Satellite Wine Club, April 2021
Counoise is the Sauce
Satellite x Nowadays Wines - ‘Cosmic Counoise V2’ - Demetria Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, CA - 2020
$27 Retail, $260/Case ($21.67)
Margins Wines - Sattler’s Family Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, CA - 2020
$39 Retail, $374/Case ($31.20)
Can you believe it? Spring continues to spring… thoroughly. Like a slow, groggy, hangover morning the world is opening up. The days are becoming longer, there’s a heat rising in the air, vaccines are up and summer feels around the corner - and most importantly: a year has passed since our first-ever wine baby came into the world!
Satellite’s Cosmic Counoise was such a hit that we made another vintage… and twice as much! Surprise… It is DELICIOUS!
This April I am so happy to release Cosmic Counoise V.2!!! 👨🚀
We’re celebrating with a fervor and releasing it next to the perfect counterpoint wine: Megan Bell’s Margins - Santa Clara Valley Counoise 2020. Same exact varietal, vintage, and only a few minute different decisions in the winery make this one of our most transparent comparisons in the history of the club.
These wines are as gluggable as they are thought provoking. They’re utterly transparent and simple yet layered with the complex flavors and stories from the vineyard, the winemakers, and the regions themselves. This month we’re diving in on two Counoise wines and making the case for why this minor, traditional blending grape of the southern Rhône should rise to popular acclaim in the Californian Sunshine!
A quick note on the grape and its history: hardly anyone thinks about Counoise. Relegated to a blending grape-status in the Rhône, most famously in Chateauneuf de Pape, it is anything but the big, extractable, masculine grape that one thinks of when sipping the ‘neuf de pape! Rather than the star role, it’s been a dependable addition for raising acidity and spice, not color or alcohol. Interspersed in its native vineyards with other less popular grapes like Aubun and Barboulenc, it’s a grape perpetually mired in obscurity since its first notable mention in the 17th century.
As of 2009, the entire French vineyard area for Counoise was less than 1000 acres and here in California it accounts for significantly less still! Though it may be small in production, it is mighty and certainly well suited to the climate of the central coast of California! Here with our high diurnal range (heat swings from hot days to cool nights) mimics that of the Rhône and allows for Counoise to slowly develop character while maintaining tons of acidity.
If you like what you see, taste, and emotionally experience in these magical glasses of purity please consider following us down the rabbit hole of both counoise and other rare grape varietals – French and otherwise! We believe many of the most exciting (and price-effective) wines on the planet right now are coming from people making wines on the MARGINS (See Megan’s entire project at marginswine.com) from vineyards and vines that are just outside the limelight. That’s what being a winestronaut is all about!
Now, let us exit the airlock together, winestronaut, and let us walk among the stars of counoise!
Satellite x Nowadays Wines - ‘Cosmic Counoise’ - Demetria Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, CA - 2020
YOU GUYS! IT’S HERE!!
Like Punxsutawney Phil, our mystical Counoise has come to herald brighter days ahead. And thankfully it’s also a whole lot more appetizing than a groundhog!
Same as last year we returned to our partnership with Dave Potter of Potek, Municipal, and Nowadays Wines 👽 to create a wine that fits all our particular demands! “What are your demands!?”, you may ask? Well… precisely nothing!
This vintage of Satellite Cosmic Counoise was made with nothin’ but Biodynamically grown grapes from the biodynamically farmed Demetria Vineyard, just north of Los Olivos. The vineyard is now farmed by our buddy Ryan Roark of Roark Wines (Pronounced “Row-Ark”). Ryan farms the whole 38 vineyard and greater 213 acre farm. It’s a huge, steeply hilly site with one of the highest elevations in the county - from 1100ft to 1450ft above sea level!
This vineyard is awesome. It’s huge. It’s exceptionally farmed; a polycultural wonderland filled with goats and sheep and all kinds of native birds, rodents, reptiles, indigenous cover crops, and broad brimmed hat-toting tourists from LA.
While it’s dry as-can-be, the vineyard is strong and resilient with old vines deeply rooted in its layered alluvial and beach sand soils.
Here, way way up, even our funny little block of ugly counoise vines is able to slowly ripen, producing big beautiful juicy bunches. Our vines are planted on a steep North-Facing plot in the far south-west corner of the estate. There, the crumbly topsoil slides down the hill ahead of your every step. The vines clearly struggle along, all scraggly, and hardly able to ripen by the time we harvest in late October – In fact, they were the last crop to come in both this year and last! But that’s a pretty good thing for what we’re going for!
Normally the last harvested fruit of the year would be overly ripe - Think ice wine or beerenauslese Riesling but with the wrong varietal! all sugar, no acid - - – NOT HERE. The magic of this struggling site and this rugged varietal is a marriage of long, slow vine ripening and development of complexity, without massive sugar accumulation or dropping acidity. Counoise is the king of the heat, and like the American Honey Badger it just doesn’t give a sh*t. These big beautiful speckled red apple colored berries happily sat on the vine slowly transforming time and sunshine into more acidity, more complex flavors, and more tannic structure. It’s weird, unusual in every way. It’s amazing it was even possible once, yet twice! It’s an anomaly and that’s just how we like it.
