to see and celebrate, but for his family, his comrades, for himself and his humble yet idealistic relationship to wine and connection to nature. Though not an active provocateur, to simply be in his presence you might, like I do, contemplate life choices and motivations, what’s important to you and why it’s important, along with, “What the hell am I doing with my few short years on this planet?” Without effort or intent, he enriches others with his homage to his environment, a spirituality and open self-reflection in casual settings, drinking wine outside on a cold and sunny day in front of a tiny, wobbly table packed with cheeses, cured meats and oysters (also a favorite of his extremely young kids—only the French…), a perfect match for his bubbles and white wine. The talks are fresh and lively, more about life than wine, though in this context wine is life. His wines speak for themselves, and gently, as do his organic and biodynamic vineyards that are teeming with life. Sometimes he appears lost, even surrounded by his people, as he gazes into the world, into nothing, thinking, reflecting, wondering about his path. Perhaps he’s thinking less than it appears that he is, but it’s doubtful. Emotionally piercing, Vincent’s mineral-spring, salty-tear, petrichor-scented Chenin wines flutter and revitalize; a baptism of stardust in his bubbles and stills—a little Bowie, a lot of Bach. His Pinot Noir is earthen en bouche, and aromatically atmospheric, bursting with a fire of bright, forest-foraged berries and wild flowers, and cool, savory herbs rarely found in today’s often overworked, oak-soaked, and now sun-punished Pinot Noirs, the wines that were the heroes of the past millennium, but today are a flower wilting under the relentless sun. Advances in the spiritual heartland of Pinot Noir have been made, though I sure miss the flavors of the Côte d’Or from my earlier years among wine. Vintage is important with Vincent’s wines. With his concession to nature and commitment to honor the season, sans maquillage, ni compromise, he sets his wines on a direct course, showcasing each season’s gifts and its challenges, allowing his wines to freely express the mark of their birth year. Warm vintages (2020) taste of a season’s richer fruits and a softer palate while still being delicate and complex. Cold years (such as 2021) are brighter, fresher, more tense and rapier sharp with a gentle and welcome stab. The Vineyards On the east side of the fabulous but small and modern Loire city, Tours, across the Loire River from the historic splendor of Vouvray on a series of undulating hills with some dramatic slopes mixed with mellower hilltops, sits Montlouis. It’s a long stretch of vineyards between the rivers Loire and Cher to the south, on floodplains shaped by torrential flows over the eons. Vincent explains that between Vouvray and Montlouis there have always been differences in soil structure, topography, and social hierarchy. While Vouvray maintains a more celebrated vinous history (as illustrated by the bougie houses across the river, so different from Montlouis’ more rural and less ornate neighborhoods), some of its historical relevance seems to stifle creativity and growth—as happens so frequently in many historically celebrated regions in the wine world. Why change what already works so well? Furthermore, historic families often prefer to preserve their position instead of rocking the boat of a viticultural system that, after many generations in place, continues to provide wealth for those next in line. In contrast to Vouvray, Montlouis-sur-Loire is filled with young and finely aged winegrowers with open minds and a strong desire and capacity for kinship and the sharing of ideas. Many had widely varied experiences prior to choosing the vigneron life and together they’ve created a tribal environment where they help each other to push that rock further up the hill. Organics have become a way of life for many in this circle and the influence of this free-thinking community is expanding. Montlouis is exciting and there are so many talents emerging from this extremely praise-worthy appellation that’s up to now been an underdog. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride? No longer. Some earlier trailblazers opened the path, the most famous, perhaps Jacky Blot and François Chidaine, and others more quietly developing their names and furthering the reputation of the appellation, like Frantz Saumon, Thomas Lagelle, Julien Prevel, Ludovic Chansson and Hervé Grenier, all of whom Vincent admires and calls friends. Montlouis is mentioned in every wine book as being sandier in general than Vouvray, which is true, though there’s often great depth of clay (lighter on average than Vouvray’s) further below the surface of the topsoil, before the roots intersect with the famous whitish/yellow limestone bedrock of much of the Loire Valley’s best Chenin Blanc areas, and a slew of other elemental contributors have a say in the wine’s subtleties. Vincent has various plots in a few different zones of Montlouis, close to the bluffs that overlook the Loire River and others further away and closer to the Cher, both on classic limestone bedrock, with variations of perruche (fossils, lithified clay, flint/silex), sandstone, clay, and limestone. These structures are not independent of others but rather form a conglomeration and vary from one to the next and within the plots as well. To see the diversity, go to Though the land was already worked organically prior to Vincent’s last fifteen years of ownership, it was certified as such in 2018, and biodynamic principles are practiced during the season’s life cycle, though they’re not followed closely in the cellar. Plowing is done mostly by horse every third year, or by Egretier plow, a fitting pulled by tractor. The harvest begins with alcoholic and phenolic maturity in line with the chemistry of the grapes—pH, TA—and of course, the taste of the grapes. Pinot Noir is the first to be picked, followed by Chenin Blanc for sparkling, then the still Chenin. The Wines Vincent’s bubbles, Certains l’aiment Sec “Vin de France,” is gloriously ethereal and fun to drink. Like all his wines, the vintage has a big voice in the overall expression, though the spirit is the same: serious but playful and easy to gulp down. It’s made with a simple method using early pickings from the Chenin Blanc parcels. (Here, in this part of the Loire Valley’s Chenin Blanc region, many growers make numerous picks on their vineyards rather than just the one—a smart and utilitarian method to maximize quality with what yield nature provides, without being too forced.) Spontaneous fermentation takes place in fiberglass vats. Following malolactic fermentation, the wines are hit with their first sulfite addition of 20mg/L for its eighteen-month bottle aging. No fining, filtration, or dosage. “Morning, Noon and Night,” is a perfect name for this exquisite, fine, platinum-hued wine labeled Matin Midi et Soir – Chenin Blanc “Vin de France.” This is Vincent’s inspiring still white wine, (especially the 2021), where the vintage seems tailored for his style: helium-lifted, minerally charged, cold, wet rock and taut yet delicate white fruit. All the elements from each vineyard parcel in his 3.4-hectare stable of 40-plus year-old massale selections (and .60ha of clonal selections) give it breadth and complexity while maintaining Vincent’s head-in-the-clouds Chenin Blanc. It’s hard to pick a favorite in the lineup, but this low sulfite dose Chenin (30mg/L) raised twelve months in oak barrels (with some new to replace older barrels, which aren’t noticeable) is truly singular for this variety in the Loire Valley, so much so that it doesn’t even seem to be of this earth, but rather plucked from the heavens, pure, untainted, downright angelic. The first taste of Pinot Noir out of the barrel, Un Rouge Chez Les Blancs, was jaw-dropping, a burlesque walk from glass to nose and mouth. In recent years, I’ve greatly missed Pinot Noirs that carry this grape’s nobility and naturally bright, energetic, straight flush (hearts and diamonds) of red fruits and healthy forest with wet underbrush. I was tempted to be impolite and drink down my entire barrel sample from this mere one acre of vines (0.4ha) instead of returning it (2021 vintage) to whence it came; I could’ve nursed that first 500-liter barrel to completion. By the end of my first visit, I wanted everything in his cellar just so my friends back home could bear witness to it. Given to him—yes, given—by Frantz Saumon, the land was organically farmed long before Vincent took the reins of the plow horse. Optimal for this young vinous artist to explore his direction with epic, terroir-precise and living fruit, he nailed it. It’s true Pinot Noir perfection: egoless, a balance of nature and nurture, sensual, honest, captivating, pristine, delicious. There’s no sulfite added to this wine, so the future of each bottle will be in the hands of the handler, though with its naturally low pH, high acidity, and low alcohol, and, most importantly, its balance, it should manage well over time. One pump-over per day in the beginning, two later on in the fermentation, a year aged in 75% old oak barrel, 25% in fiberglass tank, and it’s not fined or filtered. The 2020, tasted blind by our staff in January, blew them away—an Allemand-like Pinot Noir. There’s not enough of the 2020 to go around, so we’ll have to wait for the taut, red-fruited 2021 to come! Domaine Vallée Moray Montlouis-sur-Loire, France Endless curiosity and self-reflection are characteristics of the most compelling vignerons. Some are born into the métier, many of whom are children of the greats, and a select few reach for new heights never before attained in the family line. Then there are the industry’s most enlightened freethinkers who come from the outside, drawn in by revelation, romance, and occasionally, a healthy mid-life crisis. At forty-six, Hervé Grenier abandoned the life of a scientist and began anew when, in 2014, he had an epiphany that brought him to an old ramshackle cellar with beautiful, healthy, organically farmed vineyards, in the quiet countryside of the Loire Valley appellation, Montlouis-sur-Loire. Hervé explained, “During a visit with a winemaker I used to frequent, I suddenly thought, ‘I’d like to do that!’” Inspired by the excitement of a significant life change, Hervé left a career in academic meteorology research and underwriting, focused on agricultural climate risk in the States, then moved back to France with his American wife, Emmy. They started their new adventure, only a couple of solid golf swings away from and to the south of the Loire River, on the first significant left-bank alluvial terrace that runs in parallel to them, but 30-35m above the river. Over time they bought more parcels further south and closer to the river, Cher, as they reshaped and converted the land to organic farming. As of 2023, they maintain roughly 4.5 hectares, 3.2 of which are Chenin Blanc with an average of 60-70 years of age, a single hectare of Pinot Noir, and 30 ares (.75 acres) of Gamay. Tasting with Hervé in his long, dark, damp, and cold underground concrete tunnel lined with mold and wine-stained old French oak barrels, is thrilling. Impressive from the first sample, Hervé shares his perception of each wine’s strength and weakness observed through its journey from budbreak, to grape, to wine. Organoleptic vibrational overload builds with each thieved sip, sips that gush with vinous lifeblood along with the gifts extracted from unique soils that have been bolstered by the microflora and microfauna and minerals mined from the rock and soil. His dry Chenin Blanc wines are vinous with the sweet green chlorophyll captured from the sun, the alchemy of slow fermentation—very slow, never forced—and the stamp of healthy lees from happy plants that render his wines digestible and revitalizing. The truth-seeking Hervé seems in deep reflection with each taste, contemplating the wine, his own nature, his choices. Vacillations between bursts of joyous laughter and doubt and self-reflection are interrupted when he hits the mark. Inspired and utterly serious, he slowly chants, “Ça c’est bon. Ça c’est bon. Ça c’est bon.” On Terroir Montlouis has a different quality of soils from those of Vouvray, across the Loire River. Vouvray vine roots typically have closer contact with tuffeau limestone bedrock and more clay in the topsoil than most of vineyards in Montlouis-sur-Loire. Hervé believes that the wines on this side of the Loire River are typically less marked by minerality than Vouvray, he says, “So there’s room for other stuff!” The composition of Montlouis-sur-Loire soils from a general point of view (though each site is different) is a mix of perruches (fossils, lithified clay, flint/silex), sand, and clay, atop bedrock of tuffeau limestone with varying levels of topsoil depth. ‘Montlouis is sandier than Vouvray,’ is the usual summary in textbooks, but this