On the second weekend in September, Twitter was out of control with all Frank Cornelissen all the time. I had to contemplate the out of control 'coolness' about these wines (not just Frank's but the 'genre') and admit to having a moment of annoyance when writers who wouldn't have tolerated these wild wines just a year ago, gushed about them now.
Can one's palate change so dramatically just because something is 'in.' Anyway, Frank, who works in Sicily, is definitely in. His wines might be bacterially sound, but they have gone viral.
The Belgian winemaker from Mt Etna, often referred to as a hard-core natural winemaker, was making the rounds with his importer, Zev Rovine and taking New York City by storm in an incredible three day coming out party. Our meeting had been four (or is it five?) years in the making.
Finally! I walked into Ten Bells @ 10:30 expecting to get my first sips of Magma #7 and to reacquaint myself with Contadina and but instead bumped into Lyle Fass heading out, muttering something about acid and having just come back from Germany. Turns out the tasting started @ 8:30 and ended, not started at my witching hour. I did find a little bit of Magma #7-- deeply peonied and exciting. Really exciting. After my sip was gone, I headed home, or tried. That's when, leaving, I smacked right into Pierre Breton and posse. We all went in search of scotch and twenty minutes later he reprimanded me about my book over a Laphroaig.
Pulling myself away from what was sure to be a dawn welcomer, I got myself into bed before 2am. I wanted to be in shape for so I could be fresh for my face time with Frank over at Marlow and Sons.
Frank--intense in mind. Intense in body (seems built for competitive biking). Even in lycra he wouldn't show a wrinkle of fat. Frank doesn't seem to like the interview. Slow to warm up, that's okay, I recognize my own quality there.
He also would rather talk about someone else's philosophy then his own. In other words, things looked up when we started to talk Fukuoka. 'm not a farmer
but I do often reread The One Straw Revolution-- never ceases to inspire me. The book is poetry.
We connected even more when we talked about Fukuoka vs. Biodynamics.
'There may be no better way than Biodynamics for healing the earth," Frank said, "but once the land has reached its balance, why do the same practice and treatments every year in exactly the same way? At that pont the land should be set free."
He prefers the Fukuoka no-till approach for his old vineyards on his basalt soils. Except in youthful vineyards, he does not compost. He prefers grains to clover, because he doesn't want to add more nitrogen to the land. However we debated clover's ability to open up the soil, so it accepts water with ease.
There are questions.
Answers will come.
He's been doing this since 2001 and needs to make some children so he can be in it for longer than his lifetime to figure it out.
Contrary to what is out there in print (or rather on the web) his wines do not ferment in amphora, they have their élevage in amphora. Big difference.
The first few vintages were fermented in the epoxy-lined urns as Frank did not yet have tanks. (and he doesn't like beeswax, a common liner as the glaze gives a taste.)
Since he does his fermenting in tank (not stainless) his wines seem more focused. They seem to show their life and flavors better. Is that a function of the container or a function or of Frank's growing experience?
Contrary to what is written, Frank does not use 'the method.' Echoing my observation about most wines using cold semi-carbonic fermentation, "Everything tastes the same," he said. "I don't like it. All of these vin de soifs. They're all very "fermentary."
And while he is a fairly hardcore sans souffristinista, he says, "I have the advantage of being free of prejudice," he said to me. "Naturalness is the road, not its end."
His winemaking seems to have reached a delicious maturity. All are marked by texture. Conventional drinkers should be ready for an experience that could change their perspective on what a wine is.
Magma #7, (2008) was gorgeous as above, very rosy and peony. All nerello (if quite 'spensive)
Munjabel Rosso #6, 100% nerello (a blend of '09 & '08) has low aromatics, and zingy acidity, angles, raspberries and edge.
Munjabel Bianco #6 (2009). a blend of carricante, grecanico dorato and coda di volpe, subtle, floral with orange juice. Plenty of tannin. It was pressed off before New Year, after two months on the skins.
Contadino #7 (2009) Cloudy, perfumed. Borscht, celery and grit. Mostly nerello.