Satellite Wine Club, Septembre 2022
$41 Retail, $492/Case $394/Case for Members ($32.80/Bottle)
$46 Retail, $552/Case $442/Case for Members ($36.80/Bottle)
BONUS ROUND! This month it’s all about Gamay… and not just any Gamay —> Satellite’s Very Own Gamay. GALACTIC GAMAY. Bet you didn’t expect another Satellite collab this year!
I swear one day we’re going to miss badly on a wine made in partnership with our favorite local winemakers, but this is not that day. You are the lucky recipient of what I can only describe as another triumphant winner!
Gamay is one of my favorite grapes. It’s one of those varieties that feels like a mile marker on my path to wine appreciation, and most especially natural wine appreciation. It’s been a darling of the natural wine world for nearly 50 years, in fact, many credit the OG “Gang of Four” in Beaujolais for igniting the popularity of natural winemaking in general. Jules Chavet and his protegees - Jean-Paul Thevenet, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, and Marcel Lapierre - all started growing grapes without pesticides on their relatively unknown estates in the 70’s and 80’s. They fermented whole clusters without SO2 additions at least until bottling, never fining or filtering their wines - patiently learning to trust the natural flow of vinifying pure, clean fruit - grown without systemic poisons.
Gamay was the perfect fruit to exemplify and establish the movement. It grows readily on Beaujolais’ granitic soils, verdant and happy in that warm continental summer climate. It wants to be gardened more than farmed, with clusters that lend themselves to minimalistic whole-cluster and even carbonic fermentations. Good acidity, clear bright fruit, and structure that encourages early and casual consumption made this the friendly face of a post-industrial farming movement.
Nowadays, some 50 years later, the Gamay grape still occupies front-of-mind for so many natural winemakers and drinkers alike. A lucky happenstance of the right personalities, in the right geography, with the perfect mix of ampelographic characteristics. We see it in the shop everyday... people freaking love drinking Gamay and winemakers love making it. We can hardly keep it stocked any time of year.
So what are we showing you this month? Well… it’s Gamay. Our way. We’ve got two examples that demonstrate just how great this grape is. Just how flexible it is. These two wines, perhaps more than any wines we’ve carried in the club recently, speak the same language. From the first splash of color to the last drop of carnal-infused juicy fruit. Visceral in Parallel!
All this is to say that you’re going to learn something about Gamay this month, Winestronaut. One fact that you must not miss is that Santa Barbara has the potential, like so many other grapes, to grow world class Gamay that mimics the greats of the old world. I really do believe anything is possible with wine here in Santa Barbara, how lucky are we?
I’ll pass the ball to Sean here to give you a thorough detailed analysis of just how magic these two wines are… and for those of you saying “I thought Gamay was a November thing for Thanksgiving!?” we say to you “Consider this a thirst trap/pre-game for November’s ludicrous over-consumption of Gamay!”.
Welcome to September, when the days shorten, the temperatures climb, and sweaty Santa Barbarans wander the streets for A/C and a cool drink as if the living dead in search of brains. It’s too hot, man. Last week I literally peeled myself from the Satellite bar, still zombified even after a lively spritz and spiced almonds. We’re not the only ones in escape mode. Harvest 2022 is well underway, and in this heat, the grapes wait for no one. Swelled with water and sugar, they’re ready to leave the vine and enter cool, temperature-controlled cellars en route to our thirsty gullets. Some sooner than others - in two months, quick-turnaround wines like Beaujolais Nouveau will line store shelves before California has finished fermenting its cabernet. That’s assuming this heat peters out.
One can’t help but daydream of an oasis in such Saharan conditions. September’s wines will take you there.
As Drew mentioned, Beaujolais is warm. It’s a continental region far from the coasts. The rocky soils here store heat, drain water and reflect intense sunlight onto vines, and in a familiar scene around the globe, climate change is wresting once moderate weather from these hillsides in a tempermental tug of war. But this month we’re seeing another side of gamay. We’re staying cool in the Côte Roannaise, a little slice of granite on the foothills of an ancient mountain range, and Santa Maria’s Presqu'ile Vineyard, where ocean views and own-rooted vines reign supreme. These two locales, and the gamay they grow, have plenty to say about the grape’s contradictions. The wines are refreshing, yet structured. Buoyantly fruity, yet bone-dry and mineral. Their makers captured the delicacy and power of a grape that set the natural wine movement ablaze.
