April 19, 2019
-please note: we will be closed this Sunday, April 21st.
Kat Cummings from Wine Wizards will pour Frenchtown Farms.
Frenchtown Farms, Sierra Foothills, CA (mostly)
From the producer’s website:
We are Aaron and Cara Mockrish. We live, farm, and grow wines in Oregon House, California, nestled in the North Yuba AVA of the Sierra Foothills.
Both originally from the east coast, various life turns found us farming vegetables, sheep, and other things in Northern California where we were lucky enough to meet Gideon and Saron ofClos Saron. We fell in love with winegrowing and they took us under their wing, helping us produce our first small vintage in 2015 and teaching us how to work in the vineyard and stomp grapes. Shortly after, we were able to secure access to a large portion of the Renaissance Vineyards, where we have been growing wine since 2016.
Our farming is influenced in part by Joel Salatin, Rudolf Steiner, and Masanobu Fukuoka, but mostly by our own observations and hard lessons throughout each season. We currently live and make our wines adjacent to the vineyards and are able to walk to work, where we are helped by our dogs, sheep, chickens, and cats.
And more from Aaron, as supplied in an email to Olmstead Wine in MA–lightly edited for length. We are very grateful for these beautifully written notes, and for those labels. Wow!
The vineyards: I could talk for about an hour answering these questions fully. For the most part we listened to Gideon about which blocks to farm. Apart from his memories, we are also able to taste vertical Renaissance wines from any block on the property between 1994-2006 at basically no cost to us. This is helpful. When and where we did ignore Gideon’s advice, we usually regretted it and abandoned it since then.
We farm Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, and a small block of Grenache. There is also Semillon in our lease but we let Dani Rozman farm it along with some other blocks for his project “la onda”. The parcels are very different from each other and sometimes even from themselves.
Exposure to the sun (north south east west etc) is the most important factor in our area due to the power of the sun and the heat-storing properties of the granite slopes. The ground is mostly granite which collects heat all day. Eastern facing slopes are 20 degrees cooler at night than western facing slopes. East = elegance, west= power, tannins, roughness. This is a general rule…again I could talk forever about this ….
Winemaking: Initially we made wines in exact Clos Saron style, however within the realm of Clos Saron there are more and less extracted wines. We never attempted to make a “stone soup” style Syrah although it’s a favorite of mine. We communicated with him early on in the process (2015) that we wanted to produce a slightly lighter, fresher, less extracted wine and he helped us to accomplish that. We typically macerate a day or two less than Clos Saron in any given situation. He (Gideon) will often say that the only real decisions in “our style” are 1) when to pick 2) when to press 3) when to bottle. Frenchtown tends to do all of these things sooner than Clos Saron.
We follow the perfectly underripe strawberry rule rather than the avocado rule. We are just as stringent in our standards, but aim for perfectly underripe as opposed to perfectly ripe. We don’t like big wines.
Our cellar work and timing is almost identical to Clos Saron…one big difference is that we use a basket press rather than a bladder press. There are pros and cons to both. We very intentionally use a basket press. My main reason is that it can be cleaned thoroughly and easily with water. Period. Punch downs twice a day. Gentle as possible. More like mush-downs.
Cecilia Rosé 2017
It’s Cara’s middle name. She is a Gemini which is the constellation in the sky on the label. Every label has an animal, color, geometric shape, constellation and these all relate to our concept of the cuvée. Cecelia is about the duality of the bee and star thistle in our area. An invasive and obnoxious poison-tipped weed which is also the only food the bees have during the hot season when all the other vegetation dries up.
The Syrah and SB are picked within a day of each other. The SB is stomped, the Syrah stomped and pressed into the SB. They coferment on the SB skins and stems for about half the time that “tickled pink” receives. With all our whites (in the white and in the rosé) we do not macerate…they are on the skins and stems only until we see the first signs of fermentation. Then it is immediately pressed. This creates a “skin soak”. The difference between this and a normal skin contact wine or orange wine is that there is only extraction in the presence of water (juice) but no extraction in the presence of ethanol. You extract very different compounds with water than with a solvent like ethanol (juice becoming wine).
Because the SB (for both the Pearl Thief and Cecelia) is the first fruit we pick and the winery space is not yet buzzing with yeast, it can often take as long as 5-7 days before fermentation begins so it is a long soak. By the second week of harvest there is so much yeast activity in the winery that most fruit will begin to ferment within 36 hours of stomping.
As with everything else, it goes into neutral French oak on its gross lees until it’s “when to bottle”, typically 6-8 months for Cecelia.
