A Marriage of Science & Art
C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery
In his early adulthood, Chaim Gur-Arieh pursued scientific studies that culminated in a Ph.D. in Food Science with minors in Biochemistry and Chemical Engineering, followed by employment with Quaker Oats and Del Monte Corporation where he designed new food products. But he began to further explore a creative side when he met his wife Elisheva, a ballet dancer with a wine collection, who also attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California and later exhibited her paintings in galleries across the U.S. We can assume that she must have been simultaneously cultivating an interest in science. He credits Elisheva with focusing his attention on wine and inspiring the goal that they would someday own their own winery.
Their first creative leap together was establishing Food Development Corporation, where Chaim launched Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing, Power Bars, and Wine Coolers, names that need no introduction. The company then morphed into a flavor enterprise, and over the next 18 years, Chaim created a database of 5000 flavors for the food industry, an almost invisible business that nevertheless contributes its products to the list of ingredients on almost every packaged food.
A favorite adage in the wine business is that it takes a fortune to make a fortune. After selling Food Development Corporation in 1998, they had the fortune that allowed them to enter the wine business, which more than most others is a marriage of both science and art. They purchased a 209-acre estate between the south and middle forks of the Cosumnes River in the five percent of Shenandoah Valley that is located in El Dorado County, the other 95 percent of the appellation situated in Amador County. The two counties are the most prestigious and prolific wine growing areas in the Sierra Foothills.
Chaim and Elisheva built a 12,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art winery, perched on a hillside with spectacular views of their vineyards and a panorama of the Sierra Foothills in the distance. The facility, which features two art galleries, has the capacity to produce 15,000 cases of wine annually. Their vineyards are populated mainly with Zinfandel, Primitivo, which is the parent clone of Zinfandel, three clones of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Tempranillo, and Grenache. Needless to say, Chaim is the winemaker, while Elisheva oversees the brand image, winery events, marketing, and web design. She also manages the orchard, olive grove, and vegetable production at the estate.
The winery’s first vintage was 2002, and Chaim says that since then he has become a better winemaker and understands grapes more profoundly. His winemaking style produces what he calls “new world wines with an old world feel.” Although fruit-forward and bold, they are lower in alcohol like European wines. Nor does he want oak barrel elements to overshadow the varietal taste, often a problem with California wines. “Wood should take a backseat.” He ages his wines in French oak barrels because they intrude less on the grape flavors than American barrels. And he wants the flavor to be “open,” to show layers, instead of being one dimensional. Finally, he wants the wine to impart its essence even after it is swallowed, that illusive long finish that challenges winemakers. “Sometimes, the finish is what you taste in the beginning, but sometimes it’s different. Sometimes it’s smoky, savory, and earthy, more like old world wines.”
Along with creating the C.G. Di Arie wine style, planting vineyards, and even inventing equipment, Chaim has been concerned that the traditional cork is the worst closure that any winemaker can use for a wine bottle. The Australian wine industry has done all of the basic research on oxidation and micro oxidation, how wine oxidizes as it ages, he explains. The Australians compiled statistics on cork design and the failure rate of cork stoppers, and their research indicates overwhelmingly that screw caps are preferable. “In 2007, I finally bit the bullet and decided that I wouldn’t use cork anymore.”
Regardless how anyone may feel about the virtue of natural cork, Chaim makes a formidable argument against it. First, cork is not uniform, he explains. “The density varies from one cork to the next, and the variation in that density causes a variable amount of air to penetrate into the bottle.” Softer corks allow more air to penetrate through the cork and into the wine, and harder ones allow less. Softer corks also absorb wine, which is the reason that we sometimes see corks soaked with wine. If wine penetrates the entire cork, air will enter the bottle. And the more oxygen that enters the bottle, the sooner the wine will oxidize. Chaim points out that if you were to open each bottle in a case of wine with cork stoppers, each bottle of wine would taste differently because of various amounts of air penetration. “The cork is fully responsible for this phenomenon,” Chaim explains. If those bottles were topped with screw caps, all the wine would exhibit exactly the same flavors and would age the same way. Made from aluminum, the inside of the screw cap has a coating of Saranex, a food-grade plastic that prevents contact between wine and aluminum.
