Satellite Wine Club, April 2020
Sur-Thrive-Al Reds by The Nature Boys
Satellite x Municipal Wines - ‘Cosmic Counoise’ - Demetria Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, CA - 2019
$26/Bottle $250/Case *Wine Club Exclusive till May!*
Bibi Ji x Whitcraft Wines - ‘Cuvée Ji Vol. 2’ Grenache/Syrah - Santa Barbara, CA - 2018
Here we are! Here we still are! Let’s dive into something fun.
“Is this Groundhog Day? How many bottles of wine did I drink this week? Too many? Not Enough? I’m thirsty. I should get a dog. Why isn’t that guy wearing a mask? When is this over? I miss my friends. I’m going to read today. I should rearrange my living room. I didn’t read today. I’m going to read tomorrow, and exercise! I’m hungry, gummy worms seem like a good snack… Is imprisonment the right word?” These are just a few verses of my riveting internal dialogue from the past week. I’m ready to shake things up.
This month was always going to be strange and wonderful for the Satellite Wine Club, and now I think ‘essential’ can be added to the description. This month we release wines which are tremendously dear to us, important to us in ways that no others could ever be. These are My Wines. The wines of my closest community. My Family. Mine! I am thrilled to share them (and thrilled that they taste awesome!)
There are two natural wine shops in Santa Barbara: Satellite & Bibi Ji. We came first and when Bibi landed 6 months later I felt a revolution settling in. It’s a revolution no pandemic can slow down. We’re young, we’re rowdy, we’re definitely weird, and we like it that way. We made wines! We think you’re going to dig them.
Have you met my friend Alejandro Medina or his business partner Rajat Parr? If you think I’m the natural wines guy you’d be shocked by their passion, knowledge, and honestly, their world recognition. We are so fortunate to have people like them in our small community - but of course we do, Santa Barbara is the coolest. Read more below for the scoop!
So why did we make wines? “Well, because winemaking is hot!” Nah, we just love wine and want our little restaurants to have their own, fully directed by us to fit our style and quality standards. Nature, by us!
Ingredients Count! In everything we do in our shops we start with the best raw ingredients (thanks again to Santa Barbara for having the greatest agricultural geography anywhere!), whether for food, or wine, or even beer. You can’t make great anything without great building blocks and that’s especially true in winemaking; absolutely paramount in natural winemaking.
Let’s dive in… Did I mention I’m thirsty?
Satellite x Municipal Wines - ‘Cosmic Counoise’ - Demetria Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, CA - 2019 ♡ *Wine Club Exclusive till May!*
We made a wine!
Dave Potter of Potek and Municipal Wines reached out about a year back with an idea to make wine… however the heck I wanted! I was enticed. He had a plan, I had a dream, We went for it. And it’s DELICIOUS.
Last September Dave, Lindsey, and I went out to the valley to check on the vines at Demetria Vineyard. Demetria is a biodynamically farmed vineyard just north of Los Olivos on Foxen Canyon Road, and it is special. My friend Ryan Roark farms the vineyard (long-time members will remember his outstanding Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Francs ♡) and he met us that morning to visit our destiny… a steep, old growth block of Counoise. The block was planted with the rest of the vineyard back in 1990, and… well… they chose the wrong root stock so the vines produce very few, very happy, juicy bunches. These little guys might not have another vintage before they’re pulled out for a new, optimized planting - but I was ecstatic to get them.
“Hold up.. So what the heck is a COUNOISE??” Winestronaut - I’mma tell ya! Counoise is an old grape dating at least as far back as 1626 when it was mentioned in fruit trading records. It’s supposed that the vine could have made its way from Spain to the Rhône valley as a gift to the Avignon Papacy by the ‘Papal vice-legate called Counesa’... or it might just be a mutation from the piquepoul grape (I personally prefer the story with whatever a ‘vice-legate’ is! Sounds risqué!)
The Counoise grape has big-ole berries, with thin, uneven coloring of blue-to-bickish with many almost pink skins. They look like they could burst with a brush of wind when fully ripe.
It’s still used broadly around the Rhône for Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Provence, and Ventoux wines. In these blends it tends to add spice and acidity, carrying medium color and tannin. On its own, well just look at the wine in your hot little hands, it’s light on color, a little spicy, with crunchy fresh fruit tones. It’s casual. It’s chillable. It’s an everyday kinda grape. Making Gluggable Juice for the Glugging Masses!
