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

 
 



Three Little “Pink” Birds

     To be honest, the reasoning behind making a single vineyard Rosé is completly lost on me. The beauty of making a Rosé is the artistic license winemakers can excercise in the way they meld the distinct characteristics of grapes to create a finely nuanced wine. Blending affords a winemaker the luxury to be able to “paint” their wines with fine strokes of flavor and delicate aromas not possible with a single vineyard Rosé. With the ever increasing popularity of Rosé around the world I understand the pressure producers feel to gain attention for their wine and themselves in a crowded market. 

The first wines ever made were probaly Rosé-type wines. It makes sense that when ancient civilations harvested their grapes they all were combined and crushed to render a mixture of every grape they could get their hands on. Have we really evolved so much over the millennia that we now feel the need to taste the terrior in our Rosé? The fact I am writing this post about single vineyard Rosé proves that it is an effective tool to get your wine noticed. 

Here are a few single vineyard Rosés that you might find interesting if you are curious and want to see for yourself if they have any merit or are just a marketing ploy. 

Single Vineyard 2017 Rose Languedoc Languedoc-Roussillon, France $11 Fruity with flavors of red berries and herbs but on the dry side.

2017 Jules Taylor OTQ Single Vineyard Rose Pinot Noir Branken Hill Vineyard Marlborough, Australia 92pts James Suckling 90pts Wine Advocate $20 Loads of raspberries and cherry flavors on fine tannins lead to a dry finish.

Aluvion 2017 Malbec Rose Single Vineyard $30 Medium-bodied with balanced ripe red fruit flavors and lively acidity.

Whispering Angel Rose

I have always been fascinated by the public’s changing taste in wine and what drives it. In

Chateau D’ Esclans Whispering Angel Rose

the 80’s it was Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel that was the biggest seller in the U.S. Then in the 90’s it was any California Chardonnay followed by the Pinot Noir revolution. I believe that changing tastes of

this scale are primarily driven by clever marketing and herd mentality. Today it is Rosé that has been on a roll for several years. Ten years ago no one , especially the members of the “Trendy Set” drank Rosé. The reason wasn’t only that it was poorly made but because it was unfashionable to be seen with a glass of Rosé in your hand at any social gathering. Then Brad Pitt released his Miraval Rosé and the immense star power he commanded caused people to take another look at Rosé and they found it to be a very enjoyable wine when it is well-made. Pitt and his Miraval Rosé opened the door and Chateau D’ Esclan Whispering Angel Rosé burst through it to make a meteoric rise and become the default Rosé for the savvy influencers on the party circuit and social media scene.

     Whispering Angel Rosé represents the best value for a quality Rosé to be found on the Chateau D’ Esclans Rosé list. Whispering Angel Rosé possesses all the traits that you would expect from a French Rosé from Cotes de Provence. It has a delicate pink color and wonderful bouquet with a crisp taste of light fruit and minerality followed by a clean finish. It shows itself better when enjoyed with lighter fare such as Summer salads, seafood and mild cheeses. This Rosé can best be described as balanced, light and dry. Drink it on ice if you really want to go totally “0210” while flaunting your thrifty side with a bottle of French Rosé for less than $20 USD. Now smile for you Instagram pix

A Lighter Shade of Pale

     I have noticed that the latest trend is to go directly from Halloween into Christmas and by doing so minimizing Thanksgiving as a holiday. I find this trend to be particularly disturbing because I like Thanksgiving and the traditional family gatherings that revolve around it. We had the pleasure of celebrating our Thanksgiving with my wife’s family, several of which we haven’t seen lately. Our god-daughter Liz was among the family members we got to spend time with on that day. Liz had recently taken a job closer to home after working for a major wine importer and distributor. Luckily for us she had maintained her contacts in the industry and brought some outstanding bottles with her.

The bottle that caught my eye and my curiosity was a Cuvée Rosé Grand Cru Champagne from R.H. Coutier, a producer from Ambonnay. This French sparkler is a delicate Rosé made from 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir which explains its enchanting salmon pink color. It’s a well-balanced Champagne that opens with cream notes on the nose leading to red berries, prominently strawberries with an ever so slight hint of mint on the finish. R.H.Coutier received a 90 point rating from Wine Spectator and 92 points from Wine Advocate for this offering making it a great value ($45-$50) for a French Champagne of this quality. 

Life’s a Bed of Roses

rose wine

With the official start of Summer just a few days away thoughts of picnics under brilliant blue skies and sunsets enjoyed with friends while sipping Rosé start to fill the minds of winter-weary romantics everywhere. Pennsylvania wine makers have produced a variety of easy drinking wines that will offer the perfect accent to any of your summertime activities.

     Briar Valley Winery Proprietor’s Rosé is a dry Rosé made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Lemberger. A great easy drinking wine that displays  soft cherry and berry notes with subtle tannins and nice acid. You can enjoy this Rosé along with all the Briar Valley offerings, plus the added bonus of live music when you visit the B.V. tasting room on Pitt St. in the metropolis of Bedford, Pa. on the first Friday of each month.  

