Bethel Heights ÆOLIAN Pinot – Truly Profound

2014 Bethel Heights ÆOLIAN Pinot – 95 points Wine Spectator & Truly Profound

In 1977, bound by a love for fine wine, the Casteel, Dudley and Webb families acquired 75 acres northwest of Salem, Oregon. Their acquisition included 14 acres of un-rooted, freshly planted cuttings. These were promising times for the group, and they looked forward to their new life away from academia.

The next few years saw the clearing of acreage, additional plantings, inaugural bottlings – they bottled their first homemade basement batch in 1981 – and the first commercial offer, in 1984. The Eola Hills gave these families their independence, and some mighty fine wines, as well. It’s a true family affair, with the third generation of cousins now lending their hands in the winery.

Those early years were amazing according to the families:

“What we found here was a living landscape – a geological mosaic of benches and slopes covered with healthy living soils, a crystal clear stream running down the middle through a deep, wooded ravine, and a rich diversity of wildlife to share it all. Sheer magic.”

The ÆOLIAN wind blows up from the Van Duzer Corridor, west of Bethel Heights. It has been the singular, most defining aspect of this place since the 1800s. The ÆOLIAN wind has carved mountain, land and vineyard over the decades.

This is the moniker for Bethel Heights’ great Pinot Noirs. Nearly 30 vintages ago I tasted here, on my first visit to these windswept, hilltop sites. I recall that visit each time I taste their 2014s, especially the ÆOLIAN bottling. I love it, and consider it among the most profound wines I’ve yet tasted from this inimitable family of the vine.


2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” Pinot Noir – Phenomenal Old-Vine Beauty


Where The Rippon Magic Happens


I first began drinking these phenomenal Pinots with the early 2000s, earning the chance to work directly with the estate a couple years ago with a small release of their 2010s and sensational 2003s. My adoration is well known to friends, family and colleagues alike, with the Wine Advocate on record as well, referring to Nick’s wines as “Pinot Noirs that rekindled memories of those glorious Burgundy 2005’s”. You’ll be as thrilled as I am to hear that Nick’s most well-priced treasure – the 2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” – has finally landed in the States – ready for your immediate, hedonistic enjoyment!

The site which would eventually become known as Rippon was first planted to 25 various varietals during the 1970s by its founder, Rolfe Mills. Rolfe had spent time in the Douro Valley during the 1940s and the site of schist, rich in foliated mica and quartzite, on his land in Central Otago sparked a great curiosity. Rolfe began experimenting with his soils, isolating a parcel on the western board of Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka.

This ancient parcel is Rippon’s north-facing escarpment, and it forms the meeting point of terminal moraines and coarse gravels, all based in schist, where Central Otago’s earliest vines were planted. Rippon’s Mature Vines cuvee is issued from all of the fully developed Pinot vines growing in this expansive parcel. This is where it all began for Rippon, and the fruit of the vine from this parcel bears witness to the perfectionist style Nick (and his father Rolfe before him) is renowned for.

2012 “Rippon Mature Vines”

For those new to these pages, I’d like to take the time to remind folks how vital Nick’s training has been to the continuity of these world class Pinot Noirs. Not only are these the oldest plantings in the region, but they are tended by a man who spent his formative years working the soil and terroirs of Burgundy; he knew how vital his understanding of such things would be. To that end, Nick tenured with de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée Conti) , and spent time with Jean-Jacques Confuron, Lucien Jacob, Alain Meunier, Nicolas Potel and Domaine de la Vougeraie as well. His are truly the wines of a master craftsman.





Here’s hoping that my new-found digs (as a Central Market Wine Manager) will lead to an eventual placement of these “Natural” wines here in Texas!

TODAY’S REBELS OFFERING A DIFFERENT APPROACH Back in 1994, I joined a small, dedicated French-wine import company that would later change its name from International Gourmet Corp – as we moved away from including olive oils and vinegars in our offers – to European Wine Group. Our focus was bringing to America what we discovered in the artisanal, family-owned and operated estates of Fra … Read More

via Cepage Noir



Back in 1994, I joined a small, dedicated French-wine import company that would later change its name from International Gourmet Corp – as we moved away from including olive oils and vinegars in our offers – to European Wine Group. Our focus was bringing to America what we discovered in the artisanal, family-owned and operated estates of France’s most dedicated of boutique wineries. Expanding our selections to include Spain and later Italy, our name would change to signal our broadening collection, but our focus would never stray from our roots as a primarily French-wine focused operation.

