A few years after taking over the Curtis Estate, I started to realize the quality and potential for amazing Mourvèdre. It is not everyone’s go to grape. Not usually someone’s first love. It doesn’t roll off the tongue like Syrah or Grenache. But we began to see the potential in 2013 and so we started to really work the vines – pruning them way back, restricting yield and irrigation, competing cover crops, careful shoot positioning and cluster thinning and even partial cluster thinning. We went hard at Mourvèdre, hoping the extra work and expense might pay off.
Our Mourvèdre bottlings have slowly been improving and garnering ever higher scores. We watched as our customers would show up to the winery thinking they might purchase Syrah or Grenache and then ultimately leave with our Mourvèdre. The wine was in the bottle and in the glass. We noticed we were on to something. SO, we pushed even harder. I dug into my early memories of trips to the Rhône valley (in the early 90s) where I remembered that I had learned that Mourvèdre was usually the 2nd or 3rd grape in a blend. Rarely was it ever stand alone. It was thought to be too wild and unruly with awful tannins and prone to spoilage by Brettanomyces (a spoilage yeast). It was never highly regarded or prized for any singularity or standout qualities. It was essentially relegated to a “team-player” status…a grape that could provide structure and a bit of color in warmer vintages. Then memories of more recent trips popped up where I remember tasting amazing stand alone Mourvèdre that was fetching hundreds of dollars per bottle with long waiting lists just to purchase a bottle or two. Growers were increasingly planting more Mourvèdre with better clones and building blends around Mourvèdre. It really reminded me of our own Mourvèdre and its special and unique qualities that deserved to stand alone or at least as the star.
So, in 2015 I started dreaming of a Mourvèdre dominant blend as a counter-point to our Espérance, which has been a Grenache dominant blend that we have crafted since our very first vintage in 1994. This new wine was to be deeper, darker, more complex and engaging. As the idea was evolving and I was tasting through our various lots, a blend started to show itself as worthy of a new bottling, focused around our Clone 369 Mourvèdre. The wine was amazing, but seemed to lack the spark that I was looking for. I must confess that I was a bit downtrodden. Quite a bit of effort and tastings and time had gone into the idea of this new wine. Fast forward a few weeks when I was working up the final blend of our Estate Grown Petite Sirah for our E11even Wines brand. When those first sips hit my palate, sparks literally flew and my synapses fired and a light went on – this was the missing piece of the puzzle. But, Petite Sirah is not technically a Rhône variety (IMHO – it is NOT a Rhône variety). I started adding various amounts of PS to our final blend of this new Mourvèdre based wine. It was not easy to add such a dark and concentrated wine to this new blend. It was way too easy to over-power the Mourvèdre, even with just a small amount. But, I just knew that the wine was there – I just had to try harder.
Lots of frustrating days and miserably purple stained teeth later, our new wine was born. We blended up a small amount and left in the glass and in a bottle to see how long it stayed “fresh”. The wine was magical. I was giddy with excitement. We had not birthed a new blend in a long while. But everything just felt right. This was the wine and this was the time.. Though, I was still a bit conflicted, we had never crafted an AMV wine with such a foreign grape like that. It felt uncomfortable and dishonest…but, the wine showed me the way. I had been unwavering in my enthusiastic support of Rhône varieties, here I was nearly 30 years later, bringing a stranger into our AMV wines.
Now that we had the wine, we had to name it. Some might find joy in creating new wines and new names, but I prefer consistency. (Heck, just look at our label that has essentially remained unchanged since our first vintage). I value predictability, as long as there is immense quality and pleasure to be found. As I was lying awake at night dreaming of what to name this wine, I kept thinking about the foreign and alien grape that I was suddenly bringing into the fold. That led me back to High School when I was forced to read Albert Camus’ famous tome, Étranger, an existential treatise. Étranger translates from French to English as the “Foreigner, Outsider, and Stranger” – apt descriptors for the Petite Sirah in our blend… So, I christened the new wine, designed a label based upon our other blends (Espérance and Enchanté), where the color band on the label helps to demonstrate the flavor and intensity expectations. I chose a dark grey for this color band to imply the dark richness of this wine. We produced a scant 150 cases of the 2015. We were so excited that it was enjoyed by all, included the critical press that blessed it with great scores.
We are now ready to release our 3rd vintage of this wine, always learning and tweaking and improving upon each vintage. The 2018 Étranger is without a doubt the best one yet, garnering an impressive 95 Point review from Jeb Dunnuck. Big dreams, careful farming, tiny yields, unwavering focus, and a relentless pursuit of perfection has yielded this stunning bottle of wine. It is study in contrast – having both power and grace, drinkability and a future-proof ability to age gracefully for a decade and more. Drink or hold, you choose. Just don’t miss out on this beauty. It is offered first to our wine club members at a special pre-release price – $50 (no further discounts apply). Later in the year, we will release any remaining bottles at full price. ($75) This is your one chance to get your hands on this rare treat at special members-only pricing. Don’t let this wine be a stranger to your cellar!