“Ok cool cool, now tell me about this wine, dude”
Ok, jeeze! A heat spike in late September followed by a dip in temperature effectively shut down the vines from producing any more sugar. These stunted little beauties retained all of their acidity and kept developing flavor on the vine for 4 whole weeks until the fateful day in late October when Chef Emma and I got to kick off our boots and hop in the bin. The grapes were harvested on a particularly cold morning on October 24th (I remember because my toes froze!). The grapes came into the Potek winery in a ¼ tonne bin and, yes, we foot-stomped the hell out of them, danced, drank the delicious juice, and truly enjoyed it. The juice came out a surprisingly brackish, brown color, but that changed with fermentation - which is antioxidative and literally removes brown, oxygenated color from the juice! Yeast is amazing.
The wine fermented using only the ambient yeasts on the skins and it took about 8 days to complete. During the fermentation we only pushed the cap down by hand to keep it wet a few times daily. I didn’t want to extract too much from the skins to keep it light, airy, and in-tune with the low alcohol potential and weight! Once fermented dry, I dropped by to shovel out the bin into the press while Dave took pictures… A truly dirty job! The bladder press extracted the most shocking, almost glowing milky-purpley-wonder-juice.
After that it went straight to the oldest neutral french oak barrel available and sat for 4 months steadily running through malolactic fermentation, wherein the friendly lactobacillus bacteria converts sharp malic acid into lactic acid making the wine friendly, and more rounded to the palate! As it slowly evaporated from the barrel we topped it with Riesling - making this about 2% white grapes!
We bottled the wine yesterday (April 6th, 2020) without any additions or subtractions. No sulphur was harmed in the making of this wine! A true ØØ!
What all of the above means is that this wine is truly natural. It meets every single criteria I have for natural winemaking, growing, and finished wine. It’s clean, unfaulted, and totally delicious. That makes me so proud.
“So what does it taste like? How do I enjoy it? What’s the deal?”
This wine is by no means serious. We don’t have the final results back from the lab but, fully dry, it hardly has the potential to reach 10% alcohol… and fully dry it is! This wine was always going to be a light and airy, brightly colored, almost rosé - and that is precisely what we got!
In the glass it’s a star bright, glowing ruby red with a very slight purpley hue. While the color is dense, it’s totally transparent. In a bright room it looks to emanate its own light. I love it.
On the nose it’s crisp, like a mix of dew-spritzed fruits - tart cherry, plum, cranberry, currant. It’s the whole frutti di boschi! It’s pretty, it’s attractive, not burdensome, but real. There’s an element of freshness and honesty that draws me in again and again to drink the glass by nose alone.
On the palate, hello crunch. All of these fruits, tartly tap dance on the palate. Subtle bitterness, cranberry/currant style, really pop and are enhanced by the bright acidity and subtle persistence of the CO2 left naturally from fermentation. It’s water-weight on the palate, light, ultimately refreshing. Chill it down on a warm sunny day, hell, throw an ice cube in it! Call it “Danger Juice”, because, my friend - this stuff is easy to drink.
This is the wine I dreamed of making. The kind of chilly red (and yes, you should chill it) that we’re constantly asked for at the restaurant. While I can’t currently serve it on the Satellite Patio (I miss you, ‘Satty-Patty’), I sure can deliver it to your door.
Bibi Ji x Whitcraft Wines - ‘Cuvée Ji Vol. 2’ Grenache/Syrah - Santa Barbara, CA - 2018 ♡ *Wine Club Exclusive till May!*
Lemme tell you real quick about my buds. Three of them are involved in this little darling.
Alejandro Medina - The Quarterback, the Operator, the Social Connector, the Spirit of Natural Wine in Santa Barbara. Alejandro is unstoppable. After years of GM’ing and Wine Directing at Acme Group’s Wine Collective and Loquita, honing his palate and discovering that palate loved natural wines, he wandered into his own restaurant story. Bibi Ji was a surprise that became a movement. They opened 6 months after Satellite and turned our natural wine ember into a bonfire. The restaurant’s spice-laden, ultra fresh take on Indian benefits from all the major commonalities of naturally made wines. Levity, high acidity, low tannins, complex naturally derived flavors all play into the richness of Indian flavors. It’s a match made in Bollywood.
Rajat Parr - The Mythical Sommelier, the Wine Sherpa, Bibi Ji Partner, Winemaker ExtraExtraordinaire. He’s James Beard Award winning, unconscionably well travelled (and connected), with a nose that could tell you which vineyard in which village it’s standing in… and usually which year it is. Raj is an essential character in the drama of modern winemaking. His own local projects - Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte, The Raj Parr Wine Club, and Evening Lands in Oregon are all top level, naturally derived wine companies with distinct identities and individual reputations most winemakers work their entire lives on one single project to achieve. Raj is an institution, an educator, a monolith in wine by which standards in service and wine quality are set upon. Raj is also a seriously dope chef. The flavors of Bibi Ji come largely from his family traditions, the world’s rarest natural wines from his own personal cellar.. He is an indian sommelier after all - that’s flavor familiarity, friend!
