Wine Tasting Crasher – Alice Feiring style at Four Gates Winery

On May 21st, the day after Shavuot, I found myself driving the winding hills of Highway 17, that lead me to the even more bewildering roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, to go see Benyamin Cantz and Alice Feiring at the Four Gates Winery. Alice was in the area, and called up Benyamin to ask if he was up to a visit by herself and her colleague, Jose Pastor, Benyamin said sure, and so the game was afoot.  I of course also asked Benyamin if I could attend, and he graciously allowed me entrance – but ONLY if I would be at my very best behavior.  I have had a deep interest in meeting this women, after reading her book; The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.  Here is a women with a great palate, wine lover, Jewish, and a person with a keen understanding of the madness of living the “frum” life, as is visible from her blog, and the three-part article on Benyamin and Four Gates Winery (yes that is me in the third installment).

I arrived at Benyamin’s house, where the wine tasting was taking place, just after the 2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc was opened, which Alice seemed to like.  Benyamin had already shown Alice and Jose the grounds, vineyard, and winery, and was now sitting them down for some wine tasting and up close and personal examples of life on the farm (read the blog post).  I started to talk with Alice and Jose about her book, blog, and Parker – the single palate for the world.  I have slammed the single palate a couple of times here and here, and other places on Rogov’s forum.  After that, Benyamin opened a bottle of N.V. Four Gates Cabernet Franc (1999/2000), it was soft, full in the mouth, with bright acidity, bing cherries, oak, raspberry, with a hint of chocolate.  A nice bottle for being 10+ years old, I would have loved to hear what Alice and Jose thought of that one.  My notes from a year ago, when we did a Four Gates Vertical of his Cabernet Franc wines – can be found here.  While we were enjoying the wine, I kept asking questions, yes that is what I do.  I asked Alice where her fascination for natural wine comes from?  She was honest and clear, that she has no interest in changing my drinking habits, but she does want people to know what is out there, and make them realize what they are missing.  I asked that the hallowed DRC uses oak, why is that OK? I also stated that I understand that coffee and vanilla and the such are not a natural part of the wine, but can we really say that they do not add to the wine experience?  Her answer was fair, in that oak is not offensive, but it is when it is overused like so many do, or when it defines the wine, rather than helping round the wine, or allowing the wine to show its better characteristics.

Benyamin then opened his N.V. Pinot Noir, which was tasting exactly as my last notes here show.  Alice commented on the N.V. label, which Benyamin went on to explain was nothing more than the a great example of “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”.  They then went into wine and winery talk for a bit, which was fine, as I was feeling like I was a bit too talkative, and I was after all crashing the wine tasting.  It was at this point that Benyamin remembered having made a basically natural wine, or as natural a wine as he could make, other than his one and only natural wine that he made (or God made), which was used under a wedding canopy (story in Alice’s blog).  The wine was a 1996 un-sulfited Chardonnay (yep 14 or so years old)!!!  Are you kidding me!  The wine was OFF the charts!  It was packed with lemon, oak, butterscotch, some melon, and yep some more oak.  That said, the wine was super full in the mouth, still ripe and alive, and so crazy fresh, that I begged for the left overs to take home, which Benyamin was VERY kind to give up.  Finally, Benyamin opened a yet to be released red wine blend, that tasted much like I tasted it the last time, but it needs a bit of time to reach its true potential.  I think Benyamin is almost ready to release it, though when, is beyond my knowledge.

After having met Alice and seen her in action, I can see why she so deeply wishes for natural wine to be more prevalent in the market place. She is a woman endowed with a keen palate, and a great understanding of viticulture and its abilities to influence wine making.  She must be screaming from the top of her lungs – “can you not see what you are missing”?  It is a cruel double edged sword to have such a gift and wonder why the rest of the world is so blind to the reality of wine in its natural state.  Clearly there are times when we all can see how the viticulturist has purposely modified the fruit to meet the needs of the post-Parker world.  There is a story in her book where a wine maker described how he made his wine.  He started with grape must, added in tannins from nuts, oak, and G-D only knows what else and then let the concoction ferment and age, and then slowly, filtered out what he did not like until he had a true Parker styled wine.  That is not wine making that akin to beer making.  That is using science to be 100% accurate in the reproduction of a wine target, no matter the grape state – which is what beer making is except with different ingredients.  When Joe the Plumber wants to kick back and pop open a cold one, he expects that beer to taste just like it did yesterday, or the day before, or the week before, or the year before – simply stated 100% reproducible, no matter the state of the grain, hops, or water.

But that happens only when I taste an over the top Cabernet that is coated in oak and fat with plump fruit that is so ripe, it almost tastes oxidized.  Yes, that is egregious, and unacceptable.  However, many other wines taste fine to me, some taste awesome to me, and they are not natural.  I guess I will leave it with the fact that I was humbled in her ability to appreciate and understand the true nature of the grape, vine, and wine, and that maybe one day, I will be able to get to the point of seeing what I am missing.

I want to thank Alice for letting me crash her wine tasting, and Benyamin for letting me enjoy more of his wonderful wine, hospitality, and down home cooking (that too is in Alice’s third part of the article).

Posted on July 16, 2010, in Food and drink, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Wine, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

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