On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are once again joined by VinePair’s managing editor Oset Babür-Winter to discuss the elusive world of cult wines. Where did the term originate, and what are some modern-day examples?
Then, join Geballe as he speaks with Elizabeth Bourcier, winemaker at Bionic Wines. What are some of the benefits of working in a proclaimed “cult winery”? And what are some of the challenges? Your hosts end this Friday’s episode with a tasting from one of Bionic Wines’ numerous offerings, 2017 Cayuse En Chamberlin Syrah. Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Still guest hosting is Oset Babür-Winter. What’s up, Oset? Happy Friday.
Oset Babür-Winter: Happy Friday.
A: Isn’t it great?
O: It’s so great.
A: It’s the best. Friday is always good. How are y’all doing?
Z: Good. Good. Good..
A: Feeling good. Today, we’re going to talk about something really interesting, which I think all of us don’t truly understand. Zach will present us with the answer probably, as the oracle. We’re talking about cult wine. Zach, you have an entire interview you can tell us about in a second that’s going to also play during this episode. I think cult wine is another one of these things that isn’t truly defined, right? Everyone sort of decides what they think a cult wine is. I’ll be honest, when Oset and I were talking about this in my office, I realized that I actually have no f*cking clue what makes something cult? I think you’ve described the wine we’re going to try as a cult wine. And I think others describe it as a cult wine. But you can get it very easily on wine.com.
Z: That’s true for almost every wine these days.
A: Screaming Eagle? Can I get Screaming Eagle on wine.com? No f*cking way.
Z: Maybe not on wine.com.
A: That’s a cult wine. You can only get Screaming Eagle if you’re on the list or you buy it in the secondary market. But what makes a wine culty?
Z: Well, that’s a really good question. I was hoping that you guys could offer some insight onto this, too.
A: We can. We can all offer insight.
Z: It needs a combination of at least a few of these factors that I’ll name. One of them is price. There’s no such thing as an inexpensive cult wine, and I don’t exactly know where the threshold cutoff point is. It’s at least three figures, probably more. But that’s one piece of it. The second piece is actual or perceived scarcity. Dom Perignon costs a lot of money, but it’s no cult wine. They make like a billion bottles of it a year. It’s not just the price. And third, this is actually maybe the biggest part of it, but it’s hard to define. There needs to be a mystique about the wine or the winemaker or the winery or all of the above. Generally, it has to be presented as these products of one person or maybe a small group of people’s passion and genius and borderline madness. That’s where the whole cult part comes into play to some extent. You’re kind of walking this line of greatness and madness that is exciting, but also scary.
A: Interesting. Can I read the definition that the Jedi wine master Jancis Robinson gives for it?
Z: Keith Beavers? My god, if anyone’s going to be a Jedi wine master, I thought it would be Keith.
A: Jedi wine master.
Z: He’s just a wine Padawan.
A: I am a wine Padawan. Keith’s a Jedi wine master. OK, here we go. What’s interesting is, in the “Oxford Wine Companion,” it is not cult wine. It is specifically “California Cult Wine.” What she says is, “California Cult Wines is a phrase coined in the 1990s to encompass wines made in the state of California. Typically but not exclusively, Napa Valley Cabernets, for which collectors and possibly a few investors were willing to pay prices higher than those of Bordeaux’s first growths. They include such names as Araujo, Bryant Family, Colgin, Dalla Valle, Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Moraga, Screaming Eagle, Sine Qua Non, and Vineyard 29. What many of these names have in common is that they are made in extremely limited quantities by talented winemaker consultant oenologists, often female, currently favored by fashion.” Interesting.
O: I have a different perspective with this. To me, when I see, “This is a cult wine” mentioned in conversation or on Instagram or in an article at an outlet that maybe caters more to millennials and younger drinkers, I think of Gut Oggau. That’s what comes to mind. They’re the bottles that have the illustrations on the front of the headshots of the Austrian natural wine. For a while, it was the Calcarius wines before things happened there. Before all of that happened, that, to me, was a cult wine. Things like the Where’s Linus wines, stuff like that that was really buzzy that you keep seeing photos of the wine label on Instagram, that strikes me as this generation’s cult wine, where it’s not about accessibility and how expensive it is. It’s just about, how much are you seeing it all over your feed? Because it’s got a cult following, people are really obsessed with that label.
