Sophie's Glass

*For those of you looking for an in depth post on reduction from yours truly: someone has offered to exchange dollars for words on the subject, and so the piece is almost finished, but it will be published elsewhere.*

The first myth I’d like to dispel about Colorado is that the winter weather is bad. Certainly before coming here I was under the impression that because there are many places to ski, it’s frigid and snowy for a chunk of the year. It’s snowed three times since I arrived. The rest of the month, bright sunshine beams down on Colorado, melting any snow on the ground, and bathing the rockies in gorgeous light. While it’s not warm, there’s something about the dry air that makes the cold feel … less cold. Does that make sense? It didn’t to me either, but it’s true! 20 feels like 30; 30 feels like 40; 50 I can run outside in a tee-shirt and shorts. By pretty much any standard, the weather in Colorado is excellent.

Jogging outside, in a tee-shirt, in January.

The second myth I’d like to dispel is that because pot is legal here, everyone’s a pot head. From my limited observation, once the thing is legal, it becomes normalized. People who use it are free to indulge in high quality, safe product. People who don’t like it, just don’t use it. Regardless of your feelings on marijuana, the dispensary is a fun place to visit for the sheer sake of seeing something commercialized that we used to have to wait three hours for the shady drug dealer outside that shitty hot dog stand in Durham to acquire (that was in the ’90s). Given how much money is pouring into Colorado because of legal weed, given how much exciting entrepreneurship is fostered here because of the pot business, I truly don’t understand why more states don’t follow suit.

New bridge crush … not the George Washington, but I’ll take it.

Many people asked me when I moved here if I was planning to enter the marijuana trade. I think they were joking, but now I’ve met several people in the weed industry, and it’s not such a stretch. There’s overlap, particularly in sales, but sales is virtually the same the world over whether you’re selling cars, bottles of Burgundy, or vape pens. I truly believe the pot industry should learn from the wine industry. Wine bathes in a sheen of luxury and quality; pot, by contrast, has a sort of fog of illegality and moral reprehensibility billowing around it (compounded, of course, by Jeff Sessions and other haters in the government). Of course these associations with pot are rapidly changing. But still, it’ll be nice when the type of high-end curation that accompanies fine wines, accompanies rare strains and formats of marijuana. At least I think it’ll be nice. Both drugs can be good or bad depending on who you are and how you use them. I don’t really see why one but not the other should have a nice cushy pedestal to legitimize it. That said, I’m still fascinated by wine, and only marginally interested in weed, which means I’ll never make the jump.

Not going to lie, after New York, the food and wine scene is a little challenging, but I think it’s because 1) I’m a hopeless snob, and 2) I’m in Fort Collins rather than Denver or Boulder. I’ve made day trips to both (they’re an hour away in different directions), and have found excellent food, superb wine retail, and basically all the yuppie amenities I enjoyed as a 9 year resident of north Brooklyn. Fort Collins, on the other hand, seems to have a restaurant for every five inhabitants, but most are fast causal chains like Qdoba (there are at minimum five in this town, I kid you n0t), Noodles & Company (there are two on the main drag within half a mile of one another), and my personal favorite “Stuft”, which serves burgers and beer. “Stuft” has become a bit of a whipping boy for me because of the creator’s clear inability to spell in the English language. The stark reality is that I cannot find a good loaf of bread in this town, but hell, no one eats bread anymore, right? More importantly, there is good 3rd wave coffee here!

It looks and sounds as though the yuppification of Fort Collins is in full effect. People are priced out of Denver and Boulder, and are moving to their environs in droves. This means it’s only a matter of time. To that end, I’ve been fantasizing hot and heavily about opening a tiny wine bar here, perhaps with a small retail selection as well, something I’d never have contemplated in a million years in NYC, but Fort Collins needs it. The grad students and hip professors need somewhere to go besides the tap room and the whisky bar. They need somewhere to go where the college students are not. Applying things I learned in the metropolis, I think I could create — for not a ton of money — a cool space that would offer something not on the menu here yet (tiny production wine, natural wine, bar á vins flavor, a sense of exclusivity, something other than the ubiquitous suburban American, slightly-too-large, faux-fancy-but-you-can-still-wear-your-exercise-pants-there, soulless venues that crop up like weeds in towns like Fort Collins, and my home town for that matter, as they gentrify).

On to wine. When I repped in New York, there was always open wine in my life. Usually I’d drop bottles with customers. Sometimes I’d use them to barter with local cheesemongers (I got a lot of free cheese that way especially living in Brooklyn). When they were really good (Enviñate, Nanclares, Michel Autran, Ruppert-Leroy, Saint-Pierre, Silvio Carta, Falkenstein, all the MFW Oregon wines), I’d take then home and drink them. I rarely cracked bottles from my personal collection because there was no need. In Fort Collins, I’m not (yet) opening wine for my job, the wine retail scene here is … coming along, and I haven’t (yet) bought a car in which to go shopping in Denver/Bounder, with the result that if I want to sip something in the evening, it has to come from my “cellar.”

At first I thought “Sweet! I’ll finally start depleting my stash.” Shortly thereafter I thought “Fuck. I’ll never be able to buy good wine again.” And I resolved to, one by one, give back in some small way to the retailers who supported me as a rep in New York by ordering from them and having wine sent here. But the primary repercussion has been that I’ve checked in on some fabulous wines from my “cellar” that I probably would not have opened otherwise.

It was a joy to reconnect with the work of Étienne Thiébaud (Domaines des Cavarodes). I’ve been following his wines for seven years, and hard as they are to acquire, they always deliver. This is a wine I tasted out of barrel in the winter of 2015. At that time it was gloriously high acid, hard, and vivid. According to my notes, it’s a blend of 10-ish ancient varieties (comprising 80% Chardonnay with Savagnin, Savagnin Rose, Sauvignonasse, and more), vinified with only a drop of sulfur. This bottle had seen six months under my bed in Brooklyn with no temperature control, followed by a journey across the country through frigid temperatures. It was expressive and fresh as a daisy. I reached for this bottle because I get terribly nostalgic for the Jura, and Étienne’s wines (more than many others) taste of the region. They are not sous voile, but have that lovely whiff of oxidation that softens the green apple and lemon and stones. Perhaps more importantly, you smell — not just the marly limestone — but also the cellar and the Comté rind. Like most of my favorite textured, high-acid whites, this wine grips the inside of your mouth as though coating it with a fine film of stone.

It was also a joy to find that 2014 Táganan Blanco from Enviñate has arrived at a beautiful spot in its life. This wine, along with a bottle of Nanclares 2016 self-titled Albariño (not pictured) got me thinking about the color of minerality. Táganan is volcanic; Nanclares is granitic, but both have dark-toned minerality. As crystalline, pure, and pale as I find the rocky core of wines from places like the Côte des Blancs, Chablis, even Jura where you get more yellow sensations, these two have a brooding essence that puts me in mind of dark earth and stones. Táganan is intense and wild, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

John McIlwain gave me this 2014 Chorey-lès-Beaune from Catherine and Claude Maréchal. I’d been meaning to crack it for months, but the moment didn’t present itself … until moving day. At the end of moving day, I was so tired and so hungry that the only thing to be done was order a pizza. Recalling my friend Raj Vaidya extolling the virtues of Burgundy and pizza, I gave this counter-intuitive pairing a try. I love 2014 Burgundy more and more with every bottle. It speaks to the acid lover in me, and I appreciate its rusticity. Chorey is a rustic appellation, and this is not a wine to coddle you with cloying fruit. Its blackberry brambly with a hint of dusty graphite and fruit seed on the palate. It’s a wine that could only have come from an off-the-grid Burgundy village like Chorey. I have neither the money nor the drive to drink the fancier stuff, and so humble Burgundies like this are perfect for me.

Toro, Rodeo, Stuft Comté Cow.

In other news, I miss my friends in New York. Relocation to an entirely new place is a lonely business. But as my best friend Susannah pointed out, I “don’t like going out anyway …” The cats are good company and they are happy here. There’s plenty of cooking to be done, and we’ve already take down three seasons of True Blood (highly recommended), four seasons of Peaky Blinders (ditto), and three novels. And I’m relearning Chopin’s Nocturne in B flat minor, Opus 9, N0. 1. I’m getting up and running with Division, and my hope is that by the time our spring Divide and Conquer tour begins, I’ll be rested enough to party my face off when I get to the east coast.

 

My aunt gave me this book for Christmas. It’s a collection of personal essays by female writers who’ve loved and left New York. The collection is inspired by Joan Didion’s 1967 essay called ‘Goodbye to All That’, which I have not read yet but plan to. 

As much about what brought them to the city as what made them leave, each author brings the reader into her experience of the allure and the heartbreak the city. In turn inspired by these stories, also by the need to cope with my own recent departure from the metropolis, I’m recounting my New York story, part therapy, part homage to a decade in New York.

In the summer of 2007, I was a year into my career in the wine business. I’d shed the drug and booze addled life of a line cook, given up the dream of getting a Masters then Phd in either English or Philosophy, found a tall handsome boyfriend who was a good guy, though his ernest-ness and that dumb Whinny the Pooh tattoo on his back had begun to wear on me. Things were coming together … kind of. My mom had cancer, but she seemed relatively stable. I could not yet discern the writing on the wall, but in retrospect that was willful denial as much as anything.

In the summer of 2007, there was one blemish on the smooth facade of my life and it was my ex-boyfriend R, whom I could not get over. He was wretchedly angry at me for dumping him several months previously for Pooh Bear, and was liberally dousing his anger at our hometown’s various watering holes. I found out that he was moving to New York during a drunken fight we had outside a bar in Chapel Hill. He’d always wanted to go to the city, and had planned out our life there together. This fantasy involved a one bedroom in Dumbo (ha! we’d never have been able to afford that), him working at the travel agency during the day, playing music at night, me learning the wine trade. It was a nice picture, save for the fact that I had no desire to live in New York. I’d been visiting the city since I was an early teenager, and recognized it as a cramped and expensive life that I wanted no part of.

