From the archives… The Birthmark

by Kermit Lynch

At San Francisco State in the 1960’s, I took an incredibly rewarding course called something like American Studies, in which we tried to find clues to American character by reading Emerson, Melville, Paine, Thoreau, Hawthorne and others. I was especially taken by one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories, “The Birthmark,” although it did not dawn on me then that is was about wine. The story stuck with me even more than The Scarlet Letter. It featured a beautiful babe (who could have married more wisely) and had lots of significance that is ever more significant. Have a read and see for yourself. It is only about two glasses of Bandol rosé long.

The beautiful babe is obviously a metaphor for a bottle of great wine. Her husband, Dr. Something-or-other, is a celebrated scientific genius who cannot stand that his wife is a perfect beauty except, EXCEPT (it really is too vitally important to him) for the fact that she has a birthmark, which for him is an imperfection. He experiments in his lab for years developing a serum that will erase her blemish. Convinced that he has found the “cure” (although she is perfectly healthy), he injects her with his potion and watches as the birthmark fades and disappears for (if I remember correctly) her cheek, just as she exhales her last breath.

The birthmark is obviously a metaphor for a wine’s deposit, or sediment. The “cure” is filtration. However, according to “The Birthmark,” perfection = death.

The moral is, accept a little sediment or you might destroy the very beauty you seek to perfect.

And so you see that my crusade against filtration is not a quibble, but a matter of life and death.

[From the April ’02 Newsletter]

Sesti

by Anthony Lynch

In 1975, when Giuseppe Sesti purchased the hilltop ruins of the Castello di Argiano in the southern part of the Brunello di Montalcino zone, the local wine had yet to achieve the international prestige it enjoys today. Production methods tended toward the rustic, and very few estates bottled the deeply colored, rich red wine we now associate with the area. In fact, these Tuscan slopes remained so wild that Giugi was able to acquire the roughly 250 acres of woodland—crumbling Etruscan stone tower included—at a nominal fee.

Well-educated and well-traveled, Giugi took advantage of his language skills to translate for foreign journalists and merchants looking to capitalize on Brunello’s rising status, as the wine earned a worldwide reputation as one of Italy’s rarest and most sumptuous wines. Touring the cellars gave him firsthand exposure to pioneering producers, and, ever the scholar, he was keen to take note of the factors in the vineyards and cellars that led to superior wine. Ultimately, this Venetian-born astronomer became a Brunello specialist.

Eager to put what he had learned to good use, Giugi planted nine hectares of vines on the slopes around the old castello in 1991. Pampered by marine breezes channeled from the Mediterranean, the site is prone to yielding wines that ally luxurious Tuscan sunshine with a fresh elegance from the unique microclimate. Giugi’s background in astronomy plays a role in viticulture and winemaking, as lunar cycles dictate the timing of vineyard and cellar operations like pruning, racking, and bottling. Aging only in traditional Slavonian oak casks allows him to preserve the inherent qualities Sangiovese draws from his meticulously farmed vineyards. Now joined by his daughter, Elisa, Giugi continues to craft wines of exceptional purity—a combination of great terroir, a brilliant mind, and flawless execution that yields some of Tuscany’s most exquisite reds.

2015 TOSCANA ROSSO “MONTELECCIO” >

A selection in the cellar isolates the least structured of the year’s crop, which is bottled after just a year in cask. The result is plush and refined, with abundant young Sangiovese fruit that is particularly dark and toothsome this vintage. Mediterranean herbs, a hint of spice, and extremely fine tannins make this the quintessential red for the Tuscan table.

$25.00 per bottle $270.00 per case

2015 ROSSO DI MONTALCINO >

It greets the palate like velvet, then unleashes a wild side: black cherry, spices, a bloody note, and finally a gutsy finish that leaves something to ponder long after it’s gone. This Rosso does not mess around.

