Alex MacGregor of Saracina

Slate Wine Club

MAY 13, 2021 • 5:00AM

Felix: [00:00:00] Hello, welcome to the Slate Wine Club. I’m Felix Salmon. And you may know me as the host of Slate Money or guide to the business and finance news of the week. But I am also as many slate money. Listeners will remember a bit of a wine lover, and I like to drink wine. I like to talk about wine. I like to think about wine and really underneath everything I like the storytelling of wine. I really think that wine is about stories and memory and experiences and the idea of transporting yourself to a different place. These are the things that the heart of the Slate wine club. It’s not about, you know, Tasting notes and tannins and malolactic fermentation and micro oxygenation, and that kind of thing.

It’s about place and people and stories, and just getting to enjoy a variety of premium wines and learning about them from these expert wine makers. Often who’ve been making wines, not just themselves, but in their families for hundreds of years. And these stories really helped me enjoy wine. They’ll help you enjoy wine.

But before we talk to today’s winemaker, you probably want to know why you should join the club and how to become a member of it. So as a sleet wine club member, you will get expertly curated selections of premium wines made by some of the world’s best wine makers. Each shipment includes three bottles and unique high quality wines.

Delivered right to your door. And joining is easy. Just text Slate, two eight, seven, eight, seven, seven, slate that’s SLA T E to (878) 777-5283. Once you receive your wines, you’ll be able to sip each one while into, to an interview with the talented winemaker who crafted it. And that’s exactly what we’re doing today with Alex McGregor.

Alex is the kind of guy that you call when you want to do something, maybe. A little bit new or not in Vogue, like radical field blends, a field blend is basically where just take all of the grapes in the field and put them all together, no matter what they are. And it can be spectacular because it’s really close to nature.

It’s in many ways, the purest expression of terroir. So John Fetzer hired Alex gave him a proper budget, lots of independence and gave him time to experiment. And 20 years later here we are. I’ve seen a benchmark in Mendocino, which is an very up and coming part of Northern California wine country.

Alex McGregor. Welcome. Thank you. Tell me about Saracina. Where is it?

Alex: [00:02:43] Saracina in Hopland, California, which is in the heart of Mendocino County. We’re about 25 miles from the coast as the crow flies.

Felix: [00:02:50] Tell me about the climate. Is it lots of fog and winds and what’s it called? Temperature gradients.

Alex: [00:02:57] I mean, it’s changing unfortunately or fortunately. So our fog influences diminishing every year and we do get a high and low shift up to 50 degrees a day. For example, we had 90 during the day, last week and 40 nighttime temperatures. Which is fairly unique.

Felix: [00:03:13] Wow. what does that do to the vines?

Alex: [00:03:15] There’s a story. That’s definitely a story from California winemakers about warm days and cool evenings retaining natural acidity. And it has legitimacy in our County. We cool off quickly and to an extreme. And so with vineyards, like the one I just described you low lonas, which is the oldest which is the older sauvignon blanc in the country dry farmed had pruned legitimately these cool temperatures help it retain its acidity almost to a fault where the wines are verging on European with their acid levels, which is my preference.

Felix: [00:03:46] verging on the European–  heaven forfend

Alex: heaven forbid

Felix: and dry farmed means you don’t irrigate it. You just leave these horns. Struggling veins to fend for themselves.

Alex: [00:03:57]. Exactly. It’s tough love. Another story that I think has legitimacy with older biomaterial, like this vineyard in particular, they do struggle, but you end up with needless to say much, much lower yields than a modern commercial sauvignon blanc vineyard. And it’s just like a tomato vine, fewer tomatoes on it. The sweeter and tastier and juicy are they are. And it’s the same thing applies to grape vines.

Felix: [00:04:20] Is that true for all of your wines or just your old vines sauvignon blanc?

Alex: [00:04:23] No we’re currently replanting vineyards at the property. The vineyard has changed ownership within the last two years.

Felix: [00:04:29] When the owner changes, like how much of a difference does that make?

Alex: [00:04:33] in this case, a massively positive one. He’s passionate he’s sees the potential in the property, sees the potential in Mendocino County, which is rustic would be the sexy terminology for it. We’re Napa Valley, 25 years ago. We’re still relatively rural and we’re not deluged with traffic congestion, millions of people. You’re not stepping back in time, but there’s a more authentic experience.

