Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

LA wines, SD vines, London sensibilities & Austrian whites: interesting Scholium newsletter

Posted by dmcker, Jun 27.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: our origins and future in a single glance
I am going to create a winery in Los Angeles, on the banks of the Los Angeles river, on the edge of what was once the greatest grape growing region in the whole country. I aim to have this winery up and running by harvest 2015. I have made great progress already and will devote much of the month of July to finishing the plans and assembling the necessary investment. I will tell you more about this in time (it will not simply be "Scholium South" but will be an independent entity) but this is the most amazing thing: the grapes are there. I have already set my heart on more than half a dozen vineyards from the mountains of San Diego County, to the vast concrete and asphalt suburbs east of Los Angeles, to the peaks of Olympian wealth in Malibu. We will not rely on the vineyards of Santa Barbara and north whose excellence is already well established. The south is full of amazing vineyards and I knew nothing about them.

chris broomell at sunrise vineyard in valley central, SD County The two most important stories that I need to tell you are about a young winemaker in San Diego County and an ancient vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga. Jon Bonné, devoted student of what is old and new in California, introduced me to both. Christopher Broomell is the descendant of six generations of farmers in Southern California. Alysha Stehley, his wife, is from farming roots as venerable and significant as Chris'. Together they have won the complete trust and support of their families and have created the most remarkable winemaking operation I have seen anywhere.[1]
They look like kids but have a sensitive and nearly encyclopedic knowledge of vineyards that stretch from the San Diego coastline to granite outcroppings at 2500 feet of altitude, 30 miles inland. They are uncompromising to such a degree that one could call them merciless. They have made allies and won the respect of colleagues with two generations' more experience than they have. And they seem to be unbounded in their ability to imagine new vineyards where others would never have dreamed of them, or to recreate ancient vineyards on plots that had been abandoned more than a hundred years ago. What I learned in San Diego County is all about this intimate yoking together of an ancient, original, California, and a future that 5 years ago was inconceivable. Chris and Alysha are by no means alone in San Diego: Los Pilares is making amazing wines by radically traditional methods, Milagro Farm has planted some of the most beautiful vineyards I have ever seen in a fierce rock garden. There are others still.[2]
You don't know about San Diego yet, but it is the future, and in the future, you will learn also about its past. This is part of the promise of the New California: our attention is no longer focused on what once was understood as the center; our vision now becomes panoptic, our eyes are open.

And so we look too to Rancho Cucamonga where is there is the single most remarkable vineyard in California, one that I had never heard of until I began researching fruit sources for this new winery. In the historic Lopez Vineyard, there are 300, three HUNDRED, not 30, acres of own-rooted Zinfandel, planted on beautiful, rocky, alluvial granitic soil, un-irrigated the whole of their nearly 100 year old lives, now farmed organically.domenic galleano in the lopez vineyard How could we not know of this vineyard? I don't mean that until now, no one knew about it, or that Jon Bonné had discovered it-- the Galleano family have been its stewards for 3 generations. They have made serious wines from it for all of this time, and have sold grapes and wine to other California wineries that recognized its virtue-- from all over California.
And Lopez is not alone: there is also the Galleano Home Vineyard and the amazing Hofer vineyard. But how could the rest of us have been unaware of these treasures? I feel as though we have a nearly civic duty to celebrate them, as we do the Declaration of Independence; and to support and honor the families that have kept them intact and have preserved them in the face of what would seem to be the ineluctable devastatation of suburban sprawl. This knot of vineyards too represents the remarkable intersection of a deep but nearly forgotten past and an almost unimagined viticultural and winemaking future-- all within miles of Los Angeles.[3]


