A7 Soft Launch- Recap
A7 – Inaugural Event 2014 by Ken Zinns
Photos by Cameron Stoffel and Ken Zinns June 4th and 5th of 2014 marked the inaugural event of A7 International, a unique new organization representing growers, vintners, and enthusiasts of Rhône grape-variety wines in both France and California. Growing out of an idea formed by Sasha Verhage and Luc Douche during the 2013 grape harvest, the group aims to encompass both the Rhône Valley and its California counterparts in a way that’s never been done before. The A7 organization is tying together key people in the farming, producing, and promoting of Rhône-variety wines. The A7 name comes from the main north-south road connecting the Rhône Valley.
This first A7 event was a small, invitation-only gathering of about 70 people held at Law Family Estate Wines, located in the hills just west of Paso Robles, California. The goal was to bring together a diverse group of vintners from both France and California for two days of educational seminars and tastings, while still allowing for plenty of time for everyone to get to know each other. This was meant to be a “soft launch” for A7, with the idea of opening up future events to the wine trade/media and consumers, as well as expanding the focus to other regions around the world producing Rhône-variety wines and hosting events in different locations. Wednesday
A7 attendees made the drive out scenic Peachy Canyon Road to the beautiful new Law Estate facility for the opening of the two-day gathering. The winery tasting room, which boasts a spectacular view overlooking the area, proved to be a perfect size to accommodate the group. After brief introductions by Sasha and Jordan, the event kicked off with a seminar led by Ian Adamo, Maitre d’/Sommelier of Paso Robles’ Bistro Laurent. Ian conducted the group in a blind tasting comparison of wines from Paso Robles and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We began with a pair of wines made mostly from Grenache, then moved on to two that were Syrah-based, and we finished with a couple of red blends. Although it wasn’t difficult to pick out the respective regions with each pair of wines, Ian made it an interesting exercise in identifying the varietal signatures in the aroma, flavor, and texture of each wine.
As the morning seminar concluded, Sasha treated us to a surprise video visit with Julien Barrot of Domaine la Barroche, who promised to join us at future A7 events. We all took a break for lunch on the Law facility’s broad, shaded crushpad. Chef Jeffery Scott and his Vineyard Events team served up a delicious meal, and we opened up loads of bottles that attendees brought along. The informal nature of the lunch was a perfect opportunity to say hello to old friends, meet some new ones, and try plenty of interesting wines.
The informal nature of the lunch was a perfect opportunity to say hello to old friends, meet some new ones, and try plenty of interesting wines.
After our lunch break, we headed back for the afternoon seminar, which featured Victor Coulon of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Domaine de Beaurenard. Victor is part of the eighth generation of his family’s winery, which goes back to 1695 (when the family vineyard name was “Bois Renard”), so it’s fitting that the winery motto is “faites confiance à la tradition”or “in tradition we trust.” The family’s estate vineyards include about 80 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 60 in the Rasteau AOC. Domaine de Beaurenard grows all 13 grape varieties permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and uses all of them in their wines. The vineyards have been certified biodynamic since 2011. Victor provided five Domaine de Beaurenard wines for us to taste during the seminar – a CdP white, Rasteau, two vintages of the CdP red, and their “Boisrenard” CdP, sourced from 80-110 year-old estate vines.
Following the seminar, we broke into two groups – one followed Law Estate winemaker Scott Hawley for a tour of their facility, while the others stayed behind and tasted the four initial releases from Law – the 2010 vintage “Beguiling” (Grenache-based), “Sagacious” (GSM blend), “Intrepid” (100% Syrah), and “Audacious” (Priorat-style blend). After the first group finished the tour, we switched off and Scott led the second group through the winery. Don and Susie Law first planted their 54-acre hillside vineyard in 2008, and it ranges from about 1,600 to 1,900-foot elevation. John Crossland manages the vineyard, while Scott had input in both the planting and in the design of the winery. A highlight of touring the three-level gravity-flow facility was seeing the 22 custom-built temperature-controlled concrete fermentation tanks, designed to facilitate manual punchdowns. The winery incorporates many energy- and water-saving features into its striking modern design.
