Sophie's Glass

A couple of days ago the Davis family holiday letter plopped into my mailbox. I’ve come to look forward to this missive because I’m fond of the family, and because Brant, who pens the letter, is a superb writer. Like our esteemed president (the present one, not the future one, in case there was any doubt), Brant is a lawyer, and I’m coming to believe that lawyers master the language in a special way: heart felt, clear, and concise. This year’s Davis family letter left me even more moved than past year’s, because I knew from our email correspondence that Brant (like many of us) has not even begun to recover from the election, and confessed that he’d had a far more difficult time than usual finding messages of optimism with which to pepper his prose.  I was inspired by Brant’s efforts, and to that end offer my own “holiday letter.”

In spite of recent political events, I can’t help but look back on 2016 as a good year. 2015 was a year of turmoil and upheaval in my professional life, and I hoped that 2016 would prove more tranquil. It has. In January, I began working for MFW Wine Company, and am extremely fortunate to have landed this position as a New York sales rep. Many new people have come into my life thanks to this job: buyers, importers, winemakers, the list goes in. It’s only been a year, but already I find it hard to conceive of my life without Ernest from Portovino, wine lover and vintage motorcycle enthusiast in Tuscany, Kate Norris and Tom Monroe of Division Winemaking Company in Portland, Jeff Russell, Annika, and Tess Drumheller, my colleagues in sales, and then my customers who make me want to offer the best service I can. To my clients: you all inspire the hell out of me. Thank you for your support.

On Friday we had our holiday party and there was much poignant speechifying. I recalled that a major reason I took the job was that I wanted to learn how to be a schnook, and to learn it not just from Mike Foulk, who I deem one of the best in the trade, but also from Michael Wheeler, a legend in his own right, someone who took an interest in me when I was a junior buyer at Astor back in 2008, someone with an apparently inherent knack for this trade. (He also brought me Riesling from Clemens Busch for the first time, as well as Equipo Navazos Sherry. He’s prescient, that man.)

My business card. Feel free to get in touch ...

My business card. Feel free to get in touch …

If 2014 and 2015 were years of travel abroad, 2016 was a year of travel within the United States, a year to get better acquainted with this country, which strikes me as timely given how clearly divided we are as a nation. In the past, the only places I wanted to be outside of New York, were in Europe. That has changed as my knowledge of the United States has broadened, and I begin to fathom what a vast, diverse, and fascinating country we live in. And yes some of my favorite places in the America are in states that voted for Trump, and some of my least favorite places in states that voted for Hillary.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As usual, a highlight of the year was my trip to France in April and May. I began in Champagne with Transatlantic Bubbles, and a group of fabulous  buyers hand selected by Mike Carleton and Jeff Hellman, who are some of the nicest guys in the business. From Champagne, I drove to the Loire Valley, where I spent five days getting to know growers in the MFW portfolio. I circle back often to the my visits with Michel Autran, a remarkable former doctor turned vigneron in Vouvray. There are many things to love about Michel, from his wines to his kind and spiritual demeanor. I shared a fantastic meal with Michel in Tours, where we spoke about many things both professional and personal, something I now consider to be vital, thanks to Scott Frank of Bow and Arrow Wines who first planted the seed of suggestion that a true rapport goes far beyond wine. Michel gave me a bottle of 2013 Les Enfers Tranquilles to take home with me, and I drank it in my family home, in North Carolina. It’s a glorious bottle of wine, and in that moment, sipped on a humid summer night listening to the cicadas, it seemed to give form to the notion of a current, a laser beam of acid and mineral, a narrative tying together past, present, and future.

Michel Autran.

Michel Autran.

In June, Jason Malumed and I headed to Portland to visit our sister company, PDX, to spend some time with Michael Wheeler, and to get to know the terroirs of Oregon (as well as the strip clubs and marijuana dispensaries). I’d never been to Portland, and had been curious to visit for years. Portland is a civilized place; it’s a nice size (read a hellova lot smaller than New York). The countryside is beautiful; the people are nice. There are urban wineries, made possible by the proximity of the wine regions to the city itself. Some of them have wine bars in them where you can sip a glass while scoping out the winemaking equipment and processes. (How awesome is that?!?) I love the wines we sell from Oregon, which are complex, fairly priced, humble, and most importantly delicious. Thanks to Scott Frank and Chad Stock I have an entirely new view of Sauvignon Blanc, and drank thirstily from a magnum of Union School at our holiday party. Folks who have known me as an old world, cool climate wine snob respond to these changes in my taste with looks that say “who is this imposter and what has she done with my Sophie?” To which I state that I heartily enjoy changing my mind, also that the wine trade would quickly lose its luster if there weren’t new regions to learn about and become smitten by.

One of my favorite wines of the year: SM1 Savvy B from Minimus.

One of my favorite wines of the year: SM1 Savvy B from Minimus.

As much as I enjoyed touring the wine regions, my most meaningful day in Oregon was spent with a very dear school friend, hiking along the Oregon coast, and stopping to picnic by the ocean. The Pacific is a little hard to get used to for me as an east coaster, like someone behind the checkout counter in the grocery store asking how my day’s going (that doesn’t happen in New York), it’s just different. I’m used to the warm, soft Atlantic along the North Carolina coast, with its large expanses of uncovered, Coors Light sipping, country music listening flesh.

Mira and Sophie.

Mira and my Sauvignon Blanc loving alter ego.

Which brings me to the most significant two weeks of the year, which were spent cleaning my family home in Saxapahaw and rescuing my patrimony. This was something I’d been putting off for years, until it couldn’t be put off any longer, until Flannery offered up a solution, which was to ask for help from my broad network of friends and loved ones. This was some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, and each day someone different came by to help, to chat, and to reconnect. These two weeks were life changing in their impact on my personal life and psyche. Even now as I listen through the wall between my room and Susannah’s to the dulcet tones of cheering, whistling, and rubber on hardwood floor that signal the beginning of Carolina basketball season, I find myself proud of my origins, and proud of those 30 acres of woods that are mine.

Front: Alex, Sophie. Back: Margaret, Bobby, Karl.

Front: Alex, Sophie.
Back: Margaret, Bobby, Karl.

Yes there was a lot of traveling in 2016, and very little of it in Europe. I’m at over 1k words and haven’t even mentioned Montreal (I went twice this year), or the North Fork, where a group of us toured wine country on bikes. However, I’m going to end my year in review with a long weekend spent in South Dakota in October. Last post, I started to write about this as part of the political diatribe, but stopped because it just didn’t make sense. I went into the heart of a very red state, skinny black jeans, quasi-New York accent and all, prepared to suppress my political views if necessary for the sake of getting along. There are many things I remember fondly about this trip, the image of Prairie Berry Winery along the highway between Rapid City and Custer, Mount Rushmore, a national monument as breath-taking as our new world trade center, touring the back woods on a Four Wheeler, shooting a rifle, two pistols, and a crossbow. But now, in hind site, I most frequently recall a conversation I had about gun control, a conversation that helped to make real all I’d been reading about the beliefs of Americans outside of the urban, liberal bastions.



On a table in the garage, I found an issue of American Hunter. Inside there were pages of propaganda about Hillary Clinton, essentially saying she’s going to take your guns away. Then there were advertisements for Donald Trump, essentially saying he’d support the National Rifle Association, protect your second amendment rights, etc …  And so I started a conversation about gun laws; I couldn’t help it. My interlocutor was coming from a South Dakota place (“My neighbors all have guns, therefore I need a gun to protect myself in case one of them comes up my driveway in the middle of the night to take all my shit! Also: I like guns. I shoot deer, a species constantly on the verge of over population, and my family and I eat all the meat we harvest.”). I was coming from a New York place (“If we didn’t have strict gun laws in this incredibly populous place I call home, all it would take is someone having a bad day for there to be fifty people dead on the subway.”) We had a conversation, and each of us learned something.

Like Brant, I don’t have much of a message of optimism at the end of this year. It looks as though we are headed for dark times, and my heart remains broken by the notion of dignity passing from the White House, making room for indignity and hateration. However, I believe that the dialogue must remain open with people who think differently. My New Years resolution, along with becoming fully pescatarian, giving up meat and poultry for good, is to seek out some Trump-ists and talk to them.

Happy holidays, and thanks for reading!


The situation on Friday evening was this: Ernest was proposing to order a bottle of ’61 Huet Demi-Sec before we’re received the first round of appetizers. I spoke out: “Wait! Isn’t ’61 Huet a Vino da Meditazione? We can’t drink it now.” The Italians chuckled, seemingly tickled that I knew the expression.  Over this dinner, I realized the concept of Vino da Meditazione is real. The expression first entered my wine lexicon back in September when Portovino, our Italian importer, did a little presentation on Italian wine words. These guys from Portovino are sarcastic, and so when Ernest told us “Yeah Mark always has to have a Vino da Meditazione at the end of the meal” I figured he mostly joking, that the comment was part of their Car Talk routine, rather than … I dunno … a category of wine.

A Vino da Meditazione is something you sip at the end of a meal, not because you need anything else to drink or to eat, not because you should (although who is to say you shouldn’t?), but because you can. It’s a wine sipped purely for pleasure, on its own, or with a nut or a sliver of cheese merely to remind the drinker that it’s wine, and therefore inherently better with food. Madeira comes to mind, Marsala, Port. Dry red wine is possible as well, I’ve heard, but only if it’s old. A romp-y young red will never fit the bill, nor will a zesty, crisp white.

As someone with an interest in how wines pair with situations, I believe no time could be better than the present to reach for a wine of meditation. We’ve been dealt a blow so tough that words fail, and yet all we encounter are words: words of anger, frustration, fear, heart-break, words on Facebook, words in the news, words streaming out of the mouths of friends and loved ones, words atop signs protesting the election of Donald Trump. I’m not suggesting that the words should cease (obviously, I’m writing), but that it’s time to seek out that Vino da Meditazione, to spend some moments in silence, or in peaceful conversation with people whose opinions you value, reflecting on how this happened to our country, and … yes it sounds cliché … relishing the moment because it is all we have, now more than ever.

For the past few months, I — like many — read obsessively about the election. Most mornings I’d start with the New Yorker over coffee and breakfast, then tote it to the gym and get the pages all sweaty, immersed in articles about the alt-right, about Republican distaste for our president elect, about how the Democratic party alienated the White Working Class, and on and on. I’d finish my day this way, too, alone, with a hodgepodge of leftovers in front of me, maybe a glass of leftover sample wine in my hand, maybe just some water. Like many, I’ve never been as politically engaged as I was this election.

