Another Chessman Update from Andrew Murray

October 24th, 2013

amv-photo-chessman-2

 

Mercatto Barolo ‘Manzone’ 2007

August 20th, 2013

Mercatto is the result of a long collaboration among three great Italian wineries: La Vis in Trentino, Fratelli Manzone in Monforte d’Alba and Voghera in Neive. With the guidance of Phil Laramore, a passionate American wine merchant, three great producers have come  together to create a single platform for the mutual benefit of their families as well as the international wine consuming public.

Each winery is indicated on the back label of the wine, and in the case of Manzone and Voghera, the wineries have also utilized their traditional cork and bottle, including their family name and crest.  Of the Piedmonte producers involved in the Mercatto project, Fratelli Manzone is perhaps the more modernist of the two.  The brothers allow their grapes to hang on the vine longer than nearly any other producer in the zone, insisting that every berry must achieve full physiological ripeness before picking.Manzone employs hold cluster fermentation for their Barolo.  Therefore the vineyards are immaculately pruned in order to assure that not only the berries, but also the stems, achieve maximum ripeness.

The regimen includes careful leaf pulling by hand to fully expose the stems of each cluster.The barrel program here is sophisticated as well, judicially utilizing both traditional botti as well as small amounts of extremely high quality barrique.  All wood in the winery is in the current fashion of Slavonian oak.

The steeply terraced Manzone vineyard, high in Monforte d’Alba, is situated at approximately 1,500 feet. The southeasterly facing slopes are typically covered in mist until at least 10:30 nearly every morning during growing season. The mist, steep slopes and relatively high altitude all contribute to the aromatic richness, textural complexity and powerfully expansive finish of the 2007 Barolo.

Let Them Drink Wine!

August 14th, 2013

“Let Them Eat Cake!” – a phrase probably never uttered by Queen Marie Antoinette, but powerfully attributed to her just the same. Tradition holds that the Queen spoke these words to her aide when she was informed that the peasants were upset, because they had no bread.

It has been more than fifteen years since my first, formative, trip to Europe. Everything important that I have done in the wine business since then has been informed by the stuff I began to realize then. For the past decade or so, business has brought me back regularly. I am fortunate to have this opportunity, because these visits reinforce for me what I want to achieve with our own business in America.

I have learned that Europeans have an expectation that they can drink decent wine over a meal, and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. I have also learned that people who grew up drinking wine tend to drink what they like, and fashion be damned. If they like sweet, they drink sweet. If they like pink, they drink pink. Whether wealthy or of modest means, this basic expectation seems to persist throughout Spain, France and Italy.

And this brings me to an interesting cultural paradox. In my experience, the romantic wine idea is irresistible to young and idealistic people. There is something about the idyll of folks returning to the land, creating something primal, that exerts an irresistible tug on certain souls. And these people have brought remarkable vitality to our industry, both as consumers and as arbiters of taste.

And yet the somewhat zealous demand that the idyllic farmers and winemakers live up to a certain purity ideal endanger another cherished value: that decent wine should also be affordable and accessible for most people.

The Great Recession may be a memory for some people, but my travels around the country have taught me that for most wine consumers the heady days of 2007 and earlier have yet to return. Maybe our homes aren’t under quite as much water, but five lost years are still telling on us.

We at Nexus just have no interest in creating wines that wine experts and wealthy consumers can appreciate, but that the rest of us cannot afford.  We want to bring artisan, delicious wines to the marketplace at prices that allow the people we know and love to enjoy them every day. Mostly, we want to bring wine to market that consumers will love, irrespective of the latest fashion.

Let us not elevate a certain vision of farming, winemaking and marketing “as it should be,” over the economic and cultural reality of most wine consumers!

And above all, let us not impose our vision of what wine should taste like (one of my young salespeople is a self-described ‘acid freak’) over what different consumers may desire.

Many European consumers mix their red wine with still water and their Riesling with sparkling water. Many European wines are traditionally sweet, and sometimes they are sweet and effervescent. But there isn’t anyone looking down their noses at European consumers for drinking their wine as they like it. Rather, the European wine industry is comprised of thousands of small BUSINESS people, each trying to make a good living by delivering to consumers the type of wine that they want.

