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Intoxicating Rumination

"#Wine and Sacrifice" - A #Winemakers View

"#Wine and Sacrifice" - A #Winemakers View

WIne Blog | VAULT29

I’ve just wrapped up the 2015 harvest, my eighth.  Perhaps more than any previous year, the word that comes to mind is sacrifice.  When I was a young cellar rat working 16 hour days, I was giving up my time, but, really, where else did I have to be?  I was fortunate enough to be working for a winemaker who would share bottles of Dagueneau, old Williams-Selyem, and countless great Burgundies at lunch and dinner (and make late night Chinese runs for the crew), so who was I to complain?  I was learning a new craft that I was obsessed with, and loving every minute of it.

That love has never left me; if anything, my passion for wine has only grown.  This year, however, there is so much at stake, and so many sacrifices to be made.  My wife and I have invested everything in our own label; we have a newborn son; we have day jobs managing other wineries.  Something is always being sacrificed.  I miss time with my son to check on fermentations or do night punchdowns.  My wife and I pass out at 8 pm because we’re completely spent from sorting grapes on our days off, and still wake up at 4 am to feed the baby.  

And we’re not alone.  “Harvest widow” is a phrase for a reason; most winemakers are ghosts to their family for that 25% of the year.  Thus, a great bottle of wine is imbued not only with a sense of place, but with a sense of sacrifice; the willingness to go beyond what most consider sane for their personal lives, to exchange short term frivolity for a future expression of artistic labor, is a common thread among the world’s best winemakers.  

Perhaps the greatest challenge is finding the balance between home life and work.  This is not a dilemma unique to wine, though harvest certainly magnifies the issue more than in many other fields. The artistic impulse doesn’t always congeal with the needs of family, but ultimately, it is our family that we make these sacrifices for.  Wine is a cornerstone of the dinner table; wine is a catalyst for conversation; and as winemakers, everything that goes into that bottle is a part of our legacy as a human being.  Have I made a wine in 2015 that will hang in there for my son’s 21st birthday?  Who knows.  I hope so; I hope the sacrifice was worth it.  

About the author: Cameron Porter is an Advanced Sommelier and Owner/Winemaker of Amplify Wines, He also plays a role on VAULT29's Advisory Team! Stay connected to Amplify by following them on FacebookInstagram & in the VAULT29 app.

Winemakers: Share your "Wine & Sacrifice" with our community. Simply download the VAULT29 app and share your winemaking experiences now! Use hashtag #winemaking.

#IntoxicatingRuminations: Punk #Wine of the Peasants

#IntoxicatingRuminations: Punk #Wine of the Peasants

#IntoxicatingRUminations v5 | VAULT29

Punk.  Born from a primal desire for raw expression, bands like The Stooges and The Ramones used what little they had- cheap amps, thrift store guitars, minimal technical knowledge- to create something new and powerful, simple yet soulful, a pure distillation of youthful energy and boundless creativity.  The most exciting wines happening around the world today, particularly here in California, share this punk spirit.

Young winemakers are using their economic shortcomings to their advantage, finding inspiration in unlikely sites or obscure grapes.  Varieties like Valdiguie, Semillon, Carignan, and Verdelho, to name just a handful, have become de rigueur.  Places like the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the savanna-like eastern stretches of Santa Ynez, and the granitic slopes of the Sierra Foothills have been infused with fresh passion and care. 

In many ways it’s akin to peasant food- winemakers are taking the “scraps” and finding creative ways to spice them up, seeking the most delicious way to channel their origins.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and it has birthed many distinct takes on grapes, or vineyards, once thought pedestrian.  Take the Semillon of Cotiere: winemaker Kevin Law takes old vine fruit grown in the gravel of Santa Ynez’s old Buttonwood Vineyard and shapes it into something that recalls the best qualities of both Hunter Valley and Graves, with highwire acid allied to a broad texture and waxy, exotically spiced aromatics. 

La Clarine Farm's Vineyards

La Clarine Farm's Vineyards

Or how about La Clarine Farm’s Jambalaia Rouge- an oddball blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Marsanne, Fiano, and Arneis, this wild wine is full of juicy joy, so vibrant it feels like it might leap out of the glass.  Winemaker Hank Beckmeyer knows a thing or two about punk, having played bass in one of the most primalcavemanBUZZKLANGPOW!awesome bands ever, Half Japanese.  In his wines, one senses that spirit has never left him; it’s simply found a different creative outlet.

Most of these wines are meant to be enjoyed now- while the ability to age may be present, these wines are about pleasure and gulpability, their immediacy taking your mind and palate on a joy ride.  They are the 10-songs-in-18-minutes setlist; they are Iggy Pop snarling “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”  They still have a lot to say- perhaps more than most wines- they’re just saying it fast, and loud.  Hey, ho, let’s go.

