When Abe Schoener saw a tiny plot of the oldest sauvignon blanc vines in California, he knew he was looking at the latest in his off-beat line of wines called Scholium Project. "No one else would want to work in this vineyard, because it's a pain in the ass, but it's perfect for Scholium," he said in a recent NYTimes profile. A classicist by trade, Schoener has remade himself, mid-life, into a vintner bent on finding truth in a bottle.
His wines exist on the edge of oblivion, teetering on the undrinkable, but manage oh so delicately to toe their way into the profound. These are not commercially sensible wines. They put off a lot of drinkers--his wines are notably "wild" and inhabit a space of olfactory complexity that includes cheese rinds and vegetable skins and so on--only to court shrewd aficionados of funk across the globe.
It's a small operation. And embracing what is unique about a wine each time you make it leads to great inconsistencies from vintage to vintage, sometimes bottle to bottle. In his methods, Schoener seeks flavors that lay beneath the surface of the other flavors. That's why he ferments the old-vines sauvignon blanc on it's skins. Why he chokes his musts to near-extinction, risking (and sometimes ending) the life of a burgeoning wine. Failure can be beautiful. Especially when the success it creates looks like this.
Scholium Project - Gardens of Babylon
An old-school California field blend led by an inky, floral Petite Sirah and "re-oriented" by the likes of zinfandel, cinsault, etc. He bases it on Ridge wines from the 80s. But it's also a major departure from that model in its unself-conscious stank. Wholly uninhibited, totally fresh.
Scholium Project - The Prince in his Caves
Skin-fermented sauvignon blanc from 60-year-old vines. Schoener abuses the juice and then lets it fight its way back to life. The wine is cloudy not from sediment, but from the breakdown of the skins. "As you can imagine, I'm not about to fine these wines," he said. Nor should he. Very concentrated, a little smokey, not for the faint at heart.