depends on each parcel, because it’s much more complicated than that. Domaine Vallée Moray With a manifesto (adopted by artists like him) that espouses ‘terroir expression over all things,’ Hervé says, “I would not like that my wines mainly express terroir, even if it’s a beautiful terroir.” But what is interesting and even slightly contradictory to Hervé’s notion of Vouvray and Montlouis and the terroir influence is that his wines are wrought with a sense of place; perhaps not only in the perception of mineral nuance, texture, structure, and ripeness imposed by the site’s soils, exposure and grape, but his full commitment to the preservation of his full-of-life, organically farmed old vines, the quality of the soils, and, of course, his skill in capturing their essence. His whites are strongly mineral in impression, thickly textured and weighted on the palate and the nose; his Aubépin Chenin Blanc is like a magnum squashed into a half bottle. Early on in his newfound life as a vigneron he demonstrated (through his 2017 and 2018 Aubépin, the fourth and fifth vintages of his life) a precocious and keen understanding, maybe even a certain level of mastery, in his sculpting of wines with clean and fine reductive elements—no doubt an intended consequence of protecting and preserving his sulfite-free, naked wines until bottling. The body is fuller though the wines remain finely balanced between the earth and the sky. The deep clay underneath the sandy topsoils, the quality of farming and his personal calibration of fruit maturity is marked through his entire line of wines. Terroir aside, Hervé’s wines reflect his intuition, curiosity, and measured hand. White Wines (and Orange) Hervé says he wants his wines to deliver, “The quality of the raw material produced from my vineyards; that they should feel good when you drink them. Satisfying. Pleasurable.” And he goes well beyond his aim. The Chenin Blanc are spectacular, singular, emotional, honest, and heavy on x-factor. For this taster, they stand tall among everything from the Loire Valley; sometimes they even tower over well-known and celebrated wines overwrought by cellar technique and experimentation. Hervé’s simple and confident approach is to let his wines find their own way, which they do. His objective for them to “be satisfying and pleasurable” is easily achieved, even for the everyday drinker. One doesn’t need to be an expert, or a wine lover with a penchant for the esoteric to fall for them, though a wine insider may be needed to help people find a bottle. They’re also profound, brainy, finely etched, and swoon-worthy for wine experts in search of a new frontrunner in the world of natural wine. Though they indeed fall into this genre, they are sterling examples of sulfite-free reds and whites, void of fault and without explanation or excuses. The whites don’t usually have any sulfur added at any point of the process, though if a wine is in peril he has no reservations when it comes to giving some assistance. This leaves his wines unclipped, robust and true in expression, free flowing yet harnessed and directed. Hervé describes his approach in the cellar as “The simplest and most natural way to make wine. The only intervention is the topping up of the barrels until I prepare them for bottling.” Like the superficial tillage of his vineyards (light scraping in Hervé’s case), his winemaking hand is gentle and patient. The fermentation of the classically styled whites, Cailloutis and Aubépine, takes place in old oak barrels with the total lees from the press—no débourbage (wherein the lees are settled before the wine is racked off them). There are no finings and filtrations, nor additions of sulfites—though, as already mentioned, necessary exceptions can be made. Fermentations can last months, or more than a year before dry. The two Chenin Blanc wines are made in the same way, with Cailloutis a blend of many different parcels and Aubépine a specific site of old vines closer to the Cher than the Loire. Hervé also makes an orange wine from Chenin Blanc (80%) and Sauvignon (20%), called, A Mi Chemin. This wine usually undergoes a two-month maceration on skins (fully destemmed) and is sparingly punched down, pressed, then aged in old oak barrels. Though the Chenin Blanc wines are glorious, Hervé claims with a smile, “A Mi Chemin is my wine.” It’s more gourmand than the other wines, with floating tea notes, dried citrus, stone fruit skin and dried flowers as opposed to fleshy fruit notes—which is to be expected with orange wines. It, like many other orange wines, is a wine for all occasions, with great versatility when it comes to chosen fare. Red Wines Hervé’s reds sing a bright and merry aromatic song. They’re fun, and they achieve Hervé’s objective of pleasure-led, feel-good, crunchy reds. Pinot Noirs grown in Montlouis and made by the right grower are a fabulous surprise, as are the Gamay. He doesn’t commit the reds solely to single-varietal bottlings but likes to make blends, too. There is the Pinot-led blend with Gamay, Arcadienne, and the solo Pinot Noir bottling is Les Figurines—neither are imported yet as they are produced in very small quantities. Côt Libri is made entirely of Malbec from very old vines on extremely calcareous soils in Montlouis-sur-Loire. It was fully destemmed and after fermentation ages in 400l-800l old barrels. As expected with this variety, it leads with more purple fruits than red, and after quite a few years of cellar aging in bottle it shows a broad range of earthy, savory qualities.

Newsletter March 2023

Arribas Wine Company granite vineyard planted at 650m in Portugal's Trás-os-Montes An article in the February 28th issue of The New Yorker magazine titled, “It’s O.K. to Be Confused About This Economy,” hit close to home. January left us nervous and the tension was compounded by all the projections of recession by the experts, but then business boomed in February. Confusing indeed. It seems the unusually heavy rains kept people home instead of in restaurants in early January. We’re grateful for our February, and March is already off to a roar. If it’s going well for us again, hopefully that’s an indicator for you as well. After an absence of almost a year and a half from the States, I flew from Barcelona to Los Angeles on January 12th and landed in sunny weather to find unusually green hillsides after the big rains. My trip was exhausting and the five weeks I was there felt like they went way too quickly. Our company put on a three-day staff meeting followed by some very well-attended tasting events in SF, LA, SD, and Monterey, which allowed me some face-time (albeit brief) with many of our customers and friends. By the time I arrived back in Barcelona—direct flights are now available from LA and SF through Level, by the way—followed by a couple of days’ drive back home to Portugal with an unusually snowy stop in Rioja, I was toast. When people find out I’m involved in wine importation they mostly think the job is all just the pleasure and fun of sipping and feasting. This is indeed a part of it, but that’s not how it always goes. When traveling alone I don’t eat breakfast and sometimes skip lunch, too, and often freeze to the bone in cellar and vineyard visits during cold seasons while the vines are dormant (the best times to visit, unfortunately, are when the weather’s not particularly nice). One Brit in the same line of work summed it up to me perfectly in 2010 at one of Beaune’s infamous restaurants, Ma Cuisine, “It’s good work, but it’s hard work.” In 2010 I was two years into my first wine company (Vance Erickson), and at thirty-three years old I was energized straight off the plane, a fearless consumer of daily foie gras and sometimes two or three pain au chocolat a day while in France for four to six weeks, fuel that fired me up to hit the road. At forty-six, it’s a stumble off the transatlantic flight in full zombie mode, pinched neck, sagging shoulders and desperate, bloodshot eyes, challenges of my life choices and addiction to all things wine, feeling old—prematurely old. Then, after one good and long day of sleep exactly ten days after being home, I’m ready to destroy myself again. My wife doesn’t understand it, and neither do I. A new vine in Douro Superior at Mateus Nicolau de Almeida Spring Travels & Early 2023 Forecasts There is no wine area quite like northwest Iberia. Last week I saw almost all our Galician and Portuguese crew during a four-day bender, and along for the ride was Gino Della Porto, winegrower and co-owner of Sette, in Nizza Monferrato. Here, everyone we work with started their own project from the ground floor, most of whom are like cultural search-and-rescue teams for generations of lost knowledge. They’re often from poor families that support their wine dreams the best they can, working against unfavorable winegrowing conditions every year, lots of hail, and mildew pressure like no other large European wine zone I know. Our guys at Cume do Avia have never had a normal crop load. The best I’ve ever heard was just last season, which was down only 10% from their potential output, when it’s usually reduced by 60-70%; they’re organic farmers in a fungal paradise—conditions inhospitable to grapes. While their neighbors who are not organic have canopies exploding with fruit, they live the ideological dream (nightmares being dreams, too) of the Galician winegrower committed to organic farming as their neighbors chuckle all the way to the bank. Prior to 2022, Diego said that with mildew’s three-peat victory from 2019-2021, they considered putting a stop to organic farming, which they’ve practiced since the very beginning of their project. 2022 has renewed their vow and confidence, and I’m proud of them for weathering the often grueling first decade and half since they started. Spending time with these guys from this part of the world I now call home gives me a reality check on what true exhaustion and stress looks like. Their relentlessness inspires me to reinforce my resolve to do better, not for me, but for them…wait, yes, seeing them succeed is for me, too—I need it, I crave it… I live for this interaction and for the opportunity to make a difference for them and their livelihood. Here, in Northwestern Iberia, all the clichés of humility—shirt off their back, salt of the earth, heart of gold—fit better than any other large winegrowing region I’ve experienced. The Galicians and Portuguese recharge my battery, narrow my focus, remind me of all the gifts that fill my life, while bringing more depth to our work than the squabbling over prices and payment terms, and the utterances of “what have you done for me lately?” all too commonly experienced at well-known wineries run by fortunate offspring in historically important areas—regions that have now become more of an industrial commodity than something inspiring. Here, a sense of entitlement rarely exists, only gratitude for any contribution to their business. I’m refueled now, maybe not physically but at least emotionally, and ready for 2023! I’m off to Piemonte at the end of this month to visit with a few of our new growers. It’s a research trip to collect stories, technical details, photographs, and drone images for three of our newest additions, and to say hello and taste new and upcoming releases out of tank and bottle from our old friends. The three new additions will redefine the direction of our Italian portfolio, giving us a clearer stamp in the land of Nebbiolo. Two of them will one day be very important Barolo estates (it’s hard to believe, but we’ve added two not only new but exciting Barolo producers in the same moment!), and one is a small cantina with lofty goals from an ambitious young grower in the far eastern section of Caluso. All are under thirty, which makes them particularly special for us, and you’ll see just how special they are when their wines are in your glass. Names and details will be revealed next month! Special Feature: Itata on Fire (literally) Leo Erazo Viñateros Bravos Itata, Chile Leo in the vineyards after the fire; Image credit Leo Erazo While California was green and refreshing in January, Chile burned. I’ve spent a lot of summer months there because my wife is Chilean, so I’m familiar with the summer fires and the smoke. It’s exactly like California with its arid climate and devastating earthquakes and seasonal flames. Though it’s a quarter of the way around the world, this particular fire hit close to home for a lot of us who work with growers down in Itata. I spoke to both Leo Erazo, from Viñateros Bravos and his eponymous label, and a friend we once worked with, Pedro Parra, after Leigh Readey, our Santa Barbara neo-hippie, beach and farm girl, Source representative and social media dabbler, gave us a report on the situation. Pedro said that the wind was favorable for him and blew the fire in the opposite direction of his vineyards. Leo’s vineyards, however, were right in its path and were devastated, all but about 10% of the