New Podcast Episode – Veronique and Caroline Maret of Domaine de la Charbonnière

By |2019-11-25T17:25:37+00:00November 25th, 2019|France, Podcast|

Veronique and Caroline Maret recently flew in for a quick visit, and in this episode you can be a fly on the wall as they taste our California team on the full Charbonniere lineup.

Click here for the episode link on Spotify or here for the episode link on Apple Podcasts.

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Living Anxiety Free in the Tariff Age

By |2019-10-24T16:32:04+00:00October 23rd, 2019|Economics, France, Germany, Spain|

Many of you have inquired about the tariff situation and how it will impact our portfolio. Let’s take a look at what we know, the good news, the bad news, and our plan moving forward.

Any non-sparkling, non-flavored, non-fortified wine labeled 14% ABV or lower arriving into the USA in a package 2L in size or smaller from France, Spain, Germany, or the United Kingdom is now subject to a 25% tariff, to be enforced at port of entry by US Customs Agents until further notice. Now there are plenty of exclusions if we think about this – Most notably any/all Sparkling Wine, wine from France’s warm regions (think Rhone), 3L bag-in-box wine, Modern-style Rioja, and Ribera del Duero to name a few – None of these categories are impacted. Other European countries, notably Italy, Portugal, and Austria, are also NOT impacted. Keep in mind the rest of the world (USA, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, etc) are obviously NOT impacted.

Global warming crosses paths with Trump policy again here, albeit in a twisted manner, as warm vintages (2018! 2019!) mean ABV’s that are 14.1%+ thus avoiding the tariff. Believe it or not we just shipped 2018 Sancerre with labs that checked in at over 14%! An unintended consequence will be the rise of the 14.1%+ “Cuvee Américain” – Our friends at Domaine Clos des Lumieres, for example, just selected all of their higher alcohol tanks for our upcoming Rosé and Rouge 750ml Cotes du Rhone bottlings, which keeps us tariff exempt at 14.1% and 14.2% ABV respectively! Clos Lumieres Rouge and Rosé in 3L Bag in Box format? Those versions will come from the lower ABV tanks! Silliness. We might as well have a laugh.

I know where your brain is going right now…What about the a legal 0.5% +/- margin of error that has traditionally been allowed by governing bodies on both sides of the pond? The thinking earlier this month was to have wineries pull up their lab analyses on all categorically impacted wines labeled 14% or below, and have them relabeled at 14.1% ABV if their labs came in at 13.6% or higher. Quick thinking importers encouraged this, and dozens went as far as resubmitting TTB label approval requests with new 14.1% ABV levels on anything that qualified this way. Unfortunately this strategy will not work – US Customs is running their own lab analyses against randomly selected 14.1%+ wines, and proceeding with a tariff on anything that shows American lab numbers of 14% or below.

The big losers? Burgundy, Beaujolais, Provence Rosé, most Loire, most lower tier Bordeaux, Southwest France, Alsace, Alsace, traditional Rioja, Rias Baixas, German Riesling, and Natural Wine (pretty much all Natural Wine…).

HERE IS THE BAD NEWS. Initially we hoped the issue would be resolved prior to the October 18th deadline, but as things stand today we see no resolution with nothing apparent in the works. There are a few different thoughts as to where this is going and when it will end:

Cyrus The Optimist: “Trump wants the tariffs to ‘sting’ but not ‘cripple’ and that they will quietly go away in early December once he has made his ‘point’ in Fox’s news cycles.” Colleen The Realist: “Tariffs will be reversed in about six months (this corresponds to the timing of the expected WTO resolution against Boeing subsidies, which is essentially a reverse case of the Airbus related WTO case that opened the door to the current US tariffs, which would in effect create opposite counter tariffs against American wine imported into Europe).” Zane The Pessimist: “Dammit we are stuck with these indefinitely, or at least as long as Trump is in office.” Mary The Alarmist: “Nooo….We will end up in an escalated trade war with Europe and that these could expand into additional categories and push tariffs as high as 100%.”

Our take at Grape Expectations is that we end up somewhere in the middle between Colleen and Zane.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS. Compared to most of our peers our business will be minimally impacted. Why? First off, we only have 200 items in the impacted categories out of the 1,200+ items we stock. Most importantly, we import almost all of the wines in the impacted categories directly. Why do tariffs make direct-importation a larger advantage than ever before? Let’s break out the calculator on an impacted bottle of cool-climate French wine we import, which also happens to be carried by a well-known national importer in the states we don’t operate in ourselves:

Let’s say you have a national importer bringing in a bottle of 13% ABV French wine from a well-known producer, who after exchange rate is paying the winery $4 USD per bottle. This company would pay roughly $1/bottle freight and tax, bringing the landed cost at their warehouse to $5 per bottle. This type of national importer has a standalone corporate office, a marketing budget, a National VP Sales, a team of Regional Sales Directors, and some Area Sales Managers for the major markets. Add to that the associated travel and entertainment that these employees bill on company cards, and all in all this means the company needs to add about a 25% margin to cover costs, plus 5% in additional margin so that they can end the year with the customary 5% net income that the Board of Directors expects their well-compensated CEO to generate. This means the importer sells to the distributor at 30% margin or $7.14/bottle. The distributor pays about $0.50/bottle in freight and state tax, takes its (very necessary to survive) 30% margin, and we are looking at a $11.19/btl wholesale price point for the retailer. The retailer takes a 30% margin and prices this wine at $15.99 for the consumer. The consumer happily buys this wine from coast to coast where it is a leader in it’s high-volume category.

If you add a 25% tariff to this, you end up with a landed cost of $6/bottle, an $8.57/bottle price to the distributor, a $13.29/btl price to the retailer, and an $18.99 price to the consumer! Yikes.

But, you ask, what if you are a distributor who imports most of their wine themselves? That you work at our humbly appointed office space and import this same exact wine? You would pay the same $4/bottle to the winery and the same $1/bottle freight and tax for a landed cost of $5 per bottle. You would add the customary 30% distributor margin plus, say, maybe 10% extra margin to account for the financing/additional warehousing footage associated with direct importing, and you would sell this bottle for $8.39 to the retailer who would sell it at $11.99 to the consumer. Cool.

If you add a 25% tariff to this and keep everything else the same, you’d end up with a $10.49 price to the retailer who would sell it at $14.99 to the consumer, which still leaves you below the EXISTING pre-tariff national retail price for this item and this is with zero help from the winery.

What if we were to tell you that these are exact numbers on one of the best selling wines in our portfolio?

You mean to say Grape Expectations tariff-impacted prices will the same as or better than much of the pre-tariff status quo? Yes – Our ability to source directly puts us at a relative advantage as our West Coast Distribution pricing on own-imported products is generally 25% lower than similar quality (or in some cases exactly the same) products carried by national importers.

On a macro level this situation will mean fewer products in market. Many products carried by “old-model” national importers, small and large, will simply price themselves out of the market with these tariffs, if they stick around.

WAIT AREN’T WE ALSO NATIONAL IMPORTERS NOW? What does this mean for our distributor partners? We set up our “National” arm with current market conditions in mind (i.e. that margins would continue to compress in our industry), and therefore we are able to operate our National Portfolio at razor thin margin compared to industry standards (10-15% out of CA, and sometimes as low as 2-3% in the case of volume DI orders). Our offices and warehouses are paid for, and we reject the idea of a large national “sales team” instead assuming that our distributor partners prefer to manage their own sales internally, with the above-mentioned compressed pricing model used in place of “ride withs” as the recipe for success.

THREE LARGE QUESTIONS REMAIN:

1) Will the volumes of our country’s larger national importers and retailers allow them to renegotiate prices with suppliers in this time of political chaos and end up at a competitive advantage compared to smaller firms? This sounds interesting, but thus far we don’t see that happening. We are seeing the opposite this week actually, with massive reservation cancellations from major importers and retailers. There just does not seem to be enough room to budge when you look at the realities of the 2019 vintage in many tariff impacted regions (Macon saw 40% lower yields in 2019, for example). Bordeaux will be an exception here, where yields were very high in 2019, with backstock also at record highs.

