Found myself in a very, very rare situation yesterday afternoon, I was at a domestic wine trade event…and one I even uttered the words, “I would kinda dig going to that” about.
When our newest hire Laurie mentioned she had double bookings for trade events, and she told me just hours after I got word from our owner that I should guide and help steer our new domestic buyer, I felt the pang of maybe but it wasn’t until she told me that one of the events was In Pursuit of Balance that I was pretty damn quick to offer to join her, you know, if she thought it would help. Truth is I did actually want to help her, not only is she a wonderfully sweet and eager woman, she hasn’t been thumped into submission by big egos and the “Look how deep my cellar is” set. She approaches wine much in the same way the rest of us do at The Wine Country, tasting, figuring out who would love it and putting that wine in their hands. Not, “How many wines can I taste in one afternoon?” or “I met Such-n-such winemaker that used to be at Blah-blah but has partnered up with Whatshisface and started a winery called Whogivesacrap”. Excited to learn as she goes and even more excited to share with our customers so I couldn’t be happier to give her a hand.
I first heard of In Pursuit of Balance last year when our then domestic buyer Bennett flew up to San Francisco to attend the event and came back positively effusive about the wines he tasted there and how much I would have loved them. When I heard the names of the wineries that were featured and later, tasted some of the wines Bennett brought in because of that one event, well it remained on my radar enough to toss out my willingness to forget how much I loathe those big trade events and have Laurie sign us both up. Ended up being one of those, “Suck it up for the sake of clarity and education” kind of deals for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, there were some wicked cool Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, (that’s right, Pinot and Chard not some obscure or little known varieties) there to be tasted, some of which left me damn-near aflutter, I fucking groaned a couple times people, but I found much of the same self-congratulatory, name tag sniffin’, bloated egos at this “offbeat” event as I do so many of the others. Lots younger, lots more hair goo but just as annoying but…balanced I guess.
A couple years after I started blogging I started to become more curious about the wines that the people I adored and read talked about. I actually wanted to be more balanced with regard to the wines from right here in my very own state, wines that had eluded me for years and were honestly the reason I thought I’d never get into wine. I knew those smart people couldn’t be all wrong and I was sure there had to be some wines grown here would in fact speak to my kind of palate. I ached to taste them, know them and turn on the customers in our shop with a like palate to mine on to them. Now this was no easy feat, sure Charlie Olken, Ron Washam and John Kelly were amazingly helpful in talking about the wines here, Ron and John even sending me some from time to time and Charlie trusted me enough to allow me to sit on one of his tasting panels when they were tasting California Chardonnay. Those guys were easy, it was my own reps and even some of our customers that ended up being kind of annoying about the whole thing with comments like, “Oh look who is coming down of the French wine pedestal” or “Wow, you are going to sully your fancy French palate with our lowly California wines?” absolutely annoying and, I think more telling of their attitudes than mine. Just made what seemed like a good idea, a pursuit I was interested in, for the sake of being a better retailer, a hassle and frankly and unwelcoming community. Dude, not so cool. Thankfully I’m ornery to hold my own, snap back my retorts and keep pushing along tasting wines to further assist my customers.
So I walk into this event yesterday, kind of excited to see which wines were there touting balance and taste for myself to see if I agreed and what do I walk into, freaking snobbery and ‘There to be seen” bullshit I hate about the other tasting events. Not by the winemakers, winery or sales reps but by the hipster, kiss my pin and smell my hair wax set. Fuck me. I try not to get too involved in the two sides crap, the new crowd and their love of Grenache Blanc and Ribolla Gialla and twitter inside over Poulsard, (which I happen to like as those aren’t new wines to me, Italy and France have had them around for a couple years now….) and the old guard of passionate wine lover that refuses to believe that anyone could like those wines over Chardonnay, Viognier or Zinfandel and think the natural wine movement is some kind of war against wine or whatever.
