Yesterday afternoon I received the shocking news that Joe Dougherty is no longer of this world. I say shocked because Joe was one of those people I never imagined wouldn't be around; as both a friend to us but also to a staggering amount of the growers we work with, Joe seamlessly interweaved himself into both our personal and professional lives on such a profound level that it's impossible to envision who we are today without him.
I really wish my father was here to detail the early days of SFJoe's rise to prominence in our lives, as I don't have much insight on the matter. I have however been around Joe my whole life and have plenty to say.
I'm sure my dad met Joe Dougherty through wine. I know I met Joe Dougherty because of wine. And yes, SFJoe had an insane cellar, was the most knowledgable person about wine I've ever met and was always ready to open a bottle that most people would never dream of having the opportunity to try. But when I think about Joe, I never think about wine. Joe was one of the most fascinating human beings I've had the pleasure of knowing; I often joked that he knew everything about everything.
But unlike a smartphone or Google search, Joe wasn't just a scripted fact-sheet; he knew how to pull you in with the details. This could range from casual observations to humorous anecdotes and sometimes get as precise as the molecular composition or chemical reactions in food, wine or anything with molecular composition or chemical reactions, which is basically everything. No matter what you were talking about, you would learn something while laughing about another, all while drinking some Vouvray.
What was great was that you never felt intimidated by his intelligence or knowledge. Instead you felt welcome, invited to a world you had no idea was as interesting as it is, a world of details you constantly overlooked until Joe brought them to your attention. For example, I once opened a bottle of (surprise!) old Huet that Joe had brought to Terroir in San Francisco. I was convinced it was corked, but Joe busted out some empirical research he'd done because he'd often noticed that old Chenin Blanc tends to get get fungal aromas and flavors with age that many associate with cork taint, and that it blows off after about an hour or so. He also went into some next-level chemical reasons behind this that went way over my head, but that I appreciated anyway. As the hour passed, my skepticism subsided when lo and behold, a wine I found undrinkable was now showing beautifully!
For years, there has been a running joke of introducing Joe to growers as the "Average American Consumer". This gag has its origins in Joe joining us annually on our trip to the Loire valley every winter. Because Joe never had a professional stake in in wine industry, he was always the only consumer on the trip, so Joe (Dressner) and Kevin settled on "Average American Consumer" when introducing him. It was of course tongue-in-cheek, since most average consumers didn't have libraries of back vintage Huet or could guess blind that the moelleux François Pinon just poured us was a 1954 just off one sniff (a truly remarkable moment I'll never forget, especially François' face lighting up in surprise and delight). The "Average American Consumer" also didn't have to step out for 2 hour international phone meetings in his car out in the dead of winter and wasn't able to understand the chemical structure of a wine more than the person who had made it. But hey...
But in so many ways, Joe was the embodiment of all my favorite wine lovers and affianados. I think Joe's profound love of wine, besides the geeky scientist stuff, was that he had a firm grasp of how important it is in this world. Wine was an excuse to bring people together, to share stories, to excite the senses, to laugh, eat, drink and be merry. To live and to celebrate life. It's no surprise that his love for lively wines led him to lively people, be it my father, Eric Texier or David Lillie. Everything intertwined so perfectly.
Joe, you'll always be family. You will be sorely missed and I'll be drinking some Vouvray tonight for ya!
On our first day in Sicily, we got a day off to hang out in the incredibly photogenic town of Trapani.
While walking around, I kept noticing locals hanging outside burning huge candles. At first I thought little of it; after all I'm not from there and maybe that's how people hang. But then I started hearing marching band music!
And along with the marching band, a huge group of people where following a statue of this guy!
Our group was a bit stumped as to what this ritual pertained to, but with some googling we were able to figure out it was a celebration for Santo Padre, who, amongst other accolades, was the 2nd Pope. Ever!
As an aside, the best painting of all time was on proud display at the restaurant we ate at that night:
The following morning we drove over to Marsala to see the de Bartoli family. Their hamlet still looks like a cross of Miami Vice and a Spaghetti Western.
