Make American Wine Great Again
HOME GROWN TERROIRISTS
America has been changing in a lot of ways recently, but one area in which this change is most welcome is wine. Traditionally, American wine has been made in the winery, with heavy lee’s stirring on the whites, and extraction on the reds. Oak (preferably new) was used in abundance. California’s output was limited largely to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and they were built to the spec largely of influential critic Robert Parker - enormous, almost chewy wines. At the start of the current century the internet facilitated the proliferation of information and choice for the consumer, and the influence of Parker waned. Coupled with the birth of the modern palate favouring more restraint and elegance, this, Pax Mahle told me; gave us a lane. The 'terroirists'launched their attack.
At the start of the current cen- tury, Pax Cellars began to investigate as he saw it; the untapped potential of Syrah in California. Beginning with more oak and power, he has been steadily dialling it back to the point that he is making rugged and wild tasting Syrah, but with beautiful fresh acidity and alcohol as low as 12.3%. Steve & Jill of Matthiasson Wines were next to arrive on the scene, bring with them an almost fanatical approach to clean farming and produ- cing ground breaking Chardonnay in particular. Last to arrive on the scene was the world’s most famous som- melier Rajat Parr. Having achieved as much as you possibly can in the world of service and wine buying, Parr was obsessed with the idea of making terroir-led Pinot to rival Burgundy. He teamed up with crack wine ma- ker Sashi Moorman and created Domaine de la Cote (certainly a hommage to Burgundy’s DRC).
Our century-old vineyard is nestled on hillsides surrounding a fertile little valley where cooling breezes from the Carquinez Straits provide the necessary balance of heat and coolness. Here in our valley, we have a proven combination of ideal soil and climatic conditions favorable for growing premium wine grapes. This Family Es- tate, now with its 4th and 5th generations, was founded by the Viano family in 1920. They purchased the al- ready planted vineyard which was established in 1888. It reminded them of their vineyards in Piedmont, Italy. This area, once so rich in grapes, was named Vine Hill and home to more than 15 wineries. Some of the origi- nal vines still remain while the balance of the vineyard has been expanded and replanted to keep up with new world tastes and desires. Using the most natural, cultural practices possible, combined with traditional wine making techniques, which includes natural yeast and ageing in small oak cooperage, we bring you these fine hand crafted wines. Viano wines are produced, bottled, and marketed directly. Because of this, Viano wines of- fer exceptional quality and value. VIANO VINEYARDS
To be clear, these are old-school Cali, not Parker-Points wines. Certainly made with more oak and extraction, they are still balanced and pure and the fruit speaks for itself. They offer an excellent counterpoint to the mod- ern style and it is striking that where once Cali was all Cabernet, Viano provide one of only two on the whole 40 wine offer! They have a perfect lick of age and are stunning value for money. STSWine
CAMP, FOLK MACHINE & HOBO
This is the brainchild, side job, menace to the wine industry, hedged bet, cash strain, mental anguish, late night musing, bruised hands, dirty t-shirts and constant companion of Kenny Likitprakong. Despite knowing better, he started his own label in 2002 with the simple idea to have some good fun. HOB
Back to the future, this is what new wave is all about. HOBO refers to the fact that former skateboarder and perennial beach-sleeper-oner Kenny does not actually own a vineyard himself - also he says quite candidly that he doesn’t have any money. No money, no warehouse, no trucks, no employees, no accountants. He sour- ces grapes from 40 different vineyards from North Coast to Mendochino. What this former beatnik (harsh) achieves across these site and labels is simply astonishing. Despite not owning the lands, his wines are so good because of his attention to detail in the vineyard. If you have good grapes you can still fuck it up, if you have bad grapes you will never turn them into gold. These are really serious wines from a guy who does not take himself too seriously.....if he did, that would leave him less time to agonize over his fruit. STSWine
CRUSE WINE CO.
