Yesterday was the main event of the Rhone Rangers yearly tasting here in the Bay Area. William Allen from Two Shepherds was nice enough as President of the North Coast chapter of the Rhone Rangers to suggest the seminar portions of the event, which ran from 10am-1pm when the walk around tasting started for members of the trade and media. At 3pm the general public gets to come in and taste wine until the early evening. This was my third consecutive year attending the SF Rhone Rangers tasting, but my first attending the seminar section. Although I have a few meetings per week directly with winemakers, this was an interesting and incredibly insightful look into personalities and the rationale behind why certain wines were made above all others.
The seminar was broken up into two parts, the first included 8 different Rose’s with winemakers or vineyard staff there to talk about why the winery makes a Rose in the first place. I told my wife last night that of all the wine critics that I see acting as MC’s at these type of events, I think Patrick Comiskey from Wine and Spirits does the best job, he’s engaging and always makes sure that the discussion is both fun and interesting. Asking why a Rose was made in the first place, I thought was the most interesting question of the entire day.
The second part of the seminar asked us to taste wines, generally made from the same vineyard about 10 years apart to see how they age. There were some pretty incredible wines being poured and all the big boys in the Rhone industry in California took part from Bob Lindquist at Qupe, to Ridge and of course, Tablas Creek. While I suspected that Rhone’s would have aged just as well as other wine’s, there were some surprised faces especially when it came to Marsanne, which is a grape that we do not generally consider an age worthy white.
Over the course of the 3 hour seminar, I tried to take notes as best as I could while actually enjoying the wine and the small bits of conversation around me. My apologies if I missed anything that was said, or seemed to cover your section less than some others, it wasn’t intentional. I’ve also tried to clean up spelling mistakes and other issues as I’ve seen appropiate, without losing any of the aspect of simply writing this while the event was going on. I wanted people to get a sense of what they would experience at such an event.
Patrick Comiskey (Moderator and writers for Wine & Spirits Magazine as well as his own site): Rose is like Scooby Doo, or WIley Coyote at graduate thesis seminars. Seems not to fit in. Doesn’t beg to be talked about, but begs to be enjoyed.
Rhone Valley home to the heart and soul of Rose-
Steve Anglim(His winery has a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles, opened as he told me quickly after the earthquake, production is about 3,500 cases per year): 18th attempt to make a Rose his wife loves. Wife went to high school in England and remembers tasting Rose in southern France.
-Former auto industry guy-so just in time manufacturing. Last drop went into bottles less than 48 hours ago. “Amazing depth and complexity after 2 days” sarcasm.
Grapes come from neighbor who works for larger winery, he takes juice and gives skins back since neighbor wants deeper red wine than he is given based on when he is required to pick based on his contract. Grenache and Syrah come out at 23-24 BRIX. Barrel fermented separately. Grenache is always the primary component though.
Randall Grahm(Really the guy should need no introduction to audience’s like this, been referred to as the original Rhone Ranger and much more. Owns and makes the wine for Bonny Doon): Made Rose to have red wines to be more critics friendly-label sayings and truthfulness should be the case. 8 years ago started making proper Vin Gris.
Vin Gris vs Rose: Takes issues with the lack of complexity in pink wine. Vin gris is from Provonce, higher acidity, lighter color
Craig Camp(Carig’s always impressive and has certainly grown the reputation and profile of Cornerstone Cellars with a focus on new media, social media and generally acting like it is the 21st century: Red, white and Rose are all wine categories. Rose can be serious like any other wine.
It’s actually the 2013, because he can’t get his bottles because of the dock strike. Likes Syrah, but because of economics, Syrah is being taken out of Napa for more Bordeaux varieties. On the far west edge of the Oak Knoll, next to Carneros. Were making red wine previously, but didn’t like it. Over extraction is an issue in Napa, thus no Rose. Discovering the vineyard gave him the opportunity to leave grapes on the vine long enough for flavors, without excess sugar. Late October harvest and 22 BRIX.
There’s a roundness here that the others do not share.
Maloactic fermentation and non red wines in Napa, are not a good thing. Need the acidity.
Jason Robinson(Works at Field Stone winery as the wholesale sales mananger as well as the tasting room manager, knowledgeable and likable which is something I don’t say about a huge number of wine sales guys): Make 19 wines and had a hole. Have 121 year old Petite Sirah vineyard, so makes sense.
Family has owned property since the 50’s. Andre Tscheltzoff was their consultant. Vineyard was back to ½ ton per acre. After 7 years they had it back to 5 tons per acre. On St George rootstock.
