Stewards of the Land

Stewards of the Land


The Russian River has become the mother lode of Pinot Noir. It’s where more great Pinot Noir is made than any other place in America.>>The Russian River is popular for a reason which is that the quality of the wines attract people.>>The Russian River Valley, to me, produce some of the most compelling Pinot Noirs on the planet. It has the finesse and balance that we’re really looking for when we’re pairing wines with food.>>Everything on this table came from within a 20-mile radius. I’m looking at this wine and saying, “Ah it was grown over there.” And all these ingredients are local, fresh, and they’re all in season and I think that’s when you get incredible flavor profiles.>>No matter how special a region if you don’t have dedicated people that not only understand the potential or at least get a glimpse of the potential and what can be done with the raw materials, it never would have happened.>>The Russian River Valley is about 60 miles north of downtown San Francisco in northern Sonoma County. The defining feature of the Russian River Valley is a three letter word: fog.>>I like to call it heaven’s refrigeration unit; keeping those vines nice and cool, creating great acidity during the cool hours of the morning and the
night.>>So we’re looking at the Petaluma Gap behind us here. Eighty percent of the cool air that comes in through the Petaluma Gap goes up to the Russian River.>>The fog rolls in in the evenings, then during the early morning hours the fog recedes and completely disappears when the sun is out by noontime.>>So you can see the climate has a very important thing but you kind of have to study it. There are all sorts of microclimates.>>165 square mile area, relatively small, but with more soil types than there are in all of France in this tiny little area. You have volcanic soils, you have sedimentary soils that were ancient seabeds, with layer upon layer of fossilized ancient mollusk shells and whale poop and all that stuff turned on its side and now that’s rows in the vineyards.>>You know there are several different soil types here. In fact, just down this row might be three different soil types. This is ideal soil right here. You’ll start seeing the vines start slowing
down, they’re not as big. They like a little rock. Rock doesn’t bother them as long as there’s dirt in it. Vines will grow just about anywhere. We’ve been taking rocks out of here for years and years, and when you disk it they come right back, like they’re growing.>>I think that Pinot Noir is one of those varietals that really does show the true expression
of a vineyard site, of the soil, of the climate, of kind of the person growing those grapes, the terroir if you will.>>I think the story really begins with the University of California farm advisor in the 1960’s who thought that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were going to be the real legacy and real
vocation of Russian River at a time when most of the Valley was planted to Zinfandel.>>I think about my Italian ancestors and them coming over to the Russian River Valley in the late 1800’s and planting Zinfandel grapes there because it was what they knew from Italy.>>We’re picking Zinfandel here, started at 7. This is what the Europeans were doing when they first came over, this is how they trained their vines, just a single trunk and a spur-prune.>>The people of the Russian River Valley were fur trappers and traders and they were picking wild porcini mushrooms and they were shooting wild game and coming back and enjoying them all together. I’ve got some rosemary here. Rosemary’s got this herbaceous, crispy flavor that’s going to go very well
with our Zinfandel. I’ve got some bay leaves as well. Very important. I’ve got some black peppercorns here. Everyone says that Zinfandel’s are peppery and we want to make sure we have some peppery spices here in our dish as well. For me, it’s very important that the ingredients come from the same place as the wine, and when you do that you have a unity of flavors, and it’s something that Mother Nature does that man can’t replicate. I’m going to start the sauce, these are fantastic little Zinfandel grapes, add my Zinfandel. We’re just going to let that Zinfandel sauce
cook down and reduce there. My Italian ancestors very well could have been eating a dish like this. I would highly doubt that they were cooking it in copper pans like I did and basting the venison, but the idea and spirit of the dish is really still alive there. And that’s what important is that we’re cooking with very simple ingredients
here and we’re cooking with flavors that were born together.>>The Russian River area has a lovely agricultural background. Crops come and go, We’ve had hops and string beans and apples and pears.>>This ranch was originally owned by a guy from North Carolina named Solomon Walters. Hops was coming in, It was kind of the thing to do in those days. So most of this land down here on the bottom was planted in hops and then he went and built this hop kiln. He started in 1902 and he finished in 1905. In 1953 we quit raising hops, the hops market went to pieces. So then we started raising string beans down