One of the most interesting and personally upsetting articles I read dealt with a group of people the New Yorker refers to as “cosmopolitan élite,” pitting them educationally, socio-economically, philosophically, against the “white working class.” Am I a cosmopolitan élite? I asked myself this question time and again, and am still asking it now, and I don’t enjoy the direction these mental peregrinations take me because they implicate me and almost everyone I know in this national crisis.

I grew up in rural North Carolina; my dad was a southern, white, working class man who had guns, mildly racist attitudes, and who I’m fairly sure would have gotten a kick out of Donald Trump, though my mom would never have allowed him to vote accordingly. My mom spent the majority of her life educating and providing social services to hispanic immigrants, helping them to have better lives in America. I grew up in a liberal, academic family. I went to Quaker school, where multiculturalism and tolerance were features of the education. My grandparents marched in the first Civil Rights demonstrations in Chapel Hill in the 1950s. A mixture of beliefs shaped my early life, but my father’s mild conservatism was far outweighed by my mother’s liberalism.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn for the past nine years; I travel to Europe regularly; I speak French, I have two useless college degrees. I wept with joy when Barak Obama was elected in both 2008 and in 2012, just as I wept on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday, and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of this week, last night even. But as New York has become increasingly wealthy, a city of cosmopolitan élite, I’ve become increasingly alienated. Progressive, liberal attitudes hole up in this city, feeding off one another, fanning the flame of cultural and intellectual snobbery and superiority, and I believe this is where our downfall has been. It was staggering the number of times I heard, last Tuesday night, watching Trump make a clean sweep of virtually every “battleground state” including my own state of origin “why can’t New York be its own country?” or “I’m moving; I can’t live here”. Virtually every American with me that night was a battleground state ex-pat: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and I hate to say it, but we are part of the problem. We left our home states to come to a place where people think like us. It wasn’t until Thursday that I heard a single person say “nah we need to stay here and make it better.”

What does this have to do with wine? Essentially nothing; it’s a tenuous connection at best. I’m proposing that for every hour you spend cruising Facebook, either brawling with people who think differently, or engaged in large scale sympathy banter, you spend an hour away from the media, either thinking, or speaking to friends about why and what next. Break away from the screen, the newspaper, the talking heads, and find a meditative moment to be thankful for what you have. It’s easier said then done.

Columbu Malvasia di Bosa from Sardinia might be the ultimate Vino da Meditazione.

Columbu Malvasia di Bosa from Sardinia might be the ultimate Vino da Meditazione.

On a brighter note: it turns out MFW has lots of Vini da Meditazioni, and I would be more than happy to suggest one to accompany your election hangover. Malvasia di Bosa from Colombu and Silvio Carta Vernaccia di Oristano come to mind … But today I’m writing about one specific Vino da Meditazione: Golden Cluster Sémillon. I chose this wine because the place that gave birth to it, the David Hill Vineyard in Forrest Grove Oregon, is meditative, because when I went there in June, the vineyard itself evoked the fascinating, creative things humans do in pursuit of beauty and meaning. The David Hill Vineyard, a monopole of the David Hill Winery, which produces cheap grocery store wine, is simultaneously a place of striking ambiance, of peaceful breezes rustling the vine leaves as you meander between rows of different exotic grape varieties planted by ampelographer Charles Coury in the 1960s. There’s a bizarre duality to this place.ebdb5a7d-0494-4992-a604-c173b5e0b2f8

It’s an interesting story: Golden Cluster comes from three rows of vines planted in 1965 by Charles Coury, a graduate of UC Davis who, it is speculated, was looking to prove his masters thesis on growing grapes in cool climates. The rootstock came from the Wente vineyard in California, whence Kalin Sémillon, undoubtedly the most lauded domestic example of this grape. Grown at 550 meters altitude on laurel wood and basalt soils, these are some of the oldest vines in the state of Oregon. In fact, Coury planted the vineyard to many grape varieties from all over the world, notably Germany, Burgundy, and Alsace. Although grapes have been cultivated in Oregon since the 1840s, the 1960s mark the rebirth of the Oregon wine trade, and this vineyard was a sort of blank slate on which to paint the next stage.


This is the Ode to Chuck bottling, which seems more new wood than the “regular” Sémillon, a 140 liter Chablis barrel charred long and slow.

Enter Jeff Vejr, a restaurateur and renaissance man who became fascinated by Charles Coury’s legacy. As we understand it, Jeff made an arrangement with the present owners of the vineyard to purchase three rows of Sémillon for this wine. He then brought back the brand Coury had created in the 1970s called “Golden Cluster.” The wine is raised in neutral French oak of which 5% is new. It is unfined and unfiltered, and Vejr waits an additional year after bottling to release the wine. He also recommends decanting for best results, and we can see why. As with many profound white wines, it’s best with air, and at cellar rather than refrigerator temperature.22a2a33e-0cdb-4197-8962-931ca090c7b0

Despite its texture, this is not a rich wine in terms of alcohol, weighing in at 12.5%. Redolent of the outside of a pineapple or mango, preserved lemon, beeswax, with notes of honey creeping in with air, it has mellow but persistent acidity, and a silken texture. The wine has glorious length and depth of flavor. I don’t have a ready comparison. Then again it’s been some years since I tasted Kalin Sémillon. I do know that I love this wine, that it’s one of the few this past year that takes me immediately to a time and place, to a couple of individuals: Charles Coury but also Jeff Vejr, who wanted to make something profound out of these vines that were going into cheap grocery store wine.

I drank this wine with Dafne Sanchez, a friend from North Carolina, a Mexican-American woman more than 10 years my junior, the daughter of one of my mother’s best friends. We talked about lots of things, but mostly we talked about the election, about people who think differently, about whether there’s a possibility she’ll be deported apropos of our new president (it seems unlikely — she’s too far into the immigration process), about her fear of hate crimes in Greensboro, where she’s a German language and literature student, about the lack of trust in her fellow man she now feels walking down the street. It’s comforting to live in the liberal bubble of New York, where you can be fairly certain everyone you know is grieving and/or pissed as hell, but it’s imperative now more than ever to connect with people in the rest of the country, to seek out some kind of unity in these divisive times.

Almost a year ago, around the time I tasted Ruppert-Leroy’s first sans soufre experiment called Fosse-Grely Autrement, I vowed not to do a full-on write up of the domaine, on the grounds that Bert Celce had pretty much said it all. This post isn’t so much about Ruppert-Leroy, as it is about selling Ruppert-Leroy in New York. Perhaps because we are so heavily inundated with election coverage and verbiage these days, my mission to put these wines in restaurants and shops has begun to feel like a campaign. I’ve campaigned more diligently for this producer than I’ve ever campaigned in my wholesale career, because I love the wines, because what they represent in the context of Champagne is fascinating, and because when I needed some righteous juice to bring me back to caring about Wine (rather than just working in Wine), Ruppert-Leroy was there for me. By this I mean only that any career, no matter how much one enjoys it, begins at some point to feel like just-a-job, and the perfect antidote is to take up the cause of something one believes in.

Ecstatic me with Emmanuel Ruppert after our April visit.

Ecstatic me with Emmanuel Ruppert after our April visit.

I began selling Champagne not as a rep, but as the manager of a retail store: Chambers Street Wines. Whether or not I was good at it, I certainly wasn’t very practical. I bought the wines that moved me, wrote about them for the newsletter, put them in people’s hands on the sales floor, and called it a day. From time to time, particularly looking down the barrel of the 4th Quarter, I put some effort into finding Champagnes that were farmed well and relatively inexpensive ($60 and under on the shelf), and came up with Laherte Ultradition, Tarlant Brut Zero, and sometimes more avant garde bottlings like Bulles de Comptoir from Charles Duffour. For the most part it was pretty easy; my enthusiasm was enough to sell some wine.

Wholesale is completely different. First you must convince the customer to taste Champagne with you when they may not be looking for it (and in my experience most wholesale customers are not looking for Champagne on a regular basis). Then you must convince the customer to spend their money on something relatively expensive and unknown on the grounds of an exceptional and unique flavor profile that is the polar opposite of what most people think of when they think of Champagne (more on this later). Finally you have to get them so excited about the wine that they don’t balk at the prospect of hand selling every bottle, because wines like this are a hand sell 95 out of 100 times. It’s not so easy.

In the vineyard.

In the vineyard.

It’s almost humorous how many Ruppert-Leroy samples I’ve ordered over the past two months. It’s certainly humorous — though not necessarily good — that restaurants looking for value reds for their by-the-glass programs are instead getting Ruppert-Leroy when I darken their doors for my appointments. I’ve taken these wines out on so many occasions of late that I can recite our sevenfifty entries virtually verbatim. How does this happen? Well for one thing, each time I take the wines out I miss somebody, another preferred customer or two, or three, who I feel can’t live another day, week, month, without experiencing the magic of Ruppert-Leroy. And so I plan another day, and order another set of samples. It’s a bit unusual to do this with Champagne because the samples are costly (so hopefully my bosses won’t be pissed if/when they read this post), but also because it’s rare to sell a lot of Champagne when you show it because Champagne is expensive, and it’s harder to sell expensive wine than to sell cheap wine unless the expensive wine is made by some fancy, extra-big-deal, allocated estate, in which case you’re not taking it out anyway because it’s all sold without “wasting” a sample. Whew. Make sense? Showing Champagne can be somewhat of a lost cause. After a day in the roll-y bag, the wine is warm and the bubbles gone, but fortunately if it’s vineyard-forward Champagne such as Ruppert-Leroy, even the still, warm juice tastes amazing.

Tiny sign, very un-Champenois.

Tiny sign, very un-Champenois.

My most useful observation about selling these wines in New York has been that they seem to fit better at restaurants than at most shops. I have a few theories about this. The first is that they are food wines: savory, sapid, unapologetically dry, prone to opening up gorgeously over a couple of hours (this doesn’t mean decant them; please don’t decant them), and so intense that to drink them as a casual aperitif would seem to do the wine and the drinker a disservice. But additionally, in the restaurant context, a conversation almost always takes place between the server or the sommelier, and the guest, which means that the opportunity to explain these wines — even if just a sentence or two — is built into the experience. In a shop, some of the bottles need to sell themselves, without conversation, solely on the grounds of label or reputation, which is why Veuve Cliquot and Moët et Chadon, Billecart Salmon and Laurent Perrier maintain their shelf spaces even when every employee of the shop understands that these are not particularly good wines. We can’t just sell great wine all the time, in any branch of the trade. Sometimes we have to be practical, and I don’t fault my retailers for allowing pragmatism to guide them. That said, my appreciation for those retailers who take a chance on Ruppert-Leroy knows no bounds.