A: I think that’s a better definition.
O: It might not be what we’re talking about here, but that’s what I think of. As someone who really enjoys natural wine, that is my perspective on what the definition is there.
A: To me, those are almost like hype wines. In New York, for example, everyone in the Italian scene likes Roagna. Now, they’re scarce. But then we started calling them allocated wines. We haven’t done this episode yet, but we’ve talked about it before: Does allocated always mean good? It can just mean that maybe the winemaker only shipped a case into the country and it’s allocated just because they only ship a case?
O: Or a very hyped producer. What is that piquette-like beverage? Have you guys ever had that? It was a holographic wine label that was all over Instagram last summer. I think they’re in Willamette. Zach, do you know what I’m talking about?
Z: Oh, I think you’re talking about The Marigny. Sure. I know which once you mean.
O: Sorry, everyone, I was mispronouncing it. Well, the producer’s name, at least. But that felt very buzzy and cult-like to me.
A: Yeah, like Clos Rougeard. Yeah. But I don’t think they’re cult in the way that a traditional collector would discuss cult.
Z: Here’s where I think we have to separate out two things. Clos Rougeard is absolutely a collector’s wine, that is a wine that people buy and age and hang onto.
A: And it increases in value.
Z: Yes. Almost everything that Oset is describing, whether they’re hype wines or whether they’re just buzzy wines, which is basically saying the same thing. But no one is buying those bottles and saying, “I’m going to hold on to them with the goal of reselling them for 10 times the value in 20 years.” The bottles might explode before you get to that point.
O: I don’t know what you’re doing with your bottles.
Z: I don’t know that I would hang on to that wine for very long. But anyways, I do think that scarcity is a part of it. Jancis alludes to it, at least for my understanding of cult wines, there has to be some component of collectability to it.
A: I agree with that.
Z: There is an idea that it’s not the trendy wine to be sipping right now. That’s another thing that we can talk about. But there has to be an element that these wines have a perception of being an investment. Now, whether your goal with these wines is to drink them or not, that’s a whole other question. But I do think that’s a piece of the cult wine description that can’t really be transferred over to wines that aren’t made with that in mind.
A: I think that’s very true. Where it gets muddy is that, first of all, this has something to do with the “American” idea. It’s interesting because I do think that there are wines that are considered natural, like Roagna and Clos Rougeard, that are super collectible. They do increase in value and could be “cult.” But I will agree with you that if you’re going to say it’s cult, it has to have this investment potential. We’re also taking Jancis’s definition into account where she talked about being bought by investors. It’s people who are saying “When am I going to be able to sell this at Sotheby’s, and what’s the exit price going to be?” That’s also sort of the bummer of cult wines. These are wines that often are only consumed by the critics that rate them and then everyone else doesn’t consume them. They just hold them for resale, and they continue to resell and resell, resell. No one ever actually appreciates them because if you open them, you lose your investment. If it’s truly a cult wine, then you can never actually drink it. That’s the saddest fucking thing in the world.
O: Catch me with my piquette at Sotheby’s in a couple of decades.
A: That’d be the best. Laughing all the way to the bank being like, “Suckers.”
O: Suckers, you want some piquette from 2015?
Z: It’s also not just that no one ever drinks it. It’s also that if anyone ever drinks it, it’s the same people. It’s the same extremely wealthy people who can afford to buy those wines and are not buying them for investment or they buy them at an auction 25 years down the road because they have the money and they want to drink them. It does create this whole world, and I think it’s really interesting to think about it in wine. We’ve talked about this in certain ways: Grand cru Burgundy first-growth Bordeaux, in certain cases. You have all these things that are put out there to younger wine drinkers and wine professionals as the apex of wine. And yet, almost no one can try them. You cannot drink those wines unless you are very wealthy or very fortunate, and many of us are neither. That, I think, is why the hype wines that Oset was talking about are so interesting. They’re not cheap, often. Sometimes they’re $25 or $30. They might be scarce. But you can be a part of that sense that, “Oh, I got to try this thing that everyone is talking about, but I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it.” That is cool. It’s cool that we can have these buzzy things that don’t require decades of time to mature in whatever way you’re describing maturing, and also are not completely inaccessible to people without trust funds.
