Lessons from M.V. Wine School

Photo by Marnely Rodriguez-Murra

During the busy, hot summer months, Sam Decker, the sommelier and wine expert at Atria in Edgartown, trains his staff weekly on the intricacies of wine service. A much appreciated practice, because we all know what it’s like to sit down at a restaurant, ask our server to recommend a wine to pair with our steaks, and receive some generic response, like “a red wine would work.” A trained front of the house staff with wine knowledge isn’t only a service to the customer, but to the kitchen as well — once the staff knows the wine list and its appropriate pairings, the kitchen’s menu items will shine.

Mr. Decker and chef/owner Christian Thornton saw the potential in these wine trainings for the staff and realized that consumers might also be interested in learning more about wine. Thus, the M.V. Wine School was born. Whether you’re a group of friends looking for an interesting night out, a beginner yearning to learn more about your favorite wine, or a couple looking for a romantic experience to share over a most romantic beverage, M.V. Wine School is for you.

I had the opportunity to attend the school and take the “American New Wave” workshop this past week. I left with a solid knowledge of what American winemakers are currently crafting, and a few new favorites. Each class is intended to broaden wine knowledge, discover new wines from around the world (in this case, California), and learn how to accurately taste wine. Limited to 16 students, the classes guarantee an intimate setting, where guests can be comfortable asking basic questions. Chef Thornton also offers a light food component to the classes, pairing the unique wines to some fantastic food.

American New Wave

“Being a slave to Europe is as much a mistake as saying that super ripe California is a great expression. Both ends of the expression miss the important center of the argument, which is to take European notions and see how they’re best at expressing California. You’ll never hear what the land is saying if you just say, ‘in Europe they do this.’” — Ted Lemon of Littorai, a biodynamic vineyard and poster child of new wave wines in America.

What makes a wine uniquely American? Is it the sunshine that infuses that intense ripeness into the fruit? Some winemakers like to think it is, and they express it through their creative wine-making process. California new wave wines are Old World inspired, focusing on ambient yeast instead of inoculating the fruit with commercial yeast. This allows the wines to develop at their own pace, instead of forcing a particular feel. Through giving up that control, winemakers hope to forge a unique identity to American wines, based on the belief that the place matters more than the fruit itself. This is he true sense and definition of terroir, where the grape growers care as much (or even more) about the land than the grapes themselves.

You’re probably thinking to yourselves, wow, these grape growers really must make an amazing wine if they take such good care of their land. But the current dilemma that new wave American wines face is that the grape growers aren’t necessarily the winemakers. Vineyard land is some of the most expensive agricultural land in the United States; prices in the Napa Valley reach up to $300,000 per acre. Winemakers who cannot afford those prices (and honestly, who can?) are paying to cultivate leased land, to work alongside grape growers to ensure proper harvest practices. The rise of “crush pads” or cooperative-style wineries, where winemakers buy fruit from all over the area and come together to crush, ferment, and age their wines in a common area, has helped ease the pain of the high land prices, but will this become the way of life between grape growers and winemakers of the U.S? These communities of wine entrepreneurs have a huge task ahead of them, but in the meantime they are offering the consumers some unique wines.

One co-op is the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, where winemakers convene to create wines and sell them directly to the public. Lompoc has the second largest concentration of tasting rooms in Santa Barbara County, making it a great destination for wine lovers, especially since the person pouring the wine is often the same person who created it. With over 20 wineries in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, it’s a fun place to continue your journey after taking a workshop at the M.V. Wine School this winter.

Wines tasted: 1.Copain Rosé of Pinot noir, 2013, Anderson Valley; 2. Steve Matthiasson Napa Valley White 2012 (blend of Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Ribolla gialla, Tocai friulano); 3. Lioco Indica 2011, Mendocino (old-vine Carignan); 4. Wind Gap Syrah, 2012, Sonoma Coast; 5. Dragonette Cellars Pinot noir, 2011, Sta. Rita Hills.

Some new wave producers you should check out: Steve Matthaisson, Tegan Passalacquia, Nathan Roberts, Duncan Arnot Meyers, Ted Lemon, Abe Schoener, Matt Licklider, and Kevin O’Connor.

Upcoming workshops at M.V. Wine School:

Exploring Burgundy: Wednesday, January 21

New Italy: Wednesday, January 28

Tour of Provence: Wednesday, February 18

For more information on the MV Wine School and to sign up for classes, visit mvwineschool.com or emailsamdecke@gmail.com.