Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Backstory and Textbook

Two of the wines we are tasting here Friday evening are Backstory Sauvignon Blanc and Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon.  I found the names of the wines interesting since they both dealt with reading material.

A backstory is a literary device, a set of facts or factors set in a narrative history, all of which are chronologically earlier than but related to the narrative of primary interest.  Moreover, a backstory may be a history of characters or elements that underlie the situation existing in the narrative.  A backstory is commonly thought of as applying to fiction but if you think about it, any history would involve backstories.

A textbook is, well, a textbook, at least that is what the overwhelmingly common responses are if you google the word.  The definition we want, though, is "being a characteristic example of kind, a classic" or "conforming or coorsponding to a standard or type that is prescribed or widely held by theorists" or simply, "typical".

The real "backstory" behind these two labels proves to be far from typical but yet in keeping with what we know of contemporary winemaking, these two projects showcase the ingenuity of their originators. In the case of Backstory that would be Jeff Gaffner; for Textbook, Jonathan Pey.

Jeff Gaffner's company is Saxon Brown Wines (est.'97) and known for Old Vine Zinfandel particularly, but also Semillon and Pinot Noir and many more varieties under several different labels.  Jeff is one of the star winemaking consultants in California, having signed off on many projects for many clients.  Usually this type of "hired gun" has a claim to fame that establishes his renown and Jeff's is the 1996 Cinc Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon of Chateau St. Jean which was the 1999 Wine Spectator Wine of the Year.  Richard Arrowood was the chief winemaker at Chateau St. Jean at the time but Jeff was on the team.  Jeff's winemaking style is characterized as restrained elegance and he relies on longtime grower relationships with site specific varieties.

Jonathan Pey's company is called Scenic Root of Marin County which is certified organic and adamant about it.  They stress cover crops, organic matter, beneficial insects and natural predators.  They practice leaf removal and canopy management to improve sunlight and air penetration but also to prevent powdery mildew, bunch rot, and insects.  Pey says it only makes sense to go organic in California because the dry growing seasons there lend themselves naturally to organic farming.  He should know having worked for Louis Jadot of Burgundy, Penfolds in Australia, and Robert Mondavi and Sterling in California.  The Textbook Cabernet (w/Merlot) is sourced from three vineyards in Napa and is "bold but balanced".

Please join us Friday for these and five other wines and the expertise of our guest host, Henry Leung, "the man who solves the Chinese puzzle" according to the Wine Specator magazine.

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