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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.
In 2008, we launched Bruliam Wines with the mission to craft world-class wines and donate the profits to charity.
In our inaugural harvest we produced a single barrel of pinot noir, about 25 cases of wine. We’ve grown every year since, and in 2014, we made nearly 1,000 cases. That’s a pretty spectacular growth curve.
Today Bruliam Wines is featured on some of the best wine lists in top restaurants throughout California, Texas, New York, and very soon Illinois. Along with way, we relocated our family to beautiful Sonoma County and purchased a small pinot noir vineyard of our own in the Russian River Valley.
As with any growing business, eeking out a profit during those first few years was next to impossible. Despite the odds, we remained committed to our charitable mission by foregoing a marketing budget in exchange for charitable donations. Since our inception, we have granted gifts from $250 to $1,000 to over 65 different charities selected by our mailing list members and our restaurant and retail partners.
We’d become so used to operating Bruliam at a loss that you can imagine our surprise when our accountant called us just before tax filing day with the big news: in 2014 we finally turned a profit – $8,752!
After taking a few weeks to adjust to this strange new reality, we’ve come up with a basic plan to distribute this money. First, we’ll be making a donation in the amount of $3,000 to Wounded Warrior Project. Wounded Warrior is an organization close to our hearts and was the very first recipient of a Bruliam Wines donation. We’re honored to continue to support this important organization.
The balance will fuel our ongoing donation program on behalf of our customers. Most recently, we’ve recently made $250 donations to Just in Time for Foster Youth, Dress for Success, and Andy Dekaney High School Marching Band, selected by retail, wholesale, and restaurant partners from CA to TX.
Throughout the course of the year, we’ll continue to make donations against our 2014 profit. One of the easiest ways for you to participate in our giving circle is to send us pictures of yourself enjoying a bottle of Bruliam Wine (or, for those of you who have been around a while – sporting one of the now vintage Bruliam t-shirts!). Drink something delicious while advocating for a charity you love.
The last seven years have seen explosive growth for Bruliam Wines. But for now we’re content to keep production around 1,000 cases of wine per year so we can start to maximize profits and increase our charitable donation budget in upcoming years.
None of this would have been possible without your support. From those of you in San Diego who bought our first vintage sight unseen to our more recent mailing list members and restaurant partners, we remain eternally grateful for your ongoing support.
Kerith & Brian Overstreet
I stopped subscribing to US Weekly as soon as my kids recognized the cover from the supermarket. They’d yell, “Mom, stop reading that stuff and help me [insert task here].” Sure I need to feed and bathe them sporadically. But I still love me some good celebrity dirt.
This past week in New York, I sighted Tony Soprano’s TV sister at a downtown cheese shop. Emboldened by my success, I thought I recognized an actor from HBO’s “Girls.” Among friends and family, I’m well known for my accurate celebrity sightings. To my credit, that guy in my running club did kinda-sorta resemble Apolo Ohno. Both are dark-haired men.
Here’s the problem with my celebrity sightings, especially in New York. (1) I routinely identify celebs incorrectly, even in my own community. One summer, Giada De Laurentiis visited our Healdsburg Farmer’s Market. I thought she was that finance whiz from HBO’s “Newsroom.” (2) My distance vision stinks. Please refer back to reason #1. (3) New Yorkers are famously forward. If you mid-identify a random guy as a purported celebrity, he wants to know whom you think he resembles. And what if that character isn’t the hunkiest gentleman on the program? And what if that “kinda looks like that guy on TV” guy is seated at the same wine bar where you’re hoping sell your pinot noir? This is a pickle.
Last week, my fabulous NYC distributor Michael Riahi and I strolled into a stunningly beautiful and very hip downtown wine bar. As soon as we arrived, I spied an orange knit hat and a ratty, half-beard across the bar. Any New Yorker worth her salt will tell you that guy (knit hat/facial hair) fits the description of every man in Williamsburg. But I am a county gal. I am clueless. I think he must be the only guy with a knit cap and hipster facial hair, and thus he must be “Hannah’s” apartment mate.
“Michael. Look! It’s that guy from Girls. The one who lives in Hannah’s building. The one who is having a baby with Adam Driver’s sister. You know the one.”
