|The Atlantic summer haze over Channing Daughters vineyards and winery, 1927 Scuttle Hole Rd., Bridgehampton, out on the eastern end of Long Island, New York|
Stunning natural wine from USA
A mouthful of burnished copper
by PHILIP WHITE
A wine from Channing Daughters, eh? When I read Long Island on the label I dreamed that Channing Daughters was a novel way of saying Channing sisters which got me to thinking about novels and the Gatsby and imagining two ravishing honey blonde twins driving matching Gold Bug Speedsters round to Jay’s joint to get laid or fried or both at West Egg.
Nope. Turns out Channing Daughters is the fruit of founder Walter Channing, a computer-obsessive house-extending wood sculpting venture capitalist working in the health industry in New York City with a studio in nearby Bridgehampton. Walter tips love and money, sculptures and wood carvings into the business now and then but generally stays out of the way. The winemaker is Christopher Tracy, a man who obviously keeps his head open, but his eyes on the horizon and his boots on his feet. Unless there's grapes to squash.
But back to the bottle in hand. When I read RAMATO on the front I thought (a) about it being a lovely understated label and (b) why in the names of Bacchus and Pan somebody from Long Island would be sending me drinks, and (c) why if they did would it be a copper-coloured, or ramato wine like they traditionally make in Friuli, Italy, from Pinot grigio, as I’m not renown for recommending coppery wines which reactionary hippies lovingly call orange and anyway Long Island’s more like Bordeaux in climate and the way it pokes out into the Atlantic and everything but the vineyards there are a flyspeck in comparison.
While I’m still waiting for my first orange Chateau Lafite I finally extracted my corkscrew from the toolbox I rarely consult these days and dug the bark plug out of the Channing Daughters Ramato. Even my dire colourblindness confirmed that yes, there was something strangely burnished and sunsetty about the colour of this Pinot grigio from Scuttlehole Road, Bridgehampton, Long Island. Which got me to thinking about Long Island and how Gatsby’s bit was way down west near the Manhattan end of it, like only one good cigar’s drive from the Plaza Hotel, or maybe two if you had the roof of your Gold Bug down and the bastard burnt fast.
Bridgehampton got me confused with East Hampton which is nearly a hundred miles out to the east from Gatsby’s Eggs, such a distance extending to at least one box of cigarillos with the roof down and a quart of OP rye either way. Which of course raises the matter of a cranky and trashed Jackson Pollock half a pack of Luckies further east out on the Springs-Fireplace Road showing a coupla young beauties what for in his Olds with the top down and a bottle or two belowdecks when he turned her over, killed one of the lasses and decapitated himself in a mess the size of Blue Poles which winemaker David Wynn and his mates convinced Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to buy for us away back in 1973, at the grand bite of $1.3 million, which the types who would have then voted for Blue Ties said was outrageous for twenty foot of pissed dribble.
The Blooper, as some wowser idiots of the day called it, was originally called Number 11, 1952 and it still makes me laugh hilariously and weep bitterly at the same time. Along with Grange Hermitage and yours truly, it’s just one of the miracles that occurred in that bonnie vintage. I visited it again last year. It is truly magnificent trippy tortured madness of the highest genius. Bacchus only knows what it’s worth now. David Geffen sold the comparitively moody and rather gloomy Number 5, 1948 to a bloke who claims he didn’t buy it for $140 million in 2006 and that’s not half the painting in spite of that price setting another world record at the time.
Number 11, 1952 is drunken chaos on such a mighty scale that if its detractors of the day knew much of the truth of Pollock’s situation with the bottle they could have used it as a grand promo for temperance and considered it money well spent, but they’re never that smart, the proho wowser twerps. They’re furtive and sly to their own detriment.
This orange Pinot grigio, which is called Pinot gris in France, would fool most wino folks who aren’t fools. If you gave it to them blindfolded, they’d say it was a red wine. Which is not as confounding as Blue Poles but involves a little of its out-there terroir. Gris, and grigio both mean grey. The grape is a mutation of Pinot noir, a name which in turn arises from a pine-cone-shaped bunch of red grapes which must have been called black by somebody as colourblind as me. The grey Pinot can be nearly any shade from white – not to use my name too lightly – like Chardonnay, through the lovely range of pale battleship hues to what I am assured is quite dark bluey pink. Its DNA is so close to that of Pinot noir that grape doctors think the colour in the skin is the only difference.
|Bluey-pinky-grey little round juicy things growing on poles near Jackson Pollock's studio on Long Island: Pinot grigio ripening at Channing Daughters|
So why would the blind taster imagine this is red wine? Other than its unction, probably tannin: it has quite a lot of tannin for a wine which is not red or any darker hue. To me, the tannin seems chalky. It reminds me of some of the flavours of the Kimmeridgean chalks, a great bowl of fossilized microscopic oysters that stretches from Champagne and Chablis across to England, where it is most obvious in the White Cliffs of Dover, and brings to mind the chalky calcrete of Watervale in the Clare Valley.
