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Located in Sant’Enea, on the border of Perugia, in Umbria, which has been used for grape growing since Etruscan times, this Azienda Vitivinicola came into being at the end of the 1800’s. You will not find Sagrentino used in making Colli Perugini red wines. The chief grape here is Sangiovese, which is augmented by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two international varietals are required in order to make the D.O.C. red wines in this part of Umbria. Interestingly, it is documented that Cabernet and Merlot have been part of the winemaking tradition here for over one hundred years. The entire Chiorri operation is overseen and run by the father–daughter team Monica and Titto Mariotti. The vineyards are managed with near–organic standards, and the wine making is a blend of tradition, experience, and technology. http://www.chiorri.it/home_chiorri_en.htm
The 2014 Clark Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is an affordable, ready to drink cab sourced from the Columbia Valley; one of Washington State’s best and most renowned viticultural regions. The growing season’s cool nights give the wine enough structure to stand up to a main course and the ample sunshine provides the ripe fruit to make this an enjoyable drink on its own. Washington State produces some of America’s finest red wines without the high price tag of some of its rivals from Napa, California.
This domaine has existed since the end of the 18th century; however, the wines were sold to negociants until 1988, when Bruno Clavelier, after a distinguished career playing rugby for Dijon in the French first division, decided to estate-bottle all their wine.
Clavelier has an uncluttered, purist’s approach to winemaking: the focus is care of the vineyards. The domaine has a total of 6.5 hectares of vines, mostly 1er Cru and village-designated holdings in Chambolle, Gevrey, and Vosne, and a single 1/3 hectare parcel in Corton. These vines are their pride and joy: all are selection massale, and the majority were planted in the 1930’s and 40’s. Clavelier was one of the early adopters of organic viticulture (certified in 1999) and he has practiced biodynamic viticulture since 2000 (certified since 2005). Because of the advanced age of the vines, yields are naturally low, and the root systems are very developed, giving the vines a lot of contact with minerals in deeper layers of the soil.
In the cellar, as in the vineyard, the idea is to reveal what Mother Nature gives in each vintage. Primary fermentation happens in open-top tronconical wood fermenters; up to 30% of whole clusters are kept during the vinification. Fermentations start naturally, with gentle manual punchdowns if necessary. The first fermentation normally lasts about three weeks, after which the wine is very gently pressed and the juice is racked by gravity to barrels for aging. Malolactic fermentation happens in barrel and generally starts in the spring following harvest, and the wines are aged for 16-18 months in barrel as well. Up to one-third of the oak is new for the 1er Cru and Grand Cru wines. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration, and the bottling happens under a neutral gas so that the amount of SO2 can be as low as possible.
All of the village-level Vosne is bottled by climat, rather than blended into a single Vosne village wine.
We are especially excited to be working with Clemens and Rita Busch, biodynamic practitioners in the Marienburg vineyards of Pünderich. Clemens is the fifth generation winemaker at this estate (all the previous ones were also named Clemens; ever the iconoclast, he named his son Florian) and he began using organic practices in 1984, more recently transitioning to biodynamics, for which he has become a role model and beacon of change among German winemakers.
Location is crucial to mention here. Pünderich lies essentially at the dividing line between the Middle and Lower Mosel, the wilder and more remote northern section of the Mosel river system. The geology here is unique, based on a volcanic formation hundreds of millions of years old, manifested in a long, undulating cliff face that is nothing short of epic. The three main colors of slate (blue, red and grey) are all found here, dominating different parcels along the slopes across the river from the village. In spite of multiple slate profiles and expositions varying throughout the area, the German government in 1971, in a bureaucratic decision of breathtaking short-sightedness, lumped all these parcels together under one vineyard name, the Marienburg. Furthermore, they expanded what was a 23-hectare geographically coherent site into a 90-hectare politically drawn one, which even includes a series of flat sites on the opposite side of the river! Clemens has devoted his career to rectifying this mistake, identifying the different terroirs of the original hillside on his labels by their historical names: Fahrlay, Falkenlay, Rothenpfad, Felsterrasse, and Raffes. He further delineates his wines by their soil type, using an ingenious method: the color of the capsule on the bottles indicates the type of slate (blue, gray or red) that dominates the source from which each wine comes.
