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“In my naivety I thought all wine was natural until I became a commercial winemaker and hung around with other winemakers. I had been making wine on a personal level for 10 years prior and had only occasionally added small amounts of sulfites, nothing else. The wine had always turned out just fine. I was thrilled to be able to make wine from our own pristinely grown vines; it seemed completely contrary to change what we brought in from the fields into something different." —Phillip Hart
The only certified biodynamic winery in Paso Robles, AmByth Estate was started by a Welshman named Phillip Hart in the early 2000s with nothing more than a vision to farm and make wine from a vineyard that would live “forever”, a word which translates in Welsh to the name of the estate. After purchasing two properties in 2000 and 2001, totaling 42 acres, Phillip began interplanting 16 acres of vines (head trained) with 4 acres of olive and fruit trees to create biodiversity within the vineyards. The combination of steep hillsides, clay/limestone soils, and a hot, dry climate led Phillip to choose Rhône varieties, which he felt were most suitable for the terrain. The land had never been touched by chemicals, and from the start the vines were farmed organically and without any irrigation; they received biodynamic certification in 2006.
The yields at AmByth are extremely low. As a fully dry-farmed estate, their goal is 2 tons per acre every year. This may seem more than reasonable to most people, but in the drought years of 2012-15 they harvested significantly lower amounts than that, 2015 being the lowest at less than 2 tons of fruit for the entire crop! For those who are now concerned for Phillip and his family, it is worth mentioning that he also runs a successful rug importing business.
In the cellar, Phillip and his son Gelert (joined in 2015) take a completely natural approach. While the debate over the exact definition of “natural wine” has been beaten worse than a dead hipster, there is no doubt that AmByth embodies the core principles of the category: natural fermentations, no fining or filtering, no SO2 added at any point, and of course, biodynamic farming. For vessels, they use a combination of tanks, old barrels and, more recently, amphorae.
Recently, Gelert has been experimenting with cider-making, which has brought about some very interesting and tasty results. They also make delicious olive oil.
L'Ameillaud is a family-owned winery, situated in Cairanne, in the Province of Vaucluse. The property dates back to the end of the 18th century but was purchased in 1983 by an expat Englishman, Nick Thompson, with his wife, Sabine.
Today the domaine covers a total surface area of 140 acres (55 hectares), of which 90 acres lie in the AOC zone, producing Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne and generic Côtes du Rhône. The remaining 50 acres are reserved for Vin de Pays production. Over the years, the vineyard has been progressively replanted and today, 8 varieties in all have been selected, essentially for the production of red wines and adapted to the varying soil-types on the estate. The blending of these different varieties, both during and after vinification, plays an essential role maintaining both regularity and the high quality of the wines produced on the property.
The winery, offering a total capacity for fermentation and storage of over 7000 hectoliters, is fitted with modern winemaking equipment and treats some 400 tons of grapes per harvest. Grapes are, for the most part, de-stemmed before a traditional fermentation process lasting between seven days and three weeks, depending on the varieties picked and the qualities produced. After malolactic fermentation, the wines are fined and filtered during the winter and aged in traditional cement vats and stainless-steel tanks before bottling. If one was to describe quite simply the style of wines produced at the Ameillaud, there are probably three key words : maturity, generosity and balance.
Some of the most remarkable Syrah being made today comes from a hilly area in southern Tuscany called Chiuso di Cortona. The area, due west of Siena and almost at the border with Umbria, is no stranger to international varieties, having been subject to Napoleonic occupation in the late 18th century. This was codified in 1999 with the creation of the Cortona DOC, which focused on Syrah as a noteworthy grape for the zone.
