Bink Wines

Bink as in “Black Ink”

Bink Wines

Created in 1999, Yorkville Highlands AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a relatively new appellation, located in southern Mendocino County between Alexander Valley and Anderson Valley. Daytime temperatures are warmer than Anderson Valley and cooler than Alexander Valley, while nighttime temperatures are cooler than both. Apart from its rocky soils, the area is distinguished by higher altitudes with vineyards planted from 900 to 2500 feet. Bink is located at 1800 feet. Deborah Schatzlein and Cindy Paulson, both environmental engineers and co-owners of Bink, purchased a 40-acre parcel in the appellation in 1998 and subsequently planted seven acres to Syrah and Merlot, grape varieties that consumers have somewhat ignored in the last few years, perhaps because they are unsure about what they will find in a given bottle. Will it be a huge and jammy red that, in the case of Syrah, would be typical of blazing Paso Robles or Australia’s Barossa Valley? Or will it have the leaner balance of the Northern Rhone, or on the domestic front, Anderson Valley or Yorkville Highlands? But maybe it’s simply a matter of style and taste that consumers will have to eventually sort out for themselves. Nevertheless, the pendulum seems to be swinging back to cooler climates as wine professionals and consumers once again show interest in more restrained wines with lower alcohols. A group of 40 sommeliers from throughout the U.S. will arrive at Bink to conduct their own investigation in July and will go home to report their findings. Deb is betting that they will love what they taste from the Yorkville Highlands. I report our conversation with minor editing for clarity.

Yorkville Highlands is above Anderson Valley, one of the coolest appellations in California. How does Yorkville Highlands compare?

We’re right next door to the Anderson Valley, so we get the marine influence, especially at night. But we get warmer days, so we get the ripeness. At night we get fog that creates a cooling pattern. But what distinguishes us is that we get wind every afternoon, pretty strong winds every day, which has a kind of evaporative effect on the grapes, so it keeps the grapes kind of dry, not a lot of juice going on. So there’s really a lot of concentrated flavors from all the vineyards because of the windiness. What’s nice about the heat during the day and the coolness at night is that we get nice ripeness without the high sugar because we get that cooling trend. Where some other people, in order to get those nice ripe flavors, have to wait till the sugars get really high. We don’t have to do that. All my wines are just under or just over 14%, 13.5 to 14.2, somewhere in that range.

Bink is a relatively new winery but is getting a lot of attention.

Yes, especially Syrah, our flagship wine. It’s where our name comes from. The French call Syrah the black ink grape. We took black ink and shortened it to Bink. So in the wine press, I started getting a name for myself because of Syrah. Yorkville Highlands in particular is becoming well known for Syrah. The area is Northern Rhone-like in micro climate, and the Syrahs coming out of here are really like those in the Northern Rhone. My Syrah is elegant and stands out with the best of them. And I’ve honed my style over the last couple of years, really zeroed in on that style. People are loving it even though Syrah hasn’t been very popular over the last five years. I think the wines are good, very approachable. I hold them back for a while and wait till they’re drinkable before I release them. I just released the 2006 Syrah in January. They’re wound up so tight that it takes a long time for them to open up and start drinking well. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman winemaker and have that touch or if I pay attention to the details, the simple things like rounding out the tannins so that the wines are a more enjoyable experience for people. I’m not sure.

How would you describe your wines?

My wines are terroir driven. I focus on the vineyard with regard to making sure that the grapes grow to their best capability. We work in our vineyard and with the vineyard owners that I buy fruit from, working hand in hand, making sure that the grapes get the best treatment possible. I shoot for grapes that grow in such a way that they’re low yielding naturally. Lots of people will plant their grapes, give them fertilizer, let them grow, and then the crop load might come out to five tons an acre. That’s too much to grow high quality wine grapes. It dilutes the character of the fruit. So they’ll crop back to three tons an acre by dropping fruit on the ground. That’s artificially manipulating the vineyard. What I shoot for is getting those vines to produce three tons an acre all by themselves. You can do stuff in the vineyards to get your vines to be naturally balanced. You play with cover crops in the vineyards. You play with succoring the vines and shoot thinning to get the vines to produce what their ideal crop load should be. It takes a couple of years to get the vines where they need to be. So I’m not dropping fruit, not over cropping or under cropping. I’m appropriately cropping the plant so that it grows naturally at a certain crop-load, so that the grapes coming off are gorgeous all by themselves. Lots of people have said to me that my wines are more European in style, and it’s really more that they’re terroir driven. They exude a sense of place because of this kind of farming.

You must be farming organically if your wines reflect a sense of place.

