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Anyone who has visited Yosemite from San Francisco recalls the narrative of the general topography. Driving over the rolling hills east of Oakland, past Livermore and Altamont, one relatively quickly descends into the hot, dry, agrarian, flat expanse of the Central Valley. It lasts long enough only to hint at tedium before one begins to rise towards the impending Sierra Nevada mountains. Though it seems a bit of a backwater now, that long stretch of foothills has played a crucial role in the history of California, as it was in El Dorado county that gold was discovered in 1848, precipitating one of the fastest and most frenzied demographic shifts in American history. Two years after this discovery a far-flung frontier had become a state, the next most westerly being Texas. In only a few years 300,000 people had moved to California; many to this area. A great number of them were from Mediterreanean Europe, and these immigrants brought with them the cuttings that would ultimately become the foundation for California's modern viticultural history. Once the Gold Rush was over this region began to dwindle in population and importance, and by the time Prohibition came around it was a stake in the heart of a struggling region now far away from California's population centers and agricultural regions.
This feeling of being far away from the pulse of today's California wine industry remains. Besides boasting the oldest still-functioning vineyards in the state, there are some aspects of this region's microclimate and geology that we find make ageworthy wines of great concentration and poise. Climatically, these foothills experience great diurnal range. During the day, the heated air from the huge suntrap of the Central Valley rises, heating the vineyards. At night, cool air comes rushing off the frigid Sierra Nevada Mountain Range (the highest in the continental United States), quickly cooling the vineyards. This gives these wines great tensile strength and crackling energy. Also importantly, this region has more decomposed granite than all the other winemaking regions in California combined. Most of the vineyards here also contain sand. This gives them an entirely different feel in comparison to much of California.
And yet, as a winemaker recently mentioned, terroir has three prongs: soil, climate, and culture, and it is the third that makes the wines from this region so different from the rest of California. The winemakers themselves out here have left an indelible mark on the stylistic qualities of the place. As with any group of mavericks, there are few overarching characteristics that unite them. I have found one: a desire to pursue their own inner path and an indifference to the popular trends of winemaking that surround them.
Our first winemaker is Gideon Beinstock, of Clos Saron. Adhering to strict organic practice in the vineyards, Gideon focuses on dry-farmed ungrafted vines in the Northern reaches of the Sierra Foothills. Gideon's long and varied history has included being an artist, being the winemaker at Renaissance Vineyard & Wines, writing, wine distribution, et al. His 2015 Kind of Blue is a blend of grapes featuring old vine Carignan and Syrah and some white grapes for the aromatics. We also are able to offer some slightly older wines from Gideon, including his 2010 Renaissance Vineyard Spring Frost Red Blend, the last vintage he worked with Renaissance. After a brutal spring frost, he did not make the three traditional cuvées, instead blending everything into one beautiful wine.
Since 2008, Aaron and Cara Mockrish have been making Frenchtown Farms in North Yuba County, studying with Gideon and utilizing his winery and expertise to craft singularly intriguing wines. Their 2016 Waypoint Pinot Noir is a fantastic example of the stylish, nervy, structured Pinot that can be made here.
Next we have Hank and Caroline Beckmeyer of La Clarine Farm, who have been tending vines and making wine in the Sierra Foothills for almost twenty years. They have been influenced by Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, who preaches the "do-nothing" doctrine of farm management. Thus, their vineyards are full of flowers, buzzing insects, weeds, and many other organisms growing together in a big (and very biodiverse) jumble. This gives the vineyards greater strength in surviving the vagaries of life out on the slopes. Their NV Syrah El Dorado and 2016 Mourvedre "Cedarville" are both elegant expressions of his light, fresh, and eminently terroir-driven wines.