Winemakers: Share your "punk spirit" with our community. Simply download the VAULT29 app and share your winemaking experiences now! Use hashtag #winemaking.

About the author: Cameron Porter is an Advanced Sommelier and Owner/Winemaker of Amplify Wines, He also plays a role on VAULT29's Advisory Team! Stay connected to Amplify by following them on FacebookInstagram & in the VAULT29 app.

#IntoxicationRuminations v4: "Sugar n Spikes"

#IntoxicationRuminations v4: "Sugar n Spikes"

Blog Header_IR_v4.png

Sweetness in wine; it’s a (sometimes literally) sticky subject.  The attitude that a serious wine can’t be sweet has gradually begun changing as wine drinkers rediscover the joy, both intellectual and sensual, of wines like Mosel Riesling and Vouvray.  The saving grace, of course, is acid; with the often piercing acidity of Riesling in the Mosel, or Chenin Blanc in Vouvray, sugar is the perfect balancing element, the two structural components working in tandem to make something greater than the sum of its parts.   

Residual sugar also allows winemakers to go further out on a limb aromatically.  For me, it’s akin to the relationship between rhythm and dissonance in music: you can be wailing wild, atonally, crazy, but if it’s got a beat, if it’s in the pocket, the listener has an entry point, something to latch onto and draw them in. 

A recent bottle of Selbach Oster’s Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling vividly reminded me of this point.  The palate impression- a ZING! of acid tempered by a whisper of sweetness- perfectly lifted the floral, fruit, and mineral nuances of the wine.  Johannes Selbach’s maverick spirit- fusing the cutting edge with the traditional- was palpable in the wine, that precise Teutonic backbeat (really, could Neu! have come from anywhere but Germany?) of sugar balancing the screech of acid.

I kept hearing Miles Davis’ “Rated X” in my head.  Recorded 43 years ago, with the same band that crafted his polarizing masterpiece On the Corner, it is a wildly forward-thinking composition, recalling the aesthetics of drum n bass, Madlib and Dilla, and Endtroducing decades before they would come to be.  Layers of dissonant organ blasts form an amelodic core, but it all works because of the drums- tribal, funky, persistent; they are the sugar to the organ’s acid.  

A great wine manages this balancing act without one element sticking out over another. These are wines that have mastered the art of tension and release, of rhythmic and dissonant, of sweet and acidic.  And like a great piece of music, they provoke thought and joy in equal measure.    

About the Author:

Cameron Porter is an Advanced Sommelier and Owner/Winemaker of Amplify Wines, a quality boutique brand out of Santa Barbara County. He also plays a role on VAULT29's Advisory Team! Stay connected to Amplify by following them on FacebookInstagram & in the VAULT29 app.

“Wine of Revelry, #Wine of Contemplation”

“Wine of Revelry, #Wine of Contemplation”

Intoxicating Ruminations v3 | VAULT29

It shouldn't have happened.  I should have been guzzling, imbibing with reckless abandon.  But there I was, thinkin' 'bout it.  This bright, light, chillable red, meant for BBQ and poolside debauchery- this wine of revelry- had become a wine of contemplation.  It's like a great pop song- you're humming that earworm when you realize, “oh damn, she's saying something deeper here.”

In wine, revelry is a partner to contemplation perhaps more frequently than in other artforms, if only for the fact that it contains alcohol.  Nevertheless, there are wines that seem designed solely to elicit joy- if you can't smile while drinking a bottle of La Spinetta's Moscato d'Asti, you are truly depressed- and wines designed to make us think; to sit with a bottle of Chateau Musar, a wine that challenges on so many levels, is to taste wine at its highest heights. 

Yet wines where thought and joy meet- think of it as getting turnt up to turn inward- take us to new places both physically and mentally, the joy of the corporeal transitioning to the deeper pleasures of the mind.  My most recent experience with this dichotomy was elicited by a Pinot Noir from the Cotes de Toul, an obscure region in Lorraine, France.  The producer, Domaine Lelievre, was totally unfamiliar to me.  I went in with no preconceived notions; I just thought it sounded like an interesting wine to try on a Tuesday.

At first sip, fresh out the fridge with a light chill, its burst of berry and tangy acid suggested slurpable fun.  It was a perfect accompaniment to our weeknight salmon, and, as one of the first wines my wife was able to relax for a moment and enjoy since giving birth to our son, an equally adept pairing for conversation.  Yet as we got deeper into the bottle, and it warmed slightly, it unfolded, revealing earth, and spice, and forcing me to think about what this producer, and this new-to-me region, had to say about Pinot Noir.  Can California make a Pinot this vibrant?  What really is a “serious” Pinot?  I was hunkering down in thinking mode, and put on some Coltrane.

