This was my third (or maybe fourth; CRS, ‘sorry) visit to Rhys. As always, Kevin and Jeff are the consummate hosts; gracious, generous and always ready with answers to both the easy and hard questions. The winery is like no other and the philosophy is clear; ‘let the vineyard speak.’
I could go on at length about all of this, but I’ve done it before.
I would rather tell you a little about what I learned today.
The vines in their vineyards are becoming old enough to have an influence on the wines. Each of the wines we tasted, whether from bottle or barrel, were distinct, character driven and reflected not only the vineyard but the vintage; clearly. I am not talking about some subtle or esoteric differences; these were noticeable differences, even for the novice taster.
A quick description of how they make chardonnay: press immediately upon receiving the grapes; barrel down, put a fermentation bung in the barrel. Leave it alone. Don’t add anything, don’t stir it, don’t rack it and don’t do anything except top up once the primary fermentation has finished.
Whole cluster fermentations (which are pretty much the norm here) can produce aromas that smell a little green or vegetal at first. If you give these wines time, those aromas will become more like rose petals.
Some wines do not complete malolactic fermentation. They may get part way through, they may finish; but nothing is done to push them through to completion except putting the barrels in a warmer area of the caves. When the wine stops, no matter the amount of malic left, that’s it and that’s the way it gets bottled. Without filtration. And they have never had a wine re-ferment in bottle.
They don’t use pumps. Wine either flows by gravity or by being pushed by gas.
They have several vineyards that are on opposite sides of the San Andreas Fault; some mere feet away from each other. Each has a quite different aromatic and flavor profile.
In the past, I have always been impressed by the chardonnays and pinots at Rhys, but not so much the syrahs. Today, I tasted the 2010 Syrah from the Horseshoe Vineyard – I will simply say that Jean-Luc and Jean-Paul Jamet would be proud. It is the most character driven, balanced, complex and delicious syrah I have tasted from the new world.
The 2012 pinots are already showing well from barrel and some of them have just finished ml.
I always leave these caves considering how I can do a better job with the wines I make. Every time Kevin or Jeff speak about the process and philosophy at Rhys, it is an insight into what they have learned. And they do continue to learn about the vineyards they farm and the process as a whole. The costs of farming here are astronomical; the expenditure in physical plant is daunting; and the effort involved is so labor intensive (foot treading every red twice a day) as to make me wonder why, especially considering the quality of the finished products, they don’t raise their prices.
Fortunately, in the wonderful 2012 vintage (and it appears it will repeat in 2013) the case production will reach about 8,000. In the past, production has been a fraction of that. (And still they are harvesting only about 30/hl per hectare.)
What this means for people on the waiting list, is that some of these wines will be available to them; for those already buying from the mailing list, allocations will be higher. It also means that the quality you expect from Rhys will be every bit as strong as in the past. Perhaps, even stronger, considering the learning curve, the maturing vines, a fine vintage (or two) and the exceptional leap forward in the syrah program.
When folks who love wine dream, they dream of Rhys.