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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Entries in Getting to Know (37)

Monday
Mar182013

{Terra Ignota} 100 Years in the Making: The Voice of Rippon

This week I was lucky enough to attend one of the most interesting and inspiring tastings I have ever been to. A "20 Year Vertical of Rippon Pinot Noir" the invite read. On the surface a 20-year vertical of any wine is a great accomplishment, (if the wines have held up anyways) but the thing with Rippon is that the story runs so much deeper than your basic chronology of vintages. This is a story about four generations of passionate farmers, a strong affinity to a place, the toils of a father, son and many others to bring forth the “voice of the farm,” the true expression of a special terroir.

Nick's father Rolfe looking out over the land that would become Rippon Estate.For those of you that don't know the wines of Rippon, it is an estate in Central Otago on the south island of New Zealand. This is an area famed for its Pinot Noir and much of Rippon's success can be attributed to this wonderful, fickle variety. The vineyard occupies a very unique and special site. The majestic Lake Wanaka lies to the east, and to the west are looming snow capped mountains of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. Current viticulturalist / winemaker Nick Mills who hosted the tasting at RN74 in San Francisco, is part of the fourth generation to call this place home.

Whilst the land has been owned by the family for more than 100 years, the first thoughts of vines began when Nick’s Father discovered the intricate and special relationship between Vitis vinifera and schist soils in Portugal sometime after his tours of service World War II.

(Schist is probably the most important feature that gives Rippon its character, texture and detailed nature. In a later video we will hear Nick talk a little more  about the complex geology that makes this site so special.)

Nick’s father planted experimental vines on the property in the 1970s, and the first “commercial” plantings were established in 1982. Here you can watch Nick talking about his family’s history linving on the land and the establishment of the vines there.

Wanaka’s climate is also very important to the character of the wines produced. Nick believes the growing season is characterized mostly by “gross climactic events at either end of the season”. Indeed with this kind of elevation and the southerly latitude of Central Otago, frost danger looms both at the beginning and end of the vine’s cycle. Despite this Nick describes the mid growing season as “clear and sanitary”, with very little pest or disease pressure on the vines to prevent them from producing clean fruit of the highest quality.


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He describes the site in Wanaka as having more “temperance” than the rest of Central Otago. Temperance from heat and cold accorded to it by the air flow off the Mountains, the thermal mass of the lake and the clouds that make it over the towering ranges to the west before dissipating over the high desert of Central Otago. This temperance produces a long and consistent growing season for the development of depth and flavor.

With high hopes and tangiable anticipation in the air, the first flight of the day was poured consisting of:

1990 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1991 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1992 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1995 Rippon Pinot Noir

1998 Rippon Pinot Noir

2000 Rippon Pinot Noir

The 1990 bottling was the first indication of how great this line up was going to be. Still bright, fresh, pure and with great balance. The wine showed the ripeness of the vintage all these years on with soft sweet fruits, silky and saturated. Notes of leather and hint of coffee emerged with air.

1991 was quite different but equally intriguing. Much less ripe fruit and some more dried herb qualities. Characters of cherry skin and more savory notes of mushroom and moss. The wine had notably higher acidity and a remarkable "grapey" quality that defied the wines age.

1992 was different again. Dense, rich and more concentrated. Dark earthy aromas, sandalwood and spice. A youthful, dynamic mid-palate makes me think that this wine has years ahead of it.

These three wines were all made by the esteemed Rudi Bauer, now of Quartz Reef winery in Bendigo, Central Otago while current winemaker Nick was living life as a transient "Ski Bum".

The 1995 was interesting in that it was much more herbal and less ripe than any that had come before it. I got notes of underbrush, fresh tobacco, even mint, a real green vegetative character. Nick then brought everything into perspective explaining that the volcanic eruption of Mount Ruapehu that year threw ash into the atmosphere starving the south island of vital sunlight luminosity. Quite fascinating I thought.

