Steve Jaxon welcomes Clark Smith of WineSmith to the show today. Also in studio are co-host Dan Berger, Barry Herbst of Bottle Barn and Steve Ausburne from Thumbprint Cellars. (This is a repeat podcast of a show recorded live on March 15, 2017, because California Wine Country was pre-empted this week due to NBA programming on the home radio station KSRO.)
Clark Smith is a winemaker who has also taught Fundamentals of Wine Chemistry at UC Davis for many years. Dan Berger introduces him as one of the most inventive and creative winemakers on the scene today. “He has a brilliant history as a winemaker and a lot of his wines are interesting and esoteric,” and later says, “He is as crazy as they get and thank God for that. Clark is one of the geniuses of our time and deserves to get more credit than he has ever gotten.”
Steve begins by asking Clark Smith to tell about how he got into the wine business. He tells that he was an MIT dropout who went out to California and got a job at a liquor store and later went to UC Davis and got his winemaking degrees, where he applied his knowledge of Chemistry.
He notes that when he was starting in the business, in 1971, there were only 251 wineries in the United States, while today there are about 25,000. He is interested in helping people produce unique products that you can’t buy at Safeway. He describes his career and mentions that he invented a filtration method using reverse osmosis to reduce alcohol. This attracted the attention of winemakers in Europe too. In 1984 he started teaching Fundamentals of Wine Chemistry at UC Davis. He just finished teaching his 52nd iteration of the course and he has taught to about 4,000 winemakers there. He works with the structure and the architecture of the wine.
Clark Smith says, “My idea is that California is a better place to make French wines than France is.”
The first tasting of the day is a 2013 Chardenet, which is the old French spelling of the grape variety we call Chardonnay, from the Carneros Hills district. Dan says the oak was kept fairly delicate, and it’s gone in the aftertaste and allows the lemon oil flavor to come through. Also, the alcohol is not excessive, so no bitterness. Dan thinks it would be just right in about 2 or 3 years, but up to 6 or 7 in proper cold storage conditions. Clark says the lemon oil in the mouth will be more apparent with more aging.
Next tasting is a WineSmith 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir. Clark mentions that with Pinot Noir, you’re looking for flavor of black cherries. This has not a lot of tannin, it was in barrels and bottled only last year. It shows flavors of black cherry, marzipan, toasted marshmallow. Clark Smith mentions that these are “Maillard reaction products.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maillard_reaction (“…a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned foods its distinctive flavor (…) named after the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912…”)
Dan says the black cherry really comes through, then the aftertaste is long and delicious. Clark only made about 300 cases of this.
The next tasting is a Sauvignon Blanc from Pech Merle Winery. (John Pepe, winemaker from Pech Merle, will be on the show on May 24.) This wine was made with Lake County fruit, which gives flavors of tropical fruit and gooseberries.
After the break, Steve Jaxon asks Steve Ausburne to talk about his comedy show series at Thumbprint Cellars and about how the winery is concentrating on showcasing the efforts of local Sonoma County winemakers.
After the break the next tasting is a Rosé brought by Barry Herbst, made from Grignolino grapes. Dan describes this grape as having virtually no color, and it makes Rosé that is so good that it’s imported into Italy. He describes it as light, elegant, full of cherries and bright fruit, dry, low acidity and carries itself with style.
Clark Smith, WineSmith, wants to dispel a myth that Rosé is a summer drink. He drinks it all year. Also suggests 2-3 years lay down is good. He mentions the widely held opinion that Rosé has to be young, which is not so.
The next tasting is a WineSmith Cabernet Franc, grown in Lake County in volcanic soil, at Diamond Ridge, which is near the Lake, so you get Lake Effect weather and no raisin-ing.
Steve mentions that Clark Smith is also the author of a new book, Post-Modern Winemaking, Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft. He would like to heal the relationship between wine makers and wine drinkers by telling how wine is really made and how it is structured.
The last tasting of the day is a WineSmith St. Laurent, an early harvest variety, grown in Carneros by Dale Ricci. Dan says it has great acidity, soft tannins, a great picnic wine.
Dan Berger was thrilled to have Clark Smith, WineSmith on the show today and leaves us with this quote: “He is as crazy as they get and thank God for that. Clark is one of the geniuses of our time and deserves to get more credit than he has ever gotten.”