$39.00 per bottle $421.20 per case

2012 BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO >

The perfume is truly regal: rich, fragrant, and balmy, exuding suggestions of earth, sweet spices, and pine forest. Dense, deep, and imposing on the palate, it is concentrated and fleshy, with tannins as thick and chewy as a well-seasoned bistecca. In fact, serve with said bistecca, or—alternatively—stash away for a long, long time.

$92.00 per bottle $993.60 per case

Charm for Sale

by Kermit Lynch

I don’t know about you, but at times I’m in the mood for black cherries, even though they may not be in season. So, what to do? Take, for example, these two 2015 Dolcettos. Take one, it’s yours! However, it will cost you a few bucks. A few, not many. The best things in life are not always free.

I see on Amazon that one can still purchase Victor Hazan’s very special, very handy book, Italian Wines. Here are some excerpts about Dolcetto:

Those who recognize in Dolcetto’s name the Latin root it shares with Italian, Spanish, French, and English words for sweet—dolce, dulce, douce, dulcet—may be puzzled to find it is a totally dry wine. Sweetness, however, is an appropriate term to describe the character, if not the taste, of Dolcetto. It is an intensely fruity, soft-bodied wine, low in acid, high in charm, one whose easy drinking qualities make it the most instantly attractive of Piedmont’s red wines.

The locals say that if you analyze a sample of their blood, half of it will turn out to be Dolcetto.

That Dolcetto should be paramount in the affections of people whose region produces Italy’s most important red wines is testimony to its substantial charms.

Parts of Dolcetto country are also in Barolo country, but when you sit down to eat with the family of a man who makes both wines, if you are more a friend than guest, it will be Dolcetto rather than Barolo that you’ll find on the table.

Welcome to 2015 and two Dolcettos as good as I’ve ever tasted. Enter the world of delicious, ripe, black cherry intensity. Breathe in deeply the amazing aroma. The flavors coat your taste buds! You who share my hunger for black cherries, don’t miss it. All the rest of you, you’re welcome to enjoy it, too.

Diano d’Alba, by the way, is a very special terroir in Piedmont expressly devoted to Dolcetto. It produces Piedmont’s most charming red wine. My advice: a little charm won’t do you no harm.

IL PALAZZOTTO

per bottle

per case

2015 Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba “Sörì Cristina” >  

$16.95

$183.06

2015 Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba  >
“Sörì Santa Lucia”

19.00

205.20

From the archives… The Apéro File

by Kermit Lynch

[a follow-up to Jim Harrison’s My Problems with White Wine]

By actions, not words, Richard Olney taught me the virtues of the daily apéro, which is French slang for an apéritif. My Webster’s defines apéritif as “an alcoholic beverage, especially wine, taken before meals to stimulate the appetite.” Taken? Well, that’s not why I “take” apéritifs.

And there is a French definition from 1750: “qui ouvre les pores, les canal, les vaisseau.” Quite physical, that one, the apéro serving to open one’s pores, blood vessels, and assorted other bodily systems. Serving to open… an opener, that’s the apéritif. Aperture is from the same root. An apéritif opens the evening, the meal, the festivities, and it might as well also open up oneself.

When I used to drive up the steep, narrow driveway to Richard’s place in Provence, we would embrace in the French style, then sit down under his arbor of grape vines for an apéritif. As the sun sank lower and lower, a bowl of black olives would appear, slices of saucisson, and iced radishes with butter and salt. The wine flowed, as did the conversation.

Often the apéritif was a cheap little dry white or rosé, always well chosen. Richard referred to them as mouth rinse. What a wonderfully unsnobby perspective! He ordered Fontsainte’s Gris de Gris several cases at a time. Once in a while his mood led him to open with something a little grander, like Tempier’s rosé, or a bottle of nicely chilled Champagne. “The genius of Champagne seems to me best experienced at the apéritif hour,” he wrote in one of his books.

