Meet Bedrock’s Chris Cottrell

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Bedrock's winemakers, Chris Cottrell and Morgan Twain-Peterson, in the vineyards

We speak to Chris Cottrell, of boutique Californian winery Bedrock, about their brilliantly exciting, lovingly made wines.

Chris Cottrell, partner at Bedrock, fizzes with energy. Even before breakfast, over a dodgy Zoom connection, his excitement – zeal – for what he does is palpable. “It’s crazy to think of people in the UK – or Denmark or Korea – drinking our wine,” he says. “The winery Morgan and I started was in a converted chicken coop, you know?”

Bedrock’s origins may have been humble, but its ambition and philosophical agenda is nothing short of mighty. Today, the boutique Californian winery has a doggedly loyal (and fast growing) fan base. These are wines to fall in love with – not just because of what’s in the bottle, but because of how, and why, they are made.

“We didn’t want to create wines that were super expensive and unattainable. We wanted to create wines which our college selves could afford, like The Whole Shebang. We wanted to make wine that was serious and would age well, but that you could check-in on on a Tuesday night because you wanted to, not because it was your birthday or anniversary.

“We wanted to do that because it felt better – it felt less precious and more like historic preservation. We wanted to make killer wines for the price; wines that could authentically tell the history of California.”

THE BEST POSSIBLE WINE

And that is precisely what Bedrock is doing with The Whole Shebang. In terms of their range, this sits at the entry-level, but in terms of winemaking, it has parity with every other bottle they produce. “In California, just five or six large corporate wineries make 99.9% of wines at this price point; it’s from very commercially farmed vineyards and large production wineries where all the ‘dark arts’ of winemaking are used.

“I’m proud to say that, for The Whole Shebang, when the fruit comes into the winery, it’s not like, ‘Oh, this is fruit for Shebang and this is for Bedrock,’ – everything is treated the same. We don’t make any assumptions. We farm the fruit well; it’s hand-harvested and from mostly old vines. It’s largely Zinfandel, but has literally everything else in it, too – including some whites for acid and aromatics. This is how we avoid the dark arts – by blending.

“And it’s multi-vintage, too: we have an in-house solera; this means we always have this great base wine so that the quality stays at a really high level. It’s absolute proof that a wine doesn’t have to be pretentious to be well made.”

Old-vine grapes at Bedrock

TAKING FARMING FURTHER

It’s not just the way that the wines are made which speaks to Bedrock’s admirable commitment to quality. It’s how the team work in the vineyards too. “Farming is always the most exciting parts of what we do,” says Chris, “For Morgan and me, the greatest challenge we have is working with these 100-plus year old vines; vines which, for various reasons, weren’t given the love and support they needed. We work to bring them back to life, and to help them thrive.

“And we’re developing new vineyards too – at the moment, we’re planting a block of Portuguese Port varieties; we’re experimenting with different root stock and clones and regenerative agriculture, and building up microbiome in the soil and really holistically farming. It takes a long time and we’re starting to see the rewards. It’s a tough balancing act.”

The balancing act Chris refers to is a financial one – this kind of labour-intensive, time-intensive investment always pays. But not immediately. And it becomes tougher to stick to the philosophical convictions driving these farming and winemaking decisions when other factors – such as the devastating Californian wildfires, or the far longer-term impact of Covid – come into play.

SMOKE AND FIRE

“Luckily, at Bedrock, unlike in 2017 when we were literally on the fire line, we were physically safe from the fire,” says Chris. “But the hottest topic at the moment in California, during the 2020 harvest, is smoke taint. We don’t yet know how that’s going to translate into the wine, and the science around smoke taint is in flux.

“One thing’s for sure – we’re going to learn a lot from 2020: both from a humanity standpoint and from a wine standpoint, too.”

You can buy The Whole Shebang here, or meet more of our Tastemakers here

Category: Miscellaneous

Sweden’s High Coast whisky

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Snow and ice surround the small High Coast distillery in winter
The High Coast distillery is housed in a former electricity station
We talk to Henrik Persson, CEO of Sweden’s High Coast to uncover what makes this small, forward-thinking whisky company so remarkable.