2) Will this sort of increasing populist wave continue to push downward pressure on the Euro for an even more favorable exchange rate? This is very possible – Think about Boris Johnson and his drive yesterday to push Brexit through by Halloween. A weaker Euro Zone economy will push exchange rates lower than the already delicious 1.13 rate, negating much of the tariff induced price pressure (remember, just a few years ago we were at a 1.35 rate).

3) Will bulk bottling European wine within the United States become a “thing”? It just might – Wine importers in China, for example, deal with their own autocracy and tariffs, and bulk bottling is common practice in China to skirt these. Bulk bottling is already the norm now here in the United States with grocery-category New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc due to the insane price of dry goods within New Zealand (i.e. it is cheaper to ship giant bladders from New Zealand to California and bottle stateside). Remember, anything crossing customs in a package 2L or larger is exempt! We will likely have a go at bulk bottling assuming the appellations in question allow it (some will and some won’t). Several of us here have done this already in the past.

HERE IS OUR PLAN. New shipments of many of our tariff impacted items will arrive stateside between now and the end of the year (we turn inventory fast and often over here). These items will see, on average, about a 15% increase in price effective November 1, with our hope being that we will be able to negotiate a 10% discount on most impacted items with most our winery partners, thus covering the 25% tariff in aggregate. As I mentioned earlier in many instances this means that our “new” price will still remain lower than what you’ve seen “pre-tariff” in states serviced by other companies on these same items. Have we been spoiled in Grape Expectations-land all these years? Yes. But use your imagination and plug some of your favorites into Wine-Searcher to see what we mean.

Items stocked from impacted areas by our national importer partners will remain at the same price through the end of the year as these are purchased from stock already in the USA, and have a more sensitive baseline price due to the national importer-related margin economics mentioned earlier. It is important to note that none of this talk is intended to implicate our fine partners on the importer side – The importers we do work with (it is a short list) are firms who share our lean philosophy, bring us wines at sensational value, and we project similar 15% increases on their items as they negotiate pricing with their suppliers and receive new loads from Europe Q1.

Hopefully this clarifies the subject for you a bit. Here is to living large without tariff-related anxiety and to a strong finish to 2019.

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New Podcast – Right Bank Bordeaux with Jean-Phillipe Saby of Famille Saby

By |2019-06-05T14:26:22+00:00June 5th, 2019|France, Podcast|

Our lineup from Vignobles Saby is on fire these days, especially Chateau Bertin, Chateau Rozier, and Chateau Hauchat. Jeff gets down and dirty with the always loquacious Jean-Phillipe Saby of Vignobles Saby to break down current releases. We also get a sneak peek at a few new upcoming additions, including Chateau Reindent which will replace our entry-level “Chateau Saby” Bordeaux Superieur. Cabernet Franc as the future in Bordeaux? Jean-Phillippe thinks so and shares his thoughts on that front. There is a raging party going on in the background so apologies if there is some crunchiness in the background…

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

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Champagne – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-21T09:23:14+00:00February 21st, 2019|Champagne, France, Travel Report|

The final leg of this intense tour took us (fittingly) to Champagne, where we spent full days with both Champagne De Saint Gall and Champagne Moutard.

Alex Moutard shows us Arbanne in barrel!

Champagne Moutard + Moutard Pere et Fils

Lucien Moutard began producing Champagne under his own name in 1952 from grapes grown on his family’s land in the Côte des Bar.  The Côte des Bar is situated in the Southeast of Champagne’s boundary, about 2 hours in a car from Champagne’s capital in Reims.  You can think of the Côte des Bar as an island in and of itself, as the subregion is actually isolated from the rest of the Champagne.  This “underdog” terroir is super hot right now, and for good reason…The Côte des Bar was “kicked out” of the greater Champagne region in the early 1900’s, producers rioted, they’ll have a permanent chip on their shoulder, and are therefore more experimental and rebellious.  Whereas most of Champagne is relatively flat and densely planted to vines, in the Côte des Bar you’ll find a bucolic, relaxed, “backwoods” vibe where vineyards are leisurely interspersed with forests and streams.  Unlike the rest of Champagne where Chardonnay is king, in the Côte des Bar Pinot Noir dominates, making up 85% of plantings – A slightly more Southern location compared to the rest of Champagne means that it is warm enough for Pinot Noir to thrive, and Pinot Noir was the grape originally planted in the area by monks.  Large amounts of clay are interspersed with the limestone in the soil here – This means a bolder fruit profile in the finished wines.  The region is dominated by small growers, whose focus is on making singular/interesting wines.

Drive into the sleepy village of Buxeuil and the first thing you’ll see is the start of the Moutard family’s expansive compound which is peppered throughout the village and snakes below streets in the form of tunnels and cellars. If you weren’t aware of the fact that the family operates the second largest distillery in Champagne, this is worth noting, as this is where all of their pressed juice goes – A huge advantage as they only “need” to use free run juice in their Champagne. Most of you know Champagne Moutard by their perennial NV Grande Cuvee Brut, which is probably the best selling indie Champagne in the United States. From their singular bottling of the endangered Arbanne grape to some fun and juicy Pet Nat, we were looking at a table full of Champagne and Burgundy (the Moutard’s recently acquired a Domaine just North of Chablis). The young Alex Moutard is a winemaker coming into his own, and his focus these days is clearly on minimal/no dosage micro bottlings from specific plots.

The big takeaways were 1) Alex’s single-vineyard, non-dosage “Climats de Champagne” wines (aged and bottled under the more traditional steel staple cork closure instead of beer cap for ageing and a cage), which we will be pre-selling next month, and 2) Their two Pet Nat bottlings, which we purchased all available stock of and are something that we expect to turn into a staple here. A few highlights are below:

Champagne Moutard NV Brut “Grande Cuvée,” fresh, full, whole-fully pleasing
Champagne Moutard NV Brut “Reserve,” 100% Chard, fresh, spicy, creamy mouthfeel
Champagne Moutard NV Brut “Champs Persin,” 100% Chard from the Persin vineyard, beautiful texture, balanced acidity (if you remember one of my top picks in the December pricebook)
Champagne Moutard NV Brut Rosé “Prestige,” 50 Pinot/50 Chard, 15% still wine, 2010 base vintage. A bit oxidative for Frank and Jeff. Great for those who might like a lower acid rosé Champs
Champagne Moutard NV Brut Cuvée “Sans Soufre,” 100% Pinot noir, no sulfites added, bright and lively, super nice label
Champagne Moutard 2010 6 Cépage Brut Nature Rosé, barrel-fermented, 1/6 each PN, CH, PM, Pinot blanc, Petit Meslier, and Arbanne, 8 years on lees, exotic, delicious
Champagne Moutard 2009 6 Cépage, very low dosage (3g/l), aged longer in bottle than rosé, intense, complex,
Champagne Moutard “Les Troncs” Pinot Noir Brut Nature, dense, intense, interesting
Champagne Moutard “Vignes Chiennes” (Bitch Vines) Chardonnay Brut Nature, clear in appearance, bright floral and apple notes, creammmmy texture, me likey
Champagne Moutard “Les Perrières’ Pinot Noir Brut Nature, bright, citrusy, a bit of tropical fruit, fun
Moutard Pere et Fils “Richardot” Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, rich, powerful, full-bodied
Moutard Pere et Fils  2017 “Rosé des Riceys,”  Pinot noir, fun, different,
Moutard Pere et Fils 2016 Irancy, native yeast, showing well, fun, different pinot noir
Moutard Pere et Fils  2016 Bourgogne Epineuil Rouge, native yeast, big pinot, fun
Moutard Pere et Fils  2018 Pet-Mout, fun, tasty, cute label, no brainer, this will fly
Moutard Pere et Fils 2018 Pet-Mout Rosé, a little strawberry and cream, fun stuff

Cedric Jacopin of Champagne De-Saint-Gall busts out the (gasp) 2003 Mesnil Vin Claire

Champagne De-Saint-Gall

This was an eye-opening experience, whether we were talking about touring some of the Grand Cru vineyards in Avize, to visiting Champagne Le Mesnil (where more than half all Mesnil’s Grand Cru fruit is processed), learning how the organization works (true to fashion, it’s owned and run by the farmers), learning how farmers are actually paid, and of course, tasting the wines (both reserve still wines and finished bottles). If you are still reading this you are saying ok that is all great but how did we get here in the first place?