2000, the last wine of the flight, joined 1990 as my two favorites thus far. It was starting to show the detailed layers of complexity that I know and love about the Rippon wines. The palate was more layered and complex with a real textural elegance and ethereal qualities.

While we enjoyed the wines Nick continued to speak about how he felt these wines, despite tasting great, were “more defined by cultivar than the by place,” more “Pinot Noir than Rippon”.

Here he is talking about the development of the vine age and how he likens their early expressions to a young child’s artwork.

I found the analogy of a crayon drawing very intriguing. Yet another of Nick’s adept illustrations of how he understands wine and the ultimate goal of how to capture the sense of place.

I had heard Nick speak about his wines before at a small staff tasting at K&L and one concept he spoke about that day has always stuck with me. This is the idea that the flesh of the grape is all about attraction and getting the bird / animal to eat it in order to (eventually) propagate the seed within. The color, sweetness and flavor are all simply to get the fruit eaten by something. However a plant’s real focus is to thrive in its environment. To pass on what it has learned about its specific surroundings to its offspring so they too may flourish. The genetic material, everything the plant has learned, the instinct if you will, is contained within the seed. This data of ecological analysis gathered by the plant, is basically terroir encapsulated. Nick believes that allowing the seed to reach full and natural maturity is how wines convey textural and sensual markers that reflect their origin.

Here he is at the tasting explaining his thoughts on this:

As we moved into the next flight (2001 - 2008) the theme turned to the "adolesent" period of the vineyard and perhaps more importantly to the era when Nick returned home to take the helm as winemaker. Nick’s many years of experience making wine in Burgundy and beyond allowed him to return to the family estate better equipped to seek the true expression of Rippon. Whilst working at many esteemed Domaines in Burgundy, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (yes that’s DRC for short), Nick learnt what he describes as a “humility and deference to the land.” On his return the vineyard that had been farmed organically since the beginning, was converted immediately to Biodynamic farming. Nick believes that “vines must be in complete symbiosis with the land or they cannot produce a true vin de terroir.”  In his own words the journey from here on out was about one thing only, his quest to “deliver the land.”

Dry farming is another decision that Nick is adamant about. He describes how not watering the vines forces them to search the soil for their own sustenance. Micro root hairs penetrate the compacted schist searching for water. That water is often found in the form of algae and other micro-biological formations within the soil and rock all adding, he believes, to the complexity, depth and detailed nature of the resulting wines.

Nick’s first vintage back at Rippon 2003, produced a magnificent wine. One that I have tasted on numerous occasions and have always been impressed with. The ‘03 has the compact layers and precision that Nick talks about being the real textural markers that define the site. The wine has an incredible brightness and vibrancy.

The 2004 was the first wine to go from conventional cork to DIAM cork closures (which remain his closure of choice till this day). This technology combined with biodynamics and the vines gathering maturity has resulted in a quite remarkable consistency of quality throughout the wines from this point forward. Nick again modestly equates this to the symbiosis of the vines with the land and the climactic temperance that the site allows, however, I feel I must add that the guidance of his steady hand at the helm probably helps too. He concludes that schist is really the linear thread that gives precision and consistency to the wines.

Here is nick talking about the complex soil composition of the Rippon estate that is a combination of pure schist, moraines (glacial deposits) and schist laced with lateral clay lenses:

After six years back growing grapes and making the wines, Nick decided that he finally had the “courage” to bottle some single block wines to illustrate some of the unique geographic units within the larger farm. These single block wines in comparison to the “whole farm voice of “Rippon”” made up the final flight of the tasting.

2009 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2009 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2009 Rippon “Tinkers Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Tinkers Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

Here is Nick talking about his decision to make these very limited production (100 case) single block wines.