O: It’s a more egalitarian cult wine.
A: I agree.
Z: A cult wine for everyone, for the masses.
A: A cult wine for everyone.
Z: I’ve actually had wine made by an actual cult, which is a different story entirely.
A: Oh, that’s a lot.
Z: It’s really good, actually. They’re really good.
A: What kind of cult?
Z: Esther Mobley, friend of the show and wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a piece a number of years ago about Renaissance Vineyard. It was run by — I don’t remember what the name of the cult was. They were very into antiquity, and particularly, the Romans. The property has a lot of statues and columns.
O: Are you referencing the Ivy League or…?
A: It’s the Ivy League.
O: I don’t know. Could you be referring to that?
Z: It’s out in the middle of the Sierra foothills, so I don’t think so.
A: But who knows? It could be a secret club from Yale or something.
Z: Definitely could be one of those, too. But they made a bunch of wine, and some of it was actually really, really good. I still have some bottles. Adam — or Oset — if you ever actually come visit, you’re welcome to have some. That’s the closest to cult wine that I own.
A: I love that. We’re gonna let you go and have this conversation. We want to set it up real quick so we can try the wine when you get back.
Z: You can hear me talk about cult wines with a person who makes cult wines, including one we’re about to try on the other side of this interview. Elizabeth Bourcier is the winemaker at Bionic Wines, technically in Oregon, but basically in Washington (she’s in Walla Walla). We’ll give that a listen and then come back and try some of her wine.
A CONVERSATION WITH ELIZABETH BOURCIER, RESIDENT VIGNERONNE OF BIONIC WINES
Z: For the “VinePair Podcast,” I’m Zach Geballe. Joining me today is Elizabeth Bourcier. She’s the resident vigneronne at Bionic Wines in, well, technically Washington State, technically Oregon. It’s a little hazy there on the border. Elizabeth, thanks so much for your time.
Elizabeth Bourcier: Hey, thank you for having me. It’s really great to be here.
Z: Yeah, I’m very excited about this conversation. We’re going to talk about some things that I find fascinating in the world of wine. Maybe first before we dive into some of those specific questions, you can start by just telling the listeners a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you come to Bionic Wines and wine in general?
E: I grew up with a family of wine drinkers, and we actually even have a bloodline to a family winery in the Bordeaux region of France. My family kind of always enjoyed wine and introduced it to me from a young age to learn about it at the dinner table. I was always asking questions, and my father pretty much told me that I could study wine, and that really sparked my interest. So I heard that the Walla Walla Community College was going to be starting a program. I moved up to Walla Walla when I was 18 years old, right after I graduated high school, to start the first year of Walla Walla Community College Viticulture Program. After that, I transferred to Cal Poly to get my bachelor’s degree in viticulture. From there, I did a little traveling and some harvest abroad and in California. I ended up back here in the Pacific Northwest. I had met Christophe before, and I heard that he was hiring and I interviewed for the job. That was back in 2008. So I started there as an oenologist and have worked my way up over the years, and that’s how I ended up here.
Z: For people who aren’t familiar with Bionic Wines, can you give a little background on the winery and on Christophe. Who is that?
