Make way for the winemakers of the future — young and natural winemakers who will be the next generation to build on the foundation of wine world trailblazers.
I wouldn’t say that these vintners are coming up behind those who inspired them, but rather coming up alongside them.
Such is the case for a young couple whose wines I met recently.
For Brian and Katelynn Jessen, it’s about creating wines that are distinctive enough to set them apart. Being too different can sometimes be a risk, but this is their mission. Their hope is that someone taking the first sip realizes they’ve truly discovered something distinguishable.
It’s interesting times for winemaking in California. Adventuresome young vintners are rethinking what has been the status quo of varietals here in the north and embarking into the galaxy of grapes we’ve not yet been formally introduced to or might have forgotten.
In listening to the story of this couple, one quickly realizes that they are almost moonlighting as vintners right now, as it takes full time jobs to gather the resources to move this endeavor forward, all on their own. Yet, they get it all done.
A 2010 graduate from Sonoma State’s wine business program, Brian went on to complete his viticulture and enology degrees, interned in Tuscany and has worked with wineries in the North Bay as well as in New Zealand.
They launched Irene Wine Cellars in 2015. Named in memory of Brian’s mother, this venture is truly a labor of love.
Katelynn creates watercolors for all of the labels, and the couple hopes that the delicate floral artwork evokes a sense of what one will discover inside the bottle, medium to light bodied wines with subtle floral aromatics.
Their process is in some ways very old world, utilizing minimal new world wine-producing equipment.
With whole cluster fermentation, and native yeast, they don’t fine or filter their wines, which are strictly aged in neutral French oak. Harvesting is done a bit earlier at 22 to 23 brix, leaving them with highly aromatic, lower alcohol wines.
The wine in their repertoire that stood out as “now that’s different” to me was their Marsanne.
This was not a varietal I was familiar with, so this was an educational tasting for me, as well.
Marsanne, it seems, is the most popular white wine grape planted in the Northern Rhone wine region and is often blended with Roussanne and Clairette. Small in size, but robust in nature this varietal has burrowing roots seeking nutrients and has a preference for rocky hillsides and a dry climate. When ripened the fruit presents a golden brownish color property. It’s said that as these vines age the fruit becomes more intriguing.
Brian, like his predecessors, understands the heart of the matter. The importance of terrior. How geography, geology, climate and multiple environmental factors play into the quality of a wine. Irene culls their Marsanne fruit from the Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino.
A food-friendly white wine, Marsanne would be a perfect choice for pairing with a variety of seafoods and richer shellfish options. Think crab, lobster, shrimp and even mussels. As I tasted I was also thinking veal, pork or chicken with both spicy or cream sauces. Alongside a selection of cheeses would be another really interesting pairing.
Miminashi in Napa offers Irene Wine Cellars Marsanne, as do several restaurants from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The next release of Irene Marsanne 2016 is scheduled for mid April, along with their 2017 Mourvedre, another lesser known varietal. A full list of their offerings can be found www.irene.wine/wine-2/
Brian and Katelynn love to do tastings in Healdsburg, which can be arranged by contacting them directly.
Keep an eye on this young couple. They have more to show us.
Looking forward to paring the following with Irene Marsanne. Mangia bene.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper—to taste
1 lb. crab meat
1/2 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 cup finely crushed saltine crackers
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
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1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
Put mayonnaise in a bowl and whisk. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Add lemon juice and cayenne. Set aside.
In large bowl combine crab meat, garlic, salt, cracker crumbs, egg, mustard, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Add mayonnaise mixture into crab meat and fold together.
Shape mixture into six 1-inch thick cakes. Place onto plate or tray and refrigerate until firmly set. About 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet. Add crab cakes and cook over medium heat until golden brown on the bottom. About 3-4 minutes. Carefully turn cakes over and cook 2-3 minutes. Move to baking sheet and bake until golden brown and cooked through. Approximately 10 minutes.
Serve hot and drizzled with brown butter caper sauce.
Brown Butter Caper Sauce
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter—room temperature
Few drops fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
It’s important for your butter to be room temperature before cooking. If butter is too cold it will not melt smoothly and burns more easily.
Drop butter into a hot skillet. Swirl constantly until butter turns into a golden, almost hazelnut color.
Remove pan from heat and allow to cool 2 minutes. Swirl in lemon juice and capers until all ingredients are blended. Add parsley to the pan at the end of process.
Serve immediately over crab cakes. Sauce works equally well with a variety of fish options.
This sauce is incredibly simple and best prepared just prior to serving.
La Pasta di Granchio
(Pasta with Crabmeat)
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, San Marzano, diced
2 Tbsp. fresh basil—chopped (extra for garnish)
1 Bay leaf
Sea Salt to taste
Dash of cayenne
1 lb. crab meat
1 lb. thin style spaghetti
In large fry pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and saute until soft. Stir in tomatoes, basil, bay leaf, salt, and cayenne. Bring sauce to boil. Simmer sauce over low heat until slightly thickened, stirring frequently. About 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
Stir crabmeat into mixture for 5 minutes to warm the crab meat. Do not over cook. Remove from heat.
Cook spaghetti per package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water. Drain pasta in colander. Place drained pasta back into pasta pot. Stir in reserved pasta water and 3/4 of crab meat sauce. Toss quickly.
Transfer to warm serving piece. Spoon remaining sauce on top and garnish with additional chopped basil. Serve immediately.