Friday, after Thanksgiving Day, we jumped into the car and sped up to Healdsburg, CA to go wine tasting. Yay!!!!! We went to Unti as I have been trying to get there for about a year. I know, but there are so many incredible wineries and tasting rooms to visit and I am really getting into interviewing the winemakers, so it can take a little time to get to all the great ones. Here’s the interview that Sebastien Pochan of Unti graciously gave me, my tasting notes follow.
How did you come about becoming a winemaker, and what and who influenced you?
I studied biochemistry in Montpellier France and was initially interested in how aromas and flavors come to life. I considered the perfume industry for a while but a friend of mine suggested my propensity for drinking large amounts of wine and my previous studies could mesh nicely into the field of oenology. I cannot say any winemaker in particular influenced me but my first wine epiphanies came from Châteauneuf du pape. Bordeaux was never a natural inclination of mine and Burgundy was already too expensive for my student budget.
What styles are you particularly interested in exploring?
Well, wines that give pleasure is what I try to make. Sometimes, the pleasure can be more cerebral than sensual but I strive to achieve balance in my wines, especially in regards to acidity. Expressing varietal character is also important to me and I am guilty of always checking in with the European versions of what we do here. More as a beacon than a model to copy. As far as exploring styles, I have been on path of simplifying the winemaking as much as possible, peeling off the extra layers if you wish. Also I feel I am less afraid of letting a little tension come into the wines either by picking earlier, including whole cluster fermentation, using less oak…
How difficult is it to stay organic and sustainable?
“Sustainable” unfortunately doesn’t mean anything but I guess for some people it is a step in the right direction. We do organic and some biodynamic farming even though we are not certified for either. To me it is a matter of intention and respect for your land and the people who work on it. Here in California, I think it is pretty easy to practice organic farming as the threats are few thanks to a usually dry growing season. There is a bit of a added cost but what a small price to pay for the satisfaction of knowing you are not poisoning your environment and you can pass on a healthy piece of land to the next generation.
What new wines are you looking forward to making?
We have a few southern Italian varieties that we planted and just started working with that are really exciting: Fiano and Verdicchio. This is our 3rd year making Fiano and it reminds me a little of the southern Rhone Roussane in texture and aroma. Verdicchio is in my opinion the most noble white grape of Italy (some compare it to Chardonnay) and can age beautifully. Also we planted some Aglianico this year but that will have to wait for another 3 years before we can play with it.
If you decide to visit Unti, they require that you make an appointment so that they can spend enough time with you to appreciate the wines and understand the Rhône. However, we crashed the tasting room and they were gracious about it. The wines are amazing and I love that they are using unexpected grapes. Have you ever tried a Fiano or Vermentino? Well folks, this is a great winery to try as you branch out and the wine maker is a fun character.
We tried a few wines and I’m focusing on the Barbera, which I loved so much I still think about it, and a really lovely Grenache. Let’s start with the Barbera. It opens up on the palate as really juicy but darker, brighter and frequently fruitier than its Italian counterparts. However it showcases the typical cherry fruit and telltale acidity so characteristic of this grape. Treatment of the grape is minimal, the fruit speaks for itself and the result is masterful. Really, loved this wine.
Next, Unti’s 2012 Grenache is a delicious blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah. The Grenache gives it the delicious ripe red/black fruit and the Syrah contributes the respectable tannins, the darkness and the lushness that is the Rhône style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.