Most of the group reconvened for a casual dinner held at Terry Hoage Vineyards. The warm weather and beautiful outdoor setting went together well, and Terry and Jennifer Hoage did a fine job of accommodating the crowd. The crew from Los Robles Café turned the pleasant picnic area into a taquería for the evening, and lots of people kept going back for more helpings of their tasty food. Of course everyone brought more wine to open, so there was plenty to drink with those tacos. Thursday
We all met the next morning back at Law Estate, with a few new faces in the crowd for the second day of the proceedings. Anne-Charlotte Mélia-Bachas of Château de la Font du Loup presented the morning seminar. She told us that the winery name means “fountain of the wolf” in the Provençal language – a reference to a local legend that wolves from nearby Mont Ventoux would drink at the spring located there. The winery is about 200 years old, and Anne-Charlotte’s family has owned it for about 80 years. She took over the winemaking duties in 2002, and she hopes that her children will continue the family business. She noted that the soil at their 45-acre estate vineyard has few of the classic galets (rounded stones) that Châteauneuf-du-Pape is known for, and is instead very sandy. Anne-Charlotte believes that sandy soils helps give the Font du Loup wines more delicacy and freshness than most from the region. They grow eight of the 13 CdP grape varieties, and the vines range in age from 30 to 100 years. We tasted several of the Font du Loup wines, including their white and red CdP, their “Puy Rolland” bottling (from 100% old-vine Grenache), and their “Le Château,” a 100% Syrah bottling that is not produced in every vintage. After the morning seminar we walked out to the shady crushpad for our lunch break. We had another great meal prepared by Chef Jeffery Scott of Vineyard Events, featuring a lamb-burger this time. Once again, everyone brought out more fine wines to enjoy with our lunch– some of the bigger reds paired nicely with the burger, while the many Rosé wines that were open were particularly welcome with the warm weather. Our first afternoon seminar was a departure from most seminars at wine events, as it focused on viticulture rather than winemaking. Three of California’s most highly-regarded vineyard managers – Phil Coturri(Enterprise Vineyards), Ulises Valdez, and Jeff Newton (Coastal Care Vineyards) – were on hand to talk about some of the issues of growing Rhône-variety grapes in various parts of the state. Phil led off the discussion, and told us that he started off farming grapes when he was a teenager before founding his Enterprise Vineyards management company in 1979. Phil now farms over 750 acres of vineyard land, mostly in the Mayacamas Mountains of eastern Sonoma County, all of it certified organic or biodynamic. Ulises came to California from Michoacán, Mexico in 1985, got his first job in Dry Creek Valley, and launched a vineyard management business in 1987. He now manages about 1,000 acres, and he owns or leases around 250 acres of that total. Most of the vineyards are in Russian River Valley, with some in Dry Creek and Rockpile, and as far north as Annapolis. Jeff came from a background in economics, but had become hooked on viticulture by the early 1980s. He established his Coastal Vineyard Care in 1984 and now manages over 2,000 acres in Santa Barbara County. He noted that the importance of soil was downplayed in the past in California, but that it is being given its due more and more. Jeff mentioned that high-quality grapes can be grown on many types of soil, from limestone to sand.
We were able to taste wines made from fruit grown by each of the three presenters at the viticulture seminar, contrasting the impact of different soil types, different winemaking, etc. This was a fascinating discussion that hit topics such as the responsibility of growers to maintain biodiversity in their soils, dealing with the current water shortage due to California’s recent drought years, dealing with shortages in farm labor, and many other subjects. Ulises spoke of the importance of having real passion in his work, and this was something that came through from all three growers. This seminar was a highlight of the two-day event, and hopefully this type of presentation will continue in future A7 events.
The final seminar of the event was a lively session with Helen Keplinger, one of California’s rising winemaking stars – she was recently featured on the cover of Wine Spectator. She told us that her parents were early foodies and that when she was growing up she had a rock collection and a wine bottle collection – so that may have shaped her future! Helen originally was headed toward medical school but transitioned to viticulture and winemaking.
A brief stint working in Priorat got her interested in Grenache, and she started looking for sites in California, with her first Grenache coming from Knights Valley. She now sources fruit over a wide area, working with many top-quality growers. All of Helen’s wines are single-vineyard designates, and are meant to express the vineyard in the wines. We tasted six Keplinger wines, two from Russian River Valley, one from the Sonoma Coast, two from El Dorado County, and one from Amador County, some blends and some 100% Grenache or Syrah. The event concluded with another informal dinner. Russell From of Herman Story Wines hosted the group, with food provided by Chef Rick’s. Once again, plenty of wine flowed, and it provided a chance for everyone to say their goodbyes as well as to talk about ideas for the next A7 gathering. Don and Susie Law were gracious and generous hosts for this first A7 event, and their Law Estate Wines facility served as a great venue for the seminars and lunches. As you might expect for an inaugural event of this nature – especially one that was organized in such a short time – there were a few glitches here and there, mostly related to various audio/visual equipment issues. And a few key people were unable to attend this year’s gathering, including Joey Tensley and Harry Karis (author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book) among others. But overall, the A7 organizers did an amazing job of pulling off this small but ambitious event. This inaugural gathering provided a glimpse into what future A7 events may hold in store, and the ideas behind the A7 organization promise exciting cooperation and dialogue between growers, winemakers, and fans of Rhône grape-variety wines throughout the world.
The Journey Has Begun…
- Opening Remarks: Let the Journey Begin Sasha Verhage, Eno Wines | A7 USA – President of BoardPresentation
- Blind Tasting: Rhône Valley vs. Paso Robles RoblesIan Adamo, Bistro Laurent, MS candidate; Moderated by Jordan Fiorentini Epoch Estate Wines No presentation | No placemats
- Domaine de Beaurenard Victor Coulon, Domaine de Beaurenard Presentation | Placemat | 22 minute video
- Opening Remarks: A7, Rhone Movement in CA and Chateauneuf du PapeHarry Karis, Author of Chateauneuf du Pape Wine Book 2 minute video
- Chateau de la Font Du Loup Anne-Charlotte Bachas, Chateau de la Font Du Loup Presentation | Placemat | Video on Domaine’s style/terroir by Philippe Cambie
- Viticulture Panel: Phil Coturri, Ulises Valdez, and Jeff Newton Moderated by Anthony Yount, Denner | Kinero Presentation | Placemat
- Keplinger Wines Helen Keplinger, Keplinger Wines Moderated by Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch Estate Wines Presentation | Placemat– wines not listed
Photos/Videos of the Event
- Photos by Ken Zinns
- Photos by Cameron Stoffel
- Viticulture Seminar: Video recording of Phil Coturri’s portion by Luc Douche
- Keplinger Wines: Video clip by Luc Douche
- Kickoff by Luc Douche
- Day 1 by Luc Douche
- Day 2 | Font du Loup by Luc Douche