These bunches are awesome. Counoise vines produce big, full, rusty colored berries on long, sparse bunches. This gap-toothed spacing makes for great airflow and really reduces the risk of mildew or other funguses in the vineyard. The berries are gigantic, with very little color in the skin and a high juice-to-skin ratio makes this a perfect candidate for a chillable red without too much color or grip – just right.
The grapes arrived on a warmer than usual October 8th. Harvest started early in the morning, about 4am. When my bare feet hit them around 9am it was like sticking one’s legs into an ice bath! Both Paul and I arrived to dance on our respective quarter ton of clean, plump, biodynamic fruit. The harvest crew did a crazy-good job of field sorting so the extra chaffe was as low as I’ve seen. Hardly a leaf made it to the winery!
We both spent about 30-40 minutes dancing on the whole clusters, breaking them up and releasing the delicious, then-appley juice. The only real difference this year from last was the amount of stomping - we really beat up those clusters this year and very few berries were left unbroken.
That’s about all the winemaking anyone did! From there the whole clusters, skins, pips, and juice hung out to ferment naturally in the ¼ ton picking bins. Assistant winemaker Brian (some of you may know him as Bagel Boi Sr.) gently submerged the cap of the fermentation by hand to keep everything wet. A light press sent it to the two oldest barrels in the winery and weekly top-ups with unsulphured riesling for the following 16 weeks or so. That’s it! This wine pretty much made itself (but thanks Brian and Dave for the watchful eyes and for letting us direct the winemaking so naturally)
This wine was bottled unfined, unfiltered, unsulphured, uninhibited! This March 18th, Lindsey and I arrived to find a (mostly) settled tank of Counoise hooked up to the Potek bottling line. We got in position and within about 30 minutes all 580 bottles of our majestic astro-wine were in-bottle. Easy. Peasy. Fruity. Squeezy.
Is this always how winemaking goes? No. Is it what we hope for. Yes. This was a breeze for all involved and this process, grounded in exceptional fruit, is what we look for in all our wines - whether we’re making them or not!
Look at this bottle. Peer through the pervasive deep ruby-brick red hues of this magical juice. Hold it up to the light and let the cosmic rays glitter through, refracting the excitement of pure glou glou in all directions! Is it cold from the fridge or dunked in an ice bucket on the beach? Perfect. Open it immediately!!!
This drop of sunshine bursts forth from its chilled bottle. Now well past its initial awkward bottle shock phase when it was marked by a reductive period (sulphurous stank-stage), the wine is settling into its bottled life and foreshadowing the flavors of summer. It’s like a ripe strawberry cranberry bouquet, on the nose. I’m transported to a dreamy picnic in the hills of the eastern Santa Ynez Valley. Perhaps the picnic is served on the back of a dusty wagon, aside a freshly ploughed field where wild anise, sage, and bay grow wild. There’s something so local about these smells, this ripe smashed fruit layered in dusty, herby air. I kid you not, this is what it smells like when we walk the vineyards in the late summer, chewing grapes and sliding down the dusty dry steeps. And all the while it kinda just says “drink me, ya big galoot”
On the palate it’s all smiles. Tart and yet open and ripe – the magic of this fruit and this site are simply laid out bare. But what’s that? Grippy tannins and tip to tail intensity? Florality and a soft apple-skin bitterness that makes me salivate and hunger? A finish of something more carnal - like smoked meats or barbecued veggies? All this backed with a pinch of saltiness that makes it even more food-friendly and beach-able.
Whether it’s a chilled aperitif on its own, with a cheese spread, served up with salmon tacos, a canadian quesadilla, or heck, a big hot bowl of ramen - this wine defines my dream for the kind of wines I want to make. It’s a drink for all occasions. A chameleon that meets the moment and doesn’t ask too much from the drinker, though it does hold volumes of intrigue. It’s simply available for smiles, miles and miles. Fun, Fresh, Funky, Unfettered, and Friendly to all! It embodies the term Vin de Soif (wine of thirst) a term which I often use to define what Satellite is. We’re here to quench thirst, both a thirst of the body and of the mind! I hope you quench… and keep quenching!
Margins Wines - Sattler’s Family Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, CA - 2020
Megan Bell is our kinda woman. I feel kindred with her for so many reasons: the kind of wines she makes, the approach to better and bettering farm practices, her focus on the margins and finding those magical exceptions that really make the whole process & results special and worthwhile.
Megan Bell did not want to make wine. She joined the BS in oenology program at UC Davis as a 17 year old who got the idea from her boyfriend. They were obsessed with fermentation and figured one day they’d open a brewery/winery together and live happily ever after. While that dream never materialized, Megan persisted in wine… initially not as a passion but just kinda something to do! She found she was good at the school work and that there were plenty of opportunities to find work in the wine world.