But there’s no chalk on Long Island, which is a sandy stretch filling two long lines of moraine where a glacier melted, leaving the old rocks it ground up and pushed aside til the sea absorbed all that meltwater and rose up to sink everything alongside. Very deep below that is very old schisty bedrock, which makes me think of the more austere flavours imparted by the schists of Eden Valley and the High Barossa but these roots don’t go down as far as that real old basement. They grow in deep clay and sandy loam with riverine pebbles at the bottom and it looks a whole lot like the more recent bits of McLaren Vale which is not cool enough for Pinot of any sort.
|Clay and sandy loam over riverine alluvium at Channing Daughters|
Most Australian winemakers make their Pinot gris, or grigio, in a pure white manner, as if it belonged in the sanitised refrigerated territory between Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay without oak. They argue about gris and grigio as if they’re different varieties, which confuses the drinker no end. If there’s any concensus it seems grigio is made to be more immediately frivolous and fruity than the more austere gris, as best manifest in Alsace. This baby blows that nonsense away: nothing frivolous or simply fruity about this Ramato. Or any of the traditional ones from Friuli, for that matter.
Whatever they’re called, most Aussie models are nondescript, and some, like the Fox Gordon Charlotte’s Web 2012 I’m drinking from the Adelaide Hills, are strangely sweet. Somebody’ll love it, but just as I’d never grow Pinot grigio anywhere I couldn’t grow good Pinot noir, I’d never make a white, grey, orange or copper one any sweeter than I’d make a black one.
|Channing Daughters winemaker Christopher Tracy|
Anyway, this Ramato has been picked, squashed, let ferment for thirteen days on its skins and pulp, left oxidizing in old barrels for eight months, settled and finally bottled with a squeak of preserving sulphur dioxide to snap-freeze its burnished orange naturalness.
So it’s like a Pinot noir made in the traditional Burgundian manner, but without any of the darker beetroot, bitter cherry and strawberry/raspberry flavours which the grape’s natural red/blue anthocyanins impart to the skins of the true bleu noirness. This leaves us with an orange/copper drink that tastes of everything from poached quince and grainy pears through fruit mince and pickled citrus to chalky cider apples like Kingston Black, which isn’t black either. In other words, a full-bodied Pinot noir without any noir. Confusing, but enticing.
When whitened to the point of vacuity, the standard grey Pinot has been quite popular these last five or six years. It seems refugees from bad Chardonnay and battery acid Savvy-B have fled innocently, and ignorantly, in its direction, poor lemmings. I shall never forget being in a contract wine refinery office when a buyer from one of our largest chainsaw, er, chainstore darlings phoned and demanded more Pinot grigio. The boss said they didn’t have any; there simply wasn’t enough planted in his region, as it was inappropriate. “But everybody wants it,” the phone whined. “Send more. I don’t care what it’s made from, as long as it’s Pinot grigio when it gets here. And don’t send Pinot gris.”
Anyone in Australia who really wants to learn about the true flavour of this misunderstood and abused grape should trot off to the Channing Daughters/Blue Poles end of Long Island if they can’t do Fruili or Alsace, where they make the originals. Or you can beg a case from the wildcat Sydney outfit called Brooks & Amos at email@example.com , which specializes in such off-the-wall wonders.
As far as flavour explosions go, to this colourblind synæsthete, the wine’s somewhere between Number 5, 1948 and Number 11, 1952, with many centuries of deep Friulian lore mixed in with some of those icy blue-eyed, honey blonde Gold Bug-shunting lasses with the bottomless thirsts and desires, flapper perfumes and the whiff of their kid gloves in the glove box of one of them Speedsters back at Gatsby’s. But the truly slurpable Channings are at least one good medical jay further out to the east end of the Island. Just don’t drive there blind. You’ll impole yourself, Blue.
1920 Kissel Gold Bug Speedster with slide-out 'suicide seat'. Baz Lurhman has been criticised for using more modern cars, like the 1929 J Duesenberg in his movie, while the Gold Bug is true to the year of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book. Pity we can't hire one to drive it out to Channing Daughters ... smokers can sit outside!