Ok – Let me digress just a second into an all too familiar story these days. Family farmers in, let’s say, middle America, are getting squeezed due to soy or wheat prices being down for whatever reason and operational expenses continuing their never-ending march upwards. A farmer can get by for a year or two by tightening their belts and taking out loans. But there’s comes a time when the last resort has to be looked at; selling the family farm. There’s always a buyer, but it’s usually not the neighbor. The result is a higher and higher concentration of farmland is controlled by fewer and fewer hands. Not an ideal situation.  And the same thing is happening in France, well, actually the entire world. Here at least we can offer up an example of how this story might be different.

Enter Champagne de Saint Gall.  You probably already know about how the growers of Union Champagne (de Saint Gall being the company’s own Champagne) control more Premier and Grand Cru vineyards than any other entity in Champagne and that they sell the majority of what they produce to the large Houses. For me, however, the story lies in this organization’s mission to not only produce fine Champagne from some of the best vineyards in the region, but too also strive continue the to maintain the culture and character of Champagne as a whole. The message one comes away with is that for this to be successful, the small farmers need to be able to survive and make a decent living. We’re not talking about farmers who set out on their own to join the world of farmer fizz. They own enough vineyard land to make a go of it. No, we’re talking about the majority of farmers in the region that own an acre or two and don’t have the money, marketing chops, or desire to commercialize their own label. These guys are farmers, people. Their tiny parcels have been handed down from generation to generation. People in Champagne don’t sell their land because they know that once they do, they would never be able to repurchase it again, unless they won the Powerball and that’s not in France…yet.

And this is where the Cooperatives come in.  Union Champagne has set up a system whereby the farmers are paid well for their fruit. In great years where there’s more abundance, there’s a formula that allows for a certain amount of still wine to be processed beyond the annual limits (yes there are limits) and then these reserves can be tapped into in a more difficult year to offset the lower quantities of that vintage. They would then be paid for the fruit processed in that bumper year. Kind of like a savings bond smoothing out the roller coaster ride of the stock market. The end result is a much more stable local economy and more small, family-owned vineyards remaining just that, family-owned. This takes off the some of the pressure to increase yields and just sell to the “big guys” directly.  These growers are then able to adopt changes in farming practices, under the advice and tutelage of Paul-Antoine Dauvergne, Union Champagne’s young vineyard guru. All this has the end result of a higher quality of fruit being delivered to the nearby co-op facility (there are 14 such facilities under the Union Champagne umbrella) to be transformed into delicious, non-bubbly, Champagne gold. From there the still wines are transported to the central winery in Avize where they are stored, blended, bottled, cellared, disgorged, and packaged, all this under the watchful eye of cellar master, Cédric Jacopin. Not an easy job I guess.

Union Champagne has long since made its mark on Champagne, but for Champagne De Saint Gall, this is only the first in many steps to solidify the future of Champagne and its real assets; the farmers. Mais oui, we did taste a couple of Champers:

Champagne de Saint Gall NV Brut Selection, round, full-bodied, acidity on the low side, a crowd pleaser
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Brut Tradition “Premier Cru,” more acidity, seems better balanced, really nice
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Blanc de Blanc “Premier Cru,” laser-like focus, bright, elegant, nice mouthfeel
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc “Grand Cru,” chalky mineralty, acidity not as bracing as I was expecting
Champagne de Saint Gall 2012 Blanc de Blanc “Grand Cru,” full, broad, deep, pretty powerful stuff
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Rosé “Premier Cru,” beautiful, fresh, classic,
Champagne de Saint Gall 2004 “Orpale,” rich, minerally, dense, pretty fresh considering its age, yum

…Coming down the tube will be a new package for the 2008 vintage as well as a vertical in an elegant wood box. Don’t wait – be part of the cutting edge.

Chablis – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-21T09:17:44+00:00February 18th, 2019|France, Travel Report|

We cannot think of a better way to wake up then to have Frank take us to a nearly abandoned Abbey at sunrise followed by a trip into Vincent Dauvissat’s hallowed cellar, and that was just the start…

Vincent Dauvissat

Sometimes you don’t know where to start when describing a visit. Vincent has been making some of the most legendary Chardonnay on this planet for most of his life, inside a classic cellar setup sitting underneath his house. Everything here is very natural both in the vineyard and in the cellar, and we tasted 2017’s with him which were bottled just days ago and therefore “settling in.” While the wines remain outstanding, for a more accurate feel for the selection and vintage we are reposting Frank’s notes from September:
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Petit Chablis, concentrated for the ac, tight, but pleasant.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis, more complex and saline, tension.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Sechets,” dry and austere, nervous. 
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Vaillons,” more fruit and fat.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “La Forest,” shy, fresh, typical.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Preuses,” other dimension, powerful, complex, finesse and tension.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Clos,” fatter, but also drier, salinity, mineral.
Our allocation this year is slightly higher than previous years, something we are thankful for. Just before we were to leave Vincent knocked the wax off of some 2003 La Forest…most of you remember this vintage as an unreasonably hot one (hot for the ages), and the wine was shockingly fresh and nuanced.

Lamblin & Fils

We’ve been selling Lamblin for years. Few of us have actually visited. When we’d think Lamblin the first thought was unbelievable value in Burgundy and Chablis – We didn’t expect to come across such a sweet, intentional, family-oriented operation, and we figured this would be more or less a tank farm (which it was not).
Lamblin & Fils 18 Sauvignon de Saint Bris, fuller style, dry, fresh
Lamblin & Fils 18 Aligoté, soft, flabby
Lamblin & Fils 18 Bourgogne Blanc generous, good
Lamblin & Fils 18 Petit Chablis, quite good, round
Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis, more acidity,
Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillons,” bigger, classier
Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis 1er Cru “Montée de Tonnerre,” tight, mineral
Lamblin & Fils 17 Bourgogne Rouge, balanced, richer than prior years, wow
Lamblin & Fils 18 Bourgogne Rouge, surprisingly good, this will be fun
How they pack so much into these bottles at these prices is beyond us but we will take it! We were actually kind of surprised to hear that we were their largest importer in what is their largest market outside of France (the US). We’ll take it. Get ready for more bottlings from this house, including a blockbuster Petit Chablis!

Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Fevre

One of Chablis’ most recognizable names, branches of Fèvre family have been producing wine in the region since the early 1800’s.  Nathalie and Gilles Fèvre base themselves in the village of Fontenay-Pres-Chablis, where they operate a Domaine that is impressively large by Chablis standards with over 100 acres under vine in total including a large proportion of classified holdings (Grand Cru Les Preuses, 1er Cru Fourchaume, and 1er Cru Mont de Milieu). It is worth noting that their basic “AC Chablis” holdings are unusually strategic, as most of their acreage sits on the Côte de Fontenay just northeast of the region’s coveted Grand Cru slopes. Nathalie and Gilles are putting the final touches on a new winery that you must see to believe – An impeccably efficient gravity flow setup cut into the side of their main vineyard site in Fontenay. If this is the future of Chablis then the future looks delicious.

