I arrived home. Instead of an ark on a mountain top, at the end of a five-floor walk-up I found a release on my desk. Hold on to your C02, because there's a premium wild yeast product for sale that is going to forever transform the wine in your glass. I had heard gossip about a freak yeast when I was at La Remise. It was M. Calek who told me of this mother's little helper coming down the pike that would let him sleep peacefully during fermentations. I asked--what? He whispered something softly in my ear, "Alchemy."
He told me that while it was being manufactured for the Cheval Blanc's of the world he knew there was something in it for him and perhaps even Marcel Lapierre too, maybe even Eric Pfifferling and Simonutti.
Here's how it all started.
A few years back, tired of hearing wine journalists yap endlessly about the joys and stories of natural wine, conventional winemakers (eager for some attention) struck back. They demanded tools from the laboratories, and like the Jews in Eygpt, their prayers have been answered. With the help of Dani Rolland, you-know-who's wife, the newly minted laboratory yeast is built to mimic the nature of vin -naturel, low-no sulfur wine. Dressner is said to have been an initial (if small) investor. That rumor is still unsubstantiated.
The big $ folk here? Constellation Brands. No surprise, right?
The talk is that they've invested seven figures in it for the 2010 harvest. Dard & Ribo watch out! Originally the yeast was supposed to be Feral101, but marketers struck it down in favor of the more glam, Alchemy. Look out for the series as they fine tune the yeasts applications.
For example, there will be a flavor extension of the yeast that can bring out your desired acetaldehydes, candida or otherwise. More ethyl acetate? More brett? You got it! All of the appeal and none of the risk.
When I first started out in this business I thought, VN, a category which can deliver bad wine but not cynical wine. Now with Alchemy. natural wine can be both bad AND cynical! AlchemyVinNatureliste43® ICV-D21 - S. cerevisiae . cerevisiae #15143 500 g (Lifted from their promotional material) This goes beyond Freudian analysis. Here is the go to yeast for those who want to give their syrah, cabernet, merlot or what-have yous the characteristics of pineau-d'aunis, romorantin, aligote, mourvedre, tempranillo, mauzac, gamay, savagin, ploussard and trousseau. #15163 10 kg * Isolated from the best Languedoc terroir during a special regional program run by the Institut Cooperatif du Vin's (ICV) Natural Micro-Flora Observatory and Conservatory. * Noted for its good fermentation performance even under high temperature and low nutrient condition with no diurnal swings. Produces very few sulfide compounds during fermentation. Releases SO2 into wine and is undetected in government testings. * Selected for fermenting red and white wines with names from the ridiculous to the sublime, noble to hybrid to skunk cabbage and maintains stable color, intense for-mouth-to gullet volume, mid-palate tannin structure and fresh aftertaste. Think cheesecake followed by Tom's! * AlchemyVinNatureliste43® can also be used with very ripe white grapes and rotted reds that are barrel fermented to develop fresh fruit aromas, volume and acidity. The dream of this yeast is that it releases the effect of volatile acidity and low level analyhidc qualities and just a hint of puppy breath. Your customers will swear this was direct from the latest "Dive" or 'Off" in France! * In highly clarified juices, maintain fermentation temperatures greater than 15C(59F) and supplement with proper nutrition.
To do some investigative follow up, I actually made a call to the Chief Wine Critic of the New York Times, Erik Asymov. "Hey, Erik, did you get that release on that yeast?" I asked.
"Yup," he said.
A man of few words.
"Wild, yes?" I said, hoping for more.
But he was silent. I knew I'd had to go a little harder on him. "What did you think?" And then I bribed him with a bottle of Selosse Substance.
"I don't think I can comment, the paper might get upset."
"Erik, come on," I pleaded.
"It is innovative."
"That's all?" He paused, " I heard Dressner invested." "He wouldn't confirm it for me either way, but I don't put it past him. By the way, I heard they asked you for an endorsement."