The mind is a funny thing. In spite of my ambivalence toward New York, when I found out R was moving, I became intensely jealous of his upcoming adventure, and regretful of our breakup. My heartache over this matter was insoluble in a way I’ve never quite grasped, and I talked about it with my mom, who with one odd gesture (not so odd if you knew her) set in motion the next ten years of my life. She went to the travel agency where R worked, askew sunglasses on top of her head, eye makeup running a little bit, weakened from chemotherapy, and she asked him to do her a personal favor: “say something nice to Sophie before you go.”

The rest is history. In the winter of 2007 I came to New York to make a career for myself in wine, and to see what destiny held in store for R and myself.

Things went swimmingly for the first seven years or so. I easily found interesting work. (If you are willing to work hard and are relatively intelligent, New York will suck you dry.) My knowledge of wine continued to deepen. I met the movers and shakers, and eventually became a known entity in the industry. While I never loved the city, I made peace with the crowded subway, the throngs of people, the terrible weather, the high cost of living, etc … While it’s expensive in New York, there are seemingly endless jobs and opportunity, and so I found myself less broke than I’d been in North Carolina.

Navigating New York is like this: if you learn to stroke with the current, it’s just fine. If you brace yourself against the flow, you become like an ineffective butterfly-er flailing away tons of energy to advance barely at all.

During those years I lived in North Brooklyn, having moved to Bushwick when the neighborhood was on the brink of becoming the stylish and affluent hipster paradise it now is. After the financial crisis of 2008, it was easy to find relatively inexpensive housing closer to Williamsburg, so my roommate and I did that … and then finally circa 2013, I found my dream Brooklyn apartment. On the border between Green Point, Williamsburg, and Bushwick, this place was far from all the trains, but miraculously close to everything, tucked away in an industrial wasteland by the BQE. Owned by an older Polish couple, the building had a charmingly european feel that I was drawn to instantly. There was a spacious deck that proved ideal for warm weather entertaining. The neighborhood was full of the things I like: third wave coffee, over priced sundries, local bakery sourdough. It was my only New York apartment that felt like home, and it took over half a decade to find.

The hardest thing about New York (if you don’t have a lot of money) is housing, which is of course why so many of the contributors to ‘Goodbye to All That’ tell their real estate journeys, which parallel their psychological journeys. When I lived in Bushwick, R and I still knew each other. We knew each other for many years in one way or another, until finally the differences were too great, and our grievances against one another too numerous to remain friends. Our parting coincided with my move to Green Point, with growing up in general. I could say with finality that my life was no longer the dive bar and the struggling musician. My life was wine geekery, trips to France to meet growers, clients and sales and dining in restaurants that provoked jealousy in my hometown friends. I’d arrived.

In the years between 2013 and the present, I should have known I was falling out of — if not love — at least like — with the city. When I left on my various trips, I felt better; when I returned I felt worse. Circling the runway at JFK or LaGuardia, I’d start to feel the anxiety coming back, I’d dread the taxi line and the rush of people, the brusk, all-business attitude of New Yorkers, readily construed as assholes. There were many tearful cab rides home from the airport, staring out the window at the ugliness.

For a number of those years, I was in a relationship with J, a guy who had a child for whom he’d have lost custody if he’d left the city. Part of the reason I didn’t think about leaving was that I hoped he and I would work things out, which would mean staying until his daughter was in college.

The other reason I didn’t start leaving sooner was that I didn’t know where to go. Phrased like this to myself: “In 2007 God came down and told me to go to New York. I’m waiting for God to come down again. I want to have the same certainly in my gut that I had when I arrived.” I’ve never been particularly concerned with where I live as long as I like what I’m doing there, but I’m a snob. Experience and expertise have set me up for particular types of jobs, which don’t exist everywhere. It doesn’t have to be a blue state, but it does have to be a liberal bubble.

It was an on-again-off-again type of romance with J because we didn’t fit even though we loved each other, and during an off-again period, the first half of 2014, I had several other casual relationships, and with them came revelations about dating as a woman in my mid-30s in New York City. Single men in New York in their mid-30s are the worst. If a man in New York in the mid-30s is single, it’s probably because either consciously or sub, he likes to play the field, and the field is endless strewn with attractive women who enable the play. None of these guys were bad people, but when I scratched the surface of our interactions, I found a void of both intimacy and integrity for which I was equally responsible.  Not wanting to consign myself to these childish dating rituals, I went back to my imperfect relationship with J, hoping against hope that we could make it work.

J dumped me via email while I was on a work trip to Champagne in the spring of 2016.

A few months later, in the summer of 2016, I was in North Carolina working on my parents’ house, now my house. N, a man from my childhood came back into my life after a seven year hiatus. In spite of his youth (he’s not yet 30), he seemed to behave with more integrity and to possess more emotional intelligence than any man I’d met in New York in years. N’s impact on my life was as follows: he made me yearn for something different, for space and trees, for a life less hard.

Then in the winter of 2017, the elderly Polish couple who owned my building in Brooklyn decided to sell. The new buyer more than doubled the rent, and my roommate and I were extruded onto the New York real estate market, grappling with the stark reality of what our salaries got us as in this rapidly gentrifying corner of the world.

A big part of the motivation to be in New York is ambition. Ambition brings us there, and ambition makes us feel like failures if and when we leave. Leaving New York could only ever be a lateral move because all the good jobs are in New York, the wine luminaries; the prestige and the fame swish and buzz around you and you feel constantly like you’re on the verge of a Big Break. Ambition makes us tolerate the harsh and stressful conditions of our daily lives. For years I carried around — along with my knee-breaking bag of wine samples through Union Square of 42nd Street at rush hour — the sensation that I wasn’t quite done with New York, that there was still some ephemeral thing I needed to accomplish.

In her essay “My City” Dani Shapiro writes “The city … made it very possible to continue like this, carried along on a stream of light, motion, energy, noise. The city was a bracing wind that never stopped blowing, and I was a lone leaf slapped up against the side of building, a hydrant, a tree.”

In order to leave, I had to relinquish some of my ambition. Or rather, I traded it in for a slightly easier life. My priorities have changed a lot over the past couple of years. I no longer need to taste every wine, to dine at every fashionable restaurant, to rub elbows with celebrity sommeliers and importers and writers. Now I’m looking for something else: calm, peace of mind, a healthy life. I no longer have something to prove to my industry. I do, however, have something to prove to myself: that I can take my dissatisfaction, my agency over my future, and create change, that I can be happy somewhere else.

I’m as yet not quite done with the book, but so far the sentiment that’s resonated with me most comes from Liza Monroy in her essay ‘A War Zone For Anyone Looking For Love.’ “I wonder, if you come from somewhere else and stay long enough, whether New York is a place you inevitably outgrow, whether you take from it what you can, then go. If that was the case, I didn’t realize it until I had a reason to leave — not because I failed, but because I found something worth leaving for, the kind of love I thought I was only imagining existed.”

I moved to Colorado just after Christmas. In a month I’m starting a job for Division Winemaking Company, an Oregon winery. They offered me an amazing gig helping them grow, traveling the country selling their wines, which I happen to really like. They offered me the opportunity to learn more about winemaking by working the harvest with them in the fall. I’ll be spending lots of time in Portland, which is a pretty great town. In my dotage I’ve become extremely interested in winemaking, and this gig gets me closer to the press, the fermenter, and the barrel than any job in New York could.

Doing pigéage at Southeast Winery Collective.

But I’m not going to lie: it feels weird. I miss my friends, and I have no idea who I am or who I’ll become in this strange, frigid, snowy land with the huge sky and the weirdly friendly people.

 

 

I really thought this post was going to be about my next step in life, because you, dear reader (insert note of sarcasm here) are on the edge of your seat wondering what I’m doing with myself post New York, where I’m headed, and for whom I’ll be working. I was going to tell you, and one day I will tell you, but something happened this week that cried out for documentation.

Last month my boss sent a rather surprising email. In it he told us that the company was going to begin representing a very high end sherry house called Bodegas Alonso. Apparently of impeccable reputation in Europe and Japan, Bodegas Alonso had decided that New York would be its next market. The email was surprising because … how do I put this? We’re not exactly a high end sherry house kind of book. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited. I love sherry, and I drink it often.

The youngest wine in the collection: Manzanilla “Madura” (9-10 years old). The bottle is Jura-esque … so is the wine.

Of the more conventional sherry houses on the radar in the NYC wine geek world, I’m especially fond of Valdespino (for Fino and Palo Cortado), Gutierrez Colosia (for Oloroso), Barbadillo (for Manzanilla En Rama), Cesar Florido (for Fino Cipiona), the list goes on … While I’m ignorant about sherry relative to many of my peers, it’s part of a group of wines I seek out for personal pleasure rather than for work. I particularly like biologically aged sherries (Fino, Manzanilla) and am certainly addicted to the aromas and flavors of flor. Oxidatively aged sherries (Oloroso) don’t generally speak to me as much, but that said I’ve happily sucked down many glasses of Sangre Y Trabajadero in my time. (I also used to carry it to my place in Brooklyn in my bike’s water bottle cage, taking a sip here and there to keep warm on cold journeys home.)

In fact being somewhat ignorant about sherries, never having travelled to Jeréz, not taking part in either the events surrounding them or the politics, makes me somewhat open minded, a relatively blank slate where sherry is concerned, with little more than vague knowledge of my own preferences.

