Greg Brewer – a quick take

Greg Brewer, the winemaker of Melville and Brewer-Clifton, is far more philosophical than most people know.  I had the pleasure of meeting him in early January 2010, and I must say I haven’t met many winemakers as on the edge of wine making style, combined with a magical outlook on this wine process that we love, than Greg Brewer.  Incredible wines to say the least, and this video gives you a wee peek into his mind. Click the link below

Dave McIntyre’s WineLine – Greg Brewer


Catching up on Saintsbury Chard and Pinot

Bill Ward, our local full time wine writer (and am I the only one who sees the beauty in that … newspapers around the country are slashing and burning while trying to figure out how to make a buck in this e-world.  Meanwhile, here in the hinterland, we have a full time wine writer that focuses on local wine issues for consumers!) did a great profile on our friend Dave Graves of Saintsbury.

Chester Osborne talks Dead Arm 2005

Check out the legendary Chester Osborne of d’Arenberg winery talking about one of his flagship wines, the 2005 Dead Arm Shiraz.

Following Annette’s search for new wines

This begins a series of short posts following Annette Peters on a journey through France to find new gems for World Class Wines.  She’s forwarding info via text messages, choosing (wisely) to forgo the laptop computer.

January 30th: “aaah, Paris.  The smell of stale cigs, scarves tossed over shoulders, unmistakable CDG tubes, delicate lingerie clad models welcome you from giant posters – Le Bon Vie!!!!!”

January 31st: “Just finished judging Concourse du Vins des Loire competition — It really is work!”

The Loire wine festival has quickly turned into one of the great wine events of year, showcasing the diversity and beauty of Loire selections from the type of producers that we seek out (smaller, family run, integrity filled).  More info here.

Appreciation of detail: Ojai Vineyards

Adam Tolmach in typical contemplative pose

A recent visit to Adam Tolmach and his (two person) staff at Ojai Vineyards revealed one clear truth: for some people the pleasure is in the details and the discussion.  One such person is Adam.

He’s been put in the upper echelon of winemakers by some of the most notable wine writers in the world, but it’s a stature that does not hold Adam to one style or grape.  Constant experimentation is the key, and a good example was having the pleasure of tasting though the blending of Dry Riesling, Viognier, and a bottling of single vineyard Syrah.

As the beakers and sample bottles were brought out, Adam wanted to make sure he didn’t know what was being poured.  His assistants added in ringers, including finished wine from last year, to see if it stood out.  Fiddling, fussing, and gesturing, Adam found some wines with “roots in the flavors” and some that “danced, almost too much” and every once in a while one that sang.  Adding five percent here and ten percent there (including adding Riesling to a rose’ “just to see what happens”), all leading to new discoveries.  The speed was amazing.

“I’m not going to hold onto something just because people expect it” he said, specifically referring to warm climate Syrah.  As of the 2009, he has cut most of his contracts with warm climates (holding onto his monopole, Roll Ranch, because “the style is unlike anything else available”).  Focusing on cool climate Syrah will give him a chance to play with more pepper and brightness in the flavors, along with less alcohol in the final wine.  The topic of Alain Graillot came up and Adam lit up like a firefly “Yes! That’s the style! I find so much to keep coming back to in his wines.”

There is something to be said about a 6000 case total production winery that doesn’t feel married to a particular style of wine.  When the issue of wine-making philosophy came up, Adam said “Precision is key, for then you get honest aromas and flavors.”  Then his teenage sons came home, and his attention to detail quickly shifted to them.

Do you know the Terrasses de Larzac?

This post by Annette Peters refers to a wine she discovered for World Class Wines a bit under two years ago, called “Les Ruffes” by the producer La Sauvageonne.  To our great delight, that wine was featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year (link here), even though it was only available in two places: Minnesota, and an obscure retailer on the east coast that self-imported the wine.

This is a wine with huge bang for the buck, but gets lost in obscurity without a little background on the place and the people.


SAUVAGEONNE – My recent visit in the Terrasses de Larzac

Terrasses-de-LarzacWHERE IS TERRASSES de LARZAC?

The area is part of the historic Diocese of Lodève. Since the days of Roman Gaul, it has benefited from its position close to a major traffic route, an artery known as the Cessero to Segodunum Way (St Thibéry to Rodez), linking the highlands of the Massif Central and the Mediterranean coastlands.  Grape growers have always lived around here.


A rugged terroir at the edge of the massif central. Three different soils;  1)”ruffes” on the low hills which is scrabble of schist and volcanic rock, 2) sandstone, gravel and schist, and 3) the hills which a rugged rocky schist as you see to the left.


Larzac_terroirWhen Gavin Chrisfeld had the opportunity to pick out vineyards anywhere in southern France here he settled here because, “the soils here are like nowhere else” says Gavin. “The vines cover 32 hectares on a band of schist at an altitude of between 150 to 400m. A variety of well-exposed sites and the prevailing north westerly winds ensure that our vines reach perfect maturity with little risk of disease.”

Now ask him how easy it is to farm here! The rocky terrasses tear up tractors as fast as they do your boots. There will be no traipsing about in sandals here!  Windblown, garrigue-y and remote it is in indeed a destination and not likely to get passers-by stopping for a swig.

How does all this affect the wines?