here in these fields and one year we had 400 tons of string beans. I couldn’t imagine there were enough people in the whole world to eat that many beans and we were just one small grower.>>It’s very interesting to talk to the original
pioneers, people like Bacigalupi, who, as far as I can tell, was the first planter of Pinot Noir in Russian
River, who claims that he didn’t even know the name of the variety when it was first mentioned to him and he had to write it down to keep from forgetting
it!>>It turned out that Bob Sisson was the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner at the time and he happened to be a patient of my husband, for his dental work. So we asked him, ‘What do you think we should plant in this area?” and he said, “I think you should plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it would be perfect for that.”>>I tried to tell my Dad, I said, you know
what, “We ought to plant some varietals.” And all the old-timers said, “Oh, don’t plant those darn varietals. They don’t produce and you can’t sell them.” There were no little wineries around.>>Rochioli was a subsistence farm, they were growing green beans so moving from French Colombard to Pinot Noir was a significant step but it involved a whole new orientation of
mind. The had to think differently about how they would farm and differently about how they would react to their site and its potential.>>In France, they’re limited to how many tons per acre they can grow to get the best quality and I said, “That’s what we need to do here.” So I looked for a French clone of Pinot Noir. Well, my Dad said, Early Burgundy. So we planted that in the early 1960’s. My dad died in 1966 and in 1967 I jerked them all out and I put my Pinot Noir in, in 1968, first vineyard.>>Joe Rochioli ended up having to sell most of his first few crops to Gallo and it went into Hearty Burgundy because nobody would buy it. There was no market for Pinot when he did
it.>>There weren’t a lot of good California Pinot
Noirs. Every once and awhile there would be one out but there weren’t very many repeaters. It would be like, “Kind of like, well that
was a good one. What happened next year?” We thought about making really good Pinot
Noir. We knew we had sources where we could buy great grapes, so if could make really good Pinot Noir and do it year in and year out, we would be establishing something that nobody else had done.>>The Williams-Selyem wines starting in the early 1980’s really redefined what could be accomplished with wines of great elegance, finesse, and delicacy. The fact that Burt Williams made the wines I think surprised everybody but it proved it could be done.>>Here was this little winery in a garage. [Laughter] Original garagiste! The work was hard but it was very rewarding and we were doing it in the very old traditional ways and it wasn’t that we wouldn’t have liked to do it a little easier but we did’t have a lot of money. We had to do it in those old traditional ways, and we found out, in doing that, these were really the best ways to do it. There were 2,000 wines entered and over 400 wineries I think at the State Fair, and we won the sweepstakes, and we were no one!>>Burt Williams is a very very talented guy but just like a great chef if you don’t have good quality ingredients you can’t make great food.>>Our Gravenstein apples are grown in the same soil that this lovely Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is grown in. The apples experience the same morning fog
that rolls in through the coastal gap in the mountains. And the dish is going to be a Gravenstein apple risotto. If you smell this wine you can pick up the smell of apples and wild thyme and it’s got a lot of that herbaceousness and minerality.>>The wines that are produced from Chardonnay are distinct in the thread of minerality, the peach or citrus type flavors.>>And it’s got that fruit-forward flavor profile that is really
going to match very well with the apples. I’m going to add some of our Chardonnay right to the pan. And at the same time it’s got a lot of that creaminess and that unctuous flavor which is exactly the flavor profile of risotto. And we’re pairing duck with this risotto today because the Russian River Valley has this really long history of, you know, wild men out there killing ducks. What we’re going to do is take these apples and fold them in there raw. And what that’s going to give us is a good amount of acidity which is going to cut through a lot of the richness of that duck confit and it’s going to play just perfectly with the Chardonnay because if you taste this Chardonnay from Russian River Valley you’ll see it’s got a good amount of richness, it’s soft and supple, like I’m picturing my risotto to be right
now. As I’m plating this risotto I smell the thyme and the fruitiness of the apples and at the same time I smell the richness of the Parmesan cheese. I feel as though if I had not made a risotto and I had just sat over here and ate an apple and a piece of Parmesan cheese and had some thyme on my shoulder while I was doing it I could taste the wine and identify each of those ingredients in the character profile of the wine. [Music]>>Last year the vineyard had more fruit. They were picking sometimes 25 buckets per hour even up to 50 buckets per hour.>>A large amount of commercial wine that you