My boss sent us some information about Bodegas Alonso, which I read several times trying to get my head around the story, and basically told us that for three days in early November we were to drop everything and make sure their importer, a fabulous woman named Jill Mott, was put in front of as many of the best buyers in the city as possible. Full-disclosure, my reaction was mixed. While I was absolutely positive the wines would be excellent, reaching buyers in early November can be tough, particularly with unknown, pricey, and esoteric goods. Nonetheless, we did our best, and anticipated Jill Mott’s visit with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Bodegas Alonso is project of patrimony preservation. The brothers Asencio purchased three vital cellars in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and with them many old, un-refreshed botas of wine. The cellars were those of Gaspar Florido, Pedro Romero, and Fernando Méndez. As Jill describes it, when the brothers began to taste wine out of these very old casks, they quickly realized they had to make this their life’s work, the continuation and preservation of tradition. The Asencio brothers also have vineyards of their own in superior locations, which they farm biodynamically. From these vineyards they will make their own Manzanilla solera. There’s a sort of past meets future quality to this story, which obviously raises the question: what about the middle? The answer is somewhat unclear (at least to me, but I think possibly to them as well. One day at a time.). For the moment, the brothers have elected to release tiny quantities of very old vine, the youngest of which is 35, the oldest of which is 120.

The numbers on the label indicate the number of casks that exist of each wine.

It is impossible to mentally prepare oneself for the way these wines smell and taste, likewise the emotional response they evoke. At least for your humble narrator, it was also impossible to compare and contrast them because the lines between Oloroso, Amontillado, and Palo Cortado ran blurry, and in some ways the style of each cellar: Florido, Romero, Méndez, spoke louder than the “type” of sherry itself. I discovered a new fondness for Oloroso, for these oxidatively aged sherries have no sweetness and are full of glorious, penetrating acidity. It became abundantly clear right away that these wines bear little resemblance to wine as I know it. With some sips, they resonated like Jura wines, with deeply savory notes of mushrooms and celery, broth-y elixirs. With others, they seemed more like fine spirits: Cognacs and the like … It’s certainly the case that one needs only a few drops to be satisfied. The wines are incredibly mouth-filling and intense. The flavors linger for minutes on the palate; the aromas linger for hours on the skin. With an anecdote of one of the Asencio brothers getting epically laid after dabbing himself with 100+ year old Palo Cortado, we considered re-branding these as perfumes rather than potables. The sensuality of these very old wines is beyond language …

Which brings me to my next observation about these wines: they were utterly striking to every taster, and seemed to alter the quality of the moment, to take the drinker outside of her of himself. What started out a wide eyed “holy shit” stare upon nosing and sipping the first old wine, Amontillado from the Gaspar Florido cellar, turned into a glazed, reverent semi-coma by the end of the tasting.

My best example of the effect these wines have comes from Flora Bar on the ground floor of Met Breuer Museum. The buyer certainly had other things to do, cases to put away, staff meal to eat before service, menus to reprint, a meeting to prep the servers, and yet we lost track of time completely, sitting outside in the late afternoon sun, allowing these insanely complex flavors to wash over us, talking about flamenco, as I recall. It was like the normal world, chalk full of busy subways and technological overload somehow ceased to exist as long as there was old sherry in the glass. He turned to me at a certain point and said “I didn’t know it was going to be this kind of tasting. You told me we were just tasting some sherries!” I protested “I did my best given the information I had. I didn’t know the magnitude myself.” How could one possibly know?

I’m still processing this experience. I’m amazed that wine my grandmother’s age can be so delicious. Our discussions over Jill’s visit made me ponder the fact that normal drinkers are used to the flavors of young, fresh wine. Everything these days is made for fast consumption: quick, gobble it up, slurp it down, and get ready for the next hot thing. Mature flavors, as popular as they are amongst geeks, are a hard sell to standard issue guests and shoppers. Like a lot of things in the world today, this made me sad. Then, I thought, there’s nothing to be sad about. I’m so lucky to have the chance to taste these. My understanding of both wine and life will be subtly altered because of them.

Oct
3

The Spark.

“And all the time there was that sound — why not call it a sound? — a sense of inaudible music which accompanies such things & is heard as tho’ beneath the open windows of a veiled mansion. It always was like that except once the music wd. make itself properly heard. Now it reminds me sadly of how I felt & so for a moment I forgot I’m supposed to be an old master & become an apprentice once more, all ears and full of longing.” – James Hamilton Patterson, Gerontius. 

Please discover this writer if you have not already.

I don’t actually know Ernest very well. He’s our Italian importer; he lives in Tuscany with his wife and son. He’s a unique character, not cuddly, rather angular (not physically; he’s really quite debonair, sophisticated, mysterious) and opinionated, a truth teller … qualities that make a great wine importer. At any rate, each time our paths have crossed long enough for more than “hello” I’ve sensed tremors in the foundation of my belief system, not the support beams, more like distant rumblings under a recent corner addition. Does that make sense?

We were having dinner with Jamie from Chambers Street, torching our mouths with Laotian chili, and I was talking about being a farming nerd. Ernest interjected “No. No that’s not why I’m in it. To talk about farming. Honestly I find farming kinda boring.” He proceeded to explain — if I’m interpreting correctly — not that he doesn’t care about farming, rather that he cares most about the aesthetics of wine. What’s in the glass has to grab you. There’s gotta be a spark, intrigue, something that makes you go back for another sip to try to figure it out. For Ernest, so specialized in Italian wine, it’s bitterness. The bitterness of the tannins and the sharp, rustic acidity, bitterness that interplays with the fat and salt of the food, bitterness that mirrors the pain of death and forms the counterpoint to the sweet, richness of love. Did I go too far?

The spark stuck in my craw after this conversation over fiery Laotian food, the divine inspiration, the thing that gets us off our asses and makes us give a shit. It seems unfashionable these days to talk about “divine inspiration.” We’re very blasé; we’re jaded; we’re scientific not religious, and yet many who gravitate toward wine maintain a certain spirituality, hold tight to a kernel of ‘that which can’t be said’ to justify a life’s work in this trade. Over the past better part of a year, it’s been maximally convenient for me to let the spark lie dormant, to tell myself that I don’t really care that much about wine anymore, that I just need to make a dime, and the details don’t matter.

Why? Because (this will not come as a surprise to most of you) I’m about to leave New York. That’s right, folks. January I’m out, gone, bye bye, farewell NYC. Not only am I leaving, but I’m not going to another major city. I’m going to the ‘burbs, the country, somewhere with trees and humans in more equal proportions. Follow me closely on this one: New York is the most interesting wine city in America; of both wine and jobs it has the best and the most. Then there are other cities, which also have good wine and good jobs. Is this is Urban elitism? Maybe, but it’s also true. To leave New York — to leave the city — is to sacrifice that, and in order to make the sacrifice, to see the plan through, to pack up and go, it’s highly convenient to say “but I don’t care that much anymore, anyway.” Ah the stories we tell ourselves, and our ability to convince ourselves of their truth …

And so Ernest came to town, we had dinner with Jamie, and I started to think about the spark. Not to miss it because it’s still there, rather to ponder again its role in my life. My dear friend John McIlwain likes to recall a time when I was behind the desk at the front of the shop. He was a Chambers Street customer then. He’d ask about Champagnes, and his rule of thumb was that if I jumped out of my chair at the mention of a particular wine, then he knew to buy two bottles. The spark made me do that … now I think about it.

Last night I opened a bottle from the heyday of the spark, just to see what was going on, a little time capsule. It was Thomas Perceval Brut Rosé. In the winter of 2015, I went to France with Cory and Wolfgang. One of our missions was to find some Champagne for Selection Massale. Thomas Perceval is a young winemaker we met on that trip. He’s a friend of Aurélian Laherte, whence the contact. Thomas was about to release his first wines, 2012 base Extra Brut and Brut Rosé from Premier Cru vineyards in Chamery in the petit montagne (vineyards surrounding Reims to the south and southwest). Clearly engaged in the kind of work we believe in (organic farming, native yeast fermented base wines, minimal sugar and sulfur additions), it was a promising first meeting. When I got back to New York, I set about trying to convince Thomas to sell us his wine. And in the end, he did.

100% 2012, 50% Pinot, 20% Meunier, 30% Chardo. 18 months on lees, disgorged in March of 2015.

Like Thomas’ Brut Reserve, which I checked in on a few months ago, Thomas’ Rosé is even better now than it was: cranberry and toasty strawberry on the nose finely integrated with chalkiness and a firm, mineral backbone. It’s creamy, expressive and tensile, vinous, but joyful on its own, without food. I love this wine. It made me forget I’m supposed to be the old master. It made me feel like the apprentice again, all ears and full of longing. And I think this is the right state of being in which to leave New York. As yet I’ve only spoken of the sacrifice, with no mention of the benefits, which will doubtless be innumerable, hopefully enlivened by the spark as well as all kinds of other emotions I’ve yet to imagine.

 

What does it mean to be jaded? A decade in this wine gig, and my idealism is in tatters. The passion of the first 5 years is basically gone, and I’m pretty much just interested in the quotidian tasks that pay my bills. Only one objective truth remains: some vineyard work is better than other vineyard work. The rest is just a matter of taste: white or orange or pink or red, sparkling or still, oaky or not, old or young; there’s no right or wrong. I’m through chasing the holy grail of great, obscure, or esoteric wine, tired of endlessly discussing the quest. I can’t even remember the last time I cracked a wine book (oh wait; it was David White’s But First, Champagne!), and going out for non-work-related meals fills me with resentment. I’d rather be home with the cats … 

These were my thoughts as I wandered west Harlem Sunday morning, the hot, late summer sun further dappling my shoulders, the chatter of Hispanic families en route to church filling the air, their exotic perfumes wafting behind. This is why I can’t write a good blog post to save my life these days, I thought, because I’m no longer on a mission. I’m just doing a job.

