Wine, Art & Hedonism with Libertine Wines Alex Neely

Libertine Bottle Shots

Libertine (as defined by Alex Neely)

Noun | lib er tine | \ ˈli-bər-ˌtēn \

“One who eschews all cultural values, pure hedonism”

On a side note Merriam-Webster tells us that the term originally meant “freedman” when it appeared in 14th-century English and evolved to include religious and secular freethinkers in the 1500s.  Freethinker…that pretty well describes Alex Neely.

We met Alex at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hills Vineyards, an event that would seem to attract and showcase freethinkers in the wine world, so Alex was right at home.

Alex Neely, Winemaker

We spoke with Alex about how he came to wine making.

“I used to purchase wine for a fancy food store and I was a cheese monger as well.  I decided to go into wine production, so I called up the guy whose new world Rieslings I respected the most and that was Barnaby at Teutonic. So then I’ve been with Barnaby since 2014, as his assistant and helping run the vineyards, and then I’ve been making this label at Teutonic since 2015.  Started out with just some rieslings, and then just started getting some Dolcetto this past year in 2017 and I’m not too sure what the next year will hold but, we just keep adding on.“

The name Libertine Wines comes from the definition above and was shaped by his time at Reed College

“I majored in religious philosophy and mysticism and minored in hedonism”

We all laughed at that.  I was thinking back to college and figured, I kinda minored in hedonism also, but then…after reading about Reed College, I’m not sure it was a joke. Regardless, the wines he makes are an homage to that opulence.

“It’s how I live my life, I eat, drink and smoke whatever I care to and don’t worry about it.”

This stuff is new!

You won’t find this everywhere.  Alex just started releasing these wines about 3 months ago.

“I’m very new on the scene, but I’ve been hitting the market pretty hard, so we are in about 20 different places in Portland right now, but that’s it,  I just sell in Portland right now.  And then things like this, I’ve been to a couple, this is I think my 3rd group event, and then I’ve done like a whole bunch of other random tastings.”

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Art on the Labels

The labels will catch you.  They are the type that definitely draw your eye in a line-up of bottles.  Attracted to art that speaks of the wine and the story, his labels are unique and evocative.  From Carravaggios to psychedelic artists, you won’t forget these bottles.

“My wife helps me out as well she was an art history major at USC.  So I’ll find some goofy picture online and she’ll tell me what it is.”

2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rosé

2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rose

2017 Sunnyside Vineyard Dolcetto Rose

We started off tasting his 2017 Dolcetto Rose.  The fruit comes from the Sunny Side Vineyard down by Enchanted Forest. This vineyard in near Salem and sits off of Sunnyside Road near Rogers Creek.  The elevation is a little over 660 feet and the vineyard sits on a slight slope facing south west.  Soils here are Jory and Nekia. (Information from everyvine.com)

This rosé is foot stomped and sits in the cold room to soak on the skins for 2 days.  He then presses it off and it ferments with wild yeast.  It goes into neutral oak with just a tiny bit of sulfite as a preservative.  It’s unfiltered and unfined.

The label on this is “The Inspiration of Saint Matthew” by Carravaggio.

“And the legend has it, you’re not supposed to harvest Dolcetto until after Saint Matthews Day, so once I discovered that, I ran to my calendar and I was like s*^t, should I harvest this? Luckliy it was two weeks after, so all set.  I really like that he was the master of Chiaroscuro and I really like the contrast of the red against the black.”

The 2017 Acid Freak Rose

Libertine 2017 Acid Freak Rose

Libertine 2017 Acid Freak Rose

This wine was a bit of an accident, but a happy one.

“So I had a half barrel of Dolcetto rosé fermenting and there’s not much you can do with a half barrel once it’s done ‘cause it will oxidize.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but then I was pressing my Riesling off, it was late at night, I had filled up my holding tank  and there is still about 30 gallons left in the press pan and I said “screw it” I’ve had Riesling from Piedmont before, so I just pumped it into the Dolcetto barrel, they finished fermenting together, and then I liked it so much, I threw another barrel of each at it prior to bottling.”