LONDON: the rediscovery of a California Classicism
Soon after I spent a week in the Southland, I flew to London to support my partners in sales there, and I saw the tribe of New California wines in a radically different landscape. In California and much of the rest of the United States, we are regarded as renegades, and our work is seen as part of overturning. It is not necessarily the case that we, the winemakers, are overturning any paradigms-- sometimes, it is the work of our supporters, the people who buy and sell our wines, who see their work as the overturning of an ossified, repetitive understanding of what is California wine. Sometimes the old paradigm is replaced by a a new one: over-oaked chard replaced by anything-but-chard; napa cab cast aside and trousseau gris sought out. To some degree, what is lost is any discussion of excellence. That old, aristocratic, virtue is replaced by the celebration of lightness, freshness-- younger, more democratic virtues. This is what was so interesting about being in London: there, wine culture is so rooted in age-old discussions of crus, grand crus, premier crus . . . . There is an eagerness to see the new California not in rebellious, youthful opposition to this but as an extension of it. It is as if this were the second discovery of the potential for classical wines in California-- a rediscovery of what Robert Mondavi had championed, now rooted in a new crop of wines from new places. What is wonderful for me is that this new crop is overwhelming London not with its mere difference, but with its excellence. There is a real celebration of California terroir and a willingness, maybe even an eagerness, to see the possibility that California has vineyards the equal of some of those in Burgundy, the Jura, Etna. . . . Let me put this another way: I had never expected to export wine to Europe. Why would they need our wines? This view is not limited to London, but I found a very focused attention to it there: "yes, we revere Clos St.Denis, but our pursuit of excellence is incomplete if we do not include Cabernets from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Chardonnay from Napa, even Verdelho from Lodi." They suspect, for the first time in a genearation, that there are vineyards in the US the equal of those ancient vineyards they already revere, and they want to come to know and celebrate them.
This is a wonderful, unexpected, thing to hear.

 

vineyards above a hotel in unterloiben

THE WACHAU: tremors in the pantheon
After London, I met Alex Pitts (now the assistant winemaker of the Scholium Project) in Vienna, to begin an extensive tasting of Austrian wines and three days of visits to vineyards and wineries. Austrian white wines have influenced, even guided, some of my winemaking since 2005, and I have craved the opportunity to visit the wineries and learn from the winemakers themselves. I learned two kinds of things on this trip, both of them very surprising to me.

The first thing is hard to put into words, but is tangentially related to my experiences in London, and tightly related to changes we are seeing in American wine scene. I had not expected that it would turn out that those changes are not the least parochial but are part of a single wave with similar crests in many capitals. We met with the young winemaker of one of the most established domains in the Wachau, a winery in the pantheon of wine estates around the world. The wines are treasured and have always been praised for purity, clarity, expression of terroir. But they have also sometimes been passed by because of their intensity and richness. By "passed by" I do not mean faulted, but I do mean that as friends and colleagues have made decisions about which wine to consume on a given occasion, I have seen my friends pass by the wines of this winery in favor of other bottles, lighter, more delicate.

A friend in Austria had expressed this too: he said that he thought that the wines of the past decade, while wonderful, still "stuck in the throat." It reminded me of judgments against the California wines of the 90s and 00s (and also against some of my own wines). And so it was so interesting to meet with the young, new, winemaker, who was guiding the wines in a new direction-- not radically new, not in a rejection of the past, but in a tempering: a move away from power and toward delicacy. I was so impressed by the courage of the winemaker, and the confidence of the family who had given him the reins: even if some people in the stratosphere of aficionados were losing appetite for such wines, the reputation-- and the fortunes-- of the winery were built on a certain style. And now the whole operation was willing to walk away from that-- not for commercial reasons, but to make what they all considered were going to be finer wines. They were doing it for the sake of excellence, and in the face of failure and rejection. I was filled with admiration. (We tasted the wines. The winery is succeeding brilliantly in its new aims.) The same impetus behind the New California evident in the heart and core of Austria.

Here is the second thing: We saw amazing vineyards-- a jaw-dropping hillsides facing the twists of the Danube; beautiful, fertile, farmland harnessed through wisdom and the utmost care into grape growing; ancient hills of vines rising gently out of the bucolic environs of a capital city . . . . The places were so distinct, so specific, that winemaking seemed inconsequential.

Yet we learned much about the practices of wineries we admired. We learned that in spite of the great stlystic similarity of many Austrian whites, there are (nearly) no rules. (Nearly everyone considers malo-lactic fermentation a kind of spoilage [in the way we first learned of from Stony Hill in Napa].) Some people favor whole cluster pressing, some destemming, some use a lot of SO2, some a little, some filter the shit out of the wines, a few would prefer to avoid filtration. But one winery, whose wines both Alex and I have deeply admired from the beginning of our educations, one winery both crushes and destems everything, and the results are brilliant, have been for decades, and persist in their ability to age and delight with age: the super traditional house of Knoll.[4]

We learned that until recently, from the era before the Second World War until the second decade of the 21st century, this winery, paradigmatic of purity and excellence, had used the same system for handling and pressing white grapes as our friends and colleagues at Wooden Valley Winery have done and still do: a large and brutally efficient crusher-destemmer that can handle 50 tons per hour, and a must pump that pumps the resulting slurry into a 20-ton hydraulic screw press. This press then presses the slurry against a fixed disk and squeezes the juice out of the sides of the cylinder. Knoll replaced this recently with a smaller, more gentle destemmer, and two smaller, more gentle presses-- but Emmerich assures us that they still proceed with ruthless efficiency, and without excessive concern for delicacy. Seventy years of Knoll were made with the same equipment used by the Wooden Valley Winery-- the same equipment that we used to produce our 2006 Naucratis, 2006 La Severità di Bruto, 2007 La Severità di Bruto and Dulcissima Camilla, and 2009 Naucratis. Brilliant, pure wines. The connections between methods and results are inevitably hard to discern, much less predict.