As blue-eyed soul star Mayer Hawthorne crooned in “On A Good One”: My body’s burning up/It’s hot in here/And all this grooving is removing all my fear… Blinds tightly shut, hallways dark as night, roommates groaning in heat-induced agony, I’m holed up in what feels like a crack house, if our addiction is maintaining sub-90 degree temperatures within its walls. That hasn’t been successful, so my next drug of choice, gamay, will have to do. Could be worse.
These producers have the grape singing like Mayer. Their grooving is removing all our thirst. Here’s why.
$41 Retail, $492/Case $394/Case for Members ($32.80/Bottle)
You’ve probably never heard of the Côte Roannaise. I hadn’t until days ago. Cast aside by haughty purists as the red-headed step-child of the Loire Valley, it’s a fascinating and distinctive place. Nearly smack-dab in the middle of France, this is nonetheless border country, home to the nation’s northernmost viognier, southernmost chenin blanc, and gamay. A weird gamay. Which is why we’re here.
The Sérol family has tended their estate since Louis XVI tended a head atop his shoulders. Theirs remained a small, modest plot for over two centuries. That changed when fifth-generation Stéphane succeeded his father in 1996 and began feverishly planting the land. He now oversees seven dozen acres sprinkled with vines reaching some 90 years of age. Those newer plantings (like squeezed-in gamay in 1996 and chenin blanc in 2018) dramatically line their steep slopes, which Stéphane and his wife Carine recently converted from organic to biodynamic farming. There’s even a collaboration with internationally renowned restaurant La Maison Troisgros in nearby Roanne. The three-Michelin star house of nouvelle cuisine and Sérol share two acres of gamay in a combinaison unique et délicieuse.
Well-draining granite soils, extremely high-density plantings and a plethora of old vines keep yields low and quality high. Not to mention their grape of choice is difficult to grow. It’s not gamay as we know it. This is gamay st-romain, a local clone that boasts smaller, tighter clusters that are prone to uneven fertilization and ripen late in the season. Finicky and fragile, the little berry fits right in with its underrated region.
The Loire Valley is a complicated place. Bisected by its namesake river and home to a staggering range of styles, from quiet, seashell-driven muscadet on the Atlantic coast to smoky, textured sauvignon blanc further east, it’s maybe the most versatile - and perplexing - French wine region. While dry white wines bookend the valley, rugged cabernet franc and acid-driven chenin blancs of varying degrees of sweetness fill its interior, with playful and fruity grolleau and gamay also in the mix. Old, indigenous varieties like pineau d’aunis, a personal favorite, are coming back to life as well. The diversity and value of these wines are dizzying. They over-deliver time and time again.
Like any other, the Loire River starts as a slow trickle in the mountains that builds steam before emptying into the ocean. The geologic path it carves is fascinating. This was once the edge of an ancient continent. Millions of years ago, that continent collided with another, mangling the edges of both and forming the Massif Central (literally the central massive, or central mountains in the middle of France) and the Massif Armorican to the northwest. Their new home: the supercontinent Pangea. The mangling pushed things around a bit, and after a while, Pangea began breaking apart. High sea levels quickly flooded large swaths of land between the mountains. The shallow, warm-water seas that emerged are the foundation for limestone, the regions of Champagne and Burgundy, and some of the most famous wines in the world. Oh, and the city of Paris.
It’s this limestone that extends much of the gap between the two massifs, spilling well into the Loire Valley. Hugging the river, the Côte Roannaise is Loire terrain. Original Loire terrain at that - these are considered among the original vineyards of the serpentine appellation. Yet they’re far removed from the crisp, mineral Sancerres, richer Pouilly-Fumés, and limestone soils that bring the region acclaim some 100 miles north. In fact, we’re just due west of Beaujolais. The red and pink quartz-punctuated granite of Bojo is all over the place, glistening in technicolor like the contents of Fiesta confetti eggs interlaced with broken glass. It’s no surprise, then, that gamay is at home up here on the massif. Even if it’s a different gamay.