Jim Harrison quotes Peter Lewis’s remark that white wine “fatigues us and doesn’t promote unbridled lust,” but he must be referring to those kinds of whites that Jim finds syrupy enough to put on pancakes, because a good white starter should relax and stimulate at the same time. You want something dry and crisp, chilled and lucid, with some zing to it.

My reaction to Jim’s article? Never a red without a white to precede it; never a white without a red to follow it. I am convinced that the Creator had a plan, if only in this specific instance.

But before I turn spiritual on you, consider how the arrival of the dread oenologists on the wine scene contributed to Jim’s prejudice against most white wine’s. Once upon a time (all the way up until around 1970, in fact), wines second fermentation, the malolactic fermentation, was not understood. It occurred spontaneously in barrel along with or after the alcoholic fermentation. Once it was understood, this gift of nature (which renders wines more interesting and swallowable) began to be blocked technologically in a lot of white and rosé wines. It is easy to block malo. You add a good dose of sulphur dioxide (yuck) and you sterile filter (yikes).

Why would anybody want to do that? Stability. Facility. Security. Once the wine is dosed and dead, the oenologists sleep better, because dead wines don’t budge. They might lack depth, smell of SO2, and cut your palate to shreds with untransformed magic acid, but then Pleasure 1A was never a course offering at Oenology U.

Choosing openers, I seem to go through stages. For long periods Tempier’s rosé can hit the spot day after day. Then I’ll go on a flinty, crisp Loire jag: Epiré, Minet, Reverdy, Brégeon, and so on. This year has been a white Burgundy year, and I find myself regularly opening my evenings with a Meursault or Chablis, usually with some but not too much age. I thought it was interesting that besides reds, Harrison specified liking Meursaults, because almost all Meursaults and other white Burgundies do complete that second fermentation I was talking about. So do all reds, and so indeed does Tempier’s rosé, so I’m guessing that the malolactic fermentation plays a role in Jim’s wine preferences. It sure does in mine. At Chablis, a lot of lazy winemakers have now, god forbid, joined the “block-that-malo” club, but I promise that you will never find one here.

Anyway, this year I have been going though my 1990 premier crus from Raveneau. Also any of his 1994s. Vintages 1991, 1992, and 1994 from Jobard. Coche’s 1988s. Chevillon’s white Nuits-Saint-Georges make a great opener, as does the Vézeley blanc. And don’t forget the light little sparkler, Prosecco, which the Venetians “take.”

To those readers who have braved these pages of verbal thicket, here is your reward, if you choose to see it that way, The Apéro Sampler. None of these are good on pancakes, but may your lust be unbridled.

The Apéro Sampler

[links below navigate to current vintage, if available]

NV Prosecco di Valdobbiadene • Adriano Adami
2001 Bordeaux Blanc • Château Ducasse >
2001 Côtes du Rhône Blanc • Château du Trignon
2001 Muscadet sur Lie • Michael Brégeon >
2001 Cheverny • Domaine du Salvard >
2001 Bianco di Custoza • Corte Gardoni >
2000 Bourgogne Blanc “Les Clous” • A. and P. de Vilaine >
2000 Chablis • Olivier Savary >
2000 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc • Ermitage di Pic Saint Loup >
2000 Mâcon-Farges • Henri Perusset >
1999 Savennières “Cuvée Spéciale” • Château d’ Epiré >
1999 Cassis • Clos Sainte Magdeleine >

Normally $170.55
Special Sampler Price $125.00

[From the September 2002 Newsletter]

From the archives … My Problems with White Wine

by Jim Harrison

MAY WE POLITICIZE WINE? I will if I wish. This is a free country though it is quickly becoming less so. I have noted, for instance, that the Bay Area has become fatally infected with the disease of sincerity. Last early December in San Francisco I naively looked for a bar where I might enjoy a glass of wine and a cigarette. Instead I sat in the park across from the Huntington Hotel without wine, smoking an American Spirit and welcoming the frowns of a passel of dweebs doing Tai Chi. They birdlike lifted their legs as if afflicted with farting fits. When I lived briefly in San Francisco in 1958 it was an active seaport full of jubilance, music, merriment, and heartiness. The morning I left town on my recent trip I heard of a local campaign against the evils of butter.