Bottled March 6th-makes it rough on the nose. Just a lighter Petite Sirah really. Buy 6 or more bottles and get a crazy straw. Watermelon and jolly ranchers on the palate. About 1 hour on the skins here.
Petite Sirah is not generally used to make Rose because of the color. (I’ll note this was the first wine that I tasted, I honestly had thought someone had made a mistake and poured a Pinot Noir instead of a Rose. After all, most of the people helping at the event are
Ranko Anderson(Owns Kale wines with her husband Kale, who is a really well known and respected winemaker due to his work at Pahlmeyer): Was originally a way to concentrate other reds. Only non red in the portfolio.
Picked right after veraison at about 20 BRIX. Grapes are literally pink. Control in color comes in the vineyard, not the winery.
Herb Quady(Opened Quady North in ‘06, I always love talking to the Oregon folks in a sea of California): Fanatic about Rose, one of only 3 wines served at my wedding. Spent time in Southern France and worked at Bonny Doon. In southern Oregon, marginal climate for Rhone’s. They just get ripe, so they can play with late varieties that are typically not suited for red wine in Oregon.
Has the opposite problem of Napa-too much acid, so they coferment with Syrah to drop it and add sugar.
Pinot Noir sales help subsidize Rose.
Counise is not bottled by itself normally in the Rhone, but used to uplift other wines. Coinise Rose sold to Seattle chain, before it was made. Rose has helped him get in front wine stewards and helps sell Syrah and Cab Franc. It’s a loss leader in effect. Strong and high geek factor, works well in Seattle.
John McCready(Sierra Vista started in the early 70’s, which still almost doesn’t seem correct, there’s a historical aspect to what John’s seen that is increasingly disappearing within the industry): Had Grenache and didn’t think it was good enough to bottle on its own (note after tasting the day of at the larger walk around tasting, the current version they sell is quite good, vine age seems to affect Grenache more so than it does other grapes)
Larry Schaffer (Owns Tercero on the Central Coast, one of the best winemakers are talking to people within and outside of the industry): Doesn’t believe in a true Rose. As a winemaker always revolving. Love Mourvedre. Doesn’t get ripe enough for a deep red wine, made for a food wine and enjoyed at room temperature.
Mourvedre comes from Happy Canyon, Vogelzang Vineyard. Mourvedre needs lots of late harvest heat. Foot stomped for about 30 minutes. Mourvedre is the girl you don’t bring home to meet mom. Earthy quality, funk takes over if fermented warm. Thus, ferment cool 50-55 degrees in old French oak. Needs to be in bottle ASAP. Comes in at 22 BRIX and comes in at 12.92 alcohol pecentage. At above 13.5% it comes in as a light red wine.
Comiskey: Rose is made to pleasure someone else, until they find that they actually like it. Starts as a by-product.
Comiskey: Syrah isn’t used in the Rhone Valley to make Syrah, but it is common in America.
Part 2 of the Seminar began after a short break, allowing a new set of winemakers to take their places:
Comiskey: All dug into their own library to provide rare stuff to try. Aging is an abstract endeavor. Shouldn’t really be worth the effort, it is inexact. Closures continued to be a fundamental flaw, especially given that you cannot tell until the bottle is opened. Sense of loss when you expect a great wine, but it doesn’t deliver. Cellartracker has a portion to sense where a wine is at, based on other people’s tasting notes. Some varieties from the Rhone, age especially well. Centuries of experience have taught us what wines can age and which cannot, thus the forward and reductive are blended together: Marsanne and Roussane.
Bob Lindquist(Owns Qupe and quite the celebrity at these types of events, even when wearing a Dodgers shirt): WIth Randall Graham, was the first to plant Marsanne in modern California. Making since ‘87 as a young fresh white wine. Joking, he’s among the 3 people in the world that age Marsanne. Says the 93 was still going strong at dinner in Oakland last week. Girard Shav (reds tasted before white’s as is customary) grand busche (great bottle for a tasting) was a white hermitage. “fucking blew my mind” Regrets having not kept more to age. Early there was more demand than bottles. This is the oldest vintage he has enough to “give away” If you come to the winery, happy to pull something. Gets oilier, fatter and more complex. Pairs with mushrooms and truffles with age, instead of basic grilled fish. Picks at 21 BRIX. neutral barrel and malo. My personal reaction, I just LOVED this version of Marsanne. It will absolutely change my opinion of not only how I drink wine personally in my own home, but also how I source wine for mywine clubs and the drinking suggestions that I send to customers.
