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What an Unusual Pair!
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Winefullness Magazine pulls in for a pit stop at Lewis Cellars
I 've lmber!
Suddenly the phone interupts my dreams of tasty wines in even tastier climes and I was speaking to Tony Harries about a possible assignment for Winefullness Magazine. What had this lunatic come up with this time? A drinking tour of American prisons, wines that might go well with breeds of dog, or a test to see how much vino one would need to consume before one forgets about the awfullness going on outside.
His next words only slightly pacified my growing concern.
'We've got Sam Neill, the actor, talking about his involvement with Two Paddocks. What about if we pick an actor, and because The Beatles piece worked so well what about a British actor? I was actually hoping that you might take on the unusual challenge of pairing ten wines with ten films by Michael Caine?'
'Are you crazy?'
'Of course I am!' he replied, and before I could say anymore the line went dead and I pondered the challenge.
I cursed Harries because he knew I couldn't resist a challenge like this. He knew that I was a big fan of Michael Caine's work and the shelves of our cinema room hold quite a substantial collection of his films (Caine's and not Harries that is) even some that might not be at the top of everybody's list.
I've also been known to attend parties dressed up as Gonville Bromhead from Zulu (they're not fancy dress affairs you understand. It's just that there's nothing that gets Lady Amanda quite as excited as a man in uniform, particularly a Victorian uniform!
I grabbed all the Michael Caine films I'd collected, returned to my study and then laying them out on the floor I weighed up which ten of the maestro's films would slip down easily with a suitable glass of something acceptable, and after a lot of deliberation these were the ones I picked.
D.G: 'We make all the decisions and we try to negotiate for those rights. Not every grower is going to allow you the right to dictate. We have to find growers that are like-minded and willing to get on board with what we want to do. Granted, we have to pay more money to work with growers like that.
'The Chardonnay you're drinking spends 15 months in about 70% new French oak with full malolactic fermentation and sur lie ageing with some battonnage. Then it's bottled without fining or filtration. You might expect something a little more in line with the usual oaky profile, but I think the fruit is really expressive and it jumps out of the glass and drives the profile. There is a certain restraint to it, a certain integrity and length of finish."
WINEFULLNESS: 'The pineapple really leaps out at you.'
D.G: 'Totally. The tropical descriptors are usually the first thing when I start talking about the fruit character of our Chardonnay programme. On the Sonoma side you get more tropical notes while the Napa side gives you more of those orchard fruits. We'd better be good at it because we don't make a ton of it. That was about a twenty barrel production. This Barcaglia Lane Vineyard was planted for Randy and Debbie in 1998 in the Russian River Valley. It's two blocks of Dijon clone and one of Wente clone.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'So far you've focused on a lot of the farming aspect of Lewis Cellars. Do you think that Napa is still an old-fashioned farming community?'
D.G: 'Yes and no. I think it needs to be in terms of preserving history, but I think that at the same time it's hard for Napa not to succumb to some of the allure of the sexy side of the wine industry. Let's face it, you're now seeing wines come out of the valley that are commanding price points that are in line with First Growth Bordeaux. You also see the types of experiences that some wineries offer to their guests and they fall in line with those price points. Then you see this whole hospitality thing that means you have to book an appointment and a privately hosted experience. I think the clientele that we are hosting, and that is paying our bills, need to be shown the most bespoke type of experience that we can offer.
'As much as it is a farming community, you see some of the older farmers doing things their way and making great wine without charging an arm and a leg for it.
'When Randy and Debbie Lewis started out they didn't know what they could get for a bottle of wine. They managed to keep it modest. We really look at wine as something you might want to collect but are not scared to drink it. Somebody once asked Randy how he valued a bottle of wine and he quickly answers, 'Whatever we can get!' To be serious, there are the hard costs like the price of grapes, the price of fairly expensive French oak barrels, labour involved and don't forget that we put our wine in very nice bottles with nice labels with corks and capsules. We have always tried to keep our wines where they are affordable, and we're proud of the fact that we make such quality wines at that price point?'
WINEFULLNESS: 'When Randy and Debbie Lewis came to Napa did they have a particular grape they wanted to work with?'
DAVID GIBSON: 'They wanted to produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. That's what they had done at 'Oakville Ranch'. Our microclimates and soils afford us the opportunity to ripen Cabernet to the degree that the New World market gravitates towards.