We’re organic and sustainable. We think sustainable is a higher order than organic. What we’re trying to do, not just in the vineyard but the winery as well, is to reduce our carbon footprint. Environmental stewardship is always at the forefront of what I think about. Lots of people now are buying the cheapest glass possible for their wines. Those bottles often come from China. The reason why they’re cheap is because they’re subsidized. It costs a boatload of carbon to get them over here in a container ship, but it’s far cheaper, carbon-wise, to buy glass right here in the U.S. So I buy all my glass from the U.S. In the vineyard, from a sustainable perspective, we grow our own fertilizer, so in between every other vine row, we have what we call green compost. We grow our fertilizer, chop it up, and disc it into the soil. So we don’t bring in fertilizer to the vineyard. We grow it right there, peas and vetch, and so on. People who don’t grow their own fertilizer have to bring in tons of organic fertilizer because it takes a lot more organic fertilizer than synthetic fertilizer to get the same amount of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous and other nutrients. Then vineyards use sulfur to control powdery mildew, and you have to use pounds and pounds of sulfur to control it. But there’s a new technology for powdery mildew that’s a fraction of the amount that you have to put on your vines, and you have to use it only twice a season. It’s not organic yet not particularly harmful. It’s not a nasty synthetic compound. Sulfur may be organic, but it’s also nasty. You have to put on a full suit and a respirator in order to spray it on the vineyard. So this new material is replacing a nasty organic compound with a non-nasty, non-organic compound that we spray just twice a season rather than once a week. It’s certainly sustainable, and it’s lowering the carbon footprint.

Your experience and Cindy’s as environmental engineers has been crucial in the way that you farm and make wine.

Cindy Paulson has a PhD in environmental engineering. She focuses on water, and she’s the farmer here. We do a lot of habitat restoration and integrated pest management. Cindy has hedge rows in the vineyard to bring in beneficial insects that help with pest management. We have owl boxes and raptor perches for pest control. And it’s working, because we have tons of beneficial bugs, ladybugs and preying mantises, and all kinds of things have shown up. We have a 40-acre parcel surrounded by lots of grazing land around us. And because it’s been over grazed in the past, all the native grasses have been eradicated. So we’ve been looking at restoring some of the native grasses. We’re working with Sonoma State and other research institutions, trying to restore our property and other properties around us to native California grasslands.

You have 40 acres, so if you restored and enriched the soils, could you expand your vineyards?

We just wanted to plant in the open areas, the meadow areas. There’s another little three-acre piece that we could use in the future. We were thinking about that. Right now we’re just focusing on what we have currently. We don’t want to take any trees out. We have three little drainages that go through our property, three little creeks, and we don’t want to encroach on any of that. But there is this three-acre parcel that we can plant a little vineyard on. We’ve been thinking about it.

You’re about to visit Rwanda. Why?

We give away about 20 percent of our wines for philanthropy, and environmental causes are a big piece of that. We also contribute to breast cancer research and to Girls Inc. in Alameda County, fund raising for them. One of the big causes that we donate to and participate in is “Water for People.” They have some big projects going on in Rwanda now. So we’re going over there to tour some of these projects. And I’ve been asked by the mayor of Rulindo to look at some of his grape projects. They’re trying to start a wine region. So he asked me to come over and take a look and talk to his wine makers and grape growers. So we’ll spend a day doing that, and then we’re going to take four days to do mountain gorillas and a little safari. We’re grateful to have our own business, and we wanted to find a way to give back.

California Wines of the Month


Artisan Series

Bin – 2004 Hawks Butte Syrah

Winemaker Deborah Schatzlein’s Notes

This 2004 Syrah was made from our estate Hawks Butte Vineyard. Its color is iridescent purple, and aromas show violets, fresh berries, and roasted meat. In the mouth, the wine is balanced with blackberry, plum, and vanilla with a hint of allspice, and the mouth-feel is smooth with round tannins and a lasting finish. We aged the wine for 22 months in barrel, a combination of just 30% new French oak barrels and the rest neutral barrels (old French), specifically Vicard and Remond with medium toast levels made from the Allier forest (alcohol 13.8%, pH 3.54, titratable acidity 0.67 g/100ml.

Anna Maria’s Notes

Deborah produced just 150 cases of this delicious wine under the winery’s first label, which has subsequently been much improved by good friend Dave Braden, a partner in the company Engine Room, located in San Francisco. Syrah has fallen from grace over the last five or more years, and experts are saying that, like Merlot, it has not been planted in the right places to display its noble nature. Regardless of the label, one taste of the Bink 2004 Syrah, and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been drinking more Syrah, at least more high-altitude, cool climate Syrah, because those are the conditions that have produced the remarkable flavors and texture that you will find in this Bink bottle.

