Nothing excites me more than a new idea. The rush of a fresh experience, and the new memory it creates, is something I value above any material possession. As we get older, more experienced with a subject, and grow inevitably more jaded, it can be harder to find these experiences, particularly when it comes to our passions. When it comes to my life’s great passions, wine and music, I readily admit to feeling this “everything’s been done before” cynicism. So even though it doesn’t happen with the frequency it did when I was a novice, when a bottle of wine or an album surprises me, I am moved to a much greater depth.
The most recent occurrence of this pleasant surprise was a pairing in which both elements married the cutting edge and the traditional: Jamie xx’s “Gosh” and Fred Brander’s 2014 Kick-On Ranch Riesling. In both cases, there is a link to the familiar acting as an anchor: “Gosh” begins with links to UK Garage and grime, short repetitive loops clicking into place; Brander’s Riesling has aromatic signifiers that, at first whiff, recall top sites in Germany’s Mosel. This element of familiarity beckons you in, grounding the wave of euphoric surprise soon to wash across your body and send you spinning from the earth.
In the case of Jamie xx, it is a squelching, neon-orange synthesizer that comes out of nowhere almost 3 minutes into the 5-minute song, dancing across the brooding track. In a flash, the grime of “Gosh” is saturated with this unbearably joyous, warbling moment, suffusing the digital with an unexpected level of humanity and excitement. I’ve listened to “Gosh” probably 50 times in the past week, and that moment never loses its element of surprise; goosebumps are guaranteed every time.
With Brander’s Riesling from Los Alamos’ Kick On Ranch Vineyard, the surprise comes when it hits the palate. Those familiar Mosel-inspired aromatics give way to singularly Kick-On, and singularly Brander, flavors that explode in the mouth. Images of cherries or juniper share equal mental space with watching fireworks burst for the first time as a kid, or the popsicle-asphalt-watermelon scent of summer BBQs in the local park. Intensely sweet and rich, yet also bracingly acidic, it manages the delicate balancing act that only the world’s greatest Rieslings can. For this to be coming out of the western reaches of Santa Barbara County is a surprise, nay shock, that moves me in a profound way.
My wife recently gave birth to our first child; as new experiences go, there is nothing on this earth that comes close to the euphoric moment of bringing new life into the world. The level of love I feel for this delicate little being is unlike anything I’ve experienced, and every day my jadedness melts away a little more. Perhaps it’s because, seeing the world through his new eyes, the element of surprise has returned to everything: the first whiff of his grandmother’s mole negro slowly cooking on the stove; hearing the opening notes of Kind of Blue as we rock him to sleep. Wine is having its own return to this childlike sense of wonder and surprise, as winemakers experiment with a new varietal palette, new techniques in the vineyard and winery, and a new mental approach to what wine can be. It is these wines that excite me, and I will be sharing and exploring them with you through VAULT29 in the coming months. Stay curious…