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Feb 2022

Satellite Wine Club, February 2022

Grüner Goes Great…


Nikolaihof - 'Zwickl' - Grüner Veltliner - Wachau, AT - 2020

$42 Retail, 504/Case $403/Case for Members ($33.58/Bottle)


Carter Paul - 'Hamish Marshall Vineyard' - Grüner Veltliner - Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, CA - 2019

$38 Retail, $456/Case $365/Case for Members ($30.42/Bottle)


Winestronauts,

Happy Valentine’s MONTH. It’s the time of the season for loving… and for loving Grüner Veltliner. Oh how I love it, oh how I love the two you now hold in your hot lil hands!


Grüner Veltliner is a singular grape. It doesn’t play like anything else. It’s a force in the wine world, equally fascinating and deserving of nerdy sommelier inquisition as any other classic grape. And yet it is so undeservedly under-represented and misunderstood by the masses. Grüner is grëät.


While its global vineyard pales in comparison to the heavy hitters of white wine (See Chard, Sauvy B, etc.) the grape has shown incredible promise far from its Austrian stronghold. The Central Coast of California, fortunately for us, is one of the most exciting! 


Grüner Veltliner deserves a huge stage with a gigantic and sun-bright spotlight. It’s a star and it should be a part of every wine-lover’s lexicon. Say it with me now *GROO-NER VELT-LEANER IS DEE-LISH-US*


What the heck is this Grüner Guy all about? Let’s get a little history: 

Grüner was first identified as a unique grape in Austria in the 1700’s where it remains the main white grape today. While a little murky, its closest relative is Traminer (also known as Savagnin) an ancient mutation of Pinot now found almost exclusively in France’s Jura. These two grapes share a number of flavor and textural components but Grüner has certainly carved a more ambitious and diverse path for itself. 


Along the Danube River just west of Vienna are the most classic Grüner regions: Wachau, Kamptal, Kremstal, and Wagram. These regions are dominated by two things: Loess Soils & Grüner Veltliner. If Austrian Music is defined by Beethoven and Mozart then Grüner and Loess define the wine; they depend on and influence each other, and they created the whole darn industry. 


Grüner’s favorite soil is Loess. The silty, sandy, ancient wind-blown soil settled along Austria’s Danube river valley, blown in from the remnants of ancient glaciers which retreated into the alps. It’s a crumbly, pale yellow soil that, while rich, is very porous and a good water reservoir for thirsty grapes - helping to keep them watered and cool through the surprising heat. 


That ability to hold water while also draining makes Loess a phenomenal foundation for healthy vineyards, particularly in the often hot vineyards of the Danube. Summers can be surprisingly hot in this country which we primarily associated with yodeling from snowy mountain peaks. The Austrians have us all fooled, it’s a summer paradise. It’s so warm, in fact, that the dominant vineyard animal is a little emerald lizard called the Smaragd (a name also used to describe the very finest wines of the region). I highly recommend looking up this adorable technicolor cutie. 


So what the heck: Austria is hot, the soil is cool, the lizards are emerald, and the Veltliner is Grün.. But there’s more… History here runs DEEP. 

That’s right: Vines were planted here in the Wachau as early as 2800+ years ago… Making it pretty well lived-in by the time the Romans set up shop in the last decades of the BC epoch. In fact, the Nikolaihof wine in this month’s club is from that very site! Winestronaut, today we drink some serious history. 


I’ll let Sean dive into the details - of which there are many - but, friends, you gotta know I am PUMPED about Austria. I am INVIGORATED by Grüner. I am CONFOUNDED by the history of it all. We are so fortunate to still have these wines produced today; an unbroken thread weaved into the hills farmed for thousands of years by people who have always known them for their excellent wine. 


So I’ll leave you with your valentine wine mind, Sean, for the remainder of this massive missive! Happy February winestronaut, I hope you enjoy these truly leiwand (Austrian slang for awesome or cool) wines… you might find yourself yodeling a traditional love song after a few glasses!


Bussi, Baba Babies! 😚💖


///


If this week’s forecast is any indication, spring has sprung here in Santa Barbara, and there’s no better time for the refreshing yet sumptuous gifts of grüner veltliner. As Drew mentioned, grüner is oft-overlooked and under-represented - on wine lists, in cellars and conversation. Could it be the pronunciation? The austere Austrian-ness? Or just a lack of attention? Still relatively unknown in the broader wine lexicon, some have taken to calling it “gru-ve”, a fitting nickname for this funkadelic grape.  


