Master sommelier Chuck Furuya is packing in the oenophreaks with his visiting winemakers program at Vino. Last night (April 7) featured Sashi Moorman, whom Furuya introduced as “one of the hottest new winemakers out of California.” (A couple sitting across from me flew in from Chicago for the event. At the end of the tasting they wanted to know if Sashi’s wines were available at Charlie Trotter’s.) He’s the winemaker for Evening Land Vineyards and Stolpman Vineyards.
Evening Land focuses grapes from four vineyards that are in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Sonoma Coast, the Santa Rita Hills and—jump a continent—the Meurseault area of Burgundy. And Moorman also collabos with French winemakers Isabelle Meunier and Dominique Lafon on the Oregon wines (got that? so confusing). Sashi is mixing old-world growing techniques and new science in a way that will “change the game of the California wine industry,” said Chuck. “People will try to do the things they’re doing now.”
Stolpman Vineyards is in the Santa Barbara area and Chuck explained why the grapes there are different from anywhere else in California. In most of the state, winds blow from north to south. In Santa Barbara, the winds blow west to east, ushering in cool ocean air. So the temperature drops during the growing season. Add to the formula lots of limestone outcroppings (equals not-very-nurturing soil), and you have vines that are straining to survive over a longer period of time, developing physiological maturity and sugar ripeness. The result is wine that’s more complete and more complex than the superfruity Syrahs that sell so well in Safeway.
I could go on for days. The gist is this: You can learn a lot at Vino tastings, and not in a boring academic way. You get cool stories and language everyone can understand. And you get to ask famous winemakers who have appeared in Food + Wine magazine questions like ‘how did they get into wine in the first place?’ Sashi, who grew up in Alaska and the DC area, said he got a degree in geography from Vassar, then promptly went to work as a cook at “a little restaurant in New York where the owner is like Chuck”—meaning having a real down-to-earth love for wine. That restaurant turned out be Etats-Unis, known in Manhattan for its wine (and popular with the UN crowd). Moorman learned a lot from owner Jonathan Rapp, and from there he went to Ojai Vineyard (one of Chuck’s favorites) in California, knocked on their door and ended up working there for five years. It’s stories like that that make a tasting at Vino better than going to the movies—plus you get to drink really good wine.
Oh, my favorite wines of the five we tried? The 2007 Evening Land Pinot Noir from the Occidental Coast Carl Meyer Vineyard (Sashi said it is made from grapes grown on a parcel he and his wife named Memorius, after the Jorge Luis Borges story, because it has “all of the memory of Pinot Noir”—planted with clones and selection already adapted to U.S. conditions rather than newly imported from France). The 2007 Stolpman Syrah “Estate,” a Syrah grown in challenging soils, which gives it more texture. It’s black and intense, yet has no hard edges. “Sashi adds deliciousness to the cuvée,” said Chuck. And there’s not much of it. “The yields are low because it takes 25 vines to make one case,” explained Sashi. I also liked the one white of the evening, 2007 Stolpman L’Avion, so named because the grapes are grown on a former airfield. Largely Roussanne grapes, L’Avion has the weight of a Chardonnay but is not heavy or bitter. In fact, it’s flavorful and aromatic.
Vino, Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd (parking entrance on Pohukaina Street between Punchbowl and South streest), 533-4476.