Meet our Cellar Master, Victor Garibay.
Victor's career in the wine industry began in 1996 with the Firestone Family. His dedication to the craft was not unnoticed and he was swiftly promoted up the ranks - from bottling line to cellar worker, to Cellar Lead and finally Cellar Master. In 2014 Victor joined Andrew Murray Vineyards. We could not have lucked out more! Victor embodies everything that is great about being part of a team. Beginning with his daily wave hello, his kind and helpful spirit makes him a joy to work with. Described by his co-workers as super chill, respectful, responsible, friendly and an all around pleasant person to be around. And boy, does the guy know how to multitask! No one who knows our cellar quite like Victor.
Thank you for all that you bring to the AMV team! Cheers Victor!
More about our fabulous Cellar Master:
If you could drink one bottle of AMV wine, what would it be? Varietal? Vintage?
Either the 2015 or 2016 Watch Hill and Roasted Slope. I love the texture, aroma and complexities of those vintages. So smooth.
What is your favorite meal to eat with AMV Wine?
Steak. Maybe a Sirloin and a fresh salad.
Tell me about your favorite AMV memory.
There isn’t just one. I like the cellar work. Working with the people in the cellar every day. That is my favorite.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I don’t just do one thing. Every day brings something different.
If you could do one task in the cellar, what would it be?
Crushing. I would crush every day. Crushing is always different, always something new.
What do you like most about working for AMV?
I like the way Andrew treats us (his workers). He is nice. Explains everything, takes the time to go over the reasons behind the task.
What grape do you most look forward to working with during harvest?
Because of the fruit. The clusters are not as delicate as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. They are big and solid and nice to work with.
Recall a funny memory working in the cellar.
Ha – one of our crew fell into a fermentation bin during a punch down. He was soaked in grape must all the way to his waist. When he got out, we gave him a few sprays with the hose and he was wet all day.
What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
To learn more about how to manage the aging of wines. To get a better understanding of analysis and labwork.
Of all the wines currently in barrel, which wine are you most excited to try?
It was a tough vintage with the fires. It wasn’t too hot, but not too cold, like it normally is. I’m excited to try a warmer vintage of this wine.
This year began like any other year, except that January found us busier than ever after deciding to let our Syrah Tous les Jours rest an extra 6 months in barrel before bottling in order to allow the wine a bit more time to come around before committing it to bottle. (The 2018 Syrah Tous les Jours was recently awarded the highest trio of scores ever – so it was worth the wait!) I was filled with as much hope as ever since we had just completed our largest harvest ever and heck, it was 2020. Just saying 2020 sounded cool. It brought up evocative memories of my youth about what the future might look like (remember the classic film Blade Runner – it was set in 2019/2020). 2020 is how one describes perfect vision. I was focused and ready for an amazing 2020 – or so I thought. In reality, I was only ready for the 2020 of my vivid imagination and dreams. I do not think any of us were ready for the 2020 that we actually got. By all accounts it has been a terrible year, certainly one of the worst ever for me. I have already written about this, so I am not going into it again here. Rather, I want to focus on the 2020 harvest that we are in currently in the middle of. Every harvest is a bit nutty and unpredictable, but for some unknown and very cruel reason, the 2020 vintage has been nearly unbearable. Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, we were looking at a picture perfect harvest. We had enough rain to saturate and cleanse our soils in the winter. Yields looked fairly normal. Budbreak was slightly delayed so it looked like another later vintage (we prefer later vintages). By most accounts, again in spite of all the bad news, most of us growers were still maintaining a positive attitude. I wanted (I always want) to craft our best wines ever this year as a giant middle finger to Covid. I wanted to win, even as our world was losing. Well, mother nature had an entirely different plan for us. She threw 3 devasting heat waves at us. We clocked 112 on the now infamous Sunday in early September (9/6/20). This record high literally scorched the south-facing side of several of our prized blocks. Just as temps returned towards normal, we had 2 more heat spikes in early October that reached into the low 100s. We are a famously cool climate, one of the coolest in California, but this year was not a “cool” vintage by any stretch of the imagination. The heat has reduced yields and increased concentration, so 2020 will be a smaller vintage of impressively dark wines for us. Despite all of this troubling news, we are the lucky ones this year. Other parts of the west not only suffered through Covid and heat – they had the added devastation of another harvest marred by fires. Our hearts break for our friends and neighbors north of us that found themselves in a waking and recurring nightmare of out of control fires. Their resiliency and tenacity are daily inspiration for me to keep moving forward, when in reality, I just want to stay in bed for the rest of the year. I am reminded of a book that I read about Churchill this summer, called The Splendid and the Vile. The name comes from John Coville’s contemporaneous diaries of life alongside Churchill, as his private secretary. Coville described the sight of bombs falling on London as both Splendid and Vile – strangely beautiful and absolutely horrific. Churchill famously ran up to the rooftops (sometime with a glass of wine) to watch the bombing raids on his beloved city. Though sheltered and sequestered, he wanted to be as close to the devastation as possible. He leaned way into the war and it reminded him daily of what was at stake. 