Satellite Wine Club, December 2017
Whitcraft - ‘Liquid Swords’ Pinot Noir 2014
Teutonic - ‘Bergspitze’ Whole Cluster Pinot Noir 2015
Hi! Welcome to another fabulous month in the Satellite Wine Club. We are so glad to have you on board our spaceship. In the past 5 months we have voyaged into the stars, pursuing Grüner Veltliner, Mourvedre, Syrah, Gamay, and wildly unusual blends alien to even the most seasoned wine veterans.
This month we pursue a bright star… Some might say it’s the brightest. Arguably the noblest of all grapes, Pinot Noir is at least the most storied. The most important of the ‘Pinot’ family, Pinot Noir outstrips Blanc, Gris, Meunier, Teinturier, and Noir Précoce for its ability to adapt to so many climates and winemaking styles, and for it’s incredibly fascinating potential depth, ageability, and structure. With 1000’s of individual clones, Pinot’s high mutation rate allows for proper clonal selection for a vast variety of climates, soils, and growing styles. It’s just a really cool grape!
The original ‘Pinot’ first arrives in our history over 2000 years ago when ampelographers agree it became a distinct species from it’s parent, the wild grapevine, vitis vinifera silvestris, literally ‘the forest wine vine’. It became a distinct species through domestication, as early European farmers selected stronger and stronger vines to plan in their primordial vineyards. This grape did not just appear, it is literally the product of millennia of the human quest for delicious flavor! We are truly guided by our stomachs.
This is the vine that literally started it all. Acting like a grandfather, it has spontaneously crossed with Guoais Blanc (think of her as grandma) to create many of the other most important varietals in the world. This includes: Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Melon to name a few faves. It’s even suspected to be Syrah’s great grandparent. Grandpa got around!
We truly owe our modern Pinot Noir to the Catholic Monks of Burgundy. Their steady, deliberate focus on agriculture and winemaking throughout the middle ages still defines our approach to viticulture today. Record keeping and the close study of their vines and fermentations allowed for massive forward shifts in the quality of wine production, even during the darkest parts of the middle ages.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give another shoutout to our old friend Duc Philippe le Hardi of Burgundy. His gamay hating decrees in 1375 are the official first written mention of Pinot Noir!
Nowadays Pinot Noir is found in quality vineyards everywhere. Grown with exceptional quality from Champagne to Tasmania, and in lesser quality pretty much anywhere else. Pinot Noir is synonymous with luxury, with quality, and more-often-than-not: expense! Global demand for Pinot Noir is hot and shows no sign of cooling, and so, winegrowers will continue to plant it in many places it can succeed and as many more where it cannot!
I should note, quickly as I am beginning to write a novel, that Pinot Noir is a hellishly difficult grape varietal to grow well. As you will see by its clarity in your glass, the skins of this grape are thin (giving its wines a lighter complexion). In concert with it’s tight berry structure, this grape is deeply susceptible to vineyard diseases like powdery and downy mildew, bunch rot, leaf roll virus, and especially our least favorite viral vector: the glassy wing sharpshooter. It’s a delicate flower that buds early (making it susceptible to frost and hail) and its thin skins attract sunburns more than this pale-white wine guy under the hot Santa Barbara sun.
This month, in celebration of this temperamental, absolutely delicious, universally popular great grandaddy of wine, we go “ultra traditional” in the hands of some of the most accomplished and skilled western winemakers. These guys are not particularly modern, eschewing tonnes of new oak and the expensive automation of those bigger kids on the block. They thrive in the cleanliness and manageability of their small wineries; wineries in unlikely places; tucked into light industrial zones, away from the vines but so immersed in the passion of it all. Dichotomy they are both. Brilliant expressionists of honest-to-goodness winegrowing.
No, these are not your Sideways Pinot Noirs. No, we are not looking for new oak, or extraction, or even vast body. These whole-cluster Pinot Noirs are not to covet, these are Pinot Noirs to love and enjoy with ONLY those who you love and enjoy. They were made passionately by people who are light handed in their craft. People who care more for the expression of the vine and the earth than the expression of their ‘skillz’. With great joy and pride, I present you these two wines, tied together in style, straddling the cool western coastal zones of our brilliant Santa Barbara and Oregon. They’re just darling, aren’t they?
Whitcraft - ‘Liquid Swords’ Pinot Noir 2014
Santa Barbara County, CA
I was struck by this bottle. Liquid Swords is a statement. It is a conceptual wine. A true expression of Santa Barbara. Drake gets it.
