Satellite Wine Club, September 2020
Call Me, Gamaybe?
Maison Perraud - “Grand Cras” - Morgon AOP, Beaujolais, FR - 2017
Storm Wines - Gamay - Presqu’île Vineyard - Santa Maria Valley, CA - 2019
Are we having fun yet?? I’m firmly in the camp of “trying!”. 2020’s seemingly never ending march of madness has got us redoubling our commitment to creative exploration, personal development, and finding fun wherever we can get it!
Satellite continues to Sur-Thrive thanks, in huge part, to your continued support. Thanks for being a member, for having an open mind and open mouth, for participating in this crazy project called Satellite. I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for all the love and support you’ve given over these years and particularly the past 7 months! Infinite thank-you’s, cheers’s, and safely distanced air-hugs.
Now… let’s wade into the juice.
Gamay is a red grape and it gets people fired up. It’s delicious, easy to glug, rarely meant to be taken too seriously, and sadly unfamiliar to the vast hoardes of casual wine drinkers. Guys, this is the ideal grape for the casual wine interloper! GET TO KNOW IT!
Gamay, my friend, has a history of controversy that continues to divide the wine world to this day. It was outright banned from its birthplace, Burgundy, in 1395 by the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe the Bold. He surmised that Pinot Noir was the greater grape, and he might have been right, in part, but I think he might have just been a stick in the mud. Gamay is FUN and - unfortunately - some people just don’t get it.
What’s the story here? Well Gamay is an old and storied varietal with its literal roots in eastern France. It’s a vigorous growing vine, and it benefits from a hands-off winemaking approach. That prickly Duke Phillipe the Bold likely banned it, we assume, because the wines were simpler, more astringent, and less apparently valuable when compared to the depth and complexity of Pinot Noir, stating: “The Dukes of Burgundy are known as the lords of the best wines in Christendom. We will maintain our reputation” … ok Phillipe - we get it, you’re fancy. Now though, modern winegrowing quality and cellar improvements illustrate very clearly that Gamay stands on its own as a noble and terrific quality varietal.
So where did the Grand JERK Phillipe banish Gamay to? Just a few miles south actually! The region of Beaujolais, while technically in the Rhône Department of France, fully butts up against the southern edge of Burgundy. That slight southern shift actually resulted in a few benefits for the quality of Gamay production: more warmth and diverse soils! While Gamay on the predominant limestone soils of Burgundy can be terrific and crystal-clear, the complexity of Beaujolais’ geography is enviable for this adaptable vine.
Just 34 miles long and 7-9 miles wide, Beaujolais isn’t exactly huge. That said, it has a multitude of important regions within it that really do make a difference in the quality and expression of the wine. If Burgundy has limestone, Beaujolais has Granite & Schist. While the region technically has limestone, clay, and a few other minor soil types, it is the granite & schist-rich northern Beaujolais that hosts each of the 10 important Village Crus. What do these substrates do to the wines? It’s straight forward: Schist makes for more body, weight, and apparent fleshy ripeness & Granite builds color, acid, and tannic structure to the wines. If limestone is a catalyst of purity and levitosity, Schist and Granite make for intensity & power, complexity, and oomph.
Wait wait wait… Village CRUS?!?! Yes winestronaut - let’s peel this onion.
At the highest level we have the region: Beaujolais. The region has generally similar geography with a homogenous climate and a fairly consistent geological mix. Wines labeled Beaujolais AOP can come from anywhere in the zone and includes all styles including Nouveau (the super light, bubble-gummy style released in the first week of November), Rosé, and baseline quality red.
Within the region is the Beaujolais Villages tier which can come from the vineyards of some 30 villages within a much smaller zone encompassing most of the northern half of the region (where schist and granite dominate). Generally these have deeper color, will have a slightly higher alcohol around 12% and will taste more complex and deep. No nouveau or rosé here.
Finally we have Beaujolais Cru! These are the mack-daddy wines of the region and can only come from vineyards within the top 10 villages (i.e. Morgon which you have in your hands unless you’ve already done what I was hoping you’d do by now… glug glug!) These wines are labelled without the Villages name on the label and simply by the name of the village. Each one is distinct, with the lightest from Saint-Armour and Fleurie up to the deepest and most brooding of Moulin a Vents and Morgon! These cru level wines can age elegantly for years, particularly the bigger wines (2017 Morgon perhaps?)