 

The Emma’s block wines are from a parcel of vines directly on the lakeshore. The schist here is laced with clay deposited over many thousands of years as the lake setted. The wines have a remarkable supple character and silky texture. The palate is not as dense and layered as the “Rippon” bottling, yet it has more exuberance and a malleable texture and softness that makes it instantly gratifying. The Tinkers Field bottling by comparison comes from a pure schist parcel and really illustrates the detailed, compacted and indeed quite structural element of the estate. The flavors are not as obvious as Emma’s and yet the wine unfolds in an intriguing fashion with each sip revealing a new element. The Tinker's Field wines to me were quite grippy and spicy showing a lot of pent-up energy and power and I imagine are the component that gives "Rippon" its longevity.

Only at this late stage of the tasting did any details of cellar methodology emerge. To sum up: "it’s not a sorting table, it’s a tasting table; anything you don’t want in the wine stays in the vineyard!" In the cellar nothing is added or taken away, all wild yeast and enzymes. The wines spend two winters in barrel, the first in 25% new French oak, the second winter, after one racking and blending, is spent in entirely neutral wood for "slow repose and natural clarification". The wines are completely un-sulphured for the first year. His policy on whole cluster stem inclusion (quite the buzz concept right now) is that if its digestible it can stay in, if the stems aren’t right they stay out. This is about digestible material giving something to the wine, not making a stylistic statement. All in all you can see here that the expertise and skill is in the lack of manipulation and the absence of formulaic winemaking.

All that remained to do now was drink a little Rippon Riesling (2011 and 1991 side by side) and enjoy the charcuterie. (Riesling by the way is another thing that Rippon does exceptionally well but that’s another story!)

All day the wines spoke for themselves and illustrated what a special place Rippon is. Nick’s self confessed humility and deference to the land has gifted us some pretty special wines that I urge you all to experience at some point.

We have current vintages of 2008 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vines Pinot Noir and a library release of 2003 Rippon Pinot Noir available on the shelves and online, as well and the Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Some of the older vintages featured in this tasting are available as library releases. The 2009 single block wines (Emma’s Block and Tinker’s Field) are also available in very limited quantities. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly via email if you are interested in any of the Rippon wines.

Cheers!

Ryan Woodhouse, NZ / Aussie Specialist

***

 Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday
Nov282012

{Terra Ignota}: A Special Import of Hewitson Wines Now In Stock!

I am pleased to say that we have just received a very special import of Dean Hewitson’s wines from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

We have been waiting a long time for the wines to arrive, but they are definitely well worth the wait! As you may know some Australian wines (especially those from Barossa) have gained a (what I think is an unfair) bad reputation for being big, overripe "fruit bombs". Well, these offerings from Hewitson are wines that actively seek to breakdown that perception. The wines are an honest 12.5 - 14% alc.  All of the wines have great structure, and freshness that only balanced acidity can bring. Make no mistake, these are robust wines with rich layers of fruit but they also really highlight how old vine Australian reds can also show elegance, brightness and exceptional balance.

Perfect fruit from ancient vines

First up is a fantastic dry Rose that arrived off the truck just in time for Turkey Day! The 2011 Hewitson Rose (made from old vine Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane) is dry, fresh, spicy and a refreshing 12.5% alc. This is quite a unique wine. Dark ground spices, Cranberry and Raspberry. Very drinkable but at the same time there is enough intrigue here to keep you thinking. $14.99.

Next we have the 2010 Baby Bush Vine Mourvèdre. This vineyard was established with selection massale cuttings from Hewitson's Old Garden Block. The Old Garden Vineyard is home to the worlds oldest surviving Mourvèdre vines planted back in 1853.

