The United Front of Forlorn Hope
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.
Our visit made clear that there’s a buzz on the west coast that’s making its way east. Working against the traditional path of expansion and exchange, there are a number of winemakers who are laying tracks from west to east, bringing us one of the palate’s most valued commodities–terroir driven wines. Joining the ranks of cult-crafters such as Kevin Kelley of Salinia Wines, Steve Matthiasson and Carroll Kemp of Red Car Wines, Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope is shifting the potential of California wine on its axis. Recently named one of five “Winemakers to Watch 2013” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rorick is one to follow his palate first, leaving the market to charge his wake.
After making wines in and around Napa for the past 10 years, Rorick set out to pursue his own label. Making fewer than 1,000 cases in 2011, of 15 different bottlings, Matthew fitfully coined the phrase “Rare Creatures” because by the time one took notice, the inventory had long vanished. With a list of wines on his website that reads like a world wide Bowie tour–SOLDOUT–Rorick is simultaneously prone to experimentation while seemingly risk adverse. Crafting wines that are varietal correct, Rorick seeks the Old World, the dejected and the near extinct. From the 90 vines of St Laurent at Ricci Vineyards in Carneros to the 167 cases of “Suspiro del Moro” Alta Mesa Alvarelhão, harvested from 2.5 acres in the Silvaspoons Vineyard, Rorick is carefully redefining California wines through resurrection, and NOT conducting Frankenstein experiments.
The great part of tasting with Matthew is that there is no blueprint that he is trying to follow, nor any ego that he is trying to puff up. Humble and honest about what he knows and more importantly, about what knowledge he lacks, Matthew Rorick is both the perfect student, and one of our greatest teachers, for he knows how to extract potential from a varietal with a sense of place.