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Working at Chambers Street Wines has given me such an appreciation for farmers; people who devote their lives to the land and have an ability to really listen to it. The greatest wines are a direct translation of their environment. It was such a pleasure getting to meet with (virtually of course) the winemaker of Two Shepherds, William Allen, and to see his adorable donkeys and farm animals happily living together amongst the vines. As any winemaker in California (and much of the United States) will tell you, it can be nearly impossible to own your own vineyards outright, so like many others, William leases several small plots, and in 2018 planted the first vines of Grenache at the Two Shepherds estate vineyard. With each plot, William works closely with the growers to ensure they are farmed with care, organically (with one sustainable exception), with exacting specifications for leaf-pulling, irrigation (as little as possible), and of course harvesting. William has been inspired by, and befriended some of Chamber's Street's favorite California winemakers like Alex Porter of Porter Creek and Steven Matthiasson. Just by drinking their wines one could guess that they would be kindred spirits. What connects them all is a sense of balance and finesse, embracing the California sun without letting it overpower.
After several years of making small batches of wine, mostly for himself and friends, William decided to take the leap into the commercial world, starting Two Shepherds in 2010. It was a one man show until 2015, the year he was joined by partner Karen Daenen. By 2017, the pair had a business large enough to require a cellar master. Together they have focused on Rhone varieties and lesser-known grapes that they find are best suited to the California climate. William insists it helps his wines stand out in a sea of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet, though I believe he would make excellent versions of those too. As climate change continues to alter the landscape and temperatures around them, what once seemed like a strange decision to take on plots of Grenache Blanc or Picpoul Blanc have proven to be wise investments for their sun-loving heartiness.
In the cellar they are decidedly low intervention, but not at all dogmatic. True to the name of their operation, they aim to guide or "shepherd" along their grapes into wine without chemical manipulation or overpowering new oak flavors, favoring older and neutral barrels for fermentation and aging. They believe that too much sulfur is a detriment, but used sparingly maintains the quality and consistency of their wines. They eschew aggressive fining and filtering, but will rack or lightly filter on occasion as they see fit. Perhaps what I love most about this small operation is that they only believe in releasing a wine that is ready to drink, which is not to say that many of the wines won't continue to age beautifully. They are not released on a set schedule immediately after bottling, but when they are showing well.
Today we are featuring three of their wines that I found the most compelling, and I believe give a great sense of their classic, restrained, "old-world" (if you must use that term) style. The Grenache Blanc is a perfect example of this; ripe, luscious, with a vein of acidity reigning it in and touch of bitterness on the finish. The Trousseau Gris distinguishes itself amongst trendy orange wines. The use of extended skin-contact feels deliberate, used to coax out the delicate flavors of this grape, give it a gorgeous copper color in the glass, and just the slightest grip of tannin; more on the Italian ramato side of the orange wine world. Finally, the Carignan from the Trimble Vineyard, which they share with Porter Creek, does great justice to these old vines, bringing bright red fruits, concentrated flavor and just the beginning signs of development letting me know this bottle still has years of life ahead of it. Michelle DeWyngaert
**Please note that these wines will arrive on 11/17, deliveries/shipments will be scheduled after this date**
Saralee Kunde is a bit of a legend in the Russian River Valley not only for her prowess in the vineyard, but also for her big heart. This parcel of Grenache Blanc in Catie's Corner Vineyard was actually specifically budded over to the variety in 2011 because of the Two Shepherds winemaker's passion for the grape. This expression is an ode to Saralee, and perhaps it is power of suggestion, but it seems to capture her joy and exuberance. The grapes are destemmed and spend about 2-4 hours on the skins, then fermented and aged in neutral barrels giving this wine soft, rounded edges. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered, but racked for clarity, and then spent several years in bottle, released this year when it was finally deemed ready. Ripe, fragrant cantaloupe and tangerine on the nose with honeysuckle and almond blossom. On the palate a bright acidity that is held within a juicy lushness, a bit of nutty hazelnut, fleur de sel, and a touch of almond skin on the finish. Michelle DeWyngaert
More of a ramato in style than an "orange" wine, this coppery coral, skin-fermented Trousseau Gris is hitting its peak right now. After two years of aging it is drinking more like a savory Bandol rosé with bit of extra texture on the finish. The fruit comes from 40 year-old Fannuichi Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, just up the road from the Two Shepherds farm so that winemaker, William Allen can keep a keen eye on it. It is possibly the only planting of this obscure variety in the United States. The grapes are destemmed and see five days on the skins before finishing the fermentation in neutral barrels where they aged for six months on the lees, and an additional two months before bottling. Between the lees, skin-contact, and barrel use, this is a beautiful textured wine with richness to it. Notes of white cherry, hibiscus, and freshly turned soil on the nose, and juicy white peach, walnut, and a mineral saltiness on the palate. A joy to experience as it evolves in the glass and over several days open. Michelle DeWyngaert
The fruit for this Carignan comes from the 75 year-old vines of the Trimble Vineyard in Mendocino, which Two Shepherds shares with Porter Creek. As this is one of their coolest sites it is the last to be picked, somehow managing to be both rich and flavorful, but also light on it's feet and only 13% ABV. The grapes are foot-stomped and fermented whole cluster going through carbonic maceration, which gives it lift and freshness, then aged for ten months in neutral barrels. On the nose are notes of crunchy red currant and cherry, plum skins, some dried red fruits, dried herbs, and touch of leather as well. The palate is juicy and plump with soft, lingering tannins. Perfect with the slighest chill right now, but this will surely improve even more in the next 5-10 years. Michelle DeWyngaert