2007 Porter Creek Vineyards Carignane Old Vine Mendocino County
We'd been chasing down Alex Davis ever since we had the bottle of Fiona Pinot Noir at Gramercy Tavern. Word of Alex's winegrowing at Porter Creek had been circling around us for some time; this small, Burgundy-sized estate in Russian River is farmed biodynamically by a winemaker who spends his days on a tractor. No wonder Alex never seemed to answer our phone calls or emails.
When we finally tracked Alex down, he apologized for not getting back. There's no recession at Porter Creek. Alex's handful of small lot cuvees are almost entirely allocated, largely being scooped up by the likes of Gramercy. But after a 90-minute conversation that began with Alex's two-year stint with Christophe Roumier in Chambolle Musigny, our talk took a surprising turn. "I'll see if I can free up a little Fiona Pinot Noir for you. But in the meantime, I'm going to send you something else." What? "It's my pet project. It's Carignane -- with a K."
The 2007 Porter Creek Old Vine Carignane is much more than just another delicious Rhone-styled discovery. Alex's pet project is an incredibly underpriced cult wine in the making; a luscious marriage of old-vine fruit from a forgotten vineyard and the brilliant non-interventionist winemaking of one of Russian River's rising stars.
But the story of how Alex discovered this Carignane is almost as amazing as the wine itself. Sorry for the wordiness, but you have to hear this one.
While almost all of Alex's work on the estate is focused on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, he had long been fascinated by the Carignane of California. Planted shortly after Prohibition, the variety's young vines are highly productive, putting out simple, fruity wines. Alex told us that these early plantings were a major ingredient in Gallo Hearty Burgundy! But as the vines aged, the yields shrunk. The fruit became deeper, more complex, but most of the Carignane was ripped out, as the small yields didn't jive with Gallo economics.
One Sunday, while leafing through the Ukiah Journal, Alex happened upon a Want Ad (a Want Ad? Are there still Want Ads?). A guy up in Ukiah was selling grapes -- Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Carignane (but with a K, like "Karignane"). On a lark, Alex called the number, jumped in his truck and headed up to Mendocino.
It turned out that the seller had two plots of Carignane: a 10-acre parcel north of Ukiah and a tiny 2-acre spot south of town. Both vineyards were old, between 60 and 70 years of age. The vines were head-trained, yields were tiny. The seller didn't know what he had. The holdings were perfect, combining the concentration of small yields with the long hang-time of the microclimate. Alex bought all the guy would sell.
But it's not just the fruit that makes this wine so superb. It's the way the fruit is handled. Alex makes wine one way, and this Carignane received the same attention and TLC as the Fiona Pinot Noir or Christophe Roumier's Chambolle Musigny. All the barrels are French (although only 15% are new, so as not to have the wine dominated by the wood). The (secondary) malolactic fermentation is carried out in barrel, accounting for the wonderfully subtle marriage of delicious, ripe, old-vine Carignane and oak. This wine has so much more than simple concentration; it has a wonderful wholesomeness that begs for food and a second bottle.
Alex Davis, Winemaker
Tasting Notes from the WineAccess Travel Log
"Deep purple color. Perfectly pure red and purple fruit aromas with wonderful depth. Ripe, concentrated old-vine fruit flavors. Incredibly sturdy and wholesome. Nothing 'dressed up' about this bottle, just so naturally pure, with so much fine, ripe tannic structure and integrity. Long and persistent finish. Bring on the barbecue and a second bottle! Drink now, or this will really surprise you in the cellar. Age for up to a decade."