The last time I was in Paris was on a romantic holiday. On one rainy afternoon, we stumbled into a small wine shop around the corner from our hotel. What I learned very quickly is that the French people love their wine. Stubbornly so. Hell would freeze over before one could find anything remotely close to the selection we have in the states… especially California offerings. I didn’t even ask, because I could already hear it: “That’s just blasphemy. How dare you?”
For the French, the belief systems are well ingrained, and when it comes to wine, everything is centered around one word: Terrior. It is an all-encompassing word that is hard to articulate in English, but relates to the soil type, sun exposure, climate, and even the minutia of how the land is farmed, the effects of wildlife, and history of the site. It’s all about the land expressing itself through the fruit. The fruit is just a vehicle.
As a way of comparison, if a new wine drinker were to compare Pinot Noir from Burgundy, and Pinot Noir from say… California, the answer would be dirt vs. fruit all day long. And America loves its fruit. Lots of it. To say that the general public doesn’t like big, jammy, slightly sweet wines would be a lie. For instance, Constellation, one of the largest wine conglomerates in the world, just purchased the Pinot Noir brand Meiomi… for $315 million dollars. (Just stop and think about that for a moment.) The acquisition took place just after the winery pulled off producing some staggering 600,000 cases in 2014. Being truthful, the creators of Meiomi did a serious injustice to the perception of what Pinot Noir really is. If people really knew how much sugar, additives, and other grapes (other than Pinot Noir) were actually in the wine, they would freak. (For more on that subject, click HERE.)
Now let’s go back to France. Pinot grown on it’s home turf is all about elegance, restraint, purity of fruit, balance, and acidity. It’s all about letting the fruit express and represent the earth from which it’s grown. Natural winemaking as opposed to brewing a recipe. A hands-off approach apposed to manipulation. True care for the earth vs. over-cropping to hit a number. Sustainability. History. Respect for the past and reverence for the future.
So is there a middle ground? Are there wines that have been made with the same reverence and restraint as the French, but with the fruit qualities from the California sun we love so much? Yes! The list of producers like this are blazing a new trail that started from very humble beginnings, but is quickly growing! The whole idea of “new California wine” is becoming a huge contender in the worldwide wine scene, and one producer we have quickly fell in love with that fits perfectly into this realm, is Copain Wines.
Founded in 1999 by Wells Guthrie in hills of Russian River Valley, wine seekers find a pristine winery, brilliant people, and breathtaking French varietals (Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay (primarily)). Wells, the proprietor and winemaker, “apprenticed for esteemed winemaker and living legend Michel Chapoutier in France’s Rhone Valley” (copainwines.com) for 2 years learning the philosophy, the techniques, and much more importantly, the rhythms of life. What we find in the wines of Copain, are depth with restraint, acidity and elegance over alcohol, and the new world fruit that we love shining through. Even the French name “Copain” conjurs deeper meanings of “breaking bread” and “companions”. Wells Guthrie believes (as so do we) that wine is an experience best shared with friends and family. So, if you’re curious about French wines, or are already starting to dabble, Copain is your gateway. But beware: you may never make it to the other side.