Nourishment for Brain and Soul
Since 1993, Clark Smith has used WineSmith as a teaching winery to illustrate postmodern principles such as ripeness, co-extraction, structure, microbial balance, minerality, and graceful longevity and to explore a Euro-centric possibility for California wines.
Clark's new book, PostModern Winemaking is, according to Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson, "an engaging, frequently controversial, but always thoughtful treatise that delves into the complexity of philosophical choices and new technologies that are now part of every winemaker's existence in a world where consilience of art and science is frequently needed. This book should be required reading for all winemakers, aspiring winemakers, and anyone who wishes to have a deeper understanding of wine."
To accompany the release, Clark has put together a mixed case of these amazing and delicious wines, each demonstrating a variety of these concepts:
2005 WineSmith “Crucible” Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml
The making of Crucible is WineSmith's pride and joy, truly a labor of love. Its tiny 90 case production is the entire focus of the winemaking team during harvest. Picked at the peak of phenolic ripeness, these small berries yield tiny volumes of intensely tannic juice packed with black fruit aromas. Crucible’s profound essence of rich blueberries is a typical expression of the Coombsville district surrounding Napa town.
Though the resulting wine possesses almost impossible density, its real allure is its regally understated aromatics which drag you into the glass, together with the refinement with which it carries its massive tannins. Its soulful “come hither” derives from the weight and finesse of its tannins, which serve to integrate its aromatics into a resonant “single voice.”
Clones 337 and 15 possess unusual characteristics uniquely suited to this cool emerging appellation. When grown in warmer parts of the Napa Valley, an early ripening habit hampers full structural expression; however in the long ripening period created by close proximity to San Pablo Bay, they express massive structure, profound color and intense dark fruit aromatics. WineSmith applied the élevage teachings of their guru Patrick Ducournau to achieve aromatic integration on a scale seldom seen, resulting in a hollow soulfulness which captivates the spirit.
The enormous dimensions of this pure Cabernet Sauvignon enabled 42 months in élevage to develop its complex flavors, which should gain depth for several decades.
2005 WineSmith “2nd Fiddle” Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 750ml
Fiddlestix is a magical playground of differing sites and clonal selections, owned and farmed by Kathy Joseph. Clark Smith admires her wines and has wished for many years to do a Pinot project with her, having come to know her as a former UC Davis study partner who then went on to found the wonderful Fiddlehead Cellars brand in the early 1980’s. Later, she planted the Fiddlestix Vineyard in the famed Santa Rita Hills appellation of the cool central coast with a mélange of sexy scions.
Collaborations with Kathy and the ’05 Fiddlestix fruit were most enlightening. With the goal of creating a “complete” wine, WineSmith blended equal parts of Dijon clones 115, noted for tannin structure and cherry fruit, with Clone 667, from which comes perfume and spice. The cuvee was aged in neutral French oak barriques for nineteen months before bottling.
To make a wine of freshness, energy and integrity which would age well, WineSmith was fastidious to pick only mature, but not overripe fruit, with the resulting final alcohol at just 13.8%. Still dense and energetic, the Second Fiddle pinot has begun to fulfill its promise. Please keep some in your cellar for 5 -10 more years to taste it at its very best.
2006 WineSmith Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County 750ml
Cabernet Franc, the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of the most challenging of grapes. Excellent wine only results from a rare convergence of technical skill, an artisanal hand, a well-farmed vineyard in the right place and a vintage blessed by Mother Nature.
In 1993, WineSmith chose this high-wire act as their signature varietal. Since then, they have worked hard to establish their reputation for producing some of California’s best Cab Francs. This 2006 is perhaps their finest effort to date.
Joe Ramazotti’s living soil in the Alexander Valley grows grapes with unusually lush plum aromas and fine tannins, resulting in a generous sweet core of fruit with very little vegetal character. Working in synergy, Blue Rock Vineyard’s nearby serpentine hillside gives fruit with an angular, aggressive component which frames and lends definition to the blend. WineSmith blended in Mark Lange’s impressive Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon for a more fleshy structure and some chocolaty aroma notes. After 27 months ensconced in small French cooperage, the cuveé developed intense spice aromas and a mineral energy classically associated with Chinon wines, along with the graceful structure and roundness more often seen in Cab Francs from St. Emillion.
Bright and firm, the WineSmith Franc offers a mouthful of spicy flavor and depth which loves firelight, wild mushrooms and roasted fowl. This wine is to be enjoyed now and will age gracefully for 10 years or more in a well-tended cellar.
2003 WineSmith Napa Valley Chardonnay, Student Vineyard Napa Valley College 750ml
Bright straw-green color, shocking for a wine of this age. Well-bloomed champagne-like sur-lees yeastiness and classic lemon oil of ripe cool climate chardonnay. The mouth is plump and structured but finishes with lively mineral energy. When most people taste this wine, they think it’s pretty high acid, and it is indeed quite lively and palate-cleansing, great with seafood. But that’s not acidity, it’s minerality, and whatever it is, it sure makes wines age a long time.