During the 1990s, the job of selling wine was a different animal than it is today. I would spend 5 days a week on the road; visiting distributors on Mondays, their retailers on the following days, and wrapping up my weeks in front of those same distributor’s restaurant clients. If I made it home by Saturday night, I was lucky. Monday came, and I was on another plane, off to another city, checking into another hotel and lugging another set of samples through the streets of yet another bustling city or rural town. There were no Skype meetings, no teleconferences, precious little use of e*mail and most of us still preferred pagers to cell phones.

But perhaps the biggest difference between the prehistoric 1990s and today’s techie style of sales was the reliance on one particular method of promotion in particular. In the 1990s, Robert Parker, Jr aka The Wine Advocate was THE mode of transportation to the top for your wines as an importer/wine-maker/any type of person in the wine business. A rating in the range of 90 points or higher by the man with the golden palate practically guaranteed your wine a place in this country’s wine shops, no matter the size or scope of that shop; you could also bank on a place at the table in just about any style restaurant you sauntered through. Yep, the points got the placements!

Today’s importers face a very different challenge, however. Finding placements in a terribly crowded marketplace, further complicated by an ongoing recession, has forced importers, especially the relatively new ones, to change their approach. The new methods employed by innovative importers reflect this imperative need for creative marketing. Thanks to attacks from bloggers, authors such as Alice Feiring and other professional wine publications, Parker points simply don’t pull the weight any more. Indeed, to place the wines, you need another gimmick.

Enter the phrase, “Natural Wine”. Back in the 1990s, we conservative importers never dreamed of this moniker. We used terms long-considered staples of the industry. Words such as artisanal, boutique, family-owned, un-fined, un-filtered, terroir; these were our selling points. We described our wines with full sentences and long, sometimes drawn out, presentations. Then we concluded the dog-and-pony shows with the coup de grâce, the omnipotent PARKER POINT.

Today, gifted importers turn NOT to Parker, and NOT to long-winded discussions of earth, soil, climate, hillsides, blah, blah, blah. They turn, instead to describing a method of wine-making that succinctly describes every wine offered in their portfolio. Rather than take wine after wine in their presentation and labor over the specifics of Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Languedoc, Jura, etc, etc, these new wave, highly educated importers spend their time talking it up with young, hip retailers on the theories of “Natural Wine” practices and how those transcendental ideas make better wine. And seeing as these brave new souls of the import world have the writings of Feiring and other respected journals and magazines on their side, perhaps they’ve tapped into a whole new method of self-promotion. And if the placements are coming, that’s the whole point!

One of these new wave importers, whose wines I’ve personally consumed – and loved – on many occasions, is offered below. And while we still cannot find them here in Texas (so typical for our antiquated three tier system and the useless distributors in this State), a search of, or better yet, a call to them personally will do the trick:


Jenny & Francois Selections: 

Importer of Natural Wines

Natural Wine Revolution Prevails!


2009 chemins de bassac isa Rose 

2006 Domaine des 2 anes corbieres fontanilles 

Link to full article:


Precise elegant wines from Domaine Binner 

Excellent natural white – Derain’s Allez goutons

COTURRI 2007 Testa Vineyards Carignane

Domaine Des 2 Anes 2008 premiers pas Corbieres

Link to full article:

Jenny & François Selections
o: 646 775 6400
m: 646 322 4254
Paris: 06 11 10 28 56




Yet another bottle that exemplifies one of my proverbial answers to that almost weekly question posed by friends and family, “Hey Christopher, what ‘cha drinkin’ these days?”

I once shared the tale of a full afternoon tasting event that involved several wines from this importer, an afternoon degustation that I can still taste on my palate and that continues to reverberate across my taste-buds. One such wine of that afternoon was the value jewel I routinely order in case lots for weekly quaffing; the wine I’d like to introduce to all of you, again, for the first time.

And while Dressner is one of the wackiest men I’ve ever Twittered or Facebooked with, thanks to his “one-of-a-kind” personalities (to put it as politically correctly as possible), don’t let that come between you and this fantastic value from the South of France.

And like I always advise, buy it through … Texas retailers are far too pricey, thanks to our 3-tiered system and the ridiculous profits taken by useless Texas-based wholesalers.