E: Definitely. Christophe is originally from Champagne, France in the town of Charly Sur Marne. He comes from a long family lineage of Champagne growers, and his family owns a Champagne house. Christophe always wanted to learn more and explore more. Instead of continuing work with the family at that time, he wanted to go and work abroad and work some harvests. So he ended up coming to the United States back in 1993 to work an internship at a winery in Walla Walla. He ended up doing some more traveling and returned back to Washington state. His original goal was to plant some Pinot Noir or work at a winery in the Willamette Valley. But one day in Milton- Freewater outside of Walla Walla, where we are situated, he drove through the area and saw the stones. He literally jumped out of the car and said, “This is it.” His friend who was driving at the time was like, “What do you mean, ‘This is it’”? And he was like, “This is where I’m going to plant vines.” And his friend was like, “You’re crazy.” Because nobody plants vines like this, it was pure stones that really reminded Christophe of the galets you see in Châtenay. He’s like, “No, this is where I’m going to do it.” So in March 1997, Christophe had the first modern-day vines in that area and has since established almost 70 acres in the stones of Milton-Freewater.
Z: By the time you come on board in 2008, some of his wines have already garnered a lot of critical acclaim and attention. For some of our listeners who are definitely in the wine industry and even for those who are not, there are people who might think about getting involved with an operation as highly regarded as an operation as that as very exciting. Obviously, I’m sure it was and is thrilling to work on wines that are so highly regarded, but also maybe a little bit scary. Maybe for you individually starting out there, there’s a little bit of anonymity. But the wines are going to be heavily prized, collected, scrutinized, reviewed, etc. When you first started out working for Bionic Wines, was that something that you thought about or were you just like, “Hey, I need a job.”?
E: Even when I joined in 2008, it was relatively early in the Washington Walla Walla scene, and places were definitely established. But I had heard about Christophe and his wines. I had actually come out to tour the vineyards when I was in school. I tried some of the wines and I also worked in some higher-end restaurants through my college years in Seattle and had the opportunity to try some Cayuse wines from customers who brought them in. More than, like, scared, I was so intrigued. So it wasn’t so scary to me. It was very exciting because I had never tasted wines like that anywhere in Washington, but even the United States. They were so terroir-driven. It was something so new to me that I was like, “What is this? And how is it so amazing?” I couldn’t really believe it. They’re wines that really make you think. So getting involved with it was what I’ve always wanted to do, to work with wines like that that are authentic. And so it felt really right to me.
Z: For people who are not super familiar with the wines, can you talk a little bit about what you guys make in terms of varieties and styles and some basics about the wines? Because again, part of what is mentioned in this conversation is that these are what some would call cult wines. They’re certainly highly regarded and prized and not produced in huge quantities. Some of our listeners may have even heard of some of the labels or the wines, but may not have ever tried them. Can you talk a little bit about what kind of what you guys make? And obviously, that list has grown over the years.
E: Our main focus is Syrah. We also do Grenache and Tempranillo and some Bordeaux varietals, so some Cab Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet. But definitely our focus is Syrah from all of our estate vineyards that are all in the stones of Milton-Freewater. Underneath Bionic Wines, we have different brands. We’ve got the Cayuse brand, we’ve got No Girls brand, and then we also have the Horsepower brand, which is tight-spaced vines that are all worked with our draft horses. We also have Hors Categorie vineyard, a little bit outside Milton-Freewater, it’s just one vineyard planted up near the North Fork of the Walla Walla River and converges with the South Fork. It’s actually a vineyard that’s planted on a pretty steep slope. We also have Christophe’s Champagnes. There’s a lot of different brands, a lot of different wines, a lot of small labels within Bionic Wines. But there are a lot of opportunities to work with some different varietals. Definitely the core foundation of what Cayuse is all about is the stones and the terroir. The place where we are is really the foundation of what we do, and it’s really what makes the wines so unique.
Z: Very cool. I don’t want to get too deep into winemaking just because I could spend forever there and I’m sure you could, too. In terms of what you guys do in the winery, obviously there are a lot of different approaches to winemaking, whether with Syrah or those other varieties. But broadly speaking, could you talk about what you guys do in the winery and the ways in which the things you do or do not do help bring that terroir to life or help you capture it in a finished wine?
