California Wine: Super Natural

Photo courtesy La Clarine Farm
Photo courtesy La Clarine Farm   

See our California Matters with Mark Bittman segment on native pollinators here.

Working in the wine industry, I am exposed to salespeople using terms like organic, biodynamic, and occasionally, natural. "Organic" today holds about as much credibility as the term foodie: it is used ubiquitously and often as an afterthought to help sell a product.

"Biodynamic" holds a lot more credence despite wrongly being likened to witchcraft. And the term "natural" comes by only once and a while, and is both mysterious and rare in its application. At La Clarine farm, nestled in the Sierra Foothills, Caroline Hoel and Hank Beckmeyer see the winemaking process as a dance between the earth, the vines, the weather and the hand of man.

Here, the role of winemaker is to make smart choices about varietal selection, proceed to foot stomping the grapes, and then allow fermentation to start spontaneously. The wines ferment outside for as long as six months to a year. At La Clarine, they talk about the idea of terroir -- a combination of place, weather, and vine -- as a "quantum field" in which the winemaker is integrally involved, much like the idea that a scientist's very observation of an experiment unavoidably and necessarily changes the results.

The 2010 Piedi Grandi was created with this in mind and with the addition of yet another influence. After reading a book about avant garde musical legend John Cage, Hoel and Beckmeyer took the idea of randomness and applied it to the blending of this wine, literally flipping a coin to decide grape percentages. What came out of this game of chance is a wine that is almost beyond definition. A blend composed of Nebbiolo, Syrah, Mouvedre, Viognier and Rousanne leads to a wine full of wonder. On the nose you are gently handed a rose with slightly crushed and dried petals, coupled with hand-muddled cherries and spice.The first sip brings clean dense fruit with the texture of silk that finishes with a mouthwatering acidity.

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This wine takes the idea of cross-dressing to a new level of elegance. Masculine and feminine notes perfectly intermingle in a way that is strong and sexy. Pair this brilliance in a bottle with anything that you want to make seem more magical. Its uniqueness cannot be limited to the glass. It will make any food taste better, any conversation more interesting and any evening more memorable.

La Clarine 2010 Piedi Grandi; retails about $20.

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