There’s this little corner of San Francisco, off of the 101, that’s a bunch of warehouses. I’ve been here to scout for used sports gear, to stop by the flea market, and of course to visit the fishmonger. I didn’t realize there were wineries here…
There are quite a few. In fact, when I came to this part of town to visit Tim and Melissa of Betwixt Wine — who I met during the 2016 Pinot Days — I was surprised to learn they share their little space with several other small, independent wineries (such as August West) as well.
And at this stage of their operation, having only officially been in the winemaking business since 2012, this suits them just fine. It’s an intimate space where they network and swap ideas and inspiration with others in the industry.
About Betwixt Winemaking
Tim Telli, owner and winemaker of Betwixt Wine, gets his grapes from various small lot vineyards along the Northern California coast. He says he lets the grape-growers do what they do best (grow the grapes) because his passion is in the winemaking process — all of which takes place in his downtown SF winery.
Tim’s focus is on, what he calls, “minimalist winemaking,” meaning he takes a hands-off approach when it comes to production. He first puts the grapes through “cold soaking” or “cold maceration” pre-fermentation, which is a natural way to extract color and flavor from grape skins without excess tannins.
The wine then goes through a gentle pressing process and left in the barrels to ferment until ready to bottle.
The barrel-aging process is an aspect of winemaking that may not be given a lot of thought by the daily consumer. Sure, we may know what it will mean for our palate if a bottle says the wine’s spent time in an oak barrel — we expect a particular scent, flavor, and mouthfeel. But those aromas, tastes, and textures — at least in the case of Tim and Betwixt Wines — is carefully crafted by the winemaker.
While visiting Tim and his wife Melissa, I had the opportunity to try their 2015 Pinot Noir — in its separate components. We first had the wine from an aged oak barrel which, because of its age, emits very little “oaky-ness.” This Pinot Noir was quite clear, fruit forward (both on the nose and on the palate), and had a sharp acidic bite to it.
We then tasted the Pinot from the new oak
barrel. Visually, the wine is a much firmer red color; Aromatically, the wine emits a strong scent of fresh cedar or pine wood. The taste was the biggest difference: the mouthfeel was overall softer, rounder, the fruit flavors substantially more mellow, and there was a distinct lack of acidity in comparison to the old barrel batch.
Lastly, we drank from the batch of pressed Pinot Noir. This means, after all, the free-flowing juice from the grapes has been separated, and only the stems and skins are left, Tim gently presses on those remains to squeeze out any residual liquid. As you can imagine, this is where the tannins will come into the final product. I’ve never tasted just the pressed juices of wine before. Although it makes sense logically, I was surprised by how light and cloudy the glass was, and how strong the aroma of “bush” and “weeds” was. On the palate, of course, this was quite dry and tasted very little of fruit.
In its separate parts, we could all taste the potential the 2015 Pinot Noir has. And that’s part of the joy for Tim and Melissa — taste testing and experimenting until a perfect balance is achieved. Once they’ve figured out the right ratio of old oak to new oak to tannin, they can bottle wine they’re happy to drink themselves and, of course, share with others.
Let the blending trials begin!
So what about the wine that’s bottled and ready to drink now? Yes, there’s plenty of those. For me, the most notable is their 2014 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. It truly exemplifies what Betwixt Wine is all about — a hands-off, natural approach to the growth and fermentation process and their artistic endeavor for the ideal balance of flavor. You can taste the grape from the ground up — the earth the vine was grafted in, the juice of the perfectly plump fruit, and just a hint of the salt sea air from that Santa Cruz coastline. You can taste the love in the wine — the time it took to ferment the grapes just the right amount; the decision to add a certain percentage of new oak barrel aged wine; the attention to detail regarding the right amount of tannins to balance the overall taste and texture. Like a chef plating a well-rounded and balanced dish so is this Pinot Noir.
You can read my full review of Betwixt 2014 Pinot Noir, but know I’m not the only one to fall in love with this wine. Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently scored this bottle a highly recommended 92 points. I’ll drink to that!
On the heels of a successful 2013 Grenache from Boer Vineyard, Chalone, Monterey (just recently picked up by the prestigious Frances restaurant in San Francisco), is Betwixt’s 2014 vintage from the same vineyard. This is another great example of Tim’s ability to utilize the best of small lot vineyards and create something truly unique. While many Grenache’s can be heavy and overbearing, Tim’s take on this varietal is quite light and lively, showcasing the ripeness of the fruit alongside the natural minerality of the vineyard’s terrior. This Grenache is quite young but is packed full of flavor — easily enjoyable now yet has the potential to age beautifully for the next several years. I couldn’t help but take a bottle home to share with my family, and write up this glowing review.
Here’s hoping Tim takes Melissa and mine’s advice and enters this wine for an official review.
Betwixt Wines current line-up includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Grenache, as well as a limited release White Wine Blend. Current releases are available for purchase through their site.
To learn more about Tim, Melissa, and Betwixt Wines, please visit their website. If you’d like to taste their wines in person, they’ll be pouring at SF’s Fig & Thistle on July 26, 2016, from 6:30 until 8 pm (See their events page for details).