2020 is not even close to what the world faced or witnessed during WWII, but there is some inspiring fortitude to be found in learning how the world kept putting one foot in front of the other. The 2020 vintage is both a masterpiece and a horrific sight. It is both Splendid and Vile. Just the opportunity to grow and harvest grapes this year has been a beautiful miracle. It has kept me moving forward and thinking ahead. It has been a real gift, despite the challenges. Though I cannot imagine life without wine, it is very much a luxury, conceived and crafted through the millennia to bring traditions and joy into our lives. I raise a glass to all of you and your loved ones and neighbors and friends in hopes of a better tomorrow. All of us at AMV hope that our wines bring some joy into your lives. We can and will get through this and more than ever, WINE is the answer! Thank you very much for your continued support of our family farm and winery,
For a copy of the complete Fall Wine Club Newsletter, click here.
A year ago, I wrote my whole newsletter about the power of wine to bring people together. By May 1st of 2019 I had already completed 4 different sales trips and participated in countless wine dinners and charity auctions. This year I was scheduled to do more and to be busier than ever. Wow, how the world changed by the middle of March, as the entire global economy ground to a halt. I have lived through fires, floods, long term road closures, the loss of loved ones, but I was not quite prepared for a pandemic. None of us were. Most of us still are not prepared. My wife, Kristen, and I as wife and husband, daughter and son, parents, employers and business owners found ourselves in uncharted territory. Even before our doors were shut, we found ourselves navigating the uncomfortable reality that we needed to get our son home from his semester abroad in Germany. He had been looking forward to this experience since the day he applied to college. He loves Europe and travel, a passion we both share, and he certainly loved the freedom to explore Europe while attending school. His home college ordered him home, but he resisted. Then his abroad school shuttered and left us with a 24 hour window to get him on a train to a city with an international airport and then on a plane home. It was stressful for all of us, but devastating to him. We quarantined him in our little guest house and didn’t even hug him for 2 weeks, which was hard on us a family. Our daughter was in her first semester at USC, only a couple of months in and loving her life in the big city. Kristen and I were officially empty nesters and diving into our business like we never had before. Her school was also shuttered and she was forced to come home, leaving new friends and experiences and teachers and college-life behind. Being closed and unable to serve you all, our friends and Club Members has been devastating, both financially and emotionally. We love seeing you all, we love being able to share our wine with you and the stories behind them. We appreciate your support and energy that you bring with your visits. We miss you more than you will ever know. We cannot wait to see you again to share our beautiful place with you all. We have kept ourselves busy repainting and redecorating and planting and improving, all while taking immaculate care of our wines – including topping, blending, racking, and bottling. Our vines have burst to life, blessed with the good amount of winter rains that fell since we saw you last and we feel fortunate to have the daily rhythm of tending to our vineyards. Though it has been hard on us, we know that we are also really lucky to live in such an amazing place with wide open spaces that allow us to safely navigate work and life. We know that we have had it easier than most. We are also lucky to have our amazing children (young adults) home with us. This has been among the biggest “gifts” of the pandemic. We are once again enjoying family dinners and hikes and conversations etc. Our home is once again buzzing with their energy and vitality, which I promise never to take for granted again. I want you all to know that we do not take you all for granted either. Kristen and I were really worried about this shipment and whether or not it was the right time to be sending wine to you all. But, we have literally been overwhelmed with your enthusiastic support of Andrew Murray Vineyards during these times. So many of you have opted to add bottles to your shipment, citing the need for something real, honest, authentic, and delicious delivered to your door. These 2018 vintage wines are truly among the most remarkable bottles that we have ever released. We hope they bring joy to your homes and that you enjoy them in good health around your table. Thank you more than ever and certainly more than words can say for being such amazing Members. You all are truly our daily inspiration to grow and craft and deliver the best wine possible each and every year. Thank you for being there for us. We look forward to being there for you when we are once again allowed to open. We cannot wait to see you and to catch up… Until then,
Keep up to date on the latest wine releases, events, and promotions.