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July 27, 2006
Through the Looking Glass
The Wine Glass, That Is
filed under: Ramblings,
I've always thought of wine as the ultimate interpreter. As interpreter par excellence of place, of people, of culture. I think there are other things that also capture time and momentum and the spirit of of an era. Film and music come to mind as the clearest examples of this ability of one thing to encapsulate so many different things cultural and temporal.
But wine, in its abstractness, like art becomes a sort of kaleidoscopic lense to view the world it comes from. What you get from wine, then, is not a pure reflection of things but instead a refracted, reinterpreted and ultimately more adventurous view of reality, one where ordinary things take on extraordinary qualities, and the sum of a thousand tiny influences takes on a new identity at once familiar and totally unique. And you can experience all this in a single glass of wine.
* pictured: Medlock Ames marketing guru Kenneth Rochford, as seen through my glass with the winery in the distance
You must know, of course, that I'm talking about good wine here. Only in good wines made with excellent fruit, careful attention to detail, minimal interference and totally sound vineyard practices can you find this lovely reinterpretation. Without all this, all you've got in your glass is some wine.
Fortunately for me, I lately visited a place in Sonoma's Alexander Valley where the lense is in full kaleidoscopic effect. That place is Medlock Ames. You may have read about them in my earlier account of the green wine trend. Medlock Ames is a quiet operation going about its work of making really lovely wines with very little fanfare.
Very little fanfare yet, that is. These guys are brand spanking new (their first vintage was 2001) to the wine business and, based on what I've tasted thus far and my incredibly pleasant interactions with their staff, these guys are about to fast-forward to some serious recognition. I'm sure, however, that, when this happens, they'll keep their eye on the prize - the lense - and keep on making wines that are beautiful and make you think about much more than just the liquid in your glass.
Here are some pics from my recent visit to Medlock. I highly recommend that you check out their website, quite possibly the coolest site I've ever seen. If you don't get off on playing with the squiggly top nav bar, there's something wrong with you. Or maybe I just have ADD and there's something wrong with ME. Does it matter? Just check it out.
My visit to the winery started with this absolutely lovely spread of cheese, fruit and tomatoes from the winery's garden. The guys aim to create an environmentally sustainable farming environment, so everywhere possible efforts have been taken to use organic ingredients (they'll become Certified Organic next year) and methods, recyclable materials and minimal energy.
They're currently raising baby geese with the hope that they'll eventually eat the algae that grow in their irrigation ponds. And, they've used sheep in the vineyards to keep cover crops in check and fertilize the fields.
A gorgeous shot of their totally state of the art winery. Gorgeous grounds, huh? Good vibes AND good taste.
I took a walking tour of the vineyard with Ames Morison, the operation's co-owner and winemaker. Ames is a soft-spoken guy who couldn't be more sincere and passionate about what he's doing.
Ames came to winemaking after stints in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, where he helped folks revive ancient farming methods, and teaching Spanish and ESL in the Bronx.
Pictured, grapes on the vine pre-veraison and evidence of green harvesting (the cluster I'm holding in my hand). For those of you wondering what this is, a green harvest is when folks intentionally lop off clusters of perfectly good grapes in order to deliberately thin their crop.
The vines then put more energy into fewer clusters, making better quality fruit - although less of it. It's essentially quality control, and it's a very good thing.
We toured the winery next, where I loved this shot of the oak tree outside visible through the glass. I thought it captured perfectly Medlock Ames' commitment to nature and creating a harmonious operation where machinery, man and the surrounding land coexist fluidly and peacefully.
I know that may sound a bit zen to you, but it works. It really does. It just FEELS good there.
Now, the good part: tasting the barrel samples. Here I am with Ames, getting in on the good stuff. I continue to love their Merlot, which is tasting beautifully out of the barrel, and I also really enjoyed the newer Cabernet, which is gaining in complexity as the vines are getting older.
And, another great story from the visit is the winery's latest adventure, the creation of their "Red" wine, a blend made by "environmentally sustainable" methods and packaged with this very cool brown and red label. It'll be released later this year at a more approachable price point than some of their other wines (although I personally find the 2001 Merlot a steal at about $35).
It's the ultimate good vibe wine, and - most importantly - has so much going on in terms of aromas and flavors you can't help but think beyond the wine itself. When sipping it one night recently I couldn't help but think about the land where it's grown, the people who put it together, and what must have been going on in their lives at that time. It truly captured the spirit of people, place and an era, and that interpretive power is exactly what makes me love wine.