Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A First Look at La Clarine Farm

Between Eric Asimov's recent post describing his personal take on just what desbribes "natural wine," yesterday's post at Do Bianchi and any number of other recent mentions around the vInternet, there's a whole lotta lovin' going on right now for the wines being produced by Hank Beckmeyer at La Clarine Farm.

I finally had my first chance to sit down with a couple of Hank's wines over dinner this past weekend. By night's end, I eventually pushed myself back from the table both pleased (quite, I might add) and intrigued.

The artwork for the La Clarine Farm label was done by Jad Fair, co-founder (with brother David Fair) of the band Half Japanese.

Sierra Foothills White Wine, La Clarine Farm 2009
$18. 13.6% alcohol. Vinolok (Vino-seal).
La Clarine's 2009 Rhône-style blend turned out to be one of the hits of a pretty formidable lineup. It displayed a rich texture without any of the overt creaminess or heaviness that often define such blends. Though it might not be a sure turn-on for the acid freaks out there, it does have just enough balance of underlying acidity to provide lift to the density of its fruit. Over the course of our enjoyment of the wine, my notes included descriptors such as beeswax coated apples, pear tarte tatin, mint and orange blossoms.... Suffice it to say it was friggin' delicious, especially alongside a plate of courtbouillon-poached cod served with a salad of sliced cherry tomatoes and roasted corn.

The wine is a co-fermented blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne (49/48/3%, respectively, for those who fixate on such things), produced from fruit that Hank sources from two vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley district of Amador County, California. You'll find the rest of the tech specs on the La Clarine website.

Normally, were I browsing the shelves in search of something new or unfamiliar to me, the "Vinted and Bottled by" nomenclature that appears on this wine's label would send me running, as it tends to suggest a lack of direct involvement by the person or entity whose name appears on the label. In this case, I purchased the wine sight unseen, so the "Vinted" stuff ("vinted" is not even a real word, dammit) came as a surprise. I reached out to Hank for an explanation and he let me know that, in this case, it's simply a legal labeling requirement as the wine was not only made from purchased fruit but also "vinted," by Hank himself, at a winery other than his own.


Hank also produced, for the first time in 2009, a white wine that underwent extended skin contact during fermentation and maceration. His Viognier "Orange" shows intrigue and promise; full details, though, will have to wait 'til a later date.

It should be noted that La Clarine Farm is not only a winery but also a full, functioning farm, situated on a total of ten acres. In addition to their vines (red wine grapes only), they raise goats for the production of goat's milk cheese.

Hank's approach in both the vineyards and winery is quite natural-leaning; it also seems highly intuitive, tied closely to the sense of aesthetics and energies that inform his overall interests, not just his wine. In an e-mail exchange yesterday (which reminded me very much of a recent post from Brooklynguy), Hank described his approach like this:
In a sense, all of my winemaking is like a musical improvisation. In the case of my syrah and mourvedre, it's a collaborative improv with another grower's grapes. For my home vineyard, it's like I get to choose the musicians and they get to choose the tune. In all cases, the vintage season dictates the form. [Of course,] some improvs are more successful than others.

As John Lennon said, "I'm a musician. Give me a tuba and I'll get something interesting from it."

The whole musical comparison is entirely apt, especially given Hank's musical past, something that I wasn't even aware of until another separate and distinct conversation (via Twitter, of all things) that preceded all of the above interchanges. Turns out Hank played for a short while with Half Japanese, a band I saw regularly during my formative years in the DC area. His stint with the group came after my time, but the band's approach always closely mirrored that which Hank pursues in his own current endeavors.



For more on Hank Beckmeyer and La Clarine Farm, be sure to tune into Saignée this Saturday, when Cory Cartwright's piece on La Clarine will be the lead-off for 32 Days of Natural Wine.

5 comments:

Ben Wood said...

Mdcuff,
Nice!! so where do I get some??

Do Bianchi said...

dude, thanks for the shout out and wow Half Japanese is so awesome! We SO need to hang and listen and taste together man!

Hank's wines blew me away and I was very geeked to offer them to my club. It's so hard to find them in California because he sells out right away... Never met the man but he was so generous with his time on the phone... great guy... can't wait to visit his place (maybe post Nov election?)...

David McDuff said...

Hey Ben,

A tiny quantity of La Clarine's tiny production comes to the east coast via Vintage Imports. The wines are occasionally available at CSW in Tribeca. The best source, though, is direct from La Clarine. You can sign up for their mailing list via their website. Production averages about 60-70 cases per wine, sometimes less, so there's not much to go around.

As suggested in DoBi's comment, the Rhône white is currently being offered in a mixed six-pack for Jeremy's wine club. I don't know what his shipping range is, but here's the link: http://2bianchi.com/2010/06/15/california-natural-wine-that-i-really-dig/

Jeremy,

No worries. It's weird and amazing how often we seem to be on the same page at very much the same moment. As I've said so many times before, there's a standing invitation for y'all (I'm an adherent to the more traditional spelling) here in Philly.

A visit to Hank's place is on my list of things to do and places to see, too. I've never explored that part of California before.

D J R-S said...

Hullo, McDuff-- a very Happy New Year to ya! Brought a btl of LCF's '08 Mourvèdre from NYC & am second-guessing myself as to appropiate timing & occasion.
Very curious about the white- folk wisdom has it Viognier can be aromatically overhwelming to Rousanne, wondering how it may all integrate & would hope for a chance to push the envelope on cellar aging if I can get my hands on the juice...

David McDuff said...

Happy New Year to you too, David. I'd be most comfortable asking Hank to weigh in on your question/theory himself, which I'll do. In the meanwhile, I'd say that I didn't find the Viognier in the mix to be at all oppressive or domineering, perhaps a welcome side-effect of co-fermentation. I have another bottle or two, so I'll do my best to hold one and report back at a future date. Or pop on over to Philly for a visit and I'll share it with you.

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