A passion for real wine, though, didn’t materialize until years into the process. After plenty of awful and underwhelming experiences at very precise, manufacturer-styled wineries around the world, Megan found herself in the Loire Valley, living the life of a vigneron. Essentially living at the winery and amongst the vines, not trying to sterilize every single element of the process, but living in it and watching the natural processes unveil themselves over time. This was her first step into natural wine, her first time worrying less about staying under 8 hours than if the process was fulfilling and if the wine was good.
This initial step, akin to stepping back in time or into a more ancient culture, opened up a love of wine to Megan. Her love is based in the process and the discovery, not the expectation and the competition. I love it and I feel like this is it for me too - it’s the beauty of time spent working to create something beautiful, even if you don’t know how that beauty will express itself, it’s the honest labor and trust in the process rather than the strictness of so much modern winemaking. She’s on the margins with us!
Megan works in a shared winery space with another young California legend-in-the-making, James Jelks of Florez Wines. They both spun off of their first shared space working with and for Ryan Stirm in Aromas, CA - a kind of accidental incubator for young, inspired winegrowers to hone their craft and share ideas in an otherwise podunk town inland from Santa Cruz. All of this is to say that we love the crew that Megan rolls with!
In the winery Megan stands on firm principles. She is a natural winemaker, with out expectations of how a wine should be or even how it’s going to be - but she follows the process and starts with excellent fruit. From there she is a constant in the winery, not there to push and pull but as a guard rail, keeping the wine on a path to self expression.
Her concept about fruit sourcing speaks loudly to me and I think it’s about as grounded and as good as any winemaker I know. She is verbose and honest about her sourcing. For instance: this counoise is from a backyard vineyard that’s under conversion to Organic Certification. She states, loud and clear all the facts and all the intentions. I’ll leave a quick example from her Sattler Family Vineyard Counoise below:
“In 2020 this vineyard received one application of the non-organic fungicide Rally. The vineyard was farmed organically in every other aspect. This vineyard has been in organic conversion for the past few years, and starting in 2021 all practices will be organic.
The organic conversion of this vineyard over the last four years of working with it has been one of my proudest accomplishments. Part of the Margins mission is to work with growers to transition their vineyard to organic farming by providing guidance as well as assurance that the grapes will have a home. I believe that if I work with solely organic vineyards, I am not using my role in the industry to its full potential to enact agricultural change.”
How much do I love the above statement? A lot. It speaks so many verses that we often skip over in the natural wine world. The fact is that not all vineyards are organic, and they cannot just flip a switch to change. It’s a process that takes pressure, weight, accountability. That’s what Megan is to this vineyard and so many others: she represents the promise that it is, in fact, economically viable to convert, that a young winemaker is willing to pay more and work harder to get better fruit. It benefits the farmers, the winemakers, the farm workers, the community, and quite honestly, the quality of the wine!
This vineyard was picked late, like ours. Megan chose to destem the fruit though, removing the woody stems and tearing open the grapes. From there, it’s all the same. Natural fermentation lasts about 10+ days, gentle extractions are made by wetting the cap gently by hand. With a light press the juice flows to seven or so barrels and a few kegs to slowly age, pass through malolactic fermentation, and generally evolve into the tasty juice of goodness that sits before you. The only other notable difference is the addition of ~20ppm of SO2 about 1 week before bottling. Just enough to be an insurance policy against potential flaws…
Nature approved ;)
The wine is even lighter and pinker in the glass thank our own. While destemmed I don’t believe it got quite as much hulking foot treading. There are less aggressive tannins here and to co-opt an antiquated descriptor: the wine is more feminine in its expression - more clear fruit, less dominant tannins, a slight bit smoother or silkier in texture. If we’re a little more country, she’s a little more rock and roll.
I think these difference stem from two main factors:
- Stems: The Margins wine is pure fruit, and the exclusion of stems means less lignin (wood) in the mix. Fewer tannins and less of that grip and undertone of green under ripe or herbal flavor.
- Terroir: Our dusty, almost high desert vineyard is bone dry and dusty as can be. Where scattered oaks line the vineyards of Santa Barbara County and dry grasses fill the spaces between, there’s simply more of that beach sand, sandstone, and saltiness in the air. Up in Santa Clara, at the tippy top north end of the Santa Cruz Mountains it’s greener, less dusty, still hot and a similar elevation, just with a splash more foliage and rain that serves to keep it less dusty! Destemming definitely enhances that lower dustiness too!
Overall the wine is vibrant, incredibly alive and yet refined and elegant. It give total legitimacy to the Counoise grape in California in a way that I’m so happy to be a part of. I think both of our wines make the case, but Megan’s does it with that much more skill behind it all. This wine rocks. I’m not spitting it and I don’t care who knows it!
This is April at Satellite.
♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