Who is Ruppert-Leroy? Ruppert-Leroy is a small, organic estate located outside the village of Essoyes in the Aube, a region several hours by car south of Epernay. The Aube is known for its kimmeridgean limestone soils, and has over the past decade risen to hipster popularity thanks to the efforts of producers like Cédric Bouchard, Vouette et Sorbée, and Marie-Courtin, to name just a few. Ruppert-Leroy is the combined effort of Bénédicte Ruppert, and Emmanuel Leroy. Bénédicte Ruppert’s father Gérard started the domaine in the 1970s, and in the mid-2000s, Bénédicte and her husband Emmanuel Ruppert decided to leave their previous careers as gym teachers to take up the reigns at the estate. Though the vines (planted in the ’70s) had long been tended organically, there was no certification until Bénédicte and Emmanuel took over, harvesting for the first time in 2010.

View from the bridge in downtown Essoyes.

View from the bridge in downtown Essoyes.

Emmanuel and Bénédicte farm three vineyards, all more or less cordoned off by woods (this would never happen in the north of Champagne) called Fosse-Grely, Martin-Fontaine, and Les Cognaux. Lush with plant life and dandelions, which they incorporate into tisanes for treating mildew, each vineyard boasts a different varietal makeup and soil type. Fosse-Grely is limestone with red clay, co-planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Martin-Fontaine is white limestone planted to Chardonnay, and Les Cognaux is gray clay and tiny sea shells over limestone, planted to Pinot Noir. The domaine is about four hectares in total.

Fosse-Grely juice.

Fosse-Grely juice.

In the cellar, the processes are really very simple: the juice is pressed, then it is transferred to stainless steel vat, then it is transferred to neutral barrel to ferment with indigenous yeast where rests sur lie for some months before bottling, or returning to storage in tank. The second fermentation takes place over several years comme d’habitude, and then the wine is disgorged without dosage. (Quick note here: as is the case with many Champagnes from the Aube, there is no place for dosage. The grapes are harvested ripe, and the addition of sugar would be extraneous, like frosting on a pie.)

Breath-taking 2013 Martin-Fontaine.

Breath-taking 2013 Martin-Fontaine.

In 2013, Emmanuel and Bénédicte stopped using sulfur completely, and regardless of one’s feelings about Champagne without sulfur (mine are mixed), results in the case of Ruppert-Leroy have been excellent. The manifestations of sans soufre Champagne-making are (in my opinion) as follows: base wines virtually always undergo malolactic fermentation because preventing it and keeping it at bay requires a minimum of 60-70 milligrams of SO2. The finished wine is darker in the glass due to a faint oxidation that isn’t particularly apparent on the palate. There are incredibly expressive flavors on the nose, mid-palate, and finish, flavors that are clipped by sulfur in most Champagne. In the case of Fosse-Grely, it’s a succulent grape-iness; in the case of Martin-Fontaine, it’s broad Chablis-like apple, pêche des vignes, and sweet lime; in the case of Les Cognaux, it’s ripe raspberries and tart cherries, seeds, pits and all. And so what I mean when I say these wines have atypical flavors is that they are not toasty; they are not yeasty; they are not searingly acidic from blocked malo; they are not chalky; they are not sweet from dosage. The wines taste like limestone, earth, and fruit, and no matter how much I hate the expression “like Chablis with bubbles”, I find myself using it to describe these wines.

Having spent many paragraphs now on the domaine itself, which I vowed not to do, I’ll return to my statement that what Ruppert-Leroy represents in the context of Champagne is fascinating. We began calling Emmanuel Ruppert the “DIY King” of Essoyes because he built his house and winery out of hand-harvested logs. When we went to visit in April, Bénédicte was toiling in their large and impressive garden. There were sheep everywhere, and horses (one even joined us in the barrel room for our vin clair tasting). This is an sustainable farm. There are no fancy shoes; there’s no giant sign visible from the road advertising the domaine; there are no master blenders; there are no branding and marketing strategists, no export manager. These are the kind of people I’m used to meeting in the Loire Valley, or in the Jura, but rarely encounter in Champagne. They are farmers, and pretty much everything they’ve created from their humble abode to the wines themselves is a hand made extension of themselves and their philosophy. Now this is something worth campaigning for.

There are a couple of memories that linger from my first interview with Jamie Wolff of Chambers Street Wines. The sweaty late summer day having its way with some cheap maroon-ish fabrics from Anthropology. The sudden chill of the air conditioning. My overuse of the phrase “wealth of knowledge.” That Jamie asked if I sometimes wished wine didn’t have alcohol in it. What a bizarre question for the owner of the best wine shop in America to pose! The reply must be a truism “then it wouldn’t be wine!” Alcohol is an integral component; there would be no flavor of wine — not to mention far less conviviality — if wine didn’t contain booze.

I’ve been coming back to that moment with Jamie of late because I’m a little sick of alcohol, which for me means wine; hangovers have become intolerable both physically and psychologically, and — truth be told — I really like not drinking. Yeah. It’s a problem. But I still love wine! Not drinking wine makes drinking it even better, rarer, and therefore more delicious. Restraint and self-denial have their place heightening enjoyment like a judicious touch of volatile acidity. I usually console myself in these ponderings with some kick-ass ice cream and thoughts such as ‘meh. this is my fate, especially as a woman, to respect the necessity of calming down, cleansing, protecting my brain and my body, taking care of my health, consuming less booze, spitting more, swallowing less.’

It’s also the atmosphere. Serious wine drinking tends to come along with boisterous wine conversation and gossip, which is highly amusing (if you’re in on the joke), but when you talk about it all day long, sometimes at the end of the day it’s nice to chat about that local sports team or the latest New Yorker. And yet, cracking jokes about the Cul de Beaujeau, whole cluster, pyrazine struggles, what have you with fellow tipsy nerds is usually a side-splitting blast. We’ve gotten tons of mileage out of whether or not it’s acceptable to use having-one’s-hair-cut-by-a-relative-of-Christophe-Roumier as a selling point in an email blast. Getting animated about reduction, dosage, and sulfur is also pretty fun, but not in mixed company. In all things, balance must be found; Wine People (myself included) seem to forget that it’s healthy to cultivate interests outside of wine, also to drink things that aren’t wine.

It turns out that beverage geekery is hard to let go of, which is why as my drinking has decreased over the past few years I’ve gotten excited about some other liquids of terroir and process. The first is obviously coffee. Thus I present: “Coffee: A Wine Lover’s Guide”.

Coffee shares a lot with wine: a sense of place, the concept of varietal, the importance of high quality fruit, the difference processing makes, the rise of small importers, coffee cupping, which is sort of like wine tasting with little score sheets. Hell, coffee is even fermented! (The cherry around the bean.) There are also enormous differences between wine and coffee: coffee is produced in the third world; the economics are different; coffee commerce is contractual, often planned many months or years ahead. Crucially, much of coffee processing takes place on the state-side, at the roaster and cafe level, which radically changes the consumer’s experience. It’s not pulling a cork and busting out a casual carafe. (Incidentally, I cautiously recommend the movie “Barista” by the directors of “Somm” … if you enjoyed “Somm” that is.)

Coffee trends have evolved alongside wine trends, although I have the impression coffee is 5-10 years behind wine. In the golden era of Starbucks, the coffee was inky black and over-roasted. To make this sludge potable, you needed to add cream and sugar … or at least cream. This kind of coffee tastes good with pastries, doughnuts, sweet breakfast foods, the bitter cutting the sweet. (Incidentally the French also enjoy dark, bitter coffee, and what better pairing than the standard French breakfast of bread, butter, and jam? Unfortunately lots of French coffee is made from low quality robusta, rather than arabica beans. Robusta beans contain more caffeine, which accounts for that delightful jittery feeling you get at around 10 in the morning when all you’ve had is atrocious French coffee and sweet breakfast foods.) Coffees with this taste profile are like the wines that rose to prominence during Robert Parker’s era, when consumers bowed at the alter of Big Flavor. Analogously, big wines often have a convenient sense of sweetness that marries nicely with American food. We don’t actually go for foods that are 100% savory. We like our meats with some fruit, our pizza with some pineapple, our salad with a little sun-dried tomato. Wine that is totally dry doesn’t work with foods that are kissed by sweetness.

Fortunately for us consummate beverage snobs, styles have changed. Single origin coffees — like wines — have gotten considerably more elegant, and are readily available all over New York. Unfortunately, as wealthy a city as New York has become, consumers are rarely willing to pay for a very good cup of coffee, a geisha, a prized micro-lot. Geeks will seek out these unicorn coffees, but most will balk at paying in excess of $5 for a cup, and even $5 seems like a lot to most people. I’m not saying that coffee should be expensive, rather that I’d relish the opportunity to pay a few dollars more for something truly exquisite. Also unfortunately, cafe food trends are a little behind, and even cafes grinding up righteous beans and hiring experienced baristas, muddle along with their cold cases of muffins and danishes. (Let me tell you that a lively coffee from Yirgachefe pairs abysmally with a muffin; it’s like drinking Laval with sweet potatoes and a maple glazed pork loin.)

I’ll insert here a little note about the kinds of foods I like to eat with light roasted, terroir coffee: scrambled eggs with sriracha, avocado toast with feta, pastries with spinach or green vegetables inside, even a bagel with smoked salmon pair better with a cup of terroir coffee than a muffin. Back in the winter my roommate Susannah, who works in wine but used to manage a retailer specializing in both wine and coffee, got all up in arms about the fact that there are no cafes in New York offering chickpea samosas. It sounds like a lot to ask, but a chickpea samosa would be fantastic with an African coffee.

This brings me to my next point: Wine People love African coffee. It’s something about the bright, herbal, and fruit forward profile of Ethiopian coffee that channels our inner Pineau D’Aunis lover. And Kenya? Well that savory tomato thing is quite Sangiovese like, isn’t it? African coffee lends itself well to light roasting, which is obviously very popular these days. Light roasting aligns nicely with concepts of terroir and anti-spoof (No charred oak … or beans!). Many of the best natural process coffees are Ethiopian. (“Natural” in this contexts refers to the practice of leaving the whole cherry to dry around the bean, as opposed to washing or removing the (get ready for this fun coffee word) mucilage some other way. Natural process coffee and natural wine provide convenient comparison, and it’s uncanny how much the blueberry poop funk of natural Ethiopian coffee can resemble the reduction of natural Ardèche Syrah.)