vines. Two weeks ago, I spoke with Leo and he sounded positive but shaken. Over the years he and his wife, Zjos (a Belgian native), invested all their earnings from the Viñateros Bravos negociant program to build/buy their own vineyards and winery. The winery is safe and holds the 2022 vintages still in tank with some lots from previous years too, but the vineyards they bought (for the Leo Erazo range) were scorched in less than six hours. These losses not only include this year’s crop but every crop until three or four years after they replant. With no fire insurance (likely not even available in Chile due to the regularity of burns) puts them back at square one (or even further back) with mostly only negociant fruit to work with, which will also certainly be less available because many of his growing partners lost their vineyards too. These losses mean a reduction to about 50% of normal production each year (estate vineyards and negociant vineyard losses combined), not only for one year, but until he’s able to find more sources of fruit inside this now charred land. Vineyards before the fire Lost were some of the most treasured vines in the world. The only beneficial losses were the eucalyptus trees, an invasive, alien, pesky, thirsty, greedy Australian tree that choked out most of Itata’s historic vines in the twentieth century. As many of you know, Itata is home to a treasure trove of the oldest vines in the world, with most País vines being over 150 years old, and over 80 for Cariñana. Some of the País are even believed to be over 300 years old. Most of the vines are own-rooted as well because Chile was never exposed to phylloxera, which makes Itata even more special—world heritage level; UNESCO level! To think about what wines we get from Leo and Zjos at the prices we get seems ridiculous: cold climate, own-rooted, 150-300-year-old vines on decomposed granite and volcanic soil. Simply absurd values for some of the New World’s most authentic terroir wines. We know we cannot save the whole world by ourselves. But when opportunities arise to help those in front of us who’ve helped build our business and possibly been a part of yours (for those in the trade), it’s gratifying to contribute in some way to ease their stress, suffering, along with those around them—workers, friends, neighbors, people who lost their homes, too. What’s unique in the case of Leo Erazo compared to makers in other wine regions who’ve gone through devastation is that the margins on his wines are razor thin and he lost his vineyards, not just a season’s crop. They need to rebuild, but all of their money was tied into those vineyards and their future crops. Also, this part of Chile is poor—dirt poor, so a little money goes a long way. In other agriculture areas banks often leverage loans against land, but this is Chile, not the EU, or the US. Resources are few and the government’s power to help is limited because it has so little in reserve. Leo said the government will help those who lost their homes, but not their vineyards—an understandable priority. I know firsthand that Leo and Zjos are frugal and live very modestly. They’re free-spirits, happy to live in spare quarters with little, with only good friends and humble means. It’s for this that we know that the financial help they receive will go straight to rebuild necessities for their business. Our resolution is simply to take a modest increase on their already underpriced wines and donate that increased revenue after the business costs, plus a dollar per bottle directly from The Source to Leo and Zjos. We bought a full container, so if we can do it, it will really be something they can work with. Though maybe this year the prices are a few bucks higher per bottle, the wines are worth that and more. It’s about the same percentage increase that most Côte d’Or growers take every year regardless of a bad season or good. The difference in a store will be about $19 to $22/$23 for the Viñateros Bravos line. Simply by purchasing these wines you will be directly supporting the rebuilding of their lives so they can continue their work preserving what they have left and making beautiful, inexpensive terroir-stacked Chilean wines. That’s the story, below are the wines. All are organically farmed, and the following explanation of their details is loosely taken from their writing. The oldest wine ever produced in Chile back in 1551 was called Pipeño. Old vines and natural winemaking make these wines a great introduction to the old vines of Itata. Pipeño Blanco is made with 100% old-bush vine Moscatel planted in the 1960s, and the Pipeño Tinto is made with 100% old-bush vine Cinsault, planted almost a hundred years ago. Both Pipeños are unfiltered and intentionally hazy, which has been the tradition of Pipeño since the oldest memory of these wines. Pipeño is the greater regional “terroir series,” while Viñateros Bravos is the “soil series,” where the old vines have a greater interaction with each specific mother rock, highlighting their mineral characteristics and wineprint. The “cru series” is the result of ten years of soil mapping across the Itata hills, and these are the vineyards that got destroyed. In these wines the layers of complexity and depth, and the longer aging potential are more apparent. All the wines are vinified in concrete (eggs, spheres, and more), amphoras, large wood vats and food-grade polymer containers, and they’re pressed in a vertical, wooden press. We thank you for your contribution to help, which is simply to buy and enjoy the Viñateros Bravos and Leo Erazo wines. Arriving are: 2022 Pipeño Tinto (1L) 2022 Pipeño Blanco (1L) 2022 Viñateros Bravos, Itata, País Volcánico 2022 Viñateros Bravos, Granítico País 2022 Viñateros Bravos, Cinsault Granítico 2021 Leo Erazo, Parcela Unica Cinsault, El Tunel 2019 Leo Erazo, Parcela Unica Cinsault, Superior, Las Curvas 2019 Leo Erazo, Carigñan Parcela Unica Superior, Hombre en llamas New Producer Etna Barrus Etna, Italy Located at an altitude of six-hundred meters, on panoramic terraces of Mount Etna’s southeast side within view of the Ionian Sea, exists the boyhood dreams of four men. Salvo, Toti, Mario, and Giuseppe were inspired by the passion and work of their grandparents when they formed Etna Barrus, a partnership that would begin their collective return to familial roots, where they would “devote themselves to viticulture without pollution; to do it the way they used to.” Named after the elephant, the city symbol of Catania, combined with Italy’s most famous active volcano, the vineyards of Etna Barrus were planted in 2005 below one of Etna’s extinct cones, Monte Gorna. Their 2.7 hectares of vines are committed to a red grape responsible for some of the world’s most beguiling wines, Nerello Mascalese, and its burly and more colorful sibling, Nerello Cappuccio; Carricante was also planted in 2021. Their vineyard is composed of massale selections of each variety and they describe their agriculture as regenerative—they’re moving into organic certification in 2023. However, “to do it the way they used to,” implies that even before their bid for organic certification there’ve been no non-organic inputs in their vineyards. And because of the arid conditions in Sicily, with the exposure to the morning sun on the volcano’s southeast face, few treatments are needed in this natural climate that has been favorable to viticulture for millenia. Their miniscule production churns out two raw though finely nuanced Etna Rosso wines and an Etna Rosato, all a blend of 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio, and all on volcanic sand naturally rich in organic substances and life-giving minerals—hallmarks of these nature-friendly soils. The vine density is 5000 vines per hectare trained on Cordone Speronato and Alberello (goblet). The full capacity each season should produce only around 7,500 bottles. The red grapes are usually harvested around the first ten days of October. Once in the cellar, they are destemmed and macerated no more than a week to preserve the fresher fruit nuances and allow the fine tannins from the grape skins rather than the seeds that further break down as the alcohol rises, extracting harsher tannins. The wine is then racked into steel along with the press wine and then finishes fermentation over another two weeks. The wine for the purple label remains in steel for a year, and the orange label, the “selezione,” also finishes its fermentation in steel but is then racked into old French oak barrels (225l-500l) for a period of 12 to 18 months, dictated by the season’s conditions. The differences in taste between the Purple Barrus and Orange Barrus Etna Rosso wines are fitting colors that match the wine personalities. Purple Barrus is grown in a more reductive environment (steel) and tends toward a darker color with more exotic purple fruits than red, and has a stronger purple floral element with wild berry fruit. It’s also very mineral in the palate in a refreshingly cool sensation while at the same time being explosive, vigorous and exciting. The orange label Etna Rosso is stronger in red and orange fruits, due to the slow, oxidative maturation in old wood barrels. The floral elements are relatable to the sun-dried rose, similar to Nebbiolo, and expresses the southern Italian sweet orange peel/Aperol aroma. This wine is also more discreet and finely tuned than the upfront purple Barrus. New Producer Mateus Nicolau de Almeida Douro, Portugal “When I was eighteen, the only thing that I wanted was to see the world. I had no special thoughts about winemaking, but wine runs in the blood.” -Mateus Nicolau de Almeida Renaissance (Cave) Man and the Saint The Douro wines of Mateus Nicolau de Almeida in Vila Nova de Foz Côa are crafted underground in a schist cave, an environment in near complete opposition to the work experiences and family histories of its makers, Mateus and Teresa, as both come from extremely scientific and technical backgrounds. Their stated objective is, “To be transparent, and to transmit the elementary concepts of Douro, even if you are drinking them on Venice Beach!” Organically farmed and certified, their wines are defined through a combination of vineyards in the different sub-regiões (subregions) of Douro and a multitude of indigenous grape varieties. The Trans Douro Express are three “climate” reds from roughly ten different vineyards that demonstrate the three sub-regiões of Douro: in the west, the coldest and wettest, Baixo Corgo; in the middle Cima Corgo, and in the east to the border of Spain, the driest and warmest, Douro Superior. Each of these wines illustrate their differences in climate, which of course, determines grapes suitable for each area, which are not the same. Eremitas are three white wines from the Douro Superior and express three different schist-based terroirs. Made in particular years, the Curral Teles, their “human wines,” are their most experimental, tinkered with in the cellar (including one wine aged inside a granite block!) to discover new gateways to different expressions and nuances—very Portuguese, at least from a two-thousand-year view into the past with this country of historic exploration and discovery. There are also two stellar (but in very low supply), traditionally crafted Port wines, Lágrima (white Port) and Ruby Seco. There are more specific details of each wine toward the bottom of the profile. The Saint (Teresa) and the Caveman, a guy with a crown of thick, windblown, Van Gogh-esque brushed locks, are fabulous cooks and irrepressibly hospitable. They raise their own crops and animals, and a small building on their property is dedicated to the making of their character-filled and full-flavored vinegars. They also produce distillates with juniper and make olive oil; their projects are a constant, including those with artist Pedro Jervell (the producer of their granite rock tank), as well as with wine transporters who use old sailboats. They do music events, wine events (Mateus helped to conceptualize Simplesmente Vinho in Porto, the most important event for small and environmentally conscious winegrowers), parties (legendary by reputation), and began to work with archeologists from the Côa Valley after Teresa found important paleolithic rock engravings. Mateus even has his own tiny wine importing company focused on European producers with their same agricultural ideals in organic, biodynamic, and natural wine concepts. What else? They’re also fluent in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English! With all this time spent doing so many things, when they’re asked who does what in the winery, they respond, “We’re still trying to figure that out…” Bloodlines Mateus Nicolau de Almeida made and bottled his first wine in 1988, at only ten years old. He’s the son of one of Portugal’s most celebrated winegrowers, João Nicolau de Almeida, and the grandson of Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, the founder of Portugal’s most mythical and immortal (and most expensive) wine in 1952, Casa Ferreirinha Barca Velha. By blood, they’re all connected to the legendary Ramos Pinto port house started in 1880 by the then twenty-one-year-old artist, Adriano Ramos Pinto, known today for its historic port wines, but even more for their iconic, art deco label illustrated in 1925 by French artist, René Vincent. Coming to understand Mateus’ family heritage of wine, art, and creative and progressive minds, makes it easier to imagine what his first wine crafted at such a young age would have been like. Mateus’s curiosity for the world and wine led him to experiences in California, Argentina, Chile, and Spain, but most of them abroad were in France, including seasons at Caves de Saint Mont, Château Grillet, and numerous châteaux (Reynon, Doysy Daëne, Clos Floridène) co-managed by University of Bordeaux enology professor, the late Denis Dubourdieu, whose influence on Mateus was enormous. But his most important interaction in Bordeaux was in 1996 at a Third Growth Margaux estate, Château Cantenac Brown, where he met Teresa Ameztoy, who would become his partner in life, the mother to his children, and the holder of the string that keeps the kite that is Mateus from flying away. Mateus’ wine experiences also include involvement in their familial project, Quinta do Monte Xisto, and in 2003, he created the winery, Muxagat, then left it to his partners in 2014 to develop his own project. A San Sebastián native raised in Rioja, Teresa’s father worked for the famous bodega, La Rioja Alta S.A. and Murua. In 2019, she left her position as the head winemaker for Ramos Pinto (2005-2019) to fully focus her energies with Mateus on their wine project, labeled Mateus Nicolau de Almeida, starting in 2015. Prior to Ramos Pinto, Teresa’s vinous exploits include eight years as a winemaker in Xerez, seasonal stints in Italy, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Domaine de Trevallon, and the famous biodynamic Alsace estate, Josmeyer. She also earned a BTS Vitio-oeno at Montpelier and Diplome National d’oenologie at Bordeaux University. Teresa cites her early great influences as the late Eloi Dürbach (Trevallon), Telmo Rodriguez, João Nicolau de Almeida, and her father, but, she says, “Now Mateus is my biggest influencer.” Golden? If one took all the extremes of Germany’s Mosel Valley, France’s Northern Rhône, Austria’s Wachau, and Spain’s Ribeira Sacra and stirred them together you would have Portugal’s Douro River Valley. The extremity of the series of river valleys that stream into the Douro and the bridges towering above them is truly breathtaking, unlike anything else in the wine world. With vineyard altitudes that go from about 80 meters to around 800m very quickly, with land that seems strapped down by vine rows so they don’t fall over into the rivers far below, it’s a glorious view for the non-squeamish car passenger. It’s also an intense, stressful, and envy-filled drive for the one behind the wheel who must keep their eyes on the winding roads at all times. Douro’s vinous history dates to the Romans, who of course, came for metals, mostly gold. Douro means golden in Portuguese, but Teresa pointed out that linguistics theorists believe the name for the Douro River comes from the pre-Roman sound, DWR, which means running water—similar to other river names, like Dordogne, Adour. Centuries later, the Moors instituted a near-complete Muslim prohibition on alcohol from sometime during the 8th Century until around the late 11th Century. The Reconquista resulted in Christians regaining territory in what was then called Galicia-Leon. The new rulers coincided with the arrival of Cistercian monks who planted new vineyards in 1142 in the Douro at today’s Casa dos Varais, across the Douro from Peso da Régua, less than five kilometers by air (15 minutes by car) from Lamego to the south. These monks were also responsible for Galician wine development just to the north, as well as in Burgundy and many other European wine regions. Port wine production appeared toward the second half of the 17th Century to stabilize wines through fortification for export, principally with British and Flemish patrons, who at that time were at war with France. Most of the Port wines were produced from vineyards in today’s Baixo Corgo and Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior was exploited for production in the early 1900s. With the arrival of Port wine, the most historic wine of Douro, still wine, became almost non-existent. However, as already mentioned, Casa Ferreirinha’s Barca Velha was developed by Mateus’ grandfather in 1952, and João, Mateus’ father, developed the “Duas Quintas” still wines in the early 1990s for Ramos Pinto. In the late 1990s, the Port house, Niepoort, under the direction of Dirk Niepoort, took a strong position with a series of new and inspiring still wines. In 1986 Portugal joined the EU (then referred to as European Communities), and subsidies began to finance new ventures along with the crazy bridges and a world-class highway system that made it easier to cross into Portugal’s nether regions, which coincided with an explosion of Douro’s still wine production. Douro Sub-Regiões Douro’s sub-regiões are better understood through climate, with, generally speaking, Douro Superior (east) with Mediterranean (or Continental) dominance, Cima Corgo (middle) with Mediterranean and some Atlantic influence, and Baixo Corgo (west) with Atlantic and less Mediterranean influence. Teresa and Mateus explain, “the three sub-regiões are well delimited, but their differences are still very unknown to general consumers. Apart from that, it would be very important to acknowledge that inside these three sub-regiões of Douro there are other sub-sub-regiões with different climates and different soils.” This would be an enormous task to formalize, and if the history of politics in wine appellations is any indicator of what would likely transpire, it would be a very long time before any consensus was made among growers. Douro Superior Temperature is very influential inside the sub-regiões. Butted up to the border of Portugal’s Vinho Verde appellation, Baixo Corgo (BC) has the mildest temperatures and the most rainfall—nearing 1000mm per year. Cima Corgo (CC) is much warmer and with an average between the two on precipitation of around 600mm per year, and Douro Superior (DS), separated on its far eastern flank from Spain by the Douro (Duero in Spanish) and Agueda Rivers (a tributary to Douro originating further south that acts as the Portuguese and Spanish border for over 100km), is the hottest and has around a mere 350mm. Mildew pressure and disease are highest in Baixo Corgo and decrease the further east through Cima Corgo and then Douro Superior, which correlates directly with the amount of vineyard treatments each season. BC has more trees, but the highest degree of biodiversity is in DS. Climate change is influential in Douro but Mateus and Teresa believe it’s less so than other wine regions. Douro has always been extreme, and they think that it is not so much different than in the 1950s, and they have familial historical references to back this up. The difference is that the extremes of summer highs are higher, but they think the overall temperatures are similar. The most affected region is likely Baixo Corgo (the cooler area), which has warmed the most. However, the burgeoning still-wine business has different needs than those of Port wine production. In general, along the river gorges, Port wine grapes originate on the hot, south-facing slopes, while much of the still wine production is facing north and/or at higher altitudes. Though it’s dependent on each season, normally the bud break starts in Baixo Corgo, then Cima Corgo, and finally Douro Superior. DS is last because the temperatures until February and March are colder, and the spring and fall are the shortest seasons by way of temperature; DS has a lot of winter and summer. Harvest usually begins in DS, then CC, and finally BC. This, in theoretical support of length of season connected to wine complexity, should mean that on some level, Baixo Corgo may have a greater potential of phenolic complexity than the other sub-regiões, in general. However, much of the general population would go for DS and CC because of their richer profiles by comparison. Mateus believes that still wines from BC should be the longest lived, followed by DS, and then CC. Topographically, Baixo Corgo and Douro Superior are more gentle slopes when compared to the more extremes of Cima Corgo. They all have the commonality of various versions of schist, with the youngest rock formations starting in BC leading to the oldest in DS. Interestingly, the many granite terroirs of Douro are not allowed into Port production. New vineyard on Monte Xisto Vineyard Practices and Grapes The philosophical approach in the vineyards to respect nature and encourage biodiversity in and around the vineyards. They believe biodiversity is key, not only to wine expression but overall health of their lands. One visit to their properties demonstrates their commitment to these ideals. Regarding tillage, some are done by tractor, some by horse, and others not at all. The timing of picking is done with a combination of taste and chemistry balance, and all of the wines are grape co-fermentations. They have many vineyard sites within each of the sub-regiões, and each has more favorability toward specific varieties. Though the five most planted in the area are the red, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Roriz, there are over 100 different indigenous varieties in the region. Other notable reds are Tinta Amarela, Malvasia Preta and Tinta Carvalha, which are more present in BC and CC. Whites are fewer, with BC planted more to Malvasia Fina and DS more Rabigato and Codega (Siria). In CC there are fewer white grapes planted than the other sub-regiões. Most of the grapes used for their project are from vineyards they own (4ha in total, all certified organic), and some are from rented vineyards while others are from purchased grapes. Please refer to our Douro Terroir Map on our website for more extensive grape details and terroir overview. Wines The fish on the label—a unique wine logo—is representative of the Allis Shad (known as Alosa Alosa, in Latin, and Sável in Portuguese), part of the herring family. This fish was once able to work its way back into the Douro and beyond until the closure of the river by the fifteen dams that now stop the free flow. As mentioned, the Trans-Douro-Express are “climate” wines, and are labeled based on the sub-regiões, Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior. They all come from vineyards of schist bedrock and variations of topsoil composition, mostly loam (clay and sand mixture) topsoil and are very poor with low water retention. The wines are a blend of more than ten varieties and crafted with the same basic processes in the cellar: all destemmed and spontaneously co-fermented in 4000L concrete vats. Extractions are gently done one time per day (maximum) with pumpovers, or pigeage by feet and hands for four to five days prior to pressing. They’re aged in the same concrete vats for eight months, racked a few times during aging, lightly filtered, and sometimes fined. Total sulfite levels range between 40-50 ppm(mg/L) with the first addition usually made prior to fermentation. Between the three wines the climate and precipitation are evident. Of course, vintages will vary, but early experiences with young wines are that Baixo Corgo leads with a tight frame, iodine-heavy mineral nuances (particularly in the 2021), and rock and wild berry purple fruit quality. Cima Corgo similarly has iodine impressions present in the nose but also some level of reduction/mineral and rockiness in impression. The fruit components are also berry heavy, but those with the sense of cultivated and wild-picked. Douro Superior expresses more burnt earth mineral nuances, like hot iron. It’s not as tight as the others upon opening and expresses more savory fruits and food, with the 2021 showing chestnut, persimmon, red apple skin. Its earthiness seems more dirt than rock. Curral Teles Tinto “Alpha” is done with whole-cluster foot-stomping inside an open-top, shallow granite calcatorium (lagar) for three hours and then slowly pressed in a vertical press. The juice is fermented and aged in 4000L concrete vats for eight months. Eremitas Branco “Amon de Kelia” comes from gray schist with quartz at 500m altitude and is made exclusively of Rabigato, an intense white with very good levels of acidity. Whole clusters are foot-stomped inside an open-top, shallow granite calcatorium (lagar) for three hours and then slowly pressed in a vertical press. The juice is fermented for seven or eight days followed by aging in 4000L concrete vats for eight months. The wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, therefore the wine is filtered prior to bottling and sometimes fined.

