Over the last week, I found myself discussing some of the more eclectic varietals to be found in our portfolio. Those examples either blended with other varieties or bottled and labeled as a single varietal wine.
Probably one of the most interesting wines we’ve imported is the Wind Gap 'Soif' - 2015. Soif is the French word for “thirst”. A wine – recommended served chilled – combines Old-Vines and Carbonic Maceration in concrete along with concrete aging. This is an absolutely delicious choice that is bound to make you thirst for more of it after your first sip (more on serving red wines chilled, later.) The blend of this wine starts with a little-known grape called Valdiguié.
Wind Gap 'Soif' Red Wine (Photo credits: Wind Gap)
Sometimes called Gros Auxerrois and finding its origins in France, it has all been eradicated in Europe. This dark-berried grape variety was valued for its productivity and resistance to oïdium (powdery mildew). As of the late 80’s only a few hundred hectares remained in France.
Valdiguié grapes (Photo credits: Wine.com)
In 1980 it was discovered by French ampelographer Pierre Galet that the highly successful California variety, Napa Gamay to indeed be Valdiguié. According to Doug Shafer in his book, A Vineyard in Napa, 1000 of the 12,000 acres planted to red grapes were Napa Gamay. Fortunately, since 1999 the name Napa Gamay has been banned from labels in the United States.
Wind Gap’s SOIF contains around 35% Valdiguié (½ planted 1944 – ½ planted in 1974). The balance of the blend is made up of 20% Zinfandel (planted 1944), 15% Carignan (planted 1913), 12% Petite Sirah (planted 1947) 10% Dolcetto (planted 1975) 5% Negroamaro (planted 1975), 3% Mourvedre (planted 1881).
Also found in our portfolio is the “Napa Gamay” itself, a wine 100% composed of Valdiguié: the Folk Machine Film & Camera Valdiguié - 2016. Winemaker, Kenny Likitprakong, describes this vintage as reminiscent of a Trousseau Noirs, with consistency from vintage to vintage.
Folk Machine Film & Camera Valdiguié (Photo credits: Folk Machine)
Part of the fun in showcasing California wines is sharing its geography and history. The team at Folk Machine acquire their Valdiguié grapes from the Lolonis family who have over 100 years in the Redwood Valley, Mendocino County. The land was purchased in 1914 and their first vintage in 1920. Three generations of Lolonis have been stewards to the land around the Home Ranch using organic farming methods without pesticides. Once thought of as Gamay, their Valdiguié vines were planted in the 1950s.
Valdiguie is also found in another wine blend where it is a minority portion dominated by two more well-known varietals, Syrah and the lesser known in the US, Carignan.
Known as Carignano in Italy and Cariñena in Spain, we find an example in our next wine, Broc Cellars ‘Love’ Red. Chris Brockway uses grapes from 50-70 year old vines from Frei Vineyard in Solano County's Green Valley. Green Valley is small pocket of land, about 3 miles long and a mile wide, tucked between the south eastern corner of Napa Valley and southwestern edge of Suisun Valley. It’s unique in that it still contains many of its old-vine Carignan and Valdiguié vineyards on clay-loam soils. Using dry-farmed/head-pruned vines, this is mostly a field blend with a small percentage of Syrah blended in from neighboring Wirth Ranch.
Carignan grapes (Photo credits: Wine On Six)
We can best describe the ‘Love’ Red as an affordable table wine best enjoyed on a warm summer day – which as we know in Singapore, is most days. Carignan vines in Redwood span over 6 decades, and owe thanks to the farmers who replanted in the late 40’s and 50’s after previous decades of obstacles such as phylloxera and Prohibition.
Broc 'Love' Red (Photo credits: Broc Cellars)
My first experience with Counoise was an example that showed up in my cellar one day in 2007 when I was working at Spago in Las Vegas. Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer, Domaine de Monpertuis bottled their 2005 vintage as a single cépage from Pays du Pard, in Languedoc-Roussillon. I never again spotted an example of this again and even today Monpertuis labels and blends it differently.
Counoise grapes (Photo credits: Tablas Creek)
So when I spotted the Broc Cellars Counoise, I was immediately intrigued and decided to import this wine hoping to share with our friends in Singapore some of the excitement I felt a decade ago in Las Vegas with the discovery of this grape.
Broc Eagle Point Ranch Counoise (Photo credits: Broc Cellars)
At Broc, due to its late-ripening character, Counoise is last varietal to come into the winery. It’s aged for 10 months in old 600-1200L German oak casks. They initially were planning to use it in blends, but Eaglepoint Ranch’s Counoise is unique from what’s typically seen from what little plantings there are in California. A medium-bodied wine with nice acid & white pepper on the finish. It is one of the 13 grapes found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Broc Cellars only produced 587 cases of this wine.
Bonus Grape: Mission
This was the original black grape planted for sacramental purposes by Franciscan missionaries in Mexico, the Southwestern United States and California in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Mission grapes (Photo credits: Dracaena Wines)
Mission is presumed to be of Spanish origin. It is identical to Pais in Chile and thought to be the same as Monica in Spain and Sardinia. It was important in California until the spread of phylloxera in the 1880’s. Today it is believed that around 1000 acres of Mission still exist in the state all while holding incredible historical significance.
Article credits: Oxford Companion to Wines by Jancis Robinson, The New California Wine by Jon Bonné, A Vineyard in Napa by Doug Shafer.