Here is their adorable dog Picasso, who many felt was the cutest canine of the trip:
Here I am angering Picasso by trying to do "extreme" maneuvers on a tiny, tiny skateboard not much bigger than my foot:
This video truly gives you all an inside glimpse in the sheer professionalism we here at Louis/Dressner profess with every visit.
Right on the outskirts of the de Bartoli cellar, a limestone quarry provides a good look into what the soils/subsoils of the area look like.
Interestingly, the limestone from Western Sicily is not only great for growing white grapes, but also for building houses.
"Half of Sicily was built from our area's stones."
I couldn't help but notice this everywhere we went for our remainder of the time on the island.
To the side of the quarry, 9 hectares are planted in Grillo.
These 9 hectares produce all of the de Bartoli Grillo based cuvées: Vigna Verde, Grappoli di Grillo, Integer Grillo and of course the beautiful line-up of Marsalas the estate is famous for. The Cataratto that produces Lucido are a short 4 kilometers away and the Pignatello that produces Rosso di Marco are 10km away.
From the vines, we set off to the de Bartolis' beautiful and elaborate cellar. Before I jump into the technical stuff, I highly recommend re-reading my visit re-cap from two years ago. There will certainly be some overlap (as well as a past Miami Vice reference), but many of the details I delve into below will complement the information from our past visit that I didn't catch the first time around.
The Marsala process begins in the ground level part of the cellar:
To understand how the solera process works, the first concept to grasp is that alcohol molecules are bigger than water molecules, and therefore water molecules disappear first with evaporation, leaving a more concentrated alcoholic liquid to be topped off with new wine each year.
The top floor cellar is where the Solera process takes place, going from top to bottom barrel, which if you scroll up will notice go from smallest at the top to biggest at the bottom. The new wine added each vintage is vinified like the Integer Grillo: barrel fermentation and aging without any added sulfur. Every year, Marsala is bottled from the small aging barrels in the underground cellar (we'll get to that shortly), and wine from the huge bottom barrels is racked back into the small barrels, where they will continue aging until they are bottled. In practice, this is a never-ending process that can continue endlessly:
"Marsala can age for hundreds of years."
The average mix in a big bottom barrel is 20 vintages.
From the ground level cellar, we walked two flights down into the aging cellar.
As explained earlier, these little barrels are where the wine that has already gone through the solera process age. It is at this point that the wine is either left to age on its own before bottling or fortified with mistella to produce the Superiore line.
"Traditional Marsala was never fortified, but my father wanted to look forward while also honoring tradition, and this is how the Superiore line came to be. Still, it is the territory, the grape and oxygenation that makes a Marsala, not fortification."
At the end of the cellar visit, Sebastiano drew this very helpful diagram to understand the whole process of making a de Bartoli Marsala.
It all seems so simple when you add a cute drawing!
It was time to taste, which is always a lot of fun since the family produces so many different wines from the same vines and land.
We also got to taste the Zibibbo based passitos from the island of Pantelleria, a project started in 1984. As a fun treat, Sebastiano pulled out a few bunches of the dried grapes that make the wine for us to taste.
BEST. RAISINS. EVER.
We ended our visit with a tour of the late Marco's prized car cellar, which is full of rare automobiles from the 60's, 70's and 80's.
The funnest part was seeing his favorite sports car, this red Alpha-Romeo that served as the inspiration for the Rosso di Marco label!
Louis/Dressner Selections, Reynard at the Wythe Hotel and Indie Wines would be thrilled to see you at a pre-release screening of Natural Resistance, the new film directed by Jonathan Nossiter (here's a link to Jonathan's Film Quarterly article about the film). The screening will take place at the Wythe Hotel Screening Room & Bar on Thursday, September 11th at 8 PM.