Parlor has great packaging.

Parlor has great packaging.

While the roaster isn’t everything, the roaster has the power to make or break your experience with a cup of coffee. I recommend finding a roaster whose style you like, and drinking across the origins they work with. Parlor Coffee has been doing a great job in New York, and their African coffees are some of my favorites. They may be the epitome of a hipster roaster, but Parlor sources excellent beans and roasts them well. Their style is light-handed and acid-driven with an emphasis on purity. Even though I most often drink their African coffees, Parlor also has a line on some amazing Colombian micro-lots, which remind me of Burgundies in their ability to be densely packed with fruit flavor, deep, dark, and suave, yet never ponderous or heavy.

George Howell is taking the New York coffee scene by storm.

George Howell is taking the New York coffee scene by storm.

This is George Howell. Based in Boston, George Howell appears to be on the rise in in New York (I’ve seen Rouge Tomate posting Howell coffees, and we all know if there’s one Manhattan restaurant geeking out about bean sourcing it’s RT), and I’ve so far been impressed by the beans I’ve picked up at Marlow and Sons recently. Incidentally, Marlow is one of the best local places to shop for coffee, to drink coffee, and to eat savory snacks; their coffee counter is always laden with gougères, mini-quiches, and such. (They have yet to offer a chickpea samosa.) Posting up at Marlow is a unique delight because I don’t have to drink wine, which means it’s barely even work! They clearly take coffee seriously, and I trust their wine director John Connelly equally to pick me out good beans as to pick me out a tasty Gamay. My observation based on only a tiny sampling is that George Howell extracts more bass notes from their African coffees than Parlor, and gives less emphasis to the lean, ethereal, herbal notes these coffees often have.

Finally I’ll take a moment to talk about Spectrum. Spectrum was started earlier this year by my ex-boyfriend Jay Murdock, who is the primary reason I became interested in coffee, and was the early source of all my transcendental experiences with this beverage. When I started at Chambers Street many moons ago, Jay was managing Kaffe 1668, a once great coffee shop that has since slid off the quality coffee radar due to the greed and incompetence of its owners. As vivid as the memory of drinking Vincent Laval’s Cumières for the first time, is the recollection of my first Yirgachefe, its aromas of lemon grass and jasmine wafting from the paper cup as I walked down Greenwich Street on a crisp, fall day.

Over the course of his career, Jay has done pretty much everything in the coffee trade short of importing green coffee. He’s roasted, competed in barista competitions, opened multiple cafes, consulted for some of the busiest cafes in the city, and now he’s schnooking his own beans! I like to support Jay because of our history, but also because I believe he’s an inspired coffee professional who is doing a fantastic job. His first coffee was Indonesian — Sulawesi as I recall, which is surprising because we don’t actually see much Indonesian coffee in these parts. The processing in Indonesia is less clean than in Africa and South America, and finding high quality green coffees from these islands is challenging. Before Jay picked his first coffee, he solicited samples of “spot” coffees from all the green coffee importers he had relationships with, cupped them blind with his colleagues, and picked the Indonesian. (A “spot” coffee can be purchased immediately, without a contract.) The coffees are dark, funky, and earthy, like old school Châteauneuf-du-Pape with more than a hint of bret. They stand up well to dairy.

Some local guys roasting in Red Hook.

Some local guys roasting in Red Hook.

The coffee I’ve grown fond of recently from Spectrum is this Costa Rica. Jay seeks a darker style than Parlor, which works particularly well for this hazelnut-y and less-fruit forward coffee. It’s got Christmas spice notes, and reminds me of putting my nose in a cedar chest.

There are many other very good roasters to experiment with. These are merely three that have been on my mind (and in my Hario V60 dripper) recently. I’m sure I’ll circle back to wine before long, but in the meantime it’s nice to have another beverage to write about, one that pairs with my favorite time of day, which is morning.



“Friends don’t let friends drink Sauvignon Blanc.” I used to say this, and mean it. This is a grape variety more offensive in its varietal character than Malbec, as ubiquitous in the summer months as Provençal rosé, and bearing the same sweet and sour, laboratory yeast and sulfur-juice notes that make our heads hurt and our palates rebel at first sip. This has historically been my attitude toward Sauvignon Blanc, and I haven’t been particularly quiet about it.

When Savvy B comes up in conversation, the interlocutor almost invariably probes my unequivocal distaste for this grape by asking the following question: “But what about (insert any/all of the following) Vatan, Cotat, Dagueneau, Clos Roche Blanche, Chavignol?” To this uncreative yet nonetheless valid recalcitrant case construction, I reply that I love Vatan, and Clos Roche Blanche, that I’m happy to taste Cotat and Dagueneau given the opportunity, and that Chavignol is undoubtedly a Great Terroir. So, yes, there are Great Wines made of Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, I’ve often had a sort of “it’s me, not you” attitude toward this grape. Most of the really good examples of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé that I’m supposed to like, I still don’t like. It’s almost exactly the way I feel about female vocalists. There are a couple I like, but in general, sonically, I don’t like the sound of female voices raised in song. This is clearly my problem. In wine, as in music, there’s very little that’s objectively true; our opinions are just that: matters of taste.

Enter 2016, a year of remarkable open-mindedness, enjoyment of being wrong, and subsequent overhauling of opinion. I’m thrilled to report that the wine I’m most excited about in the MFW portfolio at this moment is not a sous voile Savagnin (though we have one, and it’s stunning), nor is it a Brut Nature Champagne (we have those too, also sensational), but rather a Sauvignon Blanc from Oregon.


Ladies and gentlemen: Scott Frank.

But let me start from the beginning, at Bow and Arrow. One sunny afternoon in late June I found myself in Scott Frank’s winery in Portland. We’d been out wandering the Johan vineyard and had returned to the winery to taste Scott’s most recent creations out of tank and barrel. As we got started, Scott said something I can’t remember verbatim, but to the effect of “Sophie, I know you’re going to laugh at me; I made two different Sauvignon Blancs, and they are the best wines I’ve ever made.”

Now, I am fortunate to enjoy an honest and genuine rapport with Scott, which dates back to my time doing national sales for Selection Massale, when he often didn’t have much to go on in formulating his orders except my word, and the track record of the winemaker. In our current mode, I sell wines that he makes, rather than him selling wines that I represented (as was our arrangement at this time, last year), and we continue to understand one another quite well. The last time he told me “this is the best __ I’ve ever made,” he was speaking about the 2014 Hughes Hollow Pinot Noir, from a vineyard he’d blended into his basic Pinot until it began to show so well he felt obliged to bottle it separately. The wine is fantastic. This is a roundabout way of saying when Scott says something, I listen.

As he dribbled wine into our glasses from the pipette, he began to explain that he’d been inspired by Marc Deschamps in Pouilly-Fumé to make a ripe, barrel fermented, barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc. He told me later in email “this results in a more meditative wine with aromas and flavors you don’t typically find in the “International” style you now find dominating the market.” He’s not alone in believing that when Sauvignon Blanc gets ripe, it sheds its fruitiness (and with that all the grapefruit and grass and gooseberry and cat pee and lemon/lime tang we associate with this grape), and takes on more savory character. He calls it a “textural” style, and tasting the wine I knew what he meant. The alcohol is higher than the standard 12% for Savvy B from the Loire Valley, and of course the wood lends a further textural component.

We didn’t speak about this in reference to Sauvignon Blanc, rather in reference to Melon de Bourgogne, but allowing the wine to go through malolactic fermentation also makes a big difference. Clearly the malo itself will change the character of the wine, making it richer and more lactic be it butter or cream, but additionally when the malolactic fermentation is blocked with sulfur, this will influence the resultant wine. As I understand it, to stabilize a wine without malo, to keep it from potentially undergoing malo in the bottle (not good), you need at least 60-70 parts per million of SODeux. While this isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, it’s a perceptible amount, enough to give the wine that mouth-coating aspirin flavor that mingles with the wine’s acidity and minerality. I’d go so far as to say that most of the classic French Sauvignon Blanc we taste is made this way, with shrill acidity that many people like, and sulfur masquerading as minerality. bow and arrow sav blanc

But I digress. We tasted two 2015 Sauvignon Blancs that day. The first was from Union School, a vineyard in the southern Willamette Valley composed of alluvial clay soil from the Missoula Flood (Oregonian winemakers love to talk about the Missoula Flood). This wine is raised 80% in barrel (fermentation and aging, 30% new), and 20% in stainless steel. After crush, the juice is left to macerate on the skins for 48 hours. The result is a rich, expressive wine with notes of black tea, lemon cream, pineapple, waxy lanolin, not a grapefruit or a gooseberry to be found.

It wasn’t until the second Savvy B that Scott’s points about ripeness and texture really came to fruition. Called “La Chênaie” (spelling?), the wine is from Eola-Amity, a terroir that promotes even more ripeness and a bit of botrytis.  The wine was extremely savory with notes of beeswax and cashew. It’s a totally atypical expression of Sauvignon Blanc, and one that should be cherished. I can’t wait to drink a bottle or two of this wine once it arrives.

The wine that actually inspired this post is 2014 Minimus Sauvignon Blanc SM1 from the Stella Maris vineyard in Applegate Valley. A couple of weeks ago, apropos of customer requests, I took out a lineup from Minimus. For those unfamiliar, Minimus is the experimental project of Chad Stock, a fascinating and eccentric winemaker with experience in many sectors of the industry, and certainly a gift to the trade. The Minimus wines are wild. They are never the same, because Chad doesn’t repeat his experiments. They are wines that are thrilling to try, thought-provoking and cerebral, and yet not always wines I want to drink a bottle of. Chad and his business partner David make three brands: Omero (a sort of monopole; their entry level brand), Minimus (Chad’s experimental wines, the notes from which he plans to compile into a book about winemaking), and finally Origin (the highest end, concept pieces that focus on single terroirs, clones, and more subtle aspects of winemaking). The Minimus wines are the most unusual, but all are very well-crafted, and 2015 Omero Pinot Gris is a wine that has occupied a small slot in the back of my mind for two months, now, popping into the forefront every few weeks to provoke an email to my bosses asking when the wine will arrive.

Rock'n'roll label.

Rock’n’roll label.

