Rediscovering California!

2/17/20 -

There's an exciting new generation of winemakers and vine-growers in California! These winemakers have worked all over the world gathering inspiration, and are both rooted in an "Old World" sensibility and unafraid of experimentation. They firmly believe that each California vineyard or appellation has something unique to say, just as do vineyards across France or Italy. Together their efforts are swinging the pendulum away from wines that are super ripe, enrobed in oak flavors, and back towards a more restrained style with as little added or subtracted as possible. Evan Lewandowski, winemaker of Ruth Lewandowski, puts it rather eloquently when he says "if we've done our jobs farming the wine, we have nothing to be afraid of in the cellar. With balanced fruit and clean practices, we're afforded confidence in the balance of microbial life and that the right organisms will do the right thing and carry out this near alchemical transformation from base grape to purified liquid."

These folks are on a mission to support organic and/or biodynamic farming practices in a region that is rife with irrigated, fertilized, and over-plowed vineyards. I was particularly impressed with Megan Bell of Margins Wines for deliberately seeking out vineyards that are close to, or could viably be, farmed organically and creates a contract with the growers to convert their practices. Her Mourvèdre from Santa Clara is an interesting expression of a grape we see so often as a full-bodied and very structured. This bottling tells the tale of the Sattler's Vineyard whose extreme temperature fluctuations leave this wine with only 10.4% ABV while still having juicy, ripe fruit.

Chris Walsh of The End of Nowhere has a similar mission in Amador County. After moving away to New York City, and inadvertently falling in love with the wine industry, he returned to his hometown and purchased 20 acres of land where he planted a vineyard that he farms organically. While he waits for his own vines to mature he makes wine from purchased fruit from farmers he has worked with in the past and respects. In the cellar he uses spontaneous fermentation, only low doses of sulfur, and never fines or filters the wines. The result is an exuberant showcase of the Sierra Foothills including this bright, herbaceous Verdejo from Clarksburg.

California is no longer just a home to big, buttery, fruit-centric wine (and hasn't been in quite some time). If you have been hesitant to try something new from the Sunshine state, consider this your personal invitation to check out these diverse and fascinating new wines. Michelle DeWyngaert

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