Lastly, we have the wines of Edmunds St. John, run by the inimitable Steve Edmunds. Making wine in the area since 1985, he is undoubtedly one of the most important winemakers specializing in Rhone varietals anywhere in the world. His wines are ageworthy, elegant, and show a nuanced expression of the land and sky out in this wild place. We are delighted to have him here on Wednesday, October 25th from 5-7PM to taste his excellent 2016 El Jaleo Tempranillo, his beautifully rendered medium-weight 2014 Barsotti Ranch Syrah, and exciting Bone-Jolly Gamay. We hope you come by to taste these fantastic wines from one of the great legends of the California wine industry. Andrew Farquhar
This is a beautiful granitic Syrah from the Barsotti Ranch Vineyard. Classic Syrah aromas: smoke, cracked pepper, black and red fruit, and at the center, that same iron noticeable in the taste of the grapes. Youthful, quite fresh, with a brisk high note, faintly suggestive of roses. Energetically very tense in the mouth, slightly bloody (that iron!) and ever so vaguely feral. The first time I tasted this blind I called it for being a dense Cabernet Franc from the Loire, which surprised me. It is big and beautiful and absolutely built for cellar-aging. 208 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This cuvée is 52% old-vine Carignan, 40% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Semillon. Whole cluster pressed and foot-trod, this a gorgeous and deep-structured wine with notes of blue fruit and plum, with delicate violet aromatics coming from the white grapes. Notes of crushed black pepper and game on the palate form an overall elegant package, with some smoky, meaty, dense funky notes at its core. Carignan becomes more dense and structured as the vines get older, and this is quite a powerful wine. 120 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
Devastating frost in 2010 didn't allow Gideon Beinstock to make his three traditional cuvées from the famed Renaissance vineyard, instead blending them all together to make a very small quantity of this wonderful wine. Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some Sauvignon Blanc come together to make this textured and elegant red blend. A classic Bordeaux blend with a twist, this wine has fine dark fruit, with great cassis character and a velvety texture that reveals beautiful aromatics after an hour in the decanter. Until recently, this was the last vintage Gideon had access to the Renaissance vineyard, and he made the most of his time. The bottlle age has deepened and lengthened its broad palate. Drink now through 2025. Only 73 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This wine has a ton of great minerality and character, with amazing funky notes and crackling acidity. This wine really begs for pairing with food, and would work great in a wide range of situations. Whole cluster fermentation brings a seething yet delicate tannic grip to the affair, with black pepper notes and leafy humus on the palate bringing an autumnal character to the fore that makes it perfect for this time of year. Twelve months are spent in used French oak barrels followed by bottling with only 18 ppm sulfur. 130 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This wine is a blend of different single-site expressions for Syrah that Hank Beckmeyer made over the course of the 2015 and 2016 vintages, all sourced from vineyards throughout El Dorado county. This is his blend attempting to express the overarching fundamental charcter of wines from El Dorado. The blend shows aromas of black cherry and vanilla, some smoke and meat. There is bold, smoky, savory fruit in the mouth; definitely some tannins in the finish, some tarry and olive notes, with very pleasant acidity and length. Whole cluster fermented, bottled unfined and unfiltered with a Stelvin closure. 245 cases made. Andrew Farquhar
Whole cluster fermented and aged in a combination of puncheons and tanks. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with a mere 20 ppm of sulfur. This is an awesome, lifted, but very mineral-driven wine. Dark blood orange peel character mixes with herbal and mushroomy characteristics. This is medium weight, not as dark and inky as some Mourvedre, but with fantastic acidity and natural structure. Volcanic soils give this a little density and smoke on the palate as well. Andrew Farquhar
Equal parts Grenache, Tempranillo, and Mourvedre with a little Graciano added in, this is a pretty ruby-red color, with elegant aromas of bright cherry but also earth. The Shake Ridge Ranch vineyard in Amador County is, in the words of Steve, "one of the most magnificent vineyards I've ever seen, anywhere." The wine is medium bodied on the palate, with gently grippy tannins, and a high-toned array of flavors balancing fruity and savory, that linger impressively on the long finish. Andrew Farquhar