'Our affinity to Syrah is a little different and we know that it doesn't pay the bills. Randy fell in love with Syrah when he was driving Formula Three cars back in Europe. He would take weekend trips up into the Rhone Valley. When Debbie and he started making wine here in Napa they thought that they might like to make a little Syrah.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Is one of the reasons that Lewis doesn't have their own vineyards to do with the astonomical cost of land in the Napa Valley?
D.G: Initially it was because they didn't have the resources to jump in and buy vineyards off the bat. A decade and a half later they did, and they looked at some vineyards but they held off. Our approach is sourcing quality vineyards throughout the valley and blending for a very Lewis Cellars expression of Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead of sinking all their eggs in one basket and buying a twenty-acres property they kept their net spread differently."
previously and had been in the top ten twice and top one hundred four or five times. It kind of felt that we'd been knocking at the door. The announcement came about a month before Debbie Lewis passed away and it was bittersweet when it came.
'I will say that my part of the winery got significantly busier and the phone were ringing off the hook. Everyone was wanting to come in and taste the wine, which had been sold out for five months. It helped open more eyes to the Lewis Cellars brand.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Is there a curse that once you've won that award you never win it again?'
D.G: Maybe. That's a good point. I think that Caymus have won it twice' (Chuck and Charlie Wagner were elected to Wine Spectator's 'Hall of Fame' in 2001 and 2007).'
WINEFULLNESS: 'How did you end up working for Lewis Cellars?'
D.G: 'I saw the job pop up and I said, 'Wow!' At that stage they never had a tasting room, and I thought that I could be the person to help build that and who shared the story and the wines. I'd been looking for a role with a brand like this.'
I'm about to ask my next question when the smiling visage of Josh Widaman enters the room. He is the head winemaker for Lewis Cellars and if, as David has said, they are all about blending, then this man is the magician who can make awards and praise appear. He agrees to have join the chat.
WINEFULLNESS: 'This operation seems geared to the winemaker's art of blending. Is that what you most enjoy about working for Lewis Cellars?'
JOSH WIDAMAN: 'I love working with estate vineyards. My first full-time job was in the Stag's Leap District, but I think by getting vineyards from all the way up to Calistoga you are definately able to craft a similar style of wine year in and year out regardless of what the weather will do.'
How could I do a Bond and wine pairing without dropping 'Goldfinger' into the mix. A super film with lots of potential pairings to help you out.
I was tempted to go American for the Fort Knox scenes but I thought you'd be ahead of me there. Riesling crossed my mind because of Gert Fröbe but it didn't fit my location brief.
That was why I headed to Switzerland and the growing number of superb wines you can find there. I thought of an unusual wine I tried at The Vineyard in Newbury. It was a White Pinot Noir made by Domaine du Daley in Vaud (where else did you expect Mr. Bond). The romantic slopes, unusual flavours and acidity reminded me of Tilly Masterson and the scene where Bond is driving next to her through some of that Swiss countryside.
'Do you expect me to drink Goldfinger?'
'I expect you to at least try Mr Bond!'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Do you think that the farming methods of the Napa Valley are changing because of drought?'
J.W: No. Vines are drought tolerant plants. From a table grape perspective you might worry about drought. For wine grapes drought is a good thing as long as we have the water that the vine needs towards the back end of the season.'
Sadly, my time with Josh is at an end and he leaves to do one of the many things needed to keep Lewis Cellars wine in such a prime position.
WINEFULLNESS: 'Do you think that your website feels a little light on information?'
DAVID GIBSON: 'It's more broad strokes. It's really just a vehicle to give our mailing list subscribers an opportunity to purchase wine. It's not rife with history or vineyards.
'When people come here and visit us they get a much more detailed idea of Lewis Cellars. As far as being user friendly and geared to consumer sales it's pretty good. It could probably have a little bit more information, although it does offer up tasting notes. I think it's better than most.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Is having a famous owner a blessing or a curse?'
D.G: 'It's a blessing. It's fun because I love the chance to sit down and talk with Randy a lot, and for some reason he likes me and has kept me around. It's a continuous eye-opening journey to be around him. Debbie was a really special woman and we miss her tremendously. I still miss having the two of them together. Randy also likes people knowing just how important Debbie was to him and the growth of Lewis Cellars.
