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Beaune-time is Fun-time

Dormant vineyards in Savigny-les-Beaune

Dormant vineyards in Savigny-les-Beaune

What started as an innocent, yet necessary, jaunt down to Burgundy for a few days turned into (another) ridiculously memorable experience.  As most wine professionals know, it is not recommended to turn up at a cellar door in any renown wine region without an appointment arranged at a chateau or domaine ahead of time.  This is most evident in Europe, and especially in noted regions such as Bordeaux, Loire, Champagne....and definitely Burgundy.  But, filled with hope, optimism and excitement, I jumped on the train out of Gare du Lyon in Paris and set out for the SNCF station for the center of Burgundy:  Beaune, where the Côte du Nuits and the Côte Chalonnaise form a nice little sandwich around the Côte de Beaune.  The only thing I knew for certain was happening was a meet-up with a fellow stagier from Domaine François Villard where I had just completed harvest, for a few days of pinot and chardonnay drinking, and maybe a few snails.  Having just signed on a few days ago with French importer Paul M. Young back in San Francisco, I was all of a sudden filled with the inspiration to visit such rockstars of the Burgundy scene as Nicolas Rossignol, René Bouvier and the girls at Louis Chenu Pere et Filles.

Center Ville, Beaune

Not even knowing where I was going to be sleeping that night, I was forwarded directions from Scott, which indicated that he would meet me at the station and take me into town where his host in the region, and subsequently mine, would be meeting us.  The setting of appointments would have to wait until tomorrow, which, unfortunately, happened to be Sunday.  Luckily, our host was none other than the amazing Muriel Deléger, of the famous Colin-Deléger Montrachet family.  She now resides just outside of Beaune, and runs her own organic and biodynamic vineyard consulting firm for the forward-thinking vignerons of Burgundy.  In addition, she runs a fantastic enotourism company called "Les Essence du Sens, La passion du Terroir en Bourgogne".  I don't think that needs any translation.  In effect, she hosts in-depth vineyard tours of some of the more exclusive, organically farmed properties in Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Clos du Vougeot,  Vosne-Romanée, Givry, Chablis, Beaujolais..... Daughter of the famous winemaker Georges Deléger, she is deeply rooted in the soil of Burgundy, literally, and is as passionate a enthusiast for the biodynamic and organic farming as anyone I've ever met.

Meursault vines

So Muriel was to be our personal host and guide for five days in Burgundy.  Beats the local Travelodge, for sure.  Her passion and mine ignited instantly, and that Friday night, we began making plans for the next day and for Monday and Tuesday appointments.  Better late than never.  But it seems flying by the seat of my pants, packing a bag at 10 pm the night before after getting inspired to get out of Paris and see what is literally a few hours' train ride from my door, has been my modus operandi lately.  And, as last minute plans always show, when you're not expecting much, the things that come to light take on an even more awesome aura.  My plan shaped up to be this:  Bouchard Aïne et Fils, Chateau de Meursault, Maison Champy (depuis 1720!), Domaine Chandon de Brailles, Nicolas Rossignol, Domaine Drouhin.  And a plan to eat considerable amounts of escargot.

Winter Market Goods

Saturday started leisurely at the prolific winter marché in the square just next to the famous Hospices du Beaune, and an hour drooling over the insane wine book shop inside the Athenaeum (where the infamous Côte de Nuits and Côte du Beaune topography maps came home with me).  On Saturday, for the weekend crowd, many of the large domaines located within the medieval stone walls of Beaune offer tastings and tours without appointment.  The most interesting I discovered was the tour and tasting at Bouchard Aïne & Fils, where they take you literally on a tour of the senses.  

Bouchard Aïne & Fils

Five chambers down in the domaine's cellars have been devoted to one of the senses:  Sound, Sight, Smell, Taste and Texture.  Led down dark corridors with the tell-tale French gravel crunching below your feet and the distinctive must clinging to your nostrils, you don't need much to supplement the Sound and Smell senses.  After the predictable alcove of Pure Wine Aroma Essences , we happened upon the Texture cave, where a long bar was set up alongside one side of the room, covered in six different materials:  silk, velvet, canvas, metal, fur, leather, lace, faux leather....each one representing the different textures of the wines we had tasted through.  Silk for Chambolle-Musigny, Velvet for Pommard; Fur for Vougeot Grand Cru.  The Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2004 stole my heart, although I settled for a more recent vintage of the Chambolle-Musigny to take home with me.

