REBEL GRAPE SOCIETY

DECEMBER 2020

PLOT TWIST BLENDS : 2020 HAS HAD IT ALL

What a better way to end this year than by going ‘next level’ different in an already different category. While the Rebel Grape Society normally focuses on single varietal wines, there are a few blend examples of wines that both eschew the traditional rules and yet pay homage to some even older traditions. The idea of a true field blend is not completely uncommon in the US, but has certainly become far more rare as the number of remaining vineyards with several different grape varieties interplanted throughout has become few and far between. More often, winemakers tend to prefer a bit more control as to what blends they are creating in their final product. Looking for a specific profile from the one grape is an enjoyable endeavor. But for wines like these, the result of co-mingling white and red grapes and simply letting the entire vineyard site be expressed in the wine is delightfully fun. Bright, beautiful, outside the box… and still brought to you with a bow.

 

All the best to you and yours, and cheers to your health this holiday season.

– Kevin Wardell, December 2020

 

DOWNLOAD PDF OF TASTING NOTES HERE

WINE NO.1: RYME CELLARS SANGIOVESE + TOCAI FRIULANO

Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino, California 2019

 [san-GEE-OH-vay-say] + [free’oo-LAH-noh]

While this blend is a RYME novelty, it is also a bit of a postmodern homage to the old fiasco-bottled Chianti. It was once standard fare to add copious amounts of white grapes, mostly Trebbiano and Malvasia, to Sangiovese in Chianti to increase the sugar, and therefore the body, and the alcohol, and the bottom line.  This practice was actually not uncommon in many regions, notably in Rhône wines, where to this day the thought is that white + red co-ferments make for more aromatic and concentrated wines. And RYME well knows, wine can be amazing without being overly contemplative.

RYME comes from the playful name-meshing of couple Ryan and Megan Glaab. The two met working as seasonal cellar hands at Torbreck Winery in Australia, and went on to various stints (together and separately) at Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, and Marcassin. They started their own Ryme Cellars wine project in 2007 with just one ton of the woefully under-represented Aglianico grape, and were so excited by the intensity and verve of the wine they made that they decided to delve deeper into the unexplored territory of intriguing varieties that California could serve up. They next made two definitely disparate Vermentinos (a skin contact His and a fresh and minerally Hers), along with Ribolla Gialla, Cabernet Franc and a few of the classics of Sonoma County – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They are like classically trained musicians who listen to hard metal, they appreciate the winemaking art in all its forms, and seek to play all its iterations as fiercely and lovingly as they can. 

What a fantastic Friulangiovese way to appreciate red and white coming together in the same glass! This is like Big Red gum crushing on Juicy Fruit gum. It’s a whole mouthful of Wax Lips. This is crushable like an adult juice box, full of nostalgia like sweet summer melon rind, seascape strawberries and “sangio” cherries. While it’s far better in the glass than chugged with a straw, you get the idea. All the voluptuous fruits finish with a surprise of cinnamon and a pinch of tannins that make for a slightly serious red white wine.

WINE NO.2: RUTH LEWANDOWSKI “FEINTS”

Piemontese Blend
Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino, California 2019

DOLCETTO + BARBERA + NEBBIOLO + ARNEIS

[dohl-CHEHT-oh] + [bar-BEH-rah] + [neh-bee-OH-low] + [ahr-NAYZ]

So, whatever this is, it’s definitely three reds and a white, co-fermented like co-eds co-mingling at a house party. The white Arneis dominates at almost 50% of the blend each year, and brings the foundation of floral aromatics and acid, while the Dolcetto is the sultry, swarthy life of the party, Barbera is the juicy pop star,  and the Nebbiolo is the bookish serious-type with a little more to ponder. This House Party blend might be the only one of its type but it speaks to a wider audience of thirsty wine nerds. 

