I hadn’t considered doing another Aselstine Family Cellars wine, but sometimes this stuff comes up and saying no doesn’t make a lot of sense.
In essence, it’s a similar idea to the last Aselstine Family Cellars wine that I created-a winemaker with some extra juice unloaded it onto me, by the barrel.
It’s funny looking back, I was so damn excited last time. I think this might actually be a better wine, more on that in a moment, this time it was a little less dramatic. I’ve been working on something of a side project called Winemaker.tv and the day that this Carignan was bottled, we were filming for that. The idea is simple, put winemakers on tv, even if its only the internet to begin, to tell their stories. Text is cool after all, but 75% of bandwidth is now used to stream online video in America and that share is only set to increase. Anyway we were on the bottling wine, filming some of what happens for what’s called b-roll (the stuff you show as people are talking, in lieu of looking at their face the entire time) and then it hit me, this is another one that I’m putting my name on-so it’s in some ways more important than other bottles I ship and in many ways, less.
This Carignan comes from a single vineyard up in Mendocino County. Mendocino roughly begins where Sonoma ends. It’s kind of a wild place to be honest. I have a few friends who grew up in various spots around Mendocino, certainly some had a suburban upbringing like I did, others though grew up shooting at cans on a few hundred acres. Country living isn’t something that many folks picture when they think of California, but this is one spot where you can still find it.
Really though, I think one of the important things to note is that a wine like this might only be possible from Mendocino. Carignan if you aren’t familiar, can be spelled with a trailing “e” or without, as I tend to do so. Simplicity maybe. Sometimes I’ll tack it on without realizing because attention to detail might not be a strong suit.
For most vineyard owners, in the 80’s when the first huge run up happened to grape prices in Napa Valley and Sonoma (if you can remember back that far, Merlot and Chardonnay were the clear winners) if you had a field of Carignan, you probably pulled it out entirely, or grafted it over to Merlot if you had picked a winning rootstock.
Carignan is an interesting grape. It actually might be the most maligned grape in wine. It’s been responsible for the French “wine lake” as well as huge overproduction in Spain. If you aren’t familiar with the wine lake, vintners in France got a little over confident in the industry about a decade ago. Since French law puts severe restrictions in most growing regions that you’ve heard of in terms of amounts of production and the grapes that can be produced, they responded by planting literally hundreds of miles of vineyards in Southern France as the climate and geography get warmer. The result there was the same as it has been in California’s Central Valley and in Spain, MASSIVE amounts of wine. There are times when Carignan can produce 10 tons per acre of land, consistently year in and year out. All it needs is abundant sun and water. The wine lake almost tanked international wine prices and it got bad enough in France that the government had to start paying farmers to pull out their crops.
So how do I think this is a serious wine?
Getting back to Mendocino, these vines never got pulled out. If you’ve learned anything from being in one of my wine clubs, I hope that it’ll be this: literally the best indication of the quality of a wine is the amount of grapes produced per acre. Less grapes = better wine.
Older vines produce less grapes. Less grapes makes for a more densely flavorful wine in your glass. It’s funny I talk to winemakers and these old vineyards are something of a fascination for certain types of winemakers. The little guys, the guys making a thousand or so cases per year that are paying for everything out of pocket etc. A few of them have these old maps, generally from the St. Helena public library which is truly an outstanding and lesser known wine resource, they open them and try and compare where plantings once existed to what’s been built. Sometimes a housing development left some of vines around, mostly not, but it only takes a few. Sometimes they’re in a significant enough state of disrepair to make the fruit cheap enough to warrant a long term lease and then plenty of time literally reteaching a farmer, how to farm wine grapes.
Anyway, I’ve come to think of Carignan increasingly as a grape that many in California might substitute for Cabernet Sauvignon every so often, if they only knew it existed.