All of which is to say that you can’t talk about wine without the context in which it exists, like life herself. Even in non-Marxian economic terms it is far more difficult to find a favorable white wine at a decent price than a red. Is it partly because the aforementioned sincere people who drink only white wine have driven the price up or because they are dumb enough to drink any swill if it doesn’t own life’s most vital color, the color of our blood?

We certainly don’t celebrate the Eucharist with white wine. Christ couldn’t have spent thirty days in the wilderness alone fueled by white blood. The great north from which I emerge demands a sanguine liquid. White snow calls out for red wine, not the white spritzers of lisping socialites, the same people who shun chicken thighs in favor of characterless breasts and ban smoking in taverns. In these woeful days it is easy indeed to become fatigued with white people, white houses, white rental cars.

That said, let’s be fair. The heart still cries out for a truly drinkable white under 20 bucks. I’ve tried dozens and dozens. I need white wine when I eat fish and shellfish. Of late several have been acceptable if not noteworthy: Château de Lascaux, Reuilly, a Les Carrons Pouilly-Fuissé and an Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup kept me alive until I could get my main course and restorative red.

Whenever I have wine or food problems I consult Mario Batali in New York, or Gerard Oberle in Burgundy, France, but my most reliable trump card is Peter Lewis in Seattle, whom I consider to have the most wide-ranging and educated palate in North America. In recent correspondence Lewis said common “white wines tend to the flaccid. The ‘international style’ in which they’re made these days emphasize the exotic: the overly floral, tropical phenolic profile coupled to heavy-handed oak treatment strip the fruit of its delicacy; whereas the truly exotic, as in Viognier from Château Grillet or Lys de Volan, combines true power with all femininity of peach fuzz and honeysuckle (the seductive quality of the minute hairs on the back of a woman’s thigh in high summer). There!

But isn’t life a struggle to gather the funds to cover one’s vices? For 30 years since I first had a glass I’ve had an affection for Meursault, even lesser vintages than those of Henry Boillot. I’ve drunk Meursault when the weather was a tad chilly, say in the early spring with a simple sauté of sweetbreads, fresh morels, and a few wild leeks. To be sure my single eye flickers to the red sitting on the sideboard in readiness for the substantial main course. I wouldn’t drink the Meursault alone unless it was over 90 degrees and I was sitting with a French vixen in a shaded courtyard in Beaune and she demanded the wine. Any fool except maybe a congressman loves Chassagne-Montrachet. I could drink three bottles of Didier Dagueneau’s Sauvignon Blanc with a gross of oysters in Concale if there were an available bed three feet away for my nap. The bed would be on a pier and the great French singer Esther Lammandier would croon a medieval ditty.

I see that women and food rather than government can help me abolish my prejudices, also an extremely fat wallet. Once before giving a poetry reading I was handed a glass of cheapish California Chardonnay and I said, “This might be good on pancakes if you were in the wilderness.” I actually chewed on the tip of a cigar to cleanse my mouth.

I admit I love Domaine Tempier rosé, which is about $25, and find Château La Roque Rosé at $12 a more acceptable deal in this twist world of color and flavor compromise. I drink the latter because my wife and daughters drink it so it’s right there within reach, an important qualification. I just recalled that on a warmish day last year I also liked a Côtes du Rhône blanc from Sang des Cailloux with barbecued rabbit (a basting sauce of butter, garlic, lemon, tarragon, and dry vermouth).