Gilles’ Grandfather and father both held the position of President at the leading cooperative La Chablisienne, and Nathalie was the head winemaker at La Chablisienne for 12 years (until recently all of their harvest was delivered to La Chablisienne). You’ll see several different label iterations from this domaine in the market (when we signed them on we had options), and ours pays tribute to the Fèvre family legacy by referencing ancestors Marcel and Blanche.
Fevre Fevre 18 Chablis, nice, fresh, rather full, easy style
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume,” finesse, cool, more mineral
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Monts de Milieu,” 15% barrel, fuller, mineral, tension
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaulorent,” 15% oak, some new. Salinity, crisp, juicy
Fevre Fevre 17 Chablis Grand Cru “Preuses,” more new wood, more extraction, full, minerality, fantastic.
The 2018 Chablis party will start with the “AC” bottling this Spring, and will move into Premier Cru and Grand Cru material at this time next year.

Loire Valley (Part Two) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-13T16:24:42+00:00February 13th, 2019|France, Loire Valley, Travel Report|

Domaine Masson Blondelet

The brother and sister team of Mélanie and Pierre Masson run this staunchly organic estate which they’ve taken over from their parents who founded it in the 1970’s. Pierre is the beautiful man gracing our landing page this month. You’ll see the winery on your right immediately upon rolling into Pouilly-sur-Loire, and their sixty lovingly tended micro-plots are patched through the appellation. To say this is a family passionate about organic viticulture is an understatement, you can smell that energy the minute you walk in, and this isn’t only because of the never-ending organic vegetable slideshow playing above the fireplace. Here is Mélanie taking us through things:
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 17 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, fresh, typical
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, better, fresher
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Rosé, complex, fine, smokey, Melanie likes this after 18 months in bottle and we therefore took a stand on the 17 last summer, and get the 17 from us while you can
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Blanc “Thauvenay,” fine, cool, mineral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Les Angelots,” vibrant, mineral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Villa Paulus,” bigger, tight, not as much finesse
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Pierres de Pierre,” salinity, floral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Clos Paladi,” full, rich, fine
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 14 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” mature, boring
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” fresher, better, more balanced
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Sancerre Rouge “Thauvenay,” skinny, dry, not much fruit left
The specialty here is clearly the whites, and with plenty of Sancerre Rouge already in the portfolio it is where we will keep our attention on all things Masson Blondelet. The Chasselas is coming to you thanks to the request of Mr. Jal Hastings who is making heads turn for us in the Bay Area – You’ll here more from Jal on the content side of things in coming months. Pierre showed Frank, John, and I something new, as in how to instantly spot a “roundup ready” vineyard as opposed to an organic one (hint: no plastic sheaths around young vines in the organic plots, as organic vines need no protection from the barrage of Monsanto branded glyphosate that most conventional Loire farmers are heartbreakingly reliant on nowadays). I’m standing there stiff like a total idiot at the start of this video but for the sake of unfined/unfiltered video content here you go!

Overall this was a memorable/productive visit and tasting. We have a gem here. The lesser wines are the best value-for-money as is usually the case in our travels. If you are a restaurant or retailer reading this, you ought to put on an event where you taste guests on each of the three soil types in Pouilly Fume using each of this Domaine’s three releases – We have a transcript from what was an interesting but “too poor of sound quality” podcast episode for you to use, which you can access here. Want a custom cover for your event? Call our California office and ask for Logan.

This is what a healthy, organically farmed vineyard in Pouilly Fume should look like in Winter 2019

Domaine Bigonneau

Isolated in a literal sea of quinoa fields, Domaine Bigonneau cranks out shockingly world-class Reuilly and Quincy. This 15 hectare estate has been in operation for maybe 25 years now, and the young Virginie Bigonneau runs all aspects of the operation. She is well-traveled yet very much at home and settled in here, and  while the setup in general looks like a typical French farm this is a winery so clean inside that you could eat off the floors. The wines are similarly clean and transparent. We like to give you the “walk up” or “drive up” approach to each winery, so here it is at Bigonneau:
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Pinot Gris Rosé, typical aromatics and flavors, crisp, very good, we reserved all avail production (this is technically not a Rosé, btw even though it looks the part!)
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Reuilly Blanc, easy, fine, great value
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Quincy,  step up, more concentration and complex, very good
Domaine Bigonneau 16 Reuilly Rouge, lovely Pinot aroma and fruit, we reserved everything avail
Domaine Bigonneau 17 Reuilly Rouge, fuller, fatter, perhaps less focused, we reserved everything avail

Cash flow permitting we will probably just buy a full container to save on logistic costs (remember this is the middle of nowhere). Our only complaint in the past was the packaging and WOW have they stepped that game up! Well done Virginie!

Ms. Virginie Bigonneau! BTW Virginie we are jealous of your sweet vintage Land Rover…

Monmousseau

John and I like quiet, gritty Loire towns. They have character and take a person back in time. Monmousseau is based in one such town, Montrichard, and while we won’t recommend our hotel to you (Frank especially won’t), visiting Monmousseau’s historic caves is an essential look at the Loire sparkling wine industry’s past. The Dutchman in Frank will call the setup inefficient, but John and I will call it deliciously old-school, with tens of miles of tunnels used to age the sparkling wines produced here. Wines are aged on wooden laths (oh how sad we are that most portions of these caves were too dark for our Insta 360 One camera) and Monmousseau is just now transitioning from rail car transport (yes like a coal mine) to electric fork lifts! One visit here and you’ll be drinking Monmousseau Cremant d’Touraine at least monthly in your rotation. Their entry level Brut Etoile was my go-to sparkling wine in the college days, and while simple it still tastes pretty great.
Monmousseau 18 Rosé d’Anjou, bright, deep, ready early Feb
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut, the category defining Touraine Cremant, nice balance, magnums available which is fun
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut Rosé, rounder, more strawberry, pretty
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire “Brut Zero,” well made, bone dry, interesting but probably not something that would have pull so a no for us.
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Brut, mostly sourced from Touraine which gives this a bit more personality than most in the category, full, good
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Rosé, pale color, slight yeastiness, one more g/L of dosage than the regular Brut.

Lath storage at Monmousseau – Yep this is what we mean when we say old school

Loire Valley (Part One) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-12T13:48:42+00:00February 11th, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

Our first day in the Loire brought us to a cloudy Touraine where we spent most of our day with the leadership team at Loire Propriétés, and checked in with Christophe Godet at Domaine de Marcé. 

