Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Being a fan of the Scholium Project is a little like being in a quasi-exclusive club run by a mad scientist. I first heard of Abe Schoener and his outside-of-the-box winemaking in a 2013 article in the New York Times Magazine (read it here,) and was instantly intrigued. I got on the mailing list and tasted Scholium wines for myself four months later. Were these wines unconventional? Absolutely. Interesting? Yup. Fascinating, even? You bet.

I ordered a mixed case immediately, have added periodically to my Scholium stash, and believe me when I say it is a tough challenge to NOT open a new bottle every day, especially when fighting the fatigue of "oh, another Pinot, oh, another Chard, oh, another Cab."

Ferry view of lower Manhattan.
Members of the Scholium "fan club" will do almost anything to get a taste of what Abe has been working on, including trek out to Red Hook, Brooklyn, in a locale far—so very far—from public transportation. I myself took the Ikea ferry from lower Manhattan on a recent beautiful Sunday to participate in the latest "sneak peek" of Scholium Project wines.

The first wine was a 100% Verdelho 2013 Gemella Lost Slough Vineyard. There was only one barrel made (= 24 cases.) A lovely wine. Nose of soapstone, white flowers, a little merde-y, very perfumey aromatics. Spicy in the mouth with a lot of minerality and a long finish, yet not overly acidic. "This is made from grapes that have had the $h!t stomped out of them," said Abe. $45.

A bittersweet moment comes with the 2013 Glos McDowell Vineyards (Sauvignon Blanc.) This vintage was the final harvest from this parcel, unfortunately, as the owners of the land then ripped up the Sauv Blanc vines to plant more popular/profitable Cabernet Sauvignon. Fans of Glos quickly snapped up all of the individual bottles, regular and large-format. With a very pale gold color and a fresh, clean nose of green grass and lime zest, it showed loads of floral perfume with a little gooseberry, and a long charming, elegant finish. "It has the promise of nobility," said Abe, as he spoke bittersweetly about this last-ever bottling. $70

In case you haven't caught whiff of it, Abe's organization is somewhat akin to a pop-up shop. He doesn't own the vineyards he farms, and has a very small, hands-on production operation without a formal tasting room/sales area/oeno-tourism bent. The wines are not always labeled varietally, and there are layers of proprietary names, pulled from colleagues and/or ancient history. He gets fans from word-of-mouth; you have to find him. Production is very low, and loyal followers pounce on each new release, so one must act quickly. Occasionally he will offer single bottles, but usually the only way to ensure snagging these wines is to purchase a mixed-case offering via the website here.

Luckily there is available stock of the 2013 Dulcissima Camilla Farina Vineyards (barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc,) because I just loved it. My notes say, "Ooooh! nose" of bruised yellow apple, overripe melon and a whiff of sherry-like oxidation. Incredibly complex in the mouth, with ripe fruit, spice, a dried nuttiness, and a looooooong finish. It felt "hot" (high in alcohol) to me, but Abe said the alcohol was relatively low, and that its zingy acidity might be contributing to the presence in the mouth. "This wine is... well, still fermenting," says Abe, explaining that it may not taste the same after bottling! But it's definitely worth a gamble, in my opinion. $45

Rather intriguing was the 2012 Michael Faraday Michael Mara Vineyard 100% Chardonnay. Nose of honeysuckle, Asian spice and pear. Bit cheeky-oddball in the mouth with yellow apple and very spry acidity. Doesn't exhibit "traditional" CA Chard notes at all, and is also slightly tannic. $80

Another fave was the 2013 The Prince in His Caves, made from barrel-fermented whole-cluster fermented Sauvignon Blanc. The color was noticeably darker, a coppery-gold. Nose of ripe apricot, melon, gardenia (notes say, "all ripe & bruised!") Each sniff results in another layer of elements, like a bit of dusty earth, then orange marmalade, then ginger. Very dry/acidic and tannins are present. "This is the wine the Scholium Project is best known for," said Abe, noting they've made this since 2006. You Wineaux know I love "strange" wines, and this is an iconic weirdo-wine; the nose is atypical Sauv Blanc and the mouth experience is very different. I am hooked. $45

