Bruliam Wine Blog
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I didn’t expect to get so riled up. I thought I’d already endured most of the insults that might be hurled my way.
“You mean, white zin?” (cue distasteful expression).
“Too sweet” (cue a squished up, distasteful expression).
A reviewer once asked me “why bother” to make zinfandel if I already make pinot. Another time, a cadre of high and mighty taste-makers dismissed zinfandel as one big joke, right in front of me, while I was pouring zin. But the following zinger is my all time favorites. Pinot person writes, “I see your “coming out” is at World of Pinot Noir and I look forward to seeing you. Don’t bring any of that Rockpile Zin shit.” But the reality is that zinfandel can be balanced, aromatic, food-friendly, and totally delicious. You just need to find the right producer for your taste buds. Which is why upon reading the November 2 issue of The New Yorker on my recent return flight from Atlanta, I nearly lost my mind. In a restaurant review on page 25, I read the following passage, printed right below a food-porn worthy, glamour shot of succulent, golden-skinned, oven roasted chicken.
“Is there anything more eighties that having a lot of money? Maybe melon and prosciutto. And caviar blinis. Zinfandel, for sure.”
Whoa. What? For the record, my superb Rockpile grower, Mr. Chris Mauritson, recently e-mailed me the following note:
“Opened a bottle of the 2013 you gave us for dinner last night. WOW! You nailed it! It’s like I remember Zin 30 years ago. Loved it.”
Oh my God, I like totally thought that was like for sure a compliment, being an 80’s zinfandel. It’s like totally iconic, like Madonna, stirrup pants, or a bottle of Ridge. Seriously, though, I was so touched by Chris’ compliment that I asked Brian to post it on Facebook. (He refused). There was a time when luscious, balanced, beautiful zinfandels put California on the wine map. Now I’m finding zinfandel to be a tough sell in the marketplace. And it bums me out.
The magazine review goes on to laud the menu at “Jams,” noting “not all resurrections from the era are bad news.” Spiced nuts, Baked Alaska, and brown butter glazed gnocchi all get props. But that wine reference is left dangling, like Johannisberg Riesling or Riunite. Except while Johannisberg Riesling and Riunite have vanished from American retail shelves, I am still here, making zinfandel, vintage after vintage. And being the modest and demure girl that I am, I’ll still hazard that my 2013 is stellar.
So here is my modest proposal, dear readers. If anyone in the blog-o-ether-sphere knows Chef Jonathan Waxman, of Jams restaurant, 1414 6th Avenue, NYC, please ask him to call me. I will proudly partner with him and his blockbuster “revival” restaurant Jams as his sole purveyor of zinfandel. I promise that my 2013 zin pairs perfectly with gnocchi, spiced nuts, and that gorgeous roast chicken. As for Baked Alaska…not so much.
My dear friend (who also happens to be a scratch winemaker) says I struggle with my professional confidence because there is “no right answer” in winemaking. Yes, there is a science behind fermentation chemistry, but there is also an “art.” Oh the “A” word, that indefinable, ephemeral, je ne sais quois, that makes my wines Bruliam as opposed to any other brand. In fact, one wine salesman accused of my wines of tasting like “they’d all been made by the same person.” I think he meant it as a snub. In contrast to pathology, where definable criteria differentiate low-grade from high-grade cancers, there are no rigid boundaries in winemaking. And as an obsessive rule-follower, I sometimes struggle without definite structure.
Most recently, I was struck by the roundtable of rose styles featured in the September issue of our trade publication Wine Business Monthly. Nine winemakers submitted their 2014 roses for a panel discussion. They tasted and critiqued one another’s wines. Here is a sampling of their most choice pronouncements.
“This wine has a hint of reduction on the front of the nose.”
“It is an odd wine showing oxidation.”
“Flint and mineral, which might be a little reductive”
“The nose is a bit strange.”
“A hint of green bean”
“Parmesan cheese rind”
“A little grassy”
“Smells like wheat or fresh, milled sawdust”
”A lot of spearmint”
“A bit of dust.”
On acid (oh boy is this one contentious):
“A lot of acid, almost borderline tart”
“No life to it and not enough acid”
“The acid is hitting me a bit hard.”
On the palate:
“The finish went a bit bitter for me.”
“I get the good bitterness of hops.”
“It was a little out of kilter.”
“The tannin is too high.”
“The finish is kind of flat.”
“The color distresses me. It is kind of florid, which mentally distracts me.”
“The color bugs me.”
“Looks like a red fruit popsicle…like a Jolly Rancher”
But wait, there’s more:
“Ponderous and clunky”
“Burned rubber character”
Once more, this time with passion:
“This wine lacks conviction.”
“Not offensive but is devoid of character”
“It turns into an elbow in my ribs.”
“This is a painful wine. It makes me angry…”
What’s a girl to do? I admit I love pink, and I think my rose lands somewhere beyond “light watermelon” but before “Jolly Rancher.” I’m aiming for enough body to stand up to a light meal, but airy enough to gulp as you flip burgers on your Big Green Egg. But geez, I’m not sure how I rank in terms of predetermined conviction. Although I stand for “liberty and justice for all,” in the end, it’s just rose.
But even for the finest winemakers, our fervent efforts may be in vain. A captain at a 3 Michelin star restaurant in New York recently copped to his favorite insider stunt, “The Adjective Game.” In it, “you competed to successfully sell a wine with the least helpful descriptors possible. ‘Haunted’ was a good one.”
Criminy! My rose’s about as spectral as “Strawberry Shortcake meets the Zombie Apocalypse.” And I still haven’t internalized which profound ideological tenets will sculpt the upcoming 2015 iteration.