E: Sure. That’s definitely a really important part of the whole Bionic Wines concept. We’ve been biodynamic almost since the very beginning of the vines being planted. Christophe did decide to start converting to biodynamics right after his first couple vineyards were planted and we practice biodynamics in the vineyards as well as the wine creation. I think that’s definitely something that’s very important to the finished product and to what we do in philosophy. Inside the wine studio where we create the wines, it’s all natural. We don’t add any commercial yeast or commercial bacteria or malolactics. So it’s all-natural fermentation, low-impact winemaking. It really lets the wines and the varietals show through and speak for themselves. The goal is to let that terroir show through because it’s such a unique growing area, and the wines are definitely so unique, they don’t need much.
Z: Again, for folks who maybe have had a chance to try your wines or would like to look for them in the future or who have maybe had the opportunity to try other wines from within Milton-Freewater, what are some of the hallmarks of the wines? Obviously, there have been other plantings since Christophe provided a proof of concept for the whole notion that you could plant vines and make wine from there. I have my own thoughts on this, but a lot of our listeners may not be super familiar with the Rocks District or tried many of the wines. In my experience, there are characteristics that really show through across a wide range of different varieties.
E: We like to refer to them as the stones, and there’s that word “Cayuse,” the original vineyard that Christophe planted that translates literally into “the stone.” That’s what it is. We talk about the stones and there’s a savoriness and a saltiness. This complete minerality-driven wines and they can be smoky and meaty. Not smoky in the smoke taint way. I’m talking about smoke like charcoal or a cold fireplace. When we talk about the characteristics, they’re really mineral-driven wines. I know that term gets thrown around a lot from people, but it’s hard to explain these wines in any other way. They’re so unique. When you try wines from this area, it’s unlike anything else in the world. Because literally the soil is unlike anything else in the world. There’s really nowhere else in the world other than seabeds, where you have this kind of basalt stone. It’s so unique to have that and you see that in the wine.
Z: It’s something to note, too, you can maybe correct me if I’m wrong here. But my understanding is that one of the things that’s different, as opposed to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and other regions in the southern Rhône, or maybe a few other places in the world, here you have stone that’s like hundreds of feet deep, right? It’s not like a surface layer. There’s incredible depth to these bits of stones.
E: You have that exactly right. Down something like 400 or more of pure basalt stone, which is very different from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I’ve never been there, but you’ve got a couple of layers and feet of the stone of the galet. So it’s pure, those vines go deep down continuing to look for resources from nutrients and for water. They go so deep.
Z: I have been there and I can tell you, you can pick up a couple of of stones and find dirt. It’s not that hard. That’s definitely not possible in Milton-Freewater. I want to come back to something you were talking about a little bit before and ask you to expand on it a little bit. As you mentioned in the course of your time with Bionic Wines, you guys have added a few different vineyards and a few different labels, either to highlight some of these individual vineyards or just offer an opportunity to do some slightly different things. We’re not going to do PR work, but anyone who’s curious can search and see there are any number of 100-point wines. They’re a lot of very high regard. The wines are not inexpensive. So it’s definitely fair to say that anything that you guys put out under whatever label is going to get a lot of attention paid to it. So how do you, as a vigneronne and as a team more broadly think about, “We’re comfortable putting our name on this,” or “We think this is going to be as well received by our subscription list members, by our critics, etc., as everything else we’ve done?” Is there some added weight? Not that you necessarily can speak from personal experience, but I’m sure you know lots of other winemakers. I imagine for some wineries, it’s like, “Hey, we have a new project. We’re just going to put it out there.” They don’t really think about what it’s going to mean for their reputation in the way that you guys might have to.
E: It’s really interesting because when I started that Cayuse, it was amazing how detail-oriented Christophe was with everything he did. There is so much thought that goes into every aspect of the wine and that foundation of the vineyards. That’s where the work happens, and that’s the reason. We do a lot in the wine studio as well, but once the product comes in it’s easy for us to not do much to let it show through. Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure because every decision we make has to be very thought out. What is the goal? How are we going to do this? Money is definitely not the driver here. Everything we do has to be justified. There’s a reason Christophe has gotten to the point he’s gotten at, and it’s 25 years of very hard work. But I do see a lot of wineries now where a lot of people do the early releases of the wine and put it out there as their new vintage. I wonder sometimes, too, “Are you just making money, or do you really feel great about that product?” I think it’s important for the industry to look at that right now because we need to remember that quality is important. We could make more wine. At Cayuse, we can make a lot more and sell a lot more. But we don’t. It’s about balance and making sure that the product is literally the highest quality that it can be every time we put something out. And if it’s not, we don’t really sell it.
