Day 15: The Fresh Wines of Kevin Kelley
Of all the monuments to the fermented juice of vitis-vinifera in California, few have the tremendous ugliness that the warehouse space that houses Kevin Kelley’s Salinia Wine Company. For anyone else this is not a destination winery. There is no grand cellar, no architectural excess masquerading as a tasting room, no bio-dynamic walking tour. And that is ok. Because what Kevin is doing inside this building might represent the future of California wine, or at least some part of it.
Kevin, a graduate of UC Davis (he laughed when i jokingly reffered to his alma mater as the bête-noire of the natural wine movement) and a winemaker who has built up his reputation working with various vineyards and wineries around the Sonoma area. He is part of a growing number of winemakers that have become disenchanted by the precepts of international style winemaking, heavy oak, extraction, innoculated yeasts, too much fruit etc. (Wells Guthrie of Copain, whom Kevin worked for, is another that has begun to make wines of a lighter quality.) As Kevin saw it, what has been missing in America was any type of “fresh wine” or wine that is bottled and meant to be consumed young, often straight from the barrel or tank and into whatever container is available (check out Tracie B’s post on fresh Italian wines HERE).
So when Kevin found a few vineyards that he felt were suitable for this type of thing he conceived the Natural Process Alliance, his project for fresh, natural, sustainable wines. To this end he hooked up with Klean Kanteen out of Chico California for completely re-useable bottles so nothing was wasted in the process and started work on a skin fermented Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris and has plans to add Picpoul, Grenache, and a true to life California Pinot Blanc (he tells me most Pinot Blanc is mis-identified here). This is an idea anathema to many Americans, who tend to think of wine as a serious, aged, and complex drink, which is partly where the stigma against wine comes from.
Kevin himself is warm and engaging and genuinely excited about his wines and the possibilities of where they could go. We talked for about three hours on all manner of things, from bio-dynamics (Kevin thinks like me on this, if the practices used are making your vineyards healthier and your wines better, go with it, but certification can hamstring people) to the ridiculous economics of owning vineyards in California (not yet for him, but sometime soon).
The idea behind the wines is simple. Don’t fuck (my term) with it unless it tells you to. No sulfur or anything of the type until absolutely neccessary, not as a preventitive measure and certainly not in order to shoot for a target otherwise unnattainable (when i arrived he had just finished an extremely light sulfur treatment on the Pinot Gris after he felt oxidation would become an issue otherwise, the chardonnay was still unsulfured). The wine itself is only available by the glass and sold within one-hundred miles of the winery so that Kevin can control the shipping as well as keep with his local philosphy.
So how is the wine? Given the hands off techniques and minimal intervention used both wines were remarkably clean and precise. The pinot gris, coming from Windsor Oaks Vineyards was a tight, acidic, mineral piece. This is food wine exemplified (we even proved it by eating sandwiches with it), subdued but not fat, balanced on the razors edge of rocks and fruit (thanks Lyle). The chardonnay is an entirely different animal from what you think of california chardonnay. Skin macerated for the entire fermentation and full of a some spiced meyer lemon feel and free of any of the requisite heaviness that comes along with oak or too much alcohol. To taste it is to realize that what we think of california chard is just as much a product of technique as anything else, and it doesn’t speak to California as much as it does to the style favored by much of our state’s vignerons. The wine itself was as ugly looking as the building, cloudy unfiltered with bits of stuff floating in it. But to taste it is to taste a small scale revolution. Tasting it is like tasting something different. Burgundian? No. International? No. So what then? The future?
One can hope.
Note: I tasted a number of Kevin’s other wines besides the NPA. I was going to include them, but space and time constraints made it impossible, so stay tuned for a full report after the month is done. Also, due to the holiday and an unforeseen event i will be taking two days off and depositing them at the end of the month. So next post is on the 6th of July.
Follow day by day here: https://saignee.wordpress.com/31-days-of-natural-wine/
Up next: Arjun Mendiratta talks sulfur; or: British Arjun Mendiratta talks sulphur.