Most of the wines at the Busch estate are vinified dry, and they are rich, complex and often powerful. They age very beautifully, gaining in complexity and texture. However, the sweet and noble sweet wines from the estate are also impressive, ranking among the finest wines made anywhere on the Mosel.
It is important to note there are not a lot of committed "natural" winemakers in Germany in the sense that we know it from France and elsewhere; Busch is considered by many to be THE master interpreter of that philosophy in Germany. In numerous ways, these are some of the most iconoclastic wines we have ever tasted. More information is available on the Clemens Busch website.
Run by vigneron brothers Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat, the Clos du Tue-Boeuf is an isolated 35-hectare property of rolling hills, forests, fields and vineyards in Cheverny at the eastern edge of the Touraine region of the Loires. This lieu-dit’s history goes back centuries: its name pops up in records from the Middle Ages and it is noted for the favored status of its wines under Renaissance ruler King Francis I in the early 16th century (he was a local chateau inhabitant). The Puzelat family’s roots also run deep here in the valley of Cher, back to at least the 15th century in their home village of Les Montils. In the modern era, the Puzelat brothers have put Tue-Boeuf on the wine world map through their commitment to wines made as naturally as possible from their organically farmed, hand-harvested fruit (most of which comes from the Clos but is also in some cases sourced from friends of similar philosophy and practice).
Jean-Marie and Thierry went their separate ways early on in their pursuit of classical training in other wine regions, returning to their family estate in 1990 and 1994 respectively. They agreed from the start on cutting out all additives in the vineyard and the wines, converting fully to organics by 1996 and eliminating the use of cultured yeasts as well as sulfur almost completely. The Tue-Boeuf terroir is clay-based soil, rich in flint, limestone, iron and rocks, depending on the particular parcel, at various elevations and exposures, many of them quite cool and thus challenging for ripening. They grow a lot of Sauvignon Blanc (including some old clones like Fié Gris and Sauvignon Rose), Gamay and Pinot Noir, with smaller amounts of Menu Pineau, Chardonnay and Côt; they source a little Pineau d’Aunis and Chenin Blanc (as well as additional Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay for their true vin de soif bottlings, Le P’tit Blanc and Vin Rouge). Many of their vines are quite old and gradually being replanted as over time, entirely with massale selections from friends like Villemade, Prieuré-Roch and Philippe Tessier among others, to promote clonal diversity.
Tue-Boeuf grows 10 hectares within the Cheverny AOC in their home Clos in Les Montils and 4 more within the Touraine AOC in nearby Monthou-Sur-Bièvre, but the wines often do not qualify for either, due to the Puzelat’s choices in grape varieties and winemaking techniques. In any given vintage, there may be up to two dozen different bottlings, most quite small, some highly experimental (like the very limited quevri- or amphora-aged wines), but mainly quite classic at their core, featuring single parcels almost exclusively, as one would expect more from a small, site-focused Burgundy grower. Within their natural-wine, Loire-rooted framework, Thierry and Jean-Marie honor the traditions of Burgundy for their whites and cru Beaujolais for the reds. The whites are barrel-aged on their lees with bâtonnage (with the exception of tank-only P’tit Blanc); the reds go through open-top, whole-cluster, semi-carbonic fermentation, followed by barrel-aging. While size and shape and type of and time in wood varies, what does not vary is the regimen of no added yeast, minimal-to-no added sulfur, and no filtration (except for gentle one on P’tit Blanc).
Over the last twenty-plus years, Tue-Boeuf has evolved from maverick to mature, into one of the standard-bearers for natural wine in the Touraine and all of France, without losing their renegade spirit (or their tongue-in-cheek humor which shows up on labels as well asi in person). That Puzelat passion for their home terroir--all things local and Loire—is evident in the purity and personality of the wines in the bottle.