Finally, there are a few notable Climat zones (7) within Morgon. Most famously would be Cote du Puy, Corcelette, and les Charmes. You have the climate Grand Cras in your bottle, a sub appellation with the most Schist and, therefore, the biggest body and deepest ripe black cherry and kirsch fruit notes.
I know this is a lot to unpack, but, I believe that with the world-class laboratory that is your Eyes, Nose, and Mouth - you will unlock the joy that is every level of Beaujolais. At the very least you’ll be familiar with how fun they are!
This month we’ll explore Gamay - two ways. Gamay from two vastly different geographies, productions approaches, vintages, winemakers… two worlds entirely separate from one-another - save for a common love of gamay. We’re going to dispel myths like: “gamay can’t age” and “gamay can’t be powerful” and “gamay can’t be elegant”. Gamay is everything we love in wine!
Let’s hit this sauce!
Maison Perraud - “Grand Cras” - Morgon AOP, Beaujolais, FR - 2017
Isabelle and Bruno Perraud are the cutest couple. Period. If you need proof just check out their website: cotes-de-la-moliere.com … Seriously - How cute are they?
Bruno is the 6th generation of winemakers in his family and started Cotes de la Moliere (Maison Perraud) in 1985. His wife Isabelle joined him in 1987 and they quickly began a family. Since its humble beginnings of just 1.5 hectares it has blossomed to almost 9 (~22.5 acres). The property is farmed 100% biodynamically and has not had a single agri-chemical since their conversion to organic agriculture in 1999.
The story of their conversion to organic and biodynamic agriculture is both terror and inspiration. Bruno was seriously poisoned by exposure to pesticides in 1999 and while suffering the lasting effects he vowed to never again risk his health for the production of the wines he loved. He took the hard step of quitting cold turkey and diving into the organic certification process. “Brutal but Vital” they say. I think this poetic line from Isabelle’s blog says it all:
“We listen, we feel, we act according to the needs of the vine.
Life is slowly settling down in our plots.
It feels good ... bien.
There are flowers of all colors, aromatic herbs, it smells good, the ground has become loose and welcoming.
The yields are rather low but the grapes are beautiful.
We will finally be able to make the wines we love.
Of course the work is more difficult.
We spend more time there.
But it is both our choice.”
Darling hardly covers it. I think these people are the cutest ever. They are exactly what I aspire to be when I’m an old smelly french farmer! They are genuine to a fault, hide nothing, they’re led by love and passion alone. It’s intoxicating.
Now you know that I’m obsessed with these people, let me tell you why the wine is so exciting!
This is Morgon from the climat of Grand Cras. Roughly 260m or 900ft above sea level and grown on pure schist soils (the locals call the schist “rotted rocks” for its weird weathered & squished shape). With that high elevation we get a cooler, longer growing season to develop complex flavors supported by the added depth, ripeness, and body of the soil. It’s a winning combo for a surprisingly deep and powerful gamay.
2018 was also a particularly warm year for Beaujolais, resulting in a lot of honestly over-alcoholic and lowered acidity wines in the region. Not here amigo! The 12.5% abv provides for plenty of retained acidity to awaken the palate and to counter the big ripe plum, blackberry, and cherry fruit.
If we’re talking flavor, let’s check those secondary and tertiary notes tucked in just beyond the bright fruit! I feel like the comparison here perfectly demonstrates the typicity of France vs. The ‘New’ World. It’s here, the earth, the dirt, the herbs growing on top and those recently tilled into it, composting. It’s licorice or aniseed, sage, and violets. It’s the morning dew on the roughly plowed earth and the recent waft of the hard working plough horse plodding by. It’s the smell of the autumn buttoning up the summer and inviting you indoors to a feast of roasted veggies and game, if that’s your thing. This wine smells and tastes like a 35mm photo of a cool day at the end of harvest in Morgon. That’s why I love this wine. It’s all the honesty of this darling little estate laid bare for you to discover thousands of miles and thousands of days later.
This wine was made simply. No chemicals. No Sulphur. No destemming. No yeast additions. No filters. Bruno simply takes whole clusters and lays them into an open tank, hops in wearing just his undies, and slowly stomps. Not all of the berries are broken, leading to a partial carbonic fermentation.
Wait wait wait. Carbonic. What’s that. It’s magic, dude.