In addition to the film, Jonathan will be there for a short talk and to take some questions directly after the film. Wines from the winemakers/protagonists (Stefano Bellotti of Cascina degli Ulivi, Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, Stefano & Giovanna Tiezzi of La Pacina and, we hope, Corrado Dottori of La Distesa) will be available at the Screening Room Bar for purchase by the glass and half-glass before, during and after the screening.
The evening's proceeds will be donated to Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger and the Far Rock Farm Project.
For tickets go here at
Seats are limited, so hurry.
Right next to the Roagna family house is the historic and majestic Pajé vineyard.
The Roagna family has been working this land for over 130 years, and have owned the majority of this Cru since the 1950's; they currently work 2 of the site's 4 hectares, which is shared two other growers. The site is shaped like an amphitheater, and exposed South-Southwest.
Many cuvées are bottled from the Pajé, all depending on the age of the vines and the conditions of the vintage: the base Pajé comes from 45-50 year old vines, Pajé Riserva is from vines that are 60+ and the Crichet Pajé is produced only in the best vintages, and from the oldest vines (70-100).
The soils are composed of marly limestone. The Roagnas never cut the grass at any time in any of their land:
Luca explained that this creates an incredible biodiversity in the vineyards and soil, which -amongst a multitude of herbs and flowers- includes more than 10 varieties of mint.
"If we ever fail at wine, we can become premium Mojito producers!"
The young Nebbiolo vines from Pajé (which are 20 to 50) partially produce the Roagna's Langhe Rosso, and the estates's Dolcetto is also planted here.
A short drive from Pajé, we visited the Asili Cru, the second of three lieu-dits within the village of Barbaresco that the Roagnas produce from.
The soils here are clay, limestone and sand. The youngest vines are 55.
A little further down, you can spot their tiny parcel of the Montefico Cru. Can you guess which it is?
Hint: grass grows wild...
If you guessed this:
You are wrong and chose a parcel with evident, heavy handed herbicide use!
If you chose this:
Then you are correct!!!!!!!!
All joking aside, the picture above is a very interesting contrast of the varying degrees of herbicide use in vineyards. From the full "Brazilian Wax" to "just in between the rows" to "let it grow free!", you get to see it all. Still, I feel I must ask the rhetorical question: which plot looks the healthiest and most full of life?
From Barbaresco, we hopped into our Dressner mobiles and drove the half hour to Barolo. It was looking like rain the whole way over, but we still felt that it was necessary to visit La Pira, the 8 hectare Cru and monopole Alfredo purchased in 1990.
The total property is 11 hectares, with 8 hectares of vines planted. The oldest vines here were planted in 1937, but there have historically been plantings here for at least 500 years.
In addition to the obviously planted Nebbiolo, La Pira is also where the Langhe Bianco and Barbera grapes are grown. As you can see from the pictures, the grass stays just as tall here as in Barbaresco. This is particularly useful for harvesting herbs and making their Chinato, which is one of the best in the game. La Pira is an isolated clos.
At the bottom of the hill, Luca is conducting a franc de pied experiment with the best clones from his various parcels.
The goal is to see which react the best to this situation in order to propagate them in the future.
Our visit ended in a visit in the brand new cellar installation Luca has constructed above La Pira. It is fucking huge and kind of looks like the Legion of Doom headquarters.
It isn't clear if all the vinifications will take place here, but the idea is to do all of the aging here; because space is longer an issue, this will permit Luca to age wines much longer than he has been able to in the past. Even though everything looks really new, the space already has that cold, moldy cellar feel.
Cages will eventually hold reserve bottles of wine.
Or maybe lock up pesky importers if they misbehave.
Luca has also started custom building his own concrete tanks because he doesn't trust the manufacturers.
"I want it to not have lining and the concrete to have very specific dimensions. I want it to to be the most neutral tank possible, and I cannot find what I am looking for on the current market."
Here are some pics:
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise; to this day Alfredo and Luca are the only ones allowed to prune the entirety of their land. That's two guys for 15 hectares!
We tasted wine, it was good. As we drove off, a nice rainbow led the way to Torino.