Château de Meursault

The next morning had me early at the doorstep of Château de Meursault, where I was greeted by a friend of Muriel's and the contact for the maison's enotourisim department.  It was still early, but as the fog lifted, and Véronique explained more about the history of the Château de Meursault....I realized I was at the home of La Paulée, the famous and exclusive lunch held to celebrate the end of the vintage, and has become in it's own right one of the big auction events in Bourgogne, in addition to Hospices du Beaune and the Clos de Vougeot dinner.   Here, the Château was founded in the 11th siécle, with the caves being built from the 11th siécle through the 16th siécle.  And we thought we had contractor issues these days.  A morning shot of 1er Cru Meursault 2006 woke me up with gunpowder, pencil lead and almonds, but balanced beautifully with the palate of peaches, apricots and honey.  I was ready for the vin rouge.  The Corton Grand Cru was outstanding, although young, and the Volnay 'Clos des Chenes' 2004 also stood out.  But really, at the Château de Meursault, it was really the Meursault that took home the prize.


Champs Pere & Cie, depuis 1720

The day rounded out with a quick tour and taste at Maison Champy, one of the oldest companies in Beaune, having been formed in 1720, and has 28ha of certified Biodynamic and Organic vines.  A nice composite of wines from their various vineyards in Pernard-Vergelesses, Corton-Charlemagne, Corton and Beaune, they are elegant wines that should be enjoying more exposure in the international markets soon.  Escargot count at this point:  12.

Tasting Clos de Mouches rouge et blanc in the cellars of Joseph Drouhin

Le Cave du Joseph Drouhin

Through some miracle of local intuition, Muriel called to the offices of Domaine Drouhin, notoriously difficult to secure an appointment with, and she was able to arrange a meeting with one of their people the following morning at 10.  If you look for a huge, imposing château of a place with en enormous stone tablet outside the gate proclaiming "Domain Joseph Drouhin", you would be looking for the wrong place.  Quietly situated on a small street next to the Notre-Dame, it's humble exterior misleads you to the unbelievable history and richness below the cobblestone street.  Three acres of caves snake below the streets of Beaune; the core of which lie beneath the old crushpad that was purchased in 611 by the church to host their grape crush.  Looking out out the original glass windows onto the oldest street in Beaune, rue d'Enfer, towards the oldest church in Beaune, while standing atop some of the world's greatest wine cellars, the twinge of mold and dust in your nose and the stark chill emanating up from the stones below your feet,  you start to feel very small, and very infinite, all at the same time.   And you're connected to the past, as well as the present.  And then you wind your way down the stone and iron spiral staircase to the cave below, where the wines of Joseph Drouhin are waiting your judgement.

The Completely True Adventures of a Napa Winemaker Living in Paris

So, somehow, I ended up living in Paris.  Not even one year ago I had the crazy dream that it could be possible, and through hard work, luck, and tons of love and support from my family, it actually happened.  And so with a vintage in the Rhone Valley behind me and recorded in the history books, I face the greatest adventure of all: living abroad.

What's a winemaker from Napa Valley to do for work, you may ask, when she finds herself making a home in a very lovely city with absolutely no wineries to be found?  Luckily, the Parisians like wine and food, and French wine at that, so this seems the perfect place to explore the various brasseries, cafes, bar à vins, restaurants and cavistes that have been serving fantastic wines for decades.  Many of these wines do not make it out of France for us to enjoy in the States, and so I hope to find work in one of these establishments to do some reconnaissance on the best wines that have yet to be discovered.  A difficult task, I assure you, but I am ready to take on the challenge.  One producer to look for now on the shelves in your favorite wine bar or wine shop?  Domaine François Villard.  Not that I have any bias....

But first, some sightseeing.  Paris is quite a magical city, on so many different levels, that it's hard not to look up from your baguette or verre du vin rouge and just marvel in the majesty of the structures in front of you and relish in the tranquility of the gardens hidden behind the gold tipped iron gates.  You see, it's really all about balance.

A tout à l'heure!

 Opéra Garnier

 Jardin du Palais Royal

Basilique du Sacre Coeur

Flat Whites, Icebreakers, Canterbury Lamb and Riesling: March 9, 2009

Just a few of my favorite things I’ve found this short while down here in New Zealand. Although not necessarily in that order. In the relatively short week I’ve spent here in the southern part of the world, I’ve seen my first blue penguin, had amazing lamb prepared several delicious ways, tasted a wild goat meat pie, sampled some of the best and most undiscovered Rieslings from this part of the world, and drank my weight in pints of Tui East Indian Ale while enduring a grueling 8 hour cricket match. In the blazing sun. Which, after 6 hours, turned into a frigid bowl of southerly gale force winds. I’ve also learned to drive on the other side of the road. Harrowing, considering that at every moment you are anticipating a head-on collision. And now, looking out onto High and Manchester streets in the center of Christchurch, I’m finally calm and settling into this new lifestyle, relaxed with my favorite Kiwi invention, the Flat White, as I watch the last of the Monday morning commuters buzz around me in a hurried attempt to begin their day-to-day cubicle life. Not me. Today, I travel with fellow Craggy Intern Patrick south of this Gateway To The Antartic to the Aroaki/Mt. Cook National Park. I have to admit, I couldn’t be happier to leave the city behind. For me, this is where the real New Zealand is discovered.