2004 WineSmith Napa Valley Faux Chablis, Student Vineyard, Napa Valley College 750ml
The last year WineSmith tried to sell this stuff as Napa Valley Chardonnay was 2003. After that, they only sold it as “Faux Chablis.” The wine is a little denser than the 2003 and more minerally. The nose has not “bloomed” yet, and does not yet show the yeastiness or open fruit expression.
If the 2003 is a flower in full bloom, this is still a bud. In the mouth there is an edge of steely hardness that needs time to soften. Winemaker Clark Smith cannot see it covering the distance to where the 2003 is in just one year; it probably needs around three years to open completely. Still, it has its uses today. It’s wonderful with half-shell oysters or sashimi, and it cuts into Thai food with vigor and mirth.
2009 PennyFarthing Chardonnay 750ml
How seldom today does one find chardonnay permitted to express its true nature, resembling more a lush, sweet golden delicious apple than the oppressive toast and butter we see nowadays. We all know that California Chardonnay has become something of a beast. Quite a few unfortunate winemakers are forced by their masters to submit this perfectly innocent grape to heavy wood extracts and heavy buttermilk fermentations which obscure its true character. Many wine lovers, in fact, will not permit such brutes into their homes.
Oddly, few of us know what this delicious and popular grape actually tastes like! In order to present it properly, it behooved us to locate a very fine yet sensibly priced vineyard source, harvest at the peak of ripeness and simply fermented to dryness. The lightest kiss of French oak toast was required in order to frame the wine’s resulting lush natural sweetness.
This offering from a lovely Santa Barbara vineyard comes naturally by its rich, oily full body without the assistance of heavy-handed oak extraction, and the overall impression is that of fragrant honeysuckle and of lush apricot stone fruit. The restrained alcohol opens up the finish wonderfully, where a lively minerality of its Napa component bestows a palate-cleansing raciness.
As with riding your old pennyfarthing, balance is everything. Perfect crispness, perfect oak, perfect weight. Delight your guests with this chardonnay indoors, or pack it into a picnic basket laden with chicken, cashews and pears. The whimsical pennyfarthing bicycle evokes bygone days when life was simpler and more joyful. WineSmith provides old-fashioned value that is handcrafted and simply delicious.
2007 PennyFarthing Barbera 750ml 2-Pack
The most joyful of Italian wines, this sassy varietal gushes blackberries and exotic spices, and never fails to kiss with racy acidity. Deep purple color yet soft and round in its tannins, one drinks Barbera for its zesty life energy.
Its Mendocino component contributes lush cherry fruit and round feminine structure, whist the Amador portion is more aggressively intense and a little naughty in its alcohol, but is not at all bitter or dry on this account. Besides Amador Barbera, WineSmith shored up its tannin foundations with Amador Syrah and added a dollop of Zinfandel for even more complex berry aromas.
The splendid aromatics of the resulting blend are amazingly intense, yet seductive and alluring. The palate is alive with berry fruit, vanilla, Asian spices and tangy acidity, inviting sharp cheeses and other rich fare.
PennyFarthing NV Dry Rosé 750ml 2-Pack
One sniff and one sip, and you’ll realize that the WineSmith Pennyfarthing Rosé is not to be confused with the pink soda pop embarrassment so aptly termed “blush.” This seriously dry rosé results from the production of the Bordeaux-style red wine when WineSmith draws off this “clear juice” after crushing, to increase the skin-to-juice ratio, color and tannin of the red wine. This lush, ripe “Cab” juice is captured at the peak of its fresh energy, receiving a tiny tincture of skin contact.
Pour yourself a glass and you’ll note that the primary Cabernet Sauvignon fruit component brings a berry-like perfume, while its “sauvage” herbal elements and minerality tastefully chime in on the finish to make this pink a versatile food wine. For this reason, the French now drink more rosé than white wine! Pennyfarthing Rosé plays well with everything and everyone, with delightful aromatics, rich fruit and great balance. Even white Zin drinkers will love it, and won’t believe it has no sugar! The whimsical pennyfarthing bicycle evokes bygone days when life was simpler and more joyful.
2007 PennyFarthing Pinot Noir, North Coast 750ml 2-Pack
The Pinot Noir grape is always the embodiment of joyful exuberance, and at the same time always more well-mannered than its brutish counterpart, the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sonoma County vineyards provide WineSmith with generous black cherry fruit and attractive if feminine garnet color. This wine is of the perfumey, ethereal sort, and seeks to carry you away on its elusive and seductive cherry and violet fragrance rather than to bowl you over with tannic structure or intense fruit. This wine does not try to knock your socks off, but although fully clothed, you may expect to be transported to an evening’s repast free from care.
In this example, these heady aromas are married with spice and toast of good French oak, and carried across the palate by velvety tannins which enrapture rather than confront. Pinot Noir of this delicacy is not normally asked to be a companion to steak, but finer meats such as duck and veal are entirely suitable, particularly if there is a touch of exotic spice in the preparation. One should always be certain that there is a hint of sweetness, such as one might obtain from a fruit preparation such as pork with cherries, or perhaps a chutney offered at the side. And among friends, a dollop of good catsup is not without its proponents! Prepare to smack your lips.