Satellite Wine Club, July 2018
Solminer - ‘Rubellite Red Blend’ - Santa Ynez Valley, CA 2015
Ojai Vineyard - No SO2 added Grenache/Syrah - Santa Barbara, CA 2015
This month it’s a natural wine party. I’ve wanted to write about ‘natural wine’ for a long time. It’s a fascination of mine, a passion, an obsession, a joy! When I really think about it, natural wine was my path into the industry and it is the only part of wine I really really care about. Today I’m going to attempt to distill what natural wine is and in doing so I will confuse you, I will conflate it to a much wider category than you maybe thought, and I’m going to ramble… seemingly endlessly. Oh you will love it!
I grew up on a conventional farm in Canada. I remember my mother rushing out to rescue my elementary school self from oncoming plumes of herbicide spewing off my father’s tractor in our corn field. This wasn’t an anomaly, it was the norm - all summer, every summer. I was so lucky to grow up in that bucolic environment and I loved it, however, I did suspect there must be a better way. My father slowly opened to organic farming and when we moved to California he left farming entirely to import wine. The Organic Cellar was born in our garage and at 18 years old I belly-flopped into the wine industry. I worked each summer with Organic and Biodynamic farmers across Italy, working in their fields and cellars, falling in love with wine, and hearing the same reprise echoed across the country:
“I farm without chemicals so my children can run barefoot in the fields”
That line was omnipresent among the farmers I worked with. It resonated with me deeply and I fell deeper into the wonderful world of natural wine.
So what does it mean to be a natural wine anyway? Is it natural if a winemaker buys organic fruit and then innoculates it with industrial yeast, acidifies, waters it back, heavily filters the wine, pasteurizes, adds Mega Purple (yes, this is a real thing and I dare you to google it with the NSFW filter off)... I can go on. There are a million ways to fuck desecrate pure natural perfect grapes; lots of winemakers do and that’s fine. These tools give winemakers a near 100% chance of making ‘flaw-free’ wines though they can strip the life straight out of the wine. They can keep their hot-trash, no-risk, dead-ass wines! I want it RAW
For me, natural wine is a mosaic, it’s not one thing. It’s a movement with many different leaders and many more expressions; something we’ll explore in this month’s two awesome wines. To me natural wines are a pursuit of simplicity alongside hard work. It’s about front-loading the effort in quality grape growing so that the winery work is secondary. The efforts put into the vineyard are first and foremost as you absolutely cannot, under any circumstance, make great wine from crap grapes. So for me natural wine begins at the vineyard. My personal, patented vineyard hierarchy is as follows:
- Biodynamic - Grape growing becomes religion, forbid chemicals & embrace natural trinctures, promote diverse and strong ecosystems & living soils, operations are scheduled following lunar cycles. Heavily regulated by Demeter Certification. Hocus Pocus that actually works.
- Organic - No chemical ‘...icides’, varies widely from totally natural, almost biodynamic farms to nearly conventional farms
- Sustainable - three main goals — environmental health, economic profitability, and social/economic equity. Focus on farm workers health and safety but less concerned about chemical use, This is about moderation
- Lutte Raisonée - ‘the reasoned struggle’ - self regulated French philosophy that pushes the least use of chemicals possible - generally used by super small farmers who can’t afford to lose a harvest or to pay for organic/bio certification. Basically conventional farming with a cool name
- Conventional - This is when my mom rescues my baby-self from pesticides. It’s mono-culture where farmers are killing anything but the desired crop. Thanks Monsanto! (But seriously, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are moves around the world to restrict the most harmful ‘icides’)
Do I love all of the wines in the natural wine world? I don’t - far from it. BUT, I love that people are brave enough to make wine in a ‘pure-er’ way. It’s a pursuit laden in humility and respect for the environment and for the drinker.
This month’s adventure in wine is a glimpse into two entirely separate approaches to natural wine. It’s two local examples of Syrah & Grenache (and a negligible touch of Riesling) to illustrate the excitement and value of this corner of the wine world. They’re wines of honesty from people I respect deeply and I hope you’ll enjoy them like I do.
LET’S DO IT
Ojai Vineyard - No SO2 added Grenache/Syrah - Santa Barbara, CA 2015
Adam Tolmach is an institution. A graduate of the UC Davis Enology program in 1976, Adam founded Au Bon Climat with local legend (and ‘mind behind’...?) Jim Clendenon in 1982. A.B.C. is an essential Santa Barbara winery obsessed with quality and central to the fame of our region. In 1991 the partners split ways and Adam founded the Ojai Vineyard on his property in Ojai where he experimented with his Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah vineyard as well as the endless stream of new vineyards and vines coming online throughout the Santa Ynez Valley.
Adam’s early success allowed him coveted ‘acreage’ rather than ‘tonnage’ contracts with local farms, allowing him to directly farm most of his own fruit. This let him focus on the quality, not the quantity of the fruit, lowering yields to grow more intense fruit. He shortly switched to 100% organic agriculture because the proof of quality was obvious. In the last 20 years Adam has focused his energy on the coolest growing sites in Santa Barbara’s many districts finding tension and more energy in the wines. Adam is a scientist at heart, always running experiments with parallel fermentations, growing strategies, and comparative ageing programs. Without a doubt, the Ojai Vineyard is one of the most serious wineries in the country and one that actively pushes the industry forward, especially in the natural wine space.
This month’s Ojai Vineyard wine is a brush with the logical conclusion to Adam’s pursuit of perfection in winegrowing. Already a sparing SO2 user in any of his wines, he was inspired by a Sulfite free wine a former employee (and now legendary local natural winemaker, Sashi Moorman) made as a side project. Adam writes that the low the sulfites, the better the texture and liveliness of the wine.