     Fero Winery owner/winemaker Chuck Zaletski shows the wide range of his winemaking skills with his Sweet Blush. Sweet Blush is a rose-colored semi-sweet, not dry wine with smooth flavors of fruit. Chuck calls it his “Party Wine” and it would be great over ice, especially after running the Wine-N-Mile through the Fero Vineyards in Lewisburg, Pa. on May 29th. 

     If it is a blush made from a blend of four grapes that you are looking for, then Arrowhead Winery has the wine for you. Four Winds Blush has a light body with a smooth semi-sweet fruit finish but don’t take my word for it. Arrowhead Winery has just opened its newest wine shop inside Schramm Farm Market in Harrison City, Pa. Connie and Joanne will be happy to lead you through a free tasting of the wines of your choice.

Valley Sunrise is a fresh and sweet blend from Rich Ripepi at the Ripepi Winery. Rich has struck a balance with Valley Sunrise that produces a very drinkable wine perfect for any casual gathering. Stop by the Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa. for the “Summer Sip Series” to experience live music and great food plus group vineyard tours + tastings.

The Vineyard at Hershey winemaker L. Paul Vezzetti has produced a spot-on wine for a summer evening of music in the open air of their vineyard. Twisted Kiss is a blend of white Vidal and red Chamboursin. This wine has hints of tropical fruit and subtle strawberry flavors. There is no excuse for having a boring weekend when you can go to The Vineyard at Hershey Middletown, Pa and dance to live music and drink fun wines under the stars at their “Decked Out Live” concerts.

     No trip into the Laurel Highlands would be complete without a stop at the C.W. Klay Winery Chalk Hill, Pa. The “Pavilion Music Series” at C. W. Klay fills the air with the sound of free live music. You can relax and listen to a concert under the pavilion by the lake with a bottle of Chestnut Ridge Sunset. This wine is a delicate semi-sweet crimson blush with a hint of cherry aroma in a Zinfandel style.  

These are just a few of the possibilities that you have available to you in Western & Central Pa. A complete directory of winery and brewery events can be found on the website: West Pa Winery & Brewery

     

A to Z Rose

Photo Courtesy: A to Z WineWorks

Photo Courtesy: A to Z WineWorks

     With summer fast approaching I have decided to revisit a recommendation I made last year for my favorite summertime wine Rosé.  This wine is a perfect fit for an idyllic afternoon spent sitting on a blanket spread out on a lush green lawn under a shade tree with a picnic basket full of artisan cheeses, fresh fruit and a loaf of hard-crusted bread.  I like this Rosé because it is full of flavor and made to please with a slightly complex mid-palate that remains bright and juicy while filled with a virtual produce stand of red fruit flavors.  A to Z Rosé first catches your eye with its beautiful magenta color then tickles your nose with the aromas of strawberries, red currants, raspberries, peach and watermelon while finally winding it all up with a crisp clean finish.  There is no wine as closely associated with summer as Rosé, so when you pull out the shorts and sandals add in a bottle of Oregon-made A to Z Wineworks Rosé, you won’t be sorry you did! 

Something Different

Pinot Grigio

2011 Volere Pinot Grigio

2011 Volere Rose

2011 Volere Rose

     I have to tip my hat to Volére for the imaginative packaging of a box wine trio that was perfectly timed for the holiday season.  The wine business is extremely competitive and it is very hard to grab a consumers attention but this innovative idea does just that.  Volére has packaged three selections in a box that looks like a designer purse with details which include a color coordinated handle, hang tag and a zipper printed on the top of the purse.  The box contains 1.5 liter of either a 2011 Pinot Grigio, Rosé or Red Blend and is list priced at $14.99.  My wife purchased a few as hostess gifts that she will give out this holiday season.  I forgot to mention that the spout pulls out of the end of the box/purse, so it can serve on the go or from the shelf of your refrigerator.

Smell the Rose

     Well it is Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer with all of its festivities.  It is also the unofficial start of Rosé season, conditions are perfect for this wine to really shine in all of its styles. Rosé is made in many styles from very dry to sweet along with a wide range of sparkling wines.  There is no need to over think your Rosé purchase  I recommend just reading the tasting notes and picking

A glass being full of rosé wine

A glass being full of rosé wine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 one that sounds good.  Mas de Guiot Rosé 2010 sounded good to me because it is made in the traditional dry crisp style of a Southern French Rosé.  This wine has a deeper Rosé color than do most Rosés along with a dry finish.  This can be attributed to the blend of grapes that is mainly Grenache with some Syrah and a little Mourverde.  I think the winery notes say it best “Fresh with bright red licorice and ripe cherry notes backed by a stony hint.  Very tasty.”  This is a P.A.L.C.B. store online exclusive with the product code 20370 and a WA rating of 88.  It is also has an unbeatable price of $7.99 on sale from $12.99