Please! Let us not say to consumers who can’t spend $20 on a bottle, or who don’t understand complicated wine labels, or who prefer a “fruity” wine: “Let them eat cake”. Because if the Reign of Terror taught us nothing else, it should at least instruct us that when we blithely suggest that the common people should just eat cake, they surely will. And look where that got Marie Antoinette.

Laramore out.

Best Hot Dogs, Dawg

June 3rd, 2013

And they say McDonalds isn’t a restaurant well I guess I’m wrong, 

But if you gon’ tell me that A&W ain’t the spot for the best hot dogs, 

 You can get the “F” on dawg. – T.I. and Eminem “That’s all She Wrote

 Thursday, May 30, 2013, 2:23 am

Quivira Guest House, Dry Creek, Sonoma

Last week I lead a team through Italy visiting great properties mostly in Piedmont and Tuscany, although we did also stop by to visit the farmers at La Delizia. In addition to Nexus wines, my partners and I also own a medium size wholesale distribution company in Colorado, and many of the properties that we visited last week we import into the state of Colorado for sale to independent retailers and neighborhood restaurants in our home state.

I mentioned that we visited great properties, and that is what I have been dwelling on in my head lately, instead of sleeping. What makes a wine great? The question feels especially urgent right now because this week I am back in Northern California, working with our growers and winemakers on various Nexus projects.

Like most wine professionals, I turn to Eminem when I need deep insight around the issues that keep me up at night. And not for the first time, the Sage of Eight Mile came through with the answer. When you find the spot for the best hot dogs, you need to defend that insight at all costs, dawg, because there just is no improving on the best.

And so it was that in 1340 Pietrino Falletti discovered that Nebbiolo grown in the south-facing, sandy soils of Monfalleto produced a wine of remarkable finesse and aromatic expressiveness unlike Nebbiolo grown in any other spot in the region. Then, after six centuries, the Monfalleto vineyard became the property of the noble Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo in 1941. The Corderos represent a different branch of the family tree, but through three generations if stewardship they have never lost track of the greatness of the Monfalleto cru, and that is why the wines of this historical property a so great today. The team was duly impressed. We couldn’t be more proud to import the wines of Cordero di Montezemolo into Colorado.

Last night I had dinner with a new winemaking partner named Ed Kilian. You may not know Ed’s name by heart, but I can almost guarantee that you know his wines. Ed has been crafting great wines over at Chateau Souverain for over two decades; his signature is on every bottle. Ed and I have been working on a new single vineyard Russian River Chardonnay for a different project I am involved in called Reaper (www.reaperwines.com). There are still a couple finishing touches to put on the wine prior to bottling later in the summer or early fall, but the barrel samples were magical. Ed (unlike me) is a man of few words, but when I asked him over dinner what made this wine so special, he replied with a thirty minute disquisition on the glories of the vineyard.

Next week I will be in Mississippi helping our new agent down there to launch Chime, and all week long I will be telling the story of Rodney and Gayla Schatz, third generation winegrowers in Lodi who have become our incredible and indispensable partners for Chime California Cabernet. And I will be introducing customers in that great state to Ricardo de Los Rios, who helps us to produce that incredible Chime California Pinot Noir. Of course I will be clueing them in about the new single vineyard Chime Russian River Chardonnay from Cal Plans vineyard that Heliodoro Lopez and his family have farmed so passionately for three generations. Beyond that I will be telling them all about Money Lane Vineyard in Oakville, a spot that produces the most remarkable Chardonnay, although the region is more noted for Cabernet. I hope that my new agent in Mississippi, and the independent retailers and neighborhood restaurants that we present to will agree with me that we are making great wines, but if they do I will make sure that they understand what makes these wines great: it is the right combination of a special place, carefully farmed, and a gifted, artisanal winemaker.

I don’t claim to be anything special personally, but I do spend a lot of time looking for opportunities to bring great wine to the market. And when I identify those opportunities I try hard to stick to them (double stick, as my man intones in “That’s all She Wrote”). And why? Because there is no improving on an A and W hot dog, any more than an Ed Kilian Russian River Chardonnay, dawg.