Check it out in more detail here (BTW, THE CURRENT VINTAGE IS THE ’07):

Ceago – Fantastic Value, Biodynamic Pioneer


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….

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AmByth Estate – Biodynamic Beauty


While on our recent tour in search of the perfect location for our next venture, I took a few moments one early morning to check the hotel computer, just in case my in-box had any surprises for me.  My passion for the world of biodynamic wines has me sharing every tidbit of information I come across these days so it’s not unusual to have 40 or 50 new emails waiting for me some mornings.  This particular morning, with its crisp clean Virginia air and cool blue sky greeting me, would see my in-box offering me one of the more personally exciting notes I’ve received lately.

I suppose most folks wouldn’t think twice about receiving a short note from Demeter-USA, in fact I’d be willing to bet a majority of folks have never heard of the organization.  But for me, with all the efforts I’ve put forth in the formation of our new company, beginning with the months of research that have gone towards this new business plan, all with the end goal in sight of a venture based almost exclusively on biodynamic wines and organic foods, this note was a sort of recognition.  It was, in a way, a small beacon, if you will, perhaps nudging me forward, encouraging me to not give up hope. 

The work we’ve put into this plan of ours, this plan to build a business that offers wine drinkers the purity and expressiveness that is the natural result of biodynamic wine making, has been intense.  We now are turning our attention to gathering like-minded individuals to build the foundation, and these are the times that try my soul.  But the letter from the Marketing Director from Demeter-USA has given me just enough encouragement to move forward.  My dedication to these products, fueled even more by a taste of AmByth Estate’s wines, continues….

AmByth Estate, based in Templeton, CA, is a Demeter certified biodynamic vineyard producing Demeter certified biodynamic wines.  For those new to, or newly interested in the world of biodynamic wines, I encourage a visit to for a brief introduction.  My place in this picture is one of advocate or ambassador.  I have tasted enough of these types of wines to know how good they can be and to have formed a preference for them, resulting in my dedication to building a company that will offer them to the public.  Demeter, however, offers insights on the “how’s” and “why’s” of biodynamics. 

Returning to AmByth Estate now, we find ourselves in the appellation of Paso Robles, at the region’s first and ONLY certified biodynamic winery.  Much like another of my favorite producers, and very much in keeping with the philosophies, you’ll find only native yeasts here.  Engage with me, or any wine-maker serious about terroir, and you’ll have yourself hours of conversation on that one fact alone; native yeast is one paramount factor to producing wines that speak of their origin.  And these wines from AmByth (the Welsh word meaning “forever”), as I’m fond of saying, scream of their place and time.

AmByth Estate is most-known for their Grenache, and it is precisely this wine that I find particularly worthy of your attention.  Revealing complexities and nuances reminiscent of France’s Chateauneufs from producers like Villeneuve or single vineyard Rhone producers such as Montirius, this is a Grenache for pleasure seekers.  Bursting with black and red fruits, all wrapped in a delicious frame of assorted spices and perfect acidity, this beauty will marry well with not only grilled meats, but your favorite pastas and medium cheeses, too.  The purity and balanced alcohol level make it a wine for the entire meal and the aromas continue to develop for hours.  Take your time with this one, you’ll be rewarded….

And at $135 a three-pack ($45 per bottle), it’s a great buy, too!

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And as always, I’d like to know what you think:

Biodynamic Updates – And Some New Wines to Try


We’ve just returned from our scouting trip to Virginia and my mind this morning is swimming with ideas.  The local wine scene in Richmond is vastly different than the one evidenced by consumers in the metropolis where I currently reside, with the most obvious contrast being the abundance of boutique shops adorning the landscape.  From one corner of that beautiful city, with its trees as tall as skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, boutique wine shops, offering wines I’ve come to love over the past many years and decades, open the consumer’s eyes to a world of wine completely unknown in this big city where I reside.

As my family and I researched the market, we discovered that Virginia, in particular Richmond, is quite suited for the type of business we wish to bring to the good people of this friendly region.  And having visited with more than a dozen locals, each with their own personal insights, it would seem that while the market is ripe for what we have in mind, our product selection – not to mention location – is going to be crucial. 

