Volume 1, Issue 4: Brothers in Wine

by Leslie Pariseau

When I went about choosing this month’s wines, it was more about a feeling than a theme. I was looking for signs of spring and fresh, bright flavors that parallel this magnificent weather. In landing on these three, I really had to think about what they all had in common beyond the basic philosophical framework within which we buy all of our wines. Happily, I realized that every wine was dreamed up by a pair of people bound together by the vines. Here, you’ll find one of the season’s first rosés from Mendocino, a beautiful Catalonian pét-nat, and a brilliant skin contact fiano from Campania, all made by brothers-in-wine. Hope you enjoy.

If you haven’t signed up for May’s club, we have a few spots left. It’s our final selection before taking a summer (baby-having) hiatus. Get on over here to lock it in. 

Populis Rosé 2021, Mendocino, California
For me, the Populis label embodies the spirit of a modern picnic wine. They’re delicious, unfussy, and to the point. They go with everything and nothing. The sister label to Les Lunes, from Shaunt Oungoulian and Diego Roig in Orinda, California, Populis sounds very much like what it is—for the everyperson, every day. The difference between the two labels is sourcing. Les Lunes focuses on grapes Shaunt and Diego farm themselves in Sonoma and Napa, while Populis works with growers beyond their reach, mostly in Mendocino County. 

This wine is refreshingly tangy, like pink lemonade shaken up with rhubarb jam. Perfect pool opening wine. This particular vintage was “a bit of a reprieve from 2020 wines,” says Shaunt, 
which was crazy with wildfires.” Though 2021 was full of stress and uncertainty, the period of harvest and winemaking was full of positive energy. “It was a quick harvest because there were not a lot of grapes, but the weather was much more forgiving.” Where last year’s vintage was mostly carignane (a “curious red wine grape that provokes strong reactions,” according to Jancis Robinson and experiencing a bit of a renaissance in the U.S.), this year introduced more zinfandel due to a hard frost that killed off much of the carignane before the vines had gone dormant. Shaunt says the direct press zin adds stone fruit while a little bit of muscat threads in floral crunch. 

The thing that’s always struck me about Populis and Les Lunes isn’t necessarily present on the label or in the bottle, but in their ethos about labor. Shaunt and Diego are adamant that the growers they contract with employ teams with equitable working conditions and fair wage, while their own two full-time employees are paid a salary plus benefits. “We try to work with growers that put the money in the pockets of their workers,” says Shaunt. Wine is agriculture and agriculture means labor and labor means humans. 

Mas Gomà L’Alba al Turó Pét-Nat Blanco 2020, Catalonia

When Jonathan Gray of distributor Uncorked brought these wines around to taste, I was delighted. There’s a dearth of great Spanish sparkling in our market and undersung Catalonia has lately consistently surprised with a quirky range beyond industrialized Cava. This wine was christened pét-nat—not Cava—by fifth-generation winemaker Joan Vendrell and his father, also called Joan. It’s fuzzy pear juice purity shot through with sunshine and a bit of earth.

“The 2020 vintage was very fickle,” says Joan, the younger. “We lost 50 to 60 percent of production in the vineyards because of the very wet and humid weather.” Botrytis, a fungus also known as “noble rot” (the secret ingredient to Sauternes and spätlese riesling), was impossible to control without the use of chemicals, so yields were very low. One-hundred percent macabeo (or viura in Rioja), this wine employs méthode ancestrale, which Joan loves for the flavors it expresses, despite the process needing a lot of attention in the middle of the harvest.

With about 20 hectares in Penedès, not too far from Barcelona, the weather is all Mediterranean. The soil is made up of mostly limestone and the tradition of winemaking here goes all the way back before Christ, says Joan. “Our idea is to go back to the time of our grandparents and great-grandparents. They were working organically and naturally because there were no chemicals.” He concedes, of course, that times are different. Climate change has moved harvest dates up a full month into mid-August, where 60 to 70 years ago it took place in mid- to late-September. Regardless, in an effort to hew to the old ways as much as possible, the Vendrells have dedicated themselves to cultivating indigenous grapes and as much beautiful bacteria as they can summon. 

Vigneti Tardis “Mercoledi” 2019, Campania, Italy

English series “Dr. Who,” which is a lovely way of thinking about its wines. (Tardis also roughly translates to "the inside is bigger than the outside.) English sommelier Jack Lewens of Leroy in London and Bruno de Conciliis of Viticoltori de Conciliis focus on varieties—aglianico, primitivo, fiano, malvasia—that are endemic to the southern part of Salerno in the Cilento Hills, capturing a sense of tradition while conveying what low-intervention means with a fresh set of eyes. Jack also emphasizes just how different this landscape is from the rest of Campania and the “more glamorous” wines of Avellina. Here, the soil is coastal, at sea level, and full of limestone and clay.

This release, Mercoledi (“Wednesday” in Italian, and part of a series named for the days of the week), is one-hundred percent sunny, salty, golden fiano. “Fiano is one of those great varieties that has a tension point if picked at the right moment, a saline profile,” says Jack. If picked a week later, it can manifest as fleshy and heavy. The wines of Vigneti Tardis all display a beautiful kind of lift at the finish that just isn’t commonly present in, say, aglianico from further inland. Though it is a skin contact wine, Jack says it wasn’t for the sake of making a skin contact wine or in attempts to chase body, texture, or polyphenols (antioxidants lent to juice by longer contact with skins, some of which contribute to tannin). About 20 percent of the skins were added back in to promote a quick, healthy fermentation and “bring much more of the vineyard into the wine.”  Also, labels, who cares—some of the greatest wines have innocuous or even offensive labels—but I really enjoy Vigneti Tardis’s aesthetic sensibilities. Each of the wines in the “La Settimana” series depicts a god that also corresponds to the days of the week. On this one, we see Mercury, with his winged helmet, the Roman god which parallels Odin, the Norse god of war and poetry—and Wednesday. 

Wonderfully, this vintage is the one that Jack and Bruno have decided is a benchmark for all their future fiano. Lucky us. 

This concludes the fourth edition of the Patron Saint wine club, friends. As always, love to know what you loved and what you didn’t. And if you feel compelled, post about it on the socials. We’re @patronsaintwine on IG.