Distilled on the 63rd parallel, Sweden’s High Coast whisky is a product not only of place but also precision. It is crafted by a gloriously geeky team. They believe in total transparency about the liquid and how it is made. “It sets us apart,” explains Henrik Persson, CEO. “For everything that someone learns from us, we will learn something in return. And so we all move forward.”

The company was founded just a decade ago in an old electricity station. This was converted first into an exhibition space before the threat of demolition meant it required a more secure future. Its remarkable location, poised on the banks of the mighty, ice-cold Ångerman river, sparked the idea for the distillery.

ON THE BANKS OF THE ÅNGERMAN

“There are not many distilleries that think that their location is so important,” says Henrik. “But we do. The river which flows by provides ice-cold chilling water every day of the year. This can be a hard thing for most distilleries to achieve. In fact, we think we have the coldest chilling water in the world. It helps us to cool down the new make spirit fast, which preserves the elegance and delicate flavours.”

It is not just the constant supply of icy water that translates into the spirit, Henrik explains. “Here, so far north, we have winter temperatures of -30 degrees; in the summer this goes up to plus 30 degrees: for the whisky, it means that ages very quickly. “You see, a barrel is always the same size – but this whisky isn’t: in the summer the whisky expands into the wood and extracts flavours and interesting things; in the winter, when it’s very cold, the spirit retreats out again. It makes the whisky age faster.”

These twin factors – the elegance from the new maker’s rapid cooling, and the flavours imparted by the spirit’s rapid ageing – give distillery manager Roger Melander the perfect ingredients to create High Coast’s expressions. “Roger is one of Sweden’s biggest whisky nerds,” Henrik says, with both amusement and pride.

“He’s so into the details and he tests everything and he never gives up. We are collaborating with a Swedish cooper, who is just as nerdy when it comes to wood. When he wants to create a new whisky, he doesn’t think about the age of the spirit but more the flavour he wants to create.”

DEFINING ITS STYLE

So for someone who hasn’t tried a Swedish whisky, or ventured beyond the UK’s shores, what should they expect? “If you wanted to compare us with another style of whisky, it would be Japanese: elegant, delicate and clean in flavours. Even our peated whiskies are elegant,” Henrik says.

“We have quite high amounts of peat in our recipe, but if you put Lagavulin next to our whisky you can easily tell them apart, even though they have more or less the same peat PMM (parts per million). This is thanks to the height of our stills and the cut that we make.”

THE ELEGANCE OF PEAT

The whisky we are focusing on today, Hav, sits in the middle of High Coast’s range, between the non-peated (Älv) and the most heavily peated (Timmer) drams. “The way Hav is made is interesting,” Henrik explains. “We sell 40-litre casks to private customers for their own, personal whisky. Those virgin oak casks need to be pre-filled for a while, and that new-make spirit becomes incredibly spicy. Instead of pouring it away, we take it on and put it in first-fill bourbon barrels and let it even out, and become smoother. It creates a very interesting, very spicy whisky with medium peat.”

Although more akin to Japanese whiskies in style, the team at High Coast draw a lot of inspiration from the way Scotch is made “How could you not!” says Henrik “But unlike Scotland, we are not constrained by rules, and that’s exciting. It is interesting to see the new thinking – ingredients, people, casks – that are being used in the world right now. There are some ground-breaking whiskies being made.”

You can find out more about High Coast, one of our Tastemakers series, here. Alternatively, you can buy Hav single malt whisky here.

Category: Spirits

Meet winemaker Olivier Merlin

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Burgundy winemaker Olivier Merlin, photographed by Jason Lowe at Château des Quarts
Three decades into his career, winemaker Olivier Merlin continues to be a leading light in the Mâconnais.

Winemaker Olivier Merlin has 35 vintages under his belt. He’s far from a “new” winemaker; in fact, he’s the most established producer in the Mâconnais, Burgundy’s most southerly terroir. And, while for some producers longevity could translate to complacency, nothing could be further from the truth for Olivier.

