They call this place a “vinegarden”. And if you find yourself near Clear Lake, Lake County, California about two hours outside both San Fran and Sacramento, take my advice, spend the day with Jim Fetzer, President of Ceago, and his winemaker, Javier Tapia. For not only are the wines delicious – especially the Sauvignon Blanc – but the history lessons they offer on the practices of biodynamic wine production are fantastic. Jim and Javier have a way of literally walking you through the practices, step by step, as they lead you through their living vinegarden in such a way that you’ll come away with an understanding of their art and an appreciation of biodynamic wine-making as something actually quite practical.
Jim Fetzer has been working in the field of natural, organic and now biodynamic wine making since his time with his father in the 1970s. His father taught him to consider the phases of the moon as a practical time for “racking” the barrels, for example. The dark of the moon results in the greatest gravity, and Fetzer was taught to use those days for “racking”, when the sediment would naturally be pulled to the bottom of the barrels . More than 30 years ago, the Fetzers understood the simple logic behind low and high tides and how these factors, tied to the natural forces of Mother Nature, could be used to benefit the winemaker. Today’s biodynamic practices, in full force and certified by Demeter-USA at Ceago Vinegarden, are the natural progression of Fetzer’s life long work in the field of natural wine making.
Touring this biodynamic place results in a clear understanding of not only the winemaking practices, but the entire theory of a self-sustaining ecosystem. There are diverse crops, such as olive orchards, a beautiful lavender field and gardens galore. Biodynamics call for multiple cultures occurring at once in a vineyard, and Ceago takes this theory to heart. Further showcasing the work of biodynamic farming, you’ll witness rye grass and poppies growing between the vines, bringing beneficial insects to the vineyard. There are so many other amazing, seemingly simple, and practical measures in place here as well, from the chickens that protect the vines from worm infestation to the sheep that assist the vineyard in their own little ways. It’s truly a wonderful, natural and beautiful place, and I cannot think of a better way to spend a long afternoon.
And then, there is this wine they call their best:
Tasting the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Kathleen’s Vineyard, self-described by Fetzer as the “main” wine emanating from the Ceago cellars, is a breath of pure sunshine. The fruit purity can only be described as being miles above practically everything else in the region. But it’s the slight effervescence that truly captures one’s attention. By resting the wine in one of the coldest cellars you’ll ever visit, Fetzer and Tapia aim to trap the wine’s natural spritz, allowing the wine to have an ever-so-slightly “frizzante” quality. This combination of fruit and spritz – just a touch, mind you – offers one of the most unique and lip-smacking wines you’ll enjoy all Summer.
And at direct from the winery pricing, this will be the best $16 you spend on a bottle of wine….