The political climate has more than dampened my spirit. The present drama in our government has made pretty much everyone I know feel powerless, scared, enraged. We’ve also lost any self-importance we may have had. We grasp that our work is totally trivial in the face of the unrest in our world today. Rome is burning. We are a luxury, niche market, a market that thrives in specific cosmopolitan bubbles, a market that has nothing to do with large swaths of America where dinner out is consumed at Chipotle or Panera Bread in a strip mall, after which you get in your car to drive home and consume another few hours of pre-packaged entertainment before going to bed. Many places in this country have no independent restaurants! People eat at fast-casual chain restaurants, every day!

I dislike myself as I type, try to abandon the judgement, the snobbery that attends the words. No matter how much I try to suppress it, snobbery born out of years in the bubble bubbles to the surface. But then I have another gut reaction, something along the lines of: what’s the fucking point of any of this if I can’t touch people outside the bubble? I’m not interested in the bubble. I know the bubble. I am the bubble. What’s the point if every wine sermon is preached to the choir? I’d like to be out, talking to people who think differently and drink differently, even if it means missing the latest release of the next hip thing, or possibly sharing a meal with a republican.

Two of the more thought-provoking drinks I enjoyed on my recent vacation were sipped on the patio of a mall in Irvine, California. I had not had a glass of wine in a week, and was resolved that if there was something potable on the menu (doubtful) at a Trattoria next to the Macy’s, I’d order it. To my surprise there were several potable beverages, and I had a glass of Spreitzer Riesling followed by glass of Monte Bernardi Chianti. Sure the Spreitzer was more sulfury than I’d have liked, and the Monte Bernardi was just too damn clawed from the earth and soulful to pair with the sterile, shiny, oh-so American glitz of southern California, but the point is that here was an intersection between the niche industry I work in, and the everyman world in which most Americans drink and dine. On some level those two glasses of wine were more interesting than the last somm-praised white Burgundy I nosed, the latest cool Pet-Nat, or over-priced Foillard I swished and spat.

These are dark political times, and for me personally, these are — not dark — but transitional times in my relationship with wine and the trade. But there’s no point further dwelling on the confusion. I read and watch the news every single day, and until the 2018 election cycle heaves into view, I don’t know what I can do beyond remain active and informed. Certainly when it comes to doing my job, it’s better to focus on the positive. I’ve read about the “atmosphere of buying,” and to cultivate that, you need a positive attitude, and a big shiny smile. So. What has inspired me recently? What is there to be positive about? I asked myself. What has cut through the mire? What is better under Trump than it was under Obama? The answer? Falkenstein. Erich and Johannes Weber of Hofgut Falkenstein made the best wines they’ve ever made in 2016. And I visited them for the first time in May.

Swoon-worthy god nectar.

My partner in crime, Amanda, and I had slept at Immich-Batterieberg the night before, and Gernot put us in a room together, which resulted in a slumber party-esque giggle fest that lasted until 4am, so I was a little loopy driving from Enkirch to the Saar. It didn’t help that German roads confuse the crap out of me, and there seemed to be no correspondence between my gps and the road signs. But eventually we made it, half an hour late.

They got a road named after them.

It was a glorious day: temperatures in the 60s, the sun shining, the sky purest blue. Erich promptly told me to put my notebook away, and I’ve never regretted my lack of notes from the visit, which washed over and through me like a cleansing tonic. Why was it not so important to take notes that day? The wines of Hofgut Falkenstein have a particular character. Each vineyard has a personality, likewise the vintage has something to say (please read Cari’s article for more details on the 2016 vintage, and subscribe to Lars’ website); the ripeness level establishes a specific pitch in which the tune is sung. It’s all right there. Once the variables are established, we know more or less how the wines will taste. Furthermore my scribbled notes could no more approximate the glory of the 2016 vintage at Falkenstein than my shitty photos do justice to the beauty of the day.

For the first hour, we stood in the Niedermenniger Herrenberg, talking, Johannes a bundle of energy as always, Lars, calm like an older brother, Erich a new entity, cracking jokes, making classical music references, and gently chiding us for spitting.

Ever popular with the ladies …

If it’s possible for a wine to act as caffeine, the 2016 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Kabinett Trocken did so. This wine is etched in my memory because it was consumed amidst delightful breezes and the vines that gave birth to it. The NHKT is important to the Webers; they make it virtually every vintage; it’s sort of a workhorse wine, one that speaks to their house style. It’s not flashy. In general Rieslings from the Herrenberg are less flashy than Rieslings from the Euchariusberg (the Weber’s other significant vineyard). The Herrenberg gives herbal, mellow, blue fruit, lemon and lime, less of the impressive, kaleidoscopic stone fruits and tropical notes that characterize the Euchariusberg especially in riper iterations. This is the perfect morning wine, I thought, watching a cat sunning herself between the vine rows, a wine that nourishes and revives. 

Tasting in the Herrenberg.

We continued to taste, up to the Auslese level. In 2016 the PHs weren’t as low as they were in 2015. However, the vintage was less ripe overall than 2015, which means that even though acidity was higher in 2015, the wines feel higher acid in 2016. Does that make sense? Ah Riesling. What would we do without you? Johannes’ eyes grow huge with excitement when he speaks about PHs of 2.6-2.7. 2016 is a superior vintage for Auslese … and for Spätlese, and the drier wines are none to shabby! We ate a marvelous lunch prepared by Mrs. Weber. We toured the cellar examining and sniffing the fuders.

I was shocked to learn when Johannes visited last year that the Webers do not use any tanks of any kind in their cellar. The fermentation and élèvage take place in old barrels; they make the wine as they’ve always made it. Native ferments, no inert vessels. Why is this surprising? Because the wines are so zesty, crisp, and clean, which doesn’t — in our minds — square with élèvage in barrel. These wines never taste like barrel, but rather — regardless of the Prädikat — like a procession of crunchy, tangy fruits, and slate-y minerals dancing along a taut wire.

In 2016, the Webers bottled a couple of single-fuder wines. Just when you thought German wine couldn’t get any geekier!

After lunch we went to the vineyards. (In fact we went all the way to the Scharzhofberg to gaze down upon Egon Müller’s fabled winery.) The Weber’s vineyards make a kind of bowl, half-circling the villages of Niedermennig and Krettnach. (The Scharzhofberg is just a bit further on.) First we looked at the sun-drenched Sonnenberg vineyard. Then we hopped out of the car and walked up the Euchariusberg, high and steep with lots of old (and somewhat frost bitten vines).

Finally we arrived at the Krettnacher Altenberg. We decided to stop here and taste the 2016er while overlooking the vineyard. For me, this wine had been an outlier in the lineup. Typically Herrenberg produces great dry and Feinherb wines, while Euchariusberg produces profound sweet wines. The Altenberg does what it wants. In 2014 it was Spätlese Trocken, and that particular marriage of ripe aromas and total austerity brought it some fans. In 2015, it was Spätlese Feinherb, and considerably sweeter, which of course pleased some and not others. In 2016, we’re back to Spätlese Trocken, and the wine has come into its own. Where the dry wines of Herrenberg are delicate and filigreed, the Altenberg is big and bold, like a pillar, unapologetically intense and packed with material.

There is no way to do photographic justice to this landscape

Naturally having had this scenic epiphany overlooking the Altenberg, I could not wait for the wine to arrive in New York, which it did a few weeks ago. Last week I had the pleasure of showing it one day, and saved half the bottle for the next — always a good strategy with young Riesling. On the second day, it took me back to the verdant slope; it captured my attention as fully and completely as it had on a May afternoon with Johannes, Lars, and Amanda. It took me away from the politics, for a moment pulled me out of the shit. This is why I do what I do. The wine brought hope and satisfaction, satisfaction qualitatively, and bizarrely akin to listening to republican congresspeople speak out against the president. It was quite miraculously restorative.

To avoid confusion, let the record state that I love crisp, dry, white wine. Many (if not the majority) of my favorite beverages on the planet are crisp, dry, white wines. At this very moment, for example, I’m tucking into a glass of 2015 Stein Blue Slate Riesling and it is divine. Smells like the most perfect green grapes, and tastes like the ripe, sun drenched yet miraculously high acid 2015 vintage in the Mosel. Did I mention that of all the acid/sugar balances possible in Rieslings from the Mosel, this is my favorite? Dry but not punishing, lean but with enough meat on the bones to be sexy. Ok cool. Now you know where I stand.

“crisp, dry, white” paradigm.

On May 12th at around 12:30pm, Chad Stock and I were sitting on a bench outside Everyman Espresso on 13th and 3rd. Chad makes the wine at Minimus, Omero Cellars, and Origin; he was talking about lots of things: Pinot Gris and its destiny as red wine, “flaws” and how they can be turned into virtues in the right context. Chad speaks about wine in a way that is mystic and unrestrained, by which I mean you get the sense he’s kind of a winemaking savant, also — not that he’s incapable of diplomatically censoring his views — rather that he often doesn’t see the point. What could possibly be wrong with speaking the truth as one sees it? Should we be ashamed of our opinions as long as we listen with respect to the opinions of others? Chad’s brand of radical honesty works wonders on clients; they get to spend a few minutes in his head, and so do I. It’s an interesting place to visit. His words tumble out at a breakneck pace; I go back and sort through them like a jumble of orders in my in-box 15 minutes before cutoff for next day delivery, trying to process the data before the next one arrives.

Chad Stock in his native land.