"They told you?" He said in earnest. Then he turned loquacious. "I told them the paper wouldn't allow me as it's a conflict of interest. But between you and me, the guys at my Dojo are not going to believe this." .........April 1, 2010
I didn't taste too many of the local wines when I was out for the lecture. The tone was set when Kevin and I met Robert Ames for dinner @ Brasserie Four. As promised Ames, a gentleman and a scholar, showed up with a Larmandier-Bernier 1996 Cramant. The depth and complexity, layers of litigation. Damn, it was so great that Allemand's 1998 Chaillot couldn't live up to it's patchouli nose. Under discussion was who was I going to visit? I wanted to revisit Caleb Foster of Buty. I met him when I was in Walla Walla in 2004 and had a good feeling about his future progression in winemaking. So that was in place. I asked Ames for some tips for my open slot. On the second morning of my visit, he picked me up and we raced along the road to visit some guy by the name of Matt Steiner. "Nice last name," he stated, with a wink. The name of the winery is Stella Fino. Turns out Matt is a thinker, a good wine maker and what's more he's got spunk as well as about 1200 cases and a day job. (sorry, bad and sloppy iphone) He left New York with his wife after 9/11 'cause he wanted to make wine and the wind basically blew him to Walla Walla. Well, actually someone at the enology school told him to come out. He did and didn't even last one semester. (Matt, if I got that wrong, correction please.) He had never been to Walla Walla. He just moved there. I'm still amazed. I am always in awe of people who pick up and move. Just do it. Action is so terribly sexy.
Steiner had a European influenced palate thanks to his dad and that's where he was headed, not to Europe but to refined. The results, so far from this self-professed Sangio man, is pretty. Think restrained Italian varietals with almost no new oak and no acid adjustment. 2005 Barbera seemed to be a great pizza wine. He's beginning to play around with stems and just experimenting with some native yeast. In fact, the 2009, native and stems has a little pickle but a nice cherry underneath (tastes better than it sounds) but with that lace of licorice is the kind of wine you want to discuss. $ is getting in the way of the lovely piece of land he wants to plant and tend. I say, this is a Steiner to watch. And after finally tasting the Harrington wines yesterday at the Bowler tasting, which I was greatly interested after the video, I have to say the Stella Fino are way more my kind of thing, enough so that I will be back to take a second look.
Delivering a lecture to about 200 about terroir is a little unsettling. Especially when a good chunk of them are in the wine industry. I'm better than Q&A than in the body of delivery, but what could I do but get up there and try to measure up. I hit some pressure points. I couldn't avoid them. All I had to do was bring up that the best sites are often not the most fun to farm or to live in. Or, perhaps there's too much reliance on irrigation and not enough on finding the right sites that don't need water. Another one that won me Miss Popularity was recounting the story of Pascaline being shocked, stunned, to see on Long Island vines planted next to corn. "Grapes for terroir wine," she said, "need different soils than corn and wheat need." And when I followed up with the musing that sometimes I wonder if the New World translates terroir into, "What a gorgeous view," was enough to get me tarred and feathered. Oddly enough, it was not. Oh sure, there were a few odd questions, as if some folk were out to get me, "Well, what about Burgundy. They get 39 inches of rain a year!" One gentleman said and asked..."Isn't that manipulation?" I was not quite sure how to take this question so I handled it as if it was genuine. Another question/statement, "Irrigation isn't used to grow a grape for flavor." That one was another odd one. I sort of said, "And what is extended hang time? For example?" But, the group was terrific, mostly interested, engaging and just a mix of every view point. However, if I had any doubts, they all melted away like a spring snow, when at end of the lively Q&A a group of Eno students surrounded me and said, "We're the next generation and we're going to make changes!" (or something like that.) The next day Geology Prof. Kevin took me around to a grower in the middle of wheat fields which looked to be planted on a soil of pure silt. The winemaking was good. The terroir limited. The wines tasted hydroponic. I found myself a passenger through the eerie hills, looking for Basalt. And when Kevin reminded me that basalt is also the main ingredient in Sicily's Mt. Etna as well as the Carnaries, I was further intrigued. Here's a little Canary for you In other words, I'll looking forward to seeing Walla Walla, next stage.