Smoke & Mirrors

Robert Mondavi “invented” Fumé Blanc because he wanted to

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

distinguish the high-quality Sauvignon Blanc he was making in the French-style from the other California Sauvignon Blanc that was widely viewed as ordinary “run of the mill” sweet wines. Mondavi decided that changing the name wouldn’t be enough to change people’s idea of California Sauvignon Blanc so he decided to age it in oak barrels. His bold move to rename his dry-fermented barrel-aged wine Fumé Blanc quickly paid off as demand for this “new” wine grew in California and across the United States. Mondavi’s decision not to trademark the name was a stroke of brilliance on his part because more people could use the name and by doing so increase its name recognition and acceptance worldwide. The name Fumé Blanc is commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States since the late1960’s. Robert Mondavi never intended to imply that Fumé Blanc was a specific style or method of making wine but only a name for his wine. There is nothing that dictates Fumé Blanc must be oak-aged. You can find Fumé Blanc that is not aged in oak and that is perfectly acceptable because under current U.S. law the terms “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Fumé Blanc” are synonymous. 

If you are curious I suggest you try Fumé Blanc from the winery

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

that started it all, the Robert Mondavi Winery. 2017 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley from Robert Mondavi Winery has aromas of peach, citrus and of course, smoke followed by crisp acidity and flavors of pear, citrus, and vanilla/buttery oak. 

The wine world is full of interesting stories like this and others where you may find yourself asking is it “Lemberger” or “Blaufränkisch”? Don’t even get me started with the marketing genius behind the “Syrah” or “Shiraz” campaign.LOL My advice is to ignore the marketing hype and drink what you like no matter what is printed on the label.  

Wine Me Dine Me

The Bogle family has farmed in the Clarksburg region of California’s Sacramento River Delta for six generations dating back to the late 1800s. Bogle has over 1800 acres of estate-grown grapes and sources grapes from some of the best-growing regions throughout the state of California. Their wines are often described as “Value wines” or “Everyday wines” but don’t be fooled because they are widely available and have a price point in the low teens if not lower. These wines are well made considering the size of Bogle’s production. Bogle Chardonnay is barrel fermented on the lees and hand-stirred once a month while the reds are aged in small oak barrels. These methods are rare in wineries the size of Bogle. If you are looking for quality wine at an affordable price that you can pair with your weeknight dinner and is always a reliable choice when you’re “out on the town” take a close look at the menu of Bogle wines. A good place to start is with Bogle Merlot. This is a very drinkable Merlot with notes of oak and slightly rounded edges because of its lower acidity and tannins, dry but not overly dry. Enjoyable flavor.  

Winemaker: Adam Sabelli-Frisch

                As with most things in life the saying “What was old is new again” rings particularly true when it comes to trends in the wine world. Anyone that has read this blog can attest to my curiosity with the ancient wine grape Saperavi and its resurgence worldwide but more specifically here in the U.S. The Mission grape has a storied past in California but fell out of favor with the winemaking community in the early part of the last century. Countless acres of vines have been pulled out and the land used for other projects. When I heard of a winemaker producing wine from Mission grapes and other lesser know varieties I was intrigued. I contacted Adam Sabelli-Frisch owner/winemaker of Sabelli-Frisch Wines in Santa Clarita, California and asked him for an interview to find out more about him, his winemaking philosophy and his plans for bringing back some very interesting wine grapes that haven’t been widely produced in decades.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Adam for the time and honesty he shared with me for this article. What follows is my unedited interview with Adam Sabelli-Frisch of Sabelli-Frisch Wines.

 

                       How did you get started making wine?

Like so many others, I started with home winemaking. Very bad at first, but it gradually improved. Like most home winemakers, I harbored a dream of eventually doing it professionally, which

Mission Grapes Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

certainly isn’t a new idea by any means. And one of my bad or good character traits, depending on how you look at it (or if you’re my wife), is that when I decide something, I launch into it pretty quick and without much fear. So by the summer of 2018 I’d decided I wanted to try this for real, and in Sept of that year I was already doing my first harvest!

How would you describe your winemaking style?