With a wild yeast ferment in neutral oak, it again is unfiltered and unfined.  Just 71 cases were produced.

It is a familiar contradiction in the glass.  He says “Gentle yet rough. Soft yet hard. Strange yet familiar”.  It’s all that. I left with a bottle.

The artwork on this bottle came from him Googling “psychedelic picture”.  This picture popped up by the artist Larry Carlson.  The picture really embodied the wine for Alex so he contacted Larry and bought the rights.

2016 LaVelle Vineyard “Botrytis” Dry Riesling

Libertine 2016 Lavelle Botrytis Dry Riesling

Libertine 2016 Lavelle Botrytis Dry Riesling

This wine is a botrytisized skin contact Riesling.  It’s funny to hear a winemaker gushing over fuzzy gray grapes, but nobel rot will do that to you.

“So this particular year it came in with super pretty fuzzy gray noble rot, just perfect stuff.”

He found out about the botrytis from the guy growing the grapes, who asked what he would like to do with it.  Alex, unafraid, told him to let it go as long as it looked pretty, he was happy with it.  Botrytis has to have the right conditions, so this doesn’t happen every year and Alex was happy to have the opportunity to play with this. It hung a bit longer and developed nicely, then his wife and he footstomped the grapes and let them sit in the cold room for 5 days.  It went into the press, fermented and sat in barrel for 8 months.  At the time of this tasting it had been in bottle for over a year.

This wine has a beautiful nose and then surprising acid on the palate with a little tannic grip from the skin contact.

The artwork for both of the reislings is “The Triumph of Bacchus by Cornelis de Vos”.  Alex came across this painting right after he decided on the name Libertine.  ” I feel it embodies the true baroque opulence and pure hedonism of the Libertine. It is also a fun Rorschach Test as people tend to project their own personal views upon it. ”

2015 LaVelle Vineyard Riesling

This wine is also from the La Velle Vineyard, which is the oldest Vineyard in the south valley, 40 minutes or so North West of Eugene. The Riesling sits at the top of a hill at about 700 foot elevation.

This wine is the same vineyard, the same blocks as the 2016 “Botytis” Riesling.  2015 was a hot year and Alex wanted a slow cold ferment, but their production facility at that time was in the middle of the woods and without a cold room.  As a result it fermented outside through the winter, with Alex checking it monthly.   He definitely got a slow fermentation, it took 6 months to finish.  It then sat on the gross lees in neutral oak for another year and a half.  At the time of tasting it had been in the bottle for about a year.  It has the big rich style typical of 2015 vintage and a tiny bit of residual sugar, with great acidity.

On the beauty of honoring the vintage

“So the two (Rieslings) are drastically different because of the year.  I’m very vintage driven, I’m like let’s let the year shine through, everybody is like “Let’s let the soil shine through”, but there are a lot of other components going on.  I mean I could put a bunch of additives in there to make them all taste the same year after year after year, but where’s the fun in that?  My lob would be boring as hell.”

You can find Libertine Wines online at https://www.libertinewines.com/

On facebook or on Instagram where they have a great new sexy photo shoot posted with those bottles!

While they currently do not sell their wines on their website, they have a list of places you can find it in the Portland area https://www.libertinewines.com/where-to-buy

Keep checking back as they expand their reach!

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out other interviews we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery , Ariel Eberle of A Cheerful Note Cellars  and Jim Fischer and Jenny Mosbacher of Fossil & Fawn.  We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

Reflection Tasting in Vertical from Wiens Family Cellars

Wiens Family Cellars was having a Vertical tasting of their Reflections red blends and we couldn’t go…so we put together a vertical of our own.  We had the 2008, 2010 and the 2011.  These are of course blends, so they are all a little different, so this a little different from a typical vertical.  Typically you would have a single variety of grape or a fairly set blend that you would be comparing from year to year.  You would get the differences in the climate and season that affect each year’s harvest.  You would also be able to see how the wine ages.  We were able to do those things, but the field for comparison was a bit more wide open.  Let me take a minute to give you the breakdown on these three vintages.

