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A few months back a sales rep stopped in to taste us on a bottle that set us hard on our backsides - a blend of Mencia, Trousseau and Palomino grown deep in San Luis Obispo in California. The wine was brilliant - pure and juicy and seemingly weightless. I'd never have seen this one coming but when the wine's origins were explained, everything immediately began to make sense. It was the first commercial release from Phelan Farm, which is today owned and operated by the one and only Raj Parr. Today we are very excited to offer all the remaining cuvees that the estate has to offer.
Phelan is tucked a few miles inland from the Pacific in San Luis Obispo Country on the Central Coast and though the Phelan family have been farming there since the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn't until 2007 that Greg Phelan planted some own-rooted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. From the time he planted his vines Greg eschewed pesticides and herbicides and tillage, preferring to maintain a healthy cover crop. However, in the last five years since Raj has taken over the stewardship of the farm, he has built on Phelan's approach and instituted a regenerative farming program. He has eliminated sulfur and copper in the vineyards, instead treating them with a variety of homemade treatments from beneficial plants, Pacific kelp and milk. Everything is either grown on the property, foraged or purchased from other local farmers. They sow a vibrant cover crop roughly every two years, a selection of grains, radishes, peas and other legumes and this is in turn managed by sheep. In addition to grapes a half acre of old varieties of apples was planted in 2021 to further diversify the farm's biological footprint.
These are not the only innovations in this reinvention of the property. Apart from a small percentage of the original Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plantings, everything has been grafted over to varieties that were chosen for the fascinating intersection of steep and ancient volcanic hills just a stones' throw from the Pacific. The majority of the vineyards are dedicated to red and white grapes from the Jura and Savoie, as well as Mencia from the Ribeira Sacra. Raj himself recently hosted a small trade tasting and the wines were both fascinating and delicious.
In addition to the Phelan estate wines today, there are a handful of bottlings from fruit farmed further afield. The Scythian wines are from the Lopez Vineyard in Cucamonga Valley just outside Los Angeles and not only are they delightful but the story is fascinating. I am indebted to our friend Abe Schoener of Scholium Project. He and Raj got involved with Lopez Vineyard at the same time and pick their fruit together and he was able to give me some background. The site was planted in 1918, in advance of Prohibition, to take advantage of the provision that allowed for home winemaking. Until repeal, over 400 acres of fruit was sold almost entirely to Italian immigrant families in New York, Philadelphia and other East Coast hubs. After Prohibition, commerce shifted, with the fruit going to bulk wine production and that has stayed the case since. What is remarkable about the site is that 100 years later, these are own-rooted vines (in deep sandy soils) that are not irrigated, farmed organically and go untreated even with copper or sulfur. Abe says that the arid conditions allow for two passes a year - pruning and picking. The vineyard is otherwise self-sustaining!
Lastly, there are two wonderful ciders, from organically farmed apples from Watsonville, up the coast, and Phelan grapes. These are delicious and also deeply serious ciders - savory and vinous and perfect for fall.
Everything on offer today is bottled without any sulfur and all together, the lineup here today represents some of the most exciting work being done in California and we hope that you will take advantage. The quantities, as is often the case, are tiny - so act fast!!
**This is a pre-arrival offer. Wines and ciders will be in stock next week.**
A blend of Jura varieties and apples, this pink cider is a great aperitif, with pretty delicate red fruit balanced by a beautiful leesy richness that is reminiscent of great alpine cheese - think Comte or Beaufort.
A total departure from Bottle Baby Pink. The apples here are paired with Mondeuse and the savory character here is more dark, almost smoky in a way that reminds one that Mondeuse and Syrah share some DNA. Finishing salty, this would make a great companion to some first-class barbeque.