Stefano Amerighi, the young and dynamic owner of this eponymous estate, has a beautiful cru called Poggiobello di Farneta. The site was chosen and planted to Syrah in 2002 after an in-depth geological investigation identified eight hectares of land well-suited to the grape. It was the ideal exposure; southeast facing, and the ideal soil; a mix of clay, silt, chalk and a thriving base of microorganisms. Stefano planted the vines to a high density of 7000 plants per hectare and adhered to biodynamic principles in the vineyard. In the winery, the a portion of the Syrah grapes are partially de-stemmed, while some are left whole and still others are lightly foot pressed. Fermentation occurs spontaneously in small concrete vats and without the use of pumps, sulphur or temperature control. The wine is then allowed to clarify naturally in a combination of wood and cement tanks, where they are kept for 14 months before bottling. The resulting wine is sensational, with signature notes of black olive, cassis and minerals on the nose and an elegant mouthfeel. This is a game-changer for the zone.
Stefano Amerighi Syrah is Demeter certified.
"Ampeleia is one of the stars of the Tuscan coast.....At their best, the Ampeleia wines are among the most pure, transparent expressions of the coast readers will find. Elisabetta Foradori and her team are doing important work here. Ampeleia is a young estate. There is every reason to believe the best is yet to come." —Antonio Galloni, September 2014
Ampeleia was born in 2002 from the collaboration and friendship between Elisabetta Foradori, Thomas Widmann, and Giovanni Podini; they saw in Ampeleia a place where they could not only develop an agricultural project but also fulfill a common vision. The project aspires to represent the inherent diversity and huge potential of this particular area of Maremma, the "Colline Metallifere," which are not the coastal lowlands one usually associates with the Maremma, but mineral-rich hills that have been mined since Etruscan times.
The estate results from the purchase of different plots of land, located far apart and on different altitude levels, with the precise aim of creating a great variability in altitude, soil type and microclimatic conditions; each vineyard has a distinctive identity that is enhanced by the uniqueness of the surrounding environment. Variety is the keystone and soul of Ampeleia. In fact, variety represents the project’s constant quality, both physically and symbolically, and is harmoniously expressed in its wines that taste of the varied lands of the area around the village of Roccatederighi. Many of the grape varieties that have been planted in Ampeleia are common in Mediterranean farmlands. In past times, vineyards were not planted with just one grape variety but many types of grapes were present and they were all harvested at the same time; the vineyards at Ampeleia reflect this tradition.
Within this diversity, the estate focuses on Cabernet Franc (planted in the early 1960s) and Alicante Nero, a distinctly Tuscan biotype of Grenache. Though Ampeleia owns around 130 hectares of land, only 35 hectares are planted to vine, in an attempt to keep the landscape intact to promote biodiversity.
The Three Altitudes:
Ampeleia di Sopra: 70 hectares, 15 under vine; this is the largest land unit of the estate. Placed between 450 and 600 meters above sea level, it is mainly planted with Cabernet Franc. The landscape here is dominated by chestnut groves.
Ampeleia di Mezzo: 35 hectares, 10 under vine. This is the land of Sangiovese. Divided into small plots that range from 250 to 350 meters above sea level, the vineyards, surrounded by cork oak woods and Mediterranean scrubland, are planted with Carignan, Grenache and Sangiovese.
Ampeleia di Sotto: 15 hectares, 10 under vine. This section of the estate includes the plots closest to the sea, and are the most distinctly Mediterranean in character. The vineyards, found around 200 meters above sea level, are planted with traditional Mediterranean grape varieties, mainly Grenache.
To view their website, click here.