“I’m not interested in making simple wine; I don’t understand simple wine” Chad said (not quoting verbatim, but close). My gut reaction at this juncture was ‘woah hold on … there’s a place and a time for “simple” wine; sometimes I just want to drink wine, and I don’t want to think about.’ Let’s face it, most people out there don’t want to think about wine, or maybe once a year at Thanksgiving when they wonder what goes best with turkey and a jaded retailer sells them a bottle of Pinot Noir. But for the sake of our industry, whether or not they’re cognizant, we hope they continue to drink wine.

Minimus SM1 2016 with Spicy Scallion Ginger Porgy Ssäm at Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

Chad continued: “I think … you know … if you want to drink something after you mow the lawn, drink a fucking gin and tonic. That’s what gin and tonic is for.” A breeze of contradiction ruffled my shirt and dried the sweat on my brow: what I know of Chad versus the words coming out. These comments, spoken by another human, might have had the distinct ring of beverage elitism, but Chad isn’t a snob. He’s an artist, at times classical, at times avant-garde, protecting his art from crass imitation.

This post is an interpretive riff on what Chad was getting at, along with the trains of thought stirred up by my conversation with Chad. Wine is an alcoholic beverage with unique powers of expression: the soil, the grape, the weather, the oak, the bacteria, the yeasts, the hand of man … history, culture … all the things we gather under the umbrella of terroir, and more. The argument against “simple” wine is that wine is essentially complex; if you are looking for a “simple” experience with alcohol, have g and t, or a shot of Cuervo, or a nice, refreshing, ridiculously boring Grey Goose and soda. (Love to be able to say I won’t judge you if you drink vodka and soda, but I probably will … sorry!)

Is there an argument for simple wine? Probably. I’m not sure how to approach it. I genuinely believe that pretty much everyone I know — with a little bit of effort — can find well-made, every day wine with terroir and a sense of place, for not much money. Wine that can be consumed without much pomp and circumstance. Honestly it depends where you live. In America, it’s easier to find good wine were the cosmopolitan elites roam free. But I don’t consider this an argument for simple wine, rather for humble wine at an everyday price.

Pinot Grigio, a classic après law-mowing tipple.

The reason I initially rebelled against Chad’s anti-simple wine statement is that we who work in the business never want to imply: “Your time, place, way of drinking wine — not to mention what — is wrong, and I’m going to tell you why it’s wrong because I’m knowledgable and you’re ignorant.” (Unrelated: isn’t this the type of attitude that lost us liberals so much support amongst working class voters?? It’s an alienating attitude.) What we’d like to say is “Live and let live, and if you want to drink wine after mowing the lawn, go right ahead, just please make it my wine and not someone else’s because I need to make a living and we’ve got growers to support.” Our job is to make wine more accessible, and to do so we must try to avoid snobbery.

Every year the Webers make this dry kabinett Riesling from the Niedermenniger Herrenberg vineyard, a humble wine that is far from simple.

This issue I’d like to raise here is that “simple” wine, particularly simple “crisp, dry, white” has spoiled peoples’ palates for other styles of white wine, and that is unfortunate. I’m reminded of this almost every time I pour a tasting in a retail shop in New York. I can sell Gros Plant du Pays Nantais (which is essentially Muscadet made from a different grape) all night long, because Gros Plant has a flavor profile we’ve been taught is acceptable. But open up an even remotely rich or oxidative Chenin Blanc or Jura wine or Oregon Sauvignon Blanc, white Burgundy, you name it, and the response will all too often be: “it’s too sweet” (wrong) “it’s too oaky” (possibly oaked, yes, but by no means oaky) or a personal favorite “that’s just not for me”. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Why is this not for you? It’s not for you because at some point down the line you were told that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that smells like grapefruit juice and factory yeast, and tastes like blocked malolactic fermentation and 150 parts per million sulfur dioxide is good. That is the kind of “wine” you’ve been conditioned to like, and its flavors have poisoned you against the glorious, unctuous, and above all interesting flavors that are now in your glass. The irony is that industrial wine is not really simple; it’s been doctored in complicated ways that — were they transparently listed — would make anyone who cares what they put in their body cringe. Just like fast food.

My theory is that the fashion for crisp, dry, white is at its roots a rebellion against the sweet, oaky Chardonnays of yore, which is legitimate. California did some disgusting things to Chardonnay, and some equally brutal things to its reputation. Oy vey the frequency with which people tell me they “don’t usually like Chardonnay.” You were taught to say that, weren’t you? The fact is Chardonnay is a blank slate. Chardonnay takes on the flavors it’s bequeathed by terroir and the hand of man. Yes that’s right, people: Chardonnay can taste like ANYTHING, and if you had some bad ones, it’s not the grape’s fault, but rather a wine factory that went a little crazy with the oak chips. I can’t negate your bad experiences, but I can ask you to be open minded regarding Chardonnay for it is one of the planet’s noble white varieties.

Part two of my theory on how crisp, dry white has wrecked our palates has to do with the way Americans drink alcohol, and of course every time I’m in Europe this is brought home to me yet again. Americans love wines that can be drunk on their own. We tend think of wine as a drug, whereas Europeans tend to think of wine as a food. Drinking wine after mowing the lawn is like saying “I just did something hard (questionable if you have a ride-on mower), I deserve to relax, let me now have some alcohol to help me do that.” There’s nothing wrong with this, but compare it to the French attitude: “On va manger du homard ce soir, donc je chercherai un bon Condrieu pour boire avec …” (“We’re having lobster tonight; I’m going to look for a good Condrieu to drink with it.”) The appeal of this attitude is that is treats the wine as part of the meal. It gives wine the respect it deserves as an art form and an expression of terroir by placing it at the dinner table rather than on the coffee table next to the remote control.

Roseau Condrieu with lobster bisque.

Condrieu is on my mind because I had one open last week, a beautiful bottle from Benoït Roseau. Given, this wine is expensive, as all Condrieu are, but regardless of price, this is a style of wine that is not exactly in vogue (for people under age 50-60) because it is the opposite of a “crisp, dry white.” It’s a big, broad, glorious white with a panoply of flavors ranging from peach and apricot and bitter orange, to the granite soils of the slope. But it’s not a convenient cocktail wine. It’s a food wine. So if you’re looking to take some bottles to the dome while gossiping with friends on the roof deck, Condrieu is not an ideal choice. I’d go so far as to say Condrieu is difficult to drink without food, a laudable quality in a wine.

Turning my attention to red wine for a moment. It seems to me that red has not met the same fate as white. Do others agree? While big reds may not be popular in some geek circles, and while palates that matured during the parker era may find Mondeuse or Loire Valley Gamay shrill (“it’s so sour“), for the most part there’s a drinking audience for both light and heavy, for both fruity and tannic, and for essentially the entire spectrum in between.

I don’t know why red wine hasn’t suffered the same blow at the hand of fashion as white, but I find it especially frustrating when thinking about Jura wine. The Jura is a great white wine region, and an interesting, quirky red wine region. The most profound wines of this place are white, and while the reds can be delicious and fun, they are relatively simple compared to the whites. And yet, it’s the reds everyone seems to be looking for. Jura whites languish on the retail shelf, while reds waltz out the door. It’s a shame. It’s time to bring rich, textured white wines back to prominence. It’s time — not to reject crisp, dry, white — but rather to bring back the context for rich white, which is the table. Let us embrace the complexity of full-bodied white wine; let us make it accessible; let us encourage contemplation, pairing, wine as an art and a companion rather than wine as mere alcohol.

Knowing me as well as you do by now, dear reader, you can imagine how elated I was to return to Arbois. In addition to the bucolic beauty of the place, and its delicious wines, Arbois is the site of some of my fondest recent memories, many of which came flooding back as I neared this picturesque little village. Those last dozen kilometers between Poligny and Arbois make me tear up every time, just as the dozen miles from Carrboro to Saxapahaw. It’s nostalgia, but it’s also the sensation of drawing near to a very special place. 

 

There were lots of tourists in “downtown” Arbois. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, and a holiday weekend. I passed the church whose bells woke me up at dawn every morning for a month, Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot’s shop, Hirsinger the chocolatier, the gendarmerie and Rue Tripet where Pierre used to live. I could barely find a spot to double park next to Les Messageries, my hotel of choice in Arbois, to collect the keys before rushing off to meet Fabrice Dodane of Domaine Saint Pierre. There were many weekenders sunning themselves on the Hotel terrace. “I know you! I know your face … English? ” said the owner of Les Messageries. He says that every time. Then I tell him “no, American,” and that I once worked a harvest here, chez Tissot, the great ambassador of Arbois to the rest of the world. In fact, I’ve been to Arbois once or twice or three times every year for the past half dozen years at least, but I didn’t visit in 2016, and I missed it.

 

“I’m waiting for some Japanese” Fabrice told me when I arrived in Mathenay at the winery (late, of course). I kissed Fabrice, patted the cat, scratched the old dog behind the ears. “They said they were coming at noon, then two, then four, now it’s five and they still aren’t here. They’re taking the train from Lons.” This made absolutely no sense to me. Lons-le-Saunier is a small city about an hour south by car. That anyone would spend an entire day waiting for a train from Lons to Arbois boggled the mind, but I immediately felt better about my own 1.5 hour tardiness for our meeting. Taking in this familiar room, I label-checked an array of dead soldiers making a frieze around the upper reaches, and gawked at two jeroboams of Chartreuse in yellow and green (as-yet-unopened). A magazine photo of a naked women with gigantic breasts and washboard flat abs rested against Fabrice’s computer. I imagined her giving him inspiration as he waded through customs paperwork. The phone rang. It was Fabrice’s tardy Japanese. He tried to put me on the phone, but more confusion ensued. “They won’t be here for at least another hour. Let’s go look at the vines?” I loaded into the passenger’s side, notebook in hand.

