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June 2018

Satellite Wine Club, June 2018


Franz Gojer - Santa Maddalena - “Rondell” - Bolzano, Alto Adige, IT 2016

Whitcraft Winery - Lagrein - French Camp Vineyard - Paso Robles Highlands, California 2016

Winestronauts,

Today we explore two similar wines from two utterly opposite places. No, the varietals aren’t exactly the same, nor is climate, geology, local language, elevation, nor the personalities behind the wines. NOTHING… except a shared origin story, complimentary flavors, and that they’re damn good light, quaffable reds with just a little something more than the average sip. 


This is a story about Lagrein and Schiava. Siblings from the same village; sure their parents might be different but what matters is that the villagers of Bolzano recognized these fruitful and energetic vines could be harnessed to build wines of distinction and elegance reflective of the region itself. 


Our classic example is that of Franz Gojer, an ultra classic producer situated in the city of Bolzano, Italy; the homeland of Lagrein and Schiava. His estate Glögglehof (Gloggle Hill) has a distinguished seat at the local royal wine table. It sits dead center of the hill of Santa Maddalena (Saint Magdalener for you Germans out there!) This world renowned appellation is the primordial home of both Schiava and Lagrein and is arguably the very best place to grow either; certainly the best place to blend the two together :) 


On the other side of the western hemisphere, in a dusty, freakishly hot spit of land in the eastern reaches of Paso Robles Highlands sits a veritable treasure trove of rare varietals from Aglianico to Valdigué. The French Camp Vineyard is an unusual place, planted with 28 distinct varietals and innumerable clones of each. It’s a diverse place with many different farming practices employed, but today we’ll be looking at just one of its special grapes: Lagrein. Whitcraft’s Lagrein is legend, I recently tried the 1998 vintage by the late winemaker Chris Whitcraft. The wine was from the same vineyard as today’s haul and at just shy of 20 years old it was mesmerizing; elegant, still fresh, and energetic. I had the pleasure of drinking it alongside a brilliant and experienced Roman wine buyer who proclaimed it the best Lagrein he had ever tasted. We swooned that night and I committed myself to sharing the next vintage available… it just so happens that this 2016 by Chris’s son Drake is the first new vintage in over a decade!! I cannot wait to see how it drinks 20 years from now, but it sure is pretty right now. 


This month isn’t about a single varietal, it’s not about a certain style, a single place, or even a single winemaker… this is another iteration of the Satellite Wine Club. Today we explore two grapes who go together because they were raised up in the same culture. While one has branched out the other has excelled at home… often with the help of the other. This is the story of Lagrein and Schiava and damn it’s delicious.


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A Hot Take on Lagrein, Schiava, and Their Home in Santa Maddalena


This is a story that starts in Bolzano, the city gateway to and capital of the true Italian North: South Tyrol. This is the northernmost reach of Italy, incredibly mountainous in the heart of Dolomites (the “Limestone Alps” or Eastern Alps). Bolzano sits at the north end of a beautiful green valley, north of its twin ‘Trento’ the capital of the other half of this autonomous region, Trentino. It is just 2 hours drive due north of old Verona. In this beautiful mountain-framed city we find the cradle of both Lagrein and Schiava on the hills of Santa Maddalena.


On this hill fragrant light red wines of Lagrein and Schiava have been produced for hundreds of years. While only solidifying its official style and constitution in the 190’s with the Italian appellation laws, this wine had been recognized for decades prior as one of the most important and fine wines of Italy (Following only Barolo and Barbaresco). It has since fallen in favor and its vineyards have been reduced by half in the past forty years. With the many more intensely powerful wines of Italy, delicate St. Magdalener has been pushed aside, however, it remains a fascination for me and many other wine lovers. I want it on your radar because it is an essential wine, winestronaut, damn delicious… and gluggable!


Both Schiava and Lagrein are vigorous, meaning they love growing and pumping out grapes. Both produce lightly colored, not particularly tannic wines (as you’ll find out today), and both carry intense berry profiles, often lifted by perfumed aromatics. Both of these varitels have about 1000 acres planted across northern Italy and are rare outside of their homeland.


