REBEL GRAPE SOCIETY

JULY 2020

KALOO KALLAY FOR VALDIGUIÉ

This is the story of a grape nearly lost in time, visiting us in 3 installments, the grape of Harvest Past, Present and Future…. 

Although our consistent message in Seven Percent is clamoring for more plantings and more champions for this grape or that, this particular variety is clearly not the first that comes to mind for many. Do not mistake that statement for a lack of genuine enthusiastic love for Valdiguié, however, it just seems right to point out that the set of true believers is minute. Often we can point to the old world when discussing the potential of a grape variety to flourish here in California, not just in the vineyards but where what is easily thought of as most important… in the marketplace. But the all but orphaned anomaly that is Valdiguié may just remain where it stands today for the foreseeable future; as the nerdy and rare delight that is and, at the very least, super fun to say. And to drink.

– Kevin Wardell, July 2020

 

WINE NO.1: JOLIE-LAIDE VALDIGUIÉ ROSÉ

Rosewood Vineyard, Mendocino California 2019

(Grape of Harvest Past) 

A vigorous and vivacious vine, Valdiguié is now a bit of a ghost in it’s homeland in southern France. Once widely planted throughout the Languedoc and Provence, it has now faded to just a few hundred acres remaining in modern temps. It’s reign was short lived considering it’s a relative whippersnapper viticulturally; it didn’t get its first official mention until 1884, and a century later it has all but fizzled out of its home. Valdiguié was brought to the New World because it was such a sturdy producer, and hit its zenith here during Prohibition, when more grapes made for more merriment.

Maybe “jolie-laide” (french: beautiful-ugly) is a term of endearment, or a romantic description for finding beauty in the otherwise ugly, or maybe it’s that intriguing type of imperfect or blemished beauty, any which way, it’s probably not a reference to winemakers Scott and Jenny Schultz, who are both absolutely lovely. Jolie-Laide rose out of Scott’s time in the service industry: building restaurant lists and pouring and selling wine inevitably led to his deep fascination with winemaking and vit in California. When he became assistant to Pax Mahle at WindGap Wines, he started working with renowned vineyards and also with fairly obscure grape varieties like Valdiguié and Trousseau Gris, all while building his small brand which has become a darling of the nerdy wine world. The organic Rosewood Vineyard (also called the Buddha Dharma Vineyard) was planted in the far-flung hills of Ukiah in the 1940s in sandy clay loam. This was just  after Prohibition, at the height of the Valdiguié boom. The Val de Rosé was picked early for acidity, whole cluster pressed and spontaneously fermented in stainless, concrete and neutral oak, and aged for 6 months before being put in this beautiful bottle.

This is just about as pretty as any pink can be, the color is as fun as a rose parade, and the wine follows suit flashing playful layers of bubblicious Big League chew, leading into briney watermelon rind and a lovely lusciousness… this rosé transcends to the next level. There’s a Turkish delight and rose water pretty confectionary character that keeps on quenching. It’s also fantastically like an aperol spritz but in a wine bottle, with gently bitter orange and an aromatic prosecco-like bouquet, there’s nothing simple about this summer sipper.

WINE NO.2: FOLK MACHINE VALDIGUIÉ

Redwood Valley, Mendocino California 2018

(Grape of Harvest Present)

Valdiguié also took on an alias misnomer as it found its roots spreading throughout California, where it was (and still is) mistakenly called Napa Gamay. It went by Gamay or Napa Gamay for decades up until 1980 when it was finally identified as the Languedoc native guy Valdiguié. While it was proven to be itself and not Gamay, it is still not an officially recognized name in California. Nowadays our hero has all but slipped into obscurity with just a couple hundred total acres left in the state. 

Hobo Wine Company is an homage to the nomad lifestyle embraced by its winemaker Kenny Likitprakong. He skateboarded his way through microbreweries from California to Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, until wanderlust carried him to Western and Eastern Europe where he started on a life-long journey of wine drinking. Finding his locus, he moved to UC Davis to study Viticulture and Enology where he made his first barrel of wine in the basement. He then he jumped around the Santa Cruz Mountains and up to the Russian River Valley where Hobo found its home. A decade later in 2006, he started his Folk Machine label as a tribute to Woody Guthrie and his rambling roaming ways. Kenny feels that the names Hobo and Folk Machine are a tribute to a freedom and an era that he grew up romanticizing and spent a lot of his early years chasing, and well, maybe he still is. Valdiguié fits (or misfits) so well into this nostalgic love for wildness in California history, and he’s embraced the wild side of this grape by fermenting whole cluster and semi-carbonic, with its full freak flag flying proud.

This is the perfect illustration for why this grape came to be known as Napa Gamay, it has all the aromatic velvety grapiness of a Beaujolais village with just a little pop of pepper and those tart yet mouthwatering tannins. The color is like a beaujo nouveau too, its saturated blue-purple hue is just like a freshly pressed red ferment. Heaps of passionfruit, fresh blueberry and blackberry are jubilant leading into a bit of black pepper and cranberry to keep you puckering for more. Crush, rinse, repeat. Especially at 11.5% ABV.

WINE NO. 3: LIOCO WINES VALDIGUIÉ

Lolonis Vineyard, Redwood Valley, Mendocino California 2018
RE-ORDER $33

(Grape of Harvest Future)

The modern natural winemaking movement has helped popularize obscure grapes like Valdiguié and bring them back into the wine drinking lexicon in California. With its fun fruity bright and grapey aromatics, Valdiguié does hint at Beaujolais, but it can also delve deep and even pack a tannic mouthful in more serious bottlings like this one. Add to all that potential the fact that our hero is super productive, resistant to mildew, and loves the warmer Mediterranean climes that California deals in droves, and you might just be seeing a resurgence of this pretty playful valdigrape in our future. 

LIOCO is the brain + name child of wine salesman Matt Licklider (LI-) and Spago wine director Kevin O’Connor (-OCO), two colleagues who were parched by the heavy-handed wines pumped out of California in the late nineties. Together they launched LI-OCO in 2005 when they began sniffing out great terroir while daydreaming of Euro-wines growing in Cali climes. Husband and wife team Matt and Sara Licklider now run the small operation out of Santa Rosa, with their fingers in the pies of many vineyards spanning 3 counties: Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Mendocino. While their eyes are mainly on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Carignan, they occasionally fall in love with the odd Syrah vineyard or the irresistible siren call of a 75 year old Valdiguié planting. Lolonis Vineyard is a true relic, with its roots planted in 1945 in red clay laced with river rocks, it is head-trained,organically farmed and still Valdiguié after all these years…

Inky deep purple stains the glass, and #2 pencil graphite and wet stone are all over the nose. Then jump into a warm, blueberry galette confection, with a stunningly lush and lovely floral arrangement of violets and hibiscus, leading to a digestif of sweet cherry pipe tobacco. Sniff often, but definitely give it some before air before you enjoy it alongside some grilled BBQ fatty goodness. Don’t forget to all the while contemplate the grapes of past, present and cheers to the future!