Although the term terroir gets tossed around like confetti at an Italian wedding these days, there are several (mostly family-owned and –operated) wine properties in Napa and Sonoma that are taking the idea seriously.
One such property is Benziger, who biodynamically farm grapes and make wine in a beautiful section of Sonoma County. So much so that they’ve hired self-proclaimed terroir specialist Dr. Pedro Parra to help them analyze the soils and subsoils of their vineyard locations – involving scientific analysis and the digging of deep trenches at strategic locations in the vineyards to examine the soil profiles and root growth. You can see some of this in the video coverage below.
General Manager Mike Benziger and I sat down last week at the family winery to talk about California wine, terroir, dirt, and Dr. Parra’s unique work, but failed to discuss the strange state of my wind-blown hair. Enjoy!
“I almost named the wine Serendipity because I discovered the technique which produces this wine by pure accident.”
This is a story that I’ve been chomping at the bit to tell for months. It’s the kind of story that makes you excited about the influx of talented, young winemakers in the Napa Valley, who are shaking things up with an attitude and passion that probably hasn’t been seen in the Valley since John Trefethen accidentally exploded a trash can full of fermenting juice in his basement in the `70s.
The quote that kicks off today’s article comes from Modus Operandi Cellars owner and winemaker Jason Moore. And he is either a bit of a genius, a bit ingenious, or certifiably nuts (or some combination of the three), depending on whether or not you come from the traditional U.C. Davis school of California winemaking. The story of the wine – called Antithesis – is the kind of stuff that is a bit stranger than fiction – in other words, you can’t make this kind of stuff up if you tried – which is why I’m excited to tell it. Or, I should say, I’m excited to have Jason tell it, which he did via a recent e-mail exchange. In that way, this article is part wine review, and part interview:
“In 2006 I had a little problem with one of my fermentations… the yeast stopped fermenting which left me with about two brix of sugar to ferment. I knew that the winemakers usual response to this issue is to prepare a new yeast build up and re-inoculate. I also knew that this is horrible for ultimate wine quality so I reeeeeally don’t like to do it… only as a last resort. So, I learned a trick from Phillippe Melka which has the ability to solve the fermentation problem while still retaining as much wine quality as possible.”
Before we talk about how Jason (quite creatively) overcame this little conundrum, I need to tell you a bit about the wine itself, which I first tried back in February during a get-together at Vintank HQ in downtown Napa. Jason was pouring the `07 Antithesis (among some of his other M.O. wines). I was struck by the quality and depth of the wine; I knew that it stood out as special, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why – that didn’t become totally clear until Jason described the strange history of the wine, which, as you will soon discover, is sort of like a twisted CA version of Valpolicella Ripasso.
Jason kindly agreed to send me a sample for review so that I could taste the wine under more controlled circumstances. And I enjoyed it just as much the second time around…
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As in, three 2005s, or 3 different wines all from the 2005 vintage.
Other than their harvest year, they’ve got little in common apart from the fact that I tasted all three as samples over the last week or so, and in a rare case of vinous serendipity found all three to be excellent (a real treat for me) and probably worthy of your time (and your cash). So much so that I decided to write a “what-I-drank-last-week” style article, which I don’t often do (not to be taken as a “statement” on the validity of such pieces, by the way).
An alternative title for today’s post might be “Dude-i-locks And the Three Reds,” seeing as how one of these wines is a bit overpriced, the other a bit underpriced, and the price of the third is juuuuust riiiiight.
Let’s start with the slightly overpriced wine, Trefethen’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), which you can sample as part of their ingenious “mini bottle” offering before you decide to plunk down $100 on a full 750 ml bottle. This wine is most decidedly not a wine for now. It’s a wine for 5-7 years from now. Tasting it right out of the bottle now, you might exude a heavy sigh and a look that says “Oh shit, what did I just spend a hundred clams on?!???” – a veritable mess of dense dark fruits, tight tannic grip, vanillin oak and booze all vying for your attention. BUT… a day in the decanter will show what this wine is capable of becoming in a few years, which is downright magical. It’s like a miracle will happen in that decanter, which on day two will greet you with an enormous wine of power and depth, waves of black fruits, red jams, chocolate, and tiny amounts of nuts and black olives to really seal the deal into awesomeness. If you don’t think Napa Cabs are capable of aging, then you and I ought to split a bottle of this, come back to it in 2015, and see who won the bet.
And now, our second wine, which is probably slightly underpriced (I know, right?)…
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