Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Regenerative Farming at Grgich Hills Estate

Are you familiar with the main principles of Regenerative FarmingGrgich Hills Estate has been a leader in this innovation, first by farming organically for the past two decades, then biodynamically, and finally regenerative farming as stipulated by Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) since 2019. 

Winemaker and Vice President of Vineyards & Production Ivo Jeramaz and his son Luke provided an overview of this process during a BevFluence® organized tour of one of the Grgich Hills Estate's American Canyon vineyards. Here they farm 121.5 acres at cooler temperatures and stronger winds than in Napa Valley.  Over a crescendo of songbirds, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl; Ivo and Luke described how Grgich Hills implements five principles of Regenerative Farming leading to a vibrant nature preserve, productive grapes, reduced costs, and satisfied employees. Check back later for multiple posts on these chemical free principles, but here are the main features:

  1. No till agriculture reduces erosion and keeps valuable nutrients and microbes in the soil.
  2. Bio-diversity in the vineyard through at least four plant groups leads to sharing of nutrients.
  3. Planting cover crops that become layers of armor by protecting the soil from sunlight and maintains moisture.
  4. Let animals manage most vineyard activities such as mowing and pest control. Grgich Hills uses sheep, owls, songbirds, guinea fowl, and other animals to control cover crops and pests.
  5. Institute labor practices that ensure sufficient wages and worker safety that leads to greater retention and thus increased productivity.

Grgich Hills also provided a fantastic library tasting of their iconic wines -- after a refreshing glass of their 2021 Essence Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($55). This saline driven refreshing wine offers white grapefruit and stone fruit and is made from practically a 50-50 blend of American Canyon and Carneros grapes.  The 2016 Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay still carries similar acidity and minerality with floral and sweet apple and pear notes. 

Moving to red library wines, we started with the 2018 Estate Napa Valley Merlot which is a blend from three vineyards - the cooler American Canyon and Carneros vineyards and the warmer Yountville vineyard. Expect savory red fruit, some mint, structure and a balanced acidic - but polished finish. We had the pleasure to sip their 2014 Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to their 2007 Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2014 starts with a wonderful mouthfeel of black fruit and juicy structured tannins. Whereas the 2007 is lighter, it is still vibrant with noticeable tannins mingling with ripe raspberries. The final wine was the 2013 Estate Napa Valley  Miljenko's Old Vine Zinfandel sourced from 135-year-old vines grown in Calistoga. Think of savory black fruit dusted with black pepper finishing with juicy tannins. 

Monday, June 17, 2024

9diDANTE, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP

9diDANTE comes to life as a modern liquid version of the poem (Comedìa). To us, Vermouth is a power struggle between Wormwood and all the other botanicals, told in a language that everyone can understand … wine!  -- Alex Ouziel

Vermouth has been a popular topic within our community particularly after receiving samples of the Dante inspired 9diDANTE. The brand was created by Alex Ouziel in collaboration with Mario Baralis (ex-Carpano -- the father distillery of Italian vermouth). Their vermouth is produced at the historic Dr. M. Montanaro Distillery (1885) in Piedmont and they are one of a few producers in the Turin region to use 100% DOC Piedmontese wines, made entirely from native grapes -- Dolcetto/Cortese for the red Inferno and Arneis for the extra dry Purgatorio. Each vermouth contains 27 botanicals with the major contributors aligning to Dante's classical interpretation of the nine levels within each of the three cantiche – Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise)*.  Thus three cantiche multiplied by nine levels = 27 botanicals. 

The vermouth is produced within the Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP -  a classification created in 2019 to guarantee the quality of its origin and process.  According to the Consortium, "World-renowned for the tradition and historicity of its production, Vermouth di Torino is an aromatized wine born in the 18th century at the foot of the Alps and enjoyed at the court of the Savoy kings. Vermouth di Torino is known worldwide for the tradition and history of production. The fame of Vermouth di Torino PGI is inextricably linked to Piedmont producers and Turin. In the 1800s, Turin was home to the aristocracy of vermouth makers, thanks to whom, in different ways and to different degrees, Vermouth di Torino achieved international standing and became appreciated worldwide. Over the years, techniques and processes have evolved: new ideas went hand in hand with the older practices, and they continue to coexist today, preserving and valorizing Vermouth di Torino's traditional production. Vermouth di Torino is classified according to the color (White, Amber, Rosé or Red) and the amount of sugar used in its preparation".  