“No, Boo, let's listen to Frank Ocean, I haven't heard that in a while.”  Enjoying the moment, not in the mood to fight for my musical selection, I threw on channelOrange.  “Thinkin Bout You” came on.  The sighing violin intro leads perfectly into the track's kick-drum-thud and wispy keyboard, Ocean's youthful remembrances fluttering on top of it all.  It is truly a perfect pop song, hook after hook, impeccable vocals that seesaw from vulnerable to confident, lyrics with a singular worldview about a youthful tryst, incredibly personal yet filled with a longing that is universal.  Like that wine, its mix of pure pop joy and intellectual depth lodged it somewhere deep in my conscience.  In both cases, the visceral sensation- be it Ocean's twinkling falsetto or Lelievre's twig-and-pepper snap- is inextricably linked to a particular moment; one rooted in joy, enhanced by contemplation.  “It will never get old, not in my soul, not in my spirit, keep it alive...”

About the Author:

Cameron Porter is an Advanced Sommelier and Owner/Winemaker of Amplify Wines, a quality boutique brand out of Santa Barbara County. He also plays a role on VAULT29's Advisory Team! Stay connected to Amplify by following them on FacebookInstagram & in the VAULT29 app.

Intoxicating Ruminations v2: "Old #Wine, Old Friends!"

Intoxicating Ruminations v2: "Old #Wine, Old Friends!"

Cameron Porter  , Advanced Sommelier Winemaker, Amplify Wines

Cameron Porter, Advanced Sommelier Winemaker, Amplify Wines

“Hey man, how's it going.”  I looked at the text.  I hadn't heard from him in over a year.  We hadn't seen one another in person in longer than that, yet any time we talked it was like we picked up right where we had left off.  Never any awkwardness, just bull sessions about the usual stuff- family, women, new albums.  This time was no different; 2 hours later, we were still reminiscing, shooting stupid memes from Instagram back-and-forth, and generally acting like the dumb teenagers we were when we met.  It's rare to find a friend who understands you so thoroughly, who you connect with in a way that's timeless.

Finding a wine that connects with us in this way is equally difficult.  Much of the joy in being a wine lover comes from discovery, the excitement of “what's next?!?”  Yet certain producers, for whatever reason, possess a spirit that we want to return to over and over again.  It's highly subjective and deeply personal.  Like that old friend, we can go years without experiencing the wine, but when we do revisit it, it's equally stirring.

I had the privilege of being reminded of this fact recently when I was lucky enough to taste the 1993 “La Migoua” bottling from Domaine Tempier.  The iconic producer of Bandol, I first tasted Tempier about nine years ago when I worked at a wine shop in LA.  I was only 22, and this Mourvedre-dominated vineyard struck a chord with me- animal, sanguine, tannins like the texture of burlap, it recalled the hometown I'd recently left in its evocation of Santa Maria BBQ and my grandpa's venison- and a whole new world was opened.  Since that first taste I've followed the wines off and on, and every bottle has consistently delivered that same joy.

1993 “La Migoua” bottling from Domaine Tempier

It had probably been a good two years since I last had a Tempier, and probably three since I'd had the “La Migoua.”  With one whiff, I was transported; I was back to being in my early 20s, at that LA wine shop, a snotty kid who thought he knew something.  Further back in time, I was driving down Broadway, smelling trip-tip on red oak, salt air from the ocean nearby.  The wine was amazing as ever; grilled game and dried fruits, a kiss of smoky earth, perfectly refined tannins.  This was a bottle at its apex, and a perfect example of why Tempier is so special.  

With age, it had changed, and I connected with it in a different way; it lost the vibrancy of youth, sure, but it was possessed of more meaning, more depth, in its maturity.  It made me think about that old friend.  As we've matured, our conversations run more and more to career and family.  We still talk about a lot of the same dumb male nonsense, but those topics are surrounded by questions with real meaning, honest appraisals of hopes dashed and dreams deferred, and talk of the future.  There are few people in our lives that we can share these things with; if we're lucky we find a few.  

After I experienced that bottle of Tempier, with all these thoughts racing through my mind, I decided to take a walk.  I had Madvillainy on the headphones, a true hip-hop masterpiece that my buddy and I used to geek out on in college.  I caught a brilliant MF Doom line that I'd never noticed before, cracking up to myself; I had to call him up.  “Hey man, how's it going...”

Want to share that moment when wine, friends, and music took you back in time? Download the VAULT29 app, post your experience and use the hashtag #IntoxicatingRuminations!

Wine, Music, and the Element of Surprise

Wine, Music, and the Element of Surprise

Cameron Porter , Advanced Sommelier Winemaker, Amplify Wines

Cameron Porter, Advanced Sommelier Winemaker, Amplify Wines

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.

Jamie xx "Gosh" - 

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…