It’s freezing down here. And it’s March – I was expecting weather not unlike San Francisco in late August: warm, but with a slight chill in the evening. Not the case. So, after a necessary stop at one of the many outdoor stores (which are conveniently placed on every corner in the major intersections in South Island towns like Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin), I’m now all suited up with my North Face Ice Blue Fleece, my Mont goose-down sleeping bag and comfy ThermaRest camping mattress. I’m a fricking walking REI ad. NZed, here I come!

It’s a good thing that I got some civilized R&R in before embarking on this Great Unknown Journey. Prior to meeting Patrick in Christchurch (and witnessing way too much blood out in the streets for an average Saturday night), I escaped the City for a quick minibreak up to the Waipara Valley. Only an hour’s drive north of Christchurch, it is the perfect little getaway from the city. This is a region that is quickly becoming known for it’s delicate approach to Pinot Noirs and it’s ability to produce dry, off-dry and sweet Rieslings. I was able to taste at a few of the wineries in the region: Muddy Water, Pegasus Bay, Waipara Springs, and a little winery outside the region in little Waikari, Bell Hill, who are doing some absolutely fabulous small block, yet densely planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on limestone rich soils.

As for the Rieslings, where Pegasus Bay is king in the region, there are plenty more nipping at their heels. The Rieslings of Muddy Water were outstanding, with their dry Riesling showing delicate aromas of peaches, pears and lychee with a bit of hazelnut on the long finish. At 6gr RS, this is the driest style of the region, but the intense acidity and minerality helps to erase any sign of sugar on the palate. My preferred wine of the day. Their medium-dry, the James Harwick, was again just as minerally, with a distinct white floral nose, but a zesty Key Lime pie palate that kept me diving back in for more. Quite yummy. As for their sweeter style, the 2006 ‘Unplugged’ had a bit of Botrytis-affected fruit included, from a block that sits a little lower than their other blocks near the river. At 53gr RS, the wine was definitely more of a dessert style, but you won’t find any cloying fruit notes with this one. A very expressive nose of rose petals and a hint of petrol, the palate was more glycerine in style verses sticky sweet, and again the presence of the minerality and acitidy helped the wine to be focused and present. Other producers I was able to check out included Waipara Springs, Where I had one of the most delectable lamb salads on the terrace with a bit of dry Riesling.

Although the Riesling was quite expressive and lovely, it was the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from little producer Bell Hill that really stole my heart. Built upon a former limestone quarry and production facility, it is evident why Marcel and Sherwyn decided to turn the property into a home for Pinot and Chardonnay vines. The backdrop was luscious, with a light rain falling on the densely carpeted clover-green peaks and hilly ranges while the spun sugar clouds dotted the sky, tinged with a bit of gray, looking down onto the grazing sheep below. Upon a bluff overlooking all of this extravagance sits Bell Hill.

More vineyard than production space, the love is definitely felt in the dirt, where the vines are planted close together in tough limestone soils, perched on ridges and slopes and fight to be the very best they can be. The soil is actually three distinct layers, with the topsoil consisting of dark clay, the mid section, and largest section, all limestone, and the deepest layer a very fine, packed greensand soil. Wilco, vineyard manager from Holland via Martinborough, shows me each block and expresses just how carefully each row is cared for.

To taste with owners Marcel and Sherwyn is a magical experience, to say the least. After a quick tour of the tiny but functional crushpad and production room, I am escorted though a door in what looks to be an outhouse shaped like a mushroom, down a metal spiral staircase to a magnificent, yet ‘Lilliplutian’ cellar below. 12 oak barrels and a wall of mostly Burgundian wines line the inside of this submerged container. There, Marcel pulls samples of their 2008 Chardonnay, recently finished with ML. It tastes fresh and new, yet resplendent of limestone and mineral. Key lime, kiwi and honeysuckle with subtle tropical fruits accented the palate and finish. A gorgeous texture of Chantilly cream finishes it off. Delightful.

For the Pinot Noirs represented, all were pulled from the barrel, Marcel blending blocks together, and offering tastes of single block samples. All had beautiful expressive fruit, with the resplendent acidity and minerality gained from the soils. A hint of herbality and gaminess was something I could definitely sink my teeth into. The most expressive of the 2008 Pinots was that from a block affectionately dubbed the “Problem Child” block. It was one of the first planted, and so the most mature; however, the soils have been turning up curious deposits from its former life as a limestone processing plant, so each vintage presents new challenges and discoveries. If what was tasted from the barrel is any indication, this block is the one to look out for. The texture was both of lace and satin, with strong expression of fruit tannins and limestone, and the complexity of all the components was outstanding for the wine’s young age. Upon bottling, I can see this particular Pinot becoming even more elongated and defined, with years of aging giving it even more complexity.