Loire Propriétés

Our tasting took place at Vignerons Oisly & Thesee, a cooperative holding 500 acres of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc in the small towns of Oisly and Thesee which usually are considered the best in the Touraine region. You know by now how we feel about cooperatives – That when managed strategically they can turn out plenty of individual, engaging wines. Loire Propriétés is one such cooperative, and actually what you’d call a “supercooperative” (ie a large parent cooperative made up multiple smaller cooperatives). 250 winegrower members, organized into 10 smaller cooperatives, make up the group, many of who are bottling estate grown wines, some from iconic Loire chateaux! Sound interesting? Estate grown wines at a cooperative? Yes! As we’ve said before there are some progressive co-ops out there these days urging you to rethink everything you think you know about the category.
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Sauvignon Blanc, juicy, very good
Les Anges 18 Chardonnay, boring, but full and fruity, would make people happy though
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Chenin Blanc, crisp, more acidity
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 17 Pinot Noir, good, a little short on character, but what do you expect for pricing this sharp
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Cabernet Franc, dry, aromatic, a little funky
Caves de la Loire “Elysis” 18 Rosé d’Anjou, fresh, nice sweetness
Vignerons du Pallet “Les Petites Sardines” 17 Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, easy, soft style
Vignerons du Pallet “Jubilation” 15 Muscadet Cru Le Pallet, complex, class
O&T 17 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc,  showing well, good acidity
Domaine du Grand Cerf 17 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, typical, full, juicy
Vins de Rabelais “Les Romances” 17 Vouvray, seems sweetish, but technically isn’t, apparently
Vins de Rabelais 15 Chinon “Fauteuil Rouge,” mature and rich, There is better value than this at LP
Les Roches Blanches 17  Vouvray full, typical, fresh
Chateau de Valmer 17 Vouvray, character, aromatic
Chateau de Brossay 18 Cabernet d’Anjou, flavor, full, some sweetness
Domane Croix St. Louis 15 Chinon, somewhat mature and boring
Chateau de Mauny 18 Rosé de Loire, some complexity and depth
Chateau de Mauny Crémant de Loire Brutt, fresh, soft, very good
Chateau de Brissac 14 Crémant de Loire Brut, fine, balanced, soft
Domaine Touchais NV Saumur Brut, serious, dry and fuill
Chateau de Valmer NV Vouvray Brut, rich, full, long, bravo
We tasted dozens of 2018 O&T wines from tank; most of which showed very well. Below is some tank tasting “reality television” for you:
Very good tasting overall. great stuff at very competitive prices. We pulled the trigger on  Chateau de Mauny, Chateau de Valmer, and Vignerons du Pallet (including the very fine bottle aged “Jubilation” Cuvee).  Does the whole Vignerons du Pallet thing perk your ears? This is a fairly small, atypical coop of 10 members, all from Le Pallet in the heart of Muscadet. They have 250 acres and an average production of some 800.000 bottles. All 10 members have their own properties, they bottle and sell a part of their production themselves and another part goes to the coop for use in a larger appellation “blend.” The President is one of the owners and so is the winemaker. The facilities are at one member’s winery. “Le Pallet” the vineyard is one of the Crus of Muscadet, there are seven crus in all, and is considered by many as the best. The soil is interesting, the northwest part of the town consists of light colored rocks (Roches Blanches) mixed with sand and the southwest area is dark colored (Roches Noires) and sand. Their “Jubilation” bottling referenced above represents a new movement in the appellation towards intense, bottle aged Muscadet with better selection, later harvesting, and longer aging on the lees. These wines are very different, more serious, fuller and real aging potential. For some stupid reason wines in this category cannot be called “sur lie” although they stay much longer on them. Odd.

Domaine Marcé

This Domaine is a few kilometers down the road from Les Vignerons Oisly & Thesee and the idea here is to bring you a premium Touraine Sauvignon option – Something a step up in price and complexity from O+T for the select few accounts smart enough to know how much value Christophe Godet can pack into a bottle. So many accounts are glass pouring “Vin de Loire” Sauvignon Blanc as a Sancerre alternative but this approach (something from an individualistic appellation) is a better way to go. In all this is an 80 acre estate, mostly planted to Touraine Sauvignon Blanc. A part of 12 acres has been classified as Oisly which is a new “Cru” similar to Reuilly, Quincy, or Sancerre. Farming at Domaine Marcé is organic, and most vines are pretty damn old. More tank tasting “reality television” for you below!
As you see above we tasted many different tanks of 2018 Touraine and Oisly Sauvignon with Christophe and overall we were able to leave with a better feel for this unsung appellation.
Domaine Marcé 18 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, good body, ripeness, balanced acid, a lot of Sauvignon for the price.
Domaine Marcé 18 Oisly Sauvignon Blanc, somewhat bigger and better but the price difference does not seem wholly justified this vintage.
Great domaine, great people. Let’s try to get more Touraine Sauvignon out there in the world shall we?

Rhône Valley (Part Three) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-08T16:43:21+00:00February 8th, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

Day three in the Rhône meant a few lesser-known producers to most of you…

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille

The brother/sister team of Laurent Fayolle and Céline Nodin operate this small family estate in Gervans, where they produce Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and St. Peray. Crozes-Hermitage is a somewhat weird appellation – Originally it was close to the Hermitage hill, stretching to the North, covering a mere 750 acres in Crozes, Largange, Gervans and two other tiny villages where the soils are very similar to Hermitage. Over time the acreage was expanded by a whopping 3800 acres, but in another area, South of Tain- l’Hermitage, on totally different soils. The idea was that more production would make it easier to sell. This worked for the “new” production, but not really for the “old” as production is lower due to the (granite) soils and rather steep hills. This also explains a rather big difference in prices between the two. Fayolle is one of the very few “original gangsta” producers left, as they are focused on making wine from individual vineyards in the original appellation boundaries, most notably on sites known locally as Pontaix and the Clos des Cornirets.

Almost all of Fayolle’s wine is sold within France. We will take what we can get.

Mr. Laurent Fayolle himself

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 St. Peray, 100% Marsanne, some new wood. Fairly unknown, but lovely wine, dry, floral, lots of flavor.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 Crozes Hermitage Blanc “Pontaix,” (from barrel), bright, citrus, showing well.

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 Hermitage Blanc (from barrel), rich bordering on bombastic but with focus somehow, interesting stuff, can’t wait to see this in bottle.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 St. Peray Blanc (from barrel), Young, balanced, can’t wait to see this develop as well.

Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Crozes Hermitage “Sens,” entry-level C-H, 30 year vines, including some purchased grapes, some new wood. Dark, fat, tannic, tight, very promising.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2016 Crozes Hermitage “Pontaix,” single vyd, 40 year vines, 20% new wood. More elegant, fine, balanced.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Crozes Hermitage “Cornirets,” single vineyard, 60 year vines. Just bottled, but showing well, tons of fruit and full.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Hermitage, just bottled. Big boy, fat, concentrated, tannic, smokey.

2017 and 2018 are both very good vintages. We also like 2016 but note that wines from this vintage are different in style from the others, a little lighter and more elegant.

Crous St. Martin

The brother/sister duo of Eric and Veronique Bonnet led us through a packed lineup of new and upcoming releases at their home base of Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique. The property sits smack dab in one of the best sections of Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Even as little kids they knew they were in a prime zone for Grenache, if they ran outside to play and veered right they were at Beaucastel and if they veered left a few hundred meters they ended up at Clos du Caillou! There are three things you’ll see coming out of this property, Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique, the production of which consists of wines made from grapes on the estate, Reserve Saint Dominique which is a second label made from younger vines and some purchased fruit, and Crous St. Martin which consists of both estate and purchased fruit and is a collaboration between Eric Bonnet and our good friend Harry Bosmans. We are ordering our first shipments of Domaine and Reserve St. Dominique this month, and you can expect more information on that front (with more background, tasting notes, etc) closer to arrival (the final lineup of available states is still coming together). Let’s just say that there will be some excitement.

The lovely Eric and Veronique Bonnet!

While availability is pretty tiny, Crous St. Martin’s Cotes du Rhone is worth a mention here – The grapes come from the same spot that Beaucastel makes their Coudoulet from,  a zone in the northern part of Chateauneuf du Pape just outside the official appellation boundary, as there weren’t vines in this area when the appellation was originally classified. The Rasteau was just outstanding – Rasteau is the only appellation in the Rhone where grey clay and brown clay both coexist at the root level, this results in a forward wine with violet pastille aromatics that you must experience firsthand…with that in mind I suppose we will import as much as we can get!
Crous St. Martin 17 Cotes du Rhone, full, rich solid.
Crous St. Martin 17 Rasteau, concentrated, big, outstanding.
Crous St. Martin 17 Gigondas, dark, big, fat, a little rustic
Crous St. Martin 17 CHN, typical, concentrated, well made
Crous St. Martin 16 Cairanne, typical, if a little lean. From the last plot of Cairanne on the Rasteau border, high proportion of Mourvedre
Crous St. Martin 16 Lirac, easy, tannic
Overall, very nice set of wines. Again, stay tuned for an announcement on the Domaine La Bastide St Dominique and Reserve St. Dominique wines.

Domaine Brunely

Madame Carichon led us through a quick lineup at this perennial, rustic favorite in Vacqueyras. Have a virtual tour of the property right here to get a better feel. Total holdings include 198 acres of vines spread between Vacqueyras, Cairanne, Ventoux, Gigondas, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Stylistically, winemaking veers towards the traditional spectrum here, where no wood is used other than in their Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Farming is natural.

