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07 Jun 2021 | Jeremy Dugan

NATURAL WINE: FRENCHTOWN FARMS--GIVING LIFE TO THE "DOOMSDAY VINEYARDS" IN CALIFORNIA'S SIERRA FOOTHILLS

Husband and wife duo Aaron and Cara Mockrish were both looking for new adventures professionally.  Aaron, looking to get into the cannabis industry in California and Cara looking for something else besides teaching that sparked her joy.  While trying to figure out what next step to take, they discovered a bottle of 2008 Clos Saron Black Pearl.  Little did they know that the discovery of that wine would lead them to Oregon House California speaking to a man who once controlled 365 acres of vines in the North Yuba AVA, his former winery made into its own classification.

 

Gideon Beinstock was the winemaker for Renaissance winery from 1993 until he left in 2010. For those of you old enough to have enjoyed wine in the late 80s and 90s, Renaissance might sound familiar to you.  It was the winery run by members of the Fellowship of Friends, known to many as the “Doomsday Cult”.  As a member of the Fellowship and their head winemaker, Gideon was amazed at the beauty of the grapes grown at 2,250 feet elevation, just 70 miles from Sacramento.  But, like with many organizations with “Gurus” at the helm, the Fellowship of Friends saw its membership dwindle in numbers (especially after founder Robert Burton’s 1998 apocalypse prediction was incorrect), and as the numbers dwindled, so did Gideon’s passion for winemaking at Renaissance.  

That is when he found himself with a side project helping a friend make wine not too far from Apollo (HQ for Fellowship of Friends) under the label Clos Saron.

 

While still making wine for Renaissance, Gideon would purchase grapes from the Fellowship and take them to Clos Saron.  It was through his purchases of Renaissance grapes he was able to make Black Pearl, a blend of Cabernet, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Roussanne. And that was the wine that led to a cold-call from a husband and wife both looking for new professions, wondering if they could apprentice for Gideon in the 2015 harvest.  It was shortly after Aaron and Cara Mocktrish finished helping with the Clos Saron harvest that Gideon got a phone call from the Board of the Fellowship of Friends letting him know that they were closing Renaissance, and if his two apprentices would be interesting in leasing some land.

 

From apprentices to winemakers in a few weeks is an impressive climb up the ladder with Aaron and Cara making 4 barrels of wine from that 2015 harvest and needed to make a label, so they created Frenchtown Farms.  The Mockrishes now lease 33 acres of land from the Fellowship, using their flock of sheep to take care of weeds and such and giving fruit to Gideon and their friend Dani Rozman.  

All wines from Frenchtown Farms are grown organically, and whole-cluster crushing is done by foot, a time-honored technique that presses the grapes without crushing the bitter seeds.  Naturally fermented and aged in neutral barrels, no sulfuring is done until bottling day.

 

The Wine Country is currently offering four expressions from the North Yuba producer, and with wines like these, there is no reason the Mockrishes can’t bring life back to the vines once maintained by the “Doomsday Cult”.

 

2019 Frenchtown Farms Cecelia, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California

(limited availability)

Made from Syrah, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc.  Made a bit differently; the juice from the Sauvignon Blanc is added during the stomping of the Syrah and Grenache grapes. The result is a wine with bright minerality up front that pops onto your taste buds, telling you it’s ready to party.  Vibrant lemon peel along with bright cranberry and fresh apricot fruit add some depth to the minerality driven Northern California wine.  Crisp and fresh, the minerality, cranberry and lemon zest linger for a while.  A great wine for the summertime, I’m happy I picked up the last 2 cases available.

$28.99 per bottle

 

2017 Frenchtown Farms Nineteen Harts, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California

A blend of 95% Syrah with 5% Roussanne, this Northern California wine has great balance of rich fruit and higher acidity than one would expect.  Rich notes of blackberries and blueberries coat the palate giving the wine a bramble like profile.  Light hints of minerality on the mid-palate along with subtle barnyard characteristics give the wine a lift and a little funk.  After the brief interruption of fruit, notes of just under ripened strawberries (so having a little more acidity than fruit) comes out on the finish. 

$24.99 per bottle

 

2019 Frenchtown Farms Cotillion, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California

A 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, the ram on the label is a breed that is raised on the farm and helps with field upkeep.  A fun balance between the Grenache and Syrah.  Rich plum fruit up front provides a full body with a light floral minerality that lightens the palate a bit.   Subtle savory black olive and hints of tart cranberry continue the balancing act this wine performs through the whole drinking experience.  The mid-palate is a bit dry, the cranberry notes come out a little more before the rich plum comes back to even the fruit out.  A softer floral finish allows the fruit to linger.

$30.99 per bottle

 

2017 Frenchtown Farms Indigeaux, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California

Aged in neutral oak for 3 years, this blend on 70% Cabernet, 25% Merlot and 5% Semillon has a lot going on under the cork.  Decadent fig and blackberry notes seep into your taste buds almost tasting like a port, but without the sweetness.  The mid-palate is dried by some light minerality and characteristics comparable to dried hay.  The minerality transitions into more fruit; cranberries and more blackberries on the finish. 

$32.99 per bottle

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