Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"It's Showtime at the Apollo"

The unfinished Renaissance Winery
[ed. - Marc Capobianco, blogger and Wine Program Director at Sostevinobile (a "life person") wrote the following review of a tasting celebrating the 30th anniversary of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.]

Long before I met the Ginkgo Girl, Your West Coast Oenophile more than once venture out solo on a Saturday evening, desultorily returning just as Saturday Night Live was playing its closing strain. Immediately afterwards, NBC broadcast a hip variety show called It’s Showtime at the Apollo. Broadcast from Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater and featuring some of the leading black musical acts of the time, it was hosted by Sinbad before he became funny. Or after—I was never quite sure. Amateur performers also competed for a shot at stardom in a Gong Show-like atmosphere that often had them being given the hook midway through their performance.

Last Saturday night, Showtime at the Apollo took on a whole new connotation as I ventured to the remote Yuba County enclave known as Oregon House, CA for the 30th Anniversary celebration at Renaissance Winery. Because of its isolation, I had never actually been to this estate, but my encounter the preceding Thursday with Clos Saron’s Gideon Beinstock, who also serves as Renaissance’s winemaker, convinced me to make the nearly three-hour trek. To say it was revelatory would be an understatement.

There are cult wines, and then there are cult wines. The former category includes those highly prized $500 Napa Cabernets produced in limited allocations like Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Colgin and Dalla Valle Maya (all of whom I highly urge to send sample bottles to Sostevinobile). The latter refers to those wineries that fly under the radar for most people but command an intensely loyal following among wine cognoscenti, labels like Thackrey, Linne Calodo, and, of course, Renaissance. As such, I had expected to find a little ramshackle operation: dirt road, creaky old barnhouse, manual bottling line, and a plank for a tasting room. Instead, I tailed a white stretch limo from Marysville Road (once I had determined that the street sign Rice’s Xing stood for Crossing, not a Chinese surname) to the presidial gates of Apollo, the opulent 1,300 acre estate where Renaissance operates.

The enormity of this property took me by complete surprise; the lushness of its extensive landscaping, the grandeur of its gilded statuary, the richness of its architecture presaged revelations for which I was wholly unprepared. Even if I hadn’t been dizzy from driving in near 110° heat, my head would have been in a whirl. The moment I had parked my car, the solicitous staff was eager to accommodate me. A woman named Geneviève asked if there was anything she could get for me. “A deed of trust,” I quipped.

But, alas, transferal of ownership seems highly remote, as I discovered that Renaissance is held by a non-profit entity known as The Fellowship of Friends. Being that an abundance of articles assaying this movement already populates the Internet, it serves little purpose for me to delve into the nature of their philosophy or the notoriety arising from this utopian settlement, though as a well-trained Classicist, I must concede that their assimilation of Greek and Roman mythology seemed rather tenuous, as did their mélange of as many other core beliefs as the learned Mr. Thackrey blends into his esteemed Pleiades.

Allegations aside, the focus of this gathering was a celebration of the wine, and rarely does one ever have a chance to taste a vertical of nearly every vintage a winery has produced. From 1982 onward, Renaissance has produced an exemplary Cabernet Sauvignon that rivals any comparably-priced production from Napa or Sonoma. Interestingly, however, Renaissance’s vintages seemed uniformly to defy the historic patterns from these other regions. Where a Napa vintage excelled, here was typically an off-year; years in which the North Coast dovetailed, Oregon House reached pinnacles. The pre-dinner gathering tasted 24 different Cabernets, covering the three winemakers who have toiled here since Renaissance’s inception. Following a few early, admittedly offbeat efforts, founding winemaker Dr. Karl Werner hit his stride with the 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, a wine that still drank remarkably well 23 years later. Several years later, his widow, Diana Werner, found her forte as his successor in the 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon. Gideon apprenticed under Diana and took over the helm in 1993. After 16 years of attenuating Renaissance’s extensive plantings into a refined, manageable vin de terroir program, his pennants are the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that has grown in stature here as rapidly as it has declined elsewhere, and the phenomenal 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle of which was generously included in our take-home gift packet.

Dinner patrons received a box of six bottles to bring home, a mixed selection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Roussanne, Syrah and Granite Crown, a proprietary red blend. Herein lies the root of my, frankly speaking, bewilderment at the arrangement of this gala. Those of us who stayed on for the dinner were fêted with a three-course meal, followed by dessert. Rather than serve entrées with wine pairing that elegantly matched each course, the dinner was accompanies by yet another dozen vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which were selected from Gideon’s Vin de Terroir or Reserve bottlings. Now had we been at a winery like Silver Oak, which only bottles Cabernet, I could understand this monolithic approach, but Renaissance offers a wide array of distinctive reds and whites, both as single varietals and artful blends. This inundation with Cabernet seemed, at best, quite awkward, especially following the pre-dinner tasting we had just enjoyed.

