California Stories: Seventy Sheep Named Bob & Other Tales
It was a beautiful night. We sipped (we drank), told stories and exchanged impressions, we chatted, and we lost ourselves in the hazy, pre summer heat that filtered into the warehouse space with generosity and abundance. It was a night of good people, good wines, conversation, and food - all of the things I hoped it would be.
Here are the tangible bits I can share with you; the rest of it, the real magic, got absorbed into the old tapestries and hand-made garments, Matt's art hanging on the walls, the songs that moved us to dance, and ultimately, our spongy souls. This part, the part I can't post or email or illustrate, is the why, the what, and the how. The very reason for Pour This. If you came, thank you.
the space: "even a t shirt has a story" - imogene + willie
...you can't really capture the way the light pours into imogene + willie undisclosed in downtown LA. Their spot lives on the other side of the 4th street bridge, where the warehouse's plain metal siding and right angles speak nothing of its soulful guts. I've felt a pull toward i+w for a long time, marveling at their thoughtful, patient approach to making through the filters of social media, and aspiring to the way they weave the personal in between the threads of cone denim and carefully-chosen textiles.
The question on the surface might be easy to point at: what's wine got to do with clothing? I'll let Carrie answer (on denim):
"i love that it’s not synthetic. i love that something unwashed has a better chance of being soft when it’s broken down by life instead of a machine. i love that this jean reminds me every day that instant gratification is a shortcut and a road that i now choose to be less traveled. i love that this jean is the only material object i own that can honestly and vulnerably tell the flawed story of me."
And also, Matt (on his hand-printed t shirts):
"just the simple fact that you can't crank out a hundred an hour makes it all the more special. each time you ink up the board, it comes out a little bit different. no two will ever be the same."
Obviously they get it. I wanted to be in their space, so I reached out - and I'm so happy we met them.
the wines: "a winnowing down to the essential" - dani rozman, la onda
...when I first met Dani, he was there to show me someone else’s wines. So in my backyard we tasted the wines he was selling and at the end of our meeting, he goes, I also have my wines, do you want to try those?
He had no wine to sell, because each of the wines he showed me had been made in such small quantity that it was very unlikely I’d get to buy any. The wine that caught my tongue was this Cabernet Sauvignon, a white wine. It comes from one vineyard in North Yuba, and only about 600 bottles were made. And we got to share them:
It was a remarkable, dazzling thing, this wine. It's the kind that yields a forward tumbling of the senses, where adjectives won't do and the experience is hard to call by name; this was a wine deserved of sharing, not because it was a party trick (ohh, a white cab!), but because of its purity, its empirical form, its winnowing down to the essential, Dani explains:
I’ve settled in California for the time being (I love that he says for the time being - really captures his spirit, and if you can picture him he is young, curly hair, quiet but with that patina that travel and working the land will paint on a person), but Itata (Chile) was where I first learned to make wine. My ideas on low-interventionist farming and winemaking were born there, then further shaped through experiences in both places, a winnowing down towards the essential that continues to this day. Before traveling to Chile in 2013, I was led to believe that I would find a swampy valley without the potential to produce wines of consequence. What I found instead were rolling granitic hills, century-old bush vines and traditional winemaking practices. Itata looks, smells and tastes exactly how you might dream a nearly forgotten wine region would. It evokes old foudres made from raulí, small family farms, porotos con riendas y longaniza, forests of eucalyptus and a coastal breeze. I've tried to keep all these things in the wine without taking anything out.
My intention is to remove myself from the winemaking process as much as possible." -dani rozman
Dani farms 18+ acres of vineyard in the North Yuba AVA of the Sierra Foothills. He calls it "a dream scenario" because he is collaborating with friends who share his minimalist approach to farming, who are willing to relinquish some control to nature. They work the vineyard without any chemicals, without irrigation, and with the help of about 70 sheep (I've named them all Bob).
