Third (3rd) Edition Wine Club
I hope the selections for this months wine club can provide insight into the agricultural, and at times, mercurial heartbeat of Californian wine. The wines featured this month come from four different producers all operating out of one winery in Northern California. I, Pete, am one of them, along with Caleb Leisure, Avi Deixler of Absentee Winery, and Devin Meyers of Dorsal Wines.
I’m writing this in early August, just as grapes in the hotter corners of California are approaching their desired ripeness. This time of the year is always anxiety inducing. Everyone is scrambling to get ready. But prep time is over. At this point, we’re toes off the edge of the cliff, about to jump. Everyone is frantic to shake dust off of the equipment and get wines packaged and into the hands of shops, restaurants and bars. We’re nervously checking both Cal Fire reports and the brakes on our trucks.
The space we work out of is in Cloverdale, California, a tiny hamlet in far northern Sonoma County, right on the border of Mendocino. Cloverdale is tucked in between Anderson Valley’s gorgeous highway 128 and the mostly utilitarian, occasionally bucolic, Highway 101. The winery is rustic; there is nothing state of the art. The top floor operates as bulk wine storage, a holding place for those massive 18 wheeler tanks you see driving on the highway. Below the obelisks of schlock is a basement winery, cut into the hillside, providing great insulation. But what it lacks in modernity and fully functional doors, is made up for by character and transparent authenticity. Outside of kind friends and sometimes reluctant significant others, there is no-one but us doing the work here.
I started Llewelyn Wines in 2021, but had making wine on its namesake street in Los Angeles since 2019. I managed and oversaw Highland Park Brewery from early 2018 until the summer of 2021. I started working with grapes to feed experimentation and personal interest. At the brewery, we were lucky enough to have friends supply us with beautiful grapes from their Santa Barbera vineyards. I had been working with natural wine for a few years at this time, but quickly became enamored with production. I had the post pandemic burn out that many of you probably heard about or experienced, and decided it was time to take the plunge. I threw myself full-force into what I loved -- winemaking. In the spring of 2021 I left the brewery and started working for Caleb Leisure. Currently I go back and forth between northern California and Los Angeles, spending August through October in Sonoma, and then going up once a month or so to help with tasks in the off season.
Cuvee Hildy is Pinot Noir from Roma’s Vineyard in Anderson Valley. The vineyard is the second highest elevation vineyard in the valley, at around 1900 feet. The vines are 30 years old, non-irrigated and have always been farmed organically. The elevation positions the vineyard above the fog line. Being that high up also provides constant wind and gentle, persistent sunlight. The grapes were picked mid-September. I foot tread a third of the grapes, which I then dumped on top of a mixture of de-stemmed fruit and pristine whole bunches. The whole lot was macerated for 6 days before being pressed and fermented in tank. I bottled it early in the summer. The wine is named after our geriatric dog, Hildy, a Black and Tan Coonhound who, in her younger years (long before we met her), was a real-deal racoon-hunting dog. She’s now very retired and spends most of her time asleep in our day room in Los Angeles.
The short maceration and high elevation keeps this wine light and lively. Lovingly brambly and foresty. Red currant, Marrionberry, fresh bay leaf, forest floor, bloody and lithe. Something to be drank with a little chill. I’m really happy with the way this turned out and I hope you enjoy it too. Its best experienced with a home cooked meal with old friends, or by yourself, watching shitty movies, doing some you-time.
Devin Meyers, the person behind Dorsal wines, is a character. He's a true romantic: no decision is ever made because it was simply convenient. He navigates through the world with artistry and intention. His wines are emblematic of his character: thoughtful, poetic and lovingly ephemeral.
After years of jobs in rural Alaska, the poet/fisherman/naturalist became enamored with wine. Devin previously worked as Caleb Leisure’s assistant, before which he worked in Australia, for winemaker Sam Vinciullo. In 2020 he worked with Nic Coturri (son of famed Sonoma Mountain winemaker, Tony Coturr), when they moved to the San Juan Islands in Washington. This was a troubled harvest which ended abruptly when the vineyards all burned in the Oregon fires four days before harvest. In 2021 Devin began farming a vineyard in Grass Valley, in the Sierra Foothills, where almost all of his 2021 fruit came from.
Krill is a blend of red and white grapes, a mixture of Primitivo and Sauvignon Blanc. The Primitivo, which is the Italian name for California’s star pupil, Zinfandel, came from his aforementioned vineyard in the Sierras. The Sauv Black is from the Yorkville Highlands, at the eastern edge of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, only 30 minutes from our winery. The grapes were foot treaded, fermented in open top vessels, aged separately in stainless steel, and blended together in the spring. The wine is aromatic and lifted, with plush, juicy red fruit. Prickly, tangy, with rocky minerality, strawberry and the liquid at the bottom of a tropical fruit cup vibes.
Caleb has a similar background to many winemakers we work with at Heaven's. He didn’t come from a family of winemakers or vineyard owners, but rather found his way into wine after years of varied creative and scholarly ventures. After stints working at domaines in France and the Republic of Georgia, Caleb moved back to his native California to work under Sonoma legend Tony Coturri. Caleb imported Georgian qvevri (underground amphora) and miraculously managed to install them in a back room at Tony’s winery in Glen Ellen. The majority of his production comes from the Sierra Foothills, predominantly rugged and rocky counties like El Dorado and Calaveras. He farms around a third of half of his production, depending on the year, and almost all the wines get some amount of time in qvevri.
This is the 5th year Caleb has made Caesura. The wine has had varying levels of maceration and time before disgorgement. This is mostly Viognier, with a touch of Marsanne, all from Suma Kaw vineyard in El Dorado county. This vintage is particularly special for a few reasons. The 2020 has shorter maceration and an elongated period before disgorgement (separating the lees in bottle from the wine, in a semi-violent explosion). Often you will see around 6 months aging for many pet-nats, however Caesura sat for more than 18 months. All that extended time in contact with the lees provides elegant texture, length and luxurious, tiny bubbles. This is a wine for lovers. Unfortunately this El Dorado vineyard was inundated with smoke from nearby fires in 2021, and was hit with significant frost damage in 2022. This is a really elegant and beautiful wine. The reality of its limited production is bittersweet, but I think about it longingly, and hope you do too.
Avi Deixler is a character with a larger than life personality. His wines definitely reflect that. Avi has a unique history of working as a cooper, i.e mending, fixing and creating wine barrels. I don’t know many, if any, winemakers who make their own barrels. After working harvests in France, and time working with Tony Coturri, Avi started making wine in an old dairy facility in Point Reyes.
Almost all of his fruit comes from Poor Ranch, a historic, organic, dry farmed, vineyard with old vines in Mendocino County. Avi’s red wines can be beautifully both Californian and southern French, balancing ripeness, restriction. They're unapologetic. His roses hold a special place in our hearts, often seeing extended time in barrel, lending themselves to a richness that feels patently unfashionable in the age of 'glou glou'. Huck is a sparkling rose made of Carignan, a grape with southern French origins that was popular in the planting craze early in the 20th century in Northern California. As Kyra (visit her at the shop on Sundays) said "Its perfect wine club wine light bubbles guava, cherry realness". Cheers.