White wine is Apollonian, the wine of polite and dulcet discourse, frippish gossip, banal phone calls, Aunt Ethel’s quiche, a wine for those busy discussing closure, healing, the role of the caretaker, the evils of butter, the wine of the sincerity monolithic. It occasionally, of course, rises to greatness, and you may have some if you’ve been economically diligent or are an heir of some sort. I’m sure that even the cheaper varieties have brought thousands of soccer moms sanity-healing sex fantasies.

We drink with with our entire beings, not just our mouths and gullets. Temperaments vary. My mother used to torture me with the question “What if everyone were like you?” I have it on good authority that both Dionysus and Beethoven drank only red wine while Bill Gates and a hundred thousand proctologists stick to the white. Peter Lewis added in a letter that we’re not crazy about white wine because we don’t get crazy after drinking it, because we tend not to break into song or quote García Lorca after drinking it, because white wine doesn’t make us laugh loudly, because it fatigues us and doesn’t promote unbridled lust, because it pairs less well with the beloved roasted game birds whose organs we love to suck and whose bones we love to gnaw.

Yes, we’re fortunate that everyone isn’t like me. I recall Faulkner saying, “between scotch and nothing I’ll take scotch.” Meursault isn’t the color of blood but it’s the color of sunlight, a large item in itself.

[From the August 2002 Newsletter]

Currently available in our Berkeley shop:

A REALLY BIG LUNCH

THE ROVING GOURMAND ON FOOD AND LIFE

by Jim Harrison

$26.00

From the archives… 1986 Cassis Blanc • Clos Sainte Magdeleine

by Kermit Lynch

Back in 1969 before Bacchus waved his magic wand and made me into a wine importer, I was banging about Europe on a penny-pinching holiday. Needing a rest en route from Barcelona to Salzburg, I pulled off the highway to find a hotel. The nearest village was Cassis, proving that accidents are not always tragic. I did not know the beauty of the place had attracted painters such as Vlaminck, Matisse, and Dufy, or that there were literary connections with Marcel Pagnol and M.F.K. Fisher. I simply needed a bed.

And stayed a week. I ate in cheap backstreet restaurants: fish soup, fish stew grilled fish, fruits de mer, always with a bottle of the local sun-drenched white wine. All the vintners produce red and rosé, but those don’t matter. It is its unique dry white that puts Cassis on the wine map.

The 1986 will convert cynics who say the incomparable beauty of the site makes the wine taste good. The vintage plays a role; conditions were perfect. The aroma is ripe and grapes, and all the flavors are intact because the Clos Sainte Madeleine has agreed to forgo a filtration at the mise en bouteille. A blend of Ugni blanc, Claudette, Marsanne, and Sauvignon blanc, here is the wine to enhance seafood and shellfish. On a warm evening it serves as an appropriate apéritif. It goes particularly well with Roquefort and goat cheese. And you sailors, here is the wine for your boat’s ice chest. It tastes as good on the Pacific as it does on the Mediterranean.

[From the June 1988 Newsletter]

28 years later, the tiny Cassis appellation is glimmering like never before. Try the 2014 Cassis Blanc from Clos Sainte Magdeleine to see for yourself.

From the archives… Lulu’s Aioli Secret

by Kermit Lynch

We are excited to announce a new “From the archives” series. We will be sharing handpicked favorites from Kermit’s newslettersgoing back to the early 80’s through the 00’s! We hope you enjoy these blasts-from-the-past. Stay tuned for more.

Lulu is Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier. Aioli is the garlicky mayonnaise of Provence, but the word aioli can also refer to the mayonnaise and all the assorted goodies onto which the people of Provence traditionally heap it: sweet potato, carrots, artichokes, hard-boiled egg, sea snails, salt cod, octopus stew, garden tomatoes, beets, and so on. For grand occasions when guests are numerous (the end-of-harvest celebration, for example), Lulu always serves bouillabaisse or a grand aioli.

For some reason bouillabaisse and aioli have taken on some sort of spiritual significance to me. When I eat them, I satisfy more than one kind of hunger.

