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As the buyer for New World wines at Chambers Street, I am having a wonderful time discovering the talented winemakers of the Americas and beyond. Reading Jon Bonné's The New California has given me a greater appreciation for the work being done on the West Coast to challenge the idea that the only wines to be found there are big, overripe, and overly manipulated. And the number of interesting, complex, and delicious wines are being made by young women is thoroughly inspiring! I am delighted to showcase three of them with these new vintages from the West Coast.
Martha Stoumen, from Mendocino, has an impressive resume studying under winemakers, and perhaps more importantly, vineyard managers from around the globe. Apprenticeships brought her from Tuscany to New Zealand, the south of France to the Mosel in Germany, and of course California, during which she developed a passion for showcasing terroir and a great respect for organic agriculture. These experiences showed her how to utilize the ever-present California sun to her advantage by seeking out sun-loving grapes like Zinfandel, Nero d'Avola, Roussane, and other Mediterranean varieties. Martha farms about half of the vineyards she works with, and the rest are entrusted to conscientious organic farmers who have worked these vineyards for generations. The wines have a huge following and a very limited production so we were only able to snag a few bottles of two of her famous rosés, the Teal Drops, aged for a year on the lees, and the Post Flirtation, a fresher style blended from Zinfandel and Nero d'Avola.
Lauren Brennan Bissel of Inconnu Wines is also a champion of California terroir. Laura grew up as a bit of rebel and an artist, and that seems to have translated nicely into her work in the cellar. Her philosophy of winemaking is as low-intervention as possible, with a true respect for the land by sourcing only from vineyards that are farmed organically, many of them certified. What I love about her wines is that despite her serious winemaking talent, the wines are not overly serious. Her Lalalu line is meant to be drunk young and fresh, often with a bit of a chill, and enjoyed as a vin de soif. Her Cabernet Franc, which is perfect as a chillable summer red, will be equally delicious this fall with heavier proteins and chunkier sweaters.
Further up the Coast is the inimitable Kelley Fox! Kelley founded her namesake winery in Oregon in 2007 after working for the renowned Eyrie Vineyards, and as the winemaker for Scott Paul Wright, which helped shaped her dedication to making high-quality Pinot Noir. Kelley’s wines make this evident, and her fascinating bio underscores the devotion and intense attention she brings to farming and to wine making.. Much like Martha and Laura, her goal is to showcase the grapes in their purest form by forgoing chemicals, additives, and importantly for Kelley, new oak, and with each vintage using more and more whole clusters in her fermentations. These Pinots are made with an Old World sensibility and will certainly benefit from aging, but I'm definitely planning to open one of these at Thanksgiving dinner this year. Michelle DeWyngaert
I am not often impressed by Pinot Blanc as it can be relatively neutral and typically blended with Auxerrois or other innocuous grapes, but when it's done right, for me, it's all about the texture. This 100% Pinot Blanc from Kelley Fox showcases her incredible attention to detail and desire for balance, bringing forth a rich, silky texture in the wine. The nose is delicate with fresh white flowers, lemon zest and a bit of underripe peach, and the palate has more ripeness to it while still showing plenty of acidity and a lingering mineral undertone. Whole-cluster fermented in neutral oak with complete malolactic conversion adds to its soft, rounded edges. The grapes are all from Freedom Hill Vineyard, which was planted in 1982 on marine sediment, which really shines on a neutral variety like Pinot Blanc. I will happily sit and contemplate this wine on its own, but it would be a lovely companion to anything you might enjoy an understated Chardonnay with. Michelle DeWyngaert
Kelley describes this wine as her most expressive bottling, and certainly the most deserving of time in the cellar. The Maresh vineyard is located in the Dundee Hills AVA with the vines planted in 1970 on south facing slopes at 500-700ft above sea level. 2017 was a relatively warm vintage with some very hot days at the end of august, but the end of the season cooled down enough that they were able to pick in mid-October with around 12.5% alcohol. The land here is affectionately known as "The Farm" as it's planted with a variety of other nuts and produce and a vast wildlife population, which she believes is reflected in the wine. Michelle DeWyngaert
The Momtazi Vineyard is certified biodynamic, located in the McMinnville Foothills. It is the furthest west of the three vineyard properties that Kelley sources from. She describes the fruit from Momtazi as being the most savory, which she relates to the wild nature of the vineyard, the abundance of fauna, and the basalt soil the vines are grown on. The grapes are fermented 100% whole cluster for this bottling and aged in neutral Burgundy barrels.The Momtazi has a fantastic aroma of the vineyard; fresh dirt, crushed rocks, forest floor and a little meaty. The palate is dense and well-structured, balanced with juicy, stewed red cherry, and the first touch of development. I can't wait to try this wine again in 5-10 years, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to wait that long. Michelle DeWyngaert
Named in honor of a 15th-century priestess and poet from Rajasthan, this wine is truly a transcendent poetic experience. The grapes are sourced from the Maresh vineyard, one of the oldest and most respected vineyards in Willamette Valley. As with all the 2017s, the nose has grand aromatic power, with elegant notes of crushed strawberry and spice attenuated into an elegant whole. Fermented spontaneously in used French oak barrels. This wine has a lot of structure, and will age for up to 10 years in the cellar. Well-knit, silken tannins give a bigger structure to this wine than its color would portend, and will allow it to stand up to braised meats, coq au vin, or saucisson sec. A little smoky tension tells the secret of its volcanic soils. 662 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This is one of Martha's most sought after wines and we were lucky to receive even 6 of these bottles (so I didn't drink one, you're welcome)! This is the perfect beginning of Fall rosé because of its rich, creamy texture due to the 12 months it spends sur lie in neutral oak barrels. Made of 100% Zinfandel from 30-year-old vines, direct-pressed, and spontaneously fermented with minimal SO2 added at bottling. Inspired by the aged rosés of Lopez de Heredia, she created this wine to be textured, fuller-bodied, with a lingering finish. Michelle DeWyngaert
We only received one case of this beautiful rosé! The blend is 85% Zinfandel from the King Vineyard in Suisun Valley, and 15% Nero d'Avola from Benson Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino, all farmed organically and with no irrigation. Spontaneously fermented, aged in neutral oak, and bottled with only a small amount of SO2, this wine showcases both the fruitiness of the Nero d'Avola and the savoriness from the barrel-fermented Zinfandel. On the nose are juicy, ripe red cherries and watermelon, dried herbs, and salty parmesan in the best way. The palate is rounded and concentrated with a peppery finish that is begging to be paired with pizza, or something equally oozy and delicious. Michelle DeWyngaert
This is a fun, super drinkable, glou glou wine from Contra Costa County in CA. Laura Bissell's intention with her Lalalu line is to be delicious, quaffable, and not overly complicated, and this Cabernet Franc is exactly that. Fresh, lively notes of juicy cranberry and fresh raspberry, with a touch of herbaceousness and fresh earth on the nose. The tannin is minimal, but enough to keep the wine in balance. The grapes are farmed organically and spontaneously fermented, then aged in neutral barrels. I love this wine slightly chilled with charcuterie, but can also see this being the perfect pairing for burgers (veggie or meat-based). Michelle DeWyngaert