Madame Carichon

Domaine Brunely 18 Vacquyeras Blanc (tank), Musky, tropical, big.
Domaine Brunely 18 Ventoux Rouge, spicy thanks to Syrah base, one hell of a wild Ventoux
Domaine Brunely 17 Ventoux Rouge,, similar to 18 but with tannin
Domaine Brunely 18 Cotes du Rhone Villages, mineral loaded, outstanding
Domaine Brunely 18 Cairanne, simple, a bit closed
Domaine Brunely 17 Vacqueyras Rouge, full rich attack, black fruit, power, length, nice square tannin
Domaine Brunely 18 Vacqueyras Rouge, closed, less intensity than the 2017
Domaine Brunely 17 Vacqueyras “Tour Aix Cailles,” Syrah and old vine Mourvedre make for “big everything,” dense without being syrupy, BRAVO
Domaine Brunely 17 Gigondas Rouge, fleshy, mineral
Domaine Brunely 17 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, closed
Domaine Brunely 18 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, deeper than the 17, slightly reductive now, huge tannin

Rhône Valley (Part Two) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-05T07:40:59+00:00February 5th, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

We keep things going on day two in the Rhône…

Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières

Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières is a very old family estate, whose name comes from a place of pilgrimage visited by the Provençal people in the middle ages who believed that the fountain on the property would protect them from the plague. Claude Roux and his cousin Jean-Pierre have so many generations of Gigondas wine making experience in their family that they don’t know exactly how many of their relatives have been involved up to now – Antique writings suggest that this Domaine existed as far back as the 900’s.  Fortunately this tradition is continuing with Claude’s children, Isabelle and Julien, who are gradually taking over the day to day responsibilities of farming, production, and administration. Vineyard holdings total 74 acres in Gigondas, Sablet, and Cotes du Rhone and the winery is based in the center of their principal vineyard holding, a field of very old vines (mainly Grenache, many up to 110 years in age). This is a particularly interesting sub-site in Gigondas as it is set in a protected valley underneath the shadows of the iconic Dentilles de Montmirail. This means stronger and longer cooling winds versus other top estates in the region, which means more freshness in the finished wine. Even when you are driving up, you know you are rolling into something special:
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Sablet Blanc “Montmartel,” open knit, tremendous purity, wish Sablet Blanc was easier to sell!
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 18 Cotes du Rhone, full, rich and unbelievably ready to go, good pedigree, this is mostly declassified Gigondas (!)
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Sablet Rouge “Montmartel,” garrigue driven, higher % of Syrah gives this pepper notes and thick tannin, what a value
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Lirac “Les Pellegrin” (tank), lots of CO2, need to taste finished wine
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 16 Rasteau “Les Ribes,” topsoil here is salmon orange from iron content, concentrated, very rustic example
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 17 Gigondas “Les Mourres,” dark, big, fat, integrated, lots to like here!
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières 16 Gigondas “Bois de Mourres,” deep, tremendous concentration, still some obvious barrel flavors up front, we wonder what this would be like without the wood influence as the vine material is so good it is almost unheard of.

The highlights here, as usual, were the Cotes du Rhone, Sablet Rouge “L’Olivet,” the Cotes du Rhone, and the Gigondas “Les Mourres,” – All are naked examples of their kind and just screaming for the rustic bistro-like fare most of you enjoy making and devouring at home.

…or you could make your life easy and just drink it with giant fatty chunks of smoked pork jowl and back fat!

Domaine de la Charbonnière

Veronique Maret led us through an energizing “breakfast” of new and upcoming releases. Veronique is young, serious in the best way, and stacked with ambition. In her young but very capable hands this remains a traditional estate, and she has converted all of the Domaine’s farming to organic practices. The “entry level” CDP is outstanding, individual CdP cuvées are produced from the best blocks of the family’s best plots, and a sappy vielles Vignes blend is not to be missed in any vintage – in 15/16/17, as it contains a lot of Grenache from the La Crau vineyard in it, and as you likely know (unless you live under a bus) La Crau is one of the best individual plots in the entire appellation. We’ve had a stellar string of vintages here, let’s review them real quick as we have 2015 here and upcoming vintages allocated to us for shipment…The 2015 vintage is very good, typical warm year, the wines are a little closed now, should be better after a trip across the water. For us 2016 is better, more color, more elegant and a spicy character.  The 2017’s are outstanding, dark, fat, polished and tons of fruit. This is mostly because of the small crop and the good growing season in CDP.
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, ripe, rich, soft, benchmark
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, fresher, pretty mature
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Vacqueyras, dark, typical, concentrated (there is only the straight V. in 17)
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, concentrated, fruit, dark, full
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape “Mourre des Perdrix,” advanced, ripe, seems light
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape “Vieilles Vignes,” much better tight, concentrated
Domaine de la Charbonnière 17 Chateauneuf du Pape “Cuvee Hautes Brusquires,” focused, masculine, fruit
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Vacqueyras, dark, powerfull, tannic
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Vacqueyras “Cuvee Spéciale”, bigger, darker, dry now
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, wonderfully balanced, full, typical
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape “Mourre des Perdrix, fine, fruit, soft
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape “Cuvee Hautes Brusquires,” More finesse than we’d expect from what is usually a “big” bottling, fresh
Domaine de la Charbonnière 16 Chateauneuf du Pape “Vieilles Vignes,”, focused, complete, concentrated
In an earlier tasting (Winter 2018) Frank thought 17 could be as good as 16 here, but our experience now indicates this may no longer be the case. Most of the 17’s are really good (you’ll all gush for them upon arrival in 18 months), but the 16’s are flawless, concentrated and balanced…They will
age well, but we would be tempted to drink them young. We will buy as deep as Verionique’s allocations allow, and smart merchants and somms will do the same!

Domaine Le Clos des Lumières

Domaine le Clos des Lumières is a 50 hectare family farm founded in 1946 by the grandfather of the domaine’s current vigneron, Gérald Serrano.  The ambitious and talented Gérald Serrano is solely responsible for the recent “coming out” of this estate – Prior to taking things over in 2003 Gérald’s father was selling all grapes on the estate to the local cooperative. We had fun shooting VR pics with them, here is a look on Google Maps – They were intent on holding the pose which was basically perfect. The kid on the right? He is the newest generation, just started on the tractor, and you’ll get to know him well.

Having grown up on the property, Gérald is intimately familiar with the terroir here.  The oldest vines now edge 60 years in age and this land really seems to “pack the character in.”.  We’ve sold massive amounts of Rhone wine over the last forty years, and these are the most well-received Cotes du Rhone values we’ve carried in our history.

These guys seem to have a deep understanding of what’s going on in the vineyard and in the market, they are probably the hardest working partners we have, and as Frank will tell you it is pretty amazing to see how forward thinking they are. The potential here is huge, we have only scratched the surface. When they heard what we were up to last Spring in terms of the national expansion and the whole idea of “expecting some grapeness,” the Serrano family went out and bought another 70 acres of vineyard land, bringing their total holdings to 300 acres owned, plus substantial long term contracts. Between our two companies we have two parties ready to bring it!

Barrows ‘n hoses!

Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR Blanc, light, fresh, very good
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Chardonnay, full, round
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Viognier, a little low on aromatics, which to Frank is a good thing
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Caladoc Gris, fresh and fine, right color for Gris, 3.000L. available, which we reserved
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Caladoc Rosé, more flavor. Actually the same wine as the Gris, just a different part of the pressing
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Syrah Rosé, more structure, more acidity
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Grenache Rosé, typical, easy
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Petit Verdot, outstanding and interesting as there is little Petit Verdot and even less as Rosé. 9000L. available
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR Rosé, full and complex
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 Petit Verdot, dark, tight, depth
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 Marsalan,/Syrah, dark, ripe, tannin
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Merlot, dark, full, fruit, tannin. Outstanding
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Marsalan, dark, soft lovely. 10000L. available
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 Syrah, dark, ripe, rich
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 CDR, solid
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR BIB, fruity, easy
Domaine Clos des Lumières 16 CDR Autrefois, rustic, ok
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 CDR Autrefois,, beter, more fruit and tannin
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR Autrefois, some reduction, should be fine
Domaine Clos des Lumières 16 CDRV, serious, a little mature
Domaine Clos des Lumières 17 CDRV, better now, concentrated
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDRV, the best.
Domaine Clos des Lumières 18 CDR sans sulfites, good
Among the new wines we committed to the Gris (everything available, working on the label this week), a starting load of half CDR bottles (filling your requests my friends), and we are working on new bag in box package because anyone who knows me well knows of my hatred for Papyrus font (and the new package is looking sick so get ready for some full delivery trucks and empty shelves).
The no sulfur bottling of CDR showed well – We will test some in the elements here in the US, and if it fails to referment or go wild on us you’ll be seeing that as well.