He is the region’s most dynamic winemaker, and his dazzling cuvées continue to challenge conventional views about the Mâconnais’ reputation for humble wines.

“Unlike my colleagues in the Mâconnais, we do everything by hand,” Olivier explains. “We might apply modern technology, but we make our wines in the same way as they were made 200 years ago.” He makes it sound simple, but at the heart of this approach is a commitment to meticulous winemaking – stripping everything back until what is left is the terroir. And, in Burgundy, terroir is everything.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TERROIR

“If you take any of the wines in our range and compare them, they’re totally different,” Olivier says. “But the process used to make each one is the same; this is very important to me – it means my technique shows the terroir. The wines express the difference of the soil, of the slope and of the altitude.”

Of all his different cuvées, one remains incredibly close to Olivier’s heart: Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes. “This cuvée is our flagship: it’s the wine we started with. It’s a blend of four different sites – all very old – the youngest vines are around 55 years old and the oldest is around 80 years. It’s a good reflection of the village – the terroir has a lot of limestone and a very high level of chalk and you can taste that in the wine. The finish is long, and the minerality really comes through along with flavours of white flowers like verbena also sometimes citrus and a kind of saltiness.”

What would Olivier eat alongside it? He ponders the question for a while: “Perhaps good roast chicken; a nice filet of sole or turbot; of course cheese – Swiss style gruyere or Gouda and goats cheese goes very well; veal, or scallops would be good… but maybe not lobster because it would be too strong. With lobster,” he smiles, “you want to go to the Poully-Fuissé for that.” Delicious.

MERLIN’S PAST AND FUTURE

Olivier has grown his holdings from the modest 4.5 hectares he, along with his wife Corrine, took on in 1987 to around 29 hectares today; his 20 different cuvées range from understated Bourgogne to tiny high-end projects such as his Pouilly-Fuissé Clos de France (a diminutive vineyard taken on in 2018 by his sons Paul and Théo). They are, he explains, no plans to expand further.

“We cannot get bigger because the harvest, now, comes so early – there is no room for error,” Olivier explains. “Now it takes 50 people 13 days’ picking minimum, and if it takes too long, you end up with too much alcohol in the wine, and you loose the acidity, freshness and minerality which is so important. The challenge now, is to start picking at precisely the right time.”

Although the increasingly early harvest poses a challenge, it is one Olivier feels well placed to meet: “We are lucky in the Mâconnais because of the altitude here; it means we will not be so impacted by the changes of global warming. In fact, some sites where it used to be hard to get the fruit to good maturation, it is now possible; I think now it is a big advantage to have vineyards at this elevation.”

OLIVIER MERLIN LOOKS AHEAD

With the 2020 harvest behind him, Olivier is keen to talk of the challenges to come: “The virus has changed many things – the distribution of wine is just one problem,” he says. “But the real challenge is not that – we will continue to drink wine – the real challenge comes from global warming and the changes we make to slow its impact,”

He talks of rootstock changes, growing systems, canopy management, evolving wood strategies. There is – clearly – much to do. Will he retire soon? He laughs. “Does a musician stop playing music? I plan to continue as long as I can; making wine is not my job,” he says. “It is my passion.”

Olivier is featured in our current Tastemakers offer. You can find out more about him, and his wines, here.

Category: Burgundy Wine,Miscellaneous,Old World

Barbara Drew MW on prestige cuvée Champagne

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A selection of prestige cuvée Champagnes

Barbara Drew MW selects the most memorable prestige cuvée Champagne enjoyed at various points throughout her career and personal life, and highlights a handful of bottles which would be perfectly suited to any festive celebration.

Prestige cuvée Champagne: three words that are impossible to say without both joy and a certain smartness; a phrase that turns even the thickest brogue into something finely polished. The first prestige cuvée Champagne was designed for Tsar Alexander the II, and was meant as an incredibly special wine, for an incredibly special royal. 144 years after Cristal was first created, I like to imagine the magic remains. When you drink a prestige cuvée Champagne you become a VIP, and they make the most mundane occasion special. These are also the bottles we save and savour for iconic moments. Not just for birthdays and anniversaries, these are the bottles that mark defining moments in our lives; and the wine and the moment become intertwined into a 365-degree multi-sensory experience.

