When we first had some of Hank and Caroline’s wine, it was at the Seven % Solution tasting in San Francisco. Like Bryan Harrington‘s wine (another unique wine producer whose wines I love), their wines were involving fascinating varietal blends with some grapes that tend to run on the “bigger” side, yet they were all so balanced and lean, in some surprising cases, without sacrificing any incredible flavor, they just stood out to us all the more. Somehow, La Clarine‘s wines bring out flavors that you could never imagine might come forth from a certain varietal. Maybe it’s the soil. Maybe it’s the goats. Maybe it’s the elevation. Maybe it’s Hank and Caroline.
I admit it; I do love seeing truly unique blends when there’s unlikely suspect varietals involved in the mix. How about a blend of Grenache and Cinsault? Yes, please and thank you La Clarine. I know, I know…these are both Rhone varietals…but Cinsault is generally added in very small amounts or produced on its own as a Rose.
We were already planning a trip to the Sierra Foothills to stay planted there for a solid week to learn more about the different sub AVAs, the people, the soil and of course, the wineries. That said, after having sampled some of La Clarine’s wines, I knew we needed to visit them, if possible. While we were up in Placerville, I exchanged a few emails with Hank to figure out if we might be able to come up and see them. We swung it. While driving up there early in the morning, it dawned on me just how far up these folks were. I had no idea we were climbing up to about 2,600 ft in elevation. It was a gorgeous drive inevitably, and when we got to the turnoff to their farm, it was definite off-roading and a way’s in with a steep drop-off.
When we pulled up, several very excited dogs wanted to either greet us or bite us, but we loved the welcome either way. Hank and Caroline both came out to lead us over the farm grounds and then into their extremely small winemaking facility. I’ve seen small facilities before, but this definitely won out over others. It was about half the size of my Tenderloin studio apartment in San Francisco, and even in that, it’s hard to store anything! Still, somehow they made it work – insulated properly and with a number of barrels stacked. This is where all these incredible wines happen. Amazing. Small is indeed very, very beautiful and highly underrated. I know this more and more from having worked my first harvest this year with Ed Kurtzman of August West Wines and Sandler Wine Co. in San Francisco, as he’s an urban vintner with a small facility.
Caroline and Hank spoke about their devotion and long hours tending to the goats and how they have made that work with their winemaking. Although at a very high elevation, they are not without support up there; Caroline even told me about how she trades supplies with neighbors or tries to purchase local neighbors’ garden food.
Perhaps it is this balance of give and take that I see in their wines and appreciate. While there are a good number of winemakers out there making wine with different varietals in a blend just to see how they might fare or to just use up excess grapes, I see La Clarine’s wine offering balance and coercing dormant characteristics in varietals in blends as natural and not being about experimentation or taking chances. I think they have a very solid understanding of what one grape can lend to another grape that it is generally not blended with.
Recently, I wanted to pull a Brachetto out of my little wine collection to pair with a peach cobbler dessert I made for my partner’s birthday, knowing it was a slightly off-dry wine. Somehow, I accidentally pulled out La Clarine’s Priscilla and opened it in mid conversation without even looking. Although I admittedly let out a light gasp at my mistake, I just went with it, knowing I had to commit at that point! While their Priscilla is a dry wine, the gorgeous nectar notes in this wine and its unexpected round structure blew our minds and quickly became one of the most amazing pairings I’ve ever had, hands-down. Already a fan of La Clarine’s wines, this took the cake, or uh, the cobbler.
I can absolutely see us using Hank and Caroline’s Priscilla in a unique Meet Your Palate activity or even a Top Pairing activity because of this wine’s versatility and unexpected ability to delight and surprise palates. We cannot wait to revisit and try some of their new releases, maybe at this year’s Califermentation tasting event in San Francisco!