Laramore out…

Are you right for Nexus Wine

May 10th, 2013

“Was Napoleon right for Josephine?

“Is nausea right for Dramamine?

“Were the 80’s right for the drum machine?

“Who can say? Who can say?”

– Uncle Fester, Adams Family, the Musical

 

Several years ago my partners and I introduced a brand called Chessman. The idea behind the name was that just as one must carefully arrange the pieces on a chess board to maximize the potential of one’s board posture, so must a winery carefully match the correct grape, clone, trellising system, etc. to the vineyard and climatic conditions in order to maximize quality. If we are doing our jobs as winemakers we are hopefully creating the most propitious conditions for great wine to emerge. In the end, it is up to every consumer to answer Uncle Fester’s eternal question, at least as it relates to wine.

 A SHORT STORY

Not long ago we met with some of our friends to discuss a Pinot noir program that we have been developing together. Our friends owned two vineyards, one in sunny Alexander valley, and one quite a bit further north, in Mendocino. The Pinot noir project that we have been working on together is grown in this second vineyard, up in Mendocino. It is a very marginal climate up there, and their north-facing vineyard was only able to fully ripen the Pinot noir in maybe eight years out of ten. When the vines did fully ripen, however, the resulting wine could be magical. Down in Alexander Valley, where it is far warmer, our friends grow Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and even a little bit of Cabernet.

And so we were dismayed to learn that our friends had sold their Mendocino Pinot noir vineyard late last year. Given the quality of fruit we were accustomed to receiving off of the vineyard, we asked them if they wouldn’t mind putting us in touch with the new owners. Our friends told us that they would be happy to reach out for the new owners on our behalf, but that we shouldn’t hold our breath because the new owners were grafting all that Pinot noir over to Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals.

Now Cabernet hails originally from the sunny southwest of http://www.nexuswines.com/blog/the-story-of-cabernet-or-of-kings-and-knaves/ France, whereas Pinot noir first came into its own in the marginal climate of Burgundy. Pinot noir from warm climates can seem clumsy, lacking the ethereal qualities that distinguish this noble grape from less exalted cultivars like Grenache or Zinfandel. Cabernet from a marginal area can seem green and austere, lacking in the richness and depth that have earned for the House of Cabernet the sobriquet “the king of wines”.

We developed two key takeaways from this experience: (a) we will be seeking out a new partner for our Pinot noir project; (b) our customers should not be looking for a cool climate, Mendocino Cabernet from Nexus anytime soon!

In the meantime, we continue to pursue the vision which we hinted at with the Chessman platform several years ago: we seek to match the right vineyard with the right farmers and the right grapes. Then we pair that fruit up with the right artisan winemaker, the one with a passion for that particular region, or grape, or project.

Ultimately you will let us know if our vineyards are right for our grapes, when you decide whether our wines are right for you. We hope that answer will be yes!

But don’t look for our wine in the big retail chains. Instead, ask for Nexus Wines in your neighborhood liquor store or restaurant, because it is these independent small business people who are the lifeblood of our company.

 

The Story of Cabernet, Or ‘Of Kings and Knaves’

May 3rd, 2013

Long long ago, in a land at the water’s edge, a clutch of peasants, tied to the land, cultivated a humble vine they called Cabernet Sauvignon. Years earlier, nobody could remember precisely when, one of the families in a nearby village had created a hybrid of the local Sauvignon (a white grape with a distinct aromatic quality) and the juicy red Cabernet. At first not everyone loved the new Cabernet Sauvignon, which retained the color and grip of Cabernet along with the herbaceous aromas of Sauvignon. Actually, it was a visiting wine merchant from across the water that first convinced them to cultivate this new grape, since he was so impressed by the resulting wine that he purchased everything he could find before sailing away, across the water and out of sight.

Everyone knew this place by its proximity to the water, and the tall ships the merchants arrived on, bringing with them hard currency and leaving again with the local wine in their holds. The villages here were at the water’s edge or en bord de l’eau in the local dialect. Over many years the place came to be called Bordeaux.