While there is no actual “Ruth” per se, the life behind Ruth Lewandowski wines is Evan Lewandowski who coined the name after the Biblical book of Ruth he has found so meaningful to his world. Evan was drawn to winemaking because vines express so much of the sky above and the soil below, and believes it’s not all about quantity of the fruit, but the connections in the vineyard. He has been a passionate enthusiast for organic viticulture and natural wine since the beginning of his career, finding that the greatest wines were made by folks earnestly and honestly engaging with vines and soils.

Evan worked in Alsace at Domaine Binner for several years, and then moved back to his home state of Utah to start making his own wine. Up until 2020 Evan was a vagabond winemaker, harvesting fruit from Mendocino, fermenting in Sonoma County, and then transporting his fermenting juice in a refrigerated U-Haul to his home in Salt Lake City where he completed fermentation, aging, and bottling. For now he is temporarily located in Sonoma County, working with Fox Hill Vineyards and Testa Vineyards in Mendocino County, but with eyes on planting vines in Utah. The Feints fruit comes from Fox Hill Vineyard which is farmed organically on sandstone, then fermented with full carbonic maceration for 10 days, then pressed off for maximum pop and citrus-flash.

Wowza, won’t you hibiscus to… hibiscustown!? The dense color is like Beaujolais blood oranges. The nose is a smorgasbord of grilled cherries and charred peaches. The glass is like a cherry almond cheese danish, with a little tar, and a little lemon zest. It’s hard to pin this sucker down, it’s so zippy like a fine powdered peppercorn dusted over a cranberry duck. Is that a Sucrets coughdrop? This is coloring outside the lines, an electric juice that breaks all the rules.

WINE NO. 3: BEDROCK WINE CO. “HERITAGE”

Zinfandel, Carignane, Mourvedre, etc
Evangelho Vineyard, Lodi, California 2019

[ZIN-fan-dehl] + [car-eeg-NYAHN] + [mohr-VED-dra]

While the previous two wines are creative takes on California’s potential- playing with grapes and styles that are mostly outside the normal CA playbook, Bedrock is firmly planted in the state’s viticultural history, and therefore inextricably rooted to Zinfandel. Zin is almost ubiquitous with California, though it only came here in the 1850s and was originally born in Croatia (as Tribidrag) in the early 1500s. But it certainly has claimed the Golden State as its kingdom and is little known outside of our borders. Carignan and Mourvèdre were also available very early on in California viticulture, and often seen as Zin accomplices in old plantings.

Bedrock is the synthesis of friends Morgan Twain-Petersen and Chris Cottrell. Morgan was born into Ravenswood wines, and allegedly at age five, Morgan could differentiate Merlot from Zinfandel and began making his own wine, creating Vino Bambino Pinot Noir from 1986 to 2001; experimenting with whole cluster fermentation, playing with French oak and various ripeness points. During college, he met friend Chris Cottrell working in a small wine shop called Pet Wines in Manhattan. Bedrock Wine Co. was born of this friendship in 2007, beginning in a converted chicken coop outside of Sonoma. In 2014, Morgan was named San Francisco Chronicle Co-Winemaker of the Year, and in 2017 Morgan passed the Master of Wine exam, becoming one of 45 MWs in the US and one of two CA winemakers with the qualification. The Evangelho Vineyard is a totally unique site that has withstood the ravages of modernization – planted in the 1890s, it is wedged between a PG&E plant, a Burger King, and a motel rented by the hour. Own-rooted on sand deposited by the Sacramento River Delta, the gnarled 130 year old vines are a field-blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Mourvèdre, and other oddities like Palomino, making for wines that are fresh, bright, and brilliantly Californian.

A pile of purple berries popping with vibrant pizzazz! At first taste it’s almost carbonic – alive with fresh and vivacious pop, like…Grape Nehi soda pop. A hint of petrichor, like fresh rain on road tar. Try to tease out the Zinfandel plum from the Mourvedre herbal thyme and wild mint from the acidic sweet clay Carignan. It is at once both dense, full-bodied and opulent, and also refreshingly light on its feet for the varietals and the region; reminding us that old vines possess that mystical ability to convey tons of character and also ethereal expansiveness.