Z: One of the last things I want to ask about, when you talk about wineries like yours, where there are very highly regarded wines that are not made in huge quantities — there’s been a conscious attempt to keep the quality extremely high — that inevitably creates circumstances where demand possibly does outstrip supply. Presumably there are any number of individual consumers and collectors, wine shops, restaurants, etc. who might want to buy your wines, and there isn’t enough to sell all that potential demand. And of course, it creates a secondary market. Again, that’s something that not a lot of wineries have to really think about. If someone buys a bottle and then resells it, if they even do that, it’s not going to meaningfully appreciate in value. But with Cayuse wines, along with any small number of other wines in the world, people buy them to collect them. They buy them as investments. Having talked to and heard from some producers at other places that have wines that fall into that same general category, they are of two minds about it. Obviously, it’s flattering in some sense that people are willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a bottle of wine. But of course, in the secondary market, that money does not come back to the winery at all. It does create potentially weird incentives for people to get their hands on the wine without ever intending to drink it. Again, I’m not a winemaker, so I don’t know. But if I were a winemaker, it would kind of bum me out that people are buying my wines for reasons other than just to drink them. How do you feel about that? I know it’s kind of a broad question.
E: Definitely for Christophe and I, that bums us out, because that’s not what wine’s all about. The intent to buy Cayuse is to drink Cayuse wine. It’s special if you get to that point where you can buy it. That’s a bummer that people would want to do that, and that makes us really sad. When Christophe and I buy wine, that’s not what we do. I don’t go and sell my bottles. We buy wine to drink our wine. With that said, there’s not a lot of time in the day to go around and police every single person on the list and try to find out who did what. People are going to buy the wine, and there’s going to be people doing that out there. It’s not what we like and it does make us pretty disappointed. But at the end of the day, it’d make us go crazy if we were constantly trying to track them all down and find it. If we see it or we hear about and someone has a wine shop and suddenly it’s showing up there, there are some things that are very obvious, we are able to say, “Sorry, but you won’t be receiving the wine anymore.” And then we’ve done that, definitely. But with that said, the more expensive the wines get and the more people want them and the more people hear about them, the more people are going to want to try to get their hands on it and make money. You’re seeing it happening with a lot of more expensive wines all over. It’s too bad. Christophe and I would love for people to just buy our wines to enjoy our wines. That’s the goal here.
Z: Excellent. Well, that is good to hear, I will say. That is an ethos that, from my experience, generally shared — but not universally shared by every producer that I’ve talked to. Mostly off the record, frankly. I would say, it’s not so much that they are making wine for reasons other than people to enjoy them. Let’s say that they are more OK with the secondary market going crazy because it has allowed them to bump up the primary cost a lot higher than maybe it would have. Obviously, making wine is not an easy proposition. It’s difficult, it’s fickle. It’s time-consuming, labor-intensive, etc., especially the way you guys make wine. And of course, in any situation or in almost all situations, there is a limited supply. To some extent, as demand grows and grows and grows, the cost grows. It’s capitalism, the cost will go up, too. Well, Elizabeth, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. It’s fascinating to learn more about you and about your wines and this whole world of highly coveted and beloved wines. So again, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
E: Definitely. Thanks so much, it was great speaking with you.
A TASTING OF BIONIC WINES
A: Zach, we’re about to try a cult wine. This is Cayuse Vineyards. But this is still Bionic Wines?
