A California Real Wine Round-Up

4/13/11 -

(Photo: La Clarine Farm Goats)

When you get your first taste of an honestly made wine of Californian provenance, you might scratch your head and wonder, “New World? No. Old World? No. Hmmm.” Repeat and answer the question enough times and, like us, you’ll be driven to explore what is real and un-manipulated from the north to south coast.

On that quest we’ve discovered an exciting new wave of low-intervention winemaking in California right now, but we’d deserve to be chucked into a gurgling fermentation tank if we didn’t acknowledge classic producers like Mount Eden, Edmunds St. John, Porter Creek and Corison – they all showed that dirt and micro-climate is as important as (if not more important than) grape variety. And they let the terroir do the talking.

In a recent blog piece by wine writer and advocate of natural wines, Alice Feiring, she features an email from Kathy Corison on the subject of vin naturel. Corison says, “"In a day when I am shocked by the manipulation I see in winemaking everywhere, I wonder what happened to growing grapes well in a great vineyard, crushing the grapes and letting Mom Nature do the rest. Our role should be one of shepherding; we don't want our charges to go over the edge of a cliff." Gotta love her simplicity and ethics.

The mama-nature philosophy of the old-school terroirists paved the way for the new wave of producers making truly singular wines. We’ve been impressed by Arnot-Roberts, Wind Gap (making marginal wine in the form of Syrah at 12.2%, well hello there!), Clarine Farms, Donkey and Goat, and Scholium Project. Abe Schoener’s far-out wines (under the label Scholium Project) will be joining the shelves here. We spoke to Schoener recently and he gave a nod to Ridge and Stony Hill as early pioneers of site-specific wines. On his own wines, he says, “I once proposed a rule: don't do anything you wouldn't be willing to talk about at a dinner party.”

Mike Dashe is another winemaker of minimal approach. He piqued the interest of natural wine drinkers and the media alike when he released a Zinfandel fermented on its native yeasts, with just a little sulfur added at bottling. By most Cali-Zin standards it is light, refreshing, and as hands-off as good winemaking can be. You can taste Mike’s wine when he pours at our store on May 6th.

We’re getting in more low-interventionist wine from California. Some are hardcore and others less so, all are worth trying. Here’s a taste. -P.G.

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