Upon returning to Christchurch, I needed to find the perfect dinner experience to compliment the wine experience I’d just had in Waipara. Walking in awe in the shadow of the Arts Complex, directly across from the Botanical Gardens and the Canterbury Museum, I notice a sign for Annie’s Wine Bar. Intrigued, not only because the place looked like Oxford and Hogwarts all rolled into one, but because it also featured a Wine Bar, I headed straight to the hostess stand. A beautiful space accented by the cut stained-glass windows and soaring beams, the ambience was a 10. Apparently, open flame is acceptable in dining rooms throughout New Zealand, and the white tapers at the tables and ledges definitely tricked me into thinking I was in fact dining in the Grand Hall at some prestigious English university. Looking out through the beveled glass onto the green grassy commons with the last bit of afternoon sun filtering in, I felt very much at home, and like I should have a copy of Keats as my dinner partner.

The staff was quite young and friendly, and displayed quite a bit of knowledge about the local Canterbury wines featured on the list, as well as the flavor profiles for the wines found outside the immediate area. All of the wines poured by the glass were presented in the wine list with the actual label pasted onto the parchment page, with handwritten descriptions listed beneath the artwork. It actually created a sense of excitement to be ordering a glass of wine instead of a sense of dread.

To start, a Nobilo ’05 Method Traditionelle paired with ‘Annie’s Breads & Spreads’: Mint & basil, EVOO & Balsamic & Hummous. Quite non-descript, save for the excellent New Zealand Olive Oil. For the main, the South Pacific Grouper with Red Pepper, Japanese Radish, Tempura Pears & Cardomom. Wonderful flaky texture on the fish, if the spice was a tad bit lacking. To pair, the Aurum ’07 Pinot Gris from Central Otago. A nice pairing, that actually helped to bring out the spice in the dish. With a bright stone fruit nose featuring apricots, lycee, melon and flint, there was a hint on spice on the med-dry finish. A lovely, long citrus and floral palate assists the persistent finish. With the Grouper, the flavors seem to be more pure. Delicate, slightly sweet, and a savory texture that is definitely highlighted by the Pinot Gris.

So, although I have not done the bungee thing or the skydiving thing or the rafting thing, or even the work thing yet, I seem to be LOVING NZed, as it were, and can't wait to try all the above things (and perhaps eat a live worm or two). Provided that working down here is half as fun as playing down here, I should be in for a very good time indeed.....

Cheers and Kai Ora

Coryelle Fields Vineyard

So it seems that I have somehow gotten myself knee-deep in grapes this year.  By accident, of course.  It's just when something serendipitous comes your way, especially in such uncertain times, you just have to go with it.  And it's a very good feeling when you never look back, feeling that whatever it was that was so serendipitous to begin with was absolutely, without hesitation, the right thing to embrace.  And so this is how I found Coryelle Fields Vineyard, in the extreme northern appellation of the Sonoma Coast.  1235 feet in elevation, to be exact.

To get there, one must pass through the delightful hippie-ville of Guerneville, which runs alongside the bucolic Russian River (which from time to time one can spot nude frolickers along its shores).  Winding through the redwoods and through the strangely attractive vacation town of Monte Rio, you come to the turnoff for Cazadero.  Then, the journey begins...  An hour later, after enduring hairpin turns with precarious drop-offs into valleys strewn with rivers, rocks, and redwoods, one-lane gravel roads winding past hidden treehouses and ramshackle barns, then finally to the summit - eagles circling, scrubbed oaks sprinkling the landscape, the thick fog from the Pacific drifting down off the peaks into the crevices of the various ridges.  To say that this is a very special place is quite an understatement.  To plant a vineyard in this extreme location is not only daring, it is a true testament of the grower to the importance of place in the fruit that the vineyard is destined to produce.

As you can see, there was no way possible for me to pass up working with fruit from this fantastic place this year.  Working with Carolyn, the grower, out in the vineyards this past year allowed me to really feel how the vineyard takes all the elements - the elevation, the proximity to the Pacific, the diurnal shifts in the weather, to really give a defined character to the fruit produced.  The block that I worked with was planted to Syrah, a little over an acre, located on a south west-facing slope, and trained to Geneva Double-Cordon.  In it's seventh year of crop, it showed a little yield restraint this year, but the phenolics and the structure of the fruit looks like it is on its way to become truly beautiful wine. 

Now, it'll be a quite a few months until we all can taste how this crazy harvest (mark my words - its a vintage for the history books!) will be translated into the wines of Abaluche Wine Company. All I can tell you for certain is this - they come from a very special place.  

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