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#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"

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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 Mic Monday: Phantom Rivers

Wine Mic Monday: Phantom Rivers

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. This week we are proud to feature Phantom Rivers., an Arroyo Grande (SLO) winery typically producing lots of between 50-200 cases or 2-8 barrels. Their 2012 Confluence (GSM blend) was just awarded "Best of Class" in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle awards!

Meet Phantom Rivers & The Nipomo Wine Group by Steve Mathis

The Nipomo Wine Group was created in 2004 by four couples who share a passion for making wine and enjoying the life style of the California Central Coast.  Each one of us brings a unique skill to the company which includes: wine making, business administration, marketing, scientific theory, cooking, and wine & food pairing.

The name Phantom Rivers was selected for our winery as it pertains to the misty fog that evaporates into the air.  Streams of fog flow in and out of the valleys and wind their way up the old maritime valleys hugging the courses of ancient rivers.  This fog cools the vineyards at night and early morning which extends the hang time of the grapes on the vine.  This all adds to the distinctive flavors and complexities of Central Coast Wines.

Food & Phantom Rivers Wine | VAULT29

We met and became friends as home winemakers. We share a passion for making wines that pair well with food. What better way to enjoy life than to be surrounded by friends who share a passion, and love to drink fine wine and eat delicious home cooked meals?!

While we are all winemakers, the title of Wine Maker for Phantom Rivers belongs to John Thunen, PhD.  John had an extensive career in the aerospace industry during which time he stayed “grounded” by making wine.  During the past 40 years, John has honed his skills as an exceptional winemaker in much the same way he did as a Physicist, using scientific method coupled with natural artistic ability.  For years John led a team of scientists, now he leads our team of winemakers.

John Thunen, winemaker

John Thunen, winemaker

We do not believe a single property is capable of producing the best fruit for every varietal, as the terroir required for each varietal is different.  Therefore we focus our efforts in finding the perfect area for each varietal we are looking to produce, and purchasing grapes from those farmers.

For us, the beauty not owning a vineyard is not being tied to the varietals that excel on that piece of property. There are only so many years a winemaker has a chance to produce wine and there are so many different varietals to choose from. Since beginning the winery in 2004, we have produced some phenomenal wines that include:  Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Vin Gris, Muscat Blanc, and a Zinfandel Rose’ as well as a Zinfandel dessert wine.  We have also made several red blends including our new award winner, Confluence which is a GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blend.

We decided to focus all of our efforts on fruit grown on the Central Coast of California. We purchase fruit from select vineyards from as far North as Paso Robles to as far South as Santa Ynez and the North East corner of Santa Barbara County.

There are literally hundreds of micro climates in this range, allowing vineyards unique terroir for their varietals. It is an amazing experience to search for a vineyard that offers the characteristics we are looking for in a specific varietal. Once found, we try to develop a long term relationship with the vineyard owner/manager.

Another decision we made was to produce our wine in small lots. We typically produce lots of between 50 to 200 cases or two to eight barrels. This allows us to pay a lot of attention to each lot from harvest to bottling. Small lots of wine allow the winemaker to exert a lot of influence.

When all is good, and your fruit has had sufficient hang time, the brix, TA, and PH are in range, chances are you are going to have a great wine. Selection of yeast, fermentation, decision to use extended maceration or not,  malolactic fermentation, type of barrel, time in the barrel, racking, filtration all come in to play during the winemaking process. The smaller the lot, the bigger the influence each of these decisions has.

Mother nature does not always cooperate. If the fruit comes in with high or low brix, too much or to little TA, then the winemaker, in our case John, has decisions to make, and these decisions have a dramatic impact on the quality and taste of the finished wine. The ability to fix flaws and overcome fruit that was either not fully ripened or over ripened is what distinguishes a winemaker as much as their individual style. We feel so very lucky to have John as our winemaker. His background in research has made him invaluable to our winery.

So now, the grapes have come in, adjustments have been made, fermentation is completed, the must has been pressed and the juice is now in the barrels. Over the next 14 to 18 months, there is still a lot the winemaker has to contend with and decisions to be made.

(L-R) Phantom Rivers Owners: Steve Mathis, John Thunen, Gary Smith, John Klacking

(L-R) Phantom Rivers Owners: Steve Mathis, John Thunen, Gary Smith, John Klacking

Do we make this a single varietal with 100% of the fruit from a single vineyard? Do we add a complimentary varietal to add character, depth, backbone? Do we blend cool and warm weather Syrah to make or more complex wine? Will we do a blend or more than one blend this year? For us, these decisions are made as the wine matures and develops in the barrel.

I find this to be the most fun and fascinating time to be involved with the winemaking. We gather the troops, pull samples of wines from the barrels, and the tasting begins. We make notes for each barrel, what it tastes like when blending from barrel to barrel and above all, we have a good time.

Decisions are reached over what to blend, what to bottle and when, and exactly, how much of each wine we will produce. While we are a democracy, we have all agreed to allow John to have the final say on all winemaking decisions. Stop by our Tasting Room in Arroyo Grande or visit us online. We think you will like Phantom Rivers Wine.

(L-R) John & Linda Thunen, Gary & Diana Smith, Steve & Sue Mathis

(L-R) John & Linda Thunen, Gary & Diana Smith, Steve & Sue Mathis

From our family to yours, Cheers!

Be sure to add your Phantom Rivers Wine experiences in the VAULT29 app!