Rhône Valley (Part One) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-01T17:48:18+00:00February 1st, 2019|France, Rhône Valley, Travel Report|

Mike Temple had a soft spot for Rhône wines and therefore the region has always been a strength in our portfolio. We spent several days both on our own and with the perennially charismatic Harry Bosmans.

Arnoux Pere et Fils

Vacqueyras’ oldest winery, Arnoux is centered smack dab in the middle of Vacqueyras center and takes up a few blocks with its various buildings. From modern operations to traditional ones to inexplicably idiosyncratic setups, we pride ourselves in our diversity of tastes!  For better or worse! Jean-Francois Arnoux is the latest generation of his family to run the ship at this historic house, and take us through a Rhône lineup he did. Tasting notes are below but the short answer is that we’ve made the decision to double down on what Arnoux does best – the old school, and you’ll see more quantity and more focus on their Vieux Clocher line from us in 2019 and beyond. Below is a video walk through of what has to be one of the more timeless cellar setups in the Rhône Valley.

Arnoux 16 Ventoux, dry, rustic
Arnoux 17 Ventoux, similar to the 16 just younger
Arnoux 17 Cotes du Rhone “Vieux Clocher,” some fruit, dry, rustic, traditional
Arnoux 16 Cotes du Rhone Seigneur de Lauris, richer fruit, garrigue, nice
Arnoux 17 Cotes du Rhone Seigneur de Lauris, fresher than the 16, slightly more going on
Arnoux 16 Cairanne “Vieux Clocher,” quite good, outperformed most of the Cairanne we’ve tasted on this trip, with the telltale floral Cairanne nose
Arnoux 17 Cairanne “Vieux Clocher,” more fruit, but dry right now, should come around well
Arnoux 16 Vacqueyras “Vieux Clocher,” good flavor, some fruit, traditional, we appreciate the style
Arnoux 17 Vacqueyras “Vieux Clocher,” somewhat lighter than the 16 but that is just fine with us, as it is, again, traditional
Arnoux 15 Vacqueyras 15 “Penitents,” fuller, but dry and d0ubling down on rustic

Frank interrogating Jean-Francois on adoption of modern hose storage practices

Domaine Pelaquie

I have to say this was one hell of an eye opening winery visit and it reminds me why we take these sleepless, jambon fueled journeys in the first place. We’ve long admired Pelaquie’s best in class examples of Laudun Rouge and Blanc, but never experienced their bombastic Cotes du Rhone values firsthand, at least not with an understanding of the simple but magic approach that results in a pure, focused, rich yet slippery core of Grenache goodness in every sip (sorry to tease, but more on Pelaquie’s proprietary technique later via video post to coincide with the arrival of the massive initial load of Cotes du Rhone Rouge and Rosè we booked on the spot…check back here in 45 days). Packaging was always a bit of an issue here but that was taken care of when we walked into the office and saw not one but three final draft options for a revised label that matches the spirit of this house. We decided on the below wardrobe, and the reference to Le Rive Droite (aka the underdog left bank of the Rhone) fits the whole spirit at Pelaquie like a glove. Frank will be the first to say that this is the finest Tavel in Tavel. All of you must agree if your appetite for it last year is any indication. 2017 was the warmest year in Lirac/Tavel/Laudun since 2003, but for some reason the whites have the highest acidity they’ve ever measured in the appellation…probably due to the 2-3 months with absolutely no rain which basically meant concentrated everything. Luc Pelaquie believes that in order to make balanced Rhone whites you need to use slow ripening varietals (ie Bourboulenc and Clairette). More than a few people will tell you that this little area here is the very best in the Rhone for expressive whites. We certainly feel that way right now.

Mocking up the final label tweak on a deliciously unfiltered Tavel tank sample!

Domaine Pelaquie 17 Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Blanc, led by Bourboulenc and Clairette but uses all six grapes allowed in the appellation. Very balanced, classic stuff even if rich this go-round
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Lirac Blanc, broad, waxy, full wood but plenty of accompanying acid, modern
Domaine Pelaquie 18 Tavel, firm but open, dark, settling out, another winner this year
Domaine Pelaquie 18 Cotes du Rhone Rouge (tank), rich and loaded with flavor, home run
Domaine Pelaque 17 Cotes du Rhone Rouge, garrigue loaded nose, lovely texture, almost silky, total steal
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Rouge, superpie Laudun, Mourvedre adds the structure and spice needed to keep this interesting
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Lirac Rouge, MEATY! Only Grenache and Mourvedre used here, lack of Syrah gives this a specific personality. Lirac and Rasteau have the best Mourvedre in the Rhone, and if you add even 10% Syrah it totally changes the wine so as Luc would say, why add it. Lirac is planet Earth’s absolute temperature limit for Mourvedre.

Another reason these are so good? Look at the thick old vines that surround the Domaine!

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Provence – Winter 2019

By |2019-01-30T16:58:30+00:00January 30th, 2019|France, Travel Report|

Provence isn’t always sunny and warm – Temperatures were in the 40’s with a wicked mistral that made us feel like we were sitting in the stands of Soldier Field during a January playoff game. We had a bit more time today than normal and were able to spend quality time with two very important producers here at Grape, Domaine Sorin and Chateau Bas.

Domaine Sorin

We met with Olivier Santini, who owns and operates the iconic Domaine Paternel in Cassis.  Olivier purchased Domaine Sorin several years ago after the untimely passing of Luc Sorin – This acquisition fulfilled his dream of vineyard property in Bandol and allowed him to feed the increasing demand for his Cotes de Provence Rose.

Domaine Sorin 2018 Cotes de Provence Rosé “Terra Amata,” pale pink, CDP rose with real finesse, very ready
Domaine Sorin 2015 Bandol Rouge, deep color, cherry, licorice, built to last but in the window now
Domaine Sorin 2016 Bandol Rouge, typical profile, but not nearly the complexity as the 15 and still a bit disjointed
Domaine Paternel 2017 Cassis “Blanc de Blancs,” aromatic, with dense palate that shows layers of stone fruit, plenty to get excited about here

The Cassis Blanc was an eye opener for me as I’d never been to Cassis or consumed the wines from this tiny AOP.  Very little Cassis is exported as the demand is sky high in this gorgeous, touristed, seaside appellation. The pricing? As you’d expect pricing on AOP Cassis is extremely high. Frank will say way too high, I vote to offer some on a presell when the 2018 vintage is available as Olivier Santini will have a pallet or two available for allocation. I dare anyone to find a superior pairing with Bouillabaisse.

Cotes de Provence Rosé also continues to climb in price due to insatiable global demand. We’ve worked hard to keep pricing reasonable for you on Sorin, not without some yelling and screaming at the winery, such was the episode between Frank and Olivier this evening as the sun set over this dreamlike property overlooking the Mediterranean. Our guess is that Cotes de Provence pricing has reached a peak and will stabilize (or even decrease a touch) by next year.

Finalizing 2019 packaging with Olivier Santini

It is also worth noting that some time was spent tweaking the packaging on Sorin’s Cotes de Provence Rosé – The changes we made during our visit will debut not in this current vintage but rather with the release of the 2019 next winter.

