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
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
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
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
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
Sabelli-Frisch Wines via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
It isn’t often that a premier Napa Valley vineyard and winery offers a discount on their award-winning wines. Mary Rocca, owner of Rocca Family Vineyards in Napa has generously offered a discount on her wines to all of my readers. Deals like this rarely happen with world-class wineries so don’t hesitate because it expires on 10/16/19 and I know you will regret missing this one. Go to http://roccawines.com and enter either discount code at checkout. WPASHIP (one dollar shipping on any order) or WPA25 ( $25 off any order of 2 bottles or more).
If you have ever had the good fortune to see your family name on the label of a wine bottle you can understand my interest when I saw mine attached to a premium Napa Valley winery. I started to wonder if there might be some family connection. I contacted Mary Rocca, owner of Rocca Family Vineyards to explore the possibility of us being related. I found Mary to be very kind and welcoming as we exchanged information about our ancestry. I learned a great deal about my own heritage and also about Mary’s. We found some amazing coincidences that would have never been discovered had we not reached out to each out. Mary generously sent a gift of her wine to be shared at my family reunion as an introduction between our families. I would like to say “Thank You” to Mary for all the time and effort she has taken from her busy schedule to assist me in this project. Although we haven’t identified any recent common threads we continue to search. Even if we can’t find any blood relatives uniting our families I will always consider Mary not only a friend but family. Mary has generously offered to discount the wine purchases of all of my readers when they enter either of these codes at checkout on http://roccawines.comWPASHIP ($1 SHIPPING ON ANY ORDER) or WPA25 ($25 OFF ANY ORDER OF 2 BOTTLES OR MORE) These codes expire on 10/16/19 so don’t miss out on your chance to buy extraordinary wine from an outstanding Napa Valley winery with an insider’s deal.
Anyone that has ever dreamed of owning a vineyard and winery in Napa, California can only imagine the excitement that Mary Rocca and her husband Eric Grigsby felt when they
decided to pursue that very dream. They began their search for the ideal Napa vineyard in 1996 while Mary juggled her dental practice, Eric his medical practice and not to mention their four young children at home. Their three-year search for the perfect vineyard came to fruition when they found a 21-acre vineyard deep in the heart of the Napa Valley. They renamed it the Grigsby vineyard and planted new rows of vines between the existing ones to essentially double their grape production. This vineyard is located between the warmer climate of the upvalley and the cooler maritime influences of the San Francisco Bay. The Grigsby vineyard is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but also has 1 acre of Merlot and roughly 2.5 acres of Syrah. In 2000 Mary purchased the 11-acre Collinetta vineyard in the Coombsville appellation. The Collinetta vineyard is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 4 & Clone 337) but also has an acre of Cabernet Franc and an acre of Petit Verdot. Now with all the pieces in place Mary could focus on making her vision for Rocca Family Vineyards a reality.
Many decisions had to be made when it came to what pillars the winery and vineyard
would be established on. For many of those choices Mary drew upon the deeply seated beliefs she had built her life and career on. First and foremost, Rocca wines had to be the best they could possibly be and show not only the most natural expression of the vines but also the environment in which they were grown. With that in mind, the choice to farm both vineyards with organic and sustainable viticulture was the only acceptable path forward. As conscientious stewards of the environment, everyone at
Rocca is acutely aware of the long-lasting and far-reaching effects that pesticides and herbicide can cause in the delicate balance of the ecosystem both locally and globally. The Grigsby and Collinetta vineyards have proven themselves by producing some of Napa Valley’s finest wine grapes and because they are organically farmed are U.S.D.A. organic and C.C.O.F. certified.
In 1999 Mary hired Celia Welch Masyczek of Scarecrow fame as Rocca’s first winemaker and together they produced a long line of award winning and critically acclaimed wines. In 2008 Paul Colantuoni assumed the role of master winemaker at Rocca wines from Celia. With vineyard manager Sergio Melgoza nurturing the grapes and Paul’s skillful hand now making Rocca Family Vineyards wine the winery has continued on its accending arc vintage after vintage.
