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As Abe Schoener tells it, the idea for Scythian Wine Co. started as a dream. He had already grown enamored with a small group of historic but long-overlooked vineyards in and around the greater Los Angeles area and wanted to enlist the help of fellow winemaker and friend Rajat Parr to bring them back to life. Abe recalls being in New York at the time and, being so moved by this vision of making wines with Raj using fruit from these magical vines in the heart of Southern California, he left himself a voice memo as a reminder to text Raj at a reasonable hour. The response? A simple thumbs up emoji.
Before prohibition Los Angeles and its surrounding area was a central hub of California winemaking, first planted by Spanish Missionaries in the late 1700s with the Mission (Pais) grape. By the mid-1800s the juice was flowing from over 100 vineyards, bolstered by an influx of growers who came originally seeking gold but instead found their version of it in making wine. While the gold rush sprouted a number of wineries throughout Los Angeles, it also led to the speedy growth and urbanization of the city and pushed many growers north to Napa and Sonoma, which would soon overtake L.A. as California's preferred winemaking locale. By the time prohibition hit, many of the vineyards in SoCal had been sold and ripped out in favor of citrus, walnuts, or good old-fashioned city development. There were a few surviving stragglers, including some, like the Lopez Vineyard, that were used as "shipping vineyards" with the new laws allowing (or at least not explicitly forbidding) at-home winemaking. Many of these sites went dormant for years, with little interest in Southern California wine from consumers and winemakers alike.
It's not just that the vineyards are part of the forgotten Los Angeles wine history that makes them so special. These sites were planted over 100 years ago, are still on their own rootstock, and have never seen the use of chemicals or in some cases even machinery in the vineyards. It's an uncompromising climate that requires special attention - picking at just the right time to retain acidity while achieving optimal ripeness can be challenging, and farming without the use of irrigation in an area plagued by drought is ambitious, to put it optimistically. However the results are a testament to this painstaking work and tell a unique story of place - from the Lopez Vineyard in San Bernardino with its Zinfandel and small plots of Palomino, to the Francis Road Vineyard in Ontario and the Galleano Home Vineyard in Jurupa Valley where Alicante Bouschet and Palomino were once used to make fortified wines, to the long abandoned Lone Wolf Vineyard in Temecula with its original plantings of Mission - the wines are truly remarkable in their singularity while connected by a common thread which is the vision of winemaker Raj Parr along with collaborator Abe Schoener.
The Scythians were a nomadic people, and this ethos permeates the Scythian Wine Co. project through and through. While the wines are an homage to these special vineyards around Los Angeles, the winemaking itself is extremely minimalist and could ostensibly happen anywhere. The goal was always to make pure and honest wines that tell their own story, wines that defy categorization and can make themselves equally at home on high-end restaurant menus as well as backyard barbecues. To that end Raj and Abe are doing something truly special - but don't take my word for it, try some of these mind-blowing wines for yourself! Jeff DiLorenzo
**All wines will be available for delivery/shipping/in-store pickup later this week**
Scythian Wine Co. 2022 Lopez Vineyard Palomino
This is mostly Palomino with a small amount of unknown red and white varieties mixed in, all from the sandy granite soils of the Lopez Vineyard in San Bernardino. The grapes were hand-harvested and macerated with the skins for a week, then fermented in a Sherry bota from Ramiro Ibáñez of COTA 45 along with a used French oak barrel before resting for six months to complete malolactic conversion. If you're familiar with the COTA 45 unfortified Palomino wines from Jerez this shares some similarities, with a saline mineral core and dreamy texture that suggests endless pairing possibilities. It's a subtle coppery peach in the glass and has great acid structure, with enough body to hold up to meats while still feeling sprightly and alive. This was a standout and should not be missed!
Scythian Wine Co. 2022 Cucamonga Valley Red 'Scythians'
This is a blend from three vineyards: 50% Zinfandel from the Lopez Vineyard, 30% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Mission from the Galleano Home Vineyard, and 10% Grenache from the Francis Road Vineyard. Grapes were hand-harvested and fermented in open-top containers before resting in used French oak barrels. There's some prickly red fruit and a touch of brine, with electric acidity and some white pepper spice. It's medium/light in body but intense in flavor, making it another versatile pairing option that is perfect for the summer but could be even more interesting in a year or two.
Scythian Wine Co. 2022 Cucamonga Revolution Red
This comes entirely from the Lopez Vineyard, containing 70% Zinfandel and 30% Palomino. Grapes are fermented in whole clusters and then rested in used French oak before being bottles unfined and unfiltered with minimal SO2. One of the most surprising things about tasting these wines is how they defy any preconceived notions. One might think Zinfandel from a warm climate would be big, ripe and fruity. While there's plenty of bright, juicy fruit here, there's also an interesting darker, spicier side and loads of acidity with just a kiss of tannins, giving it a freshness I would have never thought possible. This is the perfect summer BBQ wine that holds up to just about anything and can be served with a slight chill.
Scythian Wine Co. 2022 Galleano Home Vineyard Homage
This is 80% Alicante Bouschet and 20% Palomino from the Galleano Home Vineyard, which consists of sandy soils and is located over an underground water deposit that helps to keep the vines alive during dry years such as 2022. Hand-harvested and fermented whole cluster in open-top fermenters, grapes are rested in 500L old French oak barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is the darkest of the group but still refrains from feeling heavy, with characteristic high acidity and integrated tannins. There's nice texture and a mineral streak with enough structure to suggest that this could age well.
Scythian Wine Co. 2022 Misturado de Cucamonga
This is a blend of 50% Alicante Bouschet from the Galleano Home Vineyard, along with 30% Palomino and 20% Zinfandel from the Lopez Vineyard. The grapes were fermented in open top fermenters then rested in 1,000L foudre before being bottled unfined, unfiltered and with no added sulfur. This has a mix of red and some blue fruit with a savory complexity that evolves in the glass. There's a silky smooth texture and subtle tannins backed by perfectly balanced acidity, giving this maybe a more "refined" feel than the others. There's still plenty of character though, making it a standout and one of my favorites from the lineup.
Scythian Wine Co. 2022 Temecula Valley Lone Wolf
(Limit one bottle per customer) This is a rare example of 100% Mission (Pais) from a vineyard planted in 1896 and left abandoned for decades, allowing the Mission vines to interbreed with each other as well as some local non-vinifera varieties. It's a special place and until recently produced no commercially available wines. Grapes were hand-harvested and destemmed into a stainless-steel tank, spending three weeks macerating with the skins before being transferred to used French oak barrels. It was bottled unfined, unfiltered and with no added sulfur. It's light and zippy with vibrant cherry and strawberry fruit, tart acidity and a refreshing quality that makes it hard not to love. This was a tiny production as only 600 bottles were made, owing in part to the dry 2022 vintage as well as the low-yielding vines from this small plot.