Gam’ and gran’ be damned - there’s something very Loire about this wine. The cooler climate, the lesser-known, indigenous grape variety, the focus on traditional fermentation as opposed to Beaujolais-beloved carbonic maceration, sure. But there’s a piquant, savory, almost floral note, brooding, dark chocolate-y fruit, and walloping minerality that all point to spice boy cabernet franc. Wait, now pepper and iron… Is Northern Rhône syrah in the house? This wine is complex and tough to unpack.
Intense concentration of fruit, a late-ripening, sensitive little grape variety, and partial whole-cluster fermentation all take us there. Stéphane’s high-density plantings encourage competition among the vines for water and nutrients, which need to be limited lest the plants grow leafy and flabby. What’s more; that limited energy is delivered more effectively to smaller, denser clusters, where less berries will naturally pack more flavor.
The other genetic advantage to this special grape is that if (and it’s a big if) weather stays mild throughout harvest, a late-ripening grape in a cooler climate like this will show incredible density and complexity of flavor at moderate alcohol levels. All that hang time can soften tannins while retaining the fruit’s acidity. Partial whole-cluster inclusion lends a pleasant herbaceousness wrapped in more structure. All of these point to a dance of tension and richness - exactly what we see here.
For a grape like gamay, this wine is noticeably dark. The nose follows suit. Immediately firm and granitic. A karate chop of dusty rock splits red and blue berry-painted rosewood planks. There’s toasty mocha infused with pink peppercorn, sage and a hint of iron. It’s kinda mushroomy, too. Equally dense on the palate, fine, stemmy tannins bring more pepper and graphite to dusted strawberries, iodine and garrigue. Savory greenness coalesces expertly with the fruit and mineral components. A headier take on gamay that’s nonetheless easy-drinking. Smart and undeniably delicious.
There’s not much more to say. Wines like these are why we blur borders, stan granite, and love the Loire.
$46 Retail, $552/Case $442/Case for Members ($36.80/Bottle)
A South African Storm hangs on the edge of the Santa Maria Valley. The scene atop Presqui’le Vineyard is a striking one. Florets of eucalyptus and sheets of sand from wind-swept dunes cloud the west, the rounded San Rafaels head-butt the east, and oak scrub at varying altitudes lay a rumpled green shag rug across everything in between. The sandy-haired force descends into the valley. No, this isn’t some freak tornado from The Day After Tomorrow. It’s Ernst Storm, a man who came halfway across the world to make wine mere yards away from his fellow countryman and friend. He feels at home here. For a native South African, that might sound strange. But cultivation, community and the cooling influences of any ocean have been the defining aspects of this Storm’s accumulation.
Like many winemakers, the man was fated for a life outdoors. Growing up on the coast southeast of Cape Town, Ernst followed his older brother to the nearby vineyards of the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven on Earth) Valley, where the latter became celebrated for his oceanic, cool-climate pinot noirs and chardonnays. Little brother caught on quickly. Ernst was walking vineyards when the end of apartheid took Nelson Mandela from prison to president. He isn’t an old man – the bug just bit him earlier than most.
California opened its doors to the young winemaker in 2003 after graduation from South Africa’s Elsenburg Agricultural College, where he barely missed a dread-headed man named Dieter Cronje. A few years Ernst’s junior, Dieter is winemaker at Presqu’ile Winery. The two now craft their wines on the very same property. Their South African-style braai barbecues are the stuff of local legend, and often a who’s who of Santa Barbara County wine, where grilled meats and inspiration bottles from around the world cram the boisterous table. Stay late enough, and wine isn’t the only intoxicant on the menu.
A stint in the warm Sierra Foothills inspired Ernst to rediscover the coast. Santa Barbara quickly wooed him, and since 2005, he’s birthed wines for a staggering number of local brands, from Firestone to Donnachadh, Curtis to Notary Public, Grimm’s Bluff to Storm Wines. The breadth of his work would stretch many too thin. But this experience only sharpens Ernst’s vision with his own label, currently celebrating its 17th vintage. Initially honing in on sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and syrah, the roster now claims cabernet franc, a GSM blend, and of course, gamay.