Like Scott’s, Chad’s is a ripe expression of Sauvignon Blanc. It sees a four day long maceration on the stems and skins with the idea of extracting green qualities from the stems (not to be confused with the “green qualities” that attend less ripe, grassy Sauvignon Blanc). Chad explained his decision-making this way: “With all of my wines I try to balance out the fruit components with savory, reductive, earthy, green, and/or bitter elements to provide a counter point to the fruit. I also like my whites to be tannic and structured which I achieve with this technique.” This is not an orange wine, by any means, but it is a phenolic wine, a wine with a deep sensation of skin and stem. It’s 14.8% alcohol, but has beautiful, mellow acidity. I find the true genius of Chad’s creations to show on the mid-palate and finish. If the front end of this wine is savory, green, and phenolic, the back end seems to reach yet another dimension of flavor that includes rich, ripe stone fruits that dance across the cheeks and the back of the mouth. I thought about this wine with every sip, and for days afterward, like a craving. I raved about it to all who would listen. It brought a smile to my face and a surge of energy and enthusiasm to my work. As the voices of Janis Joplin and PJ Harvey may not be right for Taylor Swift listeners, this wine will not be for everyone, but for me it was a revelation.

Also awaiting Chad's 2015 Johan Vineyard Gruner Veltliner with bated breath ...

Also awaiting Chad’s 2015 Johan Vineyard Gruner Veltliner with bated breath …

And so the utter transformation of a person who councils friends against drinking Sauvignon Blanc, to a person who says to them “you must try this; it will blow your mind.”

In my mind, when I left for North Carolina two weeks ago, I was going to have at least one or two mornings of down time in which to collect and regurgitate to the page a few of my experiences in Portland. I even brought my little notebook with me in order to be prepared for this eventuality. I had all these ideas bouncing around about how free winemakers in Oregon are, images of Chad Stock and his epic grafting project, of Jeff Vejr and his intense study of the historic David Hill vineyard, of Kris and Steven from Analemma and their sparkling wine vocation, the list goes on … In my mind when I left for North Carolina, part of me was still out there helping Scott Frank bottle Bow and Arrow Gamay. I wanted to tell so many stories!

Nicked one of these labels from Scott's winery.

Nicked one of these labels from Scott’s winery.

It didn’t happen, or it hasn’t happened yet. What happened instead was that day after day for almost two weeks, beginning first thing in the morning, and ending when we were so totally spent and grimy that all we could do was pile into the back of the pickup truck, beers in hand, and head for a neighbor’s pool, a motley assortment of friends and loved ones and I worked on my parent’s house.


View from the back.

In advance, I was incapable of being positive about this experience, and instead cultivated a train of thought learned from my dad along the lines of “create abysmal expectations, be pleasantly surprised.” My house in North Carolina was built over the course of 30 years out of repurposed lumber from my dad’s construction jobs. My parent’s never threw away anything, and in addition to the house proper, there’s a massive barn, a carport, a non functional hot tub, a play house turned goat shed; there’s even a catamaran up in the yard that has been totally subsumed by ivy and shrubbery such that it’s barely visible.

The house is on a country road outside the town of Saxapahaw. It is at the end of a long muddy driveway, and cannot be seen from the road. There’s no mailbox, and the directions I gave visitors as a young person (pre-Google) ended with “go a quarter of a mile past the intersection and turn left at the bent post.” This is my patrimony.


Those shiny brass candlesticks were gray when we found them in the barn. They look nice with the batik table cloth …

My parents had lots of friends. I invited about 60 to my dad’s memorial and 100 came. They had parties all throughout my childhood, and my mom had no qualms about feeding 10, 20, 30 people of ages varying from 3 to 90. This is where I learned to love wine, in theory if not in practice: watching my parents eat and drink and laugh with their friends. We also had many house guests, squatters who stayed so long they became closer than family. Sometimes we called the place “Ramshackle”; other times we called it “Margaret and Bobby’s Home for Wayward Men”.

We filled a 30 yard long dumpster with junk and made a giant burn pile, which we torched on a 100 degree day, and kept slowly fizzling until it was a pile of embers, still warm and smoking three days later. There were new discoveries constantly: my dad’s gun collection, booklets of valuable old coins, cabinet after dusty cabinet of tiny coffee mugs — 10 sets in total if not more! (Be forewarned, New York friends: you’re all getting decorative platters from Saxapahaw for Christmas this year.) There were also things of mine: the letters and emails I wrote to my parents during my study abroad semester, reams of college papers and stories from when I was smart and creative, photos I’d forgotten about eons ago. One day I’ll make an album, or maybe a book of letters telling a story … the story of my young life as the only child of two gregarious, hippie intellectuals in rural North Carolina.

North Carolina beaches are awesome, by the way.

North Carolina beaches are awesome, by the way.

So many life lessons in such a short period of time. I learned — right away on the 4th of July when two friends I hadn’t seen in years pulled up the driveway totally unannounced to lend their hands and skills — that I am not as alone as I’d thought. The loneliness that inflected my last post faded away as I sank into the bosom of my greater North Carolina family. It’s a soft place full of kind, genuine people who seem to care unconditionally because they loved my parents, and I am what’s left. And yet it’s not a cloying place because sarcasm still drips from the leaves and branches, permeating the air with its tang. It’s a verdant, lush, green place, almost as rainy as the jungle and equally warm. It’s a comforting place I can be without pretense, without makeup, without adorning my sentences with lingo and bullshit, without the veneer New York has given me.

As always in North Carolina, I answered a lot of questions about what I do for a living. One friend had learned the word “schnook” from reading this blog, and had semi-successfully employed it in conversation! I was tickled. Over a table covered with pottery of various types, I realized what a sales person I’ve become as I pawned off sets of tableware on people: “I can’t even believe you’re contemplating starting a catering business without this massive salsa themed bowl with matching three tiered condiment insert!” Or: “You are the perfect person to inherit my Margaret Ellen’s favorite cake stand; we used this all the time when I was growing up.”

And then out of the blue came: “sometimes when I hear you talk about wine, I think you live in a fake world” from the lips of someone I’ve known for over half my life and love very much. Hmm. I mean … it is a fake world with its own rules and its own parlance, its own hierarchy and customs. I tried to explain that we tolerate a high level of fake-ness in the industry in order to engage with the real-ness, which is meeting farmers and winemakers and learning about what they do, supporting them economically, bringing their wares to the parched citizens of New York. I thought about Scott Frank and his perpetual search for real amongst the fake, his quasi-obsession with the topic. It’s a quest I’d like to take up.

I learned that I’m intensely, fiercely proud of who my parents were and what they created. Once the art and posters and postcards and cobwebbed shrines had been stripped from the walls we could see the bare bones of the house my dad built, and it’s beautiful! Well … some parts are more beautiful than others. There are a several decaying decks, one of which we demolished after someone fell through trying to wash windows. And speaking of windows, we had them professionally cleaned, and by the end they were gleaming, transparent in the daytime, and perfectly reflective at night.

"People who live in glass houses should enjoy washing windows."

“People who live in glass houses should enjoy washing windows.”

The whole affair was bathed in an aura of regeneration: birth, death, and rebirth. It sounds strange, but watching the dumpster being hauled off, and torching the fire were gloriously happy moments. I’d even go so far as to say I was giddy chucking random baby pictures, moldy books, and my dad’s backlog of Fine Home Builders Digest on the fire. It was like a pagan ritual; a sacrificial copper head lost its life, its body continue to squirm and wriggle after the head had been severed. Then we smeared some ash on our faces like warriors. I’m not kidding. And while I’d love to say we roasted and ate the copper head for dinner, in fact we cleaned up and went to a fancy restaurant in Durham where we drank 2009 Marie-Noelle Ledru Cuvée Goulte. (This was great, by the way.)

Towards the end — it might have been in Willmington where I took a couple of true vacation days — I looked out over the harbor, lights bouncing off the water, the air salty, muggy, and pregnant with a torrential downpour, and thought about dining with Scott and Dana Frank at their home in Portland less than three weeks previously. We’d liberated a couple of little hot air balloons and watched them bob and meander out into the cool twilight, visible far into the distance. Scott told us they were for good luck, friendship, for the future. And who knows? Maybe they brought me some. Lots of things in life are hard and shitty, or mediocre at best. But once in awhile something happens that is so purely good and right and wonderful that it makes the struggle worthwhile.

Arnold Waldstein came to my Champagne tasting at Chambers Street a few weeks ago. He told me I was starting to sound like Anaïs Nin. Not knowing who she was, I assumed he meant something along the lines of “negative and self-involved”. Then I looked up Anaïs Nin on wikipedia, and was pleasantly surprised to find that she was a bohemian diary-ist responsible for some of literary history’s finest female erotic writing! I’m quite flattered that Arnold thought I’d make a decent erotic writer. Perhaps I’ll give it a try! (Don’t worry, not on this blog).

This is my favorite French rosé from the 2015 MFW crop. It's Gamay from Bernard Vallette in Lachassagne, the deep south of Beaujolais, not far from our now retired friend Bruno Debize.

This is my favorite French rosé from the 2015 MFW crop, strategically positioned behind a particularly erotic sandwich featuring sublime bread from High Street on Hudson. The wine is Gamay rosé from Bernard Vallette in Lachassagne, the deep south of Beaujolais, not far from our now retired friend Bruno Debize. The wine is as zesty, pure-fruited, and thirst-quenching as they come.

I’ve been on the brink of a crisis of faith with the blog for some time, recalling the emotional turmoil surrounding my dear friend Brooklynguy when he decided to stop writing, and wondering if I’m experiencing the same, loving to write but not knowing why and for whom. For a minute it looked as though my website manager (intentional over-statement here) was gone, and that eventually I wouldn’t be able to perform the minor tasks required to maintain the site. And then five years worth of useless words would just disappear into the ether in a fittingly romantic end. But it turns out he’s still around and willing to help when something goes wrong, so I won’t be closing up shop for lack of a tech savvy friend.

A nice trio of Chenins: Bertin-Delatte in Rablay-sur-Layon and Melaric in Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame. Chenin has so many faces! Look out for the Vignt-Neuf, from vines planted in '29.

A nice trio of Chenins: Bertin-Delatte in Rablay-sur-Layon and Melaric in Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame. Chenin has so many faces! Look out for the Vignt-Neuf, from vines planted in ’29. It’s positively post-coital.