Drake Whitcraft - The local legend himself - Drake is the winemaker on this project, and so much more. Drake is the first true 2nd Generation Winemaker in Santa Barbara’s brief wine history. From his father Chris’s legendary reputation as a local terroir whisperer, Drake has continued the tradition of minimalism, tradition, and quality in his winery. Drake gets some of the best fruit from the best growers around the county.. Because no one makes purer Santa Barbara wines than him. His winery is tiny, it’s packed, there is almost nothing ‘new’ to speak of - he uses a small 1 ton bladder press that was already old when his dad got it in the early 80’s, a corking machine that’s just as old, and hand bottles every single wine on a hand operated filling rack that looks like a modified coat rack. Everything about the winery is old school, pure, and simple. That’s what drew Alejandro and Raj to work with Drake. He’s doing everything right.
How’d they make this cute little drop? (actually it’s super serious wine...)
50% Syrah, 50% Grenache - all farmed in Ballard Canyon primarily on limestone.
The grenache fruit all comes from the legendary Stolpman Estate where vines sit on a layer of sand right on top of limestone. What’s that mean? The vines are deprived of water in the free-draining sand and dig their roots deep into the limestone which holds useable water. They’re equally deprived of minerals here, leading to a lean, refreshingly acidic and crystal clear expression of fruit. All the fruit here is farmed organically and golly I like that vineyard.
The Syrah comes from “My Friend Matt’s Vineyard” - literally Drake’s friend Matt’s spot! Here you find the same limestone but deeper and topped with clay, giving a bit more access to water retention but a whole host of its own challenges! In this case the clay gives a certain weight to the Syrah, a richer, slightly ‘muddier’ component which adds texture and a balance of weight to the very lean sand-grown grenache.
These two varietals were harvested and fermented separately at the winery. Both were 100% whole cluster fermentations, no berries were pulled off the bunches and many feet turned red in the stompage. While the Syrah was left open-topped, the Grenache was covered and not as broken up resulting in a partial carbonic fermentation. This happens when you have lots of whole berries unbroken, and nothing but CO2 in the fermenting bin (covered with a sheet)... it promotes a different enzymatic conversion of sugar to alcohol and has a trademark freshness of fruit that’s akin to kirsch or bubble gum!
The two wines were barreled down in old, neutral french oak and rested for about 12 months until they were racked off, blended, and bottled together. You have all that freshness and levity of Grenache and all the meatiness, animalllll, and deep blue fruit of the Syrah. I think you’re going to dig it.
And here’s my take on the wine:
WOOOOOHOOOOOO!! It’s so many things. Firstly, woah, that’s the crunch! The acidity is more than refreshing - the wine tickles on the tongue and stays persistently crispy. It has this meatiness and fruity flavor concentration without any heaviness. It lingers but doesn’t stick. It’s brilliant. It’s pure. It’s transparent and I love it.
These characteristics are hallmarks of Whitcraft’s approach to winemaking. Optimum fruit, harvested for bright acidity, lower alcohol, little to no new oak, and minimal processing. This wine has hardly any addition of sulfur, a just-in-case precaution that honestly might have not been necessary (I have a feeling the 28 cases produced will be gone long before any issues arise!). Regardless, this wine could age for 30 years and I’m certain it would be delicious.
Let’s here from winemaker Drake Whitcraft:
“The vintage was better than ‘16 because there wasn’t a drought here and we had a long ripening season. Lots of development!
The 18’s have more everything, color, depth of flavor, crunch, freshness.
I really like the combination of these grapes, and they seem to work seamlessly here together to create a wine of tremendous balance; savory, sweet, crunchy, soft edges, bright and fresh. They play off each other very well. ‘18 was a great year for both wines on their own and the 4 months less of barrel time I think helped capture that. ”
And now a kind word from Alejandro Medina:
“This wine is very cool for me because it was our second attempt and my health was much better in 2019 so I was able to help more in the winery with the vintage. We hand bottled the wine, hand labeled it, and didn’t use anything else other than gravity to bottle.
This wine is much fresher for me versus the 2016, more bright fruit and pop on the palate. I want to drink the wine chilled, right now, and until the entire bottle is gone.
Drake’s late father Chris Whitcraft started the winery in 1985, the year I was born, so I wanted to channel back the original label from the first vintage in ’85 and add some of our touch to it.”
I didn’t get a comment from Raj, but I assume it would go something like this:
“BRING ME THE CRUNCH!”
Wine: It’s Place, Flavor, Expression, Culture, History… Wine is people and I think we all need to feel a little closer to people right now :)
Strange Times - Groundhog Days,
Need Red Wines - Thrilling, Chilling
All For Joy - New Ways
-- A Quarantine Haiku… Hai-Cute!
Local Nature Boys Make Wine - That’s April at Satellite.