Perhaps it is a phenomenon of living in such exclusive isolation, but there seemed to have been no coordination between the wine selections and the preparation of the menu, which, in turn, tended to clash with itself as the meal progressed. The first course consisted of a duck leg in cherry sauce atop a bed of lentils. A respectable balance of these ingredients, to be sure, but a course that had consistency at all with a pairing of four Cabernets. Had we been served, instead, the 2004 Mediterranean Red, a Grenache-dominated GMS blend, or a vertical selection of the same, the wine and food would have married elegantly (I suspect the 2002 Pinot Noir might also have fit the bill).
The next course consisted of a delicately roasted slice of lamb, one of those rare selections that actually matches up quite well with Cabernet. But the chef’s choice to smother the meat in an overbearing garlic compote seemed almost heretical and, again, created a jarring clash between food and wine that no alternative selection might have complemented. Still, a more orthodox lamb preparation might well have been served by the 2005 Syrah, the 1996 Claret Prestige, or the 1999 Merlot Premier Cuvée with equal aplomb to a Cabernet.

A random selection of Brie, Pont-l’Eveque, and Morbier comprised the final course. The disparity of these cheeses with yet another round of Cabernet even struck Gideon, who discounted the compatibility of each. Here again, the course might have been better served with a Pinot Noir, or any of Renaissance’s notable whites: the 2006 Roussanne, the demure 2006 Sémillon Vin de Terroir, the 1993 Sauvignon Blanc still featured in their Library selections or the 2007 Carte D’Or, a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend.

Gratefully, the dessert offered no Cabernet pairing. Still, the peach cobbler could have skillfully been accentuated with any number of late harvest wines from the Renaissance roster: 2006 Roussanne Vendanges Tardives,1992 Riesling Late Harvest, 1989 Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest,2006 Sémillon Late Harvest or the 1995 Chardonnay Vendanges Tardives. I am told that, early in its development, Renaissance excelled at making a German-style Riesling that put the winery on the map, so to speak. I suspect a resurrection of one of these bottlings might have similarly pared well.

The coda to this meal was the complete omission of coffee or tea service. After considerable pleading, I managed to wangle a triple shot of espresso from the coffee maker housed within the full bar that serves their tasting room—a necessity before navigating the late night trip back to San Francisco. Gideon and I shared a most amiable conversation as the caffeine slowly surged through my veins, and I departed with nary a wisp of concern over my sobriety.
Showtime at the Apollo had indeed been an unanticipated adventure into the unknown, if nothing else one of the most esoteric destinations I have yet encountered. I think of the true homage to Persian culture and Zoroastrian beliefs one encounters at Darioush; on the other hand, the ersatz classicism of Ferrari-Carano’s garrish architecture illustrates the diametric opposite, a pallid imitation of a style and culture, lacking any depth of comprehension or genuine appreciation. The setting here lay somewhere in-between, underscored by a demagoguery that held an invisible sway over the course of the evening’s events. But I had come to Renaissance for the wine, and the wine I had been served had, isolated in its own context, been quite excellent.

I have long appreciated this winery for its incredible versatility with so many wines that they had not served on this celebratory evening. I would hope, as Renaissance strives for recognition as a premier winemaker unfettered by implication or exposé, that it take full advantage of the panoply of superb vintages they have to offer and rest upon these laurels.

This entry was posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Syrah, Viognier on September 1, 2009 by.

"Gideon" [Gideon Beinstock] commented on Sostevinobile, September 10, 2009:

It’s a pleasure to read your comments about our wines and all the rest of it… thank you for daring the unknown and showing up – it was truly a pleasure to spend a little time with you late that evening, following dinner.

I happen to agree with a lot of your comments relating to the dinner. It was our first event of that sort and scale and I am sure the next round will be much improved. As to the exclusive focus on the Cabernets, this was done specifically because of the fact that Renaissance has and is producing such a broad variety of wines – varietal and blends; we thought that instead of cherry picking from all of these, for once we would like to give our fans a complete and “un-edited” overview of the heart of our wine making, which has always been the Cabernet in its various bottlings. However, I would agree that – for most people – tasting and making sense of 36 variations on the theme was challenging to say the least.

As I am sure you have noticed, the event was very well attended and the dinner was over-booked. The success of this event will hopefully ensure that it will become a yearly tradition rather than a stand alone event. I hope to see you again in future ones!

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