Caleb Leisure Wines (Coturri Winery, Glen Ellen Sonoma Mtn. CA)
Just before the 2017 harvest, Caleb Leisure tossed a handful of silver coin into a deep trench dug out of the Coturri winery cellar. He then lowered in ten qvevri, and covered them up to their necks in sand and volcanic stone. That tossing of coin is authentic Georgian ritual – befitting vessels made by one of Georgia’s last known qvevri master-craftsmen. This was the momentous beginning of a micro vineyard project, Caleb Leisure Wines, which is spun out of the Coturri winery stable where Caleb works. As far as we know, its the only winemaking project in the US to be working exclusively with qvevri.
Caleb started out as an academic, won early laurels in writing, then segued into winemaking (a writer’s natural foil?) via a series of internships in Languedoc-Roussillon and the Jura. Back home in California, the new assistant winemaker at the Coturri winery, he discovered qvevri over a few weeks spent in Georgia. It was a brief encounter, but also a kind of epiphany, totally reforming his ideas about what wine was, and could be. Caleb returned home to the West Coast with his project in mind.
The idea behind his micro-label is simple: authentic vessels, ancient method, pure, untouched Californian fruit. For Caleb, the appeal of the qvevri method is its simplicity and logic: the bringing of grapes, which grow in the soil, back to ferment and to age in a vessel made from, and buried in, the earth. One day, the plan is to iterate on his founding Georgian vessels with further qvevri made from clay from the grapes’ own vineyards. At that point, he’ll push that cyclical method as far as it goes towards perfect.
Caleb’s first in-qvevri vintage was in 2017. He works with organic fruit from high altitude vineyards in the El Dorado appellation, Sierra Foothills. Grapes are predominately the Rhone varietals he fell for during his time in France: Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Mourvedre, planted in decomposed granite and volcanic loam. With the exception of his pet nat, which is aged in tank (fermented in qvevri) all of the cuvees are both fermented and aged in qvevri. Caleb favours whole-cluster fermentations, extended maceration on skins and stems over many months, according to strict zerozero philosophy – adding nothing, taking nothing away over the process.
The wines, unabashedly literary in their named identities – Ab Ovo, Caesura, Verso, and so forth – are nevertheless at base level something very simple. Honest wines, true to origin but also original, strange, unprecedented and unique, both returns to something and departures from that thing. They’re already cult wines in the Bay Area, and we’re very excited to be bringing them to the UK for the first time.