Carbonic fermentation is a conversion of sugar to alcohol, not by yeast, but by the enzymes in unbroken grapes. In the absence of oxygen, say, in a big fermenting vat under the surface, the enzymes in the grapes are starved and begin taking oxygen from the grape’s carbohydrates thus converting them into alcohol. In other words: Magic. This process is iterated on in many ways, from the pure carbonic processing of the bubble-gum flavored Beaujolais Nouveau, to the very imprecise foot-stomped whole cluster wine in your glass. The basic key is there need to be whole, unbroken berries. The result is freshness, often perceived as a bubble-gum or carnival banana flavor which is much more pronounced in pure carbonic examples.
I love that I can find that freshness amongst the swirling, brooding, heart-warming, autumnal flavors of this wine. That’s what I love about this winery. I hope you love it too.
Storm Wines - Gamay - Presqu’île Vineyard - Santa Maria Valley, CA - 2019
We grow gamay right here in Santa Barbara! More all the time actually :)
I know quite a few of these rare vineyards but, to be entirely forthright, I had no idea this gamay even existed until late August this year. I’m a fan.
You can see the vines from the winery. This is some farm to table right here! But I’m getting ahead of myself - The winery is Storm, the vineyard is Presqu’ile, and they happen to share the same address in Santa Maria.
Ernst Storm is a maniac. He’s a tireless winemaker, badass barbecuing South African, sweet dad, and fun-time enthusiast. I love Ernst and going to visit him is like taking a week-long vacation. He (and the wine you’ll inevitably consume there) really take the edge off.
Ernst occupies the old barn at Presqu’ile. It’s the original winery space they built on the property before spending a kings’ ransom on their wine fortress just up the driveway. It’s a small and capable space, surrounded by organically farmed Pinot and Gamay. It’s the kind of space I’d build for my own winery: small, manageable, easily cleaned, with lots of outdoor space, a great grill, and no neighbors!
I tasted this wine over a lunch of: lamb, pork sausage, t-bone steak, and I think there was a side of caesar (To our vegetarian members, you’ll want, no, need to pack a lunch if you’re going to visit Ernst). I had not intended to make this the wine club wine on that fateful August day… but Ernst made it impossible to do otherwise. On the spot I begged him for 9 cases of his 100 case production… and I committed to making 2 barrels with him for the 2020 vintage. I think this wine is important. Ernie is onto something!
While it shares its heart with the Morgon from Perraud, the wine is distinctly itself. Freshness, acidity, entirely different savory qualities, tarter fruit, lighter weight, less tannin, more zip. That’s the difference. This wine is its own wonderful little beast and I adore it. Let’s put it on our mouths!
First off: the wine is lighter in extraction, more see-through. It shows less age with a brighter ruby-red color than the Beaujolais. Two years less time in bottle definitely shows. You’ll notice it has less sediment too! I think this is for two reasons; 1. Ernst’s wines are neither filtered nor fined (like the Perraud) BUT he is meticulous about letting the wine settle before bottling & 2. After 2 years in bottle the Perraud has developed sediment from the magic of chemistry: tannins and pigments tend to clump up and drop out of wine over time! ☀the more you know!✰
On the nose the wine just smells fresh. Raspberries, cherries, sandalwood or palo santo, a little melted lipstick perhaps? (yes, red lipstick is a legitimate and weirdly common flavor profile for gamay… get used to it ;) Confectioner’s sugar is here too… The wine is inviting.
On the palate it’s all those notes echoed, on a bed of fresh cut herbs and even a bit of fresh kelp (We’re only miles from the ocean, growing on ancient sand dunes people! Wine. Is. Geography.) There’s a depth here that’s down below all the freshness, a sundrenched, dried fruit quality that comes through unexpectedly. It rounds out the palate with a bit of seriousness: a wrinkly, raisiny seriousness that reflects just how intense the sun can get in the afternoons after the ocean fog burns off. And just for good measure, I’d like to plant a flavor in your mind and see if you get it: Sandalwood. This is a quality that comes straight from the sands of Presqu’ile and I believe it’s pervasive in the wines from that vineyard.
The winemaking is a bit different from our Bojo so let’s hit it quick: 30% whole clusters fermented with native yeasts in open top fermenters for 12 days. Pressed to old 600l barrels and aged for an additional 9 months on the lees. Low SO2 addition at bottling and that’s that! Voila. Thank you Ernie!
This wine is legit. It is great gamay, grown on what is essentially an inland beach in Santa Maria. It honors all that is gamay and has me thinking, yes, gamay has a future here in the central coast.
P.S. Did I mention the label art was created by Ernst’s 4 year old Daughter, Elsa? I love these people.
...Another Bottle Please!
Cheers to you Winestronaut.
Hey I’m just farming
All these whole clusters
So here’s my vintage
Call me Gamaybe!