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Wineaux: Finding silver in California’s valleys and hills

My first essay as a high school student claimed — falsely — that I woke up each day with strains of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” going through my head.

I guess I was trying to project the image of a good, happy Catholic girl, confident that “everything’s going my way.” The truth? I’m a born pessimist. Was then. Am now. And that “bright golden haze on the meadow” was smog.

365体育投注I do try sometimes to “look for the silver lining” (another of my childhood sing-along favorites), which is probably the source of my suggestion to Boon Companion that the first topic of dinner conversation in these lockdown weeks (months) be “one nice thing that happened today.”

365体育投注Generally, my contribution (after hours of racking my brain) has been an owl sighting, a red dragonfly alighting on the clothesline, a stand of red poppies discovered on my morning walk. Small pleasures in tough times.

On a recent Friday, though, I didn’t need to go a-searching. A knock on the door that afternoon turned out to be Amy Grabish from The Pip Wine Bar in her rainbow mask. She came, like an April Santa, surrounded by various packages.

365体育投注There was, yes, the six-pack of wine I had ordered earlier in the week but also a big basket of bottles from “the kids.” And garden flowers and all manner of other treats that daughter Julian had arranged with her over the phone. A birthday bonanza! (Thanks, everyone.)

365体育投注As I make my way through the bottles of Amy’s carefully vetted and just-my-kind-of-wine stock, I think the silver lining to home imprisonment is not organized drawers or Kondo-ed closets, but this upgrade to my usual wine drinking.

One drawback, though: I’m having a hard time choosing which exciting new wine finds I should write about this week. Today I’m letting New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov help pick one of them.

365体育投注First, some background: a recent Asimov column (“They’re All in This Together, but Apart” — May 6) describes the Pax Mahle winery (Sebastopol) and how the six different small producers who collaborate there are negotiating social distancing and other COVID-containment strategies.

365体育投注The six have much besides the facility in common. They share, writes Asimov, “a conscientious approach to farming — they tend vines, though they own no vineyards — and a light hand in the winery. The use of commercial yeast or other additives is not permitted.”

Asimov clearly finds these wines intriguing, as well as well-made and graceful, with a real sense of place.

Coincidentally, the day this piece appeared, “Wineaux” recommended a Monte Rio white zin — Monte Rio being one of the six. I found the delicious rosé on The Pip website, loved it, and noticed that Amy had brought in wines from some of the other Pax producers as well. So, here’s pick No. 1:

The Jolie-Laide (another of the six) Mé365体育投注lon de Bourgogne ($30). Yes, it’s a splurge, but an excellent one that comes with a good story. That has to be worth a couple of dollars.

Apparently, about 50 years ago, UC Davis sold some pinot blanc cuttings to local winemakers, but they turned out not to be pinot blanc at all but melon blanc, a grape mostly found in Muscadet in the Loire.

365体育投注There are still some of those plantings left in California, one of them at the Rodnick Farms Vineyard in Chalone — a high-desert site beneath an extinct volcano — which is the source of the grapes in this Jolie-Laide beauty.

365体育投注You can taste the minerals along with the stone fruits and citrus and you get a touch of salt to assure you of the near-coastal location (the vineyard overlooks Monterey). It’s sophisticated, textured, and intense for such a light, clean, fresh wine. And it has the distinction of being whole-cluster fermented in a concrete egg.

Eminently food friendly, oysters would love it — if only someone would deliver some right from the water to my door — but my simple greens and squid-spaghetti delighted in the high-class company.

365体育投注I’ll be writing soon about other wines from Pax (and Pam) Mahle’s facility, but while I’m advocating one wine made from a relatively rare, early-California grape, I thought pick No. 2 should be another.

It’s the Folk Machine Charbono, also available from The Pip. You probably know by now that I’m a great fan of winemaker Kenny Likitprakong, who’s particularly interested in California’s “heritage” grapes — zin, valdiguié and charbono.

365体育投注Nearly all California wineries make a zin (Kenny makes a terrific one under his Hobo label), but he has also been making the much rarer valdiguié for nearly a decade.

365体育投注The charbono is a more recent project, more recent mostly because it wasn’t easy to find a planting. Finally in 2013, he discovered a fairly young block of the grape planted by Brian Babcock in Suisun Valley. And this 2019 (20% whole cluster, spontaneous fermentation) is the latest result.

Charbono (known as Bonarda in Argentina, not to be confused with Italian Bonarda) yields very beautiful, dark red juice, which often portends something rich and ponderous. But this wine’s light and festive with a refreshing tartness that can be initially off-putting. I like tart, but it did take me a few minutes to warm to this wine.

Once I did, though, I became a fan. We drank it with a garlic scape and provolone pizza (a provolone log another of my birthday presents), and first thing in the morning I emailed Amy that I wanted more.

So if you’re up for an early-California adventure that doesn’t involve gold-digging, try these two unusual — and local — bottlings. (If The Pip is ever sold out of a wine you want or if you don’t find it on the website, give Amy a call or email and she’ll steer you to something equally interesting.)

In case you’re assured by the huge increase in alcohol consumption, especially in online sales, that small winemakers are doing swimmingly, they’re definitely not. Unlike Big Wine, they’re struggling, and many aren’t at all sure they’ll survive the pandemic.

Please support folks like Kenny and the Pax-and-Pam crew (Jolie-Laide’s Scott Schultz, Jaimee Motley Wines’ Jaimee Motley, Martha Stoumen Wines’ Martha Stoumen, Monte Rio’s Patrick Cappiello, and RAEN’s Carlo and Dante Mondavi) by seeking out and buying their wines even if they’re a bit out of the usual “Wineaux” price range.

365体育投注You get bragging rights. And you won’t have to look far for your 70th-day-of-lockdown’s silver lining.

CalMatters


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