On the birth of a winery

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year or so, you know that I’ve ingratiated myself  become friends with the Cellar Rat (@cellarrat), Alan Baker, and his partner Serene Lourie (@slourie), who have launched their new brand, Cartograph Wines.  Morphing out of Alan’s previous project, Cellar Rat Cellars, which was some damn fine Pinot Noir & Syrah, Cartograph is truly a labor of love – and it shows.  (You can read my previous review of Cellar Rat here)

This was my third time tasting the wines in barrel, and it is a joy to watch them grow and develop over the course of the past 9 months.  Much like a new baby, these wines change and grow, becoming something special as they integrate in to the finished product.

The first wine we tried was the Gewurztraminer.  I have a growing love affair with this dry & racy white wine, and this had flavors of lychee, grapefruit, tropical fruit, hay and subtle guava notes.  I also tasted Tuscan melon.  .  The wine is made from the first harvest of the planting, and is fermented in stainless steel.  It had just a hint of spiciness and was a great alternative to other whites for the warmer summer months.

Next, we tasted the 2009 Perli Vineyard Pinot, from Mendocino Ridge.  This AVA is known as the “islands in the sky” since it is the only AVA that is non-contiguous land.  Instead, the AVA dictates that the land must lie above 1200 feet, which is the vertical fog line.  This is one of my favorite Pinots, and I tasted creamy strawberries, cloves, nutmegs and rhubarb with a smattering of black cherry and Dr. Pepper.

From here, we moved on to some of the different clone and barrel selections, and we tasted through to help decide what the blend should be.  I lost track of what was what, but it was fascinating to taste the difference between barrels, particularly when we got to the point where barrels of of the same wine, made from wood from different forests, but made by the same cooper from the same area.  I do know that I did find that the 777 clone in 25% new oak was my favorite, with black cherry and spicy cloves finishing with rich black raspberry.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the Cartograph line is the label design.  you can see from the front label, that there are five points on Alan & Serena’s journey in to wine, From France, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. to San Francisco and Healdsburg.  The back label design shows you the wine making process, and allows you the consumer to take part in the experience. The five points in the wine making process mirror the five points on the front, as you go from budbreak through bottling.  Bottling incidentally for the 2009s starts any day now, so I can’t wait to restock my cellar with smoe brand spanknig new wine!

If you’re in Healdsburg, give them a shout.  You won’t be sorry!  If you like Pinot, and you like small handcrafted wines, run out and buy some today.  While you’re at it, grab some of the Gewertz.  You will be happy you did, and your tastebuds will thank you!

I smell a Rat!

Alan Baker and David Horowitz

A Cellar Rat!  When I first met Alan Baker, aka @thecellarrat, I was in my first year of making a mess wine at Crushpad.  What I didn’t know, or rather, the connection I failed to make, is that he was the same Alan Baker who was the voice behind this crazy podcast that I had become addicted to over at Cellarrat.org.  Mind you, this was before I was a wine blogger, before I was the “glue that holds the twitter wine universe together”, and before I was Wine Biz Radio’s #1 fan.  Ahhh the olden days.

The months past, and I would see Alan every now and then around Crushpad, like a mad scientist on a mission to create the world’s best wine for himself, and other clients at the same time.  Enter Cellar Rat wines.  I first tasted the Cellar Rat syrah at one of Crushapd’s infamous tasting events parties, where Alan was pouring a touch of pinot and a smattering of syrah.  WOW!  I was blown away by this wine.  Both the pinot and the syrah were outstanding, and somehow, I was lucky enough to get a door prize (thanks Alan!) in a bottle of syrah that I took home and squirreled away for safekeeping and later drinking.

Fast forward 3 years, and Alan is now working with Arista Winery where he can both hone his winemaking craft and work on his social media and broadcasting skills.  I somehow convinced, cajoled, and begged him to let us come up and taste his pinot noir in progress, and so a blogger’s binge was born.
On a recent cool and foggy day, we met up at the picnic grounds of Arista, off of Westside Road in Healdsburg to talk wine, blogging, and fun.  Amongst the hoards were Patrick Llenra (@oenophilus), Marcy Gordon (@marcygordon), Hardy Wallace (@dirtysouthwine ), Ashley Routson (@thebeerwench), Shana Ray (@sharayray), Paige Granback (@thesnarkhunter), Danica Sattui (@danicasattui), and of course Alan & Serena.  Cool and foggy but happy, we set out to taste the latest and greatest.

Patrick Llerna, the birthday boy!

Patrick Llerna, the birthday boy!

First, we started out with a barrel sample of the 2008 Two Pisces Vineyard.  This vineyard is located just west of Petaluma, and has a wide variety of soil types, giving it a lot of diversity.  With 5 clones planted, I tasted sour cherries in this rich and spicy pinot, with bright raspberry flavors and classic Russian River Valley character, with cranberries and cinnamon.  33% new French Oak gives the wine just enough structure and spicy without going overboard.  Though I rather enjoyed this wine, Alan says he’ll definitely add some bigger fruit pinot in to the final blend, since it already seems to be falling off a  bit.  Tasty tidbit about this vineyard:  This is where our Bus 4 Cellars 2009 Sparkling Wine is coming from!  I’m excited about hte potential in this pinot, and what it means for my fledgling bubble enterprise.

The 2008 Split Rock (also known as Gap’s Crown, but they don’t like us to say that) is in the Sonoma Coast AVA, near Petaluma.  The cool growing region helps develop concentrated flavors that aren’t overripe.  Some of my favorite northern California pinots are from here, like Humanitas and Stomping Girl.  In the Cellar Rat, I found sweet cherry cola, strawberries (Shana’s favorite!), white pepper, and nutmeg.  This tasted of rich dark red fruit.  Yum!

Finally, we had the finished product in the  2006 Wentzle Vineyard Pinot from Anderson Valley.  This is the pinot I tasted at the Crushpad party, and it was even better than I remembered.  This wine was held in a combination of barrels, most notably one new barrel, one zebra barrel, and two neutral barrels, and then blended to created the finished product.  Now if you don’t know what a zebra barrel is, it’s a mad coopers experiment in fermentation where you basically deconstruct one used and one new barrel, stick it back together with every other stave being from one or the other.  You know what I mean, one new french, one used, one new one used, etc.  This is one way to accomplish x% of new oak, without actually using separate barrels and is quite effective for the small winemaker.

This finished wine was lighter in style, and true to what I would expect in the Anderson valley, with black raspberries and earthy mushroom characteristics with just a touch of Dr. Pepper.  The nice thing bout this wine is that it has the bold flavors that I’ve come to love in a California pinot, but its’ very subtle and not overpowering by some of the Syr-Pinots or Pino-syrahs I’ve had from parts south.  The Pinot 2.0 was crushed wtih about 7% whole clusters remaining, and these whole clusters were fermented with native years.  The rest of the juice was inoculated with yeast, and when blended with the whole clusters and the combination of the different oak barrels, it makes for a truly stunning pinot.

If you can bribe Alan, I HIGHLY suggest you get your hands on some of this, because it’s AMAZING and the $42 price tag is worth every penny.  I have great hopes for the future Cellar Rat (or whatever he names it) projects to come, and can’t wait to taste the barrel samples along the way.

Thank Alan for having us up and check back for my notes on the Arista Pinot-Thon soon!

Samples were provided by Alan Baker of Cellar Rat.  No actual rats were harmed in the tasting of this wine.

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