Of the nearly dozen stores I spent time visiting, only one (that’s 1) offered the community the types of biodynamic wines that will be the focus of our new venture.  Opportunity?  I certainly like to think so.  Especially when one considers how over-priced the offers were.  Pricing these naturally made wines that far above national average only serves to diminish the marketability of these wines.  And let’s face it, these are not mainstream wines in the first place.  Most biodynamic wines are from places the average consumer has never heard of – or at the very least rarely considered – and we as advocates of these great vinous specimens need to price these wines as consumer-friendly as possible if we’re to ever have a shot at repeat purchases.  Selling an $18 Loire Valley Pineau d’Aunis for $24, simply because you have no competition (yet) is not likely to encourage repeat purchases.

That being said, I did notice there were other, even more obvious opportunities in the market, speaking on the biodynamic front in particular.  And understanding California’s hesitance to jump on the wagon so adored by the Europeans, resulting in fewer biodynamic wineries out West than what we find from across the pond, it’s probably reasonable to see so few wines of the genre adorning shelves not only in Virginia, but anywhere these days.  West Coast offers of the biodynamic sort were quite difficult to locate while in Virginia, just as in many states.  But now that I’ve returned home, to my cellar, I once again bring to your attention the work being performed by one of the best.

His name is Coturri, and his wines, from some of the purest and most biodynamic in California, are among my favorites.  Drinking Tony’s wines, as I hope many of you reading this will resolve yourselves to do, secures his place as a leader in the natural wine movement.  His wines not only “speak” of their origin, they quite literally scream of place and time.  His Pinots prove that yes, indeed, with attention to pure, vineyard sustaining practices while harvesting with an eye towards balanced acidities and lower sugars, this country can very well offer the Burgundian palate a wine they’ll love.  And at price points that make most “simple Bourgognes” appear over priced.

Try these out friends, and let me know what you think:


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Some Smashing New Discoveries


These past several days have most certainly inched along.  These have been ones spent working through the final pages of the business plan.  And these are the dreaded yet absolutely vital dozen or so pages known as the “financial” section, where the passionate prose takes a back seat to pure numbers; where the left-brain oriented folks will grasp the business plan firmly in hand and have their most satisfaction.  More than 150 hours of the most mind-numbing number-crunching work has resulted in balanced books, 5 years of projections and Certified Public Accountant approved cash flow statements and so much more that span 5 years in to the future.  And through it all, I’ve managed to find the time to discover the road to some pretty amazing new discoveries on the wine front, too.

Those who’ve followed along have no doubt noticed my unabashed recognition for the biodynamic wines making headlines these past many weeks and months.  I’ve long preached the benefits and merits of the organic and natural stuff, but the advancements in the world of biodynamics, where wine-makers are taking the organic movement to a far greater level, and where we’re all witnessing an ever-expanding brother/sister-hood of members, is offering the interested and eager wine-consumer of this new generation some of the most intriguing wines of our life-time.  Where once the term organic wine conjured up notions of barely palatable juice, the work of extremely high-profile wineries in the field of biodynamic wine now elicits excitement as the world becomes ever-increasingly awakened.

So you’ll all understand my obvious bit of interest at the arrival of an invitation in the form of an email just a couple of days ago.  This invitation set in motion my perusal of a website.  A website dedicated to bringing to the American wine drinker a group of wineries currently flying just a bit under the proverbial radar of the “big” wine critics.  And the moment I performed my first search of the collection, I wanted to be a part of the action. 

If you’ve listened to the murmur that’s rustling about down in the basement of the wine world today, you may have heard the little tale some like to call, “The Bloggers VS. Robert Parker.”  We bloggers have taken to proudly reviewing more and more wine these past years, with yours truly having been in the prose authoring business for more than a decade.  And while I certainly have no official magazine to call my own, I take pride in my work behind the keyboard.  Having the mighty Parker attack we bloggers, therefore, is one of the reasons I am proud to become a part of the wine critiquing community – if even on a scale as tiny as the one I’m joining today.

My hope is to introduce to my readers – whomever you few and greatly appreciated may be – some of the great biodynamic, organic and natural wines that I’m coming across through my travels these days.  And to introduce these wines to you through a wine website that you may order these products through so that you may have them delivered to your home with a peace of mind that these are wines that I personally enjoy and endorse.  Perhaps these wines have never seen the pages of the “big” reviewer, but that, to me, is all the more reason for we wine DRINKERS to seek them out.