Marsanne ferments pretty easy.
Comiskey: white wine is more transparent, especially Marsanne.
Lagier Meredith (Mt Veeder is definitely known for Cabernet so for a couple with wine industry backgrounds teaching at UC Davis acclaimed viticulture school and making wine at Mondavi, they must know something) : Mt Veeder! Wine helps bronchitis recovery! (joking) What factors that contribute to aging? All vintages seemt to age well. Wet vs Dry doesn’t matter how term. New oakd and Syrah not thought to be a good marriage by founder Lagier. Saves money and Syrah naturally has plenty of oak. Barrels bought from Pinot makers. Their property is the only thing that truly matters for aging. 1300 feet, no volcanic soil, can see the Bay from the vineyard. Cant eat outside during the summer Have had Syrah thats been aged 25 years with Girard Shav
Bill Easton (Bill owned my local wine store Solano Cellars, before selling and moving on to making wine of his own in the Sierra Foothills, we’ve previously shipped a version or two of his Terre Rouge and Easton Wines) : Part of being committed to Rhone’s is that we don’t sell them all immediately. We don’t get concerned about banker phone calls. That’s not a Rhone business model. Thinks the 6 month sales model is breaking the wine business. Looking for hedonism. Best wine experiences come from wines that are aged 10 years. Terrible wine lists are ones with 2 year old wines on a restaurant wine list. Rhone’s are more structured and require more patience. 1400 feet in decomposed granite. 24-25 BRIX but that’s the first week in September. Planted on it’s own rootstock
Benjamin Silver (A name I wasn’t familar with before the event, Ben makes the wine that carries his name Silver Wines. Everything here comes from SB County): 03 was a huge warm vintage in California, but this is a Syrah vineyard with Pinot Noir planted next to it.Picked Oct 12-28. Ph levels around 3.5, max 3.6. Comiskey
Neil Collins(Tablas Creek winemaker since 1998, more direct than many are accustomed to in the industry: I appreciate it): They do not do anything to create age worthy wine. It’s all the property and the limestone soil and climate. As a winemaker, I don’t know anything about aging wines, didnt want to be on a panel with Lindquist. Did not like an aged wine at first, it’s complex and remarkable. Annoying French word terroir. 40/30/20/10
Syrah and Grenache flip flop more than others.
Yin/Yang in Syrah and Grenache for aging according to Comiskey. Collins says “not really”
He’s Scotish, according to my seat neighbor….I knew he grew up in the UK.
Syrah is whatever you need Grenache, I’m here for you. Grenache is finicky.
Mourvedre is the intriguing stuff and always empty at the bottom of dinner.
To Comiskey who swears wine is more direct and less confusing with age: Do you get less mysterious with age? Just more confusing
100% organic. Trying biodynamic. Neutral wood. 100% native yeast. Planted in 92 through 97. Dry farmed last 8 years
David Gates:(Ridge is the last winery that needs an introduction, Gates the VP at Ridge)
Comiskey says about Petite Sirah: Story 3 years ago described Punchline led to believe it was baout Cabernet, first thought is I can’t beleive this is Petite Sirah. PS is ageable above all other Rhone’s. Great joys in life are 20-30 year old PS.
Cold soak is not intentional. Pump over with lots of airation for PS.
Skins for 3-4-5 days…sometimes 6-7 days.
Skins readily give up color and tannin
After 30 years of age, it’s just a Claret.
PS found a home in California because it is such a great blender
Carole Mededith found the PS genetic heritage at UC Davis
PS is susceptible to wood disease
Peller Sean is always found in 100+ year old vineyards
Preller sean is gritty
As you can tell, this was an interesting seminar to say the least. One thing that the wine industry does not generally hurt for is big personalities and many of those were on display here. It was an enjoyable few hours and one I’m really glad I was able to take part in. Laslty, the Craneway Pavilion deserves a short mention in this space, located in the Bay Area, in the east bay city of Richmond, the Pavilion is a former Ford manufacturing plant and helps to show how a city not known for its economic might, can bring in tourist dollars and events. It’s a beautiful venue directly on the water. They also showed a willingness to learn a little something from one year to the next. Two changes this year included both tents for the wineries pouring during the walk around tasting (the sun comes in pretty strong as the afternoon moves along) as well as bringing in a handful of food trucks in addition to the on site restaurant (which simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle the amount of people that attend). In all, I hope this was a good event for the Craneway Pavilion and of course, the Rhone Rangers