But Michael doesn’t know. He only knows Allison Williams, because she is stunningly beautiful. Alas she is not at the bar.
“Oh my God, if I get a picture of him holding a Bruliam bottle, we can post a funny bit and ask people identify him. And we can donate the money to Laird’s charity.”
Notice how fiction and real life have collapsed. I’m just like Hannah (Lena Dunham?), except I’m twice her age and pay mortgage. Full disclosure: I had to google “HBO Girls guy who lives in Hannah’s building and is having baby” to come up with “Laird.” Now I’ll have to google “actor who plays Laird” to identify the man.
I get so excited that I blurt out my revelation to the beverage manager.
“Hey isn’t that guy at the end of the bar the one who lives in Hannah’s building? Hannah on Girls. HBO Girls.”
I am distracted and exuberant. But I am meant to be selling wine. This is why I am a lousy saleswoman.
The wine buyer says, “That guy? No he’s an art dealer in Williamsburg.” And when he is finished tasting my wines, he ambles over to the Laird-alike to say, “that lady thinks you’re on TV.” Then looks-like-Laird alights from his barstool and walks back to me, and together we google “image Laird HBO Girls” on his big screen iPhone 5.
“Yeah,” he says graciously. “I get the resemblance. Knit hat, cropped beard.” He does not tell me I look like that winemaker on TV, the one from The Bachelor, season 16.
My daughter would like an American Girl doll. This is not unusual. Lots of girls her age covet these 18-inch amalgams of cloth and plastic, topped with preternaturally coiffed “human-like” hair. And it’s no wonder. American Girl heavily markets to her demographic. They send glossy, colorful catalogs showing ponytailed dollies donning miniature soccer cleats, posing beside a wee, wee soccer ball. Gleeful tweens munch popcorn at a slumber party, each modeling different matching dolly-owner outfits, complete with identical orthodontic headgears. Own your ugly smile! You go, girl. (Does the American Academy of Orthodontists get kick-backs? Or perhaps teeny tubes of plastic toothpaste and floss?).
But their biggest racket is the “Girl of the Year” project. Each year, the company introduces a new, “limited edition” doll, complete with an elaborate back-story and oodles of accessories, a special pet, precious pet accessories, cold weather gear, summer camp necessities, and miniature drug paraphernalia for her unfortunate heroin habit. This year’s hoax is a brown-haired baker. My daughter also has brown hair. My daughter also bakes cupcakes. OMG! How did they make a doll that exactly matches her? It’s like they made this doll specifically for her. How did they know? How could they know? We have to have it.
EEEEEEEEEKKKKKGGGGGGRRRR. That’s the sound of Citibank putting the brakes on my credit card. My daughter already owns an American Girl doll. And we can’t spectacularly up the ante year after dogged year. Plus, uh, “Molly,” let’s protect her real identity, is in fine shape. Sure she did a quick stint in rehab at the Doll Hospital in Chicago. But I confiscated her itsy-bitsy, hand-rolled joints last November and demanded she unfriend the ho-dolls posting bikini shots on Facebook. Holey cats, those dolls have tiny fingers.
Then I spied her in the flesh-like flesh, the coveted “Girl of the Year.” I met her hard, unblinking gaze. I was checking into a hotel, and “Grace” was giving me the stink eye from beside the counter. Heck, I could win her for free in a hotel-sponsored raffle. As I handed my credit card to the hotel clerk, I hastily filled out my one-entry-per-guest quota. There I was in Chicago, presenting my 2012 Gap’s Crown pinot noir at a trade-only pinot seminar. I’d been invited to show my wine alongside the luminaries of Sonoma County pinot. I would speak on a panel with my dearest mentors and wine heroes. I’d become a peer. My Chicago trip was a truly, significant career milestone. But Grace eclipsed my professional bravura.
An idea needled its way into my consciousness. Maybe I could swap some pinot for the doll. Who’d ever know? The silky-haired baker was already out of her signature box. She’d never recover full retail value. What was she worth now? One bottle of pinot? Two max? Furtively, I slinked up to the hotel desk.
“Hey,” I whispered in a Hollywood conspiratorial whisper. “I’m with Sonoma County Vintners. I’ll trade you some wine for Grace.”