My self-esteem is in bizarre limbo right now. Schnook life is fantastic for its freedom, its sociability, its basis in relationships and networking, the opportunities it affords to eat and drink well, while getting an enormous amount of exercise, thus depleting the calories inherent in eating and drinking well. But it drains the self confidence, makes me feel small and insignificant, one of half a dozen smiling faces walking in the door with something to sell. Being a buyer elevates the ego; being a schnook topples it, the nature of the beast, and I’m not complaining. This is the best gig I’ve had since leaving Chambers Street, hands down.

"What is the malaise? you ask. The malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo's ghost."

“What is the malaise? you ask. The malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.”

The malaise (to reference my new favorite novelist, Walker Percy) is not work-related. Beholding the lines on my face, I seem positively ancient; I stare at my crooked teeth in the mirror and feel hideously ugly, chastise the souls of my parents for not ponying up for braces so I could have a perfect smile like all the pretty ladies. It’s like I’m a teenager all over again, but additionally plagued by the sensation that these feelings are totally absurd for someone at the ripe age of 35 living a distinctly privileged existence! I think: let me go on a diet, or quit drinking; there must be something in my power to control. The problem with diets and tee-totaling is, of course, that eating and drinking is literally part of my job. Putain. Qu’est que je peux faire? 

Will Piper opened this bottle of 2009 Marsella Fiano for me at The Four Horsemen the other night. It was so perfectly smoky and saline, so rich, balanced, a wine that looked, smelled, and tasted half its age. I hope to mature like a fine Fiano.

Will Piper opened this bottle of 2009 Marsella Fiano for me at The Four Horsemen the other night. It was perfectly smoky and saline, rich and mouth-filling, a wine that looked, smelled, and tasted half its age. I hope to mature like a fine Fiano.

At the heart of the malaise (and this will be the most personal thing I’ve ever written on this blog) is the fact that I am now alone. I used to have a partner in crime, someone to drink Champagne and eat BLTs with (for example), and now I no longer do. And so I hearken back to a conversation with my oft-referenced Canadian friend Étienne, in the winter of this year. We were walking home from Hotel Delmano, kvetching about things that bother us in the wine world, unicorn wines, social media braggadocio, pretentiousness and snobbery; we concluded that most people have it all wrong. Happiness isn’t drinking an old Gentez, or Selosse rosé, or Vin Jaune from Pierre Overnoy, DRC, or even ’79 Clos de la Roche from Hubert Lignier (the best bottle of wine in my memory today). Vinous happiness is sharing a delicious bottle of something, over a meal, with someone you love. That’s as good as it gets (Étienne and I tipsily concluded that night). It’s going to sound preposterously cheesy, but if there’s no partner in wine-drinking crime, then there’s no point. I might as well drink water, and get up refreshed for a session of battle rap paired with senselessly competitive and scorching laps on the track. Does that make sense?

This wine instantaneously transported me to the Jura, and to happier times. It smells like cellars, the dark part of the comté cheese near the rind, the marl and clay over limestone, the tension between oxidation and purity that can only exist in the Jura. It took me through winding through memory, back years and years.

This wine instantaneously transported me to the Jura, to a malaise-free zone. It smells like cellars, the dark part of the comté cheese near the rind, the marl and clay over limestone, the tension between oxidation and purity that can only exist in this region. It took me winding through memory and back.

One thing I can do to combat the malaise is to travel, and travel I will, all the way to the west coast of the United States to learn something new about wine. I’m headed to Portland on Thursday morning to visit Scott Frank of Bow and Arrow, Kate and Tom from Division, Analemma, and more. And let me assure you that I cannot wait to digest those visits into prose. I can’t promise that I’ll bring the same bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, strong-ego-ed enthusiasm that I brought after Zev and I visited Jean-Marc Brignot, after my first stint in the cellar with Benoït Lahaye or Vincent Laval. (After all, at that time I believed people cared!) I can promise that I’ll find out what these Oregon folks are up to, and attempt to put it in the context of French winemakers and their practices.

Then I’m going to North Carolina to undertake a much harder task, a task that lingers in the back of my mind, doubtless contributing to the malaise, yet inescapable. I’ll be spending two weeks doing bricolage on my parent’s house, virtually unchanged since my father passed away almost 5 years ago, getting it ready for the next phase of its life, and in a parallel universe perhaps getting myself ready for the next phase of mine. House dealt with (wisdom teeth finally out), I’ll finally be ready to grow up! Just in time to make those numbers in the 4th quarter …

Yesterday I drank some Oregon Chardonnay; I wandered the sultry city in the first throes of summer; I poured a tasting for the rosé-thirsty inhabitants of Soho, and I took part in two rants about wine writing. Both of my interlocutors were smart women with a decade of experience in the industry who write well, who write for their jobs. These rants were different in character, yet both orbited the notion that there’s not much being written that is compelling to wine professionals, and this aggravates us. It’s an age old conversation, one that I’ve had many times with my dear friend Zach Sussman, who is a wine writer. When Zach and I started talking about the industry’s hostility toward wine writers, the idea was that he’d write about it for a widely read publication like Punch, and then finally there would be something out there of interest to the industry! But there was a sense that the topic would not be well received by his editors. (After all, it’s a bit self-undermining.) However, I’m still holding out hope that this piece gets written, because Zach would do justice to the topic.

I tell myself that the industry isn’t the audience, and confess that I don’t read about wine, with the exceptions of Bert Celce and Zach, and occasionally others when I have to for my job. My close friends in the trade rarely read this blog, and that’s fine, but apropos of this fact, if I’m becoming a hack, if I’m not saying anything of interest to my friends, I might as well either stop writing the damn thing, or try to change its identity … This was something I started thinking about at Rosenthal, and still find it’s not a bad idea. The Rosenthals weren’t too keen on me writing a wine blog while in their employment, and I toyed with the idea of changing it into a sort of lifestyle blog with occasional comments on wine. We’ll see.

The genesis of Sophie’s Glass was a car conversation with Zev Rovine, in atrocious traffic, on the outskirts of Paris about 5 years ago. Zev asked me what I ultimately wanted to do in wine, and I told him I wanted to be a writer. He responded that I should start with a blog. There was also an aspect of utility: whenever I visited a hyped producer like Ganevat, my customers at Chambers asked for my notes on the wines, and it was easier to document them in a blog that I could link to, than to rewrite the same email over and over. So those were the motivations. Now, I no longer want to be a wine writer, and notes from my winery visits circulate internally to give our company more robust and accurate information about domaines and producers. So why keep writing the blog? I like to write. It’s self indulgent, and feels good.

What I started to say pre long-digression-about-wine-writing is that these conversations with peers brought me back to questions I ask myself constantly these days: why am I doing this? After ten years in the business: what next? What is there to be excited about going forward? What is there to bring back the thrills wine brought me between the ages of 25 and 30? Tasting good juice, making sales, going to restaurants, enjoying exquisite pairings is wonderful, but it’s not enough for me; there has to be more intellectual sustenance. I say this partly because though the lifestyle looks glamorous, it’s taxing, and one has to make a concerted effort everyday to remain healthy, stable, and balanced. Drinking is exhausting; I’m sick of it and often don’t want to do it. Having to do something for work that most people do for pleasure is confusing. And frankly, though I’m okay with being a 35 year old woman in the wine business, the prospect of being a 50 year old woman in the wine business doesn’t thrill me. Being rational and pragmatic, I try to conjure an image of a future in the trade that would work for me, and plan to try to ensure it happens.


Pouring Division-Villages Beton and Rosé “L’Aviron” on a hot night in Soho.

One sure fire way to remain engaged in the industry, coming up with positive responses to the questions “why” and “what next” is to learn about new winemaking places. Inspiration comes when you least expect it, and from the most unlikely sources. Just going to throw it out there that I am presently very excited about wines from the west coast of the United States. A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with Kate Norris of Division, a winery in Oregon, and it was blissfully enlivening. I love these wines. At one point, Kate said (and I don’t remember the context) “oh I HATE it when the wine’s not delicious”, which struck me as a perfect summation of the governing philosophy of this winery. It’s nice when wine is cerebral and complex, but absolutely essential that it be delicious. And the early release Division-Villages wines are just so damn delicious; they have roughly the fruit/acid balance of cool climate French wines, and feature those grapes: Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Côt, Pinot Noir. There’s a warmth to the fruit that lets us know we’re not in the Loire, yet a freshness, a juiciness to the acidity that lets us know the people who craft these wines (Kate and a guy named Tom who I look forward to meeting in a couple of weeks), are intimately and spiritually familiar with Loire Valley wine. If I had a favorite, I’d pick the Gamay “Les Petits Fers”, which is from four vineyards, fermented using a mixture of carbonic maceration, partial carbonic maceration, and traditional fermentation. Tasting this wine, I had one foot in Fleurie, and the other in some mystical Pacific Northwest landscape I have yet to experience. This wine is made of joy.

Two days ago, I stumbled upon a 2014 Chardonnay “Deux” in a local wine shop. The grapes for this bottling come from a vineyard called Strangeland, planted in 1978. It’s a white Burgundy style fermentation and élèvage with a few hours of skin contact, and long, slow, cool fermentation in barrel with minimal lees stirring. This wine is sleek, delicately lactic like fresh cream, with notes of pear and lemon curd, ripe and pleasurable. It does not taste like white Burgundy; it doesn’t have the dense earth and limestone backbone of white Burgundy, but it does have succulent balance, and is incredibly fun to drink.

Dreamy Chardonnay from Division Winemaking Company.

Dreamy Chardonnay from Division Winemaking Company.

The other place whence I recently drew inspiration to keep going was Corsica. At the end of a recent trip to Champagne and the Loire Valley, I went to Corsica for the weekend, like a sweet little coda at the end of a layered and fascinating piece. This place is fantastically beautiful, and my terrible camera and photography skills can’t possibly do it justice. As the plane tilted sideways in preparation to land in Ajaccio, I stared out the window, eyes like saucers resting upon the blue water and rugged coastline below. The mainland of this island is arid and mountainous, covered in a particular kind of brushy garrigue called “maquis”. The coast is alternately rocky and sandy with many little gulfs and inlets. There are some physical similarities to the Maritime Alps and the Côte d’Azur, the Mediterranean coasts of France and Italy. I’d have liked to stay there forever.

View from the bay of Ajaccio.

View from the bay of Ajaccio.

