Natty New World

This month we bring you two stars of the New California wine scene: Craig Haarmeyer (Haarmeyer Wine Cellars) and Avi Deixler (Absentee Winery). Craig has been at it for a bit more than a decade. Avi launched his project in 2016.

Craig Haarmeyer studied art at the San Francisco Art Institute. His father developed the Old Sacramento Historic District, and his mother ran restaurants. Craig followed his fiancée back to Sacramento. Shortly thereafter family friends fortuitously introduced him to Charlie Meyers, whose Harbor Winery was one of the state capital’s only urban wineries after Prohibition. As a winemaker, Meyers was known for his light touch and fairly natural approach. Craig was lucky to learn how to make wine from him. Meanwhile he took IT jobs as his main gig and continued to paint.

In 2007, a childhood friend hatched a plan to open Revolution Wines in downtown Sacramento and he asked Craig to help. Fast forward two years: Craig is the winemaker and decides to make wine only from the region’s vineyards, Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg, Sauvignon Blanc from Yolo, Zinfandel from Lodi and the foothills…

Now, a bit more than a decade later, Craig is in full stride making natural wine from Sacramento terroir that’ll blow your mind, and forever change your idea about what wines from California can taste like.

Avram Deixler is producing genuine, pure, natural wines in an old dairy barn in Point Reyes Station (West Marin, California) at the foot of Black Mountain that he’s named Absentee Winery. Avi believes wine made with additives, including sulfites, is not wine. He’s proud of the fact that grapes are the only ingredients in his wines. He ferments with wild yeast ferments, without temperature control, and without additives. He also has learned the craft of barrel making. He ages all his wines in used barrels (François Frères) that he hand-shaves. In fact, he almost pursued barrel making instead of winemaking. Although he ferments and ages all his wine in barrels, the touch of oak in his wines is subtle.

Avi honed his craft by working in the Loire with other young renegades like Francois St-Lo and Baptiste Cousin, as well as Baptiste’s OG dad, Olivier Cousin. His first vintage was 2016, from which he produced a total of just 400 cases (4,800 bottles). In order to set up his facility he spent $24,000 of his $50,000 budget on the application process of getting the approval of the Marin County Planning Commission for his one-man winery.

He’s getting his fruit from the Poor Ranch vineyard in Mendocino, 10- to 70-year-old Syrah, Carignan, and Petite Sirah, planted in clay soil, that’s head-pruned, dry-farmed and untreated. No chemicals are used in the vineyard and harvests are done by hand.

The Wines:
From Sutter Ranch in the Clarksburg AVA in the Sacramento Delta, where the average temperature is lower than the northern end, and of the Lodi AVA to the east. Cool marine air tempers the summer heat. Craig makes several passes each year to pick just the right fruit at just the right time. His second pick is for this Pet Nat (and his barrel fermented still wine). He looks for a nexus of acidity, sweetness, flavor, and phenolic ripeness, in order to produce Chenin Blanc that exceeds the expectations of Sacramento Delta wine. Boy, has he nailed it.

Made from 70-year-old Carignan in the saignée method with one hour of skin contact with no added SO2. It may be the best American rosé that has touched our lips.

Made from 10-year-old Syrah vines, barrel-fermented, 9 months of élevage, racked 3 months before bottling. Ba-reek demonstrates the genuine knack Avi has with red wines, a wine in perfect balance, with just the right amount of fruit and tannins. No added SO2.

The Menu:
Savory Parsnip Madeleines

Root Vegetable Latkes with Sour Cream

Red Beet Sausages & Farmers Market Slaw

Mandarin Orange Curd