Wind Gap Pinot Gris Windsor Oaks Vineyard Chalk Hill 2010: California Orange Wine

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California, along with pockets of Australia, is the new hotbed for New World experimentation. The push away from the dominant focus of the industry in the last couple decades on all the big selling grapes, and a rich, extracted style has exploded the diversity of the region. One of my favourite wine blogs – Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews – spends considerable time exploring in depth these exciting new developments in California and the fascinating people behind them. This is the California we need to start noticing.

The fascination with orange wine has blossomed into a relatively significant and inspired movement in California to experiment with skin contact and white wine fermentation. One of the early innovators (though not the first) was Pax Mahle, who started realizing the potential for skin contact whites back when he was running the eponymous Pax winery. Now at his new project Wind Gap, Pax has started releasing some of these wines. One of my favourites, and perhaps the truest orange wine of the bunch, is his Pinot Gris from the Windsor Oaks vineyard.

Pax purchases all his fruit via contracts with wine growers. In most cases, he is heavily involved in farming decisions as well. Windsor Oaks vineyards encompass several AVAs, but this Pinot Gris is grown in the Chalk Hill AVA at the northeast quadrant of Russian River. The soils here are volcanic, chalky white ash.

This is a textbook ‘orange’ Pinot Gris, with orange pith notes on the nose as expected, but not in a dominant way. Spice and minerality course through the wine and it is far more focused on texture and structure than fruit, though the fruit quality is very high. The finish is impressively long and the wine possesses a solid tannin structure, embodying the key elements of great orange wine – chameleon characteristics of red and white wine that pair with so many foods. In fact, I chose to drink this with some Spanish octopus lightly fried in olive oil and sherry, which worked amazingly well.

I can’t objectively say that this wine is the second coming – though it is extremely good. But right now, in the moment I sip, think about and imbibe this wine with an impromptu octopus fry, it’s a pretty insane experience. It is moments like this that confirm the best wine is about confronting challenges and creating something from new ideas so much more than it is about supremacy, status and power.

Purchased a couple years ago from Pax himself. I am due back for another visit soon to this, one of my favourite wineries in the U.S.

And by the way, can we start paying attention to California again, the right way? These great wines from small time true boundary pushers are on our doorstep and yet this market’s infatuation seems preoccupied with the old guard.

~$30 at the winery


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