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.
Jeez. There is so much to say. I just can’t stop talking about boutique wineries. I mean, really, if you love wine, really good wine that is created with a consciousness and awareness of sustainability there is no way you will not try to find out more about good wine-making and exceptionally talented winemakers.
We have beautiful wines, here on the West Coast, and I will do my best to illuminate the reader and drinker. So, we went to a wine maker’s dinner and it was pretty spectacular. Great food to compliment the incredible wines. Baker and Brain was the featured winery. They define their passion and green approach to winemaking here:
“The Baker & Brain family is committed to utilizing scientifically based sustainability practices in every aspect of our business, this includes partnering with ecologically responsible growers, utilizing winemaking practices that are environmentally friendly, making our wines at a solar powered and sustainably certified facility and promoting the brand in an
environmentally conscious manner.”
We were fortunate enough to taste five of their amazing wines.
Starting with the Gruner Veltliner we experienced traditional slate tastes. It is crisp, flavorful and absolutely delicious. A lovely wine that cuts through any heavy fats like those that you might find in melted cheese, to bring you back to reality, that is the flavors of meadow flowers and fresh grasses. Remarkable nose and really quite soft. A California GV, which is a good thing. If you’ve never had a GV, you must try this. It will expand your palate and take you into another dimension of wine. Paired with Grilled Flatbread with Speck and Carmelized Shallots we started off happy.
Next we tasted the Central Coast Pinot Noir, 2011. These grapes are grown in Monterey County which is a very good place for Pinot Noir, BTW (By The Way). It presents very well, not overly assuming or over powering, a good introductory Pinot Noir. If you’re just drinking this, you won’t be disappointed. It’s friendly, open and has the established and expected flavors of raspberries and strawberries which add that delicate seductive fruitiness. What sets it apart is its’ jewel like clarity and light refined finish . We had it with a Passionate Berry Salad ( Raspberries, Blueberries and goat cheese with Fried Shallots (loved those). Pretty sexy.
We followed with the McIntyre Pinot Noir 2010 (Santa Lucia Highlands). It is truly is spectacular. Really, I do not throw that word around flippantly. The flavors of ripe blackberries and secondary rich red berry flavors continue to expand on the palate. This wine is complex with spices, earth, leather and perfectly balanced tannins. While dense, the oak grounds the wine; otherwise you’d just be spinning off to heaven. Rebellious Asparagus, Romesco Sauce and Saracena Aioli added a challenging note. This is so satisfying.
Now comes the Le Mistral Vineyard Grenache. Uber yummy. From the Joseph
Phelps vineyard, this Grenache delivers a very deep concentration of fruit. It is bright and sophisticated at the same time with stabilizing tobacco, ash and developed tannins. This wine stays on the palate and finishes beautifully. Paired with Lamb Chop over Sticky Cabbage and Wild Mushroom Ravioli it was a victory.
We finish with the Le Mistral Vineyard Syrah, which is my favorite. this one is brambly, like thickets of wild berries and vines. Super concentrated, with that dried fruit body and jammy flavor. Once oxygenated; which the presenters did, it developed that plummy and spicy flavor that is so traditional to Syrah. Rich and full mouth with a velvety lingering mouth finish, this wine stood up to the Quail stuffed with Chorizo and potato.
Brief: Baker & Brain produce exceptional wines that are gorgeous and delicious.
Very small production makes for exclusive and elusive wines. We want these wines, but we want this winery to stay true to their values, vision and esthetic.
♥ Check out Stonecreek Kitchen for fabulous wine maker dinners, classes, deli and wines.
A sexy blend. Full mouth. Syrupy. Delicious Big Nose and an equally Big Taste. Mourvedre is prominent at 48%, Grenache comes in strong at 28% and the Syrah balances and grounds it out at 24%. We loved this wine and felt it even at one glass. Drinker beware (in a good way). Yah, really into the blends done well lately.
This delicious red blend reminds me of a yummy mixed berry pie, flavorful and nuanced. The grapes making up this wine include Counoise, a Rhone grape, adds a peppery note and good acidity, Grenache from Spain is a generally spicy, berry-flavored and soft on the palate with a relatively high alcohol content, and Syrah, a dark-skinned grape grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce powerful red wines, adds the body, or spine and a full mouth feel. Paso Robles is the perfect place for this kind of grape that requires big heat in order to come into full sugar. Expertly blended, this wine is satisfyingly rich yet not overpowering. Very enjoyable, fragrant aroma and beautiful garnet color.