It’s County that’s full of iconoclasts ie. cantankerous fourth-generation farmers that are fun to hang out with. And when I’ve taken people to some of the vineyards that we source fruit from that are not used to standing in, say, Binds that are 75 years old. It’s magical and their eyes light up. And they all say the same thing.

I would love to make wine out of a vineyard like this. And that’s part of the appeal. We’re lucky. There’s a surfeit of those vineyards in this County still.

Felix: [00:05:24] Well, here, it says old soul vintage, 2018. This is a field blend, right? You just pick all of the wine and the field, and it’s a bunch of different grapes.

Alex: [00:05:33] Yes. By design and not by design. There’s some field blend components in it. There are some single varietal vineyards in it. There’s some old vines zinfandel, there’s old vine, petite Sirah. There’s younger malbec in it. There’s some ancient vine, Carignan. And that Carignan vineyard is a field blend of carignan, grenache.

There’s one great variety that we know are not sure what it is. A mix of whites interplanted amongst the reds, about 250. French Colombard vines. That’s quite unique.

Felix: [00:05:58] You mentioned something interesting there there’s old vines and then there’s ancient vines. What’s the difference between an old vine and then ancient vine?

Alex: [00:06:06] Nothin. semantics my language. I would say nothing at all.

Felix: [00:06:09] Ancient is good. So how many fields does this wine come from in total?

Alex: [00:06:14] Uh, the property here, there are five different blocks that it comes off of. And then a vineyard called Casa Verde, greenhouse, not too clever, but stays hat it is an abandoned greenhouse. We’re going to say 10, 10 to 12 different blocks. Wow.

Felix: [00:06:26] And so that’s where you come in, right? You’re choosing the blocks, your throwing them all together. You’re picking which fields which blends. And you’re trying to create something magical at the end of it. Tell me what’s the vision for this?

Alex: [00:06:39] Sophisticated peasant wine is the building for it. I’d like it to be not incredibly polished and sophisticated at the same time. And also to evoke some of these old vines and to make you want to have a second glass or split a bottle at lunch with your best friend.

Felix: [00:06:53] Okay. So I’m going to open this guy up. You have a cork, do you have an opinion on closures?

Alex: [00:06:58] I do cork is certainly the most sustainable that’s important. And it’s traditional. I was a Sommelier. I love popping corks. I love that sound. That’s a good sound.

Felix: [00:07:06] Yep. All right. Let’s see how sophisticatedly peasant this is.

Alex: [00:07:11] I’m diving in over here as well.

Felix: [00:07:12] You should, Okay. So this, to me, this absolutely smells of California. This is unmistakably, California and wine, and I haven’t even tasted it yet cause it’s warm, it’s warmth. And they’ve just, I poured it into the glass and I was like, Oh yeah, I remember. Sitting out on the porch in Napa, like 15 years ago, you know, how smell memory lasts much longer than like any other memory. And it just takes you straight back. It does for me, I guess it’s also the Zinfandel, which I honestly don’t know if I ever drink was zinfandell from anywhere other than California. So what am I looking for in this wine? Once I started tasting it, Sunshine, California sun.

Alex: [00:07:47] There you go. Black, some tannins, some tannin.

And so the tenant is intentional, as I said, sophisticated and peasant at the same time, I think tannin is important in one we’re drifting away from 10 and red wine making generally. And I think it’s a mistake. It’s just because of the way just wine, for example, would work with the lunch that we’re going to share.

Felix: [00:08:06] What am I eating with this one?

Alex: [00:08:08] Something with mushrooms, something with probably animal protein, certainly not barbecue. That’s thrown out too often. It could be, but I see a roasts, fibia, beef, Wellington, a beef Wellington would be delicious with that wine. Yes,

Felix: [00:08:23] it’s a lot of work, but if you get someone else to make it for you, it’s awesome.

Just looking at the back of the bottle here. It says 14.7%, and this is a pretty big one. Alcohol wise.

Alex: [00:08:34] It’s not silly. Right? But the core of it is infidel and that’s infantile in California. You can tame the beast to some extent, but the picking zinfandels to come in that mid thirteens, you’re not going to get that core iron Zinny fruit that you get when you’re picking it more potential alcohols like 14, five, 14, six.

So I make no apologies for it. Our Sauvignon Blanc is 13.1. Our rose is 12.5. So it’s representative of the wine. I am intentionally trying to lower our alcohol content across the board with all of our wines and have been doing so for the last 10 years. But the core of this one with Zinfandel has got to be in that sort of sweet spot

Felix: [00:09:16] How do you do that because I mean, ultimately it’s those 90 degrees days, right. They just get that fruit really ripe. And that figure turns to alcohol.