We find colleagues, mentors, models, support for what we do in many places, some distant and unforeseen : on the top of Atlas Peak, in San Diego County, in Durnstein on the Wachau . . . . This is an honor, and the enterprise feels beautifully unbounded.

Abe

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Jon has written about Chris and Alysha and the changes in San Diego County here. See also this profile here. Here is their website. They are bottling fantastic rosé today. I have tasted it.
  2. Los Pilares is the first winery that I learned about in San Diego County. They are making rigorously natural wines from remarkable old-vine vineyards, and convincing people in the most unlikely high-mountain places to plant for them. I have tasted excellent reds from them and a superb pet-nat. You can find their wines here. See this interesting profile by Alice Feiring. Milagro has amazing vineyards, but I have not tasted any bottled wines yet. Write me for more recommendations.
  3. The Historic Vineyard Society's registry is the first place that I had heard about Lopez, when I had first begun doing research on Southern California vineyards. Their website is a remarkable resource. Jon wrote about his discoveries around Cucamonga here. He also has a very good blog post here. The Galleano winery is very much worth visiting; call in advance to try to get a tour of the Home vineyard and the amazing redwood tanks still in use. See also my instagram feed.
  4. Emmerich Knoll (pictured at the top and at the right) was unbounded in his generosity and candor, and depthless in his wisdom. Write me if you would like more notes on our visit to Austria; we were hosted so well and learned so much that it is almost overwhelming. I would like to mention one producer whose wines were not exactly traditional, and whose quality was not exceeded by even the most noble houses: Arndorfer.

scholium project
1536 milton road
napa, ca 94559
US

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 28.

Calling GregT and JD and EMark--places here to check out in your stomping grounds...

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Reply by JonDerry, Jun 28.

Highly interesting...don't make it down to San Diego very often though GregT may have just struck gold.

I keep thinking there is untapped potential around the coastline of Orange County, but wonder why it hasn't been done. Would be some expensive land I suppose.

That vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga is really interesting.

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 28.

Not just SD, he mentions hilltops in Malibu and somewhere vaguely 'east' of LA...

Warrants investigation, I would think!  ;-)

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Reply by outthere, Jun 28.
  • Espinoza - SW of Escondido - Cab, Mourv, Syrah, Grenche

Above Malibu is the Saddlerock region

  • Malibu Family - Zin, Chard, Pinot, Muscat, Port, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Petite Sirah
  • Rosenthal Estate - Cab and Chard
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Reply by EMark, Jun 28.

By "East of Los Angeles," I gather he means Cucamonga Valley.  We had a discussion of historic vineyards including Lopez and Galleano here on the Forum last winter. 

The article mentions the town of Rancho Cucamonga, and I suppose that RC is the nearest upwardly mobile suburb to the Lopez Vineyard.  I think, however, that the Lopez Vineyard, SE and adjacent to the intersection of the I-15 and the I-210 highways, is actually in the city of Fontana.  I may be wrong there.  The Galleano Vineyard and winery is about 7-8 miles south off I-15 in the community of Mira Loma (nee Wineville).  Galleano Zinfandels, sourced from both the vineyards, both non-vintage and vintage dated, are quite good--especially for the price.  I know that Carol Shelton also sources fruit from Lopez for a bottling called "Monga Zin."

In the afore-mentioned Forum discussion I posted some vineyard pictures.  Yup, the Lopez vineyard is quite gravelly.  The Galleano soil is sand.  The pics that I posted showed completely bare vines--it was winter.  I suppose I should drive out there and take some that, with leaves on the vines, might be a bit prettier.

My guess is that the vineyards are safe from encroaching civilization as long as Don Galleano is alive.  However, he is not a young man.  I met him, (super nice guy, but I suspect that something about winemaking turns you into a super nice guy or gal) about 25 years ago, at an dinner at Cal Poly, and I would have guessed that he was about 45-50 years old, then.  I don't know if he has heirs who are interested in taking over the family business.  If not, we may need some outside resources to prevent these two historic vineyards from becoming tract houses.