Newsletter October 2021

Finally coming home! (My original home, anyway…) It’s been two years since I’ve been to the US and a lot has happened (including babies!). It will be nice to see all the faces I’ve missed and all the new people I’ve yet to meet in person. I’m especially happy that I’ll be seeing my father, who turned eighty this year and has gone through a rough patch with his health. It’s hard for us expats to have such a separation from our families for so long and I’m glad that the dry spell is coming to an end. New Videos and Maps on our Website There’s a new terroir map this month: Galicia’s Rías Baixas, which also includes Portugal’s Vinho Verde sub-appellation, Monção e Melgaço, because of their common thread and focus on Albariño (Alvarinho, in Portuguese). It may be the most colorful map to date, action-packed, with information on rock types, grape codification, altitudes, temperatures, etc., all squeezed into one page. In case you haven’t perused our website recently, there’s a new menu category of Videos that includes some interviews with winegrowers and some fun new drone videos of their land and regions. There are two posted so far and there will be many more to come. The first drone video I did (which was more of a practice effort) is a regional teaser for our new producers in Spain’s Rioja and Txakoli areas, a short piece of eye-candy that covers some interesting ground from earlier this year. It’s fascinating how different the landscape in Rioja is compared to Txakoli, which is barely a half hour drive away from the northern parts of the region. The shots were filmed within a day or two of each other, but the drastically different environments make them seem like they are hundreds of miles apart. The second video (which took me three days to edit because my efficacy with video is dismal) offers a tour of Chablis’ right bank. It’s a hair over ten minutes long, has classical music to accompany the flight, and a lot of information I’ve put in the form of text pop ups in the video to consider with the backdrop of the premier crus, Mont de Milieu, Montée de Tonnerre, and Fourchaume, and, of course, all the grand crus. The material may be slightly dense and sometimes a little fast to take it in one pass, but you can pause and rewind to read, check out the grooves in the landscape, refer to the accompanying vineyard map and contemplate the simplicity and complexity of this wine region. When I am able to finally unplug myself from the unusually high quantity of new producer profiles I need to write for our website, I will get to the left bank of Chablis, along with dozens of other videos I plan to create from the drone footage I shot on my two-month trek through Europe, which only really missed the Loire Valley and Central and Southern Italy. Chablis grand crus Blanchots on the right and Le Clos on the main slope Delayed Containers The logistics of this year have been by far the most difficult to navigate since we started our company a little over ten years ago, and things don’t seem to be getting better. Wines usually take about sixty days to get from the cellar door in Europe to California, but right now they can take up to five months… It’s for this reason that all the “new arrivals” coming in October were written about in our September newsletter because their original projections for arrival (even with a massive time buffer considered) were in that month and the end of August. Most of those wines did arrive on our shores, but the shore is where they stayed for two additional months. Getting them out of port in Europe was difficult enough, but they’ve been just floating out on the ocean close to the port waiting for the go-ahead to enter and unload. So, if you want to read about what new wines will actually be available this month, you can read (or review) our September newsletter. Port of Los Angeles September 2021, Photo by Mario Tama Letting the clowder of cats out of the bag (Yes, as with a murder of crows, clowder is the name of a group of cats.) For many, the pandemic was a waiting game. But for many others in business sectors such as delivery services, agriculture, and construction, they had an actual increase in business (at least over here, in Portugal). As the principal owner of our company, it was a call to action, as it was for most business owners. Sink or swim, right? My wife, Andrea, and I did more than just tread water, we were in an all-out freestyle race in search of new producers, redevelopment of some of our website ideas, online retail work (which saved our butts for many months at the beginning of the pandemic, paying our bills when the wholesale division had dropped to near zero), ramped up our foreign language classes, and tried to make sure that our employees were not sinking too far financially and going completely crazy with so much time to contemplate life and the stresses the pandemic caused for everyone. During this unique moment in history, we greatly expanded into Iberia and picked up a few other producers in Italy, France and Germany along the way. Many of our new producers are not even close to arriving and I wanted to play them close to my chest until they got to the States because I’ve had bad experiences where people changed their minds and pulled out after we had already started to promote them. But given that this month all our new arrivals were already covered over the last two monthly newsletters, it’s a good opportunity to talk about some great new things in the market, and what’s more exciting than that? What follows are short overviews of the upcoming new producers (with less personal narrative than usual) that can be found on our website. For some of these producers, it will be their first time being imported to the US. What follows are short overviews of the upcoming new producers (with less personal narrative than usual) that can be found on our website. For some of these producers, it will be their first time being imported to the US. Incoming new producers mentioned in previous newsletters to arrive in October include Davide Carlone (Boca, Italy), Falkenstein (Südtirol, Italy), Togni-Rebaioli (Lombardy, Italy), La Battagliola (Lambrusco, Italy), and Elise Dechannes (Champagne, France). Elise Dechannes showing her homemade biodynamic tea preparations The Newbies Katharina Wechsler - Rheinhessen, Germany (National, except MN) The German organic (certified) and biodynamic winegrower, Katharina Wechsler, is the owner of enviable holdings in the most famous dry Riesling area of the Rheinhessen (thanks to the local luminaries, Klaus-Peter Keller, and Philipp Wittman), the highlights in her stable include a big slab of the grand cru vineyard, Kirchspiel, and a small chunk of perhaps the most coveted of all recognized grand crus, Morstein. Between these two juggernaut vineyards of dry Riesling, her family owns entirely a large vineyard, called Benn. Only the upper section of Benn on the strongly calcareous sections is planted to Riesling, while much of the lower slopes are a patchwork of many different grape varieties that she loves to play with in her cellar, concocting things that range between pure pleasure and fun, savory orange wines, to more serious classically styled dry wines, like her knockout Scheurebe. The entry-level trocken Riesling will give any dry Riesling in all of Germany a run for the money but showcases the lifted and elegant exotic characteristics of Riesling only found in this part of the world. Artuke - Rioja, Spain (CA only) Artuke’s Arturo Miguel is a quiet but influential leader of a new movement of young Spanish vignerons in Rioja, the country’s most historically famous region. The agenda is to bring attention back to specific terroirs and return the power to the growers themselves. He is the second generation of his family to grow and bottle their own wines since the end of the dictatorship, and when he took control of the family’s vineyards, he converted them all to organic farming. His cellar techniques are straightforward, with older barrels of different shapes and sizes that highlight the differences between the four specific vineyard wines, except for the ARTUKE bottling made with carbonic maceration, a long-standing tradition with local wines, and Pies Negros, Spanish for black feet, a reference to the foot-stomping of the grapes, which is a blend of many different parcels. All wines come from calcareous sandstone (similar in structure and mineral makeup to sandstones from Barolo and Barbaresco) with varying degrees of sand and clay. José Gil - Rioja, Spain (CA only) The young and open-minded José Gil and his Uruguayan life partner, Vicky, are major influencers in the new generation of Rioja grower-producers focused on single-site, organically farmed wines. Located near Rioja Alta’s famous San Vicente de la Sonsierra, most of the vineyards sit at higher altitudes that stretch the limitations of the region’s naturally long ripening season. Employing straightforward cellar practices with fermentation and aging in small to medium-sized barrels, José’s wines are direct, aromatic, fully flavored and driven by each wine’s terroir. José gives weight to the influence of the surrounding area, mostly from the mountains just to the north, and handles the wines gently to retain the area’s identity beyond the vineyards. The production is minuscule but on the rise. Arizcuren - Rioja, Spain (National) Well-known and highly respected architect turned winegrower, Javier Arizcuren is one of Rioja Oriental’s most exciting new talents. With the help of his father, Javier spends his “spare time” focused on rescuing high-altitude, ancient Grenache and Mazuelo (the local name for Carignana) vineyards that managed to survive both phylloxera and the trend of replacing historic vines with Tempranillo, an early-ripening grape that is only a small part of this region’s history despite its dominance today. His experience with architecture leads him down rabbit holes of possibility and experimentation (a rarity in this often predictable and extremely conservative wine region), so that he may better understand the aesthetic of each site and build on its strengths using various fermentation and aging techniques. Aseginolaza y Leunda – Navarra, Spain (National) Environmental biologists and former winemaking hobbyists, Jon Aseginolaza and Pedro Leunda, have directed their full attention to a project focused on a better understanding of Spain’s Navarra, a historical region with a severe identity crisis stemming from its living in the shadow of its illustrious neighbor, Rioja, Spain’s historical crown jewel. Always the bride’s maid and never the bride, the region began to focus on international varieties to stand out and increase its market share. Moving in the opposite direction of this trend, Jon and Pedro are focused on finding and recovering old vineyards planted with indigenous ancient genetic material (mostly Grenache, the historic grape of the region) inside vastly biodiverse areas—all assets that give the region a possible edge on the widely monocultural approach of much of Rioja. The life and authenticity in their first wines (started in 2017) are clear and their future is promising. Alfredo Egia - Txakoli, Spain (National) The wines made in Txakoli by Alfredo Egia are radical for the region but not for the world, since he is fully committed to biodynamic farming and natural wine methods. And with the influence of Imanol Garay, the highly intense and fully committed naturalist from France whom he refers to as his mentor, he’s determined to harness the intense energy of Izkiriota Txikia (Petit Manseng) and Hondarrabi Zerratia (Petit Courbu) to give them an altogether different expression, shape and energy, with a constant evolution upon opening that can last for days. These white wines walk the line with no added sulfur and should be consumed earlier in their life to ensure captivity of their best moment. Whether they can age well or not remains to be seen, but since they have very low pH levels that usually sit below 3.20, and ta levels that can be well above 7.00, they should be insulated for a while. Rebel Rebel is the solo project of Alfredo, and Hegan Egin a joint venture between Alfredo, Imanol and Gile Iturri. Rebel Rebel is a blend of 80% Hondarrabi Zerratia and 20%Izkiriota Txikia. Hegan Egin is a blend of 50% Hondarrabi Zerratia and 50%Izkiriota Txikia Sette - Asti, Italy (National) Asti is Piemonte’s new wine laboratory, and experimentation is extensive at Sette where they’re looking to expose new dimensions of their local indigenous varieties. The comedic and talented duo of the experienced wine trade pro, Gino Della Porta, and well-known enologist, Gianluca Colombo, founded Sette in 2017 with the purchase of a 5.8-hectare hill in Bricco di Nizza, in Monferrato. Immediately, a full conversion to organic farming began, followed by biodynamic starting in 2020—the latter, a vineyard culture still considered somewhat radical in these parts. The wines are crafted and full of vibrant energy with only a soft polish, with the focus, the slightly turbid and lightly colored, juicy fruity, minerally Grignolino and their two serious but friendly Barberas. Sette’s game-changing progressive approach and delicious wines (with total eye candy labels) should ripple through this historic backcountry and bring greater courage to the younger generations to break out of the constraints of the past and move full throttle into the future. La Casaccia – Asti, Italy (CA only) Even in Italy it may be impossible to find a vignaiolo who emits as much bubbling enthusiasm and pure joy for their work than La Casaccia’s Giovanni Rava. La vita è bella for Giovanni and Elena Rava, and their children, Margherita and Marcello. Working together in a life driven by respect for their land and heritage, they also offer accommodations in their restored bed and breakfast for travelers looking for a quieter Italian experience. Their vines are organically farmed and scattered throughout the countryside on many different slopes with strong biodiversity of different forms of agriculture and untamed forests teeming with wild fruit trees (with the best of all, the cherries!). Their traditionally crafted range of wines grown on soft, purely calcareous sandstones and chalk are lifted, complex and filled with the humble yet exuberant character of the Rava family. Fliederhof - Südtirol, Italy (National) The city of Bolzano and the Santa Magdelena vineyards, home to Fliederhof Martin Ramoser is a true budding young superstar in the wine world, and with the help of his parents, Stefan and Astrid, he’s writing a new chapter in the family’s wine history. Located in Italy’s Südtirol, only a half hour drive from the Austrian border, on the gorgeous and historical hill of Santa Magdalena that overlooks the city center of Bolzano, they cultivate their Schiava and Lagrein vineyards under organic and biodynamic principles. Their mere three hectares of vineyards are all planted on hillsides of porphyry, an igneous volcanic rock with a mix of large and small grain sizes, which makes for sandy, gravelly soils as it decomposes, and results in wines with higher aromas and chewy textures. Martin’s style is one of pleasure led by upfront aromatic red fruits and red/orange flowers with sharper lines, deep but gentle mineral textures and a soft touch on extraction. Imanol Garay - Southwest France & Northern Spain (National) Spanish/French former engineer, 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 Vincent Carême, 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. 