In ‘17 we added 22ppm SO2 at bottling
This cellar approach was something we came up with because we wanted to make a rosé with structure and age-ability but not so tannic that we had to wait a year to release it. Partly stylistic and partly economic decision.
Cotillion Carignan/Zinfandel 2016
The Cotillion was the first wine we ever made in ’15. It was our “payment” in return for working at Clos Saron for a full year. Gideon made it with us by our side in his cellar. It is made exactly as Gideon would make it. We use this cuvée to experiment with new vineyards, varietals, and winemaking approaches. It’s a place for us to learn. The Cotillion changes pretty drastically from year to year.
The original meaning of the word was a four person formal French dance that was a pre-cursor to the American Square dance. A formalized way for boys and girls to interact. In America a Cotillion is a coming of age ceremony for high society girls around 10 years old where they wear frilly dresses and demonstrate their good table manners. It’s a weird east coast rich person thing. (Cara is from CT and I grew up in NYC).
The Cotillion is always cofermented. We helped Gideon make Pleasant Peasant and Blue Cheer, both of which have Carignan from Jessie’s grove from 2014 onwards. Whenever I went down with him to get the fruit I always noticed that there was a block of Zinfandel right next to the the Carignan and I always wanted to make a coferment of the two.
3.5 to 4 days maceration as opposed to 4.5-6 for something like the pleasant peasant. Jessie’s grove is cool in the sense that the vines are super old and full of character but that’s about where the awesomeness ends in my opinion. The farming is not philosophically in line with ours and the soil is tortured for lack of a better word. I think it makes great wine but we no longer work with the fruit.
Waypoint Pinot Noir 2016, Carlton Hill Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon
We interned at Big Table Farm In 2015 and have friends up in Oregon for many years. It was influential on us. We met David (Polite, of Carlton Hill Vineyard) through our friend of many years Jay McDonald who runs EIEIO winery up there. He and David moved out there together 30 years ago.
We made this crazy wine in order to understand our winemaking better. What would happen if we picked Oregon Pinot at 22.5 brix with our method and then applied the Gideon style to it. Base soils vs acid. Limestone vs granite etc. David allows us an unprecedented amount of control in our picking and his farming is excellent. The fruit is pristine.
We macerate longer simply because we can. With foothills fruit and specifically renaissance fruit, over extraction is a real danger for us. The wines would be great but they would take too long to be drinkable and we would go bankrupt in the process. Kind of like what happened to Renaissance.
Therefore with most of our wines our decision to press is based upon tannin development rather than the wine going dry and needing to protect it.
In the case of the Pinot from Oregon we are not afraid of any level of tannin, only that the tannins are harmonious. We press when the wine is close to dry and barrel it down so that we do t have oxidation issues.
19 Harts Syrah 2016
The ‘15 and ‘16 19 Harts are worlds apart. In ‘15 we got access to Renaissance at the 11th hour and the fruit was much riper than we would have liked. We had to “make” the wine. In ‘16 we took over the farming and we grew the wine. The ‘16 is much leaner, more angular and I much prefer it. LOL. I wish we could wait a few years to release it. Four day maceration. Roussanne cofermented.
Pearl Thief 2017
In ‘16 we used Viognier from Lodi (bockish) because we had to. The Renaissance vineyards were in a terrible state and we had to make drastic decisions for the future health of the vines that greatly limited yield.
In ‘17 the vines responded to our efforts and we grew the whole cuvée at Renaissance ourselves. We used Roussanne instead of Viognier simply because that’s what is growing there. The Sauvignon Blanc and Roussanne ripen almost 6 weeks apart so a typical cofermentation is not possible but the SB and Roussanne go into barrel together in the final proportions so they finishing fermenting and spend their lives in barrel together.
In ‘18 we followed the same process as as ‘17 with very similar results…soon to be bottled.
Our general thoughts on cofermenting and especially blending varietals together that are non-traditional have nothing to do with stylistic winemaking ideas or intentional choices (ie percentage of Sauvignon Blanc vs Roussanne). They are practical results of our farming and a desire to express a particular slopes terroir. The SB and Roussanne grow on the same slope and they happened to create a 60/40 percentage in ‘17 based upon how many boxes of each we were able to pick.
I can say that we feel our “winemaking decisions” happen mostly in the vineyard from January to May. It is human nature to want to “make the wines” or put “your signature” on them with cellar work. We try and resist that. Of course it’s tempting to deviate from what Gideon taught us and find our own style, so to speak, but so far we are content to throw ourselves into the farming and make our own decisions about when to pick, press and bottle. As time has gone by the wines are tasting more and more like Frenchtown wines, whatever that means.
Sorry for typos. Been writing this intermittently on my phone while tying the Syrah on slope 19.