Millennia passed. When in 1855 Emperor Louis Napoleon famously unveiled his Bordeaux classification, the Chateaux that were so classified were situated on the left (or west) bank of the Garonne Estuary. While the climate and soil might vary from village to village and property to property, all of these vines were descended from those same vines the local peasants had first cultivated deep in the past. For the most part, these wines were made from Cabernet Sauvignon.

And thus was anointed the King of Wines. These great wines faithfully reflected the place they came from, what by then was known as terroir. They were graceful and complex with a hidden power. They became different, even more remarkable wines with age. They were grown and produced by people of long experience in the vineyards and cellars of the region. Those who enjoyed these wines could evoke the experience for those around them even fifty years after drinking the wine, so remarkable was the experience.

Over the succeeding 150 years Cabernet Sauvignon first colonized, then conquered, wine growing regions throughout the globe. And as such people are wont to do, the gimlet eyed captains of the wine industry declared that they must have more Cabernet Sauvignon. They were blinded by greed, and irrespective of whether the place was right, or the vines were mature, the captains demanded ever more Cabernet Sauvignon. Whereas the King of Wines had been perfected over millennia, from old vines and limited yields, these soulless new wines were but pale imitations of their worthy forebears. And thus was ushered into this world the Knave of Wines.

Enter passionate American Wine Merchant Phil Laramore. Inspired by the great Cabernet of yore, frankly depressed by the green pepper cum hoary pale berry cum sickly sweet “cabernet” of the rapacious factory wine executives, Phil decided something must be done. And thus our Cabernet program was born.

Our Cabernets bring together the essential elements that made Cabernet Sauvignon the King of Wines so long ago. We work with outstanding, unique vineyards cultivated by dedicated wine growers of long experience in their regions. Then we match their grapes up with talented artisan winemakers to craft our Cabernet Sauvignon in small lots. In this manner we create honest, delicious artisan wine for your table.

But don’t look for our Cabernet in the mega retail chains because you won’t be able to find them there. Instead, look for our wines at your local independent wine store or neighborhood restaurant.

 

Looking For Answers

April 18th, 2013

Well I’m looking for answers/Looking for answers that nobody knows …” – Susan Tedeschi, Looking for Answers.

 

Critics play a really important role in our industry. They taste through countless bottles of wine and, according to their lights, sort out the good stuff from the okay stuff from the sucky stuff. 

Right this instant millions of Americans are browsing the endless wine aisles across this great land. They are looking for answers to important questions about wine, and they are utterly confused. They want to know what red wine will pair well with Sushi. They want to know what temperature to serve their Cabernet. They want a great wine that is ready to drink tonight. They want a $12 wine that will impress their boss. And so forth.  

This is where the critic steps in. The critic will give a certain wine that they loved 93 Points and another wine which they felt was less good (hopefully not the same wine in a different bottle) 86 Points. The Points tell you whether the wine is really good or not. This evening, as millions of Americans struggle to make sense of the cacophonous, endless wine aisles, the critics will help them to make up their minds. This is a good thing. 

Sometimes, though, I feel like the critics have a little too much power.  Here’s why:  sometimes our wines get really good scores. Sometimes wines that I personally love get sorta lousy scores.  To be candid, I am never quite sure why a wine got a certain score. We are always grateful for the positive reviews that we receive. But I can honestly report that I have never lost a night’s sleep over a poor review!

What I can tell you is that my team puts the same care, passion, attention to detail and commitment to excellence into every wine that we produce. There is a family farmer, and a gifted winemaker, and a team of dedicated vineyard managers, and an awesome cellar team behind every wine that we make, everywhere in the world.

This is one of the most important reasons why we try to partner with medium size distributors, independent retailers and neighborhood restaurants. These are the people who can take the time to learn about what makes our wines so special, and who can then convey the story to the consumer in a way that can really help them to make the best choice for tonight’s dinner or this weekend’s party. We do not believe that our wines are always the best wines for any occasion. We do believe that a critic can only tell you so much about what makes a Nexus wine so special.