Nevertheless, within Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, some 6000 miles west of the Wachau’s (pronounced vah-cow) ancient vineyards, passion for this green grape is gröwing voraciously alongside queen palms and coast live oak. A wonderful thing. But before we go to California (and Robert Plant smokes our stuff and drinks all our wine), let’s explore the lush, loess-y land of Ludwig van B. and psychedelic green lizards. Carry on, Robert, we’ll have plenty to intoxicate us here…


Nikolaihof - 'Zwickl' - Grüner Veltliner - Wachau, AT - 2020

$42 Retail, 504/Case $403/Case for Members ($33.58/Bottle)


Nestled in the Danube River Valley amidst medieval castles and ancient monasteries, the Wachau is an historical wine region like few others. Selected by the Romans due to its status as a Celtic holy place three thousand years ago, archeological records date pre-Stone Age, well-established settlements followed shortly thereafter, and Im Weingebirge, the single oldest lieu-dit (a small, historically-named vineyard) in Europe, has called this little corner of the world home for over a millenia and a half… Not to mention the winery’s structural roots: a Roman tower built in 63 B.C.! If these walls could talk!!


We’re in perhaps the oldest documented vineyard in history, maintained by one of the world’s oldest wineries, farmed biodynamically for over half a century (further cementing its OG status)... the superlatives go on and on. Yet needlessly steeped in tradition this estate is not. Classic? Sure. Archaic? No way. Here at Nikolaihof, where the Saah family’s been leading this long-running, 60 Minutes-of-a-show for over a century, the old school is the best school, because cutting-edge regenerative farming principles and outside-the-box winemaking techniques newer to the rest of the world are simply the way things have been done.  


Organic from time immemorial, chemicals have never touched these soils, and 27 years after converting to biodynamic agriculture in 1971, the property was Demeter certified. The Saahs don’t limit their efforts to wine grapes, either. They are that band of cute flower children sweetly peddling honeys, flowers and tinctures at the farmers’ market every Saturday. They also just happen to be rockstars, and while their bell bottom-wearing ways are once again in vogue, these nettle tea-tinged fingers much prefer working the dirt to nervously hovering above the wine world’s shifting pulse, itching to pull the trigger on the latest trend like an antsy Jeopardy contestant.  


Just a brief detour before we gab more grü. Let’s do a quick unpacking of the ever-effortless, ever-pleasant German language… OK, don’t worry, it’s just two words, and neither are freundschaftsbeziehungen (the very efficient and oh so sweet-sounding word for friendship demonstrations) The first is zwickl: referring to a beer fermenter’s spigot, from which the brewer can draw fresh, unprocessed samples, in wine speak it translates to a cuvée that’s unfined and unfiltered. Free, fun, feisty.


There’s also naturtrùb: simply meaning naturally cloudy, this takes our unmanipulated zwickl wine a step further. The maturation process is defined by extended lees (spent yeast) contact in massive old Austrian casks, where these chunky monkeys lend texture and yeasty, biscuit-y flavors over the course of the wine’s aging, which may last anywhere from 14ish months to over 15 years. Monk-like patience is etched into the walls of this 700-year old cellar like medieval trefoil, impervious to the ups and downs of the modern world.


Oak barrels, long elevage, cheesy, doughy, wait… do I smell a Rom bomb?? Not a chance - slow, long fermentation in stainless steel tanks preserves fresh, primary flavors, Schwarzenegger-sized barrels provide gentle oxidation sans oaky flavors, and less racking (deliberately pulling wine from its leesy bed, adding some oxygen) alongside little-to-no lees stirring give a pleasantly flinty, reductive characteristic to the wine. 


Likewise, those doughy components are as natur as they are trüb, derived solely from indigenous yeasts that envelop the ripening grape skins in a nice little hug. It’s just the beginning of a close-knit, cloistered communion that’s equal parts holy and hella tasty. 


Of course, there’s the classic green flair inherent to the variety - fresh radish mingling with cider apple, coriander-like beer spice and waxy green grape. The lees influence is palpable, adding complexity and weight without distracting from lemon zest and peppery lift. A Golden Delicious kiss lingers before sending us on our way.


It’s a Gregorian chant with a guitar solo. For the Saahs, who’ve got in both directions nothing but time on their side, there’s no rush here - except the ripping acidity carving a path on your palate as if skiing the Matterhorn. 


And like Ron Burgundy, I too want to shout from the top of a mountain, but I don’t have a mountain, I have a wine glass, a laptop and this Google doc. A yodel in my heart. Grün in my gut. And these are a few of my favorite things.  