Dean taking cuttings from the 1853 Old Garden Mourvedre Vines. These cuttings are now 10 years old and produce the fantastic Baby Bush Vine MourvedreThe "baby" vines are dry farmed, head trained vines, grown to mimick the conditions in the original Old Garden. This is beautiful brooding, meaty, earthy Mourvèdre. Dark red fruits and spice are freshened by some well-placed acidity. Polished, soft tannins mean this wine drinks well now but I suspect the precise balance of this wine will help it cellar well for another 5+ years. This is a nice, pure example of this seldom seen varietal that has acquired an underground following for all the right reasons. $19.99

Then we have the 2011 Ned & Henry's Shiraz. 10% Mourvèdre is added to this Barossa Shiraz. All fruit is from vines all grown in the classic Terra Rossa soils (red dusty clay soils with limestone beneath) Barossa is famous for. This is a powerful yet finessed wine with dry tannins and spice. The Limestone sub-soils add some intrigue and savory notes to this deep, viscous and richly fruited Shiraz. $19.99

 

Some of the 110 + year old vines that create Miss HarryPerhaps my favorite of the bunch, the 2010 Miss Harry's Blend, a stunning Rhone style red made from Grenache (44%), Shiraz (39%), Mourvèdre (8%), Carignan (4%) and Cinsault (4%). The fruit is all from 110+ yr old vines. Aged for 12 months in neutral French oak, no racking. A wine of richness, authenticity and complexity. Very very good! $19.99

The 2010 Mad Hatter Shiraz is Dean Hewitson’s expression of the ultimate McLaren Vale Shiraz. The fruit is from the Blewitt Springs sub-region famed for that bright, blue fruit, fresher style of Shiraz. This is a single vineyard, single varietal wine selected from the absolute best lots available. The chosen vineyard is situated on a prime northwest-facing slope; vines are planted in very low vigor sandy loam soils. A meticulous fruit selection process is followed by 21 months in the best French oak. This is a huge wine that will reward patience. Dean Hewitson notes "this wine exudes Old-World balance and elegance while striding easily into the New-World with the freshness of the concentrated cassis fruit." A very serious wine that defines how big blockbuster Aussie Shiraz should be styled. $49.99

All these wines deserve your consideration. They are all excellent and authentic examples of what Australia can produce. Thanks to a special import deal the pricing is also remarkably good considering the quality of these wines. As rain lashes against the window and another two storms are lined up in the North Pacific, I know what I’ll be putting in my glass to see me through the depths of winter!

Dean Hewitson CEO and Head Winemaker making his rigorous selections

Cheers!

-Ryan

Ryan Woodhouse

NZ & Aussie Wine Specialist

K&L Wine Merchants - Redwood City

Contact

 ***

Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!

Thursday
Mar102011

Getting to Know: Kirk Walker

There is only one Captain Kirk, and we are not talking about he of bad acting and poor commercial choices. No, we're talking about K&L San Francisco's Captain Kirk. He writes the Captain's Log in our newsletter, quotes Heidegger on occasion and, of course, loves wine. Read on to learn more about the one and only Kirk Walker...

What do you do at K&L?

Wines sales, I also moonlight as the assistant to the assistant to the assistant manager.

What did you do before you started here?

I worked for the Wine House in West L.A.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Yoga, cooking, eating, drinking and reading.

What was your “epiphany wine?”

I had two epiphanies. The first was 1994 Ravenswood Napa Valley Merlot (the one that most young men choose when trying to impress the ladies!) and 1998 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese (I’m still speechless!).

Describe your perfect meal. What wine(s) would you pair with it?

I don’t have a perfect meal. Good food, better company and simple, delicious wines—that sounds like a near-perfect meal!

How do you think your palate has changed over the years?

Once I found what I really liked (see below) it hasn’t changed. I guess I’m stuck in a rut, but what a good one to be stuck in!

What do you like to drink?

Italian wines from Sicily to the Valle d’Aosta, grower-producer Champagnes, German wines, Austrian wines, beer and Scotch.

What words of advice do you have to offer people just getting into wine?

Do not leave your wine in your car on a hot day. Think of it as a pet or family member; there should be laws against this type of alcohol abuse!

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would you invite?

Richard Feynman—Rhum and a lot of it. Baruch Spinoza—a Donnhoff Spätlese or two. Joseph Campbell—a Campanian red, Aglianico or Casavecchia served with spit-roasted lamb.

Want to drink like the Captain?

Join our Personal Sommelier Service and have Kirk Walker choose your wines!