Newsletter 48 Fall 2014


How Wine Works  ::  Terroir in Music and Wine

I’ve been happily reading David Byrne’s How Music Works since my daughters gave it to me this past Father’s Day. One of the reviewers for this comprehensive work by our beloved man in the big suit states: “It should be named How Life Works.” While I’m not ready to go that far, I can certainly see how several themes apply to winemaking.

Byrne strongly believes “that music-making is as much a result of cultural circumstance as it is an act of individual creativity.” Context has had a profound impact on music in how it is played, listened to and appreciated. He cites examples of musicians adapting for, or even creating a style of music that is dependent on the environment or context in which it is heard. This was especially true for the T-Heads, whom he describes as a ‘live performing band.’

Hmmmm. Musical terroir.

Winemakers are all too familiar with this concept, especially in Europe, where laws (such as AOC in France and DOC in Italy) establish guidelines, thereby limiting or downplaying individual creativity.  Even here in the US, where winemakers are relatively free from having to make wine according to tradition and legal guidelines, we are quick to emphasize context over individual creativity. We often hear of a vintner’s specific soils, elevation, and a vine’s age as having more importance than his choice of grape variety or winemaking techniques. Having Napa, Sonoma, or Dry Creek Valley on the label is a stronger marketing statement than the myriad of choices made by a winery in making that wine.

In one of the book’s most interesting chapters, Byrne chronicles the transformation of the Talking Heads from a quirky three-piece band performing in New York clubs, (most notably CBGB) to the juggernaut, tour de force we see in one of my favorite movies, Stop Making Sense. Once they began making records, they explored various methods (multiple tracks and additional instruments) to creatively add texture and complexity to their songs (see Remain in Light).  Byrne then said that in order to play the new songs live they needed many more musicians and vocalists (Bernie Worrell, Steve Scales, Alex Weir, Edna Holt and Lynn Mabry) to execute this new sound. Stop Making Sense, which is the perfect combination of the artist’s creativity adapting to context, is undoubtedly the band’s lasting impression or pièce de résistance.

Here at Unti, we could have comfortably conformed to our “cultural circumstance” by making Zinfandel, Syrah and possibly planted the other popular Dry Creek Valley grape, Sauvignon Blanc—and the business might have done just fine. However, we decided to exert our creative side within our “viticultural circumstance” by planting other varieties we thought would be appropriate for DCV’s climate, based on our experience tasting European counterparts. Sebastien then applied winemaking techniques specific to each variety to make the best wine from our vineyards.

Now, Unti is a winery more known for making interesting wines from grape varieties such as Barbera, Grenache, Sangiovese and Montepulciano, than as a Dry Creek Valley grower/producer.

I’m not saying Unti’s creativity is anywhere near the genius of David Byrne. I’m just saying our wines have a little Bernie Worrell in ‘em.


We have taken Grenache seriously around here since 1998, when we planted three acres of Grenache Noir from the best three clones available at that time. My love affair with Grenache began many years prior to us planting it, around the same time I learned of the Talking Heads. Back then, even the most prestigious of Southern Rhône wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape was quite affordable. Others, such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Sablet (labeled as ‘Côtes du Rhône Villages’ back then) were downright cheap. So it was easier on a college boy’s wallet to drink Rhône, compared to Burgundy, Bordeaux or Napa/Sonoma Cabernet. Well, deservedly, neither Grenache nor the T-Heads and David Byrne fly under the radar anymore. Most grower/producer CDP’s start at $50 and vineyard designate or “luxury cuvées” can sell for $200 a bottle. Heck Gigondas, my not-so-dirty-little-secret, sells for $30 to $50. A part of me “Can’t seem to face up to the facts” when I realize that prices aren’t the”same as it ever was.”  So while it might cost me a little more to drink my favorite Rhône wines, as a California producer, it represents a golden opportunity. Since 1998, we have learned that making high-quality Grenache takes time and effort, which translates to increased costs.  If you plant good clones of Grenache, and limit the vines’ crop yield, our California climate allows us to make compelling, expressive and complex wine.  Wines you can easily compare to my beloved Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. But this style of Grenache is going to sell for more than $25 a bottle, which is why the current market for high-quality Rhône wine is a good thing. This 2012 is an excellent example of our 12-vintage delusional quest to make expressive Grenache; it is fruity and complex yet with the kind of tannin and acid structure I only see in my favorite Southern Rhône wines.  The fact that this dark and full-bodied wine is 85% Grenache tells you just how good the vintage was for this variety. This wine should have a nice long life ahead of it- 5 to 7 years, easy. We even bottled a few magnums... I guess you could say “This must be the place” for Grenache. 85 % GRENACHE  15% SYRAH   PURCHASE IT FROM OUR ONLINE STORE HERE 1,000 CASES PRODUCED $35/BTL   $28 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE $75 / 1.5L (Magnum) / $60  WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE    

2012 SYRAH

Over the past few vintages, this bottling has showcased the more elegant side of Syrah from our vineyards. This 2012 shows the pretty aromatics and complex spicy flavors of those years combined with the bigger fruit and tannin structure we’ve come to love about all of our reds from this outstanding vintage. Last year I participated in a one-day symposium where several panels of winemakers offered their explanation for the 2012’s level of quality across the board. After five hours, tasting over 30 wines from just as many winemakers, the conclusion was it is better to be lucky than good. 2012 featured moderate weather in the spring and a nice long growing season which resulted in the perfect storm for growers…a bumper crop of outstanding quality. Additionally, this wine derives much of its personality from our Creekside Syrah block, which is planted to the clone we have in our Benchland vineyard. Over the past several years, we have been increasingly impressed with the fruit from this block. Like many of the emerging stars on the Golden State Warriors (Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes) this vineyard has played itself into our playing rotation, and is now enjoying the primary role. It provides big fruit and some Northern Rhône like spice. Whatever the reasons, this is a Syrah not to miss if you are a fan of Unti. Dark, fruity and full-bodied, this wine should have no problem aging 5 to 7 years. Think 2007 vintage. 100 % SYRAH  PURCHASE IT FROM OUR ONLINE STORE HERE 1,050 CASES PRODUCED   $30/BTL   $24 /BTL WHEN PART OF A MIXED CASE PURCHASE      

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