purchase in the market is produced in a mechanized environment. In contrast, the artisan producers of the Russian River Valley are hands-on, using old traditional methods of winemaking.>>We bring all the fruit in hand-picked into quarter-ton picking bins. What the ladies are looking for or anybody that’s doing the sorting is, as the fruit’s going past you, my rule of thumb is that, if you don’t want
to eat it , I don’t want to make wine out of it. So you’ll even see people eating fruit on bunches that are translucent, not quite purple. If they get a sour taste to it, they’ll throw that whole bunch out. We can sort through somewhere in the neighborhood about 3 tons an hour. What we would call this is our fermentation pad and these are old dairy milk tanks that we use to do the fermentations in.>>In the initial stages of wine production you want to keep the grapes cold. This allows the grapes to retain acidity and flavor nuances. And one way of doing that is by adding dry ice into the vat of grapes.>>The reason we like these dairy milk tanks is that there’s a very high skin to juice
ratio meaning that during the fermentation, the skins tend to float to the top and what we have to do is push those skins and reintroduce those skins back into the juice every 6 hours. After we gravity feed into the barrels on the next level down, then what’s left are basically are skins, seeds, and a little bit of juice. And what we want to do is gently squeeze that out. So we move this little press right up against
the tanks and then somebody gets in to the tank, with a pair of waders
on, a pair of fishing waders, and then we bucket it into the tank. It takes about 45 minutes to actually load
the press and then another 45 minutes to do the pressing itself.>>Smells good.>>The vineyards of Joe Rochioli and Allen Vineyard and then that little area right there produce Pinot Noir wines that if rubies had a taste or a flavor, that’s what they would taste like.>>What really made it a success for me was having Joe as a partner and a neighbor. We agree on sacrificing yield for quality, which is really the essence of a good Pinot.>>I’ve been doing it all my life. I can look at a vine and I can tell you how many grapes can be put
on it and I’ve got my men trained now too. You can overcrop a vine and you can undercrop it. It takes a balance.>>You’ve got two guys that have been really good stewards of the land they haven’t tried to manipulate it into something that it’s not.>>The thing that I like best about the region is that there’s an elegance yet a generosity to the wines but the generosity never descends into vulgarity. It always remains elegant. There is a lush aspect but it remains elegant, balanced, and again, it’s a gifted hand of man working with gifted raw materials.>>We’re not talking black, inky , “stain the glass,” almost Syrah-like Pinot Noir. We’re talking ultra-elegance, finesse but with lots of complexity and power.>>Quality will always be the answer to something being sustained. I think that is our hope for the future is to keep the quality up. And I think this area will hold up, because I know it can be done, producing wines that are outstanding not only outstanding for American wines, but for the world.>>I’m proud just like my Dad was. I live like I did in the past, my God I still don’t do nothing. I still work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. I know I got a lot of money in the bank, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. I tell my wife, if you want to go on vacation
then go. She says, “Not without you.”>>It’s almost as though you should trust what Mother Nature is doing and just start cooking from here instead of cooking from here. If you go into the vineyards and you see the apple trees growing next to the
vineyards and you see the deer running through the vineyard and you see the ducks flying overhead in the vineyard, hey man, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there’s something happening here. There’s a greater scheme than us chefs can dream up in our heads that’s happening all around us.>>If you pay attention and you really know the land, you get the right grapes and clones going, obviously it works, but it doesn’t work for everybody. [Music]>>There is a character in all my vineyards that I don’t find in a lot of Pinot Noirs that I don’t find in other vineyards, the
nose. It’s got a nice nose and some don’t have that nose. I don’t know what it is.>>That’s part of what makes terroir. It’s not just the soil or the climate it has to do with the surroundings. One time we were at the winery, there were a couple of customers there, one was from New York with his wife, we we having a glass of wine, we were under the trees just enjoying the
area. They were smelling the air and they looked at me and said, “Does it always smell like this. It smells like perfume here.” And I smelled it ,and I said, “Yep, it always smells like this.”

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