I hitched a ride to California to attend the Dry Creek Zinfandel conference. Why? Well, it's important to do such things. It is way too easy for me to ignore the western part of these states and as California drives the current wine industry I gotta keep on my toes. One day, good wine will again come to California. One day it will stop to follow the lead of people like Leo McCloskey (do read David Darlington's article (The Mechanics of a 90+ Wine) who are afraid of tannins, who revere sweet fruit at all costs. We can at least hope.
On the way up to Sonoma I stopped over at Grgich Hills in Napa. I recently tasted their wines and was pretty impressed only to find out that they have been working with Philippe Armenier (see a previous post) to convert to biodynamics. Philippe met me in their vineyards to tour me around the various compost heaps and nettle teas. Making an entrance in the middle of the visit, as dapper as he is advertised, wearing a beret and a natty wool Pendelton shirt, toting a water dish for a sweet dog, was the legendary Mike Grgich.
The highlight of the visit? Tasting a Grgich biodynamic cabernet grape alongside of a pilfered grape from their neighbor (won't tell you who.) The later was fiercely vegetal while the Grgich, even at this early date in early August was quite tasty.
Then, on to Dry Creek.
The conference kicked off with a panel discussion--Is Bigger Always Better-- at the Gallo bunker in Sonoma. Great location underneath on of those Gallo man made hills. Many of the winemakers up on the panel talked about balance. But ...balance of what? Most people acidify so are they talking about dropping the right amount of tartaric acid into the fruit mix? According to the style of our current day, all winemakers seem to have a tannin allergy--so it wasn't that-- and no one talked about mineral--so it wasn't that. Though Dry Creek is big on their terroir difference, no one ever talks about the soil. And I realized this is one reason I've been wondering whether California has terroir other than Sun and Climate. Few there take the soil seriously.
Eric Cinnamon was one of the wine speakers. He's the guy responsible for Rancho Zabaco. To me there's nothing drinkable in his lineup. The wines are so big they might explode. His most cogent observation was, "We can get into trouble because our yeast can't handle our sugars."
I felt like a kid in eight grade trying to get a teacher's attention. But I was not called upon. This was my question: "If you pick so ripe that your yeast punks out....like ....maybe nature is telling you something and you should pick at lower sugar levels?"
Were there wines I actually liked?
1994 Nalle (nice touch of brett and wax and good squeeze of acidity on strawberry)
1994 Ridge Lytton Springs (it was a bit corked, but still nice)
1994 Peterson Zinfandel
2003 Brogan Cellars (oops, this was a pinot)
2002 Preston Zin (Hey! Tannin! Bramble and cedar. And Lou Preston makes excellent bread, too.)