The first group of wines I wish to bring to all of you tonight include two wines from the great naturalist Tony Coturri.  Tony works with several vineyards, both in the state I currently reside as well as his home state, some being certified organic with others certified as biodynamic.  He is one of the very few wine makers I’ve ever met who consistently discusses the importance of sugar to acid balance in his grapes at the time of harvest.  And while this may seem quite elementary, indeed it actually appears to have escaped many folks of the vine as they look for the almighty high sugar levels in their grapes for the end result of high scores.  Tony is a natural yeast proponent, knowing that natural wine can only be made with its indigenous yeasts, making him all the more one of my favorite wine producers.  Indigenous yeasts identify a wine and speak of a wine’s region / terroir / local conditions; to rob the grapes of their natural yeasts is just as detrimental as the use of land destroying chemicals or over cropping and extreme yields.  Drink these wines from Tony and you’ll be ready when I discuss my next round from him…

Also in the offers are three wines from the man known as “Mr. Green.”  Paul Dolan has been the leader in organic and now biodynamic wine making in California for more than 30 years – that’s not a typo folks, 30 years!  Since the 1970s, Dolan has been working to turn California wine making organic and his vineyards in Mendocino are certified both organic as well as biodynamic with the Dark Horse Ranch being certified biodynamic since 2005.  If ever there were a single wine maker based in California elected as THE president of the American biodynamic movement, Dolan may quite possibly be our Nicolas Joly.

I hope each person taking the time to read this short and heart felt passage will take a moment to consider these wines for your next adventure: 


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Once you’ve tried them, I fully expect a full report…
Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier

Oh, for a Glass of Wine

Another excruciating day comes to a close, witnessing me once again crunching the numbers on this business plan as we make ourselves ready for the first printing.  Thus far, only a handful of our closest allies are primed for the first draft of this 60+ page business plan.  And the pages are indeed impressive.  My mind has been on over drive these past few days and the early mornings and sleepless nights have been numerous.  This particular business plan has been born from a decade of blood, sweat and tears; there are no errors here – the holes have been filled with hindsight.

And as we’ve worked so diligently on this plan, my wife and I, we’ve set certain other parts of our lives on autopilot.  Flipping that switch has been fairly easy considering that we’re both among the ranks of the unemployed.  So we’ve set about feeding our updates to the outside world through the use of modern technology.  Google alerts, LinkedIn, TwitterFeed and a whole host of other modern gadgets assist us in our endeavors to appear “plugged in” while we bury ourselves with the task at hand.

But today, ’round late afternoon, we’d had enough.  We seriously needed a glass of wine.  And with all the work and all the research and with all the tales of righteous palate satiating we’d uncovered through all these efforts, we were not going to be satisfied with anything less than: yep you guessed it.  We wanted one of those ultimate glasses of biodynamic wines.

Ah, biodynamic wines – the allure is oh-so-strong, yet the offers in my current city of residence are so frightfully and tragically limited.

There once was a beauty of a collection in this town…. But we won’t traverse that field this evening….

Adding to our desire for a glass of the sublime was our wish for something home cooked – and not of the beef variety.  So we packed in, faced the late mid-day traffic and headed to Central Market.  The local version of this Texas dream store (for some) has taken to sending out “shopper’s cards” and coupons – good only locally (don’t dare try to use ’em in Austin, the clerks will immediately identify you as “one of the Houston shoppers”).  My wife has collected both “the card” and quite a few of the coupons, so we decided to cash them in.

It appears that the generosity emanating from the folks in charge behind the fish counter, not to mention the good will intentions motivating the “shopper’s card” rebates, have yet to topple the cash cow in the wine department.  The prices on the wines (including their discounts offered on 6 bottles or more) are pure highway robbery.  Wines once selling at a shop (that this city ran out of town on a rail) for $15 are proudly displayed for $21!  And my desired Joly?  Would we be celebrating our hard work with the beauty of Coulee?  At that price?  In that condition?  I think not.

We returned home with our fresh halibut, at a tremendous savings, and a couple blocks of cheese – proper dates, nice and fresh.  I cracked a nice bottle of white burgundy, grilled the fish and some fresh veggies and we called it a day.  Little M ate her proverbial pasta and corn on the cob and now all of us are dreaming of the day when we can direct import our dream wines right to a little corner store in Short Pump Virginia.

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier