Second in the Series of My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagista or Passion Gone Runaway? aka: Continuing on my dilemma on how much fruit to source and where. (Sorry it wasn’t next day, my now ‘3’ jobs are keeping me very busy.)
As I discussed last article, small lots of grapes from established growers can be hard to source, it’s not worth their effort and paperwork. Scouting around websites and asking friends, there were people offering Rhone fruit in smaller quantities, but often unknown, ranging from Marin to Lake County.
If I am going to put my ‘name’ on these wines, (even if not selling) and make the time investment; I want high quality fruit from a reliable source. I believe wine making is done on the vineyard, with minimal manipulation, and I want to let it express itself. (Funny how every Vintner says this, only to bury a wine in oak, extraction or high alcohol.)
So where would I find fruit? While a half ton per varietal is a small amount for a grower, it’s a lot for a garage project; 6 different varietals would mean 6 barrels, or 150 cases.
I kept asking friends and winemakers, and focused in on one of my favorite Kenwood/Glen Ellen Vintners, Eric Luse of Eric Ross; whose’ Marsanne/Rousanne captured me when I first met him several years ago. It’s sourced from Saralee’s Vineyards, operated by Richard and Saralee Kunde, the Russian River Valley’s well known Grower, for over 20 years. (Eric’s Saralee Pinot is also amazing.) Assuming someone of this size and reputation wouldn’t touch me, so I asked Eric if I could piggy back onto his order, get it from him when delivered.
Eric, being the straight up guy he is, wanted to ask Saralee for permission. To my surprise she said ok, and that she would sell to me direct, as an exception. Looking over her varietal list, I decided why not focus on one Vineyard and source everything I could from here, especially since I favor cool climate conditions for many varietals. How awesome would it be to showcase most of the fruit sourced from this world recognized wine grower? Would good fortune play my way?
Saralee and I spoke live, and she agreed to sell me Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, which I plan to bottle separately as well as make 1-2 small lots of white Rhone blends. While the size of my order was atypical, Saralee was enthusiastic to support the project, both for the rare Rhone focus (a large vintner who had acquired a small one with a cool Rhone white blend, just ceased making it and cancelled their fruit); as well as she quipped “Everyone has to start somewhere.”
My luck expanded - for reds she had Grenache (my favorite) and Syrah she would also sell. I agreed to a ½ ton (60-70 gallons, 1 barrel, 25 cases, 300 bottles) of each. I need only now source Mourvedre so I can make the classic Rhone GSM red blend, and I intend to bottle separately as well. Mourvedre is one of the last varietals to come in; and worst case I’ll source and drive some back from Paso Robles around Thanksgiving if need be. No luck on my white rhone Grenache Blanc yet, but will engage resources to look shortly.
People are already chuckling in conversations; 150 cases; that’s 1800 bottles; from the guy who already complains about his 650 bottle collection he can’t drink. No, I don’t intend to sell it. I don’t plan to become a winemaker or start a winery; I want to become be a Rhone grower who makes small lots to showcase his fruit. I know what I want to achieve stylistically with these wines, and to share with the world, but lack the experience (my 3rd go at winemaking), the OCD nature, and completely abhor chemistry, so its hard to imagine this path unfolding, at least without a partner.
So then, why so much wine? Well those that know me here, understand well I have two speeds; Go big or Go home. And I need the volume – these 6 varietals are a canvas for a myriad of blends, and experiments. And wine is ‘lost’ along the way in some processes, from sterilizing, to bottling.
I have some ideas and possibilities what to do with the wines, assuming they come out well. I won’t do anything that’s not legal, risk anyone’s bond, and I have some more investigations to do. Plenty of time right now, bottling is a ways off, even for the whites. At the very worst case, we’ll have some great Rhone parties, and Rhone consumer education events.
Next in the series; The first of the 6 crushes; or “No Plan Survives Combat”, as well as an article spotlight on Saralee Vineyards and Saralee Kunde. Hope you will follow along – cheers!