Schiava refers to a whole family of productive grapes, but today we’re talking about the best kind: Schiava Gentile (The one with tiny grapes). It’s at least 85% of any Santa Maddalena wine. It is only really grown in Alto-Adige/South Tyrol and performs excellently here. The name Schiava is a twist on the Italian word for ‘Slave’ referring to its training on large lofted pergola or trellis systems. This training best harnesses and limits the vines vigor, ‘enslaving’ them to the will of the grower… pretty shocking terminology for a nice way of farming a grape vine! Light in tannin and not-so bracing in acidity, this grape is about balance and delicacy. It’s about the aromas and the simplicity. 


Lagrein (the remaining 15% of Santa Maddalena’s blend)is similar to Schiava in so many ways though there are some distinct differences. Its fruit tends to lean more in the strawberry direction rather than blue and black berries, it is not quite as vigorous and is therefore not always trained by trellis. It’s an odd Italian grape as it lacks so many of the intensely rustic characteristics we think of in an Italian red. Not overly tannic but it sometimes carries a roughness best honed by oak or shorter maceration (or whole cluster, a la Whitcraft). It is fruit forward and delicate, not overly acidic, and  while Schiava has not been exported in any quantity the lovely Lagrein is at home in the hot expanses of east Paso Robles and much of Southern Australia where it is in high fashion. This is all relatively new for Lagrein but the reviews are in and the people, they love it! 


These grapes, they’re siblings, one is a budding adventurer and the other is content to stay home where finds love regardless of the world’s fashions.

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Franz Gojer - Santa Maddalena - “Rondell” - Bolzano, Alto Adige, IT 2016


Friends, 

Welcome to the peak. This is the best wine by [potentially] the best producer in all of Santa Maddalena. As mentioned earlier, Franz Gojer’s estate, Glögglehof, has a prime central location on the hill of Santa Maddalena, overlooking the town of Bolzano below from about 700ft above sea level. It’s as prime a position as any and certainly the envy of most other local growers. As the importer and revered Italian wine badass Oliver McCrum puts it:


“The best single bottling of St. Magdalener I've tasted from any producer, showing a little more tannin than the regular bottling but still very drinkable. Red fruits, tea-tannins, distinct herbal notes, long, delicious. I'll be drinking quite a bit of this with roast chicken, grilled salmon, and pizza. Schiava serving tip: put the wine in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving for best balance


Ladies and Gentlemen, Oliver knows best. 


Modelled after their favorite Burgundian pinot noirs, this wine is both delightfully light, refreshing, energetic, and crisp yet utterly deep in earthy flavors, long finishing, profoundly savory, and surprisingly tannic. It’s more than a simple copy of burgundian style and beyond the majority of its peers. It is individual. It is a wine that’s importance and value is self explanatory. 


I open the bottle chilled and let it warm through the tasting. It pops with all wild frutti di boschi, ultra-fresh blueberry and blackberry flavors as if we picked them in the morning fog and danced on them. Seriously, It plumes from the glass like a fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt cup! A second deeper sniff gives off fennel, mountain herbs, stemminess, and a pink peppercorn-bright spice. Transparent in the glass with a dazzling ruby color and hints of purple. The palate has impressive mouthfeel and while light and delicate the tannins are persistent. The mouth is all confirmed in the nose with super fresh mountain wild berry flavors, fresh herbs, savory spices, and a soft cured meat character. It is definitely an italian red with just the right amount of rusticity, plenty of acidity and a delicately wooded note. As it warms look for notes of preserved orange peel, spicier and spicier, deeper, and yet never harsh. It’s a sexy wine, elegant, and totally the peak of Santa Maddalena. 


Is this a wine a memory from a long lost era? Yes.

Is this a wine with everything that we’re looking for from modern and responsible natural producer? Totally.


Fun Fact: Franz Gojer’s son Florian recently spent harvest working under legendary mind behind Au Bon Climat, Jim Clendenon, herein Santa Barbara.Florian will inherit the estate and works fully alongside his father in all functions of the vineyard. I like to think a little drop of that Santa Barbara flavor found its way into our wine club. 


Production Notes:

  • Rondell is the best single parcel in the center Glögglehof estate 
  • Sustainably Grown
  • 93% Schiava, 7% Lagrein
  • Uninoculated for the first 3 days of fermentation then introduced to the winery’s own home-inoculated yeast strain
  • Controlled temperature fermentation in Stainless Steel Tanks (cool to maintain delicate fruit and floral notes)
  • Aged in large Botti (huge neutral oak barrels) for 6 months before bottling
  • Drink it chilled! 30 minutes in the fridge is plenty!