Looking at vineyards (on voit les vignes?) is a crucial aspect of what we do in the wine trade, and when a winemaker asks if you want do it, the answer should always be “yes.” Most of the magic happens in the vines. It’s here that we see what kind of farming the vigneron prefers (organic, biodynamic, herbicide free, plowed with tractor, plowed with horse, grass between the rows, no grass between the rows, pragmatic use of chemicals here and there when necessary, etc … there are a multitude of legitimate choices, and some illegitimate ones, such as loading the ground up with chemicals to make the work easier. When a vineyard is worked this way, there is no life between the rows, and vines stick out from dead earth like gnarled shoots on the face of the moon. If — while looking at a chemically farmed vineyard — you can’t imagine good wine being produced from it, that’s because good wine is rarely made from chemically farmed vineyards. Healthy soil makes healthy grapes, which make delicious wine.)

It’s in the vines that we see what kind of pruning the vigneron prefers: Chablis, Cordon du Royat, one cane, two canes, pergola, again a multitude of choices, all producing a calculated effect. It’s in the vines that we see the exposition and the soil type, the overall vibe of the vineyard, which (yes believe it or not) comes through in the wine provided the vigneron isn’t fucking it up in the cellar. All this to say that an important part of the job is bumping around in dirty farm vehicles, making small talk, and stopping here and there to jump out and survey the ground and the plants.

It’s in the vines that we see the damage done by frost and vine diseases, and to be honest, things were pretty bleak in the vines in Arbois that day. My first note from the visit says “3 hectares “foutu” (“fucked”). Late spring frosts burn the buds, and so rather than tiny green shoots along the branch, you see browned nubs where the bud once was (if I were really worth a shit, I’d have snapped a photo, but I’m terrible at photos, and prefer to paint the picture with words). Fabrice will be lucky if he gets 40% of a normal crop in 2017. He makes these early days calculations by counting the number of burnt buds versus the number of healthy ones along a branch. Everything between Arbois and Pupillin (Gaudrettes for example) was frost damaged to the extent there was hardly a green shoot to be found. It was the worst I saw the entire trip. But on a positive note, the Saint Pierre vineyard is higher up, on the other side of Arbois, and looked to be in pretty good shape. Frost descends the slope, and so upper slope parcels are generally less touched than lower slope ones. 

We returned to the cellar to taste — or rather to drink. It was apéro hour, and Fabrice has a dynamite slicer that allows him to make wafer thin shavings of saussiçon to snack on. Vegetarianism was out the window, at least for the evening. It was interesting to taste the 2015 Chardonnays Château Renard and Chapon next to each other. The Renard comes from more limestone heavy soils, versus marl for the Chapon. The Renard is made in tank, 12 months sur lie. The Chapon is made in barrel (both fermentation and élèvage). There’s more minerality and tension in the Chapon, but lots of immediate pleasure in the Renard, like a Maconnais wine with more cut. 

 

We tasted a new wine from Fabrice called Les Brûlées from a vineyard on the Montigny side of Arbois, with limestone heavy soil. It’s made in wood as well, and next to Chapon you also have a nice illustration of the two most important soil types of the region. Brûlées is a big, dense, powerful wine that veers in an oxidative direction and is distinctly redolent of Jura, the must in the cellars, the green, fragrant breezes, apples from wild apple trees, and the sweet, lactic, nuttiness of Comté.

 

The 2016 whites out of barrel were reductive on the nose, but fantastic on the palate. Fabrice hasn’t used any SO2 in the 2016 wines, though he might add some down the line if he thinks it’s necessary. As always, he is pragmatic. Right now the wines are taking advantage of the natural anti-oxidant properties of lees (hence the reduction). This will be a glorious white wine vintage across eastern France. Yields were low, and even though there was lots of rain and rot in the spring, warm dry weather came along toward harvest time to make for a great vintage in the end. One never wants to rejoice in suffering, but it seems that challenging vintages often produce the most glorious results. I was particularly impressed by the ouillé Savagnin bottling called “Autrement.”
Fabrice is changing things up a bit with the Pinot Cuvées Saint Pierre and Gaudrettes in 2016. Both are grappes entiers (whole cluster), and at least partial carbonic. There’s some Poulsard in the Gaudrettes, though it’s still mostly Pinot. As usual the Saint Pierre is lively and bright, while the Gaudrettes is darker fruited, more brooding and tannic. Even with some alterations in cépage and winemaking, the character of these vineyards comes through, and as with Fabrice’s whites, we can see the contrast between limestone (Saint Pierre) and marl (Gaudrettes) in the reds as well.

 

Fabrice and his lady friend Yannick took me to dinner at a classic French restaurant called “Le Bistronome”. I’d been there once before, and the setting brought back memories of a conversation I’d had about natural wine in the Jura. I believe that to be truly invested in wines of the Jura, one must be at least interested in and open to natural wine. Organic farming and natural winemaking (by which I mean minimal intervention in the vines and cellar) are a mindset and a way of life here. Wink Lorch will have to stop me if I’m wrong, but I have the impression that chemical farming and cellar spoofilation never really became the norm here as they did in other places. I find the local vignerons proud of this fact, proud of their respect for the earth and its bounty, engaged in conversation with one another about how best to let the wine make itself. It’s one thing to express (as I often do) a preference for the traditional styles of the region: sous voile whites and crunchy, crystaline, high-toned reds, but to be closed off to natural wine is to be closed off to the Jura. 

We drank 2015 Pinot Noir Saint Pierre, and 2014 Les Brûlées at dinner; both were absolutely singing. At the end of the evening, it was only us, the chef, his wife, and our waitress left in the restaurant. We sat together chatting and finishing the bottles. The chef’s wife who’d been working the floor all evening began to complain jovially about tourists who take pictures of their plates all night long rather than enjoying good company at the table. I was glad that I don’t often do that … certainly that I hadn’t done it this time. Then she began to tell a story of a conventional farmer who’d tried to sell her some wine recently. She told him “No I’m sorry. Your wines aren’t as good as the organic wines I buy …” 
After dinner I insisted on walking back to the hotel. I needed to soak up the ambiance, listen to the river babbling by, breath the clean, cool air. There were tears in my eyes once again, the tears that come when you wish for a different life, one you can’t ever have. Those kind are fairly self-indulgent, and they pass quickly.

Difficult to believe it’s been a full year since my last trip to France. For awhile I was on a roll making two and sometimes three visits a year, but 2016 was different. There was other business to attend to. Now I’m overwhelmed afresh by how much I love this country, by the nourishment my soul takes here. And I’m brimful of gratitude that my life’s work allows me to drive, hike, and run its beautiful landscapes while becoming intimate with its people, those characters who tap the potential of the earth, gathering disparate elements and funneling them into the bottle.

This time I honestly didn’t know what to expect upon arrival: A population terrified by its presidential election on the horizon? Vignerons somber and pessimistic having lost significant percentages of their annual volume due to a frost that swept western Europe at the end of April? Philosophical farmers pondering the effects of climate change: some chalking it up to the mercurial nature of the weather; most ready to admit that we humans have irrevocably altered nature? We in the wine trade have a unique relationship with climate change. We see firsthand how a precocious spring followed by nights of frost in April can wreck our friends’ livelihoods.

French political vibes.

I assumed that whatever awaited me in France this year, it wouldn’t be pretty. Then again, what I left behind in New York wasn’t pretty either: the loss of my home, the last minute move one day before flying to France, two weeks of life’s bombardment, no rest for the weary, too slammed to make anything pretty: not my work, not my new home, not my relationships, or my writing. I couldn’t even make my email inbox pretty at the end of each day. There was only work, and moving, and energy so frantic it kept me from processing the sensations of loss, and change upon the horizon. Well — I thought — when I get to Champagne, I’ll relax.

Before arriving in Champagne, however, I made a loop around the eastern part of France, stopping in the Mâcon, the Côte d’Or, Isère, and Arbois. In Burgundy, I visited two Domaines I’ve sipped from copiously at this point, but never visited: Domaine des Gandines, and Domaines des Rouges Queues.

Domaine des Gandines in a 13 hectare estate in Clessé. Florent is the winemaker now, and he installed himself there in 2015 after many stages abroad learning the ropes. Florent’s great grandfather started the domaine, and they’ve been growing a little bit each generation since then. Fortunately for Florent, his father enjoyed working the soil and thus continued to do so during the chemical era rather than switching to chemical products like many of his contemporaries. Right now Gandines is certified organic; they will go for Demeter certification this year. Florent is extremely talented and it will be interesting to see him leave his mark on the wines.

Sexy Mâcon Chardonnay from old vines grown on dark soils, aged in a 100 year old foudre, and sulfured only at bottling.

The Mâcon-Peronne and Viré-Clessé are blends of parcels, some on white limestone and some on heavier clay. In general, Viré-Clessé expresses more of the white limestone. Those wines are normally made in tank. Agathe (named after Florent’s niece, from darker, clay-heavy soil) and Terroir des Gandines are separate parcels of old vines. The Gandines vines are 90 years old. Those wines are fermented and aged in barrel with some percentage new.

2015 is a rich, powerful vintage showing lots of honey and orange confit. If you’re someone who prefers Chardonnay grown on the absolute fringes of ripeness, 2015 Mâcon may not be for you. But if you’re like me and there’s room in your heart for both austerity and opulence, there is much succulent, sexy deliciousness to be found in these wines. 2016 is more elegant and finessed. It was a difficult year due to rain and mildew in the spring, but Florent did an excellent job. This was the first day of the trip, and I didn’t yet know that for white wine from the east of France, 2016 was an absolutely brilliant vintage, marked by low yields, succulent balance, and a certain captivating floral note that was present at every domaine I visited from Clessé to Ambonnay. 2017 we’ll see, but Florent says proximity to the Saone river helped protect their vines against frost.