Why then did the aioli gods turn on me? For years my aiolis fell apart no matter how careful I was! Drop by excruciating drop I would add the olive oil, turning all the while until my arm wanted to fall off, 15, 20 minutes, and then in a matter of seconds my precious aioli would separate into an unappetizing glop of olive oil and raw egg. In frustration I finally tried to make it in a blender. Even that fell apart!

So I sat down with Lulu, mortar and pestle, garlic, egg yolk, and olive oil, and asked her to show me how it is done.

“You add a little salt first to help grind the garlic to a paste, then the egg yolk, then you start in the olive oil. It’s easy.” She said.

Folks, that is exactly how I always did it, so I insisted she demonstrate.

All, first, there was no drip-drip-drip. Lulu splashed in a healthy glug of oil and turned it with the pestle until it firmed up, then glug-glug, another pour. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Surely it was bound to unbind.

But, to hurry along… Lulu did have a step she hadn’t mentioned. When her aioli began to thicken too much, she aded a spoonful of tepid water. Since learning the tepid-water trick I haven’t lost a single aioli and my life is more meaningful. But why had no one ever explained that you don’t want your aioli to get too thick? I always thought that was the goal.

Surprisingly, Lulu serves not rosé, but red wine with aioli. Soul food, soul wine. A young, cool red. The 1986 works; the 1985 is already too evolved for an aioli. Save it or an older Tempier for the cheese platter, when the aioli is finito.

[From the December 1989 Newsletter]

Though fresh out of the ’86, we do have the 2014 Tempier Bandol Rouge in stock now for your handmade-aioli-pairing pleasure.

Memoria

by Chris Santini

Picture Patrimonio, Corsica, back in 1920. On an island desolated and neglected by colonial French rule, with no tourism and no industry, locals had only the dream of leaving to keep them going. Their choice was subsistence living or emigration, so most chose to leave (my own family among them). A few brave—or perhaps crazy—families chose to stay. While others packed their bags, the Arenas continued to plant and tend vines for themselves and a minuscule local market. By the 1970s, when Antoine Arena was old enough to head for better shores himself, his family encouraged him to leave, since the outlook was unchanged. The measly two hectares of vines that had allowed the family to survive until then were not sufficient to provide any kind of future for Antoine. He reluctantly acquiesced and left the island for a new life, yet the memory of his family’s vines haunted him. Would his be the generation that let this history disappear forever from the island? Would that be his cross to bear and explain to his children?

Unwilling to assume that role, and inspired by an island-wide riacquistu, or “reappropriation,” of Corsican language and culture by his generation, he returned home against his parents’ wishes and decided—much like his ancestors had—to plant, develop, and expand, even if he had no market to sell his wine to. A sort of “If you build it, they will come” faith and determination. To make this happen, Antoine knew right where to start: the oldest parcel of vines in all of Patrimonio, planted by his grandfather in 1920, which had never seen a drop of chemicals or fertilizer, and provided a pure, direct connection with the Patrimonio of the past. From here, Antoine selected his cuttings and propagated his vines to the fourteen hectares they occupy today. He thus launched a revolution that would take the Paris wine scene by storm and eventually woo wine lovers the world over, bringing Corsica the fame it greatly deserved. It all began right here in the Arenas’ vineyard, this living connection with memories and struggles of the past.

Antoine has always vinified the fruit from these old vines separately, yielding just a few barrels of wine. More often than not, the treasure was kept and enjoyed only by family and visiting guests, too rare and intimate to release anywhere else. The 2013 is the last vintage Antoine made from these vines before handing off the vineyards to his son Antoine-Marie. As a sort of parting gesture, Antoine is allowing us, for the first and last time, to share this wine in a very limited fashion with you. Mémoria is a deeply personal wine, with notes of black fruit, tapenade, chimney embers, and smoked meat—the scents and savors of a shared family meal in the Arena home, past or present. Ti ringraziu, Antoine, for sharing your final Mémoria with us.