Gavin Chrisfield

Gavin Chrisfield

The vines work hard to here to penetrated the rocky domes and the prevailing winds keep air circulating in the vineyards and it’s easy for Gavin to work without any pesticides, mildicides etc.  It’s cold at night here and hot during the day so grapes get ripe but acids stay in that very “fresh” range.  The wines are strong and rugged like the terroir, with phenolic ripeness that gives texture to the tannins while remaining amazingly fine.  Vines here were planted 30 years ago, but the yields have lowered in the last decade, they are as low as 15 hl/Ha in some years.

Wines here at Sauvageonne are dark dense and powerful and due to the Syrah are on the reductive side in their youth.  They are natural wines however, not “built to last” but just will because the raw material is so “knitted” together.   The Ruffes, which is the lightest of the lot, still offers lots of bing cherry flavor with a textural component that is typically in wines at a higher price.

We import only Les Ruffes from this producer so far (Thanks weak dollar!). It’s comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault.   This is 100% stainless steel tank.  I tasted the 2008, bottled just 4 days ago, and showing a little bottle sickness on the nose (a reductive mercaptin note)  but the dark intense fruit and big fleshy feel tell you what will be; a helluva red wine for a modest price!

Annette’s Southern France adventure, Part Two

Import director Annette Peters filed this final report from her Languedoc whirlwind.  She arrives back in the states tomorrow.



MONDAY  in Saint Chinian

After a good night’s sleep  I am off to taste Saint Chinian.

We drive north of Beziers to the town of Saint Chinian,  There are three soils here: Schist to the north, clay and calcaire, and pockets of sandstone that make up 3% or so of the terroir.  The tasting is set up in the abbey at St Chinian, 20 producers are waiting to show their wines.  Depending on what you may be looking for, there are many different styles from this appellation.    Those coming from Schist are usually darker, more brooding and have higher levels of acidity.

One of our new producers ... details later!

One of our new producers ... details later!

The first producer I go to is the Bio-dynamic Canet Valette.    The wines are fresh, spicy, balanced and have the restrained style of producers that practice bio-dynamie   The prices make me hesitate as I wonder if customers will more for the natural aspect of these wines.   I spent the next 2.5 hours tasting mostly red wines, the occasional white usually made from Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon , Chardonnay and the more recently allowed Roussanne.  Finally I arrive at a familiar name Laurent Michel who makes very good Chardonnay/Viognier and even more  lovely  St Chinian called Cazal Viel which was luscious and suave.    Also tasted wines from a one man show who left his legal job working with Beaujolais producers to start his own estate, a tiny property of 5 Ha, with very low yields.  A serious man of few words, he is intense but still proud.  The wines are more raw and are from the last reaches of the appellation before Minervois at the northernmost end of St Chinian.   Clearly his goal is to make very concentrated wines and his yields are very low.  Another young vigneron is getting started with his wife as well.  It seems that the key here is making dark wines that are rich enough to command a little more money for the smaller amount they are able to make.

Our very capable bus driver, who maneuvers this huge bus through roads I would not even attempt on my bicycle, takes us to another estate located up in the schist hills of St Chinian for lunch.  Everyone in the group is critical as they think the wines are uninteresting. They are not bad, they are just very commercially correct.  Straight forward, juicy fruity, they are good but not great wines.

They are fairly priced.  I think that sometimes what people accept from a HIGHLY commercial winery in California, they will not accept in France.  The wines may not be compelling but they still reflect terroir and are, well, correct.  I will not buy them, but I will not damn them either.  Everyone clamors for the Bio guy and the wines do show great material, however the tank wine has reduction, nobody seems to mind but I fear it is unresolvable.   The wooded wines  here are better and yet are now out of the price range for the dollar that has just sunk another 10% lower!  Four more producers and then a piping hot dinner.  Clafoutis of olives,  Sanglier Daube ( a roast of  wild boar in red wine and southern herbs), cheeses and finally figs and pears soaked in red wine.


Tasting St. ChinianFaugeres never had an excess of production and when the wine was available it was a tannic wine that was often too overripe and so rugged it was not favored by importers.  With more wine available Faugeres now has  a problem, it is unknown especially by  Americans.     We arrive  at Domaine Liquiere for a tasting of 5 producers.  One producer been passed over by the others as the they think the wines are a little pricey.    However after I get the first wine in my glass I can see that this wine as far, far away from the pack.  Every wine gets better and better from this tiny Domaine of 5 hectare.   He is Organic and becoming Bio.  Wines made from Syrah, Grenache Carignan and Mourvedre bear a striking resemblance to wines I have had before,but from where?  Not France.  Ah yes, Spain.  We talk some more and I found out he got many of root stocks from Priorat and in fact has adopted the Priorat technique AND is very good friends of Rene Barbier.  This is the best wine I have tasted on this trip.  This name shall remain a secret until this order is confirmed!

Pintade lunchLunch is Pintade with Broccoli  tart and more Faugeres; one from the Faugeres cooperative and the other a new producer with less than a few acres.  The coop wines are good, and cheap and cheery- I like them a lot.  The new producer is passionate but the wines are not cheap, but I love her north facing vineyard, “keep the freshness plan”.
Dinner is at a Beziers wine bar.  The wine list is incredible!  Never, never let a group of wine geeks loose on a wine list like this without someone in charge!  It is pandemonium!     We had enough wine on the table that certain people stared to panic.  I thought “Are you crazy?”  The whole bill for all of us is maybe $100!   So many choices under $20 it was  like being at a penny candy store when I was a kid!

Off to bed everyone its after midnight!!!