“Leopardo Felici has a great hand with the Verdicchio grape, producing two of the Marche’s best white wines. Clearly,the vineyard location in the cool-climate, hilly area between Apiro and Cupramontana is a big help, as the wines have high natural acidity, a strong mineral overlay and wonderful clarity. But strong viticultural and winemaking skills also play a role. Felici is one of the few producers of “vino biologico” in Italy talented enough to avoid making wines with offputting aromas, and his decision not to use oak (only stainless steel and cement vats are used) also contributes to the precision of the wines. Andrea Felici is a name to watch in Italian wine circles.” —Ian d'Agata, Vinous, July 2015
The winery of Andrea Felici is located in the Marche region, between Apiro and Cupramontana, the heart of the homeland of Verdicchio. Nestled on a hill at the foot of Mount San Vicino at an altitude of 516 meters above sea level, Azienda Andrea Felici possesses a wonderful landscape; a green valley with tilted slopes, blanketed by beautiful woods and vines, marked by the high peaks of Gran Sasso and Maiella to the south and Mount Catria to the north. The climate is dry, with average annual temperatures in the mid-50s and a constant breeze throughout the year. This is the southwest corner of the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi appellation. The area is further inland, with more limestone, a bit less influence from the Adriatic Sea, and temperature swings between day and night that are more drastic.
This winery practices organic viticulture with certification. Grapes are harvested by hand, the clusters are gently placed in small boxes and the grapes are pressed within a few hours, and temperature controlled fermentation is achieved without oxygen. The wine matures and mellows in cement and stainless steel vats for a period much longer than the minimum prescribed by regulations.
The winery started estate-bottling in 2003. Today, the 10-hectare estate is run by Leopardo Felici, whose passion for and dedication to Verdicchio are immediately obvious, as is his broad knowledge of the wine world; before taking over the estate in 2007, his father insisted he gain more wine experience, so Leo worked as sommelier in London at Gordon Ramsey's Savoy and in Florence at Enoteca Pinchiorri. The winery produces only two wines: a single-vineyard bottling– “Il Cantico della Figura”– and a cuvée, “Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore.” Both wines are marked by incredible purity of fruit and pronounced minerality; these are high-quality wines that are immediately pleasurable and approachable, but which are also characterized by longevity and the purity of the Verdicchio grape in this unique landscape.
To view Andrea Felici's website, click here.
“Since day one, this has always been a working winery, with no fancy tasting rooms or emphasis on Disney-like public tours, just outstanding winemaking year in and year out, and a single-mindedness to produce superb, age-worthy wines from some of Washington’s finest vineyards sites. The two original vineyards that Chris started with all the way back in 1989: Ciel du Cheval Vineyard and Champoux Vineyard, are still two of his principal grape sources for his superb, claret-styled reds that must be ranked at the very summit of Washington state wines and amongst the very finest wines to be found from anywhere in America.” —John Gilman, View From The Cellar #47
“Over the nearly quarter-century during which manifestly talented and straight-talking Chris Camarda has been making wine under his Andrew Will label (on Vashon Island south of Seattle) his approach – which has always favored modest alcohol and elegance over flamboyance – has evolved significantly in method as well as in focusing increasingly on single-vineyard expression.” –David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate
"...All of Chris's 2011s and 2012s are rock solid and check in near the top of the hierarchy. These are beautiful, age-worthy wines that remain reasonably priced for their quality. " —Jeb Dunnuck, Wine Advocate June, 2014
“(On the 2011 Champoux) Match veteran talent Chris Camarda with one of Washington’s oldest vineyards and the result, even in this cool vintage, is stunning. —Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronical Top 100 2014
Winemaker Chris Camarda launched Andrew Will Winery (Named after Chris’s son Will and Nephew Andrew) with their inaugural 1989 vintage, working out of a humble 60’ by 10’ winery, and he has spent the last two decades producing some of Washington’s most well respected wines. Structured, elegant, and age worthy, they are a singular voice that has never adjusted to chase scores or suit trends.
Although always a focus, Chris’ attention to terroir has only intensified over time. Since 2001 he almost exclusive produces single vineyard blends as he feels this shows the terroir more clearly than a single varietal bottling. Currently he only sources from four vineyards that he feels provide the finest fruit: Champoux, Discovery, Two Blondes, and Ciel du Cheval.
All of the wines are treated more or less the same in the cellar; 25-35% new oak barrels, aged for around 21 months, followed by a year of aging in bottle. Production is around 4500 cases.