“Subtly, it’s the miniature likes of Clos Saron that are increasingly, if quietly, reshaping America’s vision of fine wine. Tasting Clos Saron’s singular—and singularly fine—wines and talking with Mr. Beinstock reminded me yet again why smaller is better.” - Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator
Way up in the northern reaches of the Sierra Foothills, Gideon Beinstock and his wife, Saron Rice, produce small batches of wines that are unlike anything else coming out of California. Using traditional techniques and strict organic methods both in the vineyard and the cellar, they make tiny amounts of Pinot Noir from their 2.2 acre home vineyard as well as a variety of unique blends from 5.5 acres of nearby leased vineyards that they farm as well.
The vineyards are densely planted, about 2500 vines per acre, and are dry farmed wherever possible; yields range from as low as 1 ton per acre and maxing out around 2. Because their area is free of phylloxera, their vines are all “own-rooted” and some are over 35 years old.
Their vineyards are harvested in repeated passes through the vines (typically from 3 to 8 times), picking only clusters as they begin to soften, to determine perfect ripeness. The grapes are foot-stomped in open-top bins allowing the vineyards' indigenous yeasts to conduct the fermentation. For the blends, the grape varieties are all co-fermented as Gideon believes the results are better integrated. The wines are then aged on lees in 5 to 25 year old French oak barrels for as long as he feels is needed before being bottled, unfined and unfiltered, with minimal use of sulfites. Production is often around 100 cases or less per wine.
Over the past 35 years, Gideon has been involved in almost every aspect of the wine industry: sales, writing, purchasing, educating, and a 16 year long stint as winemaker for Renaissance. It is at Clos Saron, though, where he has tapped into something rare: wines that are challenging, surprising, and yet instantly gratifying. They happily defy description and convention without forgetting that, at its core, a wine should be a pleasure to drink.
Evelyne de Pontbriand took over her venerable family estate—known historically as the Château des Vaults but now as Domaine du Closel—in 2001 in a career change from teaching French literature. Her mother Michèle de Jessey was a notable figure in the Chenin-only appellation of Savennières, having inherited the estate from her aunt, Madame du Closel; she was devoted to all things Savennières, and even became its president, the first woman to run an AOC.
Evelyne inherited her mother’s passion and technical acuity and now meticulously manages the estate, which comprises 13 hectares of Chenin Blanc (as well as 3 of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon). The estate was certified organic in 2006 and received full biodynamic certification as of the 2015 vintage. Savennières is a famously unique, intense, savory and structured expression of Chenin Blanc, thanks to the preponderance of schist, a form of slate, in its soils; Evelyne has learned from her 16 years on the job that meticulous, minimal farming and winemaking is the most effective way to convey its essence.
For more information, go to: www.savennieres-closel.com
or watch this video for an excellent interview.
Philippe Collin, a native of Champagne, moved to Limoux in 1980 to establish his own domaine. Though his family has made Champagne for generations, the opportunities in this sought after (and extremely expensive) area were very limited. With a deep understanding of terroir and considerable technical expertise, he decided to try his luck in the South of France.
The area of Limoux offered Philippe a unique opportunity: vineyard land in Limoux is just a fraction of the cost of vineyard land in Champagne and, most importantly, the microclimate in Limoux is especially well suited to white wine and sparkling wine production. Located a couple of hours inland from the Mediterranean, it is the coolest area in the Languedoc. In fact, Limoux is among the earliest areas in the world to be known for producing sparkling wine, and records show sparkling wine being produced in the area as early as 1531.
The primary grape for sparkling wine in Limoux is Mauzac. Though at its best Mauzac can produce a nice sparkling wine, the bulk of wine made from Mauzac can be very green and uninteresting. Since Philippe is more interested in quality than in bulk production, he planted the majority of his vineyards with traditional grapes of Champagne- Pinot Noir and Chardonnay- as well as quite a bit of Chenin Blanc, which in this climate serves to balance the wine.