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), but with wonderful character-filled and potently nuanced, high-energy wines filled with joy and authenticity, just like the man himself. Tapada do Chaves - Alentejo, Portugal (National) There are few Portuguese wineries as mythical as Tapada do Chaves. Its line of extraordinary successes produced from vines planted in 1901 and 1903 by Senhor Chaves fell off the map when they were sold in the 1990s to a sparkling wine company. The property’s fortune changed with its purchase in 2017 by Fundação Eugénio de Almeida under the direction of Pedro Baptista, one of Portugal’s most celebrated oenologists most famously known for producing Pera Manca, some of the country’s most prized (and expensive) wines. Immediately these historic vineyards planted on a unique granite massif that towers over the flatter lands more typical of Alentejo below were converted to biodynamic farming, priming Tapada do Chaves to reassert itself as one of Portugal’s most preeminent terroirs. The white wines are blends of Arinto, Assario, Fernão Pires, Tamarez, and Roupeiro, with the reds Trincadeira, Grand Noir, Aragonez, and Alicante Bouschet. Quinta da Carolina - Douro, Portugal (National) The Douro property that was once in the hands of California trailblazing winemaker, Jerry Luper, (whose illustrious wine career included tenures at Chateau Montelena, Bouchaine, and Rutherford Hill), has been for years now under the ownership of Luis Candido da Silva, a well-known wine retailer in Porto. Today, the winery has been slowly taken over by his son, also named Luis, and things are going through some noticeable changes the more Luis Jr. commits himself to the project. His day job is working as the head enologist and wine director for the still Douro wine program at Dirk Niepoort’s ever-expanding, global wine empire. Niepoort has a history of recognizing talent and churning out many superstars in Portugal, most notably Luis Seabra, the boys over at Arribas Wine Company (also in our portfolio), and starting in 2018, Luis Jr. The respect he has garnered at a very young age in Portugal speaks volumes for the confidence the local wine world has in him. Exciting things are in store for this very small estate with wines that cover both the traditional style like his father’s, and the extreme progressivism of his generation, with a gorgeous touch, exquisite crafting, and a razor-sharp attention to detail. Expect big things, albeit in very small quantities (unfortunately) from this special Quinta.■ Photo shot from the Quinta da Carolina vineyard

Newsletter September 2021

Our good friend, guru and professional skipper, Dino Giordano, in the Amalfi Coast Every year it’s the same story: How did summer fly by so quickly? It really is hard to accept that it’s already September. After a long road trip visiting friends/producers, I’ve returned to an overload of work, yet I still manage to find time to sit down and work on our newsletter. The truth is, this is my favorite of all the pieces I write. Well, here we go on number seven, and I haven’t missed one since the first rolled out in March of this year. There’s always so much to share and since I rarely get to see anyone other than our producers face-to-face anymore, this is one of the ways of keeping you apprised of what’s going on. I was on the road for six weeks through Northern Spain, Southern France, Northern Italy, Austria, Germany, and back through Champagne, Chablis and Côte d’Or, and then on to my final work stop in Beaujolais—always a good place to have the last bash. It’s hard to keep going after visiting those guys because they often prefer to drink during the day more than work, with the first glass poured at lunch and the river of Beaujolais still flowing well past midnight. During the trip I started a travel journal that I’ve appended to the bottom of the last few newsletters where I recount a bit of the play-by-play. It was one of the best work trips through Europe I’ve had, and with these entries I enjoy sharing my experiences and the things I’ve learned along the route. Nevertheless, the tradition of including the journal with each newsletter will be short-lived. Instead, it’ll be published separately and probably around the middle of each month to help keep these notices shorter and more purely focused on the new goodies we have coming in from Europe. However, there is one addition to this newsletter introducing a new companion I had with me on my trip in the form of a drone. I started filming from the sky this year (and of course I’ve crashed a couple of times already, though I’m getting better) and it’s brought me a fresh perspective on our wine world. It’s totally different from anything I’ve experienced over the years and it’s prompted some new lines of thinking. I’m editing the footage to make videos and aerial photos available for you to browse on our website and an introduction to the endeavor, A Drone’s Eye View, can be found at the bottom of this issue. This month I will release the first in-flight video that covers the right bank of Chablis. Like every other importer, we’ve had to push and shove our way into the line to get our boats full of goods across the Atlantic, and the ocean journeys are only the first half of the problem. The second occurs once shipments enter the domestic freight system, which has been moving just as slowly as the shipping lines. So, what’s happening? Well, prices are now obscene on some fronts (even with our local wholesale delivery services), with cost quotes that are sometimes downright offensive. However, many of our producers have been real champions in their understanding of the global predicament. They have problems too, like simply getting the glass and corks and boxes they need to finish the job with their wines. It’s comforting to know—and more importantly, to feel—that we are all in this debacle together, and we need to make it as easy on each other as possible. We’re all on the mend, but each of us seems to have to work twice as hard as we claw our way back to something that feels like the good ol’ days (of not even two years ago, though it seems like decades), as are all of you who are reading this right now. We can never thank those who support what we do enough. But here’s one more: Thank you for staying with us. Every order we receive means we get to continue to move forward, and we appreciate all of them, no matter how small. Here’s another one of our new terroir maps. This time it’s Spain’s most historically important Galician wine region, Ribeiro, and it’s for that reason that we have more producers there than in any other appellation in the country. You can see the entirety of the map and its support materials on our website at  New Arrivals Chablis premier crus, Montmains (below) and Vaillons (to the far left), and the grand cru slope beyond the village France We have a good-sized shipment coming from both of our Chablis producers. We try not to overlap them but we’re playing catch up with everyone and it’s currently necessary to consolidate orders from single zones. Those who know the wines from Christophe et Fils and Jean Collet know that their styles illustrate a considerable contrast from within this same appellation. I love 2019 Chablis. Why? Because I like to drink bottles of it and this vintage overflows with the things I want out of good Chablis. The 2019s seem closer this year in some ways to the wines of Côte d’Or than in the past. It’s a fabulous freak of a vintage with full ripeness, while still maintaining classic Chablisienne characteristic fruits (citrus, stone fruit pits, a welcoming slight bitterness), yet from a Côte d’Or perspective, I find them closer to pre-sunburn era Corton-Charlemagne, minus the big body. Despite the vintage’s strength being heavier on the thunder than on the lightning, the acidity is still electric and balances the wines out surprisingly well. Some 2019s may even need a few years to really find their groove, a good sign considering some of the previous years (excluding 2017) where the ripeness of the fruit springs out of the glass but the lack of acidity clips its wings. Domaine Christophe et Fils, the more angular and vertical house style between our two Chablis producers, works in a very minimal way with the full range. His 2019 Petit Chablis and 2019 Chablis are arriving while the premier crus will follow later in the season. Christophe’s entry-level wines highlight the striking differences between the left and right bank of Chablis. All his Petit Chablis grapes are sourced from the right bank (east side) of the north-flowing Serein, just above and around the grand cru slope and the hill of Montée de Tonnerre. The vineyards are super rocky, but their wines are generally stouter than those from the left bank. In general, the right bank—and this is to include most of the best premier cru sites and the grand crus, too—are generally less angular while being softer in mineral impressions than the left bank wines because there’s most often a greater topsoil depth and less root contact with the Kimmeridgian marls below, leading to a bigger, flatter punch. This is obviously true when tasting Christophe’s Petit Chablis because it could easily be mistaken for a notch (or two) above its classification on palate weight alone. The Chablis appellation wine from Christophe is always one of the more compelling inside the appellation, and like the Petit Chablis, it comes exclusively from the right bank. In contrast to Christophe’s Petit Chablis grown on the harder Portlandian limestone bedrock, those Kimmeridgian marls from the underlying bedrock in the Chablis classified vineyards come through with more lines and angles, a more intense aroma of that Chablisienne gassy flintiness, and greater texture and core power. I’ve been to Christophe’s vineyards every year since we started working together and my favorite parcels are those found around Fyé, inside the valley that separates Montée de Tonnerre from the grand crus. These Chablis village vineyards are steep and composed of Kimmeridgian marls with nearly microscopic oyster shells that, other than a modicum of organic matter, make up the entirety of the topsoil. It’s interesting that in Chablis many vineyards classified as village appellation sites have just as compelling soil and bedrock structure as many of the premier cru sites, but they are downgraded from premier cru status because of their historically unfavorable exposure. Surely that will change when the previously advantaged vineyards may not be able to produce balanced grapes in coming years. It seems that in the last decade, half the vintages have been on the riper side without the acidic snap present to maintain the freshness expected from this region. Also, those vineyards on the historically unfavorable positions often benefit from their later budbreak than the more exposed sites, as this helps them to miss some of the season’s frost. Domaine Jean Collet continues to knock it out of the park and the list we have coming in looks so good! Here’s the star-studded lineup: Chablis Vieilles Vignes, a single 90-year-old parcel with deep soils—perfect for warmer vintages; 1er Cru Montmains, the most minerally beast of the range due to an almost complete absence of topsoil; 1er Cru Vaillons, usually in my top three of the range of premier crus because of its impeccable balance year in and year out; 1er Cru Les Forêts, the most exotic and alluring of the bunch; 1er Cru Butteaux, the biggest of the premier crus in weight and power from the right bank; 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre, commonly considered the king of the premier crus, with which Romain Collet always has an unexpectedly light touch; Valmur Grand Cru, a privileged northwest-facing section of the cru that renders wines with a massive body and great freshness and minerality to match; and, finally, Les Clos Grand Cru, sourced from the bottom of the slope on a steep angle, producing perhaps the most well-rounded wine in the range—it truly lives up to the expectation of this celebrated grand cru, though Valmur is its equal, at least at Domaine Jean Collet. The only problem with this much Collet arriving at once (if it could be called a “problem”) is that there are almost too many choices! And every year Collet continues to ratchet up the overall quality of the range. Most of them are certified organic, and for the price, they are a total steal. It’s crazy that Chablis remains so modest in overall pricing compared to Côte d’Or because the quality can be so outstanding on the average with the right year, and 2019 is no exception. Moving further west to the Atlantic seaboard, we have another young vigneron (at least younger than me!) doing wonderful things: Alexandre Déramé’s Domaine de la Morandière, located in Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine. This month I revamped his profile on our website to bring more context to these quietly mighty wines that have silly-good prices. Unfortunately, Muscadet seems to go in and out of fashion more than other famous French appellations and I can’t understand why. They offer so much for so little, especially when you find the right producers. None of them break the bank, even the most revered from the appellation. And for all the mineral-heavy appellations in the world, Muscadet ranks in the top tier. We have two coming from Morandière, but we should have bought a lot more than what is arriving. (We’re already working on that one…) First, there is the 2019 La Morandière, which is no ordinary Muscadet, although it maintains an ordinary price. The vines are old, mostly around fifty years, and grow on loamy topsoil atop gabbro, a super hard, pale green and black intrusive igneous rock. This nearly unbreakable rock seems to build almost unbreakable wines, and to support this idea one only needs to recall the ageability of those from Michel Bregeon before he retired, which were also grown on gabbro. Next is Morandière’s 2014 Les Roches Gaudinières, Vieille Vignes. This is the crowning jewel and one of the most formidable wines from the entire appellation. It’s a total powerhouse, grown on gabbro bedrock and clay with a lot of gabbro rock in the topsoil. The vines are a mix of massale selections and old biotypes with three-quarters