Carter Paul - 'Hamish Marshall Vineyard' - Grüner Veltliner - Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, CA - 2019

$38 Retail, $456/Case $365/Case for Members ($30.42/Bottle)


“Grüner, grüner, ohhh baby, me gotta go…” Here we have an entirely divergent  but equally delicious expression of grüner from our side of the pond. Hamish Marshall’s vines bask in the laidback sunshine of SLO County’s Edna Valley, benefiting from the long growing season this mediterranean climate offers as much as the stoney chert soils in which they thrive. 


Remember Slide Hill Vineyard from January’s writeup, and Bassi Ranch the month before? They’re just around the block, close enough to overhear neighborly rows and ragers. Yet the variety of soils in this cool-climate corridor is tremendous. And it doesn’t end there. The SLO region contains more species of flora than the entire state of Alaska… but please, winestronaut, do not go California Chris McCandless on us… space (and civilization) is the place. 


Quick rock talk. A shert word on chert. A.K.A flint, firestone, jasper, or silex, this quartz-rich sedimentary rock is a far cry from loess. It’s glassy, jagged and sharp. It contains elements of the ancient ocean(!) in the form of marine organisms which settled atop the seafloor millions of years ago, creating the soil’s literal building blocks. It has low porosity, yet amazingly retains the tiny, crucial amounts of water received here. And it makes pretty rad wines. 


Speaking of coastal cool… just five miles from the Pacific, conditions couldn’t be more perfect for the trio of lip-smacking, enamel-stripping, high-acid varieties planted here: sauvignon blanc, albariño (~my forever valentine~) and, you guessed it, grüner. Nestled in a particularly chilly pocket - even for the Edna Valley, arguably California’s coolest AVA - these piquant puppies enjoy life in the SLO lane. Don’t get it twisted, though. Grapes grown in captivating and poor soils such as these have to fight for their right to party. 


Our verdant little spice bomb may be far from home, but it’s in familiar hands with Carter Hallman. Back in 2017, Carter’s digits greased the squeaky wheel at Weingut Knoll, the legendary Wachau producer whose doors have welcomed, grapes touched and wines wowed the likes of California cool-climate capo Graham Tatomer, among many others. “Someone told me there’s a grape out there/ with love in her eyes and flowers and white pepper in her flair… made up my mind, make a new start/goin’ to California with some grüner in my heart (and suitcase)...” Like Tatomer, Carter’s zeroed in on high-acid grapes from coastal vineyards with laser-like precision, producing focused, complex wines of balance and place. 


We’ve got a dude who knows what to do with the grü. And he’s got a small, diligent crü. What’s next? With fermentation, maturation and bottling all taking place in a Funk Zone coffee-roasting shed aptly named Funk Le Câve, the simple road Carter and Co. did not take. Far from it. Hands-on crushing and pressing into all hours of the night (with a basket press because you already KNOW OLD SCHOOL IS THE BEST SCHOOL), massaging gooey green juice like some kind of Nickelodeon stunt, and fermenting 50% on the skins ‘cause hey why the hell not!! But nothing gru-ve in life comes easy.


And for all that hustle, this wine is a beautifully immersive take on minimalist winemaking. Rather than block malolactic fermentation (as is tradition with nearly all white wines to preserve brightness and fruity-floral characteristics), Carter let it ride, the end result lending weight and body without hindering grüner’s naturally zippy acidity. Hardly racked, this puppy saw 10 months in neutral oak to further round out any sharp edges. There’s a little trapped CO2 for some extra pop. 


What’s more; this outer layer à la skin contact really flatters grüner, a particularly thin-skinned variety. There’s TEXTURE out the wazoo. Gobs of yellow apple and sour cream and onion on the nose, the palate is Tree Top apple juice with a jasmine and ginger-spice punch; fruity, creamy, herbaceous and fantastically dry. It’s quintessential New California. It’s complex, it’s a mouthful, but it doesn’t try too hard. It’s grüner at its best - versatile, flexible, and  really damn fun. And it’s literally winking at me (if you haven’t already, POP DAT CORK and you’ll see what I mean). 


Brought to us by a fella who considers Nikolaihof one of his favorite producers, this wine just hits different. Rather than copy any formulas, Carter’s writing his own; a mad scientist who’s been in the lab long enough to know which beakers to painstakingly measure, which to bend with intense heat and which to shatter altogether in search of something new. 


Standin’ on a hill in the mountain of dreams/tellin’ myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems” Whether it stands on the shoulders of giants with two millennia of winemaking under their belts, or atop a sunkissed hill in the Golden State, it’s not hard to see why we stan this star of a grape. Nikolaihof, Carter Paul, you two make lovin’ fun. Let’s grüve tonight. 🕺💃



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