As one of only a few Vermouths crafted and bottled under the Superiore classification, 9diDANTE goes well beyond the consortium's regulations. Whereas a Superiore vermouth must use at least 50% Piedmont wines, 9diDANTE uses 100%. Whereas Superiore vermouth must be produced and packaged locally, 9diDANTE sources the actual packaging locally. And whereas Superiore vermouth must be at least 75% wine content, 9diDANTE  has 84% wine content. 

The Inferno Rosso Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP ($32) blend of  Dolcetto and Cortese contrasts with most other red vermouths in that the red Dolcetto provides coloring whereas most vermouths color using caramel. In the 9diDANTE Circles of  Hell, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) resides in Limbo - home to the unbaptized and virtuous pagans such as Hippocrates and Aristotle. Cardamon appears as Lust, Bitter Orange Peel as Glutony, Cumin as Greed, Basil as Anger, Nettle as Heresy, Tansy as Violence, Fennel as Fraud, and poor Caraway as the lowest and coldest level of hell -- Treachery.  I enjoyed the Inferno chilled - basically neat - loads of complex herbaceous and citrus flavors. I can envision using in a Negroni - but save that for an inferior vermouth. 

The Purgatorio Extra Dry Vermouth di Torino Superiore IGP ($35) is comprised of 100% Arneis -- a noble Piedmont grape rescued from the verge of extinction in the 1960s and thanks to the efforts of one winemaker: the late Alfredo Currado of Vietti.  And this is the very first vermouth to be blended exclusively from 100% Arneis DOC wine. This vermouth also contains 27 botanicals. In the 9diDANTE steps to Peter's Gate and Levels of Purgatory, souls  move upwards to be purified of sins in order to enter the heavenly kingdom. Woodruff as Stubborness and Thyme as Repentance are cleansed before passing through Peter's Gate. Sage as Pride begins the lowest level of Purgatory, and moving upwards, Mint as Envy, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as Wrath, Melissa as Sloth, Lemon Peel as Avarice, Bitter Orange Peel as Gluttony, and Coridander as Lust. I'm not a Martini fan, which is the recommended cocktail, but I did imbibe the Purgatorio over ice with a twist of lime and orange. The pear notes of the Arneis are not lost in translation. 

* For those who would like to learn about the epic poem I recommend the Hillsdale College course or the Word On Fire seminar. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

The Pre-Industrial Approach to Farming at Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs Estate

During the 2022 BevFluence Livermore Experience we ventured west to the Santa Cruz Mountains in order to visit the famous Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Estate. Thus we deemed it appropriate during the recently concluded 2024 BevFluence Sonoma Experience to travel to the Dry Creek Valley and visit the Ridge Vineyards at Lytton Springs Estate. Alongside 115-year-old vines we sipped several Ridge wines and learned about the winery's Pre-Industrial Approach to Farming that was a forbearer to an upcoming lesson on Regenerative Farming by Grgich Hills Estate

Whereas Ridge Vineyards is not formally Regenerative Organic Certified, they have adopted virtually all the practices recommended by the alliance.  As of 2022, Ridge has received organic certification for 100% of the vines at their Monte Bello, Lytton Springs, Geyserville, and East Bench vineyards.  In addition they protect and increase the fertility of soil microbes by applying home-made compost; planting cover crops that add  nitrogen and organic matter and control erosion; practice no till (mow only) on their hillside vineyard blocks to help minimize erosion and build organic matter in the soil. 

Ridge also encourages beneficial insect and bird populations as an alternative to pesticides. Planting hedgerows harbor  beneficial insects as well as break up the monoculture of vineyards.  They have installed raptor roosts and bird boxes to help with insect and rodent control. And their Integrated Pest Management activity monitors for pests and insects to quickly ameliorate crop damage.

These practices have greatly enhanced the survivability of their old vines like those within the Lytton Springs Estate. During our tasting we sat at the base of these vines, sampling several fantastic Ridge wines. The first was the 2023 Alder Springs Falanghina ($35) which includes 18% Vermentino and is sourced from the Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County. Interestingly, they discovered a warmer micro-climate within the overwise cooler Mendocino region to grow this southern Italian grape variety and the delicious wine shows peach and tropical notes with racy minerality.  The 2023 Lytton Estate Rosé ($35) was the first Lytton Springs estate wine on the tasting menu and this is a strawberry inspired blend of 36% Grenache, 26% Zinfandel, 15% Mataro (Mourvédre), 14% Cinsaut, and 9% Counoise. 