from 80-year-old vines and the rest about fifty years old. This magnesium and iron-rich rock, the clay-rich and rocky topsoil, the old vines and their extremely low natural yields of 25-30hl/ha at most in any given year, imparts dense power that needs extensive aging before being enjoyable to drink. L.R.G is a vinous marvel that needs to be experienced to be understood. Next, we jump to France’s Southern Rhône Valley for a few goodies from the very user-friendly Côtes-du-Rhône appellations. Some from Domaine Pique-Basse are finally coming back in and this is one of our producers whose wines evaporated with their initial arrival prior to the onset of the pandemic. It’s taken a while for us to get some back in stock, but don’t wait if you’ve got a slot to fill in the cellar with CdR, because there is very little available on this container. If Pique-Basse’s owner/vigneron, Olivier Tropet, had vineyards in appellations like Côte Rôtie, Cornas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, he’d be more likely to garner wide acclaim, but he lives in Roaix, the Southern Rhône Valley’s tiniest Côtes-du-Rhône Village appellation. It’s hard to believe what he achieves within this relatively unknown village with his range of wines that have been organically certified since 2009 and are as soulful as they are exquisitely crafted. The reds are savory, deeply flavored, trim, and laced with a surprising degree of subtlety for the power they possess. Pique-Basse’s La Brusquembille is a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Carignan and shares the same position around the family domaine as the entry-level Grenache, along with the other that just arrived, Le Chasse-Coeur. Syrah from the Southern Rhône Valley is often not that compelling because it can be a little weedy and lacking in the cool spice and exotic notes that come with Syrah further up into the Northern Rhône Valley. However, La Brusquembille may throw you for a loop if you share this opinion. Without the Carignan to add more southern charm, it might easily be mistaken for a Crozes-Hermitage from a great year above the Chassis plain up by Mercurol, where this appellation’s terraced limestone vineyards lie and are quite similar to the limestone bedrock and topsoil at the vineyards of Pique-Basse. It’s not as sleek in profile because it’s still from the south, but the savory red and black nuances can be a close match. I love Grenache, and I think it’s a real pity that this extremely noble and versatile grape has lost favor in the current market trend. Olivier picks the grapes for Le Chasse-Coeur on the earlier side and farms accordingly for earlier ripeness with the intention to maintain lower alcohol and more freshness. It’s a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Carignan, and is more dominated by red fruit notes than black—perhaps that’s what the bright red label is hinting at. It’s aged in cement vats (and sometimes stainless steel if the vintage is plentiful) to preserve the tension and to avoid Grenache’s predisposition for easy oxidation. Both Le Chasse-Coeur and La Brusquembille offer immense value for such serious wines. A wine from one of our favorite characters in the southern Rhône area, Jean David, is back. All of Jean’s vineyards have been farmed organically since 1979, making him one of the region’s natural wine OGs. These days everything is made by his son-in-law, Jean-Luc, but they remain true to form with Jean still looking over his shoulder. We only brought in the Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge this time, but we also have the Seguret coming in later this year, or early next. The inside scoop is Jean David’s Côtes-du-Rhône is made completely of Seguret fruit but comes from the younger vines (those with more than fifty years are the only ones he allows in his Seguret appellation bottlings) and for me, is just as thrilling as their range of Segurets. It’s fresh and bright and offers much more on the complexity meter than expected. It’s elegant and lighter than most from this part of France due to the combination of the vines on limestone and sedimentary rock terraces inside the Ouvèze river valley, the cold winds from the mountains to the east, the vigorous and energetic nature of younger vines, and the extremely sandy soils. Typically, it’s a blend of 55% Grenache, 20% Carignan, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and 5% Mourvedre Austria As expected, Peter Veyder-Malberg (pictured above) continues his upward trajectory in quality, but with less quantity than in recent vintages we’re ready with a flurry of apologies that will likely accompany our allocations this year. 2018 was an exceptionally short crop for Veyder-Malberg due to hail, so we decided to bring in his 2018 and 2019 wines at the same time. What many in the industry may expect as a hotter version of Veyder-Malberg’s typical style will be pleasantly surprised by the elegance and freshness of the 2018s. Difficult vintages challenge winegrowers and often turn out to be some of the most compelling wines they make in their lifetime. Peter is proud of his effort here and it shows in the wines. The virtues of the 2019 vintage are clear across all of Austria: it’s unquestionably a banner year for most of the country. It started out warm and dry in the winter, moving into cooler weather with rain in the spring which slowed the vegetative cycle, and in the late summer it cooled again after warm weather conditions in June and July. By September things stabilized and Grüner Veltliner ripened quickly, but the Rieslings benefited from additional hang time with consistent enough weather for the growers to pick when each parcel found its optimal balance. I’ve had the opportunity to taste Peter’s 2019s a few times and drink a bottle of each of the Rieslings and I’ve concluded that 2019 is not to be missed. Dürnstein Castle I have more great news! After many years of contemplating the move while already farming in a higher quality, eco-friendlier vineyard culture than most of his buddies in the Wachau, Martin Mittelbach, the owner of Tegernseerhof, began full conversion to organic farming a couple of years ago! Everything that’s arriving now is from the fabulous 2019 vintage and Tegernseerhof’s lineup already represents perhaps the best value from one of the Wachau’s top growers working exclusively with fruit grown themselves. In the Grüner Veltliner (GV) range, there are three: Dürnstein Federspiel, named after the ancient and extremely charming medieval village, Dürnstein (with its famous castle perched on a rocky crag where King Richard the Lionheart was once imprisoned—yes, the one in the Robin Hood tale), formerly labeled Frauenweingarten (a wise marketing decision to move away from that tongue twister), and grown mostly on the loess terraces between the Danube and the steep hillsides; Superin Federspiel, a single vineyard wine grown just next to the ancient city walls of Dürnstein and the river, on a gentle slope composed mostly of the famous gneiss bedrock thanks to Danube flooding that kept the site mostly clear of loess depositions, making for a more minerally GV; and Bergdistel Smaragd produced from a series of small vineyard parcels scattered throughout the Loiben and Joching areas of the Wachau. The first two are well-known to our historic customer base, and the latter has been a total knockout as an affordable GV Smaragd that’s been gobbled up in by-the-glass programs listing wines at higher price points. Bergdistel demonstrates that blends of great vineyards can be equally, if not more interesting and dynamic than the single-vineyard bottlings (and they’re always priced better). We also have a few Rieslings arriving from Tegernseerhof in 2019: Dürnstein Federspiel, a blend of earlier-picked grapes from all of their top sites (Kellerberg, Loibenberg and Steinertal) making it an absolute bargain bottle of zingy, minerally Riesling for the quality and price; and Bergdistel Smaragd, like GV Bergdistel, it’s Smaragd level grapes taken from vineyard parcels in Loiben and Joching, and offers the fuller array of deliciously complex fruit characteristics that can be achieved by perfectly ripened Wachau Riesling. Malat Vineyard Kremstal wines from the right bank (south side) of the Danube offer some of the best terroir-rich values in the world, and the entry-level range from Weingut Malat stands next to the best. Like the Malat family, the wines are friendly, but also extremely serious when expected to be. This is the first vintage we’ve imported directly from the Malats after working through another importer over the last six or seven years. On this boat, we have the entry-level Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Pinot Noir (which may present a pleasant surprise for many Pinot Noir fans), all labeled as “Furth” (formerly labeled Furth-Palt). The whites come from the 2020 vintage and express Michael Malat’s style led by freshness and tension. His 2020s are reminiscent of his 2013s, one of Michael’s earliest vintages and may have been his big entrance onto the Austrian scene. It may be hard to find better Austrian Riesling and Grüner Veltliner for the price (of course there are many truly great producers with entry-level wines in this range) from a grower working exclusively with their own estate fruit and who is not a behemoth producer by comparison. The devil is in the details and it’s easier to lose track of that fact, the bigger a company gets. The Malats exhibit focused presence in the vineyard and cellar, and their production is modest when considering much of it is for the two entry-level whites. There’s also a small batch of 2019 Grüner Veltliner Höhlgraben, a wonderful wine from an excellent vintage grown on shallow loess topsoil on granulite bedrock, a high-grade metamorphic rock similar to the gneiss found in other nearby regions. We’re happy to have the Malats back on board after missing most of the last two years. They are such a pleasure to work with and are in constant pursuit of bettering their previous bests. On our website there is an interview I did in Austria with Michael Malat during my summer trip. In typical fashion, as was done with the Thierry Richoux video, I try to stay out of it as much as possible (an impossible task for most of the painfully arduous Zoom videos created during the pandemic) to condense the material and make it as time efficient as possible. Italy Falkenstein vineyards in Italy’s Südtirol Staying on the Austrian Riesling theme is Falkenstein, an Italian cantina with Austrian heritage, both in familial history and the greater influences on their wine style. Borrowing from last month’s newsletter travel journal section on Falkenstein (in case you missed it), it’s a winery located in Italy’s Südtirol/Alto Adige that produces many fantastic different wines (Weissburgunder, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir—all grapes that have been cultivated here for centuries) and many consider the Pratzner family the most compelling Riesling producer in Italy. The vineyard and winery are in one of the many glacial valleys in the north of Italy’s alpine country, with a typical relief of a flat valley floor surrounded by gorgeous, steep mountains, which creates starkly contrasting shades and colors throughout. All the vineyards in these parts must have the correct exposure on northern positions that provide some angle of a south face, otherwise there is no chance of achieving palatable ripeness. The vineyards here are some of the world’s most stunning, and it’s surprising how many are tucked into the valleys of Trentino (the bordering region to the south) and the Südtirol. Arriving from Falkenstein are small quantities Riesling, Weissburgunder, Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, the latter a surprisingly fantastic alpine version of this celebrated and talented grape that has called Südtirol home for centuries. I recently had a sampling of their range, including a bottle of the 2017 Pinot Noir arriving this month, with a few growers here in Portugal (from Quinta do Ameal, Constantino Ramos, and the guys from Arribas Wine Company) and they were stunned by the spectrum of complexity in all the wines, especially the Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir is not Burgundian in style (how could it be if grown on metamorphic rock on a mountainside glacial valley?) but it unearths the best quality of the grape: freshness, layered complexity, finesse, and beautiful bright fruit aromas. Sometimes, depending on the day, it shows a little bit of oak upon opening (I suppose that may be the most predictable Burgundian thing about it), but after a little while it’s gorgeous and pure, tucking the wood so far back inside that it’s unnoticeable. Unfortunately, we only have seven cases on the container. Last but certainly not least, and likely the first to fly out the door upon arrival, is the 2019 Riecine Chianti Classico. While it may not be a classico Chianti Classico for the staunch traditionalists, it’s for wine lovers who love delicious things. I’ve visited the cantina a couple of times, and it’s taken all the time in between my first tour and the very moment of writing this for me to realize why their wines are so joyful: it’s the people who work at the cantina! Riecine is a collective of youngsters (again, at least mostly younger than me!) who I’ve literally heard whistling while they work. The setting of this place in one of the higher altitude zones of Tuscan wine country has workers (mostly Italians but I think some foreigners too) who constantly show a welcoming smile and have pep in their step as they work in their sun-filled bubble tucked back into their forest in the Chianti hills. Optimism is in their eyes and ingrained in the company spirit. The possibilities afforded to each staff member to make a personal contribution is apparent in their energy and comradery led by the open-minded and very progressive leader, Alessandro Campatelli. They’re a crew on a mission, working as one to free Chianti Classico from the constraints of its traditional introversion(!), to show that Sangiovese can be exuberant, sexy and sophisticated as it heads for a party instead of a stuffy dinner. Just look at the landing page (pictured below) for the winery’s website and you’ll see the origin of the illumination in these wines: it comes from inside its company’s culture; they’re happy and they’re having fun! Do you care about reviews? I don’t. But some people do, and that’s a bad thing if you like Riecine and you’re not up to speed with what the critics are saying; Riecine gets very good reviews, sometimes great ones, and they keep coming every year. But the 2019 Chianti Classico grabbed the attention of a lot of new buyers who have come out of the woodwork asking us for quantities we simply can’t supply because of the latest press from Decanter (95 points and a gold medal in the 2021 Decanter World Wine Awards, if you must know…). Don’t sit on your hands, especially if you’ve followed this producer already. If you want some, please tell us soon. Riecine Team

