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La Clarine Farm has been producing wine high up in the Sierra Foothills since 2007, but in a way the vision dates back to when Hank Beckmeyer met Caroline Hoël while touring in Europe with art-punk band Half Japanese in the 80s. Loving Europe, Hank stayed and the two worked in the music business through the 90s while fostering a growing love of wines, particularly those from southern France, and specifically those that are made naturally and without manipulation. The two moved to the U.S. around 2000 and began farming, eventually cultivating what is now La Clarine Farm. Influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka's philosophy of natural farming, or "do-nothing farming," Hank approaches winemaking in a minimalistic way, allowing the wines to ferment naturally with no additives or temperature control, often letting the wines take the time they need instead of dictating any timeline. Hank's background in improvisational music has surely influenced this approach, as he's adept at making decisions on the fly (see the 2020 Chardonnay) and comfortable leaving a certain amount of the process up to powers beyond his control.
We were fortunate to have Hank in for a tasting this week and from talking to him you get the sense that while it may seem like a very "hands off" approach, everything he does is with purpose and with the intent to ultimately make a great wine. These are not "natural for the sake of being natural" wines, but rather great wines that happen to be made naturally, because that's how great wines should be made. The wines, like Hank, aren't flashy, pretentious or over-the-top, but they are singular and have character - these are wines you want to drink with friends, wines you want to get to know, wines that are easy to open up to but have layers of depth hidden below the surface.
All of the wines here are grown organically with no treatments, fermented with native yeasts and made without any additions save for a tiny amount of sulfur at bottling occasionally. Jeff DiLorenzo
La Clarine Farm has always made some outstanding examples of Mourvedre, and the 2020 is no exception. It's remarkably fresh while still showing some deep plum and dark cherry fruit, with good acid and enough structure to keep it evolving for years, although it's so delicious now it might be hard to find out just how well it can age. It comes from high-elevation vineyards and shows some of that brightness and tension, with layers of earth and subtle floral aromatics that provide lift. This is a perennial favorite and is perfect for a campfire, a bbq or any time you want a complex and thought-provoking wine that's still easy to enjoy on its own.
The Cedarville Mourvedre has been made since 2007, but sadly this will be the last vintage of this particular wine. It is a bit more reserved in some ways than the 2020 Mourvedre, but with even more layers of complexity beneath the surface. Still medium bodied and fresh, there's a bit more structure and depth while still retaining that herbal lift which makes it so intriguing. On day two this was just as good, showing indications that it could age another 5-10 years.
The 2020 Chardonnay from La Clarine Farm is a great example of a "happy accident" and a reminder that even when our best intentions go awry, sometimes through a bit of ingenuity and quick thinking the results can outshine even our idealistic expectations. What started as an attempt to make a fairly straghtforward (albeit delicious) version of their 2019 Chardonnay changed when the press malfunctioned. In their words, "We loaded the whole clusters into the press, and...the electronics in the press decided they had had enough, stopped working, nothing...A quick call to our dealer's service department revealed the spare would be available in 7-10 days. Wonderful. Skin fermented Chardonnay it was going to be." What we get is a deep amber wine with loads of texture and ample acidity, with a bit of earthly funk on the nose but nice lift. It's brimming with energy, showing some intensity while staying right around 12% abv so not overly heavy feeling.
The Gamay comes from Witters Vineyard in Camino, sitting at 3300 feet which makes frost a particularly daunting threat each year. In fact 2022 saw two Spring frosts, greatly diminishing yields but giving the grapes that survived depth and concentration. There's lots of bright cherry fruit and some fresh vegetal notes, with just a hint of tannic grip and juicy acidity. It's great with a slight chill and would complement lighter chicken or veggie dishes well, but it's equally delicious on its own.
This is a unique blend of direct-pressed Petit Manseng and skin-fermented Grenache Blanc, which combine to become a deliciously textural orange wine. There are hints of tropical fruits along with fresh citrus and some savory spice, with a punch of acidity and enough tannic structure to hold up to a variety of foods. It may be hard to notice but there's a reason the bottle in the picture is empty - it was just too good to stop drinking!
If you love northern Rhone Syrah, as many of us do, this is definitely worth a try. Sumu Kaw Vineyard is known for its high-quality Syrah fruit, grown high up in the Sierra Mountains at around 2600 feet elevation. With Hank's minimalist approach combined with such great source material the results are spectacular: a wine that seamlessly blends fresh mountain berries with all the brooding, leathery, meaty qualities of great Syrah. It's bright and lively while still having a silky texture and gentle tannins, with ample acidity that doesn't feel overbearing when drinking on its own. Sadly this will be the last vintage of La Clarine Farm's Syrah for awhile, as they were unable to produce the wine in 2021 or 2022.