Thursday, 25 May 2017

US leads the way at Real Wine Fair, London, May 2017

With over 170 exhibitors you need to focus on some particular aspect of a wine fair like this. Last year we were impressed by the US contingent. Luminaries such as Hank Beckmeyer (La Clarine), Dierdre Heekin (La Garagista), Chad Stock (Minimus), Matthew Rorick (Forlorn Hope), Kelley Fox (Kelley Fox Wines), John House (Ovum) and Philip Hart (AmByth) had taken the trouble to come to London and exhibit their uniformly fascinating wines. Only Philip Hart  hadn't made it back this year but in compensation, no less than 8 new colleagues had made the trip and that decided us to concentrate on them and their countrymen. The new boys and girls were

Jeff Vejr (Golden Cluster, North Willamette, Oregon)
Scott and Dana Frank (Bow and Arrow, Oregon)
Andrew and Annedria Beckham (Beckham Estate, Chehalem Mountains, Oregon) )
Evan Lewandoski (Ruth Lewandoski Wines, California/Utah)
Ryan and Megan Glaab (Ryme Cellars, Healdsburg, Northern California)
Sam Bilbro (Idlewild Wines, Healdsburg, Northern California)
Martha Stoumen (Martha Stoumen Wines, Northern California)
Mike Roth (Lo-Fi Wines, California)

With a total of 14 the number had more than doubled. The new guys were uniformly worthy of their colleagues, expanding the great impression the 2016ers had made. 

That impression was even more surprising this year. There was not a single fruit bomb among the 40 or so wines we sampled. Moreover for our taste, there was not a single wine among them that cried "New World." That was really unexpected.


First stop and point of reference, Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope. Last heard of in Australia helping friends with the harvest, here he was again pouring a wine from the "Rorick Vineyard" for the first time in London - an amazing light, almost pink Trousseau (12.5%) as well as familiar "Rare Creatures" (the 2012 'Nacre' Semillon - 11%), a 2015 Albarino (12%), a Gemischte Satz from a pal's vineyard boasting 30 white varieties and 5 red. How unexpected in California. Like Ridge, Matthew is expert at finding such growers of diverse and sometimes old vineyards as well as now having his own.

There was also a wine called simply King Andrews after a vineyard of the same name founded in 1989 in the Suisun valley with a number of rare varieties. King Andrews is a blend containing a grape called Putscheere, otherwise known as 'Green Hungarian.' Putscheere is now almost extinct in Europe so the California plantings have added significance. Also included are Chenin Blanc, Trousseau Gris, Vermentino, Semillon and Chasselas. 12%.

Note, all these wines were between 11% and 12.5%. Now unusual in Europe, these levels are not associated at all with California but here they were. The wines were fresh and light as you would expect but also individual and tasty. These were traits reappearing in almost all the US wines below.


Matthew was surrounded by eager tasters as were most of his colleagues. We took advantage of a gap in the crowd at La Clarine next door to salute Hank Beckmeyer and taste his Albarino (12%) and Tempranillo (13.5%).

On the end of the row of Americans, a new face - Mike Roth and a distinctive name, Lo-Fi. Mike is a smiley bear-like chap who with his colleague Craig Winchester has produced a range of wines with labels recalling 78 records of the jazz era music which inspire them.

Dr. Jamie Goode of Wine Anorak has picked up on these wines and so have we now. We tasted all on show and later bought a bottle of the Cinsault from the RWF shop;

2014 Chenin Blanc (13%)
2014 Cinsault (13%)
2015 Cabernet Franc (13%)
2016 (Gamay (11.5%)

Roth and Winchester source their grapes from the Santa Barbera area and intend them for everyday drinking. Lo-Fi indicates also vinification in neutral barrels with whole cluster fermentation, native yeasts and no sulphur like many of the wines at the fair.

Martha Stoumen is a bright young person who describes herself as 'a one-woman grape-growing and natural winemaking project out of Northern California.' She leases and farms three-quarters of her vineyards and aims for wines that are 'light, electric and digestible.' Her grapes are an interesting bunch; Nero D'Avola and Carignan as well as Zinfandel.

2015 Venturi Vineyard Carignan (12%)
2016 'Post Flirtation' - two thirds Carignan and one third Zinfandel (11.3%)
2015 Mendo benchlands Nero D'Avola plus Zinfandel (14%).

Sam Bilbro has a passion for Piemonte varieties and makes an interesting 2015 Arneis (13.1%), a 2013 Nebbiolo (14.1%) and two wines (a white and a red) under the names the Bee Flora and The Bee Fauna respectively in Mendocino county.

The Bee Flora; 54% Muscat Canelli, 42% Arneis, and 5% Cortese.

The Bee Fauna;  39% Barbera, 28.5% Nebbiolo, 26% Dolcetto, 4% Grignolino and 2.5% Freisa.

Who'd a thunk it?

Ryan Glaab's wife's name is Megan so from the name Ryme you can see they are a team. Their passion is for non-Piemomtese Italian varieties including Vermentino, Fiano, Ribolla Gialla and Aglianico as well as Cabernet Franc, Carignan and Pinot Noir.

We tasted 

2016 Carneros Vermentino "Hers" (12%)
2015 Sonoma Fiano (12.5%)
2013 Napa Ribolla Gialla orange wine (13.1%)
2012 Paso Robles Aglianico (13.5%)

molto interessante, especially the orange Ribolla Gialla.

Ruth Lewandoski is Evan Lewandoski. The Ruth is in honour of the biblical book of Ruth who some say is a message about the acceptance of outsiders. Lewandoski's published region is Utah where Evan plans to make his wine. Until the vineyards there are ready, he sources his grapes in Calfifornia. Again we are in Italy with Arneis and Cortese.