2013 PATRIMONIO ROUGE “MÉMORIA”

ANTOINE ARENA >

$56.00 per bottle $604.80 per case

Introducing La Marca di San Michele

VERDICCHIO FROM LE MARCHE AT ITS FINEST

by Dixon Brooke

The little village of Cupramontana, perched high in the hills of Italy’s Le Marche region, within view of the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Apennine Mountains to the west, is the birthplace of this young, exciting estate. Founded by the children of an old winemaking family who struck out independently to create organic wines of great character and integrity, La Marca is the alliance of this region’s strong and proud history with the best possible vision for its future. In the right hands, the Verdicchio grape is capable of making one of Italy’s finest white wines—the hands of this family have just the right touch.

2015 VERDICCHIO DEI CASTELLI DI JESI
“CAPOVOLTO” >

Capovolto is aged exclusively in stainless steel and is the estate’s younger-release Verdicchio that is aromatic, fruit-driven, and ready to enjoy immediately. It is medium-bodied and versatile at table, with fresh citrus, spring flowers, stimulating acidity, and succulent pit fruits.

$24.00 per bottle $259.20 per case

2014 VERDICCHIO DEI CASTELLI DI JESI RISERVA “PASSOLENTO” >

This wine takes its time throughout every stage of the production process. Picked carefully, fermented slowly with wild yeasts (including full malolactic fermentation), aged in large Slavonian oak botti, and bottled unfiltered, Passolento deserves to be decanted and savored with fine cuisine, and it has development potential in your cellar.

$32.00 per bottle $345.60 per case

Artisan Vignerons – In Defense of Prices

by Anthony Lynch

We take pride in the bargains in our portfolio, but from time to time we cannot resist buying wines that some people would deem expensive. Our intention is not to gouge or cheat; in fact, we regret that something like wine, a product of the earth whose purpose is to unify and provide indiscriminate pleasure to all regardless of creed, color, and class, can be inaccessible by virtue of price or rarity. But rest assured that in most cases, the vigneron in question is not living a glamorous lifestyle with fancy cars and diamond rings.

Certain wines, like grand cru Burgundies and classified Bordeaux growths, are expected to demand a very high price—after all, these have long been considered to be among the most prestigious bottles in the world. Given that vineyard land for grand cru Burgundy sells for almost $2 million per acre, the price tag on these wines might begin to make sense. But what is the justification for the steep cost of wines from places where the cost of land is more humane, such as the Languedoc, Veneto, or Corsica? Or even Bandol, where a prized terroir is selling for about $65,000 per acre?

In rural areas of France and Italy, many vignerons live entirely off of a very modestly sized plot of land—some as little as two hectares (five acres). Those with whom we have chosen to collaborate are fully committed to crafting the best wine possible, which comes with its share of economic sacrifices. They eschew chemical products in the vineyard in favor of full-time salaried workers. A hired team picks grapes over the course of weeks instead of the violent, albeit speedy, job of a mechanical harvester. The search for complexity and concentration often results in very low yields—sometimes from ancient, unproductive vines—so while the cost of land may not be as high as in Burgundy, the resulting volumes produced are barely sufficient to support a family.

© Gail Skoff

Working such small plots of land completely by hand entails high costs of production, so artisanal vignerons must charge what they need in order to get by. These micro-productions represent their entire livelihood, and you can bet they are not living large: many resort to canning their own food and curing meats for cost-effective (and delicious) solutions to supporting their family through a given year. While it pains us to know that the shelf price of such wines makes them out of reach for numerous consumers, we take comfort in knowing a dedicated and honest farmer is subsisting off his or her labor. Just as we have come to expect to pay more for top-quality organic farmers’ market produce, these hand-crafted, sustainably farmed wines from small-scale artisans also demand a premium. We hope you keep this in mind the next time you are browsing our store shelves.