Bink – 2010 Pinot Gris

Winemaker Deborah Schatzlein’s Notes

Our Pinot Gris is fruity and bright. It was cold fermented in stainless steel tanks for a crisp, clean flavor. The grapes were harvested from a vineyard in Clarksburg but will probably be our one and only vintage for this wine. We intend to concentrate our efforts on our own estate grapes in the Yorkville Highlands appellation of Mendocino County and to purchase grapes only from our neighbors in the same appellation (alcohol 13.9%).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Deb Schatzlein made just 325 cases of this delicious Pinot Gris. As she says above, she’s not likely to make it again. But not to worry. If you’re crazy about this wine, it reflects the style of Bink whites, pure, intense flavor that honors the grape variety and white wine in general, which at its very best has crisp and clean flavors. Her Sauvignon Blanc will turn your head and taste buds, too. Serve chilled.

Winemaker Series

Bink – 2007 Merlot Hawks Butte Vineyard

Winemaker Deborah Schatzlein’s Notes

A deep garnet color, this high-altitude Merlot shows flavors of black currant, lavender, underlying earthiness, and a hint of spice. The wine was aged for 22 months in a combination of 30% new French oak barrels and the rest neutral barrels (old French), specifically Vicard and Saury with medium plus toast levels. The fruit was harvested from estate vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands of Mendocino County (alcohol 14.3% pH 3.22, titratable acidity 0.68 g/100ml).

Anna Maria’s Notes

The evening that we tasted this high-altitude Merlot and the Melange blend, the Merlot was the winner with compelling and complex flavors that everyone agreed were most remarkable. Twenty-four hours later, the Melange blend, described below, won the contest. But you’re not likely to cork either bottle before you finish them. They’re both too delicious. Deb Schatzlein made 150 cases of this wine. Serve at cool room temperature.

Bink – 2007 Melange

Winemaker Deborah Schatzlein’s Notes

Flavors of blackberry, cassis, and spice, along with rounded tannins and acidity, make this an excellent wine to pair with food. We make this artisan Bordeaux-style blend from two of the highest elevation vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands. The wine is a blend of 50% Merlot and 10% Syrah from the estate vineyard and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from neighboring Old Chatham Ranch Vineyard, all of which were aged together for 22 months in a combination of 30% new French oak barrels and the rest neutral barrels (old French), specifically Remond, St. Martin, Rousseau, Sirugue, Saury, and Vicard with medium to medium plus toast levels (alcohol 14.0, pH 3.72, titratable acidity 0.61 g/100ml).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Since the Melange improved after 24 hours in the corked but previously opened bottle, I suggest that you decant the wine in the hopes that you’ll taste the delicious flavors that we enjoyed the next evening. I don’t always have an opportunity to taste a particular wine again the next day. You guessed it. The bottle is emptied. But this time, we were surprised to find an even better wine in the bottle after 24 hours. Deb Schatzlein made 500 cases.

Menu of the Month


 

Sumptuous Summer

First Course

Steamed artichokes, served with olive oil-yogurt dip

Main Course

Barbecued fresh, wild salmon and brown rice salad with chopped red onions,
lemon zest, parsley, and extra virgin olive oil

Salad

Organic red leaf lettuce with slivers of red bell pepper, red onion,
chopped parsley, and olive oil-lemon-garlic vinaigrette

Dessert

Ricotta mousse with fresh strawberries and mint, drizzled with triple sec

Recipe of the Month


Ricotta mousse with fresh strawberries

This dessert was part of last month’s menu, but without a recipe. In the meantime, I’ve prepared it for various guests, and they’ve confirmed my own enthusiasm. It’s a simple confection with tons of flavor, and offers a favorite combination, fresh fruit and cream. But in this case, the cream is ricotta with fewer calories and more substance.

Ingredients

15-once container of organic ricotta

Powered sugar to taste, about 1 heaping tablespoon

Vanilla extract to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon

Dark chocolate chips (optional), about 2 tablespoons

Strawberries, apricots, nectarines, either separately or combined

Coarsely chopped fresh mint, about 1 tablespoon

Triple Sec, about 1/4 cup

1 tablespoon of powered sugar if fruit is not ideally sweet

Directions

If using chocolate chips, very coarsely chop in food processor

Add ricotta, sugar and vanilla and process momentarily until ricotta is smooth.

Taste for sugar and vanilla and add more if desired.

Prepare before the meal, put into a covered container, and store in refrigerator until ready to assemble dessert.

Wash and cut fruit into bit sizes. Add mint, powered sugar, and triple sec, and marinate for an hour or more before use.

Serve in glass goblets, with the ricotta at the bottom, the fruit and its juices on top, and an added perhaps lemon cookie or biscotto placed in the goblet with the ricotta mousse and fruit. Serves 4.