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 29.

Mark, if you haven't tried any yet, you should give Abe Schoener's Scholium wines a shot. It's interesting that someone of his age, energy, creativity wants to vest in the LA area wines. That is good news.

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Reply by gregt, Jun 29.

Well, he's also making wine in Brooklyn, which is where I am now. So if the plan is to buy grapes somewhere in California, ship them down, and turn them into wine, it's a shorter distance than sending them to the east coast! And there is indeed a tradition of doing that - it's what was done during Prohibition and I still know some Italians in Bensonhurst and Staten Island who do it. The classic "Dago Red" is alive and well out here.

Meantime, back at the other home, I had the misfortune of tasting some San Diego wines. Basically poison. I never knew there were such wines being made and I'm disappointed that there are.

Today in NY I tasted through a few from Austria and Italy. Out of a few dozen there was a really great Taurasi, I mean really good but they don't have an importer, a pretty good Brunello, and from Austria some nice blends of Zweigelt and St. Laurent. None imported.

Why do I bring that up? Because in Temecula, an hour north of San Diego, the best wines I was able to try were from Italian grapes - Aglianico was one of them. If that's what Abe is looking at doing in LA, I would fully support that. Or Nero d'Avola or something else from down south in Italy. Or maybe something from Greece. If it's more Cab, um, OK.

This, however, is one of those statements that people are wont to make offhand but that need more thought:

This is what was so interesting about being in London: there, wine culture is so rooted in age-old discussions of crus, grand crus, premier crus . . . . There is an eagerness to see the new California not in rebellious, youthful opposition to this but as an extension of it. It is as if this were the second discovery of the potential for classical wines in California-- a rediscovery of what Robert Mondavi had championed, now rooted in a new crop of wines from new places. What is wonderful for me is that this new crop is overwhelming London not with its mere difference, but with its excellence. There is a real celebration of California terroir and a willingness, maybe even an eagerness, to see the possibility that California has vineyards the equal of some of those in Burgundy, the Jura, Etna.

Well, maybe wine culture is rooted in those things, and certainly the Brits have been drinking wine for longer than the US existed. But in the 1950s and 60s, for most people in Britain, wine was viewed much as it was in the US - something for winos. There were a few people buying up the top end Bordeaux, but Joe Average was drinking crap like Blue Nun. His red could have been and probably was from Algeria, which was a huge exporter to France. And the Jura? When did that become a place noted for great vineyards and great wine? Like four or five years ago when a few Manhattan sommelliers started discovering it? It's trendy today in the way that Gruner Veltliner was trendy about 10 years ago and is now passe as a fashionable wine.

Just on a bit of a rant, nothing against Abe. But Jon Bonne has an agenda just like Eric Asimov in the NYT does and if in addition he's linking to stuff by Alice Feiring, that's a non-starter for me. There are few people less worth paying attention to. OTOH, I do like some of Shelton's wines so I'm going to trust Emark on that one.

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Reply by outthere, Jun 29.

Hey Greg, while you're there you should hit up your stash for the Syrah night. :)

 

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 30.

"This, however, is one of those statements that people are wont to make offhand but that need more thought:"

The guy is obviously enthusiastic and young and still relatively inexperienced. But that enthusiasm and passion is already paying off in certain of his wines, and will likely do so more as he extends his reach and gains more experience. I like his iconoclasm, even if he may swill it like some of that Blue Nun at a pub on a binge drinking night. I'd be surprised if he tries cabs down south.

Can you remember back to relative youth and the first or second time you were in England or the Continent and bought at face value what was told you by someone, who you thought was interesting though you had no real context to place his or her worldview within, and felt instinctively was so different from common wisdom back home it must have validity? Something new and cool and potentially revolutionary if channeled through your own vision and efforts?  I can. Let him be a little drunk on things now, I say, if he keeps making ever-better wines.

If we culled out all the over-enthusiastic burblers we'd mostly be left with just the cynically manipulative marketers...

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Reply by outthere, Jun 30.

A 62 word sentence! You are on a roll tonight! (Er this afternoon)

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 30.

At least you can still count straight!  Old buddy Ernest would be proud of my scribblings!   ;-)

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Reply by outthere, Jun 30.

Arrrrrrrrr!

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Reply by gregt, Jun 30.

OK D - you're a far more tolerant, reasonable, and encouraging soul than I!!! Point, or points, taken.

OT - it's all in Temecula! But I have some in SD.


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