And then, when you think of Chardonnay what do you think of? The polarizing responses tend to comes from the mark that commercial CA companies leave on the unsuspecting consumer public, but the grape itself is really so much less important than who is making the wine and where:
I met Diego in a tasting appointment with no background knowledge of him or his wines. He also has crazy curly hair, and looks like a Berkeley graduate (or drop out) with a really genuine vibe. He pours me a few wines and then we get to this Chardonnay. I demanded the story. On his hunt for some vineyards that would allow him total farming control, he comes across a Craigslist ad (!). It just this cryptic (is there any other kind of CL ad??), short listing for Chardonnay plantings in Manton Valley, a remote area about 3 hours north of Napa. It’s at the foothills of both Mt. Lassen to the east, and Mt. Shasta to the west. So there’s this incredible volcanic influence that’s really different than the Sierra Foothills.
Anyway, Diego gets on the phone with an old woman who answers – like really old. She tells him she has a bunch of Chardonnay and she doesn’t know what to do with it, no one seems interested and there are all these grapes going to waste.
Diego: Ok, when did you plant them?
Lady: no my father planted them actually...back in the 70s.
Diego: Oh, ok (getting excited), what did you graft them onto? Most vines are planted as grafts of a younger vine onto existing other rooted vines that have been engineered to be resistant to a certain type of pest that destroys grape vines in particular. Own-rooted vines – especially in California – are pretty rare.
Lady: Oh, these are own-rooted vines. He never grafted anything he just stuck 'em in the ground and they've been growing ever since.
Diego (at this point frantically scribbling notes, and mapping travel to remote Manton Valley): Um, ok ok, and what type of vineyard treatments do you use? (Diego wants to know what chemicals / pesticides etc have been applied, to get a better understanding of what changes he’ll have to make and how expensive and lengthy the process will be to move toward organics).
Lady: Nothing, we just stuck them in the ground and they grew.
The holy grail: no chemicals, own rooted vines, planted in the 70s, found on Craigslist.
And this wine tastes like that: so clean, pure, and mountain-y - unlike the typical California Chardonnay.
Diego also makes a red, and I really love it. California winemakers back in the 70s were pioneers, rebels, and intent on making wines that could last generations and reflect the land. It wasn’t just an aspiration to be French, but conditions in California had a great deal of similarity to those in Bordeaux. Blending in Bordeaux is also an artform, calling forth the solid truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This wine is primarily Merlot, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s so classically old California.
Diego and his partner Sam make the wine in their basement. Not unlike an indie band from the 90s. The basement is subterranean which means it’s a perfect 55 degrees all year, so they don’t need to control the temperature of the wine during fermentation or storage. It’s all done naturally, by gravity, in a sanctuary underground rife with deep knowledge and appreciation of old world winemaking and California history. This wine is available for a short time if you hit me up!
"it tasted like I was drinking an old man, his favorite leather chair, and taking in all of his secrets and wisdom" - kyle a. of i+w
And last, because history:
We opened 1978 Zinfandel Rutherford Hill from Mead Ranch in Atlas Peak. I wanted to share this wine because it’s historic, but it’s also delicious. A good friend of mine, someone I first met because I was buying wine for restaurants, ended up a good friend ten years later. He plays the air piano better than anyone I know. He shot me a text me one nigh with a picture of Rutherford Hill 1978 Zin.
Hey I got this …stuff. Do you want in? I could literally hear him look left and right like a trenchcoat salesman in an alley through this one text. Uh Yeah. I said. I want it. These old relics were stored in their orginal, unopened boxes and hadn’t moved in 40 years. Off the books, fell off the truck, back alley sally, landed in my lap.
Rutherford Hill is historic, and they really championed Bordeaux varietals from the beginning, had this foresight for California and wanted to make wines of power and concentration in that old Bordeaux style. This is a wine that can’t be over explained, you just have to drink it to be a part of history.
There's a story in the bottle, a lot of which will remain a mystery to us, but there’s also a story about the night we hang out at imogene + willie and drank it together, in awe of how you cannot rush time.
You can’t replicate worn in boots, you have to walk the miles; Tom Waits sounds different on old vinyl than on itunes; jeans only truly begin to forgive our impatience after many rides, dances, leaps, and drives. Wine is the same: You can’t shortcut or mass make the best things in life, and those said best things don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist as part of a story. Tasting is not an art or a skill, and I don't even really believe in it - you have to spend time with the wine and get to know it, let it change, let it mark and ultimately change you, too. That's where the story shows itself and also where it becomes ours to write.