Z: Yes, so Bionic Wines is kind of like the overarching company. They have a few different labels now. Cayuse refers to some of the original vineyards that the founder, Christophe Baron, planted. Some of their more recent plantings are under the Horsepower label, the No Girls label, etc. But Cayuse refers to their wines from their core initial planting, including this En Chamberlin 2017 Syrah, which we’re about to have. Have either of you had Syrah from the Rocks District Walla Walla before?
A: No way.
O: I don’t really drink much Syrah.
Z: Oh my God, Oset. OK, we’ll pick that up another time.
A: I do love Syrah.
Z: This will probably surprise you. Well, just taste it.
A: Let’s swirl a little in the glass.
O: I like your ASMR here.
Z: Got to get that authentic sound, Oset.
A: It does not taste like Syrah.
O: It does not, from my limited exposure as a leisure-time Syrah drinker.
A: There’s a lot of menthol going on.
O: It is menthol, isn’t it?
Z: There’s definitely an herbaceous note to it, for sure. It’s got a bitter herb, you could say there’s a tiny fernet quality to it, for sure. But it very much belies the classic expectation for a West Coast cult wine in that it’s not big and ripe and fruity and heavily oaked in anything. It’s very wild and sort of gamey and meaty.
A: It’s extremely gamey. That’s what I was going to say, it’s like raw meat.
Z: That’s a weird signature of this AVA. Not just Cayuse wines, but basically everything I’ve had from there, especially what’s made from Syrah or Grenache. It has this character to it. It’s just wild. It’s also one of the most bizarre wine regions I’ve ever seen. It has a sort of superficial similarity to a lot of the Southern Rhône, because it has these tumbled river rocks as the vineyard base. But when you go to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and you walk through the vineyards, the stones are a couple of feet deep. Here, it’s 400 feet of this. There’s nothing else. It’s f*cking wild.
A: It’s a crazy wine.
O: I have a hard time putting it into a bucket. It certainly defies buckets.
A: It’s one of these wines, Zach, where I can see how it would become cult because it’s hard to grasp. I think that’s what a lot of people like about cult wines is that they’re challenging. As you said, they’re not for everybody. So I think that that sort of style of wine supersedes others. This wine is from this very sick place. It tastes very different from other things you’ve had before. So therefore it becomes this wine that everybody goes apesh*t for. It’s really an interesting wine.
Z: I have one other piece of this that very much connects to what you just said, Adam. Some people who are interested in buying expensive wine, who are not necessarily wine connoisseurs per se but are people who like to spend money on expensive things, are drawn to wines that have very distinctive characteristics and are very easy to recognize in their own way. Certainly my experience selling them in restaurants has been that some people are turned off by the style; they don’t like it. But some people just want something that’s both intense and complex and offers all of that. But in this case, obviously in a very different way than your classic Napa Valley cult Cabernet, which gives you a very different kind of intensity and complexity. Just from different source material, different winemaking approach, etc. This has come along at the same time that similarly styled wines from France, like from the Northern Rhône, have also become very popular and in some cases, kind of eye-poppingingly expensive. It makes sense because in a way, they are very different both from the classic expensive Pinot Noir Burgundies and also Bordeaux or Cabernet-based wines.
A: Interesting. This has been a really fascinating conversation. And I want to thank you, Zach, for sharing this wine with us.
Z: Thank Elizabeth. I just gave her your address.
A: Thank you, Elizabeth. Very cool wine and a really fascinating conversation. I’d love to hear what listeners think. What do you think makes a wine cult? Or what do you think the definition of cult wine is? Hit us up at [email protected]; we always love to hear those opinions. Or slide into people’s DMs, it’s fine.
O: If you’ve ever squirreled away bottles of Joe Swick, this is your time to speak up.
A: Yeah, exactly.
Z: We’ll see you at Sotheby’s in 20 years.
A: Oset, we’ll see you for the piquette sale in 20 years.
O: Yeah, maybe.
A: It’s probably all going to be flat.
O: I’m probably going to be on the coast of Italy at that point with my earnings. So whatever, guys.
A: With that, have a great weekend, both of you. Zach, I’ll see you on Monday.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.