Chateau Bas

The property is owned by Mrs. von Blanquet, an older lady living in Baden-Baden, widow of the founder of Gaggenau kitchens. The estate is 170 acres in total, all organic, mostly planted with rosé destined red varietals (mostly Grenache and Cinsault), along with red destined red varietals (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah), and whites including Clairette, Bourboulenc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino.

It is as historic a property as they come, all farming is organic, although the cellar is modern and efficient, where they produce 3 levels, Chateau Bas as we know it, the premium Pierres du Sud in 3 colours and the iconic Le Temple in red and white. The reds in the latter ranges are really good and so is the white Le Temple. All reds get decent “elevage” time, a minimum of two years in bottle prior to release. They all get more or less wood.

Organic rows at Chateau Bas

The Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is a relatively small appellation, there are some 70 producers including 3 cooperatives. The region is traditionally a red wine producer, the rosé trend is led by economics rather than custom, but it turned out that the area produces some pretty good rosés which seem to have a little more body than the more elegant examples we see from the Eastern part of Provence. The whites at Chateau Bas are rather full bodied and fat and age well, they are considerably better than average in Provence.

Chateau Bas 2018 Blanc, fresh, straightforward, some spice
Pierre de Sud 2018 Blanc, similar, but better
Chateau Bas 2018 Rosé, fresh, solid, fine
Pierre de Sud 2018 Rosé, step up, more depth
Chateau Bas 2018 Rouge, solid and quite serious, good
Pierre de Sud 2015, even better

We should consider the Pierre de Sud at some point, with the more classic label and bottle. When you all are ready that is. Let us know.

Southern Burgundy and Beaujolais – Winter 2019

By |2019-01-28T04:15:38+00:00January 27th, 2019|Burgundy, France, Travel Report|

Day three was an eye-opener. Gerald Talmard introduces us to his friends and neighbors in Chardonnay, we gorge on wine soaked meat with the Jambon family @ Domaine Thulon, and finish up at Louis Picamelot’s brand new winery to taste what have to be the finest set of non-Champagne bubbles in France.

Gerald Talmard

Our visit to Talmard is always quick, as this is an efficient father/son operation with only two wines produced.  There is not much to talk about really as Gerald makes the best QPR Macon Chardonnay on the market and we beg for as much as he will give us. Talmard typifies 2018 as “2015, but more acidity”. He is right.

Gerald Talmard shows us 2018’s from tank

Talmard 18 Macon Chardonnay, fresh, good acidity, citrus, easy to drink.
Talmard 18 Macon-Uchizy, similar in style, more closed at this point.

He is playing with a new fermentation process that allows for lower use of SO2, and maybe that was where that extra paintbrush of Chardonnay goodness came from…We’ve rarely tasted wine this good at Talmard. Overachievement.  50,000 bottles available, 10,000 more than with the 2017!  Let’s have some fun!

Cadoles de Chardonnay

All of you have such an appetite for Gerald Talmard’s bombastic values in Macon Chardonnay and Macon Uchizy that he simply cannot supply all of your demand!  For this reason Gerald introduced us to his friends and neighbors at Cadoles de Chardonnay. This father/son operation is located several minutes from Gerald’s Domaine, and smack dab in the aptly named village of Chardonnay.  Until several years ago the Domaine was selling all of their production to the local cooperative in Lugny, but they now make and sell wines themselves as their quality is just too good to be lost in a village blend.  Here we have a family with deep/long ties to the land, and believe it or not they farm 10% of the total acreage in Chardonnay, all planted to Chardonnay of course! Everything is fermented in stainless steel, and most everything is aged in stainless steel save a dozen experimental barrels.

Patrick and Nicolas Laugere, doing their thing and doing it well

Cadoles de Chardonnay 18 Macon Chardonnay, lemon color, soft, fine, more complex and concentrated than Talmard. Priced a bit higher than Talmard but seems justified.
Big opportunity here.  You can expect our first load in Spring 2019. Available in all states.

Domaine Thulon

Domaine Thulon is located on the old estate of Château de Thulon (this castle towers over the Domaine), and was purchased by Annie and René Jambon in 1987 after they were “métayers” for 20 years on the same site (if the “métayer” thing, ie French sharecropping, is interesting to you have a look at this article by Andrew Jefford)  Their children Carine and Laurent are now running the estate, and a passion for experimentation sets them apart from peers in the region.  These are some of the best values in French wine we’ve come across in the last decade.

The Jambon Family

Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages Blanc, full fat, low acidity
Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages Rosé, firmer. fresh, good
Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages, fresh, fruit
Domaine de Thulon 17 Chiroubles, some reduction, dark, quite full
Domaine de Thulon 17 Regnié. firm, fresh, fruit, good acidity
Domaine de Thulon 17 Morgon concentration, more depth
Domaine de Thulon 17 Regnié VV, some wood aging, tight
Domaine de Thulon 16 Regnié VV, open, nice
Domaine de Thulon 18 Regnié, dark, full, round
Domaine de Thulon 18 Chiroubles, tight, a little dry
Domaine de Thulon 18 Morgon, full, aromatic, concentration
Domaine de Thulon 18 Regnié VV, intense
Domaine de Thulon 17 Beaujolais Villages Blanc “Montagnier,” wood aged, a little funky, why throw wood at such a good thing?
Domaine de Thulon 17 Viognier, nice acidity, probably not useful for us though
Domaine de Thulon 17 “Cerise,” funky, we had divided opinions on it with Frank a big no and Jeff a “hell yes”
The 18’s are going through what seems a somewhat difficult phase. 17’s were bottled not so long ago and need some time. The cellar and the wines were very cold.
The Beaujolais Villages and Chiroubles are made by carbonic maceration. The others are vinified classically (Burgundy-style). Everything takes place in a charmingly typical cellar for the area (have a look at our 360 photos here and more your cursor around for the full experience). After tasting we crossed the courtyard to dunk assorted meats into steaming pots of Beaujolais wine with the family – I’m trying to find a recipe link for you here but cannot find a thing.  Try this though…Simply pour a few bottles of Beaujolais wine into that dusty fondue pot someone gave you as a wedding present, add a chopped onion, a few cloves, some pepper, a few bay leaves, a bit of chicken stock, and a good dose of salt….sit around the table and dip meat into it….proceed to drink copious amounts of Cru Beaujolais.  Finish the meal with a wide assortment of cheese.  Now you are partying like the Jambon Family. What a way to warm up a blustery afternoon.

Louis Picamelot

Phillippe Chautard is the newest generation in the Picamelot family tree to operate this venerable sparkling wine house in Rully. We are safe to say these are the finest sparkling wines made in France outside of Champagne, and some of the top bottlings will beat plenty of Champagne when tasted blind. Mr. Chautard just finished the construction of a breathtaking new winery which is cut into the side of a hill. Have a look at our newly posted 360 photos on Google Street View.

Phillippe Chautard showing off his new toys

Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs Heritage 1926, PBL/CH/UGNI, non AOP, Traditional Method, pretty tasty if lacking some focus
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 Pinot Noir Rosé, well made,. fresh, right color
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 16 Terroirs, PN/CH/ALI, fresh, quite complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 Terroirs, more mature, good
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 “Chazot,” PN from St. Aubin, full-bodied, big wine
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 14 “Jeanne Thomas,” CH 85- ALI 15, big, complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 14 “Reipes” 2014, 100 Chardonnay from St. Aubin, bigger, fine, complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 13 “Jean Baptiste” 80% Chardonnay, 20% Aligote, older, mixed opinions here, you probably won’t see this from us other than via presell.

Excellent wines. Informative back labels. So much potential. Plenty of others feel the same way that we do about Picamelot, so keep in mind that overall quantities are limited here (certainly not the norm for a sparkling house, especially one producing Cremant de Bourgogne).
Up next is a few days in the Rhone with our good friend Harry Bosmans.