Alex: [00:09:23] A lot of the things that I source from are. Not on wires or trellises, the canopy flops over. And so a lot of that fruit is protected. Most of the zinfandel, we grow as head pruned to means that the fruit never sees. The sun, the sexy winemaking term is dappled, light that and intentionally picking it perhaps slightly lower sugars sourcing out raisins.

So when we picked zinfandel in particular, we run it over an antique sorting table and I can pull a judicious amount of raisins off of clusters to keep the sugars moderate.

Felix: [00:09:55] So the tannins, I guess, is the peasant bit.

Alex: [00:09:58] Yeah, tenant. And there’s also some pretty pronounced acidity in it. It’s not a low acid red wine, you say California, but I think texturally you’re drifting more into Italy.

Felix: [00:10:08] Tell me about acidity in red wine, what does it do to the wine?

Alex: [00:10:12] It pops more and it causes the wine to linger more in your mouth, or it makes you want to go back and have a second sip. Especially if you’re having it with a meal.

Felix: [00:10:18] you say that it’s going out of favor. Why would people not want acidity in that one?

Alex: [00:10:22] Well, not just acidity, but tannin as well. There was a trend to make wines, very rich and very ripe and very soft and sometimes a little bit sweet. And there’s a shift. Back towards acidity and tannin in wine. A lot of that’s happening in your neck of the woods in Brooklyn, New York city. Thanks to a lot of great wine bars in some ways that are bringing back more traditional producers.

Lots of interesting wines from all over Italy and Southern France that aren’t afraid to not be incredibly soft and rich and voluptuous and a remarkable because of it,

Felix: [00:10:54] something a little bit rough, a little bit, a theater, little bit like get your feet dirty a little bit. Yeah. Ask you three questions. Number one, is white burgundy the greatest wine in the world? Yes or no.

Alex: [00:11:08] No,

Felix: [00:11:10] it took, it took a while to come out with that one.

Alex: [00:11:13] I’ve had like, you have had many, many, many great white burgundies. And I worked with David Raimi for the first eight years of the project here at Saracina. And he was sort of the progenitor of bringing white burgundy technique to California with barrel fermented. Unbelievably delicious Chardonnays. And I’ve tasted a lot of great white Burgundy with David and with some other associates and friends. So there’ve been some real epiphanes, but there are so many other regions that are on the same level, I would say. So it’s hard to pick one region. Yeah.

Felix: [00:11:41] Are there any other reasons on the same level that are in the new world?

Alex: [00:11:45] Yeah. Mendocino County.

Felix: [00:11:46] Mendocino County. There you go. Represent next question. Do you have a dog who helps make this wine?

Alex: [00:11:53] A dog. I did not have a dog. We have alpacas. Yes. And the male is called music, man. And I’ve actually stuck a glass in front of his face to see what would happen. And it’s been radio silence so far, a lot of snot, but not a whole lot of help

Felix: [00:12:06] I’ve never had the wine made with the help of an alpaca. So I’m not going to thank music, man, but this wine, because clearly he had absolutely nothing to do with it, except for looking at it through like doleful eyes. And finally. Which podcast should I be listening to when I drink this wine?

Alex: [00:12:24] All right. So your own wow. Little self-reflection.

Felix: [00:12:27] Yeah. And just going, Oh my God. That was such a stupid thing to say. And are you one of those people who’s okay. Listening to the sound of your own voice. It doesn’t bother you?

Alex: [00:12:34] I used to just like it immensely and I have gotten used to it.

Felix: [00:12:38]  I think this is it. This is my way of learning to come to terms with my own voice. Is to drink old soul Mendocino County red wine blend from Saracina in the vineyards while listening to my own podcast. And if I do that for long enough, I will start associating the sound of my own voice with delicious, slightly rustic Italian red wine from Mendocino County.

And that will be a lovely connection right there.

Alex: [00:13:04] It couldn’t hurt.

Felix: [00:13:07] So thank you, again, to Alex McGregor for joining us today and for telling us all about his 2018 old soul, if you’re not a member of the Slate wine club already, joining is easy. Text slate to (878) 777-5283. To set up your first shipment and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying premium wines. Not to mention developing a better appreciation for the expert winemakers who fill out glasses.