2016 Mahlon - Arneis (11%)
2015 Chilion - Cortese (13%)

In addition there was Naomi white (Trousseau Gris), Boaz Cuvee Zero (Carignan) and Feints Cuvee Zero - an interesting field blend of Arneis, Dolcetto and Barbera in a wine 'too light to be red and too dark to be rosé - a very interesting category which should have its own name: Clairet/Chiaretto?

Chad Stock was momentarily absent as they say so we were not able to try his Oregon wines but were impressed by the range of grapes other than the  familiar Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.

These include Mueller Thurgau, Gruener Veltliner, Blaufraenkisch, Trousseau Noir, Nebbiolo, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

There is also something called 'Origin Gouges Zivo Vineyard' (POA). This is really interesting because the vines are from cuttings obtained from the Gouges vineyards in Nuits St. George. When Henri Gouges was in charge of these vineyards in the 1920s and 1930s, some of his Pinot vines mutated from red to white grapes and became the Pinot Gouges.

There was another wine called provocatively 'I Have VA' (Omero Vineyard). This is a 60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Aligoté and 20% Chardonnay blend.

Minimus Red blend consists of  40% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah, 20% Blaufrankisch, 10% Viognier and 5% Sauvignon Blanc!

   Chad Stock, second from left with John House (see below) on his right at RAW, 2016

Next was another Oregon outfit, Beckham Estate Vineyard from the Chehalem Mountains.

 Annedria Beckham and her husband Andrew have 6.5 acres of Pinot Noir, 1 of Riesling and further plantings of Gamay, Chardonnay,and Trousseau. Andrew who is a ceramist was inspired by Elisabetta Foradori to make terracotta amphora of between 60 and 250 gallons and Beckham make Pinots Noir (12.5% - 13.5%) and Pinot Gris and Grenache (both 13.5%) in these amphora.

It's not often you meet Oregon or other US wines made in amphora. The range is called 'Creta' and vintages are in Roman numerals.

 We hope John House will forgive us for snapping him undoing his sandwich but these wine fairs are gruelling events for the producers who in this case have travelled half way across the world to present their wines.

Instead of amphora, Ovum use Nomblot Cement Eggs. These Oregon producers are certainly enterprising. There were four Rieslings (12% - 12.5%) and a Gewurtztraminer (12.8%) on tasting. 

Bow and Arrow was set up by Scott and Dana Frank in 2010 and source Loire type grapes from vineyards that date back to some of Oregon's earliest wine pioneers.

One of these wines is from Melon de Bourgogne, the grape of Muscadet. Could this be unique in the USA? The wine comes in at 11.5%. Their Gamay Noir is 13%. There was also a flagship Pinot Noir (Hughes Hollow, 12.5%) and a 60/40 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc called Air Guitar (12.8%) as well as a 60/40 Pinot Noir - Gamay blend called Rhinestones (12.5%).

Jeff Vejr (North Wilamette, Oregon) goes under the name Golden Cluster and buys grapes from the so-called historic (1965) David Hill Vineyard. He makes an Old Vines Semillon (12%) and a Syrah (13%).

but what was this? Savagnin Rose? Yes, there is a grape called Savagnin Rosé. We know it better as Roter Veltliner, one of our favourite varieties. 11.5%

Even more of a surprise was Old Vine Flora. Jeff explained that this was a University of California at Davis cross of Semillon and Gewurztraminer by Harold Olmo (bred 1938, released 1958). A true rarity. 11.5%

Here again this year was Kelley Fox, the one-woman band and legend producing marvellous Pinot Noirs since 2007. They come in at 13%. Dr. Fox's thumbnail is worth quoting;

Kelley Fox Wines is a small winery producing Pinot Noir from self-rooted, dry-farmed, old vines of the historic Maresh Vineyard in the Dundee Hills, and the Demeter-certified biodynamic Momtazi Vineyard in the McMinnville foothills since 2007. Kelley Fox has been a full-time, on-the-floor winemaker for over sixteen years. Most of the canopy work in her blocks at Maresh she does personally and in solitude, including the biodynamic sprays. The wines are touched only by Kelley, but they are not a personal expression. No stylistic intentions are imposed. They are silent, living songs of these beautiful farms.

Dierdre Heekin - La Garagista was also at the fair although not manning the table when we passed by. She is one of the most remarkable of all the producers making delicious wine from unpromising varieties in Vermont. We are still not convinced by Brianna but the rest, La Crescent in particular are varieties we would like to grow ourselves. Sadly, other than by illlegal means which we would not consider for a second. Bringing in American varieties would entail too much time and effort. Our friend Thoms Chao (Cornell University Research Station at Geneva, NY) was kind enough to spell it out;

The answer to the question about export Vitis cutting to England is yes and no. Yes, in principal you could do so. We would send cutting overseas with an import permit from the receiving country. The cuttings would need to go through the UK quarantine process that usually would take years of indexing, clean up, etc. Say about 5-10 years, may be. Since our collection is a field collection, therefore they are not clean and some do have virus issue. That is why the No answer. You could go to our web site to make request. We would only send the cuttings once we receive the import permit from UK. 

We hope you ahve noticed the plethora of Abv readings on these US wines. Unexpectedly they are mostly lower than European wines and this was the first time we had seen this in such a prominent way. It is certainly a trend even though limited so far as we can see to 'Real Wine' or the organic, biodynamic and natural wines of the Real Wine Fair. We welcome this wholeheartedly and hope it will extend to other wines in America and across the world to act as a counterweight to the alcohol-creep that we see year on year across the board.

Every single one of these producers is represented in the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene as are most of those at the Real Wine Fair. What a portfolio!

Real Wine Fair exit. We're looking forward to 2018 already.

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