  • 2008 Reflection is 30% Sangiovese, 28% Barbera, 28% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot  with Alcohol 15.1  and Residual sugar .6%
  • 2010 Reflection is 63% Sangiovese, 14% Cabernet, 14% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel with 14.5 Alcohol and .5 % residual sugar.
  • 2011 Reflection is 42% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 14% Zinfandel, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Primitivo, 2% Montepulciano, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Dolcetto with 12.5 Alcohol! and .2 residual sugar

So as you can see this blend is Sangiovese based, but that’s about where the similarities end.  This makes for a brilliantly exciting tasting!  At the winery they are doing “Reflections of the Decades” and they are tasting 6 of these wines, 2006-2011. We somehow can’t find the 2009 so I must have already enjoyed it!  At the winery they are doing a decade theme starting with the 60’s for the 2006.  I perused their pairings and then went back to the suggestions with the wines. We picked up some Spanish meats and cheeses (yes I know, I could have picked up Italian!).  We did a tasting upon opening and then let them breathe for a bit and tasted each with the meats and cheeses.  For the pairings we went a little out of order and cooked them for each course.  I know it sounds tough, but…we have Trader Joes.  So here’s the run down for the pairings:

  • 2010 Reflection with a goat cheese and basil pizza, to which we added a little sage and thyme.
  • 2008 Reflection with Eggplant Parmesan
  • 2011 Reflection with meat lasagna and a spinach salad.

Then we had chocolate cake for dessert and tasted it with all 3.

 

We found that the wines opened up quite a bit over the course of the evening.  I had e-mailed the winery to ask decanting recommendations.  Bob was kind enough to get back to me and suggested decanting the 2010 and 2011 straight down into a decanter on the counter top to add as much oxygen as possible.  For the 2008 he suggested carefully pouring it down the side of a tilted decanter to give it some space to gently open up.   Thanks Bob!  Unfortunately, I do not yet own a nice decanter.  So…we took the advice the best that we could.  We opened up the 2008 and gently poured into glasses and let it air.  The other two we got the aerator out and poured them through to add oxygen.  On to the tasting!

 

Ponte Family Estate Winery, a Tour in Temecula, CA

We visited the winery earlier this year in February (see our previous blog post on Ponte here) and enjoyed lunch on the patio at the restaurant and then Fred gave us an astoundingly informative tour, and then a tasting with Michel in tasting room.  We recently planned a trip to Temecula, which we will be posting on shortly while researching our trip we came upon some lost information that we learned from our tour with Fred, an we though we would share.

Ponte Family Vineyard, Christmas 2012

Ponte Family Vineyard, Christmas 2012

Ponte Winery is in Temecula California, just northeast of San Diego.  The vineyard is located where it directly receives the maritime influences of the coast from the Rainbow Gap.  The soil structure here is coarse and poor.  This is ideal because you can then control exactly which nutrients you feed the vines. This nutrient mix is provided through irrigation once each year in March and the blend is different for each vineyard depending on the variety. With poor soil you don’t have to be concerned with nutrients already in the soil so it doesn’t interfere with the ideal nutrients for each grape.  Grape vines have an aggressive root structure, burrowing deep searching for ground water.  The water table at Ponte sits at 50 feet deep. Falker  (a winery down the road) did measurements to see how deep some of their 25 year old vines roots went and found that they went about 17 feet deep.  On the Ponte property are 10 acres 2 blocks of 5 acres each of Zinfandel and Sangiovese that were planted in 1960.  The roots on these over 50 year old vines go down 30 ft.  Eventually these roots will hit the water table and they will self irrigate.  Irrigation in wine country is not like in farm country, you are not looking for big juicy grapes.  Rather than watering daily they stress the vines by doing one 18 hour drip irrigation session once every 2 to 3 weeks. This keeps the grapes small and intensely concentrated.

