Californian ViticultureModern Winemaking with Scribe
Wine can seem like a very serious thing, but when it comes down to it, we’re farmers who grow fruits and ferment them. Wine shouldn’t be put up on a pedestal. We owe it to ourselves to celebrate everything that comes with it; the taste, the beautiful environment, the ambiance.
Whatever stereotypical image the Californian wine country may conjure up for you – tipsy folks your parents’ age, perhaps, stumbling from one stuffy tasting room manned by snobby sommeliers to another – forget it. When you get to Scribe, a Sonoma vineyard challenging all the rules of winemaking, you’ll find a different picture altogether. Skinny palm trees tower over sun soaked hills lined with ripening vines, leaving no doubt that you’re in California. Scattered about the five acre grounds are weather beaten haciendas, some as old as the state itself, where you might happen upon a dinner party thrown by the likes of Bar Tartine chefs, or a movie being projected onto a whitewashed wall. Andrew Mariani, one of the two brothers behind Scribe, is the picture of today’s gentleman farmer; easygoing in plaid, and eloquent as a poet in his descriptions. Driving his dented Chevy Silverado down the winery’s unpaved driveway, he spoke with Cereal about his eight year old passion project’s past and future.
Cereal: What was the inspiration behind Scribe?
Andrew Mariani: My brother Adam and I both got interested in viticulture in college, and I ended up majoring in international trade and winemaking. When I returned to California eight years ago, after working for wineries in Europe, I got to talking to an uncle who lived in Sonoma County. We were cruising around when we happened upon the property that would become Scribe. It was this abandoned, rundown place that used to be a turkey farm. We later found out that the place was originally a winery until Prohibition put an end to it. I went to libraries to piece together its history, and the more I learned, the more it steered me in the direction that Scribe would take. For instance, instead of the pinot and Chardonnay that tend to dominate the area today, we planted Riesling and Silvaner, the first vines to be grown in the area.
Cereal: How does history influence your work?
AM: Relatively speaking, Scribe is a new winery, but it has roots reaching back to the Wild West. There are three very old buildings remaining on the property, including our office, a place I live in, and a hacienda that dates back to the 1850s. We’re renovating the hacienda to host tastings and dinners. It should be ready by the end of 2015. In 2007, the first year of Scribe, we spent almost 12 months just demolishing old barbed wire fences and sheds. That time was really crucial. I uncovered a lot of history in the form of old things like bottles, foundations, and stonewalls with aqueducts inside that still run with spring water when it rains. While pulling poison oak and berry bushes, we found glass vials. I did some research and learned that there were a dozen Chinese workers who lived in the ravine in the 1880s – the Chinese were the ones who tended to the vines back then – and those vials turned out to be opium containers. Sure, winemaking comes from Europe, but being on a property that is so rooted in Californian history, we let the place inspire what we do, rather than taking cues from other parts of the world.
Cereal: How would you describe Scribe’s wine?
AM: We have deep, volcanic soils and proximity to maritime breeze. The terroir is mineral rich, salty, and airy. It’s a refreshing, bright environment, and you can see that reflected in some of the wine. We grow Silvaner, which is pretty rare in California, and that is particularly vibrant. I want to see that liveliness in everything we do.
Cereal: What makes Californian winemaking distinct?
AM: I don’t think Californian wine as a whole can even be defined yet. Can we say there is such a thing as Californian terroir? We’re still such a young state – we only became part of the USA In 1850 – and it’s also a vast area. The same goes for Californian cuisine; using local, seasonal, fresh produce is essential here, but beyond that, we’re constantly progressing. I’ve been reading a lot of old Californian magazines that were basically about teaching people how to live in the West, and I see a lot of Mexican fingerprints. A lot of people talk about the Mediterranean influences in Californian cuisine and wine, but you can’t forget that this used to be part of Mexico. While I was in Mexico City recently, I had dinner at Contramar. It was phenomenal, so I invited Chef Gabriela Cámara to come up to cook. She took a walk around the vineyards and found an old agave plant. She harvested it, pulled the fibrous outer layers off, dried them out, and cooked fish and chiles in them. She served agave spears over them along with 2013 Chardonnay, Riesling, and rosé.
Cereal: How does food figure into your work as a vintner?
AM: Wine can seem like a very serious thing, but when it comes down to it, we’re farmers who grow fruits and ferment them. Wine shouldn’t be put up on a pedestal. We owe it to ourselves to celebrate everything that comes with it; the taste, the beautiful environment, the ambiance. As winemakers, we create something unique. It’s a wonderful thing. We bring people together to communicate and celebrate. We try to strip away all the bullshit and offer straightforward dinners that are honest and simple. Some people see us as all young and hip – which, admittedly, we do have a lot of – but whenever we have dinners here, we see little kids, old dudes, and all sorts of folks who come in especially from San Francisco. Anybody can join the Scribe Viticultural Society – that’s the only criteria for getting guaranteed allocations of small batch wines and invitations to the events.
Cereal: Why does community figure so prominently into your work?
AM: As a producer, I find that the most rewarding thing is to communicate with people who taste the end result. I was just 24 when I started out on this project. I was so enraptured with the process of figuring out how to start a winery, but also naïve and inexperienced. I was really into learning, and wanted to share my progress. A lot of wineries seem to want to hide what’s really going on in their cellars, but I wanted to be as transparent as possible. I have a lot of members who are knowledgeable, and it was so cool to learn from them and experiment. Pretending that we knew everything from day one seemed ridiculous. Wine and food are avenues for communication and community. It’s such a human way of interacting with the world. My brother and the whole crew all have a lot of love for this place. We’re just so stoked to share what we’re doing.