If you would like to know more about the Rocca Family Vineyards story or are interesting in purchasing their wine please visit http://roccawines.com Don’t forget to use the codes to receive a discount on your wine purchases. WPASHIP for $1 DOLLAR SHIPPING ON ANY ORDER or WPA25 for $25 OFF 2 BOTTLES OR MORE.
In organic viticulture the use of chemicals is strictly controlled by law to the point where almost all the chemicals available to conventional growers are prohibited. Organic growers concentrate on growing healthy vines that are able to withstand pests, disease, fungus, rots and anything else they may encounter in the field while being able to sustain themselves with a robust root system. Conventional growers rely more on chemical solutions for prevention and problem resolution. A balanced ecosystem and healthy soil in the vineyard are essential for organic farming to succeed.
Biodynamic viticulture takes the idea of growing grapes without the aid of chemical applications a step further. Biodynamic farming looks at a vineyard as an ecosystem unto itself with a system of checks and balances that maintains the system’s equilibrium and prevents any major disruptive events (diseases, insect infestation, animal intrusion, etc.) from affecting the health of the system. Biodynamic farmers incorporate lunar cycles and astrological influences into their decisions. In the U.S.A. wine labeled “organic” is regulated by law. These wines must be made from grapes that are certified to have been organically grown and made without any sulfites added to them. Wine can be made from “certified organically grown grapes” and have sulfites added to them but the label can’t claim it as “organic wine” but as wine “made from organic grapes”. The difference in wording is subtle but there is a difference in how the wine is produced. Biodynamic wines are also produced from grapes grown in chemical-free biodynamic vineyards but the winemaker is limited to making wine without using any common manipulations, such as adjusting it’s acidity or adding yeasts. As with organic grapes you can find wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” that have been made using different wine making manipulations but as with the “organically grown grapes” the label will read wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” but not biodynamic wine. The U.S. Government does not certify biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wine is certified by the independent Demeter Association. Biodynamic and Demeter are trademarks used to assure consumers that the product has been certified to a uniform standard.
I have had conversations with wine makers and vineyard owners from the Eastern United States that have seen just about everything that can happen in a vineyard first hand. The one point they were all emphatic about was that although it is possible to grow organic and biodynamic vineyards here it is very difficult. Any grower wanting to pursue this method of viticulture must first be able to withstand the possibility that their harvest may be dramatically reduced in some years and non-existent in others because of factors they won’t be able to control with the tools they allowed to use.
The topic of organic vs. conventional farming has been debated with valid points being made and supported on both sides of the discussion. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that any practice that leads to better wine is always welcome. At the end of the day wine making is a business and like any other business you must be profitable to stay in business. It requires a business plan that is flexible and incorporates a vision that can be transformed into a financially viable enterprise in the real world.
While we were in California I tasted plenty of good Sauvignon Blanc and it reminded me that this wine was a favorite of mine for years but had been forgotten recently. I decided to remedy this oversight by doing some research to find not just a good
Sauvignon Blanc but a very good one. The search led me back to Healdsburg, California with the discovery of Chalk Hill Estate 2010 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This offering was bestowed a 90 point rating by both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. My impressions of this wine were spicy, floral, lemons, herbaceous, bright, energetic, crisp with an interesting balance. It can be found in P.L.C.B. stores or online at their website with the product code 46248 for $29.99.