Domaine des Rouges Queues is a 5.5 hectare domaine that was started in 1998 by Isabelle and Jean-Yves Ventay with just one hectare of vines in Maranges, the most southerly village in the Côte de Beaune before one enters the Côte Chalonnaise. The soils here are crumbly limestone with a bit of granite, and produce salty, honest, delightfully rustic wines.

The Crus of Maranges.

In 2002 the couple began conversion to organic, and they were certified in 2007. They began using biodynamic preparations in 2015, with the goal of getting Demeter certified, but have abandoned the project temporarily because Demeter requires the growers to purchase biodynamic treatments, while Jean-Yves would prefer to make his own. (Or so Jean-Yves they told me; others have denied this and explained that in fact one can concoct one’s own preparations, but they must be heavily analyzed by Demeter.)

The ripeness of the 2015 vintage adds a little flesh to the bones, but the geek and the acid lover within rejoices equally in the crunchiness of the 2014s.

The Ventay’s Maranges Blanc comes from an 8 are parcel (that’s .08 hectares) of vines planted in 2005, and plowed with a horse. They are lucky if they make 500 bottles from this tiny plot. It’s made in the classic white Burgundy style: fermentation and élèvage in neutral barrel. This wine has always been marked by its cut, its rich texture and sharp angles, its lemon-y freshness and brisk minerality. It’s a wine of delightful contradiction.

From friable clay and limestone at the top of the slope, fermented with gentle extractions, this wine is a highlight in the lineup.

The reds come from a mixture of different soil types and expositions, and are treated differently in the cellar according to the discretion of the vigneron in each vintage. Many of the wines see a percentage of whole cluster fermentation, but, for example, the Bourgogne Rouge is completely de-stemmed. The higher level wines typically see more whole cluster, and the Ventays did more whole cluster in 2015 than in past years, consistent with the overall promise of this vintage in Burgundy. The Vignes Blanches bottling comes from steep white soils with western exposition, the Maranges VV (from their first hectare of vines, which are 85 years old) from a more clay heavy vineyard, which gives a richer, more concentrated wine.

The top wines are 1er Clos Roussots and the Fussières. Clos Roussots is a mid-slope parcel that is always sunny and ripe, with small grape bunches from 40 year old vines. The exposition is south-southwest, and as one might expect the wine is powerful and in riper vintages quite velvety and suave. Fussières, by contrast, is at the top of the slope, where the soil is crumbly limestone. The vines were planted in 1972. Fussières makes a more elegant, finessed wine in contrast to the broader Clos Roussots. Both parcels are plowed with a horse.

The Ventay’s Santenay is from 3 adjacent parcels, for a total of 36 ares (less than half a hectare). In keeping with the differences between the two villages in general, the Santenay is pretty, floral, and feminine, with pleasant salinity, but less powerful and rustic than Maranges. This wine is breathtakingly pretty in the 2015 vintage with sweet high toned red fruits, and a soif-y nature that puts one in mind of Gamay with no sacrifice of the wines’s pinosity.

Joyful 2015 Santenay.

It struck me at this recent visit that we rarely find Burgundy domaines that so skillfully straddle the fence between traditional and natural. And now a week after the visit, I believe that it’s taken a domaine such as this to rekindle my interest in Burgundy. My relationship with the region is fraught. Many of the traditional wine, while absolutely stunning, don’t excite me much intellectually. On the other hand, projects such as the Ventays: farming exquisitely, digging deep into the concept of  “laisser le vin de se faire” (let the wine make itself) tug at my heart and mind. Even from less exalted appellations, these are the Burgundies I want to drink. And frankly, Burgundies like this only come from off the beaten path appellations, because these are enclaves of freedom in the region.

More to come from Isère, Arbois, and Champagne, and let us pray for our French friends and their fraught political situation.

We’ve all been there, most of us many times. You wake up the morning after a wine event, exhausted regardless of how much sleep you got, the taste of wine rancid in your mouth, thirsty, a headache forming behind your eye sockets, wondering if you were too chatty, too flirty, or revealed too much to someone you have a professional relationship with, excoriating yourself for having talked shit about someone you actually really like for no apparent reason other than that you were drunk, drunker than you wanted to be, drunker than you meant to be.

How did this happen? You took it easy the previous night; you drank water all day, and ate to make sure your stomach was lined. The evening started off relatively calm, with some Champagne, which of course you went back for seconds of because it’s Champagne and the best thing in the world. All day you told yourself “I’m not getting drunk tonight.” And — I mean — how could you possibly have gotten drunk from wine-pro-sized-pours, which are usually around 2 ounces at most? (The logic here is somewhat like erroneous dieting logic that foods eaten standing up without a table, knife, and fork don’t contain calories. Yes, they do. And 2 ounce pours contain alcohol.) The point is: 2-4 wine professional sized pours equals a glass, and if there are 20 wines to be tasted, you’ll drink at least 3-4 glasses of wine, which these days is enough to make me hungover.

The wine-pro-sized-pour.

Back in the day (read as recently as 2012-ish), I was un-phased by wine dinners, so un-phased in fact that more often than not I’d head to the dive bar where my man-friend at the time worked to take shots and drink beer after the wine dinner. Though this was never a good idea, I always woke up the next day able to sweat it out in the morning with a run, able to go to work, not feeling great, but the hangover adequately balanced by warm fuzzy memories of the night before. This would be unthinkable now. I cannot remember the last time I hit the bar after dinner.

You hear it all the time: hangovers get worse as you get older. Here’s another thing: the less you drink generally, the worse the hangovers are. It’s a frustrating irony because if you love wine, drinking less of it, and many days not drinking at all, is a form of self denial. You’d think there would be a nice reward, and there is: you feel great when you haven’t been drinking. But when you do drink, you feel way worse — it’s like working out after taking a month off. Sometimes I wonder if I used to be mildly hungover to really hungover all the time, and now I’m experiencing a kind of sobriety that didn’t exist in my late 20s and early 30s. But the truth seems to be rather that — in terms of the way I feel the next day — there’s very little difference between no wine and 1-2 glass, but a huge and intolerable difference between no wine and 4-5 glasses.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been testing out ways to consume less at wine events, while still tasting as much as possible. On the subject of professionalism: we work in the booze business, but getting drunk while working is unprofessional, same as if we were nurses or journalists, or code-writers, etc … For me, swallowing wine during the work day is unprofessional. One of the best ways to create good work/life balance in the booze business — doing something for work that most people do for fun (namely boozing) — is to spit 100% of the time when at work, and wait until after hours to swallow. This keeps me sane, allows me to create clear boundaries between work and pleasure. This also allows me to distinguish between wines I taste for edification, wines I sell for my job, and wines I drink because I want to. It helps keep my vinous proclivities personal: the stuff I taste for work versus the stuff I drink for fun. Still, every week in this line of work there’s at least one event (usually more than one) that straddles the fence between work and play. For those countless events, here are some tips for drinking less, and feeling better the next day.

For every bottle of wine you bring to the party, bring one bottle of sparkling water, and match your wine consumption with sparkling water glass for glass. (You will pee a lot.) Every six months or so I get together with a group of Chambers Street employees and customers for a Champagne dinner. For every 750 of sparkling wine we drink, we drink one bottle of Pellegrino, and we line the dead soldiers up along with the hatcheted bottles of Laval and Agrapart to remind ourselves of the importance of interspersing the two. Clearly the one-to-one ratio of water to alcoholic beverages is a standard, but most people have a hard time sticking to it. In order to set yourself up for success adhering to the golden ratio, make the non-alcoholic beverage something delicious like lemon-lime seltzer, make it something you want to drink.

Maintain a one-to-one ratio of sparkling water to sparkling wine.

After a certain point in the evening, only drink birth year bottles. If you’re attending a large scale hatchet fest, pick and chose. Let’s face it, no one can maintain a fresh palate after several hours of drinking. Pick the small handful of bottles you can’t live without trying, and leave the rest alone. The past few summers, I’ve attended a day time bash in Connecticut with my friends from Transatlantic Bubbles. It’s becoming a legendary party, which starts at noon with magnums of Champagne and goes until there’s no on left standing. I’ve fallen asleep on metro north after this party; I’ve drunkenly contacted multiple ex-boyfriends after this party; I’ve swigged Champagne out of the bottle on metro north after this party; I experienced one of the worst hangovers in recent memory after this party. However last summer, I drank 2 Poland Springs over the course of the afternoon, and when the red wine started flowing, I stopped drinking, save for a bottle of birth year Barolo. I was sober enough by the time we left to act as navigator on the way home, and was shocked to find myself in fine form the next day.

Spit or dump 50% (or more). Over Rieslingfeier week, I attended a wine dinner at Rouge Tomate. There were spit cups next to every place setting. It was fantastic. We had between 10 and 15 wines to try over the course of our meal, and I made a point to spit every other sip thereby still enjoying the feeling of a light buzz, while cutting my alcohol consumption in half. Most restaurants will not put a spit cup by every set of glassware, but you can always ask for a dump bucket. In professional circles, this is totally acceptable, and others will probably happily join you in spitting and dumping.

BYO spit vessel. I experimented with this tactic at The Big Glou, which was a mélange of wine professionals and civilians. I had a suspicion that the event would be well attended (it was), and that the spit buckets would be hard to reach (they were). I brought a glass jar to spit into, and carried it with me throughout the tasting. This was a great idea, and I received lots of positive feedback from other tasters who told me they wished they’d done the same. I didn’t have to chose between swallowing and loitering next to the spittoon. Non-verbal communication consisting of hand gestures and grunting with a mouthful of wine was kept to a minimum. Later in the day when there were drunk people jostling me, I was glad I’d brought the lid, which kept my clothes, face, and hair free of spit bucket backsplash. (It’s gross, but that’s life in the wine business.)

BYI spittoon.