"Like" Phantom Rivers Wines on Facebook & "Follow" them on Twitter: @PhantomRivers

Canepa Koch

Canepa Koch

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature Neil Koch, proprietor and winemaker at Canepa Koch Wine Cellars. Neil trained under Philip Melka at Seavey Vineyards, Bryant Family and Vineyard 29, and was assistant winemaker at Lewis Cellars. 

"From Forest to Barrel to Bottle" by Neil Koch featuring “the dude”

As the rain starts to fall in late November, all the wine from the previous vintage is in barrel. For our wine, “the dude”, the barrel is not just a vessel for 18 months, but plays an important role in the maturation of our wine. 

The barrel process starts in the oak forests of France with the most prevalent species being French sessile oak (Quercus Petraea).  The trees in these forests can be anywhere from 200-300 years old.  For example, in the French National Forest of Troncais, Napolean first planted these trees to be used for ship masts.  

Once the French government deems the trees are “ready”, the logs are cut and sold at auction to cooperages (barrel makers) in France.  These cooperages then cut the logs into staves (the wood pieces which make up the barrel) and age them in seasoning yards for 24 - 36 months.  After the seasoning process, the staves are formed into barrels using galvanized hoops, then toasted on an open flame to the winemaker’s desired toast level.

After 12 years of making my own wine, I am still amazed by how much influence a barrel has on the outcome of a wine.  Mark Canepa and I have been making “the dude” since 2009 and have used 100% French oak in all of our vintages, both red and white.

Typically in red wines French oak adds sweetness, body, length, and structure.  Darker notes, such as chocolate, espresso, and spice are brought out in the wine. It transforms brighter red notes into darker richer components.  In white wines, the barrel adds texture, spice, caramel, and butterscotch components, while fattening the wine’s mid palate.  

The barrel’s toast level also greatly impacts the wine.  A lighter toast adds more wood structure to the body of the wine, but fewer toast related aromatics. Higher toast levels elevate the wine’s aromatics and impart a sweeter, toastier component.

For “the dude” Napa Valley Red Wine, we typically use a blend of medium plus toast and heavy toast to add structure and increase complexity in our wines.  The fruit from our Rutherford vineyard needs more structure, such as a medium plus toast, while our Atlas Peak and Coombsville fruit can handle a higher toast level.

Come Spring 2015, our wine will make its final transition to bottle, where all of these factors including wood sourcing, seasoning, toast level, and barrel aging have played a part in making “the dude”.

"Like" Canepa Koch on Facebook & "Follow" them on Twitter @CanepaKochWine

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Wine Mic Monday: Emeritus Vineyards

Wine Mic Monday: Emeritus Vineyards

"Wine Mic Monday" is a new VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature Emeritus Vineyards from the Russian River Valley. Their 2011 Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir was just named #26 in Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines in 2014.

"Dry Farming" By Mari Jones, Emeritus Vineyards

You know when you get a summer tomato from the farmers market, you’ve been eating tomatoes from the grocery store all winter and spring and when you take a bite you instantly remember what a tomato really tastes like? I love that moment, it connects me with the farmer, the land and the food I’m eating. I remember that someone planted the tomato, tended to it and picked it. It grew in a field, in soil not in a greenhouse, not hydroponically. 

That’s the feeling I get when I taste a wine that is made from non-irrigated grapes, or dry-farmed. Dry farming is not widely practiced in California, as we don’t have rainfall during the summer growing season. In almost all other grape growing regions of the world there is summer rainfall. Our practice of dry farming evolved from a conversation my dad, Brice Cutrer Jones, had with his Burgundian friend and former business partner Aubert de Villaine. They were developing a vineyard together when my dad was given a life-changing lesson: “When you irrigate you change the signature of the wine.” We have been working at this practice since 2008, trying to capture the terroir of our incredible vineyards and create the most honest wines. 

Hallberg Ranch - Goldridge Loam & Sandy Clay with Roots

Hallberg Ranch - Goldridge Loam & Sandy Clay with Roots

After 3 years of weaning our vines off water, they were capable of sustaining themselves just on rainfall stored in the soil and not needing any supplemental irrigation. And we were dry farming! It wasn’t easy to get there, but it was worth it. When a grapevine is irrigated, the roots of the vine will only grow where the water diffuses in the soil, which is a shallow area underneath the vine, and almost like growing the vine hydroponically. When vines are cultivated without irrigation they will grow roots deep and wide in search of water, especially in a drought as we are in now.

So what does all this mean for our wines? We’ve found that the grapes achieve full physiological (flavor) ripeness at a lower sugar level, so we have less extracted and cooked fruit flavors in the wine and lower alcohol levels. We find the grapes retain more acid so we have a more acid driven wine, even in warmer years. And we see smaller berries which creates more concentrated wines and a tannic structure. The wine has so many more dimensions, in our early vintages our wines were “classic Russian River Valley”, bold fruit flavors, low tannin, and higher alcohol wine. They were all personality with very little character.  My dad always says, "The character of a wine comes from the soil, the personality from the climate."

Hallberg Ranch Vineyard

Hallberg Ranch Vineyard

After a couple vintages of totally dry farmed vines, I’ve seen a shift in the balance of our wines. They still have lots of Russian River Valley personality, bright fruit flavors and the like, but they are more elegant, more restrained and grounded with the character of our soils, which lends earthy and spice flavors, but also brighter acidity and a soft tannin structure. The wines express their vineyards, they express their vintage, and they express the people who care for the vines every day - just like the tomato from the farmers market, more complex, more exciting and more honest.

When Mari isn't drinking Emeritus, she enjoys wines from Stony Hill, Benovia, and DRNK.

Be sure to add your Emeritus experiences in the VAULT29 app!