I would say that I lean towards making more old world type wines in the new world. Not austere in any way, just a little more restrained than perhaps is the CA style that has prevailed in the last decades. But still embracing the possibilities of the warmer climate wines we can make here. Perhaps a more accurate description would be that I try to make them in the earlier California tradition of the 60’s and 70’s before the big

Flame Tokay Grapes Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

styles became the norm.

Who and what had the greatest influence on your winemaking?

I wish I could mention a mentor, but since I didn’t come up through a traditional winemaking background, and have another job to support this still, I never had the chance to work under others (which I very much regret). I would say that maybe Emile Peynauds book Knowing And Making Wine was the closest to something like that.

How did you get interested in growing and making wine from grapes not being widely grown commercially?

That is a long story that I will try to shorten as much as I can: During my early winemaking I was predominantly drinking and making so called ‘natural wines’ (I prefer to refer to them as low-intervention wines these days, rather than natural).That

Petit Manseng Grapes Photo Courtesy: Sabelli-Frisch Wines

was the focus I wanted to bring to making my own wines – naturally fermented, not filtered and with low sulphur additions. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to also take that concept one step further. And in my mind it didn’t make sense to do low-intervention wines and then use imported and non-native grape varieties to do it from. So I wanted to make my wines using the American native strands, vitis labrusca and vitis rupestris etc. But after personal research and trials, I came to the conclusion that they are very challenging to make good wine out of. It was just a bridge too far for a new winemaker. So I regrouped and said: “well, which is the oldest vitis vinifera strand in the US?” And the answer is of course Mission. It’s the oldest European grape in the New World and has been in the Americas for more than 500 years now. So that seemed like a good fit. Only when I started making wine from it did I fully realize how amazing and rewarding that grape is.

What are your favorite varietals to work with and why?

I love Mission with a passion. It has been maligned, discredited, mistreated and ripped out for over a century now. You open older winemaking books and they all refer to the grape as inferior and not suitable for making wine at all. It is completely misunderstood. And when you take the time to understand it, you’ll find it makes world class wines. That might sound hyperbolic, but I actually believe that is the case. Mission has a great future ahead of it, and I’m convinced it will have a big resurrection.

What are some of your favorite wines and from which regions and producers?

I used to be heavily into Amarone in my youth and have a good

Syrah Grapes Photo Courtesy :Sabelli-Frisch Wines

collection of them still. But as you get older, seems like the palate changes and you go for more subtler styles. Last years it’s for me mainly been California or Oregon wines with a good mix between natural wines from small producers and a lot of Pinot Noir. My knowledge is limited to CA and OR wine and I don’t have a lot of knowledge about European producers, which is kind of ironic as I’m from there myself. I really enjoy Lioco, Failla, Ceritas,, Stirm, Broc Cellars, Deux Punx, Sandlands and producers like that here in CA. It’s a very exciting time for CA wines and there’s a change of guard as we move away from the Napa style.

What wines are you working on now and what are your expectations for them?

Well, my interest for rare, underused or strange grape varieties continues. Beside Mission, this year I did a Petit Manseng white for my limited edition Milk Fed line. It’s a yearly recurring edition where the grape changes, but the vinification in amphorae and with light skin-contact doesn’t change. Very small production and one-off’s for each vintage, so they’re always exciting. I also came back to my Alicante Bouschet which turned out so well in 2018 vintage. Really a wonderfully subtle wine. And my Flame Tokay rosé I continued this year as it also turned out so nice last time (Flame Tokay is another almost extinct grape). In the future I’m looking to explore more varieties – I almost got some Negrette and Cabernet Pfeffer this year, so I hope I can revisit those down the line.

Please feel free to to add any personal thoughts and insights you think would be of interest to my readers.

Well, maybe that first release will be sometime early 2020. No fixed date yet, but I would guess around March. I bottle in January and depending on how long they take to get over bottle shock, that’s when they’ll come out.

For more information you can contact

Adam Owner/winemaker Sabelli-Frisch Wines Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

Sabelli-Frisch Wines via email at info@sabelli-frisch.com

Phone: 310-383-2944

Follow on Instagram @  sabellifrisch