Friday, March 1, 9:30 – 11:15am
By Kim Gertler
To find the “truth in terroir” is no simple assignment – defining how a wine can somehow express a sense of place – is wine’s elusive “holy grail” that continues to baffle and defy scientists, academics and authors. It’s top of mind here in Vancouver where you can trace your favourite grape’s shifting flavours and aromas through a dozen countries in a single room. But to define that sense of place in a mere eight glasses… is a daunting task indeed.
So how did the Truth in Terroir session approach the above conundrum? By presenting a surprising array of unlikely wines grown in precise single vineyard locations from around both worlds – old and new. I recorded the entire session so you can hear some great stories and ‘taste’ along.
Free Form by Okanagan Crush Pad Ancient Method 2017
This “pet nat Pinot Noir” comes from 2230 feet high up near Summerland in the Okanagan Valley. “Our goal was to highlight the fruit – highlight the soil and highlight the land,” says winemaker Matt Dumayne. Made in the method ancestrale, the wine “starts fermenting by itself until we create five atmospheres of pressure and it’s disgorged six months later.” There is no dosage – as the idea is to let the wine speak for itself. It’s saying, drink me now – I’m fresh and juicy – a great opener.
Bodega Garzon Garzn Uruguay Single Vieyar Albarino 2017
Albarino was brought by immigrants from Galicia, Spain to Uruguay, where it’s the second most planted grape, next to tannat. “I shouldn’t have but I brought soil from our country” confesses Maria Sosa – proudly holding up a vial of balasto – the local soil of decomposed granite.
“If I can describe the wine in one word it is ‘energy’ and this is exactly what this vineyard gives to the wine.” The vines are rooted in a rugged locale, amidst giant boulders, constantly pounded by the salty breezes of the Atlantic. “As a child my father would introduce my brother and I to the ocean – and a wave would come up and whup – hit you with a salty slap. That’s what this wine reminds me of. There is no other Albarino that will be like this one!” She’s spot on – the wine is vibrant, aromatic and more than a bit salty.
The harvest happens in the dead of night to keep the fruit cool. The wines are wildly fermented in native yeasts and rest in giant eggs of local concrete sur-lie. The idea is to add another layer of location, emphasizing the “terroir within the terroir,” says Sosa.
Culmina Wild Ferment Gruner Veltliner 2016
This rare expression of the classic Austrian variety comes from a bench high above Okanagan’s Golden Mile. So high, in fact, that it’s above the boundaries of that sub-appellation and is thus classified under the general VQA designation of Okanagan Valley. It started out as an experiment after finding soils of schist on a previously unplanted site.
Before giving Gruner the go-ahead, the Culmina team sought the advice of the (late) great Austrian-Canadian winemaker, Karl Kaiser. “The one thing that he did verify was that it was winter-hardy. That prompted us to give it a shot,” says Sara Triggs.
That shot paid off – it’s not only the first Gruner veltliner successfully grown and made in the Okanagan – but this zesty high altitude expression just might elevate the grape to new heights. According to the Globe and Mail’s Beppi Crosariol, “it must be counted as a New World benchmark for Austria’s signature white grape.”
Stina Croatia Posip 2016
Made on the island of Brac in the Adriatic Sea, off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, this wine is 100% Posip (Paw-SHIP) – a traditional Croatian white grape. The word ‘stina’ refers to the island’s trademark white limestone – an inspiration to poets, sculptors and – winemakers too. The rocky site that this wine comes from has been said to resemble the surface of the moon.
According to Emil Mehdin. Here, the goal is simple: “to present Posip the way it is.” Once again, the locale is the key. In the hot island climate, the higher altitude site, keeps the fruit cooler, especially with the advent of night ocean breezes. One of the challenges is to harvest the grapes quickly at the precise time of peak ripeness – so, here too, harvest happens at night or in the cooler morning hours.
The winemaking is straightforward – 5- 6 months in stainless steel – but the wine is anything but. Robustly textured, this Posip beautifully balances fruits of citrus, pear and melon with nutty, creamy notes and a bracing salty- stony finale. On to the reds.
Jackson Family Wines, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013
This pinot hails from the Kaiser vineyard from the deep end of the Anderson valley where “another valuable cash crop is grown as well,” jokes Thomas Price. ”Aromatically – isn’t that cool? There are so many different kinds of flowers and savory herbs – there’s a lot of stuff going on.”
“This is super close to the Pacific Ocean and it is definitely a little cooler climate… the soils are more sandy as you get to the deep end and for me generally for Pinot Noir – when it is grown on rocky or volcanic soils it’s a little softer – Anderson Valley pinot noir ‘s sense of place is in its aromatics that rosemary and violet – aromatically it’s really complex.”
The wine is crafted in a lighter style with some neutral oak. It’s focused fresh and brightly supple – surprising for a six year old new world Pinot.