My vinous discovery of the weekend in Corsica was Sebastien Poly of Domaine U Stilicchionu. This is a 7 hectare, biodynimically farmed winery in the Ajaccio appellation. My friend Pierre from the Tissot era works full-time for Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a big name in the region (there’s a statue of one of Jean-Charles’ ancestors in the center of Ajaccio), but on the weekend for Sebastien Poly. Pierre essentially told me that he’d been surprised coming from Tissot (where most of the work is done in the vines, and little manipulation in the cellar) to find that at Abbatucci there’s tons of work in the cellar, racking, and other kinds of manipulations that contribute to the generally polished character of the wines. In search of something perhaps more like Tissot, he’d found Poly, and happily installed himself there on the weekends.

At dinner one evening in Corsica, Pierre opened a label-less bottle from a box of samples Poly had given him, and it turned out to be a cuvée called “Damianu” of Sciaccarellu made entirely without sulfur. This is a beautiful and expressive wine, amply garrigue-y on the nose, light to medium bodied with forrest floor and some slight and appealing funkiness. After an hour open, the wine becomes rose-y with flower-petal soft texture. I found a bottle at Chambers Street, and was happy to fall in love with it all over again once back in the states.

Sciaccarellu sans soufre.

Sciaccarellu sans soufre.

Once back in the states, I also tracked down the only white wine Sebastien Poly makes, which is Vermentino, and this (for me) is the real show-stopper. It’s full and lemon-y, suave, with a lingering finish, the rusticity of Italian white wine and the elegance of French … I don’t have a photo, but you can find the wine at Manhattan Wine Company, where the staff has created an extensive collection of Corsican gems.

To write or not to write is certainly a question, but to experience and become excited about new wines from new places is of the essence.

The second half of my recent trip to France was spent in the Loire Valley. I’d never travelled from Champagne to the Loire before. It was an interesting peregrination, full of contrast. Champagne is my spiritual home, but I’m fond of the Loire Valley as well. The people are laid back and kind, the vigneron culture is open-minded and open-hearted. The landscapes are subtly beautiful, the green woodsy, continental hills of Touraine, the misty plain of Saumur with its stark castle rising up from the river, the feeling — driving east to west — of nearing the Atlantic ocean, the city of Angers, so civilized, the bustling streets in the city center and the immense stone facade of the ancient castle. Yes it’s a nice place, the Loire Valley.

I imagine most of my peers prefer the Loire Valley to Champagne, and for valid reasons: it’s objectively prettier, with more organic farming, more biodiversity, more opportunity for outsiders and/or young people to move in and get started because the land is not excessively expensive; the vignerons are not business people the way most Champenois are; even the best wines are a hell of a lot cheaper than most Champagne. The vibe is different. There are fewer swank tasting rooms, and more dégustationat the kitchen counter with the kids running around, or in caves cut out of the rock with fuzzy molds carpeting the walls. There are fewer fancy clothes, more messed up teeth, a lazy eye here and there, more vignerons reaching like clockwork for a tobacco pouch. This is a less wealthy, and a more humble place than Champagne. Yes there are so many reasons to love the Loire Valley, before one has even nosed a glass of luscious Chenin Blanc.

Each time I visit the Loire I tell myself I’m going to plan better so as not to have to spend 2-4 hours a day in the car. The truth is that the Loire Valley, while relatively small in actual hectares planted to vine, is 170 miles long start to finish, which makes for a lot of driving. The vineyards follow the rivers, not just the Loire, itself, but the Indre, the Loir, the Cher, the smaller rivières that spider out from the major fleuve. Thinking I wouldn’t repeat my mistakes of the last 5 day stint in the Loire in 2014, I sat down with the map, a list of producers I’d be visiting, and tried to formulate a game plan that would save time, gas, and tolls.

Having decided to stay 3 days in Tours, and 2 days in Angers, I was relatively confident I could see 3 vignerons a day if need be. I was thwarted on the first day, when I misguidedly scheduled the morning in Montlouis, the early afternoon in Saumur Puy Notre Dame, and the evening in Vouvray (the reason I was kicking myself is that Vouvray and Montlouis are right next to each other; Saumur is 2 hours away, to drive from Montlouis to Saumur, and back to Vouvray is lunacy). And then, I allowed Hervé Grenier of Vallée Moray to talk me into staying for lunch. What was I thinking?!? I was late to my afternoon appointment, missed my later afternoon appointment, and spent 5 hours in the car that day. Getting off to a great start!

Lunch with Jean-Daniel, Hervé, Vincent, and their tractor.

Lunch with Jean-Daniel, Hervé, Vincent, and their tractor.


Gamay in the fore and background.

On the other hand, I had a delicious outdoor lunch with the team from Vallée Moray, with 30 ares of Gamay behind me, a hectare of old vine Pinot planted on tuffeau off to my right, and a tractor in my peripheral vision. We drank a crystalline Gamay from the vineyard behind, crunchy, expressive, redolent of tiny berries.

The second day got off to a more auspicious start. I was on time to my meeting in Bourgeuil, in spite of a wasted 15 minutes in the morning trying to get the gas pump to take one of my credit cards, and Stéphane Guion took me through a vertical of delicious wines from Bourgeuil, culminating in a 1990, which we tasted in the cellar, spitting on the gravel floor, speaking about our friends in New York, David and Eben Lillie, the success of Racines NYC, Eben’s upcoming wine bar project. Thanks to David Lillie, I’ve been drinking these wines for years, and they deliver much pleasure and complexity. My heart goes out to Stéphane, whose crop suffered terribly the next morning due to a frost that swept the Loire Valley, hitting Chinon and Bourgeuil particularly hard.

A dozen Bourgeuils before lunch.

A dozen Bourgeuils before lunch.

That evening I went to Michel Autran’s home in Noizay (Vouvray appellation). This is a spiritual place, seemingly alive with everything that grows in the verdant Loire Valley, lilacs, wisteria draped over a pergola outside the door. We wandered around the garden for a few minutes looking at plants, the dusk heavy and sweet. In his previous life, Michel was a doctor. When I asked him why he changed professions after 20 years in medicine, he told me that being so close to death was very hard for him; it wore him down, and he decided to make a change.

Discussing the movement of the sap.

Discussing the movement of the sap.

Michel has 3.5 hectares of Chenin Blanc, which he began farming around 2010 after working for many top producers of Chenin including Saumon, Jousset, and François Pinon. Intensely thoughtful regarding every aspect of the operation from farming to bottling, he sings to his barrels; he makes at least 3 passes in the vines to ensure the grapes are ripe; he tastes constantly to follow the progress of his wines. He leaves the wines for nine months in cuve between barrel and bottling to erase any traces of woodiness from the handful of new barrels mixed in with the slightly older ones. In the cellar with Michel and a stagiaire from Jousset, we tasted almost every barrel of 2015, most just finishing their alcoholic fermentations, in succulent limbo between sweet and deeply rich and mineral.

You can't see him, but there was a friendly black cat warming my lap during our tasting.

You can’t see him, but there was a friendly black cat warming my lap during our tasting.

At the table in Michel’s kitchen, we migrated back and forth from 2013 to 2014 Les Enfers and Ciel Rouge, making observations about the wines, changing the subject, and back again. I came away with the impression of Les Enfers as a feminine wine, and Ciel Rouge as a masculine wine. Michel didn’t agree, but nodded as though he grasped why I might say such a thing. Enfers is silex; Ciel is clay. And yet each sip was different, and even as I formulated opinions of these wines, I changed them again. In general, Michel’s wines have incredible precision and clarity; they are wines that have a shape, beginning fine and subtle, with aromas of honeysuckle, middle broad, singing with tart apple and tangerine, and then tapering again to a finish of mouth-watering acidity and deliciously bitter agrumes. I’m not someone who can conjure up a nice fruit salad in describing wine, and I’ve never liked that style of pontificating anyway, finding myself — by the year — increasingly French in my lexicon. Fine, précis, mais rond au même temps, avec une belle fraîcheur en bouche, on gout le bois, mais pas trop. The French words come as easily as the English ones, and sometimes more easily.

I had the third day all figured out. After my morning tasting with Simon Tardieux in Thésée, I was going to drive to Saumur, run two quick laps around the island, change back into my pants in the car, and arrive on time to Bertin-Delatte at 4pm. I had only two visits that day, and Geneviève had told me not to come before 4 because the kids would be asleep. Wondering whether I’d get funny looks if I changed into my jogging shorts at a rest stop, I pulled up Simon’s email, surmising that I was close, but had gotten the house number wrong. “We’ll take a tour of the vines, and then we’ll taste the wines with lunch.” There it was, the dreaded word lunch. My heart sank. There would be no run; I’d likely be late to Bertin-Delatte, and my body and brain would be sluggish with food and wine for the rest of the day. But there was nothing to be done. While I could theoretically turn down a last minute lunch invitation under some creative pretext, an email invitation weeks previously was not to be trifled with.

Simon and I had a lovely long walk in the vines. He brought along his soil sampler and we took soil cross sections from all his vineyards, mixtures of clay, silex, limestone, and sand in varying ratios. He told me about the new plantations of Pineau D’Aunis, which made my heart sing. Our market is suffering a lack of D’Aunis these days, and, having worked with Catherine and Didier at Clos Roche Blanche, I felt confident Simon Tardieux could make a good one. We tasted the new wines outside the winery, and then packed up the bottles to bring with us to lunch at Simon’s house.

Looking at dirt.

Looking at dirt.

You probably know where this is going. Lunch with Simon and his girlfriend (Julienne?) turned out to be one of my fondest memories of the trip. We ate white asparagus from a local field in a sauce of creme fraîche with spring onions and lemon, followed by a tightly packed ball of game bird meat wrapped around the outside with fat, rice with lardons, and butter beans.

White asparagus, black plate, Pineau D'Aunis rosé.

White asparagus, black plate, Pineau D’Aunis rosé.

Then, of course: cheese. And finally, several stiff black coffees (and for Simon and Julienne, a chain of rollies). We talked about many things at lunch, tapping into something the French seem to value almost as much as the extended meal itself, namely the chance to speak animatedly and extensively about a variety of subjects. Topics ranged from Julienne’s desire to visit Hoboken, to my notion that the French have a stronger sense of patrimony than Americans, to Simon’s inability to talk to his neighbors about organic farming. It was almost impossible to pull myself away, and had Simon not had to go back to work, I might still be there now, listening to tales of their early days in social work before Simon became a vigneron and Julienne a local government administrator.

I arrived in Muscadet territory the next afternoon, at the end of my rope steering and shifting gears while searching google maps for addresses the gps wouldn’t find, mentally exhausted from speaking French day in and out, and ready to take a break from winery interiors. Yet when I met the kind, languid, and lanky Stéphane Orieux of Domaine Bregeonette, my brain revived.