While there is frost protection with fans and misters for the citrus groves that surround many of the vineyards, the vineyards are not concerned with frost protection as the season for frost is short enough that the vines are always dormant at that time. Bud break happens in March.  Winemakers and Vineyard Managers can tell which vine is which by the flowers in bud break.  By testing the flowers and leaves they can see how much nickel etc. is in the vine and that in turn helps to determine how to mix the formula for nutrients.

We tasted a Dolcetto that was exclusively Temecula. This juice is being staged for blending with material with Paso and Santa Barbara.  This was a tank tasting from of the stainless steel tanks out on the crush pad. It was still decidedly grape juice and was very tart, but you could taste the potential in it!

At Ponte they harvest during the night.  Sunlight affects the sugar levels of the grapes, causing the brix level to change throughout the day. To avoid this variable and have a uniform brix level you harvest at night.  After the grapes are harvested they go through the destemmer, are crushed twice and then the skin seeds and all are put into the large stainless steel tanks.  At Ponte they only process one type of grape at a time. After this comes the settling process where the grape juice settles for 3 to 5 days.  During that time skins rise to the top and seeds sink to the bottom.  The winemaker then checks the acidity etc to see how much yeast to add.  Then yeast is added and here begins the chemical reaction changing sugar to alcohol.  This generally takes 7-10 days for fermentation to be complete.  The winemaker stops at the alcohol level he has predetermined and then pumps off.  All of the skins and seeds sink to the bottom and workers scoop out this “must” which is then put back into the soil.

The barrel room is kept at 60 degrees.  All the red wines are aged here as well as the oaked Chardonnay’s. The Ponte Viognier is not oaked.  95% percent of the barrels Ponte uses are French oak that either come from Vosges near Alsace or Burgundy which is noted for it’s perfect white oak wood.  They have been experimenting with white oak from Hungary and Bulgaria and some American oak.  The difference between French oak and American oak is that the staves in Europe dry for at least 3 years, whereas in America they only dry for about a year and a half.  This creates a coarser product and more intense flavors.  The more aged the staves are the more subtle the flavors.

French barrels are expensive currently running $850 per barrel new.  Each barrel will be used for about 3 agings.  The wine maker earns their pay by also knowing which wines to age in new, medium and late oak to impart the exact flavors they are looking for.  You can tell a late oak barrel in the barrel room by the stain and seepage (angels share).  After the barrels have run their lifespan they are sold at $75 each to wine club members.  Each barrel weighs 100 plus pounds empty because the staves are so thick.  The majority of Ponte’s barrels are done at medium to light toast.  Their Syrah is done with a heavier toast and is probably their smokiest wine. About 80% of their barrels have light toast the rest are at medium toast and then winemaker blends. Each barrel holds 288 bottles or 24 cases of wine.

As the barrel room is kept at 60 degrees people often ask about how they can do events in there? When the barrels are backlit the room is really stunning.  They can warm the room for 1 night to 75 or 80 degrees and it won’t really affect the wine.  If however, it was held at that temperature 4 or 5 days….then you might have a problem.

We tried the 2008 Port out of the barrel.  This will be aged another year and it will release as a reserve port.  It is a Zinfandel port as most of their ports are, but they have made a Cabernet port in the past.  The port had a bit of a bite from the alcohol content, but with an additional year it will be stunning.  A port of this quality should run $85-$90 per bottle. But only their wine club will be lucky enough to get a shot at it!

The reserve room at Ponte is reserved for wine club members and is open on Saturday and Sunday to give wine club members a place to get away from the crowd.  They also do small plates menu.

The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday nights for dinner.  With the Tasting room closed at that time it’s quiet, you can see the stars and enjoy the noise of the romantic frogs.

In addition to the winery, tasting room and restaurant they recently opened the Ponte Vineyard Inn so you can stay in comfort right in the heart of Temecula Wine Country.

Ponte Inn, Temcula in oil

Ponte Inn, Temcula in oil

If you are in Temecula, I highly recommend both lunch and a tour.  Plan ahead and book a room at the Inn!