Discontinue consumption at least half an hour before you leave the event. Pick a wine, and tell yourself “this is the last thing I’m drinking tonight.” Of late, the biggest problem for me with wine events hasn’t been the hangover, it’s been the shitty sleep I get when I go to bed with booze in my system. I wake up at 5am; I can’t fall back to sleep. The wine in my body at bedtime wrecks my sleep and leaves me knackered and useless the next day. If I stop drinking well before I leave the dinner or the party, I’m sober by the time I arrive home, and I get good sleep.

Bizarrely, Invisalign has helped enormously with this because when I’m wearing the plastic in my mouth, I’m not supposed to drink anything but water. So once I’m through drinking, I sneak to the bathroom, quickly brush the tannins off my teeth, pop the liners in, and return to the soirée, where I’ll keep socializing, but with a glass of water rather than more wine. It sounds dumb, but works great, and I’ll probably keep doing it even when I’m through with the procedure.

A dental procedure that has unexpectedly benefited my drinking life.

In the ideal world, we’d be able to exercise self control all the time. We’d never over indulge and we’d never feel like shit the next day. But realistically, in this line of work, excess happens, hangovers happen. The best we can do as grownups in the booze industry is to find some sly tricks to reduce the alcohol’s wear and tear on our bodies.

If years 1-3 in the wine trade were years of tasting everything and learning the rules; 3-8 were years of increasingly specific delving into subjects dear to my heart; 9 was a rogue year, and 10 a year of exploration. As gratifying as it is to feel a certain mastery of a region or set of wines, to cull images of those places from memory, the timbre of a winemaker’s voice, the distinct tang of his or her style melding with the terroir, a proud face as the pipette is drawn from the cask, it’s also enlivening to discover new things, and there are psychological benefits to open-mindedness. Recently it’s felt like each day I let go of a smidgen of preconception to embrace something new. One of those new things has been cider.

At MFW Wine Co., the cider portfolio has grown robust and interesting thanks to the efforts of my colleague Jeff Russell. It’s a category of drink I know essentially nothing about, which makes formulating opinions easier (nothing harder for me these days than formulating an unbiased opinion about a bottle of Champagne), but also makes ambast-ing the brands more difficult. It’s clear that the moment to learn about cider has arrived. What better place to start than with a cider house that has compelled me from first sip: Eden. Two weeks ago, four of us piled in a rental car and headed north to a cider open house at Eden.

Prior to this trip, I’d met Eleanor Léger (proprietress of Eden Ciders) a handful of times. She and I worked together one day, planned a cider dinner at one of my accounts, exchanged many cordial emails. She’s an inspiring woman. Her approach to cider is extremely wine-driven (for lack of a better word), and her love of wine shows in the profile of her ciders. In general, cider conversations hang out somewhere between beer and wine. Discussions of fruit varieties reminds us of wine, but use of the term “bottle conditioning” inevitably takes us to beer. I’ve found that as a wine person who dabbles in beer, Eden Ciders strike the perfect vinous chord and, with their bracing apple tannins, have uncanny abilities at the table.

When we were an hour and a half or so from our destination, the WilloughVale Inn and Cottages in Westmore Vermont, Jeff picked up the phone to call Eleanor. We were worried about accommodations and dinner. “Snow? Slow down? Ok … Yep. I’ll be careful … thanks so much! Yes we’ll see you soon! Thanks again. Ok bye.” The temperature had been dropping steadily since Brooklyn, but not a whisper of precipitation. Jeff turned to us, “she says when we get to Saint Johnsbury, there will be snow.” A green road sign for Saint Johnsbury hove into view. “She also says she’ll meet us at the hotel with beer and pizza.” A murmur of approval from the backseat. “Sweet!”

Within ten minutes, snow was falling all around us, growing steadily more powdery and voluminous as we drove north. By the time we’d exited the highway, twisting and turning, climbing and descending rolling hills, we’d slowed from 90 miles an hour to under 40, and our headlights revealed nothing but white snow against black night. Eleanor pulled into the parking lot of WilloughVale Inn not more than 2 minutes behind us, and stepped from her vehicle with several flat, aromatic boxes, two cases of beer, and four booze reps from New Jersey. We let ourselves into the hotel (we were the only guests; there were no employees to be found), and settled in the living room with pizza, beer, and the Super Bowl.

View from the WilloughVale Inn and Cottages.

I woke up the next morning with the joyous sensation of being deep in country. We caught up on emails as well as the latest political news before heading to the orchards. Approximately eight miles from the Canadian border, the terroir Eleanor plays with is a unique microclimate. Married to a French Canadian, Eleanor decided when she settled in the area to make cidre de glace, the traditional Ice Cider most often associated with Québec. Her first order of business was to figure out which types of apples are best suited to the area, and through experiment she discovered that for the most part French varieties work best. (Eleanor does also use some English as well as New England Heirloom varieties.)

Apple Varieties.

To make ice cider, apples are pressed in the winter with frigid temperatures on the horizon. The juice is then left to freeze in containers outside. This process renders a tiny amount of incredibly concentrated, sweet juice (like something that you’d pour over ice cream), which is transferred to an indoor cellar to ferment. At Eden, fermentation is accomplished with a Riesling yeast, temperature sensitive and accustomed to high sugar content, a yeast that is easy to stop at exactly the right moment. To stop the fermentation, the juice goes back outside into the cold. Once I saw the pieces, the process, which takes 4 months start to finish, began to seem quite simple and natural.

The most concentrated and high sugar content juice goes into ice ciders, and there are three: Heirloom, Northern Spy, and Honey Crisp. Heirloom and Honey Crisp are aged for six months to a year in stainless steel tank, and then a year in bottle before release. Northern Spy sees a year of barrel aging in French oak. Though I don’t feel especially qualified to give in depth tasting notes on these, I’ll offer my impression of the differences. Heirloom is the most traditional in profile, intensely sweet with balanced acidity, and classic. Northern Spy offers the mellow and burnished caramel spice note of oak. Honey Crisp is bright and lively with the succulent character of that very popular apple. All ring in at 10% alcohol, 15% sugar (150 grams/liter).

After a short-lived but amusing crack at cross country skiing, we migrated to Newport Vermont to Eleanor’s tasting room, where we met David Biun, the head cider maker. This guy came to Eden from an upstate New York winery, and what an incredible score he’s been for Eleanor. He seemed to ooze information about cider apples and processes. We learned, for example, that culinary apples are harder to make cider out of because they have fewer phenols and flavonoid compounds (read: less flavor), also that they are less nutritious for the yeasts. Bittersweet and heritage apples are more nutritious, which results in a smoother fermentation.

As I understand it, at some point Eleanor decided she needed to do something with the juice that wasn’t quite at the concentration level for ice cider, and so she began to make traditional dry and off-dry ciders, but in her own, special way. We began the tasting with Juliette, a still, dry cider that resonates sort of like a bone dry Riesling. Made from early ripening apples varieties planted in Heath orchard in Canada, it’s 6.4% alcohol, tangy, delicate, and fresh. With 0.0% sugar, I’d think you could sub this in for pretty much any crisp dry white with success.

This cider was named after Juliette Pope, one of the industry’s most beloved wine luminaries.

Eden’s Dry and Semi-Dry sparkling ciders are densely carbonated and ridiculously food friendly in their structure and tannins. They finish their second fermentation in the bottle and are hand disgorged. While I like the Dry, which is 50% Kingston Black apples and 0.0% sugar, I’m particularly fond of the Semi-Dry, which comprises different apples and is topped up with ice cider to bring it up to 1% sugar. “Semi-dry” is almost a misnomer here because this cider would drink dry beside basically all other ciders. It has beautiful texture and very light bitterness.

Look out for this one. It’s sensational.

As Eleanor poured the next sparkling cider into our glasses, David explained that for this experiment, one of their Cellar Series called Guinevere’s Pearls, he’d used Northern Spy apples and concentrated the juice using the ice cider process. Apparently grapes have 3x the flavor precursors that apples do, and one of the ways to combat this unfavorable ratio is to concentrate the apple juice. At 11% alcohol and 2 grams of sugar, this cider is just insanely good. Creamy and aromatic, it made me think of a delicious, spiced apple sauce. A reservation for all the rest of the stock went in post haste, and I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival in New York.

One of Eleanor’s most popular ciders is her rosé, which is in fact more of a currant/apple wine. She loves French rosés, and wanted to make something to drink in the same context: on a warm day, for apéro, for refreshment. She searched long and hard for a native ingredient to make the cider pink, and finally settled on red currants. Originally she used the currants planted on her property, but as demand has grown she now uses a top quality currant concentrate from Germany with excellent results. She chose currants for their tangy properties, and it’s the perfect fit. At 11% alcohol and 1.2% sugar (once again, an ice cider dosage), it’s the most wine-like, and amongst the most satisfying products Eden makes. It’s also the only sparkling cider in their collection that sees forced carbonation (meaning the carbonation is added rather than taking place in the bottle à la Eden’s version of the Champagne method). I’d happily drink this over 99% of French rosé.

Meets all pink wine need, and surpasses 99% of its grape-based competition in quality.

We continued the tasting with hopped cider, experimental cider, brandy and bourbon barrel aged ice ciders, and more, however my notes begin to break down as it was close to order board cutoff and I had to keep running upstairs in search of cell phone reception.

After lunch a late and satisfying lunch, we commandeered our very own cabin at WilloughVale. Jeff invited the New Jersey reps to come over for dinner and an extensive tasting of ciders and beer with no spit cups. It was quite an ad hoc party, and as the blood alcohol level crept up, so did the decibel level. I made my escape down a frozen slope to the hotel amidst raging debate over who the five most influential people in cider are today. Eleanor Léger was at the top of the list.