Cruse Wine Co. wines express who Michael Cruse is as a winemaker. Against a landscape that often feels dominated by either top-shelf Cabernet or acidic European emulations, the Cruse wines aim to re-imagine what “table wine” can be: fruity, quaffable, affordable. And more than anything, they’re intensely loyal to their Cali- fornia origins.” SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
These wine are just so damn cool they practically have a beard and skinny jeans. Michael Cruse is so cool he doesn’t need a beard or skinny jeans but he has both. A trad. meth. sparkling wine maker for a producer called Ultramarine, Michael is a self-taught sparkling wine maker. A French text by Jules Weinmanns Manuel du Tra- vail des Vins Mousseaux first published in 1899 were the source of his expertise. There are any number of great stories about his sparkling adventures, such as the whole vintage blowing up in his house due to bad caps and a hot day, but we are concerned with own label: Cruse Wine Co. In the freak show of label-art in this offer, Cruse Wine Co might just stand out the most. For what they are Cruse Wines are incredible value, and Cruse himself has set out to make this a corner stone of the brand. He manages to capture terroir and Californian ripeness and sunshine. While these wines would appeal natural wine chasers, they are also fanatically clean and methodical (perhaps an off-shoot of his sparkling background). Stunning and delicious. STSWine
Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi wines in Santa Barbara County, and Evening Land Vineyards in Willamette Valley, have become two of the strongest proponents of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the west coast United States. JANCIS ROBINSON
I've followed the Sandhi wines—and the Chardonnays in particular—with interest since their early days, and it's exciting to see the level of quality and consistency that this label is now attaining. The 2015 Chardonnays have an extra dimension of concentration and intensity that was hitherto only found in several of Sandhi's 2011s, and will probably ultimately surpass that vintage. The Chardonnay style is now firmly set at this ad- dress: the wines are elegantly textural, built around ripe and mouthwatering acids, and typically framed by a light touch of reduction. Blind, these bottlings are invariably mistaken for high-quality white Burgundies. WINE ADVOCATE
EVENING LAND VINEYARDS
Evening Land excels with nervosité and mineralité that would not be out of place in the motherland of Burgundy. Wine making is part of the equation here, but another is the propensity of the Seven Springs Vineyard and vine age. If Oregon can produce wines as good as Evening Land's who knows...could it be the Côte de Beaune of the New World? NEAL MARTIN erobertparker.com
The Evening Land Vineyards are exciting. It was established as the Seven Seas vineyard in 1984; one of Oregon’s most revered and coveted sites. Oregon will eventually establish itself in consumers eyes as the equal of anywhere else, but that will mean that it follows the pricing structures of the established regions. For now, it is a rare bastion of quality and value in a wine world where pricing is sadly spiralling out of control. STSWine
Napa wines are like a Ferrari – you can drive at 200 miles an hour but you don’t have to. Some winemakers have the tendency to go over-ripe in Napa, but we have the freedom to make any kind of wines we want. California’s wine industry is still developing and there’s room for your own personal vision within it. We aren’t shackled by rules. The fruit that goes into my Cab is protected from the sun to avoid the grapes getting over-ripe and is picked early to retain freshness. It’s red fruit dominant with herbal accents. My Cabernet is very different to your aver- age Napa Cab – it’s more like the Cabs that were made before the Parker era as the alcohol is never above 13%. The wines in the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 were all around 12% alcohol. STEVE MATTHIASSON
The Matthiassons stuck unyieldingly to the style of wines that they wanted to make and they were not able to sell them during the era of Parker Points. Some of the Cabernets of the past have been kept for several years after release because they wouldn’t sell. Enforced bottle ageing I suggest, his warm smile and chuckle is typi- cal of his sunny disposition. It is somewhat unusual for a producer that is so grower-focused (for want of a better term) he is incredibly market savvy and aware. He speaks at length about the judgement in Paris wines that pre-dated Parker points wines. He is all too aware of the tectonic shift that is seemingly almost upon us and describes millenials palates as being very different to baby boomers’ palates.
The Matthiassons make a dizzying array of wines utilising some pretty obscure varieties and methods. Schiop- pettino, Viognier (late harvest), Semillion, Mouvedre, Carignan are amongst some of the more obscure vari- eties in their wheelhouse. As mentioned already though we are looking at Matthiasson mostly through the prism of Chardonnay. We love how they communicate and have used their words in lieu of reviews. STSWine
DOMAINE DE LA COTE
Domaine de la Côte is a collection of six vineyards planted over 40 acres on the farthest western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. T he vineyards were planted entirely to California heritage selections at extremely high vine densities between 4,000 and 7,000 vines per acre. The Domaine organically farms its vineyards and makes its wines with the philosophy of "add nothing; take nothing away." All the wines are produced and bottled in the town of Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, three miles from the domaine. BURGHOUND
Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr make their Pinots taste effortlessly elegant, but it’s a fine-tuned approach in the cellar and ultra-attentive viticulture that achieve mouthwatering results. DECANTER MAGAZINE
Breathtaking and delicious. JANCIS ROBINSON
It is difficult to contextualise just how sought after these wines have become. The Domaine spans a mere 40 acres, the diversity of its climats is staggering: each vineyard has a unique geology, aspect, elevation and microclimate. Such distinct expression of site, or terroir, in such close proximity, is unparalleled in California. This is the achievement of Rajat Parrs dream of a terroir wine that can compete against Burgundy. You don’t have to like American Pinot Noir, but it would be preferable to enjoy terroir-driven wine. The great thing about wine is that there is always another great bottle around the corner, and just when you think you can no longer be shocked, you are shocked. I was. Tasting these wines was an extraordinary experience. he fresh- ness and delicacy are incredible, and this will in time become America’s most famous Pinot producer. These are collector’s wines. I have included editorial comment from Galloni. STSWine
Pax Mahle is one of the most well known, liked and respected wine makers in California. In the early days he made more typical wines, rich and hearty, but he then started a move toward more balance and elegance. He focuses on Syrah and other Rhone varieties and manages to capture this rugged beast with sometimes astonishingly low alcohol and magnificent freshness. He had to untangle himself from his first label as his investor Charles Banks had been convicted for mail fraud, though Pax was looking for independence before this eventuated.
Pax and his wife Pam work in a balanced and sustainable way, promoting vineyard health and harmony with nature to produce grapes which fully express their origins. All of these practices lead to ripe, healthy fruit with balanced acid and sugars, which then requires minimal additions in the winery. Pax's wine making is gently evolving but remains largely traditional. Grapes are sourced from organically farmed vineyards with low yields, crushed by foot, ferment is whole cluster using native yeasts, and wines are aged in mostly neutral French oak. Pax is an homage to classic Syrah, the wines have a purity of fruit and expression of place, impressively structured yet incredibly balanced. It is brilliant to hear Pax talk about his sites and philosophy. He talks about rusted out old monster trucks in his vineyards, his natural ability as a story-teller makes it vivid and authentic. This is true Americana. STSWine