Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron, a mensch among growers and winemakers (Slow Wine Guide 2019)

Posting on the fly this morning as I head out to Napa and Sonoma to taste tomorrow and Friday for the Slow Wine guide 2019.

But I just had to share the above photo, snapped yesterday.

That’s grape grower and winemaker Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron in the North Yuba AVA, a sub-AVA of the Sierra Foothills AVA.

In the image, he’s walking me through his “Home Vineyard,” a parcel planted to Pinot Noir and the source for some of his best wines.

Many have written about his astoundingly good, utterly compelling wines. I was left nearly speechless by our tasting (this year, for example, he’s releasing a 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon that he farmed and vinified there; the 2013 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard Lower Block was also a standout among many truly superb wines).

Others have written about how he arrived in North Yuba and his years there since.

It was a thrill for me to get to taste and interact with this sweet, thoughtful, and inspiring man. But the thing that really touched my heartstrings was talking with some of the young people he’s mentored. They speak of him in such glowing tones and with such affectionate reverence. And the reason is simple: he so generously shares his knowledge and experience with them.

Where I grew up, they call that a mitzvah.

Gideon, thank you for your time yesterday. Tasting your wines with you was a truly moving experience. You are a mensch among grape growers and winemakers.

Wish me luck and wish me speed! A lot of ground to cover between now and Saturday! Thanks for being here.

Slow Wine California 2019 dispatch: an unforgettable day in the Sierra Foothills AVA

For oenophile couples like us, there are certain wines that feel like family members.

La Clarine Farm first came into our lives back in 2009 in New York when Tracie was traveling with me and the French band. An open bottle of Hank Beckmeyer’s Syrah had been sitting in a good friend’s lower Manhattan apartment for nearly two weeks. When we all tasted it together, it blew our minds and our palates with its freshness and its vibrant, electric fruit.

Ever since that day, La Clarine Farm has been one of our favorites (and we played a packed show at the Mercury Lounge that night, the one time Tracie saw us play in the city).

It was a thrill for me to finally meet and taste yesterday with Hank (in the top photo) at his winery in California’s Fair Play AVA, a stone’s throw from the El Dorado Trail.

His wines and winery will be one of those profiled in the 2019 edition of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California (I’m the guide’s coordinating editor for North America).

Great wines and the lovely guy you’d imagine is behind them.

My itinerary yesterday also took me up to the North Yuba AVA where growers pointed me to one of the most remarkable vineyards I’ve ever seen: 300 acres planted to now abandoned vine in the heart of weed country.

Cannabis is the main industry here, I’ve been told. Dinner at a smokehouse bar in Auburn last night led to a conversation with a dude who told me he works “up the hill,” a euphemism, he said, used by employees of the massive cannabis crop here.

But the strange, otherworldly vines I toured seem to have an endless supply of delicious fruit for a handful of thoughtful winemakers. They, a bear, and a cadre of deer are the only ones left in this forgotten wine country.

The story of this now derelict but still bountiful estate has yet to be properly told.

Those are Pinot Noir grapes in the photo above, btw, ready to be foot-crushed.

Writing in a hurry this early morning as another day of touring and tastings unfolds.

But I also have to give a shout-out to Grass Valley, one of the many tourist spots here in Gold Country.

The village was bustling with locals and tourists and nearly every store front was occupied by a shop, café, or restaurant. At least two vinyl records were also spotted.

Yesterday was the first day of my trip. Following another day here in the Sierra Foothils, I’ll be heading to Napa and Sonoma for more tastings and discovery.

Thanks for following along… more good stuff to come.

Beppe Rinaldi, iconic Barolo grower and natural wine advocate, has died.

Beppe Rinaldi, iconic Barolo grower and outspoken natural wine advocate, has died.

According to mainstream media reports, he was 69 years old and was battling an unspecified illness. He would have been 70 in just a few days.

Known to his myriad admirers as “il citrico” (literally, the “citric [one],” a nickname attributed to his unmistakable white locks as well as his acerbic wit), he was widely revered as one of the world’s greatest winemakers and an unrivaled interpreter of Nebbiolo’s greatness.

An iconoclast proudcer who often spoke out stridently against the unstoppable commercialization of his appellation, he was also a founding member of the Vini Veri consortium of natural wine producers.

“An artisanal winemaker,” he said in an interview published by Vini Veri in 2010, “shouldn’t just watch over his little garden. He needs to have a collective vision of his appellation because the appellation belongs to everyone. Wine and land are cultural resources that we need to treat with care. First and foremost, we must prevent violence against the hills and the vines. Wine needs to be a manifestation and an expression of the appellation, a voice in the world that carries an overarching cultural message from the place that produced it… A wine needs to reflect the distinctive, unique characteristics of the appellation. This is why we need to take care of our appellation and never overwhelm it.”

In recent years, he had railed against the unbridled growth of the tourist industry in the Langhe Hills of Piedmont where Barolo is grown and vinified. It was the latest cause embraced in a lifetime spent advocating for organic farming practices, traditional winemaking, and more measured development of the Barolo appellation.

His single-vineyard bottlings of Barolo are among the most collected wines in the world today, benchmarks not just for the appellation and Italy but for fine wine across the globe.

He is survived by his wife Annalista and daughters, Marta and Carlotta.