$40 @ Satellite SB


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Whitcraft Winery - Lagrein - French Camp Vineyard - Paso Robles Highlands, California 2016


Drake Whitcraft is a homie and his winery is a home. In his magic fermentation chamber you’ll hear Wu Tang Clan clan or Drake’s own band jamming and if you’re lucky wonderful clouds of herbal smoke might occasionally puff by. His winery assistant and do-whatever-needs-doing-dude Chris P. Bacon will greet you with a big toothy grin and an invite for an in depth tour of this one-room local wine mecca. Nothing in the winery is necessarily modern, but it all works just fine. This winery is a home, warm, lived in, and friendly. It’s also just a block away from Santa Barbara’s east side neighborhoods so if you stay too long you can walk home!


Drake’s dad, Chris, was a forerunner in Santa Barbara’s wine scene and was one of the first to establish himself within Santa Barbara’s city limits. He started into wine in 1975 with various legendary California wineries like Heitz, Chalone, and Williams Selyam… After accumulating a wealth of experience from the best of California’s best, Chris was drawn to Santa Barbara for its well priced grapes, expanding vine plantings, and burgeoning wine movement. I am so glad he did because he established Whitcraft as one of the best wineries in Santa Barbara and helped set a tone for quality in our region. Their wines are so badass… Guys, I’m having trouble controlling myself.  


Chris passed suddenly in 2014 and while Drake had been running the winery for about 6 years the loss of his dad was devastating. Drake is absolutely adamant about his dad’s importance in his life. I met Drake for the first time just a week or so after and never forgot that first interaction with this incredibly down to earth and humble man. I didn’t realize it then but it was the first time in Santa Barbara’s wine history that a winery had passed entirely from one generation to the next. A dynasty had been formed and Drake now carries the Whitcraft banner. Reading old wine club notes, Chris was emphatic that Drake was every bit the winemaker he was and much more. Its crystal clear to me too that Drake is the chosen one. 


This vintage of 2016 Lagrein is the first in 12 years. It was always an odd duck in their portfolio of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and fell by the wayside as Chris’s health waned and he began handing off his skills to Drake. This wine screams both ‘homage’ and ‘statement’. It is a dedication to the father who set the roadmap for Drake’s career an exciting waymarker for what’s to come.


Drake sent me this quick note on the production of the Lagrein: 

“Well I wanted to make it again because my dad made it for nine years and people really liked it. I did not know how it was going to turn out but am very happy with it it’s very quaffable. It’s just an awesome barbecue wine it’s not meant to be over thought. Its whole cluster, punched down more than pinot so like 2-3 times a day”


I opened the wine cold and let it warm through my tasting. It pops with this wild strawberry and spice profile that leaps from the glass - All brambly, fruity, and dusty. Color intensity, like the Gojer, it is light - totally transparent and brilliantly ruby red. Lightly carbonic notes from the whole cluster fermentation come first from the glass, and it opens to even more wild strawberry and savory/stemmy/sweet spiciness. Tannins are hardly present here with an extremely fine layer barely perceivable on the tongue. Its delicate and darling. As it warms look for the flavors to ripen and for candy apple coating, fragrant lavender. Yum.


It’s always a little funny when Drake has to tell people “Its whole cluster” because his winery doesn’t even have a destemmer. If anything is getting destemmed it will be by hand… and that would be loco! No way, dude. I recently read an interview in Vinous with Drake where he states quite candidly that he only knows how to make wine the way it was made before electricity was invented. That’s why I am so romanced by Drakes wines, and his father’s before him… The product of modernity they are not. They are that magic crossing where necessity, simplicity, and instinct unlock the brilliance of nature. Drake’s wines are the epitome of both skill and simplicity, never over-worked, always nervey and alive. 


For me Drake’s is the only Santa Barbara Urban winery on my list, but it’s right there on top of my list for anyone looking to find the best winery in the county. 


Production Notes:

  • 100% whole cluster lagrein from French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles Highlands
  • Hand Harvested
  • Foot Stomped
  • 2-3 punchdowns per day, more than any of his other wines
  • SO2 added at bottling
  • First Lagrein vintage in 12 years
  • Serve chilled with something grilled → Brilliant!

$36 @ Satellite SB


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Park your butt on the beach, in a park, on a mountain

Pop and umbrella, pitch a tent, slather on that sun lotion

Toss these reds on ice 

Gosh, summer seems nice 


This is June at Satellite.



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