The nose of the 2013 FTPZ Kirschenmann Ranch (100% Old Vine Zinfandel) was intoxicating; high tone blueberry, violets, sweet licorice, grounded by a bit o' something funky and meaty. Black cherry liqueur in the mouth. High but appropriate acidity, nice and bright, spicy, lovely, long finish, dried leaf-y element. Whole-cluster fermentation (like The Prince above.) $50

I would probably never have correctly blind-tasted the 2013 Poloupous Antle Vineyard as old-vine Pinot Noir, but that's what it is! Violet, blackberry, bit of funk, bit of rosemary and herbs. It was kind of similar in style to the FTPZ, actually, although more tannic, smoother, and less bright fruit. I look forward to seeing how this evolves and integrates over time. The prominent tannins were what threw me, but Abe said, "That is a very tannic vineyard. And whole-cluster fermentation... I hope to be making 'Priorat' Pinot Noir!" $50

A perennial favorite is the 1MN and the 2013 1MN Bechtold Ranch was no exception. Named after the Malvaisa Nera grape, this is actually 100% Cinsault from a 140-year old vineyard. It had an amazing, super smooth nose of blackberry jam, cherry/berry fruit, and rose petals, and in the mouth added chocolate-covered cherries, pepper, spice box, with loads of perfume and integrated tannins. Just lovely. "This seems, to me, the acme of deliciousness," said Abe, and I had to agree. $50

I did peg correctly the grape of the 2012 Golgotha Reserve Hudson Vineyards. With a dense and rich nose of cherry pie, warm berry compote and spices, I wrote, "Syrah??" And when it was confirmed, I scrawled, "Yessss!!!!" Bright and macerated red fruits rounded out the palate, and yet it's so dense, I can't wait to see what it does over time. "This, for me, is the peak of luxury. I don't think it's the most noble wine, or delicious, but it has the best claim of opulence," said Abe. Abso-friggin-lutely. $180

Another check mark of liking went next to the 2012 Anastasis red; while almost completely Cabernet, there is some Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese in the blend. It had staggeringly bright fruit and perfume on a very sexy nose. Perhaps a bit of VA (whiff of nail polish remover) but worked with the major lush fruit on the palate, super smooth finish, and notes of cocoa powder and lavender. This wine originally fell victim to a stuck fermentation, but they were able to restart it, so it was named after the Greek word for "resurrection." $45

Interestingly, the most traditional "Napa Cab"-style in the Scholium Project is the above Golgotha Syrah—the 2012 Wolfskill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is decidedly old-school. "We're trying to make Cabernet that is from a certain time and place," says Abe, meaning stylistically closer to 30-40 years ago than today. Intense anise jumped from the nose, along with rosemary, rose petal potpourri and violets. Bright, relatively light, red fruit, bit of cedar and spice box. Yummy. $120

Finally, we were treated to the 2010 Babylon Tenbrink Vineyards. 100% Petite Sirah, 3 years in barrel. Nose: "HUH...!" Asian spice liqueur, melted black licorice, a meatiness like a "blond" German sausage (what is the name for that?!) In the mouth, it was red licorice at the forefront, mace and coriander spices, with dried fruits. "Feels a bit passito?" I wrote, citing the Italian process of drying grapes before pressing. Once again, I was right; "I want this to be like a California Amarone," said Abe, and two tasters immediately chimed in with "It is!" and "That's what you got!" Crazy elements yet still superbly structured and quaffable. $80

Sunset from Red Hook Winery, BK
So, Wineaux, there you have it—the current Scholium release, "The Complete Summer Selection," which will be ready for delivery in October. I look forward to the wines I have coming, and hope to hear from you if you too are are a fan of the Scholium Project. And as always, I continue to support inventive and daring winemakers around the globe, so hurry back soon Abe, and bring more wines for us "crazy-man-wine-club" members to try!


(ADDENDUM: As I was working on this article, news filtered in about the earthquake in Napa—with many winemaker friends in the area, I reached out with concern. While all people I know are fine, one winemaker lost her total inventory save for what she could salvage from a few broken barrels. Another winery I know suffered catastrophic damage to its historic tasting room. Maybe it's not pouring ice water over your head, but please help support the cleanup and rebuilding of one of our nation's most iconic wine regions by drinking Napa wine, tweeting with #NapaStrong, and supporting these winemakers by buying more Napa wine, like Scholium.)