With fruit sourced primarily from a veritable wine growing Valhala - Pence Ranch. Vineyard manager Daniel graces the glorious front label (apparently a “fuck you Trump for calling migrant workers bad hombres”, according to winemaker Drake Whitcraft) where he poses confidently, pressing a whole cluster of Pinot Noir into a Whitcraft Bottle. This label says so much before the juice even wafts to the nostrils.
Drake is a serious, level headed winemaker. He understands his job is secondary in the pursuit of quality. As the label of this wine so elegantly shows, the person behind this wine is Daniel, the vineyard manager who works the vines, raises them up, and keeps them safe (and delicious). A winemaker can’t save bad grapes, but they can sure destroy great ones - Drake does not.
Taking queues from his legendary late father, Drake has earned his position as one of Santa Barbara’s most coveted wineguys. Certainly the best winery outside of the valley, his simple industrial garage in ‘the funkier zone’ is clean, tight, manageable, and beautiful in it’s sparse simplicity. His delicate approach to the whole cluster is clear in this bottle as in any. His wines are lean, they are clear (see-through even) and yet in their lightness they are age worthy and long lived with incredible subtle structure.
In your cup, you’ll see why. This thing leaps from the bottle. I pull the cork and woosh. Immediate fruit, earth, steminess, and clarity. This wine is veritas! This wine is food!
The magic of whole cluster winemaking is here. So much more than a jammy fruit bomb, this is tart, it is sparse yet everywhere on the palate like the oak trees of santa ynez spread wide throughout the valley. This wine is so reflective of it’s primary vineyard, Pence Ranch. I taste the dusty soil whipped up by the constant eastern and western winds. I taste the briny sea on the horizon, giving a savory depth to the wine. I taste the morning fogs and the bright wind cooled afternoon sunshine. It’s electric. It’s refreshing. It’s peppery. Again, it’s food!
Drake captured Santa Barbara here. The pressed, not free run juice of Whole cluster pinot noir. The secondary juice, or the heart of the berries if you will. 100% neutral oak. 100% carefree. 100% serious.
Drink me however you like, I’m food, remember. I am comfortable as breakfast, I’m comfortable with Apple Pie. I don’t care, I am the product of great care!
$30 @ Satellite SB
Teutonic - ‘Bergspitze’ Whole Cluster Pinot Noir 2015
Laurel Vineyard, Chehalem Mountains, OR
If Whitcraft reflects the sparse oaks of our great Santa Ynez valley, Teutonic tells of the aromatic Pines of the Chehalem Mountains. Bergspitze means mountain-top, and I think that’s a plenty-apt description for this lean, snow capped approach to whole cluster Pinot Noir.
These wines are brothers, not cousins. If Whitcraft is the boisterous california surfer with a farmers market basket, Barnaby’s Teutonic is his long lost German runaway brother, who wound up in the streets of Portland, with a pack of cigarettes and a tree planting job. The same could be said for Drake Whitcraft and Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic. Bros, separated by location, not by DNA or desire.
Again, whole cluster Pinot Noir from the West Coast of the US. Again, a winemaker who sees his job as secondary to the grower in the creation of his wines. Again, wine made to eat rather than drink.
Barnaby Tuttle is a trip. A guy who would look more at home on a Motley Crüe tour bus than a german inspired wineshop and winery in the urban core of portland. I hear stories of him stepping out the back of the shop with a Ranier Lager in hand to do donuts in his muscle car. I don’t care whether the rumors are true, I love them too much. I am inspired by this rocker turned Riesling fanatic. This guy has an unusual addiction to heavy metal and german wines. I’m on board!
I’m serious when I talk about these wines conceptually. The same winemaking process is evident here but with so much more Oregon character. With a darker berry complexion, piney flavors, less salt and more dark dirt and stew to the savory qualities. The wines look the same pale ruby in the glass, neither requires a filter or fining because they are just CLEAN! (Next to godliness, and don’t forget it). Look for more ripe and darker cherry notes here and a bright refreshing acidity down the center of your tongue. It is more subtlety on the nose, but equally long and engaging on the palate. What a treat we have here!
Thanks Heavy Metal and German wine inspiration. Thanks Barnaby! Teutonic, You are chronic.
$34 @ Satellite SB
Both of these wines are unfined, unfiltered, whole cluster, cool climate, neutral french oak, carefree, miles-deep, bottles of food. Eat it up this holiday season. I hope you’ll find as much adventure… as much soul-nutrition in these bottles as I do.
This is December at Satellite.