Interview with Brendan Stater-West

Brézé & Bizay His Way Photo and interview by Ted Vance Spring 2021 How did an Oregon native like you end up in France? I moved to France in 2007 after I finished up my studies in Oregon. I double majored in French. I wanted to leave the US for a period of time, looking for adventure, and Europe offered so much of what I wanted. And I met a French woman whom I was married to until a few years ago. How did you find your way to Romain Guiberteau? I lived in Paris for several years and finally moved to Saumur in 2012 to work as Romain’s apprentice. Before that I was working in retail sales in Paris with Joshua Adler, who moved on to start Paris Wine Company. He and I were selling Romain’s wines in the store next to the Louvre. Romain’s wines were some of my favorites in the shop. Once I started tasting through more Saumur wines, I quickly became fixated on the region as a whole: the vibrancy, the electricity. These were the wines that really spoke to me—almost on a spiritual level; but that’s another subject… How have you seen Romain grow over the years? Maybe the most obvious thing is that he’s mellowed out—I guess that’s the most honest answer. He’s also become more in tune with his different vineyard sites. He has the same intensity as his wines and these days they’ve found a greater balance and harmony. I can’t explain why, but perhaps it’s the same for his personal life. He’s been more in tune with his surroundings, like the vineyards and the perspectives of others. He’s truly an altruistic person. He loves giving things. That may even drive his wines: he wants to give people the best he can give in his wines. How much of a part has Romain played in your company’s development? He’s helped me a lot, especially with the market for my wines and his wisdom on what to do. I feel especially lucky in that I’m able to benefit from both his mistakes and his successes. What other wine regions or vignerons have influence on your wine style? Of course, I love Burgundy. I love Pinot Noir. I think specific varieties on certain terroirs are just transcendent. I think probably Fred Mugnier’s are the first ones that pop into my mind. They are benchmark wines for me because they have this extremely fine touch, an ethereal side—maybe even a heavenly side to them. This is the kind of wine that I want to achieve. There’s something in his wines I find both rooted in its minerality and structure and also lifted, high up, where a polarity exists between the elements. This is what I want to try to achieve with my wines. As far as other favorite regions, Muscadet is one of the top for me in the Loire. Jura white and red inspire me too. I’m also totally digging wines from Languedoc. Riesling. Gruner Veltiliner. I’m not so knowledgeable about Spain or Italy, but the Albariño wines Manuel Moldes brought for us on your trip together to Saumur were a real surprise in how good they were. Farming principals? Yves Herody method. Yves wanted to help farmers get back fertility in the soils while at the same time rebuild the soil structure, which are two things that don’t come together for a lot of people. The idea is that we need to introduce fresh organic fertilizer into the vineyards every year: cow manure, cover crops like fava bean, rye, clover, mustard, etc—things that capture nitrogen and put it into the soil. The plants are later tilled into the soil during the winter along with the composted manure. What it's doing is replenishing the soil microbes and organic matter so that the different soil horizons interact better together. It’s a close relative to biodynamic methods of soil preparation. I’ve been doing this since 2018. Romain’s wines have commonly shown more reductive elements compared to wines from other growers on Brézé. What do you attribute this to? I think that residual SO2 in the vineyards is not the ultimate cause. But after pressing we keep a lot of the heavy lees, which is really rich in nitrogen that the yeast needs. Already this makes for more reductive elements. We don’t give the whites any air during fermentation to resolve some of these characteristics. If you compared Romain’s white wines with Arnaud Lambert’s, one of the biggest differences is that Romain works with more lees. How has the climate changed since you began with Romain in 2012? The climate has been whacky ever since I’ve been here. This year (2021) seems to be a later year. Things are changing. It’s noticeable. It's erratic and harder to predict. These days the forecasts are becoming less correct with patterns. It’s tricky because we can’t plan perfectly, but we collect a lot of information from many different sources to make our decisions. What adjustments have happened strictly by the influence of climate change? We used to deleaf more but have stopped that almost entirely because the summers are like 100 degrees now. In 2019, for example, we had a severe drought and everything shriveled up. We’re also considering more grass in the vineyards, to let it go until its past its growth cycle, then roll over it with a type of pincher that creates a kind of mulch that keeps the soils cooler and more humid. Picking dates are certainly earlier. Acidity and pH are changing too, but in the wrong directions. How is your style of wine different from Romain’s on Cabernet Franc? The vinifications are similar to Romain’s, but I’m shortening my time on the skins. My Saumur red is only four days on skins while Romain does six or seven. I don’t work with press juice, but only free-run juice. Romain works with selective-press juice. The wine is aged in stainless steel, but I’m moving toward cement next year to work against the reduction. My first addition of 20ppm of sulfites is made when the grapes first come in. The second is about 10ppm after malolactic. Neither Romain or I are interested in having brettanomyces around so we calculate to have the right amount of free sulfur to keep that out of the mix. I would say that I have a lighter, more ethereal style but with the same ripeness as Romain’s, and there’s definitely less tannin on my reds. My new cru red, La Ripaille, is seven to eight days on skins and in barrel for a year. There’s about 20% new oak and the rest is a spice rack of older barrels. And Chenin Blanc? My Saumur appellation wine is aged on its fine lees for six months, then it’s filtered and bottled. Les Chapaudaises is twelve months in barrel, followed by a few months in tank. The Brézé bottling was originally like Chapaudaises, but because the grapes come from old vines I think I should’ve aged it longer—maybe two years, instead of one year in wood, plus six months in tank. For the foreseeable future Brézé will be in élevage for two years before bottling. All the whites are filtered because they all have malic acid, and malolactic fermentations are rare, if they ever take place. Regarding the vinification, I use less lees than Romain and have a tighter racking after the pressing. I love reduction in wines but I feel like it’s not necessarily the style I want. I think it can take away from the purity of Chenin Blanc and its ability to transmit its terroirs. I respect and understand that, but I feel that it puts too much of the person’s influence into the wine. The Brézé bottling has 30% new oak, but with a light toast. Les Chapaudaises has 20% new oak, and the others have no new oak. What is your idea of the perfect soil composition for Chenin and Cab? Limestone. Romain’s grandfather had the basic principle of a topsoil of one meter or deeper and you plant Cab Franc, because the roots need bigger systems. It doesn’t like to suffer and it also needs a lot of nutrients. By contrast, too much topsoil with Chenin makes the vine too vigorous and it will vegetatively grow too much with a consequence of less energy spent on the grapes. Is there a perfect soil composition for the type of wines you like? I love the mix of clay, loam and limestone together. The clay gives a certain structure and the loam gives a certain sweetness (without residual sugar) and the limestone gives it the grip, like sucking on a rock. I think the best expression of Cab happens on sandy clay soils over limestone. Sand gives the light powdery texture; the clay gives the structure more depth. Limestone gives textural finesse and influences the fineness of the tannins on the finish. I find that limestone as a whole draws the finish on a wine to something longer and more complete. Can you explain each of your vineyard sites? All of my vineyards on Brézé face south/southwest. Les Chapaudaises, which is in the commune of Bizay, faces north/northeast and is only a couple of kilometers away from Brézé. Les Chapaudaises is next to Romain’s Clos de Guichaux vineyard. It’s planted on about 40-50cm of clayey loam with a lot of sand on tuffeau limestone bedrock. The wine is more “vertical” with more of a straight-razor-edge profile by comparison to the Brézé wine. The vines were planted sixteen years ago and have been organically farmed since 2010. The Brézé comes from old vines on clayey loam on limestone bedrock. It has a sort of thicker structure and gives the wine a more austere character with a more “horizontal” profile. The vines are seventy years old and began organic conversion a few years ago. The Saumur rouge comes from five-year-old vines on the Brézé hill. Its topsoil is sandy loam over limestone, a combination that gives a lighter texture and touch on the tannins. The plot is a little over half a hectare in size on the site known as “La Ripaille.” This wine is different from the others in that I intended to make a quaffable, easy-drinking and fruit-forward wine. My vision of Cabernet Franc has been evolving for several years. What I once saw as a rustic, terrestrial grape variety, I now see as having the potential of making something brighter, more fruit-forward, and much more fun to drink when it’s young. La Ripaille has seventy-year-old vines on sandy loam, or clayey loam—depending on the section—but all over limestone. What are people planting when they have the opportunity to replant? People are planting more Chenin now instead of Cab. The global market demand and need for Chenin has grown a lot, and there is already a lot of Cab grown inside of the Saumur-Champigny appellation. Brézé is outside of the appellation and still has a lot of Chenin Blanc grown on the hill. People focused on red much more in the past, but this is flipping. Can you talk a little bit about the vine material planted in the region? I’ve talked a lot with Arnaud Lambert and he’s shed a lot of light on the fact that much of the younger vines are planted to productive varieties rather than quality focused ones. What are your thoughts about this? We don’t talk enough about vine materials, but I think this is an important and necessary subject. A lot of people talk a lot about minerality but without talking much about the rootstock and vine material. Why is this important? People think that old vines simply produce more mineral wines or wines with more depth. I don’t think that’s the case because you could have the SO4 rootstock that gives big, juicy grapes, but not concentrated flavors and textures. Then you could have a limestone resistant selection massale rootstock called Riparia Gloire, which gives tiny, concentrated clusters where even the young vines are giving amazingly pure expressions with great distinction of the terroir and vintage. I don’t think people are talking enough about the importance of it from a genetic vantage point for the right rootstocks either. The rootstock is a filter between the soil and the grape. What is your perception of how the wines taste when grown on contrasting soils, like clay, sand, rock? I think that a lot of it depends on how the winemaker makes the wines. I like to think the lighter the soil, the lighter the wine is on the palate. The rockier or denser the soil is, the same can be said for the wine. I feel the world has an idea of malolactic fermentation as being very specific in its influence on Chardonnay, but my feeling is that it’s not quite the same with other white varieties. How does it influence the taste on Chenin? ML is hard for us to attain because of the low pH levels. Bacteria just don’t like that environment. At Romain’s cellar we’ve only had it twice by accident. However, in my opinion it rounds out the palate and you lose edge—it dulls the razor. There’s a roundness and sweetness with ML in Chenin. I feel that the intense acidity [without a malolactic fermentation] melds together over time. When Chenin is young, the acidity stretches it like a rubber band, but over time the tension eases. When you use the word minerality, what does that mean to you? How is it perceived? Aromas? Mouthfeel? A combination? This is a can of worms. It’s a huge debate. I think there is a misconception of minerality. Is it even something we can define? I don’t think we will find exacting definitions of this. I try to avoid using minerality as a descriptor, but it’s hard to find other words. But I think when it comes to Chenin from Brézé, I see it as a sort of flinty, reductive smokiness. I think in the mouthfeel there’s a depth that draws the wine out. It seems to give a certain verticality to the wine. It also lingers on the front part of the palate, and it opens up my appetite. I think this is why they are fun to pair with many different types of food. There’s a saltiness to the wine and I think this makes it work exceptionally well with food because many people like salty food. We all know that salt enhances taste and I think minerality does the same. Last one. What is your feeling about reduction and/or acidity as an interplay within the concept of “minerality”? For me, reduction does enhance the perception of minerality, but it also can confuse the palate and aromas. Sometimes that is intentional by the winemaker, but sometimes it’s not. I think it’s all a question of balance. I feel I’ve grown a lot and am still growing in my understanding of minerality. Sometimes when I taste Olivier Lamy’s Saint-Aubin wines, (a benchmark white wine producer for me) there’s a richness to the body, some flesh, a backbone, a hold or grip in the wine like: Wow! It can give me goosebumps. One question I struggle with as a winemaker is, “What’s the fine balance of minerality? Can it be too intense and dominate the wine?” When I made my 2015s, my first vintage, they were like lemon juice. But when I open a bottle now that acidity is finally integrated into the wine. So I ask myself the question of whether I am making a wine for now, or do I want to make something that will open up later in its life and integrate that intense acidity and find harmony? What’s the right balance between all those elements that will get it right for the wines I’m making?