Moving to the red wines, the 2022 Green & Red Zinfandel ($42) includes 2% Petite Sirah with the zin coming from the Green & Red estate at a high elevation in Napa Valley. Grapes from two vineyard sites (Tip Top vineyard and Chiles Mill vineyard) are co-fermented and show abundant acidity.  Moving to estate wines, the 2021 Lytton Springs ($55) is a delicious blend of 72% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Cinsaut, and 1% Counoise. This wine includes vines planted in 1901 plus eighty-year-old Counoise inter-planted with Cinsaut. Luscious as our party would say.  The 2021 Lytton Estate Syrah, Grenache, Mataro ($44) features 74% Syrah, 17% Grenache, & 9% Mataro where the G floral notes, the S provides richness, and the M - spiciness. This was a must purchase. The 2021 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) includes 16% Merlot most of which is sourced from Monte Bello’s Klein Ranch. Layers and layers of fruit. Finally, a tasting at any of the Ridge tasting rooms requires a sampling of the famed Monte Bello - in this case - the 2016 Monte Bello which was a 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, & 6% Cabernet Franc blend. A mild summer allowed the grapes to slowly ripen, retaining acidity, which are still prevalent after the 18 months in oak and six years in the bottle. A classic wine. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Grape Spotlight: DO Pla de Bages Picapoll from Bodegas Abadal

The first documented reference on the existence of the Picapoll grape in Bages is found in an inventory of the monastery at Sant Benet de Bages in the year 1564. From 1889 on, there is more precise evidence of the existence of this grape and in documents dating back to 1889 and 1890, it is mentioned as being the most widely-grown variety in the region of Bages. After 1930, in Bages and the rest of the wine-growing regions of Catalonia, there was a decline in the area of land dedicated to vineyards which resulted in the residual growth of Picapoll in Bages – a region which is ideally suited to this variety, thanks to the grape’s great adaptability. -- Bodegas Abadal 


The DO Pla de Bages designation is one of ten in Catalunya and lies 30 miles northwest of Barcelona. This region enjoys a mostly Mediterranean climate but Continental influences move in as the hot summers transition to cold winters.   The Llobregat and Cardener rivers weave southwards through the region and vineyards sit within the rivers' valleys, surrounded by impressive mountain peaks and ranges, including the tourist destination of Montserrat Monastery.  During the summer months the grapes develop slowly because of the very high diurnal temperature variation.

According to, "Vineyard locations, and the corresponding grape-growing conditions, are defined by two distinct types of topography. The central basin, at an altitude of 200m (600ft), has predominantly clay-based soil and is warmer.  Alt Bages ('Upper Bages'), which lies at 500m (1,600ft) above sea level, is the cooler part and has a healthy amount of lime in its soil. This helps to retain moisture during the hotter months. The lower reaches, simply referred to as Pla des Bages, sits at around 200m (600ft) above sea level. The soils are alluvial, made up of mostly clay and sand."

Pla des Bages acquired DO status in 1995, in part from the effort of Valentí Roqueta, who chaired the association from 1995 to 2015. A dozen years previously, he had founded Bodegas Abadal based on eight centuries of the Roqueta family's vine growing tradition. The first documents that illustrate this tradition date from the year 1199.  The estate focuses on native grape varieties that his ancestors may have grown for they provide the "maximum expression in their native land".

Their "vineyards are distributed on terraces at different levels. They are nourished by a terrain of clay and limestone, and they are surrounded by woodland which leaves its mark in our wines. The result is expressiveness and complexity. The vineyards are immersed in a unique microclimate that is a mix of Mediterranean and continental, with a marked temperature oscillation between day and night."

The winery may not call their vineyard practices Regenerative Farming, but they sure resemble it. Abadal facilitates biodiversity and maintains a high proportion of the forest around their vineyards that protect and nurture a wide variety of animal and plant species. As a result, pests are controlled by this  auxiliary fauna. They also maintain a living soil by sustaining an active microbiology, minimizing compaction, improving its structure and therefore facilitating the work of the roots. Finally, they are very proud of their efforts to  maintain the historical environment by restoring and conserving dry stone huts and vats that date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The very first Abadal Picapoll was released to the market in 1996 and this was also the first 100% Picapoll released from the DO Pla de Bages. A synonym for Piquepoul or Picpoul, the grape may have migrated to Catalunya from the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions during the earlier Roqueta family history.  The Picapoll grape grows in small compact clusters, with tiny spherical berries that very often show “picades” or marks on the grape skin, which is where the name originated. I sampled the 2021 vintage of the Abadal Picapoll Pla des Bages DO at last month's Spain's Great Match and was surprised by its weight -- assisted by three months aging on lees.  Expect a floral and herbaceous aroma and a complex citrus profile. Fresh acidity provided a lively finish