The Mason


The story of this wine is much more a whoops, than it is an ahah!  Lorraine and I had been building a home for our family that started soon after our engagement to each other and went on for 17 years...  It was a massive and astonishingly slow ‘do it yourself’ type project that involved our entire vineyard crew at various times of year, but no architects, or designers: in other words, no one who is actually ‘accredited’ to build such a thing.  Early on as Lorraine and I were laying out the site of this wonderful and absolutely crazy project/adventure, I pointed out to her that adjacent to our home there would be a small, south facing area of about 1/3 acre that is not contiguous with any of our existing vineyards and blessed with a quaint and distant view of the Pacific Ocean.  In a moment of what must have been delirium, I contemplated out loud that we could plant a little home vineyard and make a ‘house wine’.  I question my mental state because the last thing I need is to embark on a ‘winemaking hobby’.  Obviously these grapes would have to be harvested around the same time as all our other fruit so now I would be spending 18 hours a day at my ‘day job’ during crush, and then follow that up with a couple exciting hours of ‘home winemaking’. Before I could pull the statement back, Lorraine pounced with, “Yes, we’ll plant Mourvedre and make something entirely distinct from the Alban Vineyards’ wines!”
About the best I could come up with was a litany of reasons why the site wasn’t really ideal for Mourvedre.  Even I wasn’t too convinced by my childish attempt at excuses, and when Lorraine retorted, “Everyone knows Mourvedre loves to view the sea…” I knew that there was no room to even try to get out of the mess I had made.  I have long believed that there is no reason to fight with your spouse because you will never win.  While Lorraine knew that I had had some very painful experiences trying to grow Mourvedre in northern San Luis Obispo County long before the planting of what is our estate vineyard, fortuitously she stuck by her first and immediate instinct and pushed me to plant it again.

I keep a goofy and rather extensive repository of various Rhone varieties and selections at Alban Vineyards and there are two selections of Mourvedre that have always fascinated me.  One, not surprisingly, originates from Chateauneuf.  But the other is much more fun.  While visiting a particularly peculiar Provencal producer, I asked about a white variety called Rolle.  He told me he had a selection he loved.  When the handful of cuttings I planted came into production and the grapes turned red, I finally took a little closer look at the vines and concluded they are Mourvedre.  Somehow all this happen stance seemed perfect for this absurd little planting.

Each year starting with 2004 we have made a single barrel (300 +/- bottles) of predominantly Mourvedre based wine from what we call the Forsythe Vineyard.  The results have sincerely astonished me.  These vines defy virtually all the fundamental principles of what makes great wine: the stems stay super green, the grapes are decidedly large and plump, the pulp is firm and rather green, and the seeds never turn completely brown regardless the sugar or harvest date.  Most intriguing of all is that the skins are hard and do not appear well endowed with pigment.  On the surface, it is a vineyard I would try to avoid (and as above, did try just that!).  Somewhere around the 10th day of fermentation, the wine starts to pick up color, richness, and the phenols soften.  After about two weeks of maceration, the wines become integrated and much to my annual amazement start to be delicious, rich, wild, and yet elegant.

Forsythe was the last name of Lorraine’s grandfather Willie, who was a farmer and a mason.  He loved to build and mend the iconic dry stacked stone walls that abound throughout Ireland.  The back label is an unaltered reproduction of a post card he sent his beloved as he prepared to embark for a year away in England.  There is a secret message within the card and if you consume enough bottles, the riddle may become clearer.  Good luck, and may all your spousal disagreements ferment slowly, gracefully and conclude with the recognition that your wife is always right.
Open top fermentation, barrel aged between 32 and 42 months, bottled unfined and unfiltered.  Generally a blend of predominantly Mourvedre with possibly Syrah and/or some Grenache.  All from our estate vineyard. 

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