Every winter, David Bowler and his team taste the new vintage from barrel; tasting at Arnoux-Lachau was unanimously a highlight of our trip in 2016 and 2017. We’ve always been impressed when tasting at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux; after all, they have some of the most prized vineyards in Vosne-Romanée and equally high-quality vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Questions always arise when a domaine is passed down to the younger generation. Will the wines be as good? Is he or she ready to take over? How can she understand the terroir to the extent of her father – OR does terroir speak louder than the winemaker and there is no change to the wines? It’s an interesting question and it’s subject to opinion. The stakes are high when the wines that you are making are some of the rarest and most sought after in the world. In the case of Romanée Saint Vivant for Charles Lachaux, he only had one chance in 2012, as he only made a single barrel. Talk about pressure! Charles Lachaux visited the Bowler team in New York that year, and he seemed very calm about his first vintage. He explained that harvest was so busy, that he didn’t have time to consider an undesirable outcome.
It's no doubt that Pascal Lachaux must have gone through the same pressure when he took over from his father-in-law, Robert Arnoux, in the early nineties. Pascal worked side-by-side with Robert for more than ten years. The changes that Pascal made in the nineties were a natural progression at the time: pruning for lower yields, working the soil, destemming grapes 100%, and using more new oak for aging. The reputation of Domaine Robert Arnoux soared with Pascal Lachaux at the reigns. In 2010, Remington Norman and Charles Taylor MW said, “This is one of the very best domaines of an exceptional village.”
Charles Lachaux gives an immense amount of credit to his father for the work that he has done over the last thirty years. He said that if he has elevated the wines to a new level today, it is thanks to the health of the vineyards and the organization of the winery when he started in 2012. Today, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux has 14.5 hectares. The vines average fifty years-old and the oldest, Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Corvées Pagets, were planted in 1921. In 2010, Pascal purchased a vertical press, making Arnoux-Lachaux one of just a handful of wineries using this type of press in Burgundy. They prefer it to a pneumatic press because it presses very gently and extracts less. In 2012, Charles’s first year, they introduced some partial whole-cluster fermentation and pleased with the results, they used a higher proportion of whole-clusters in subsequent vintages. In general, the 1er cru wines have up to 55% whole-cluster and the grand cru up to 100%. The amount of new oak has been reduced since 2012 as well. In 2015, a total of 15% new oak on village wines, 25% on premier cru and 40% on grand cru.
Father and son are very happy with the results.
2015 Vintage Review from Vinous (November 2016): Pascal Lachaux's son Charles has made a host of changes in the vineyards and in the winery in just the past three or four years and Pascal has been smart enough to give him free rein. The Arnoux-Lachaux '15s hold out the promise to be the best wines made at this estate in a generation.
The estate has changed its approach to canopy management, pruning tall and late one month after the flowering, which Charles says provides the vines with twice as many leaves. The enhanced photosynthesis, he added, allows the estate to harvest a week earlier than their neighbors. (In 2015, they started picking on September 4 and finished in four days.) Charles began vinifying with a significant proportion of whole clusters in 2012 and in 2015 he used a minimum of 70% in all of his cuvées, including 100% in seven different wines. The pHs of the wines made with a substantial percentage of vendange entierare in the rather high 3.7 range. But Lachaux noted that the whole clusters offer the advantage of slowing the fermentations, which now go no higher than 29 degrees C. The result, he went on, is more red fruits than black, which has given his 2015s an impression of vibrancy. “With vendange entier, we’re making less use of a recipe,” explained Lachaux. “We’re just working by taste. We’re making wines more with our guts, in the hope that they will speak with more emotion. Today we’re getting back to classic wines using modern tools. And we're making the style of wines we like to drink." Beginning with the 2014s, Lachaux is filtering only the bottoms of the tanks at bottling.
