Posts Filed Under overachiever wines
“We don’t make wine. We grow wine. We’re more like ‘sashimi style’ winemaking.”
On a cool morning that will later turn into a blustering day in the midst of a small August heat wave, Chad Melville seemed to be feeding me what ought to be a standard marketing line about winemaking. The kind that end in phrases like “optimal ripeness.”
Suuuure, you don’t make wine; it’s all about the special land upon which your grapes grow… the one that is kissed by col fog in the morning, and bathed in sunlight and warmth during the day. And he is the sales director for his family’s Lompoc, CA wine business, after all (businessman father Ron Melville founded Melville after getting bit by the wine bug in undergrad, and then setting up a grape growing operation in Knight’s Valley; brother Brent is the vineyard manager).
But there was a problem with Chad’s sales pitch about their by-hand fifteen thousand case production: it didn’t come off as a pitch. No references to optimal ripeness, no rococo-esque flourishes of over-endorsement or self-aggrandizement. Chad’s non-pitch was interjected with the firsthand knowledge of a guy who helped to establish and develop the vineyards and business that his family owns, and who previously assisted in winemaking at the estate (winemaker duties are now headed up by Greg Brewer).
In other words, I bought it, because my bullsh*t meter was barely registering a tick. And after I tasted through Chad’s family’s wines – which are high quality while also being almost fiercely unadorned – I’d say the BS meter had some hard evidence to back up its initial assessment…
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A year later, and Mosel Riesling is still kicking ass. Only it took a blind tasting held in the Finger Lakes to remind me of that.
Back in August, I was asked to participate in a sensory analysis panel in Watkins Glen (Finger Lakes wine country, that is) related to a mobile wine app that has yet to hit the market. I am under a NDA, and so there’s actually not much I can tell you specifically about the event apart from the fact that I was paid for my work, and the relatively large panel also included oenologists, other bloggers like Vinesleuth, a few Finger Lakes winemakers, and some heavy-hitters in the wine judging circuit who I’ve admired for some time (it was a real trip meeting those folks). Also, the weather was f*cking incredible, which helped since my toddler daughter insisted on climbing all over the rocks of the jetty behind the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, which I think might have given my wife and I a few (mild) heart attacks.
The blind analysis did not include FLX wines, though I did manage to sneak in a (non-blind) tasting of a some recent Fox Run Vineyards releases with winemakers Peter Bell and Tricia Renshaw. That was a trip highlight for me; their wines continue to improve at a dramatic rate, and they have some very interesting things going on in their 2010 and 2011 Rieslings.
It’s a shame that there weren’t any FLX wines in the lineup, because the wines that I tasted blind over the few days of that sensory eval were, on the whole, not-so-hot. I’d have welcomed a few FLX stalwarts in those glasses, believe me. And once I figured out that we were tasting the wine flights in duplicate, I started to cringe… “Oh sh*t… this means I’m gonna have to taste through that funky-ass, over-oaked, buttery Syrah flight again!” Let’s just say it was good I was getting paid, otherwise I’d have been tempted to skip out to the jetty with my daughter.
A few notable exceptions did crop up through those flights, and I noted one particular white wine that tasted familiar to me, and was clearly a full head-and-shoulders quality level above the rest of the pack of dozens and dozens of budget-priced wines that we tasted (and I’m talking Kevin-Garnett-standing-next-to-me sized head-and-shoulders height difference, here)…
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There’s a scene at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark (please don’t tell me you haven’t seen it… it’s only the greatest action/adventure flick yet made by humans) where an unnamed warehouse worker wheels a large box, presumably containing the Lost Ark of the Covenant (which turns out to be a WOMD) into a massive storage complex, through what appears to be miles of boxes stacked dozens of feet high.
Walking through the enormous barrel storage rooms at venerable Haro producer La Rioja Alta, S.A., anyone who remembers that closing scene from Raiders is bound to experience an eerie sense of déjà vu. Same goes for those strolling through LRA’s underground walkways and barrel storage areas – there are literally millions of bottles of wine slumbering in that quiet earth.
In fact, just about everything at LRA’s Haro location, aside from the tasting room (one of the few Rioja producers who even have one, and one which demonstrates a clear design love affair with high-gloss surfaces at that), feels oversized; from their display cases and production museums, down to the cask rooms and wooden casks themselves. Even their private tasting area has a huge open space smack dab in the center of it, as if a god with a magic iPhone had grabbed the corners of a normally-proportioned conference room and pinched-and-slid it to expand it to three times its normal size.
All of which makes it all the more interesting to a wine geek, weaned on the notion that truly great wine is only made in tiny quantities, that LRA’s large (okay, ginormous) production volume doesn’t get in the way whatsoever of the quality of their wines.
In fact, in tasting the wines from La Rioja Alta, one gets the sense that every hour of their near 125 years of winemaking experience has somehow been put to good use; the lineup includes not only some of Spain’s most long-lived and elegantly complex (and expensive) reds, but also one of Europe’s most stunning red wines bargains…
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