Umani Ronchi Campo San Giorgio Rosso Conero Riserva 2013
From the west coast of Cali to the east coast of Italy – where across the Appenines from Tuscany – a family mission is underway – to take the wines of the humble Montelpuciano grape to a whole new place. Literally.
These are not the rustic, sun-soaked fully ripened wines of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Nor are they the Tuscan wines of Sangiovese commonly confused with this variety that go under the name Vino Nobile de Montepulciano – These are wines made solely of the Montepulciano grape, but cut from cool new cloth. Cool – because the vineyard is a mountainous region – 100 kilometers north of Abruzzo but cool enough to be markedly different in style. New – because these vines, at 15 years old – are by Italian standards, mere babies.
“We collected all of our experience with this grape and started this project looking for the best area to grow this wine in the ideal setting – to drive our philosophy to the extreme – to find the best place to ripen an elegant Montepulciano.” says Lorenzo Gucci, “Our vineyard is about a square kilometer – about the size of a football pitch…the Conero area is just 1.5 kilometres from the sea but is a mountain, has an elevation of 150 metres above sea level – you find a Montepulciano of a totally different style – a very very small single vineyard, and this cooler mountainous region with a lot of breezes from the sea you will find a Montepulciano that’s more elegant with more acidity persisting in the wines.”
The vines are grown close to the grown with the leaves tied up “lt’s like a small cypress tree with the bunches at the bottom.” Each plant yields only a couple of bunches. The soil is a mix of calcaric, clay and sand. The whole bunches are left in the tank for just over two weeks without crushing before undergoing malolactic fermentation, then a year of aging in French barriques – with only 20% new oak.
The family’s mission to show the world how Montepulciano can be made Conero style, is evident in the fresh, structured wine in the glass before us all – where tones of ripe blackberry and plum mingle with licorice and cocoa.
Benziger Family Sonoma County Tribute 2014
This is the first wine from Sonoma to be certified biodynamic but the story of Tribute is also the story of the Benziger family who “like the Beverley Hillbillies moved out in the 70’s from New York to a beautiful ranch above the town of Glen Ellen on Sonomoa mountain.” The wine comes from a previously abandoned vineyard site: “It was first settled in the 1860’s but then the 1906 earthquake, prohibition and phylloxera, wiped out the area and they literally locked the front gate for fifty years and the place kind of went back – kind of almost went feral. In the early 70’s a doctor bought the place and he was a little more radical – he was a little more interested in growing marijuana up there, as a matter of fact he grew Cabernet and marijuana – he mixed it together in the barrel and made a wine called “cannabis sauvignon – I’m not making this up” The crowd rips into laughter a second time when Chris Benzinger adds “it was the ultimate food wine.”
The vineyard has been rejuvenated on the site of Sonoma mountain – which is an old volcano with “unbelievable fractured soils from the volcano itself – it’s like geological lasagna – basalt, red aggregate, compressed ash and then your sub soils and your top soils.”
The site gets 360 degree exposure to the sun with what Benziger calls the spice rack in the morning – “that’s gonna give us coffee, chocolate and eucalyptus.” And then the other half of the vineyard that gets the full brunt of the afternoon Benziger calls the fruit basket: “on a good year we’ll get black fruit, blueberries and some nice bing cherries.” That volcano of flavours is all there in the glass ‘erupting’ with beautiful balance and poise.
Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Argentina Finca Mirador 2014
Malbec’s quest for greatness in Argentina is a somewhat new phenomenon according to Achaval-Ferrer’s Julio Lasmartres: “20 years ago we had a very big domestic market and one of the world’s highest per capita consumptions of wine. We were making average wines at a decent price point for the domestic market – nobody really differentiated where the grapes came from.”
According to Lasmartres, it was a visiting Italian winemaker that challenged winemakers to up their game: “Why produce the same kind of Malbec that everyone else is doing? There are fantastic single vineyards…these old hand crafted vineyards that were being left aside because they had low yields and they required much more labour – so many people were not taking care of them” So Archaval Ferrer took over three of the vineyard sites high up in the Uco Valley (2400 – 3400 feet) with the goal of making spectacular single vineyard wines out of them.
The Finca Mirador comes from Medrano – the site is a four-hectare, sandy, dry riverbed cooled by breezes that come ‘downriver’ from the mountains. The fruit from low yielding 85-year-old vines is picked three times before undergoing a high temperature maturation. Concrete, French oak and at least two years of bottle aging follow.
The wine shows a flair and delicacy that stands apart from its peers – lush dark fruit, silky tannins, dancing with floral and spicy notes.
To find that taste of place in the glass is the undeniable quest of anyone who explores the world of wine but – because it’s so hard to quantify – it remains a hot topic of debate, discussion and disagreement. The fact that terroir makes a difference is certain – but how it makes that difference – aye, there’s the rub.
While the session didn’t directly address the terroir debate above – the contributors brought forth wines that were gratifying, diverse and each vividly redolent of its locale. The quest continues.