Class was on Saturday, January 23. These were the wines:
How you might see it on a list
Dirty & Rowdy, “Skin and Concrete Egg Fermented Sémillon”, Yountville, Napa Valley, California
Who made it? Hardy Wallace & team
Out of what? Head-trained, dry-farmed sémillon purchased from a 2.4 hectare block planted on alluvial gravels in 1962 in Yount Mill, the largest certified organic vineyard in Napa Valley.
Made how? A mix of pressed juice fermented in concrete eggs, 24-day skin fermentation and a bit of whole cluster in open-top bin, bottled with minimal SO2.
Rebel how? Sémillon is a tiny fraction of the vines in Napa, where cabernet sauvignon makes up half of all grapes planted, red in general is 80%, and 93% of white grapes are chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. It didn’t always used to be like this — there used to be chenin, and Napa gamay, and “grey riesling” (trousseau gris), and colombard, and Green Hungarian, and carignan, and zinfandel, and petit sirah… And I’d like to think that “California wine can be 11% alcohol and still taste good” is no longer a provocative statement, but it’s certainly more of an exception than a rule. Finally, despite fairly friendly growing conditions, organic farming in Napa is still very much the exception — less than 10% of growers farm without chemicals.
How it might look on a list
Matthieu Barret, syrah, “Petit Ours”, Rhône, France
Who made it? Matthieu Barret (joined family estate in 1997). It’s 10 hectares (small) plus a negociant line, so he probably has a few fulltime employees.
Out of what? Fruit purchased from a biodynamic vineyard outside of Visan, in the north of the Côtes du Rhône.
Made how? Destemmed, fermented with native yeasts and aged in concrete eggs, bottled unfiltered with a tiny amount of sulfur.
Rebel how? Constantly pushing the farming since he took began working with his father in 1997 (to organic, then to biodynamics, then further to experimenting with polyculture and creating pockets of wilderness, abandoning machines for mules, horses and handwork in 2012). Leaving oak behind for concrete egg, when syrah from further north was swimming in new barrique. Leaving cork behind for these closures. Pursuing freshness and elegance instead of extraction.
How it might look on a list
Cascina ‘Tavijn, freisa, Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy
Who made it? Nadia Verrua (took over from her father in 2001, who had always sold the grapes to the local co-op). 10ish hectares, of which 4 are hazelnut trees. Her parents, Maria Theresa and Ottavio, help a bit in the vineyard; her partner runs a restaurant in Torino. Here’s the video I was talking about!
Out of what? Freisa (nebbiolo’s ancient, wild parent), from scattered estate parcels on clay and limestone in the hills around Monferrato. (North of Asti.)
Made how? Destemmed and gently macerated for upwards of two months in concrete and steel. Bottled without filtration and somewhere between zero and miniscule sulfur.
What’s ‘Tavijn? Village nickname, in dialect, for her father Ottavio.
Rebel how? Coming back to the farm and working in a premodern way (which did not make her parents happy!). Working with old varieties like ruché and grignolino (and planting them on purpose, no less!), and even making a white wine (her mom in the video, very typical Piedmont, sees white wine as good for nothing but cooking with). Eschewing the DOC/G (chopping up old barbera labels to label her freisa, e.g.). Farming organically (not the norm here) and bottling with no additives.