Wine Rating: 97
It seems the artistes I enjoy most, have something slightly controversial about them. Sid Vicious was so raucous and had such angst, that as a teenager I completely related to his F-U attitude. Hell, I still do. As I got older, I moved into filmmakers like John Cassavetes, Roman Polanski, and John Waters. Then there are the authors. If I were to give you the entire list of all the writers who have had an impact on my life, whose words have deeply resonate with me like no others, we’d be here for a while. So I’ll just give you the short list of the authors, who like me, are rough around the edges, but who can keep me turning a page for hours, if not days. They are Bukowski, Burroughs, Pynchon, and Hemingway. The filmmakers, writers and artists that I’m drawn to, says a lot about the winemakers I’m drawn to. They tend to be rebellious. They push the envelope. They are often polarizing. They challenge the limitations of traditional winemaking and take creative, bold, fearless chances and more often than not, it pays off (and we reap the benefits.) They’ve been known to piss people off with their uncompromising practices and to that I say, “Welcome to the club. Thanks for having me as a member.”
How could a winemaker upset someone just with a bottle of wine? Let me count the ways. Price, limited runs, closed mailing lists, being compared to the best wines of France, the ‘stop at nothing’ genius that ultimately creates near perfection and of course, consistently making a wine that is so good, reviews are always in the high 90’s. Just one of those things could send ripples through a very small circle of wine critics, but when all of them come from one winery, I’m all in. Open me a bottle, pour me a glass or three and let’s see what the hell everyone is bitching about.
Welcome to Marcassin Winery owned by Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufe; a very famous Napa Valley couple. I would put them in the category of ‘cult winemakers’, as on a mere 20 acres of land in the Russian River Valley, they produce roughly 2000 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir a year. Over the years they have used their passion for and their knowledge of winemaking to consult for the most prestigious wineries in California.
That is about the extent of information anyone knows about Marcassin. They are very private people and as such, a very private winery. Being the sleuth that I am, I did some investigating, sent out a few emails and asked around to a few wine contacts and they told me pretty much everything I already knew. If you want to know some of the basic facts, I can share with you a few things, in the same way that people enjoy reading baseball stats.
Marcassin, which means ‘Young Wild Boar’ in French, sits on a 20 acres estate in the Sonoma Coast. Before 2010 they didn’t have a winery, per say. The Russian River Valley winery, Martinelli was where Turley and Wetlaufe made their wines. They produce about 100 barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which Turley says yields enough for 2,500 cases. If you are not on their very private mailing list you are going to pay top dollar for a bottle. If you are lucky enough to find a bottle elsewhere, it will cost you about $250 – $300 for the Pinot and $180 – $250 for the Chardonnay.
Marcassin has made other Pinot Noirs under the Marcassin label from two other exceptional Sonoma Coast vineyards; Blue Slide Ridge and Three Sisters, which are both owned by Martinelli. But as of 2009, the full 20 acres at Marcassin are now the only source for their grapes, which is fine by me because what they produce are some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.
All that being said there are a few things Marcassin does that has annoyed, angered and prompted hostilities on wine forums, blogs and in print. One thing is that their wines can only be purchased through their mailing list, which is reasonable, as many small wineries do the same; Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Kosta Browne, and so on. The Marcassin waiting list is one of the longest you will wait to get on. Rumors abound with some saying 7 to 10 years before you will even get notified. If and when you do, it will not be by email, but an actual letter in the mail, specifying your allocation. Then you must send a check snail mail to them and wait for the wine to be shipped. This can take many months. They do have a phone number but when you call it, don’t expect a call back. It’s simply to leave your request to be added to their waiting list. I also found their website that has no winery information; just a form to join the mailing list, which again we know is a long, long wait, but being online is a step in the right direction for sure. If you do it today, you’re 7 to 10 years closer.
Yes, all of that is frustrating, but some people like their old school method of operating and I say, “why not?” The demand for their wine is very sought after. Their wine ratings are always off the charts. Robert Parker loves them. Why bother with customer retention when you have grapes to grow and you have no shortage of demand and no letting up in site. I forgot how many years I’ve been on the (waiting) list, probably as long as I’ve waited for Screaming Eagle.
Like most people, I buy their wine at auction and I almost always find it for a decent price. By this I mean about $300 – $350 a bottle for both the pinot noir and the chardonnay. If you like really balanced, high alcohol California wines like I do, then don’t wait and get your name on their list, start counting the days and put Marcassin on your bucket list of wines you must try. I have never had a bad vintage from them. Not ever.
I give mad props to Helen and John for creating the kind of wines that snobs like myself seek, talk about, and pay homage to as it sits in my wine cellar for me to show off to people who come over and look my bottle collection; like my rare signed 1st edition of a Charles Bukowski or the framed Helmut Newton lithograph that hangs above the fireplace. Yes, I show the selected few who dine at my home my treasures and I always point out the bottles of Marcassin I have resting on the shelf.
Marcassin, Pinot Noir, 2009
Produced by: Marcassin
Winemaker: Helen Turley and John Wetlaufe
Region: Napa valley
Location: Sonoma Coast
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Appearance (Color): Deep ruby with shimmer of amber
Aroma (Complexity): Raspberry, Blueberry
Body (Texture and Weight): Medium
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Raspberry, Earth tones with Vanilla
Finish (What lingers): Mixed berries and toasted marshmallow
Food Paring: Mild cheese, fish, milk chocolate and turkey
Serving Temperature: 62°
Drink: Now through 2019
Decant Time: 1 Hour
Mailing List: (707) 258-3608
PO Box 68
Calistoga, CA 94515