Having sipped and slurped and chewed away through the wines, my mind was racing at the “non-California” qualities they presented.
Similar to what Philippe Pacalet does in Beaune that I dub his “high-end” négoce (purchasing wine from various farmers and vinifying it all himself), Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts (get it now?) pride themselves on selecting the best possible parcels of vines in Northern California. As Philippe does, they entertain a close and collaborative relationship with the farmers whose grapes they purchase.
They do the good stuff: little irrigation (some places, none), hand-harvested, native yeasts, whole cluster for Syrah, Pinot Noir and most of their reds, no filtering on the reds (sometimes on the whites), etc. etc.
Particularly interesting is their fascination with original and lesser-known grape varietals. At least for California, you don’t really expect to find Trousseau, Poulsard or Touriga Nacional, right? Well, the latter is used to make a delicious refreshing rosé that gave me a flashback of my many Gros Noré rosé binges in Provence.
I also learned a good one: Trousseau is really Bastardo (Portuguese synonym) and the reason it’s there at all was because at some point, the Mondavis’ were looking to make Porto-esque sweet wine. That explains that Touriga Nacional bouncing around North East Sonoma and East Mendocino.
Stand-outs were the Legan Vineyard Sta Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir 2012 with a floral and orange peel nose doubled with a fruity palate and delicious acidity. A friend on Facebook commented: Welcome to Healdsburgundy !
Another winner was the Clary Ranch Sonoma Coast Syrah 2012 that exuded eucalyptus, mint and white pepper. This is the coldest vineyard in California planted with Syrah. The absence of insanely high alcohol and coolness on the palate now make even more sense.
When discussing our Popup and how we poured Evan Lewandowski’s brilliant Fox Hill Vineyard Chilion 2012 with Cortese in pellicular maceration, Nathan popped a Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla from Napa Valley 2012. The juices had spent two months on the skin and the tannins were quincy, refined and super drinkable.
With this incredible aftertaste in mouth, we raced down to catch the sunset towards Bolinas where we were to stay with some friends for a couple of days to unwind post Popup.
As we approached, we passed a little stand packed with beautiful green vegetables, flowers and fresh fruits. I immediately wanted to stop and go check it out. Turns out we had landed at Gospel Flat Farm. Don Murch‘s beautiful little natural heaven just outside of downtown Bolinas.
There was no one at the stand so you are meant to weigh your food at a scale by the counter and just leave money as you see fit.
I saw a contraption behind the stand and further over to the right there was a slab of unsteady wood above a small little dam that led to a wide spread where hundred’s of chicken were roaming free-range.
Don emerged from a small little hut covered in feathers and smiled at us. We were “trespassing” with curiosity and we got to talking to this original character. Minutes later, we were off with plans to meet him at the dock the next morning at 8AM to go fishing for crab.
I never knew that this would involve five hours, freezing winds and forty baskets of crabs pulled out of the ocean by this upwards of sixty year incredibly entertaining man. Usually, he goes with his son Mickey, has a fag and drives the boat as the baskets are weeled out of the sea by his younger version. But not today. Under our incredulous eyes, Don muscled out of the ocean over a hundred pounds’ worth of four-year old crabs (about 60 or 70 crabs). At 10$ a pop, you do the math.
Here’s how fishing crabs work: large round baskets with two areas small enough for the crabs to crawl into are baited with dead sardines. The small entrances then latch closed via a simple metal pin and the crabs are trapped in. He comes along, hurdles a rope on board and a pulley gets the basket to the surface and onto the boat where the crabs are measured, unloaded and the females and young ones are tossed back into the sea.
Legislation has it that only male crabs aged four years and over are allowed to be caught. This allows the species to survive, reproduce at the right rate and therefore supply enough for all the fishing that goes on in the area. Don estimated that 95% of the crabs that should be caught were in fact captured each year by fishermen.
The basket is now ready to go back in the sea but Don usually leaves a crab in the basket as apparently crabs are fans of fighting amongst themselves so they happily enter the basket and start a brawl.
In between the tugging, catching the rope in the water, opening the baskets, tossing the crabs in a container and baiting each basket tossed back in with horribly stinky sardines, he told us stories of fishing in high sea in Alaska, of nearly freezing to death during a hunting trip and lying in the train tracks while a train roared above him passing across a bridge at more than hundred meters over a roaring river.
The man’s got stories and he’s passionate about food. He raises it, grows it, hunts it and fishes it.
That night, around a small table, twelve of us (and a lot of chefs were present) cracked open and licked off our fingers the best crab we’d ever eaten.