I am lucky enough to have tasted many wonderful wines during my career, but those that will remain in my memory longest are undoubtedly beautiful Champagnes, enjoyed at beautiful moments.

My most memorable Champagnes

2002 Salon Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs

A rare, and slightly unusual prestige Champagne. This is only ever a single-vintage wine, and comes from one vineyard. Very much a wine of a specific time and a specific place, I opened my first and only bottle of this wine in September 2017, the day I discovered I had passed my MW exams. I had made a pact (with myself) during the long summer of early starts, blind tastings before breakfast and endless essays, that, should I pass all my exams first-time (something few MWs achieve), I would treat myself to a bottle of this wine – one that I had always wanted to taste. Despite being one of the most beautiful wines ever created, the setting was worlds apart from what the winemaker no doubt wanted; poured into slightly grubby wine glasses and shared with my colleagues standing round the photocopier, it was still one of the most enjoyable glasses of wine I have ever tasted.

2004 Sir Winston Churchill, Pol Roger

It was a glorious late summer day, full of sunshine. We had the keys to our new house, and a bottle of lightly chilled 2004 Churchill in the boot. Alas, what we didn’t have was furniture or crockery, much less glassware. The movers had taken so very long to take our stuff out of the old place that they had downed tools for the day, promising to return on the morrow with all our belongings. All we had with us was a small box containing a kettle, a couple of mugs, some teabags, and the aforementioned Champagne. Undeterred, we opened it nonetheless. Sat in the garden with takeaway pizza (pepperoni; it went remarkably well with the umami undertones in the Champagne) we drank our prestige cuvée Champagne from mugs. It was perfect.

Magnum of 2004 Own Selection Grand Cru Champagne by Mailly

Not strictly a prestige cuvée Champagne, but everything feels more special when served from a large-format bottle, and to this day our own Champagne made by Mailly is still one of my favourites. To celebrate a “significant” birthday for my mother, the entire Drew clan headed to Spain a few years back, hiring out a wonderful farmhouse for a long weekend. We had planned a special birthday meal, and, despite Spain producing exquisite sparkling wines of its own, we felt Champagne was most appropriate for the occasion. I dutifully threw out most of my sandals from my suitcase to make way for this magnum of Champagne. It kicked off a most wonderful birthday evening, so delightful my mother wanted to bring the oversized bottle home as a souvenir. Fortunately, we managed to persuade her to settle for just the cork.

Prestige cuvée Champagnes for Christmas

2007 Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, Blanc de Blancs

One of the finest Blanc de Blanc Champagnes produced, the 2007 Comtes de Champagne has a perfect balance between creamy, nutty flavours, and a fresh, citrus and orchard fruit. The brioche and butter finish goes on and on.

2002 Salon Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs

18 years old and still spectacularly young, this pure, fresh and mineral wine astounds with its gentle aromas that build in intensity, complexity and power. Each sip reveals something different. A wine to inspire storytelling.

2009 Pol Roger, Sir Winston Churchill

Whilst the exact blend of grapes is never published, Pinot Noir features heavily in this wine, lending a weight and intensity of red fruit flavour, something often lacking in blanc de blancs Champagnes. The 2009 was a vintage that Hubert de Billy, Director of Champagne Pol Roger describes as “a vintage for drinkers” – meaning there is no need to keep this one in your cellar for another 20 years before popping the cork.

An Own Selection favourite

2009 Own Selection Champagne by Mailly, Grand Cru, Magnum

For those who can’t quite stretch to a Champagne of the Tsars this Christmas, choose a magnum. A magnificent way to start a meal. And if you’re worrying that a magnum might be too large for the potentially limited gatherings we will be permitted, take heart from Winston Churchill who once declared: “A magnum of Champagne? Just perfect for two of you to share over lunch. If one of you isn’t drinking, that is…..”

Category: Champagne and Sparkling Wine