You may recall Stephen Searle’s Leitmotif label, whose Santa Barbara County pinot noirs have graced the Satty shelves since day one. We also featured his Slide Hill syrah in January. Stephen and Ernst are undeniably simpatico. Roughly the same age, both have been hustling in Santa Barbara since the mid-aughts, craft myriad wines for brands large and small, and show deference to cool-climate fruit and minimalist winemaking with their own labels. Not to mention plucking fruit and tasting juice from many of the same vineyards like fraternity brothers swigging from a whiskey bottle.
Nowadays Storm watches the sea from Presqu’ile Vineyard. His eponymous winery is just down the road. From this vantage point, one can see the curvature of the coast from Santa Maria to Pismo Beach and beyond. San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley peeks out further north. Even with limited visibility, it’s an impressive view. It’s also the end of the county, and continent. Like Domaine Sérol, this is the boundary of an appellation, seemingly torn between two identities, and yet the scenery tells it all. The ocean is just 15 miles west. Sand beneath our toes, we’re standing on an ancient beach.
Remember the Sideways effect? Just to recap – Santa Barbara used to be flat. Or at least until 30 million years ago, when tectonic activity snatched a piece of present-day Los Angeles, spun it 90 degrees and carried it northwest. New mountains formed, and a unique pocket of ocean-exposed valleys emerged. Santa Barbara is now the only transverse (east-west) growing region on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. That pocket is stuffed like a fourth-grader’s after a rock and gem show - sandstone, schist, silex, diatomaceous earth, even a little limestone. Further north, Presqu’ile’s are sandy soils; well-draining and heat-trapping like granite, but notable for their inhospitality to vineyard pest phylloxera.
Phylloxera is a louse that nearly decimated Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century. It started when some yokel brought an American vine to France. Unbeknownst to him, a little vine-munching turd bug was hitching a ride, and within a generation, phylloxera housed most of the continent’s grapevines as if Garfield’s lasagna. For most wineries, its damage is now a distant memory. What resurrected these regions? It was discovered that European vines could outsmart the louse if planted to American rootstock. The American trunks grew up and evolved with phylloxera, and they figured out an effective defense system to thwart it. Today, most vines are European grapes on Yankee roots. This is why we geek out over own-rooted plants. Not only are they rare; most winemakers and sommeliers agree they produce among the greatest bottles of wine. Santa Barbara hot spots like Stolpman, Bien Nacido, Ibarra-Young and Presqu’ile all claim own-rooted vines.
It’s not just this no-vacancy policy that makes sand unique. Sand lends a different texture to wine. Discussions of how soil impacts wine get a little muddy, but there are some generally established concepts. Clay brings broadness and depth, while limestone is prized for the linear, laser-like quality it shoots into a wine. As implied earlier, granite makes things feel rocky and mineral. Sand lends unique, airy tannins and a looseness of structure.
The tannic profile and light body are there. Just like the Oudan, there’s a world to discover. Taut acidity coats tart, salt and pepper-dashed raspberries and sous-bois, the edges frayed like an old Wanted poster kissed by just-burnt rubber and bay leaf. It smells French and intoxicating. Cinnamon and roses recall classic gamays. The palate is equally dynamic - olive brine, black tea, so savory and salty and pleasing. This wine is like the contents of a Pier 51 store dumped onto a wet mountain overlooking the ocean. It’s fresh wood and leathery but damp and dirty and saline in a damn fine balancing act. Cranberry sauce, white pepper and black tea linger on and on. Extra shout out to our Satellite homie Coop for helping bring this beauty to life.
Coincidentally, I just reached into my messenger bag and came up with a pouch of biltong, a South African dried beef snack not unlike jerky. No, I didn’t fly it in from Cape Town. This one was made right here in Santa Barbara, sourced from grass-fed beef in Jalama Canyon, outside Lompoc. I had totally forgotten about it, and it’s delicious. Like Ernst and his wines, the snack brings a spicy accent with which I’m not entirely familiar. Yet it’s one that feels uncontrived and without pretense. And the peppery biltong is as home-grown as anything around.
Does it pair well with Ernst’s wine? Hell Jaa.
Til’ Gamay Day.
I want it my way.
It’s September at Satellite!
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