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One of the newest stars in the Champagne firmament is Olivier Collin, in the village of Congy in the Coteaux du Morin, just south of the Côte des Blancs. A gregarious and inquisitive winegrower, Collin gives credit to Anselme Selosse for inspiring him to become a Champenois vigneron. He describes his stage with Selosse in 2001 as “one of those encounters that changes your life,” and it prompted him to take back a portion of his family’s vines that had been rented to Pommery, allowing him to make his own wines.
Sites are not blended and each cuvée is parcel specific. Today, Olivier produces four wines from four sites: Les Maillons, Les Pierrières, Les Roises and Les Enfers. And while vintage and reserve wine is important to the final product, this is not what Oliver is seeking to accomplish with his Champagnes.
"Winemaking as a rule here is as natural and non-interventionist as possible. All fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, which can take a remarkably long time to complete: six to eight months is not at all unusual for Collin, and even when tasting vins clairs in June or July, they are typically still in the middle of their alcoholic fermentations. Both the fermentation and malolactic are carried out in three- to six-year old barriques, and the wine is neither fined nor filtered before bottling, which takes place in the fall after the harvest." – Peter Liem, Champagneguide.net
Cahors native Julien Ilbert was born into a life amongst grape vines, as they had been in Julien’s family for generations by the time he joined the family operation in 1998. But at that time, as is typical on a traditional family farm in the French countryside, the property was one of polyculture, with grapes being only one component among many, including cereal grains and cows in the case of the Ilberts. In their home village of Cournou, a few kilometers west of the village of Cahors within the Cahors wine appellation, Julien’s father Jean-Pierre worked the vines alone and sold off the fruit to the local co-op.
Between 1998 and 2005, Julien stopped selling fruit to the co-op, eventually re-launching the family estate as Château Combel La Serre and beginning the production of their own wines in 2005. The property now stands at 22 hectares, planted virtually entirely to Malbec, otherwise known locally as Auxerrois, scattered about within a few kilometers of home and cellar. Notably, all of the vineyards lie on a causse, a limestone plateau of 320-350 meters in elevation, above the alluvial, gravelly plain along the Lot river. The resulting nuances of altitude, aspect, temperature and soil are a thing apart from the larger, flatter, lower-lying, warmer rest of Cahors.
Cahors is a region of extremes: hot summers with wet, sometimes very cold winters and historically dense, tannic red wines. Their old nickname of “black wines” is indicative of their perceived and often real character; they are traditionally a Malbec-based blend with a significant proportion of even-chewier Tannat and other grapes like Negrette and Merlot. Julien and his wife and business partner Sophie set out to modernize this image of an old-school wine, which they were positioned to do, given the terroir of their vines, their choice to make 100%-Malbec reds, their building of a new cellar and the commitment to grow and make wine as naturally as possible.
Combel La Serre has been ECOCERT-certified organic since 2013, though farmed without chemicals for several decades up to that point--the family long suspected that the death of Julien’s grandfather from severe Parkinson’s disease was directly tied to a lifetime of exposure to the conventional chemicals so commonly by French farmers in the mid-20th century--so they set about eliminating them long ago. The vines range in age from 20-90 years old, are worked entirely by hand and harvested manually. As with Combel’s winegrowing, their winemaking choices are atypical of Cahors: their wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts, made with only moderate extraction, touched barely by sulfur and raised mainly in cement tanks and used barrels.
Luckily, Importer Jules Dressner’s expectation on Louis/Dressner’s first prospecting visit turned out to be completely off the mark: “Cahors. We'll be the first to admit the region doesn't exactly scream ‘exciting natural wine’. For most, Cahors equals rustic, tannic and structured offerings meant to cellar and age for decades. So when we got an email from a friend of Matthieu Baudry asking us if we'd be interested in his wines, we were expecting either hipster carbonic glou-glou or super structured, dark-as-night teeth-stainers.” To their surprise and pleasure and our good fortune, they discovered wines incorporating the best of the region--the top-quality black grape, a special limestone-rich terroir and a storied winemaking tradition—into a more balanced, updated but still pure expression of Cahors.
For more insight on Combel La Serre, please click here to visit the Louis/Dressner website