100% Palomino, from 100-year old vines. The fruit here is round, hinting at white peach and green melon, with a distinct saltiness that is inherent in the variety. There is a slight oxidative note in the nose that is reminiscent not only of Sherry but of classic Jura whites. This is outstanding and a terrific Autumn white wine, full of texture. Sam Ehrlich
The Scythians Red is a classic California table blend, a salute to the jug wines of yesteryear (albeit made with a great deal more precision, care and probably fewer dead mice in the fermentation tanks!). A blend of Mission, Grenache and Alicante Bouschet, I was expecting something relatively brooding and so was surprised and kind of thrilled to find quite a delicate wine. This is all cherry and green strawberry, with beautiful driving acidity and a real mineral vein giving the wine energy. The sandy soils keep the mouthfeel quite lithe and lacy. Sam Ehrlich
From up in Monterey County, this is a salute to the classic bistro reds of Touraine, a blend of equal parts Cabernet Franc and Côt. Raj nailed this wine. It is full of red and black plum fruit and crisp fresh cut jalapeno on the nose, with white pepper notes in the finish. This has more grip and tannic structure and will likely age well for a couple of years if you are capable of holding it - I love the profile here and could put a bottle down quite quickly if challenged. Sam Ehrlich
Just 400 btls made, the Phelan Gamay is produced in a true carbonic fermentation in the style of Beaujolais. That said I find this drinks almost more like a Loire Gamay, with crisp strawberry and ripe cranberry fruit offset by a salt-and-pepper character and chalky mineral notes. Bright and full of energy. Sam Ehrlich
While we have seen a number of Trousseau bottlings from around northern California the last ten or fifteen years, there has been considerably less Poulsard and this makes me think that we will soon see more growers trying their hand at it. This is incredibly pretty, with the kind of pink and red fruit that is Poulsard's hallmark without any trace of reduction. The mid-palate is marked with a candy note, a bit like raspberry sherbet and the finish is long and fresh feeling. I really loved this at the tasting and look forward to being able to drink a bottle. Sam Ehrlich
If the word 'pretty' crops up a lot in these notes forgive me. It's hard not to think of these Alpine reds as pretty wines. Where the Poulsard shows more presence and width in the mid-palate, the Trousseau is all length and elasticity. The cherry and crushed strawberry fruit is offset by a dusty mineral component and a citric quality that creates the impression of a perfect cherry-lime rickey without any apparent sweetness. Sam Ehrlich
Inspired by the wines of Stephane Tissot, 'Leon' is a field blend of the six Jurassien varities on the property and it is a truly compelling wine. It's quite a beautiful pale color in the glass, less ruby than pink topaz, and intensely aromatic. After the Poulsard and Trousseau the fruit character is certainly keeping in kind, cherry skin, raspberry seed and ripe strawberry. But the mineral structure here is formidable - this is cool and stony from start to finish, simultaneously quenching and mouthwatering. Outstanding. Sam Ehrlich
Another wine directly inspired by an Alpine titan, in this case Jacques Maillet, this is a blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Mondeuse. The Pinot and Gamay take up space up front here - little snaps of cherry candy and a bolt of acid are what first stand out. But the back-end of this wine is all Mondeuse. It gives the wine real presence, with blueberry and smoky notes and fine-grained tannic structure that makes a statement that this wine is different from everything previously tasted. Sam Ehrlich
Considering how bold the 'Autrement' comes across with just a splash of Mondeuse, this pure Mondeuse feels incredibly restrained. There are still plenty of dark mineral notes at the center of the wine but the fruit feels a bit lighter and more sprightly. It's less blue black than dark red - think rhubarb and pomegranate, a bit like really outstanding Cerasuolo from Sicily. I love the spicy quality here in the finish. Sam Ehrlich
The lone Spanish variety here, these vines were grafted using material from the legendary 'Camino Novo' vineyard in the Ribeira Sacra, procured from the one and only Envinate! Darker red fruit here, with touches of blue at the edges, this wine feels brawny by comparison with the French varieties, mid-weight butwith good grip and a terrific salty finish that cries out for ham that's had a couple of years hanging somewhere. Sam Ehrlich