Yields were down 50% in 2015 due to more grass between the rows. "The cover crop helped to suck up water in 2014 and 2013," Lachaux explained, "but it hurt us in the dry 2015 season." Yields were barely 25 to 30 hectoliters per hectare in the family’s village holdings, around 20 in its premier crus, and just 16 to 18 in its grand crus.
2014 Vintage Review from Vinous "The Consistently Delectable 2014 Red Burgundies" (Jan 2016): Pascal Lachaux described his estate's 2014s as "soft and round but fresh and pure." They finished their malolactic fermentations early (last January) and were racked in October. The wines were precocious from the start, according to Lachaux: "When we tasted them in the press, they tasted like wines in barrel. And when we sampled them in barrel, they tasted like wines after the racking."
Under the growing influence of his son Charles, Lachaux is doing steadily less extraction and cutting back on the use of new oak. But as it was difficult to purchase one-year-old barrels following the short crops of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Lachaux actually upped his percentage of new oak for his grand crus in 2014 in order to hold down the percentage for the rest of his wines.
Lachaux eliminated some rot at harvest time but noted that, thanks to grass between the rows, the percentage of rot was minimal and yields in 2014 were normal. There was some incidence of fruit affected by the Drosophila suzukii, but mostly in the younger vines where the berries were more likely to explode as they swelled with water.
Arnoux describes both 2014 and 2013 as "fresh and transparent, with the delicacy of Pinot." Incidentally, son Charles has been responsible for introducing a significant percentage of vendange entier in just the last few years here; no fewer than eight of the family's 2015s were vinified with 100% whole clusters. It was not too many years ago that Pascal Lachaux destemmed all of his fruit.
Bodegas Arzabro is a family-owned winery, established in 2007, producing Txakolí wines from 15 acres of their own vineyards from the native varieties Hondarrabi Zuri and Izpiriotza Txikia. There is minimal intervention in all parts of the production process. Rather than bottle in the common skinny Txakoli bottle, Arzabro has opted to bottle in a Burgundy bottle to signal that this is not your typical gassy, bulk Txakoli, but a special and high quality wine meant to be savored and enjoyed. Annual production is a miniscule 1,600 cases.
David Gordon has been the wine director at Tribeca Grill, the famed New York City restaurant since 1990. Owned by restaurateur Drew Nieporent and actor Robert DeNiro, Tribeca Grill features a dynamic wine program with a list of over 1800 selections and is a Grand Award winner from the Wine Spectator-one of only 6 in New York City.
David created the Bacchus label to offer great value California wine by utilizing the many contacts he has in Napa and Sonoma to source the finest grapes available. Producers such as Caymus, Lewis Cellars and Miner Family provided grapes and helped with the winemaking for earlier cuvees. The wineries that are currently used wish to remain anonymous, but the quality has remained very high.
Jean-Baptiste (first vintage 2005) and Benoît Bachelet (first vintage 2000) are now the primary winemakers at the family domaine, which has been making wine since the early 17th century. The domaine is based in the village of Gamay, a hamlet of Saint-Aubin, and they have ten hectares, producing half red and half white. Almost half of the vineyards are in Chassagne-Montrachet, another 40% of the vineyards are in Saint-Aubin, and the remaining 13% of their holdings are in Puligny-Montrachet. All of the vineyards are estate-owned, and they started conversion to biodynamic production in 2012. In 2016, all ten hectares were managed following biodynamic principles. Although it means a lot more work in the vineyards, the brothers find that the wines have more precision and you get a stronger sense of terroir.
Vinification is natural with indigenous yeasts and slow fermentations. Aged for 18 months in french oak barrels on fine lees. This means that the wines have two winters in the cellar, which contributes to the finesse, depth and structure of the wine, necessary for its ageing capacity.
Allen Meadows considers the Bachelet wines "worth-seeking" out, in the same camp as Pierre Yves Colin Morey, Oliver Lamy, and Henri Prudhon. (Burghound #63, June 2016)