“We use sulfites in our wines sparingly. It’s traditionally added to avoid having wine turn into vinegar, and in small quantities sulfites seem to preserve perfume and freshness, while larger amounts make wines more brittle, hard and rubbery”
This wine is delightful. From all organically grown fruit from the Sebastiano and Cottonwood Canyon vineyard, the wine is only filtered gently to ensure it will stand the test of time. It opens up immediately in the glass and sings of bright juicy fresh blue and black fruits, wild chaparral herbs (fields of lavender and sage!), and an exotic sweet spice, even a bit of smoked meat. The wine is stable for days and really turns up into the next day. More than anything, this wine has texture. I generally think of filtered wines as lacking in the ‘feel’ department, however, the lack of SO2 fully makes up for light filtering. It is silk on the tongue, with super bright acidity and a finish that is all herbal heaven. Spearmint and sage for days.
- Organically grown Grenache (50%) and Syrah (50%) from Cottonwood Canyon (Santa Maria Valley) and Sebastiano Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills)
- Aged 11 months in Neutral French Oak
- Open top fermentation with 35% Whole Clusters
- Gently filtered to allow for NO SO2 addition
- 13% ABV
- Just 224 Cases Produced
I’m blown away by this gorgeous wine. It’s such a great example of where winegrowing can take us. Adam Tolmach has followed his passion for quality straight into the world of natural winemaking and he continues to dive deeper, with better and better results.
Nature, it’s the best.
$41 @ Satellite SB
Solminer - ‘Rubellite’ Red Blend - Santa Ynez Valley, CA, 2015
David and Anna deLaski are the best. I love these people. They are incredibly generous, driven, and fun to be around. Their lovely little family farm, just south of Los Olivos’ central square, is a haven for all kinds of adorable animals and rare Austrian grapes. I’ve twice had the pleasure of exploring it all alongside David, Anna, and their cross-eyed dog, Chloe. It’s a haven and a physical manifestation of their passion for wine, for nature, and for each other. They also have a flock of little rotund sheep which are tonnes of fun to mess with.
Their farm starts right off their back patio and is organically certified and ostensibly biodynamic. Their chickens roam the vines keeping bugs in check, their sheep turn the grasses and herbs into fertilizer, and David and Anna treat any pests and infections by hand, on site. Their work is incredibly labor intensive, back breaking, and romantic. It’s incredible. Together, they’re a force of nature.
Anna is Austrian and they have committed themselves to converting a large portion of their 3 acre “deLanda” vineyard from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon to Austrian Varietals such as Gelber Muskateller, Blaufränkisch, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt, and even Sankt Laurent (Only the second Sankt Laurent Vineyard in California!). The deLaski’s are all-in on everything they do, and so far they have absolutely succeeded.
Their 2015 Rubellite is a reflection of their energy. This is the last vintage of this special wine, not made in 2016 or 2017, though they have plans to bring it back. Made from 90% deLanda Organic Syrah, 9% Grenache from the little known “San Marcos” Vineyard (a backyard vineyard owned by friends way up near Cold Springs Tavern and the 154 hwy), and 1% Riesling from the organic Coquelicot vineyard.
The wine is crunchy on the nose with immediate flashes of tart blackberries, blueberries, and hardly-ripe plums. The mouth immediately waters from the wonderful acidity, an herbal undertone of tomato leaf, sage, and bay all come together with the wonderful tart fruits and a dusty, mineral backdrop - reminiscent of a fresh berry smoothie. It’s honestly a delight. I’ve tasted the wine on day 1, 2, and 3… it has not lost an ounce of vibrancy - only opening access to more and more layers of elegance. It is a clean, lovely and complex wine that drinks both like a ‘glou glou’ wine for pounding and a ‘frou frou’ wine for ageing and deep consideration. It’s alive and I love that.
- 90% Organic/Biodynamic deLanda Vineyard Syrah, 9% San Marcos Grenache, 1% Organic Coquelicot Riesling
- Syrah and Grenache gently destemmed
- 3 days cold soaked to extract and preserve the delicate phenolic components without too much color and tannin
- Open top indigenous yeast fermentation with daily punchdowns
- Aged in neutral oak for 9 months
- 12.3% abv
- Just 120 cases produced!
This is the second time we’ve shared Rubellite through our wine club and it is the only wine to make a encore appearance. This wine is so important to me, as are the deLaski’s. They’re an essential and exemplary part of the natural wine movement, but in a completely different way than the Ojai Vineyard. Where Ojai draws closer and closer to natural wine through the pursuit of the finest quality wines, the deLaski’s set out, from the start, as conscientious natural winemakers - regardless of the cost or the results. They’re a biodynamic hobby farm come world class natural winery. Their passion for healthier living and a love of Austrian wines resulted in the quality of their wines. Honesty, Simplicity, Hard Work, and Energy. That’s Solminer.
Go visit their new tasting room on the Los Olivos Town Square! Make it the ‘other’ wine club you join! They’re everything!
$36 @ Satellite SB
Wine is nature,
Nature is wine,
Don’t mess, don’t stress,
The vineyard is fine.
So grower don’t fear,
Little feet trod here,
Sit back, relax,
Pop a beer!
Natural wine is easy,
Don’t make a fuss,
Sure there’s a risk,
But in nature we trust!
So winemaker, honey,
Your hands are too rough!
Don’t chase the money,
Just biodynamic stuff!
This is July at Satellite.