La Delizia – The Triumph of Small Farmers

April 11th, 2013

 

Dragging their feet in the dust, tired to the bone

the Germans now retreat, sheep lost in the fog. … 

In the villages bells ring as if to announce some holiday

with the yards swept neat and clean, with springtime fields

where gatherings of girls, their pony tails like sun rays,

pass under greening trellises on their way to hear mass

1945 — Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975)

 

The farmers of La Delizia inaugurated their small cooperative winery more than 80 years ago, in May of 1931. Individually tiny, these 70 farming families recognized that by pooling their resources they could bring something special into the world.  Unfortunately, the Fascist governments in Rome and Berlin seemed to have different plans for Europe at that time.

Through years of Fascist terror, German occupation and Allied bombardment, Pier Paolo Pasolini faithfully documented the travails of the people of La Delizia. By 1945 nearly two years of Allied bombardment had reduced their village, and the Friulan landscape around it, to little more than a smoldering memory of a pastoral idyll.  As the Germans retreated, and the British and Americans moved in, the farmers surveying the wreckage of their small cooperative enterprise knew that they would have to start over.   

Pasolini perished in 1975, driven over repeatedly by his own car at his beach house outside Rome. La Delizia had come a long way since the end of World War II, and yet the great poet died too soon to witness the triumph of the farming families of La Delizia.

For in the ensuing decades after Pasolini’s untimely death, the farmers realized that to compete on an international scale they would need to invest in their vineyards and their winery in a very meaningful way. Their new approach might be summed up as a respect for tradition, along with a commitment to innovation.

The farmer’s commitment to quality is such that the vineyards are constantly monitored by the winery’s vineyard managers. The farmers pay particular attention to clonal selection, micro-climatic conditions and achieving perfect physiological ripeness for every cultivar.

We could not be more proud of the wines which we produce in partnership with the farming families of la Delizia. Cara Mia and Bella Donna are pure and honest Italian wines produced in small lots by artisan winemakers. The grapes are cultivated by dedicated family farmers who have been tending this land in northeastern Italy for generations.

It is a particular source of joy for us that the wines have been so well received in America, our home. Every bottle of Cara Mia and Bella Donna that you purchase helps to support a dream that began more than 80 years ago in a little farming village in the Italian countryside. The dream was that these subsistence farmers could come together to create a small cooperative winery that could support their families for generations to come.  The farmers of la Delizia are passionate about the wines that they craft. We hope that you will love these wines as much as we do. 

But don’t look for Cara Mia or Bella Donna in the big retail chains or national restaurant groups. Instead, look for our wines at your neighborhood restaurant or fine wine shop.

Nexus Philosopher

April 5th, 2013

When I learned that 70 percent of all the wine shipped out of California was produced by just five gigantic, globalized companies, it opened my eyes to how little I really knew about today’s wine business. So I started to dig around. What I discovered troubled me, and I knew that we had to do something about it. That is when I, along with a few good friends, created Nexus Wines.

We create brand platforms around which family farmers and artisan winemakers can collaborate to bring honest and delicious wines to market. We have taken as our model the incomparable Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse has showed the way over 40 years by providing a platform for small, dedicated growers throughout California to feature their wonderful produce, prepared by the most skilled kitchen staff in the industry. Along the way, this remarkable restaurant has helped untold growers and kitchen staff to develop long term careers doing what they love. At the same time Chez Panisse has become legendary among foodies in California and the world over, providing decades of incredible food.

At Nexus we strive to create brand platforms that allow small farmers to come together with talented wine makers to create great wines to the market at reasonable prices. We provide the marketing, and then work with small wine distributors throughout the country to bring these wines to consumers.

By and large one will not find Nexus wines in major retail chains or national restaurant groups. Instead, look for our wines at your local independent retailer or your neighborhood restaurant.

Our wines are delicious, honest and pure. They are produced in very limited quantities. There is a small, family farm behind every wine that we bring to market, produced in careful collaboration with an artisan winemaker.

We hope that you love our wines when you try them and that you come back again and again to share them with your family and friends. For us, they are a labor of love.