The female clerk looked genuinely shocked. And then she laughed. She didn’t know I was serious. A few hours later, I repeated my hijinks, this time for the concierge.
“Hey, I’ll trade you wine for Grace over there.”
The concierge looked alarmed.
“Who?” she demanded. Crap! What if the front desk gal was actually named “Grace” or “Gracie” or “Grace Holy Mother of God?”
“You know.” I slid my eyes to the left without moving my head. “Grace The doll.” My voice was hoarse and low.
The concierge recomposed her features. I wasn’t a human trafficker after all. But no dice; this Grace was strictly display. Apparently, she didn’t need a real home after all, like one that isn’t some hotel. As if that’s any way to bring up a child, um, doll.
My final morning in Chicago, I plotted a final, feeble effort with a different hotel clerk. As I propped a wine bottle under each of Grace’s grubby fists, I heard Mary Poppins exclaim, “Oh the decadence! Just pose her any which way you’d like.” The cheery Brit was onto me.
“Listen, I’ll swap you these bottles for the girl. My daughter really wants this one.”
In that signature, British, sing-song way she chirped, “You wouldn’t believe how many guests say that…”
And here I thought I was so clever. How much wine is 18 inches of plastic worth anyway? Clearly, not as much as my dignity.
“No. Very bad.”
“This is very bad.”
“Next one bad.”
Jesus systematically worked his way down the vineyard row, pronouncing judgment on each plant. Together, he and I embarked on our most aggressive winter pruning project yet. We were cutting back dead canes to dead cordon arms to dead trunks, looking for signs of life. We kept cutting back until we saw sticky, wet sap pooling at the wood’s cut surface, a sure sign the vine’s xylem is intact. And then we cut back even more, past any visible trunk cankers.
I already knew we had some dead vines. In fact, since purchasing Torrey Hill Vineyard in 2012, we’ve put our heart and soul into vineyard rehab. Of 500 odd vines, we have already pulled and replanted over 150. Some are finally ready for grafting. Others succumbed to the scourge of California drought and need to be replanted yet again. And the job isn’t complete. Even today we still face scattered dead vines. In November, we sent out lab work to pinpoint the exact microbe responsible for our declining yields. Results pointed to Botryosphaeria species, a more aggressive form of truck canker disease. It’s a fungal pathogen that infects and affects the trunk. Trunk cankers manifest years after the initial infection. Early signs include stunted shoots and fewer grape clusters. But eventually shoots fail to sprout at all, and the vine withers and dies. The good news is that we can salvage some of our oldest vines by cutting back infected wood below the fungal lesion. Hopefully those vines will grow healthy shoots in 2015, which we can lay down as a new cordon arm in 2016. Fingers crossed, these vines will be productive again within a 2-year cycle. But as the day wore on, I was more of a hindrance than help. It broke my heart to pull the trigger and cut back each and every affected vine. I feared we’d have nothing left for the 2015 harvest cycle.
“Hey, how come you never say good?” I pestered him, only half joking.
“OK,” he replied, pointing to the healthiest vine in the row.
We kept at it for hours. Carefully assessing every individual vine, one at time, from cane to cordon to trunk. We kept some vines with limited production, but only because I was making him crazy. We could pull and replant those ones in 2016, as the newly grafted vines were becoming productive. Others were cut back low to the ground, the saw wound sealed with antifungal paint.
All of this is part of a grand vision for Torrey Hill Vineyard. We’re hoping to add around 1400 vines this year, bringing our old school ‘60’s planting schema into the 21st century. We are switching to 4 x 3.5 spacing, inter-planting both our existing rows and between existing vines. And we have secured certified Martini clone budwood from a wonderful Sonoma County farmer. Although we need to replant and update our vines, we intend to maintain the integrity of our clonal selection. Martini clone is not trendy, but it’s historically rich and aromatically special.
All of this is just to say, please be patient while we work with our viticulture team from Atlas and focus on quality yields. Our current and forthcoming home ranch crops will be small. But the wine will be delightful. Get it while you can, even if your allocation is small. We’re envisioning near-triple production down the road. Stick with me. It’s getting better every year!
Dark brown/black wood canker infecting a shoot position
Wood canker in a cordon arm