The second reason that Chaim is opposed to natural cork is that according to Australian research, three percent of wine becomes contaminated with TCA (trichloroanisole) or TBA (tribromoanisole), harmless molds that nevertheless taint the cork and impart a moldy, wet-cardboard flavor to wine. “So you tell me which industry will accept a failure rate of three percent. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Chaim now uses two closures, the screw cap and a composite cork. The cork has been ground and the TCA/TBA extracted. Then the material is reconstituted and pressed into the shape of a cork. He says that the treated cork particles are held together with a starch-based glue and that the density of each cork is exactly the same. A barrier is incorporated at the bottom of the cork so that wine is unable to pass through it. “To tell you the truth, I like the screw cap better than the composite cork, but I have to consider what my customers like. They like the idea of taking the cork screw, screwing it into the cork, and popping it out of the bottle of wine. This is what makes them happy.”
Since such closures are relatively new, no one yet knows how wine will age with these stoppers. As wines ages, fruit flavors oxidize first and diminish so that secondary earthy, savory flavors emerge. But Chaim feels that the issue is not problematic. Wine has a small amount of dissolved oxygen in it just as water does. So wine will eventually oxidize even without the additional oxygen that would penetrate a natural cork over time. “Cork allows more oxygen to enter the bottle but in an unpredictable way. If you use a screw cap that prevents additional oxygen penetration, the process will be very predictable.”
Chaim adds that the difference in price between a screw cap and natural cork is negligible. He pays two and a half cents per aluminum cap and three cents per cork, a miniscule difference, he says. “Very few people in the tasting room have complained that the wines with screw caps look cheap. I think people understand now and are getting used to it.” While Chaim Gur-Arieh may cherish his creative abilities, coaxing complex flavors from the fruit and making distinctive blended wines with original flavors, he never ignores science.
California Wines of the Month
C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery – 2008 Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills
Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh’s Notes
The Zinfandel grapes used for making this wine were harvested from three different vineyards, Davis Vineyard in Fair Play and Helwig Vineyards and our Estate vineyard both in Shenandoah Valley. The wine is a blend of 78% Zinfandel, 9% Primitivo, 9% Petite Sirah, and 4% Tempranillo, which together create a balanced and complex wine. The wine is bottled using a screw cap as the closure. Our decision to use this closure was based on quality issues. By using the screw cap over the cork, we avoid cork taint and the sporadic oxidation of the wine that emanates from the cork that at times leaks oxygen into the bottle, resulting in variation in the quality of the wine from one bottle to the next. Aged for 14 months in French oak barrels, this fully extracted and well balanced, medium- bodied wine is more elegant than robust. You will appreciate its strong varietal aromas of blackberries with hints of spice, which carries into the mid-palate, adding black cherry and plum flavors. The finish is long, adding more spice and hints of chocolate (alcohol 14.3%, pH 3.55, cases produced 3,200).
Anna Maria’s Notes
As soon as you pop the cork… Oops! As soon as you unscrew the cap, Zinfandel aromas will fill the space around your head. This wine is a beauty, and not so heavy as most Zinfandel that you can’t pair it with a multitude of foods. Enjoy!
C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery – 2007 Roussanne, Shenandoah Valley
Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh’s Notes
Rousanne is a lesser known French varietal hailing from Northern Rhone appellations. We received our fruit from Bellagrave Vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley. The variety is difficult to manage with irregular yields and late ripening. We can attest to the late ripening because nearly half of our reds came in before the Roussane. But all good things come to those who wait, and in early October, we were rewarded with beautiful fruit. We whole-cluster pressed and fermented the fruit in a mixure of new and mature French oak barrels for a total of six months. This dry Roussanne is a complex wine, possessing an inherent duality. It greets one with honeydew and dry hay upon the nose. Leading to apple met with toast, the citrus blossom paired with butter in the mouth, and its substantial body is book ended by a crisp acidity. The wine will compliment a variety of foods from smoked cheese, seafood, chicken, and pork (alcohol 13.8%, cases produced 172).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Rich and round but with beautiful acid balance, this Roussanne has spent time in the bottle and presents itself proudly. I had to talk Chaim into selling me this wine because it is a favorite of Elisheva and the vintage is almost finished. You’ll love it too.