Beach vines!

Beach vines!

Muscadet is not like the rest of the Loire. It feels much more coastal, warmer; the earth drier and sandier, the grass brushier; the houses are different, pale facades with brick red tiled roofs rather than ancient, gray rock. The sun was shining, thick, cotton-y clouds filling the sky as Stéphane and I walked around in his old vine, granite-soiled vineyard the Clos de Coudray. We talked about the new Crus of Muscadet, about how in a few years he’ll be able to make a Cru “Vallet” (the cluster of towns that make up his micro-terroir), but he must use vines planted on mica-schist as stipulated by the new AOC. While this movement is essential for elevating the region, there are some drawbacks: the long lees aging, the heavy bottles, and ugly modern labels so many classic producers are now adopting for their cuvées Extra Big Deal. These are interesting questions: how to elevate Muscadet, how to make Muscadet “serious” wine, how to make slightly more money for the farmers of Muscadet in order to keep the next generation invested in making wine here.

Stéphane with a magnum of 2012 Clos de Coudray.

Stéphane with a magnum of 2012 Clos de Coudray.

As beat as I was that afternoon, Stéphane’s seamless and invigorating wines, his pragmatic approach, his calm demeanor, made our hours together fly by.


It’s a welcome sensation that no matter how many times I come to Champagne and how many wines I taste, there is still so much to learn about this place, new farmers to meet, new terroirs to discover, new revelations to relish. Each time I visit, I’m struck by what an exciting time it is for the region. There’s much more organic farming happening than ever before (up from 1% when I started in the trade to 3-4% now; Roederer is working something like 1/4 of their land organically and soon their Tête de Cuvée ‘Crystal’ will be sourced entirely from biodynamic vineyards). A group clustered around long-time organic farmer Vincent Laval are adamantly petitioning the CIVC to outlaw herbicides. They hope to succeed by 2020. Climate change has brought riper vintages, but no lack of acidity for those who work their soils, which means balance at lower dosage.

This year's Terres et Vins t-shirt, concept by Raphaël Bérèche. Rough translation: "I put herbicides in my vineyard." "Asshole!'

This year’s Terres et Vins t-shirt, concept by Raphaël Bérèche. Rough translation: “I put herbicides in my vineyard.” “Asshole!’

If I had one criticism of Champagne, it would of course be the prices. There’s a disconnect between what my market wants to buy (something decent they can put on the retail shelf for $50 or under), and what the Champenois want to make (intense, single parcel wines made from their oldest wines, vinified in barrel, and aged on lees for twice as long as the requisite costing $100 and often much more on the retail shelf). When I think about Burgundy, how much those wines cost, how weird and corrupt it’s becoming there due to big money interests, I’m inclined to forgive the Champenois their wish to make something great out of their prestigious soils. We sometimes find ourselves trying to frame Champagne as a “value” wine in relation to Burgundy. This is in some sense valid given that the top of the line in Burgundy costs far more than a great bottle from Marguet or Laval, but Champagne remains a luxury product that people with humble salaries cannot afford to drink on a regular basis. We will keep trying to find value in Champagne; we promise.

But I didn’t start this post to comment on the price of Champagne. My first major revelation of the trip is that I’m back on board with rosé Champagne. I loved rosé Champagne about 8 years ago; then I gave up because so much rosé Champagne is less good and pricier than its white counterpart. I gave up because Champagne vignerons were telling me they make rosé for the market not for themselves, its own brand, like the crap people guzzle summer-long in New York. However, a few people I met this trip are making exquisite, authentic rosé.

Benoït used to call his brut non-vintage bottlings "Elements", but has recently changed the name to "Shaman".

Benoït used to call his brut non-vintage bottlings “Elements”, but has recently changed the name to “Shaman”.

Benoït Marguet has always made great rosé, and his 2012 Shaman is no exception. The wine is 2/3rds Chardonnay, and 1/3 Pinot, a blend that gives the rosé plenty of verve and vivacity from chalky Chardonnay, with richness and intensity from Pinot grown in the brawny Grand Cru of Ambonnay. Benoït uses 5-8% still red wine, and 3 grams of dosage because for him its psychologically challenging to make a Brut Zero Champagne. He does not use sulfur during any stage of the process, and the result is pure as the driven snow, onion skin color, like wild strawberries swimming in fresh cream with a rigid backbone of chalk, texturally stunning. This wine is usually obtainable for between $50 and $60 on a retail shelf, which is certainly a fair price for the wine.

Sébastian showing us the soil composition of his vineyards in Verzy.

Sébastian showing us the soil composition of his vineyards in Verzy.

Sébastian is the 9th generation Mouzon to farm vines in Verzy, and the 4th to bottle his own wine. He farms 7.5 hectares divided between roughly 50 plots, organically with biodynamic treatments. He is a lovely and talented young man whose wines get better every vintage; when we spend time with Sébastian, we feel that he’s incredibly passionate, but also kind and subtle, someone who loves to be in the vines, hands caked in dirt, sharing his love of what he does with those around him. My cohorts on the trip were kind enough to offer to chip in on some ares in Verzenay for a dowry if I wanted to marry him; I was touched.

"Incandescent" means to be aglow with ardor or purpose.

“Incandescent” means to be aglow with ardor or purpose.

In general the wines of Verzy are more delicate and elegant than those of Ambonnay. The vineyards face north and east rather than south, and the most mineral, acid-driven parcel Sébastian farms called “Les Coumaines” goes into his rosé “L’Incandescent”, which is a saignée of Pinot Noir from the 2012 vintage. It’s made 50% in barrel with an 18 hour maceration, giving it pale, luminous color, and ethereal whispers of aromatic red berries melding with the cashew note I typically find in Sébastian’s wines. The texture is suave, fine, and creamy. At 3.5 grams dosage, it’s a pretty, easy going wine, a wine made of joy, inviting the drinker to take another sip, and another, and another.

Moving south the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, Aurélian Laherte has consistently made gorgeous saignée rosé from a plot of 80 year old Meunier called “Les Beaudiers”. This is a terroir of soft clay, sand, and chalk, fertile, warm, giving a meaty, fruity, savory wine, vinous, smelling sometimes of sausages and cheese (in the best possible way), always quite vinous with deep, ripe cherry fruit.

Aurélian's 2015 "Les Beaudiers" clearly expresses the fertility of this rich soil in the Coteaux Sud d'Epernay.

Aurélian’s 2015 “Les Beaudiers” clearly expresses the fertility of this rich soil in the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay.

Aurélian has recently crafted a new rosé of Pinot Meunier. Having been discontent for some time with his rosé “Tradition”, looking to make a wine he can be proud of, he did many experiments, and finally found a recipe that works. For the new rosé de Meunier, based on the 2012 and 2013 vintages, he used primarily grapes from Boursault in the Vallée de la Marne, the south side of the river. He did 30% maceration, used 10% still red wine, and 60% Meunier vinified white. This wine is vivid magenta in color with some of the sweet, bright cherry of Beaudiers, but less vinous and fruit forward on the palate, with more tangy sour fruit such as sumac and cranberry on the palate, a wine that is digeste as the French say … drinkable as Americans say. Words like “digestible” and “drinkable” may not sound like compliments, but they are. We mean that we keep coming back for more, the wines are energizing rather than exhausting, and amongst wine professionals, this is the greatest compliment one can pay; it’s like saying “instead of making a beeline for the nearest refreshing pilsner to renew my palate and soothe my teeth after countless tastes of enamel-stripping wine, I kept sipping the contents of my glass because it refreshed me”. Needless to say this new rosé from Aurélian is far better than the old.

Aurélian recently commissioned new labels for two of his wines and they are dead sexy.

Aurélian recently commissioned new labels for two of his wines and they are dead sexy.

Moving still further south, 2 hours by car, we come to a place so radically different from the Vallée de la Marne that it’s tough to think of it as “Champagne.” Historically, and I suppose financially, it makes sense that the Aube and the Marne are part of the same larger region, but the Aube has its own character, and feels utterly singular and distinct from its chic, wealthy neighbor to the north. The landscape is marked by green rolling hills; the parcels are bigger and it’s easier to farm organically; the soil is kimmeridgean limestone rather than chalk; grapes get riper; the list goes on.

Ruppert-Leroy is a remarkable domaine that deserves its own post, but since Bert Celce has recently written about them on Wine Terroirs, I’ll refrain for the moment. I’ve never met anyone in Champagne like Emmanuel Leroy, and I’m extremely proud and excited that MFW (“MF-double-V” as Emmanuel pronounced it) carries his wines in New York. This was the kind of gratifying visit that makes all the schmoozing and schlepping, the sacrifice of one’s liver and teeth, the pavement pounding and agonizing over sales worthwhile, the kind of visit you leave marveling, smiling wide, thinking “this is why I do what I do”.

A place full of life.

A place full of life.

Ruppert-Leroy’s Saignée de Cognaux is the most unusual cuvée in the lineup. Cognaux is a Pinot Noir vineyard with lots of gray clay and tiny sea shells, or coquillages. The soil here is very fertile and dotted all over with daffodils, which Emmanuel makes into a tisane to treat mildew. The vineyard is about 70 ares, certified biodynamic as of 2014. As in all the Essoyes plots we saw, there are patches of forrest cordoning off larger slopes and chunks of vineyard land, creating true biodiversity, something sensitive Marne growers crave but will never have.

Unlike most producers of rosé Champagne, Ruppert-Leroy has chosen to use a dark bottle rather than a clear one.

Unlike most producers of rosé Champagne, Ruppert-Leroy has chosen to use a dark bottle rather than a clear one.

The 2013 rosé macerated for four days with pumpovers; the grapes are de-stemmed only 25%, and fermentation is partial carbonic, which (as I learned from Olivier Horiot) is obligatory for Rosé de Ricey, not far from Essoyes. We nicknamed this wine “Cuvée Buck Wild” for its rustic, almost horse-y aromatic note, mingling with flavors of kirsch, amaro-like bitterness, spice, forest floor, and perfectly stunning, juicy red fruit that satisfies like a Gamay or very light Bourgogne Rouge. As of 2013, Emmanuel has stopped using sulfur completely, and so this wine has incredible vibrancy on the palate and finish. We took a bottle back to the gîtes to drink with our comrades, and they loved it.

I’ll try to write some more posts soon about the fantastic new treats this trip to Champagne has brought. A special thanks to my dear friends at Transatlantic Bubbles for allowing me, a second year in a row, to moonlight on their trip.