We still have a few cases of my 2014 rose in the warehouse. If you’d like to buy another bottle, please drop me an e-mail. I’m curious to see where you put my wine on the adjective spectrum.
As you may already know, 2013 was an outstanding vintage in California for all varietals, but especially for Pinot and Zin which benefited from the long and mild growing season. We’re incredibly proud of both of these wines and Kerith has even declared the 2013 Rockpile as the best Zin she’s ever made.
If you’re on our allocation list and have not already placed an order, you still have one week left. Our Fall Release closes on Wednesday September 16th.
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Our harvest intern calls it a “shield.” I’m enamored of his word choice, since “shield” implies a superhuman power of deflection. We are not talking about the verb here, like hiding in a dark corner, crouched in a defensive position. I’m thinking more Captain America – you know, the concentric red and white circles, central star. “Shield” suggests I’m wielding the power, prevailing over darkness and disorder, like a bionic, fruit sorting machine. “Shield” makes me sound impenetrable. And I guess I ought to mention that I call it a “fin,” since we’re talking about a flat panel of stainless steel used to cool down overwrought fermentation bins.
Me and my “shield”
Two days ago, when I asked the intern to help me hoist the unwieldy piece of metal into my bin, he offhandedly remarked, “Yeah, those shields are awesome.” And indeed my fin can drop the temperature of a hot, bubbling bin in minutes (via interior coils of cold glycol). Today, because of my “shield,” what once caused me so much angst and dread is largely a thing of the past. Sure I still obsessively check the temperature as reflexively as Josh Duggar refreshes his Ashley Madison homepage (Doh!). But I’m no longer frantically heaving scoops of dry ice, woozy from carbon dioxide, beads of sticky grape juice clinging to my hairline, Monday’s Facebook post notwithstanding. Seriously, the dry ice dance is like so last year, literally. As in, last year I finally got the necessary “quick connect” attachments to hook the glycol hoses to my steel contraption. So now that I’m confidently through 17.8% of harvest, without ever hitting 90 degrees, I’m feeling impervious to the usual seasonal stress.
I was Easy-Breezy Overstreet, Ms. Cool-as-a-Garden-Cucumber, until I failed Harvest Pranks 101.
Exhibit A: please. Witness the text exchange below.
While a “shield” may protect my bins from overheating, it can’t protect me from myself. On the bright side, at least I haven’t doused myself with the hose…yet.
Here’s to a happy harvest season and healthy fermentations from the biggest tanks to the smallest bins.
If someone calls your wine “Burgundian” in style, it means that your wine tastes like wine. When I tasted wine in Burgundy, I failed to identify a single unifying characteristic that stamped the wine definitively “Burgundian.” I tasted wines with explosive red fruit aromatics and others with savory notes, earth or spice components. One wine was so overtly oak-driven, the fruit had all but disappeared. (I call these “Home Depot” wines. They taste like a 2 x 4 plank. We make them in California, too). Some wines were light and ephemeral, like being kissed by a cloud (cue angel chorus), while others finished with an intense, drying tannin that rivaled a young cabernet. I tasted some pinots with red fruit, others with dark fruit. Some wines unfurled layers of exotic spice, violets, and seductive perfumes. Others were less alluring. I also tasted a broad range of maturity, from barrel, from bottle, and from older vintages. I was extraordinarily lucky. And across the board, vintners, winery reps, and wine shop owners were warm, kind, generous, and eager for me to taste their wines. I even peeked in private cellar, a musty, mold-encrusted cavern housing Grand Crus from 1850’s and 60’s. Our guide simply uttered, “Wine heaven,” gesturing towards metal cages of aging bottles.
In France, Burgundies are almost always barrel aged “over vintage,” meaning they will bottle the 2015 vintage in 2017. Here in California, pinot vintners are split, some bottling after 10 moths in oak (Bruliam included) and others holding their wine in oak longer (“over vintage”). Also, the French never cop to adding inoculum for secondary fermentation. They simply wait until the cellar warms up in the spring and hope for the best. I envy their optimism and patience. I tasted a pinot from barrel that was still fizzy (“frizzante”), in the throes of malo-lactic fermentation in mid-June. And the winemaker was totally chill and nonchalant. He took a drag on his cigarette, re-adjusted his beret, and shrugged in that very French sort of way.
Burgundy conisseurs will tell me that I am wrong; they always correctly identify the French pinot in a blinded taste test. Master sommeliers will scoff at my naivety, my failure to decisively categorize pinots as “Old World” and “New World” by aromatics and palate alone. And I admit to being a terrible blind taster. But in my defense, I know what I tasted. And what I tasted was a broad and wonderful range of styles, approaches, barrel regimens, and fermentation techniques. One domaine uses lots of whole cluster. Another would never consider whole cluster fermentation, instead allowing the cap to float “like tea” in the fermenting juice. This guy also refuses to do regular punch downs. “I don’t work so hard in harvest,” he confessed.
In the spirit of liberte, egalite, et fraternite, I have decided to re-write my 2013 Torrey Hill tasting notes in homage to the great Burgundian tradition. I’ve selected Torrey since she’s the one most often described as “Burgundian.”
The 2013 vintage eez very, very young. It very much expresses the typicity of the terrior. This wine is very much fresh. The color is intense but balanced. The acidity is fresh but balanced. The aromatiques demonstrate red fruits and spice, very much balanced. The wine is more feminine, and the tannins are not hard aggressive. But zees wine is still too young, a bebe. The vine roots are most important in taste. The roots work every vintage, in 1990 and in 2013, whether it’s good year or not so much. When you work in the vineyard, your wine reveals the truth. This wine is the Truth, of terroir, typicity, and elegance – but also fresh.
A votre santé.