C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery – 2008 Sierra Legend
Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh’s Notes
This is my fourth vintage of Sierra Legend, which is a blend of Syrah, a Rhone variety, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, both Bordeaux varieties, and Primitivo, originating in Croatia but lately cultivated mainly in Italy. Creating new blends, especially from wines that are inherently different, is by far the most fulfilling and exciting part of my job as a winemaker. The 2008 Sierra Legend has an identity of its own, barely revealing the identity of its components. This wine has a remarkable balance between the fruit and the savory, smoky and earthy notes that come to play in the mid-palate. Subtle smoky and earthy notes and hints of mocha are a part of the long and sustained finish. All the grapes used for this wine are Estate grown in the Shenandoah Valley, including 24% Primitivo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc.
Anna Maria’s Notes
The Sierra Legend presents an opportunity to experience what a blended wine can produce. In this case, the wine has the delicious fruity qualities of Zinfandel but the floral, dark berry qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc along with purple color, tannins, and acid that are typical of the varieties. Primitivo is the original European clone for California Zinfandel but is more structured with tannins and acid than California Zinfandel. Chaim has put them all in a pot, stirred, no doubt whispered a few ancient Hebrew words, and produced a memorable wine.
C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery – 2008 Zinfandel, Southern Exposure
Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh’s Notes
The Southern Exposure designation for our wines denotes that we feel the wine has very special qualities. We feel the 2008 Zinfandel, sourced from the very best Shenandoah Valley vineyards, including the Grandpere and Gunther vineyards, is worthy of this designation. The Gunther Vineyard is approximately 41 years old while the original Grandpere Vineyard contains vines over 139 years old. Their roots quietly dug deep down into granite soils and once again, as they have for over a century, to produce exceptionally complex fruit. The wine is 80% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc and 5% other varietals. We took this fruit and utilized our thoroughly modern stainless steel Submerged Cap Fermentation Tanks to fully extract every nuanced flavor from the berries. We then aged the wine in French oak barrels. Throughout the process, we were careful to minimize harsh tannins while still providing a solid backbone for ageing potential. Deep violet in color, the wine has an elegant nose that begins with blackberry, plum, and dark cherries. Under this dark fruit are opulent layers of vanilla, cedar, anise, spice, and dried flowers. Layers of cracked black pepper, cloves, and briar accompany the rounded tannins. The wine finishes with velvety smoothness and sweet cherries.
Anna Maria’s Notes
The Grandpere Vineyard, the oldest living Zinfandel vineyard in California, is revered by winemakers in the Sierra Foothills. Competition for the fruit is fierce, and grape production is whimsical from year to year as is the case with old vineyards. Planted in 1872 after the Gold Rush had ended, the vineyard was a harbinger of the prolific viticulture that California would eventually produce. C.G. Di Arie 2008 Zinfandel, Southern Exposure is history in a glass.
Menu of the Month
A Change of Seasons
Swiss Chard Gnocchi with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmigian cheese
Veal Scaloppini, served with parsley potatoes
Organic red lettuce with sliced cucumbers, red onions, and chopped flat-leaf parsley,
dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and finely chopped garlic
Roasted Golden Delicious apples, cored and stuffed with minced raisins and walnuts,
cinnamon, and honey. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, sprinkled with cinnamon.
Recipe of the Month
Swiss Chard Gnocchi
Here in Northern California, we’re finally enjoying the summer that never was. It’s hard to believe that Massachusetts is already getting morning temperatures in the 40s. But at least according to the calendar, the season seems to have changed, so our menus follow, baked apples for dessert instead of berries and meats cooked indoors instead of grilled on the deck. This month’s first course is warm and tasty Swiss Chard Gnocchi that can also be made with spinach. The recipe is adapted from Lorenza de’Medici’s Italy Today, The Beautiful Cookbook. Preparation is easy and the results delicious. Enjoy!
2 lb Swiss chard, stalks removed
1 1/4 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Parmigian cheese
3 egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Approx 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a saucepan, combine the Swiss chard and a little salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until the chard is wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well and squeeze dry. Chop finely and place in a bowl. Add the ricotta, the flour, the nutmeg, half of the Parmigian cheese, and the egg yolks. Season to taste with salt and pepper. With well-floured hands, shape the mixture into little ovals each about 2 inches in length. As the gnocchi are formed, arrange in a single layer on a floured surface. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, add the gnocchi and boil until they float. Using a slotted spoon, lift out the gnocchi, allowing them to drain over the pot. Place on a warmed platter. Heat the olive oil until just warm. Drizzle over the gnocchi and sprinkle with remaining Parmigian cheese. Alternately, you can prepare gnocchi up to one day in advance and keep in the refrigerator in a covered dish. When ready to serve, heat in a 350 degree F. oven.