One to Try
Lewis Cellars - Barcaglia Lane Chardonnay
Chardonnay and California have taken a bit of a beating because of the buttery, oaky monsters that used to make you feel as though you were being beaten with a baseball bat (cricket bat for the U.K.). Pleasingly this has restrained a lot of those influences and decided that the fruit should do the talking, and those tropical fruits and cream are shouting pleasantly in my ear.
Morecambe & Wise
We haven't had a Pierce Brosnan Bond yet and I'm going to remedy that with my last choice. This could be considered a bit of an upside down choice. I've been a fan of this wine since I first tried it, and I had to squeeze it in somewhere.
It's a Rioja made by Muga (there were a number of Riojas that could have made the grade, but this youthful number just stood out for me) and as I don't think there's a Bond film that was shot in Rioja I'm heading slightly north towards Bibao and the opening of 'The World is Not Enough'. You know the scene? It's the start of the film, the journey, where he meets the banker and it's all smoke and mirrors? What better than to have a beautifully youthful Rioja that also has that smokey, earthy quality, but with a freshness that makes it so easy to swallow.
Kingsman: The Secret Service might not find Michael Caine in the lead role, but you cannot deny that when he is on the screen he is watchable in a way that only Michael Caine can be.
He plays Chester King, the rather upper class head of Kingsman (I'm not giving much else away here so you need to watch it) a private intelligence service founded by the British elite. The organisation is based in the shop of that last bastion of British greatness; a Savile Row tailor.
Every inch of this film exudes a sense of British style that can overcome any problem, and is based on the same product awareness that typifies the novels of Ian Fleming.
How can I not pair this with a 2009 Chateau Margaux? A wine that seems to typify what the British enjoy about Bordeaux reds. A wine that seems to have underpinned the upper echelons of British society for so long that one feels the clubs of Mayfair don't flow with blue blood in their veins, they flow with Margaux.
The Michael Caine I'm comparing this with is the one we first see and not at the end of the film, when he is all Spanish plonk!
The Honorary Consul takes us to Argentina (the book and not the film) and for our next pairing that is where the wine must come from.
Michael Caine is the height of acting restraint as the British Consul trying to keep everything together, including the country and his marriage. Like all of my favourite Caine films he is so awesome that his performance seems to blow the other actors out of the water.
To me the film has a constantly familiar feel, but is played in such a way that when we recognise what appears obvious it is something far deeper.
That is why I've paired this film with a 2013 Valle Escondido Reserva Malbec. Malbec is such an obvious choice and I imagine that most of you would have predicted it, but if you taste this wine you are taken beyond the obvious, and it constantly makes you reappraise what you enjoy about Malbec, and what you enjoy about The Honorary Consul.
I'm in the home straight now, and it's another film that I really enjoy; The Marseille Contract. It's one of those early seventies thrillers that don't appear too often on television (some would say thank goodness but not me).
Caine plays an assassin who is hired by an American agent to bring down a French drug baron. Of course there are more twists than the roads overlooking Monte Carlo and at times it seems a little predictable, but how can a film starring Michael Caine, James Mason and Anthony Quinn ever be boring. All you have to do is wait for a few moments and a terrific performance comes along.
To pair with this I've chosen an honest but intriguing Bandol. It can appear routine and by-the-numbers, but give it time and care and you are rewarded.
To end I wanted to pick something that reminded me of why I love the films of Michael Caine, and why he typifies what is great about this quintessential of British actors. Is there possibly a wine that can sum up all that? Not unless I drink the entire contents of my wine cellar!
For my last choice it has to be Port (1991 Ramos Pinto Late Bottled Vintage Port to be precise) because this seems to be a wine that is the backbone of being British and their love of wine. We might get all fancy with our Burgundies and Bordeaux, but at most dinner parties it is a bottle of Port that is chosen to put a full-stop on the evening.
This also makes the film an easy pick because Port is most often drunk at Christmas, and what Michael Caine film delivers all these elements, it has to be The Muppet Christmas Carol!
When playing Scrooge, Michael Caine is like a fine Port. He can be intimidating and off-putting at the start, but by the end your heart embraces him and you know the experience has worked its magic.
I can hear the gnashing of teeth and the comments about my choice for great British comedians, and all I can answer it with is the following.?
We put The Guru's wine pairing skills to the test in this new section!
More strange and wonderful pairing in the next edition.
Tony has asoit that?
What An Unusual Pair!
The Guru returns with another strange pairing for you to try.
What An Unusual Pair!
Seven Classic British Comedians
Monty Python's Flying Circus