Sixteenth (16th) Edition Wine Club
First off, I'd like to apologize because I was living in my own calendar world where the second Saturday of the month was September 16th, having completely eliminated September 2nd from existence. I'll blame it on having covid that week. So here we are, one week late with September Wine Club.
We're halfway transitioning out of our California feature and into somewhere else unknown. I'm honored to bring you two more California wines, and 2 wines from the Roussillon. The Roussillon is a region that goes from southern France to northern Spain in Catalonia. Climatically it is similar to California with a lack of rainfall, hot summers and cooler, dry winters. Hopefully you'll be able to experience the similarities between the two places though the wines.
L’Absurde Génie des Fleurs is the winemaking partnership of Tom Gautier and Miha Trifa. They moved to Bédarieux in Hérault (a village near Montpellier) in 2016, acquiring their first small plot of vines on the limestone plateau above the Orb River.
They started a micro-production, producing only a few thousand bottles across a handful local varieties of mostly Cinsault, Carignan and Clairette; in addition to grapes purchased from local vignerons including François Aubry, Rémi Poujol, and Julien Peyras.
Wines are produced with a manual vertical press, and use neither sulfite addition or filtration. They include a range of crown-capped bottles, where the cuvées are named after gnomes from Romanian folklore, taken from Miha’s native Romania.
L’Absurde Génie des Fleurs, the Absurd Genius of Flowers, comes from the French poet Jean Cocteau and reflects his solitude and contemplation at the view of nature.
Short maceration of Cinsault, part destemmed (meaning the stems are removed, you won't have as much tannin, or green "stemmy" notes in the wine), part whole bunch (meaning the bunches of grapes are left whole, including stems), in layers. This is the dream chilled red. It isn't what the kids might describe as "juice" because it has layers of complexity and nuance often not present in a chilled red, but it is extremely drinkable with lots of fruit.
R. O'Neill Latta
This is a fun one for me. I met Riley freshman year of college at NYU. He was studying design and architecture, and I was pursuing food sustainability. I never would have imaged that I'd be here today, with a wine shop, writing about him as a winemaker. But life is beautifully unpredictable and here we are.
Riley's first vintage was 2019 when he made primarily ciders and some "interesting" wines. Since then he's honed his skills, making both ciders and wines -- some of which we have in shop currently, including a cider with pink peppercorns and pink pomegranates, and eventually a cider with passionfruit from my house. This Syrah is from a well-known vineyard called Poor Ranch in Hopland, Mendocino. Though the grapes are coming from Northern California, Riley is driving them down and doing his winemaking in East Pasadena at the Vin de California winery.
SYR has 6 days of carbonic maceration (grapes are left whole be begin fermentation inside intact berries) and then a 10 day traditional maceration (meaning juice and skins are left together in the same vessel). This wine is boozy and rich, lightly tannic with some vanillin quality. If you're feeling cozy or have your parents over, this is a fun one to share. A perfect table wine, with a boozy kick at 15%.
This is a wine near and dear to my heart. Shop regulars know Pete as part of the Heaven's family and wine seller extraordinaire, but first and foremost he is a skilled and intentional winemaker. Pete's path towards wine has been slow and intentional, having started as a chef in New York, then a butcher, followed by a move to beverages through cocktails, then beer, and now wine, he's covered it all. His interest in wine is endless and technical, and his passion is palpable. Often in conversation with me, he will make reference so concepts I'm even unfamiliar with.
Focus is present & palpable in his winemaking. It's difficult for me to summarize Pete's style, firstly, because he's still developing it, but also the driving passion behind the project is rich white wines that have yet to be released and lastly, like all good winemakers, he is flexible. He yields to the demands of the grapes and the limited resources available to him.
'Will You Miss Me When I Burn' is a song by Bonnie Prince Billy. It's 100% Carignane. At Testa Vineyard, where the centurion grapes are grown, they call the grape Carignane (they spell and pronounce is differently). The wine is composed of 1/3 rose, 1/3 whole cluster and 1/3 carbonic maceration. It's my favorite wine Pete has made so far and I'm so pleased to be able to share it with you.
Because Josh Eubank of Percy Selections (the importer) is a fantastic writer, I feel the need to quote him here directly: "Alex and Petra of Finca la Despeinada, a small domaine in the rugged mountains of Southern Catalonia, epitomize the spirit of natural winemaking that got us into the business to begin with. In a world of radicals, Alex and Petra’s project stands out as particularly visionary. Alex grew up in the South of France and learned his trade from the great Jean-Baptiste Dutheil of Château Sainte Anne in Bandol. In his 20s, he set off backpacking across Latin America and encountered his companion Petra, a fellow free-spirit, born in Austria. When the couple returned to Europe they chose Terra Alta nearly at random, judging that land was cheap and fertile. With their life savings they purchased a small plot of land in the commune of Bot, a sandy mountain enclave at about 500 meters above the Mediterranean Sea, which you can feel in the breeze even if it’s not visible on the horizon. During the first couple of years, Alex and Petra lived out of their camper van while building their home by hand, from a combination of pine, clay and found materials – New Mexico’s earthships come to mind! For its part, the cellar consisted of a giant hole dug in the ground with a thatched roof, also built by hand with materials from the forest. Rustic, but clean and minimalist, this is the cellar where most of the domaine’s work continues today, along with a second, more modern building in nearby Gandesa.
La Despeinada‘s style of winemaking is practically impossible to synthesize into a neat summary, if only because Alex and Petra conceive of each harvest, and in fact each ánfora, as presenting distinct aesthetic challenges. Like their friend and mentor Laureano Serres, they rarely make the same wines from one year to the next. Intuition, spontaneity and ancestral technique are called upon in equal measure to produce wines that capture the mood and the moment. That said, there are some recurring themes that stand out in their winemaking. Despite coming from outside the community, or perhaps because of it, Alex and Petra aspire to make wines that are true to the place, which is characterized by hot summers, cold, even snowy, winters and above all, wind! So much wind! Unlike the lower areas of Terra Alta, such as Pinell de Brai, which are generally calcareous, the land of Bot is composed of “panal,” a type of compacted sand that is rich in sea fossils. In the cellar, this combination of land and weather translates as rich and salty wines with trenchant acidity, a sort of Platonic ideal of Mediterranean wine. Additives are never used at La Despeinada, which means that the quality of fruit is extremely important. On a surface of around 2.5 hectares that they work virtually alone, Alex and Petra have come to know each and every vine."