It is Day 6 and our trip is nearing it’s conclusion but not before we take part in a wine blending lesson at the Franciscan Winery followed by lunch at the Culinary Institute of America. During the drive on Highway 12 I noticed rose bushes at the end of the rows in many of the vineyards and I was told the reason is they are effected by the Phylloxera louse before the vines get infested thus providing an early warning alert to the presence of this dreaded pest, in essence they are the “Canary in the coal mine” for wine country. We arrived at the Franciscan Winery and were immediately taken with the beauty of the winery and an it’s neatly manicured grounds. Inside the main building we divide into four teams and begin to blend our wine under the watchful eye of Fred, our instructor. Our 45 minute assignment is to blend a wine, set a price that we think the wine would sell for, design and make a label, bottle, cork and label our wine then make presentation to the group stating why our wine should be judged the winner. After sampling each blend and laughing a lot, we realized we were all winners that day. Our next destination is St. Helena and the Culinary Institute of America for lunch and a brief history lesson of this magnificent building that had served as the Christian Brothers Winery for so many years until an earthquake left it unstable, only to be saved from demolition by the C.I.A. for future generations. Everyone was seated for lunch around a very large table in a cavernous room on the 2nd floor directly across from the bustling teaching kitchens of the Academy. During our meal an Executive Chef from the school conducted a presentation on the preparation of a Galette, which by no coincidence just happened to be our dessert . Upon returning to the hotel we pack our bags for the trip home tomorrow, then we got ready for our last night together with our friends at the “Wine Maker’s Dinner”. At dinner that evening we would laugh, eat and drink as we enjoyed a superb meal of Beef Short Ribs prepared by Chef Andrew Wilson of the Carneros Bistro and wine pairings by Highway 12 Winery. The one consistent message I got throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley was that California winemakers are expecting the 2012 vintage to be exceptional and that it will be a year that we will remember. The evening winds to a close and we all say our goodnights knowing that tomorrow we will be saying our goodbyes.
Today we will be moving to the Lodge of Sonoma in Sonoma and if I had any doubt we were leaving San Francisco today our departure was confirmed when we passed the bellman in the hall with our luggage as we returned from breakfast. As I sat looking out the coach window we drove down familiar streets passing by many of the sights Julie had pointed out just days before. The trip out of the city is punctuated with the crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge under a sunny blue sky, a much different view of it than the one I had from below in the fog. The landscape quickly begins to change from a modern urban plan to one of sprawling suburban streets and then finally to the rural agricultural setting of Napa Valley and Sonoma County that we are seeking. Land prices here have skyrocketed over the years to the point that today prime vineyard land is going for about $250,000 an acre leaving little room to grow any crop other than grapes because doing so would be economically infeasible.
Before checking into the hotel we will be visiting the Benziger Family Winery where we will learn how they practice Bio-Dynamics in the production of their wines. Nathaniel, a 30 year employee explains how Bio-Dynamic agriculture takes the idea of co-existing with the land to a higher level. They use beneficial insects, bats and owls to control pests while bottling and racking with the correct phase of the moon just to name a few of their environmentally compatible techniques. Existing in harmony with the land is paramount in this farming discipline and it is best expressed in the belief that wines produced using this method are not necessary better wines but wines that more accurately reflects the true character of the property. This can be tasted in the Benziger wines as the complex flavors imparted by the deep root penetration of the vines into the different soil layers or the different tastes due to the amount of sunlight exposure the vines recieve. With less sunlight the fruit will develop with more of a herbaceous flavor but if the light is increased a palate of red fruit and cherries will be prominent. After a wine tasting we gather in the wine cave for a gourmet lunch which used vegetables grown on property.
Our next stop was for a wine tasting at Sebastiani Winery, the most recognizable winery in Sonoma that pioneered the modern wine industry in the area. After the tasting we are walked through their production facilities allowing us to get a close look at the presses and the fermentation tanks. That evening we met the hotel’s sommelier Chris Sawyer at his wine education class. Chris was very knowledgable and entertaining as he took us through a tasting of four examples of Merlot produced locally. Later we enjoyed dinner at the Caneros Bistro with our new friends Kevin and Lucy:-). The emphasis in California cooking is on fresh whole foods that are organically grown. This was certainly the case for the Carneros Bistro whose gardens were just outside the restaurants windows.