I don’t get involved for a couple of reasons and the two biggest are, I don’t care to argue about things like natural wine because as of now, it’s undefinable; therefore there can’t be much of an argument. I think both sides of the fence take broad strokes with their verbiage and that part gets to me…but for the most part I just let it be. I’ve had wines made with little intervention that thrilled me, Clos Rougeard and Francois Chidiane come to mind but I’ve also had ones that smell, literally, like animal feces, dirty wet wood and taste oddly fizzy in the mouth. The good and the way not good so I simply can’t take a stand in the one is better than the other arena. The other reason I sort of stay out of it is because I think both sides have their posturing asswads and if yesterday was any indicator, the tight, rolled up at the bottom pants and torn up loafer set and their ironically disheveled style but equally pompous and more concerned with who is seeing and being impressed by them, well they are growing…..hooray. Hate that this business I adore has so much of this crap, too much snoot and I know more than you bullshit on both sides and I just feel for the poor consumer that is trying to wedge themselves in. Go to tastings people, only way you are going to find out what moves you!! There. Sheesh, that feels better.
So there were some wines that did in fact thrill me yesterday. Wines that were full of glorious and curvy California fruit but had lots of snappy freshness and tasting some of those, along with seeing some old friends and chatting with a few of the very laid back winemakers, well that made it all worth it and will keep my pushing along in my own pursuit of balance, no matter which side is yammering at me.
The Wines That I Loved: Please keep in mind many of these wines were brand spanking new to me and the pamphlet had no pricing so I was/am flying blind here on most of these but will look up costs when I have a minute to spare. Might be interesting to see as one of my gripes with California can be pricing….
Anthill Farms- These wines were tasted toward the end of the event so there is always a chance my palate was suffering fatigue but here I found tons of sumptuous and curvy fruit, quite mouth filling actually but with an equal amount of powerful acidity to keep me from feeling the wines were anywhere near out of balance.
Arnot-Roberts- Been a fan of this winery for a couple years now and they do fall into that dorky side of my palate with some odd (for here) varieties but it was their Chardonnay that first knocked me on my ass a couple years back, did it again yesterday…both the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Watson Ranch from Napa. These wines might be too high in acidity for some of my customers but for me that zip along the sides of my tongue and make my mouth tingle, something I ache for, so I love them and will recommend them to anyone that loves Chablis or more restrained wines.
Copain Wines- Another winery I’ve been loyally following for years and while I found the wines a little big for my personal taste a couple vintages ago the 2010s were singing to me yesterday. Not shy, not by any means but great fruit and grip and wines that I can comfortably recommend without hesitation, to people with new world and old world palates.
Knez Winery- Might have been some of my favorite wines yesterday. The Chardonnay while tasty was a little rich for me but the Pinots were so goddamn pretty. Pulsing with a delicate cherry note and this alluring rose petal thing that drove me nutty. Didn’t even care if I drank the wines, could have smelled them all day.
Lioco- Yet another long running wine at The Wine Country and it is precisely because we’ve always found the wines to be brimming with life and full of expression. I’m digging the new directions of the wines I tasted yesterday, wines that now see a little bit of neutral oak and I think they are the better for it. Just a touch fuller, rounder and softer in the mouth and I feel it showcases the pretty fruit here beautifully.
Littorai- I wasn’t nutty for all the wines, they were sexy and pretty enough mind you but this was one of the wineries that I had inkling about pricing on so they were maybe judged a touch harder. That being said I thought the Haven Vineyard Pinot Noir was a masterfully made wine that did all I want California to do, show off its fruit and do so with grace and refinement. Gorgeous wine.
Tyler- Big fan of these wines as well as the second label from Justin Willett, the Lieu Dit wines from Santa Ynez. Brilliant and very forward wines but with tremendous texture and layering. My two favorites of the day were the two “little wines” the Santa Barbara County Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Just juicy, vibrant, full of flashy but crunchy fruit. Love them.
Varner- Top Chardonnays of the day for me. Wow. Here I found exceptional length, sensual texture and mouthfeel, nice use of oak for seasoning and weight and a deft hand able to keep all this lusciousness in check. I was quite floored by the wines and had the added benefit of having a nice conversation with one of the owners about the use of the term Burgundian or comparing these wines to those from Burgundy. Told him I loathe the idea and think California, and especially Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley should be thumping their chest with pride considering the wines, the very balanced wines, many are making in those areas. Think he was kind of grateful to hear it and mentioned he thought there might have been too much comparison in some discussions he had. Kinda cool cat and on top of that, making some kick ass California Chardonnay.