David Jeffrey of Calluna Vineyards with JC & Irene of Bar American
When David Jeffrey, winegrower, vintner and proprietor at Calluna Estate, heard that the Lurton family of Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem had purchased the neighboring farm on Chalk Hill, he wasn’t surprised. ”They were advised [by Pierre Seillan of Verite Wines] that if they wanted Bordeaux growing soil,” said Jeffrey at Tuesday’s Lafayette luncheon, then they “must choose Chalk Hill.” After all, it’s what brought Jeffrey to the AVA himself. Striving to “make wines which have the strength of great Bordeaux, but with the attributes of Sonoma terroir,” Jeffrey founded Calluna Estate in 2004 and planted 12 acres at the very top of Chalk Hill, when it was just a barren landscape of tumbleweed and brush.
As a true expression of terroir, Kevin Kelley‘s Salinia “Sun Hawk Farms” Red Field Blend 2011 consists of ten red and white biodynamically farmed varietals that are simultaneously harvested and co-fermented whole cluster, with foot-treading occurring twice daily. Planted 15 years ago, by John Schaeffer and Nancy Hensley who own and operate Sun Hawk Farms–a biodynamic farm and homestead–the vines reside in soils of goldridge, granite and loam. Wholly committed to both “living off the grid” and to regenerative farming, the couple writes: “It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.” And since Kelley’s subscribes to the old world/old school winemaking practice of “leaving shit alone”, it is imperative that his wine be made in the vineyard.
Sauvignon Blanc Vines for “25 Reasons”
Kevin Kelley argues that winemaking is a craft and not a form of art, he said of his winemaking experience: “You have raw material, and you apply your craft to that material, but you can’t make it be what you want it to be…You can spend your life learning a craft but you need to be moving, thinking, creating. That’s the beauty.” And beautiful indeed are the wines from the Natural Process Alliance (NPA).
Drinking, thinking and reading about wine since he was sixteen years old, Kevin Kelley perhaps didn’t expect to be asked to check his bag of knowledge at the front door of UC Davis. Adhering to the thousands of years that went into the farming and vinification techniques behind the Old World Classics that came before him, Kevin wasn’t prepared to retire Coltrane tracks for Kenny G. ”They’re scientists,” said Kelley of his alma mater, “distilling things down to one thing…’This is what we know. This is what we can control. This is all we’re going to talk about.’…It’s all about quality control. Everything needs to be in the box [and] they’re serving the industry well, because that’s the industry they’re serving. [However] I went in there with knowledge of how wines have been made through the centuries and that has nothing to do with science but with tradition and craftsmanship. The scientific information is still new.” And while Kevin considers winemaking a craft as opposed to a form of art, it’s clear that Kelley came to master the classics with his Salinia wines before he started playing bebop with his second project, the Natural Process Alliance (NPA).
Steve & Jill Klein Matthiasson (photo credit)
At the end of a dead end street in Napa, there’s an illusory driveway with a road in place of a home. Continuing behind a row of track housing, the gravel leads to the Matthiasson estate – an early 20th century farmhouse on stilts, an avocado tree beside a barn, 3.5 acres of vines on 7 acres of farmland – an oasis amidst urban sprawl. “At my house we have Refosco, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Ribolla, all in the same soil. And the reason I’m there is because it’s the only place I can afford,” said Steve Matthiasson and laughed. ”I’d take a dump yard,” and laughed again. “It becomes very careful farming, getting the vines to think they’re in a world class site.”
And while Steve compared the current “new wave” of California winemakers to the underground indie scene in our last post, the punk rock posture is easily transposed into vineyard practices.
“It is like the indie rock of the early 80′s,” said Steve Matthiasson, in reference to the collective sigh away from the big wines that had come to define California. After 15 years of Parker dominance, there emerged a “new wave” of young winemakers–Dan Petroski, Gram Tatomer, Matthew Rorick, Arnot-Roberts–, who are now Matthiasson’s age or younger. ”We just did our 10th vintage,” he said, “but ten years ago, there was no seed. In Napa, there was Abe [Schoener] and me. We didn’t know about Arnot-Roberts in the other valley.” Much like the hardcore movement that drew a line from punk bands in the late 70′s to Indie bands in the mid-80′s, these innovative vintners were acting independently, struggling to pursue personal expressions.
Matthiasson, who’d recently read Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, drew a comparison.
“The underground’s musical diversity meant there was no stylistic bandwagon for the media to latch on to, so the record-buying public had to find things there on a band-by-band basis, rather than buying into a bunch of talk about a ‘new sound’,” writes Azerrad.
Christy Frank from Frankly Wines (top) Hana Muniz from Mari Vanna (bottom)
At yesterday’s Big Red Tasting in Studio 206, all the city’s players came out to taste. With older vintages secured from Il Colle Brunello di Montalcino, Mauro Veglio Barolo and Milziade Antano Sagrantino di Montefalco, we showcased over 70 wines. ”The Milziade Antano Sagrantino di Montefalco 2004 was a good discovery,” said Rocco Spagnardi of Locanda Vini & Olii. ”It’s a big wine like a Sagrantino should be, aromatic with herbal notes that maybe you don’t normally see in a Sagrantino. The 2004 shows great persistence; it’s a great wine after ten years.”
Representing both old friends (ZD Wines, Robert Sinskey, and Vineyard 29) and new (Matthiasson, Tertre Roteboruf, and Casa Marin), the room was abuzz with offerings from a select portion of the portfolio that’s been in the making for 19 years. ”It was exciting to try the new vintages  from Forlorn Hope,” said Christy Frank, of Frankly Wines. “They seem a little more approachable than the last vintage; a little softer straight out of the bottle, and they’re very weather appropriate now.”
On a recent visit to Matthew Rorick’s winery, we tasted a Verdelho that had been picked from Dewitt Vineyard in Amador City on August 15th, a week earlier than last year, when the grapes had been picked a week earlier than the year before that. Tasting a Verdelho that had been picked at 19 brix, we witnessed a transparency and a minerality that’s never been expressed by this grape. The Pinot Gris sourced from Tegan Passalacqua’s vineyard in Lodi had a density and roundness that speaks to the sand soils and warmer climate of the region, and the Merlot (that’s right Merlot) that we tasted from Napa had the lightness and herbaceousness that can only come from the coaxing by a thoughtful renegade whose picking decisions could very well be a decade ahead his time.
Pablo Picasso, Accordionist (L’accordéoniste), Céret, summer 1911
At the Guggenheim until Wednesday, “Picasso Black and White” is a brilliant exhibit that demonstrates the artist’s capacity for expression when limited to these two ends of the color spectrum. Like the noble grape Chardonnay, whose neutral qualities liken it to the vintner’s blank canvas awaiting the footprint of terroir or the thumbprint of its maker, these two shades–when blended–offered the artist an unlimited palette.
Much the lively texture of Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru, whose effervescence unfolds from bubbles to mousse on the palate, the complexity of detail at the center of Picasso’s Accordionist undulates to the edge of the canvas. By stripping his palette of color, Picasso engaged the naked elements, his blacks directing the eye as absorbers of light; his whites the essence of all colors.
Image from Kevin Kelley’s Natural Process Alliance
After years of playing around with base wines and trial fermentation, Kevin Kelley of Salinia Wine Company has just released Twenty Five Reasons, a skin-fermented, organic Petillant Naturel. ”It comes from a love of the wine,” said Kevin, “I’ve always preferred Petillant because you can smell and taste the wine. They go really well with food; most of what I drink is sparkling…and we’ve always made small batches for ourselves.”