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Rasi Wine

A New Vintage

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We just shepherd it into existence afterwards. It’s a very hands-off process in a way; we just let it do it’s thing.

__Rachel Silkowski

In the history of the world, whenever something new, revolutionary or groundbreaking has been discovered, there’s a fairly good chance that accidents were involved. Penicillin. Post-it notes. Potato chips. Matches. Sometimes all it takes is enough presence of mind, curiosity, and a dash of risk-taking to see innovation in an oops.

One of the greatest mistakes turned miracle was the discovery of wine. Picture a giant round bowl filled with a few stems of dark purple grapes picked fresh for the family table. They’re nibbled at for awhile, and then set aside, maybe sat under a cloth in a dark corner of the room as days come and go. A few weeks later, someone decides to clean house, including that cool dark corner, only to discover that those glossy sweet globes have been transformed into – juice? Gross, right? But with one daring dip of the finger, a new industry was born into the world.

Since then, winemaking has become a meticulous blend of art, science, and management, and the winemakers a perfect distillation of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Caught in its fascination and now professional pursuit is burgeoning winemaker Rachel Silkowski. We first met Rachel just a few feet away from a blazing earthen oven over fire baked flatbreads and deep, round stemmed glasses, an unbeatable combination for forming friendships. Not far from the winery where our drinks were made, we sipped vintage Pinot Noirs from 2013 and 2014 side by side, both from bottles marked RASI, the moniker chosen to represent both the maker and the nature of its contents. They were each indeed racy to the taste, or lively, with vigor and spirit, as well as a small embodiment of Rachel Silkowski herself.

Across from us sat Rachel, responsible for the flavors filling our glasses, and her partner Michel DeAscentiis, up from Los Angeles for a few days to pitch in over a particularly busy weekend at the winery. Swirling the liquid in our glasses and swishing it between our cheeks, we noted the sweetness, dry but firmly decadent. As our senses narrowed we caught notes of warm blueberry pie here and chocolate covered caramel there, the differences between the two becoming stark as night and day.

It’s been seven years now since Rachel’s first few weekends helping out at Loring Wine Company where her career began. “When I decided to get into winemaking, I took a look into the type of wines my parents had around the dinner table and Loring was one of them. So I sent them an email asking if I could help out.” Intrigued by the request and curious how long she’d last, sibling owners Brian and Kimberly Loring agreed. To their surprise, she kept coming. At only 19, she was curious and hard-working, and provided an extra set of hands during harvest or busy weekends. “While I was with them I tried to learn as much as I could because I knew I was going to Oregon to study soon. But even in school I kept coming back every summer.” When she graduated a few years later, she returned to Loring full-time.

That first full year immersed Rachel in winemaking like never before. She kept a journal of everything she experienced day-to-day, recording in detail factors that might one day lead to final flavor or personality. What did the fruit look like? What did it taste like? Or even, What did we talk about that day? “I wanted to know if the wine would turn out to taste like that particular fruit did on the vine.” Meanwhile, she was also busy scribbling notes from her long-time mentor, co-owner Brian Loring. “Everything Brian said that first year I would have to go home and jot it down.” Aside from the expertise he imparted, Rachel became a trusted part of the Loring family as Brian’s assistant winemaker. “I feel like I can ask him anything and he’ll give me an honest answer. He’ll tell me how he does things and why he does it. I considered him my hero, and now he’s a friend, so getting

to work with him is really special.” Because the Loring team boasts only four year-round employees, everything is everyone’s responsibility. “We’re all doing everything, which is really unique compared to working for a big company. We rotate, so our hands are in everything.” To make room for her to explore and experiment, Loring soon offered Rachel a chance to make her own barrel of wine.

That value for creating by hand has been a dynamic aspect of the RASI line since day one. “Despite having top of the line equipment, there’s just something about doing as much by hand as possible, watching the process. You’re actually seeing the evolution of grape to wine. I always wanted it to be something that when I’m talking about the fruit I can describe it because I saw it with my own two eyes and I touched it with my own two hands.”

Rachel’s love for the community wine creates around itself is evident in the kind of wine she’s chosen to produce. In every way possible she seeks to involve herself in the details, to be fully present. Out of that connection forged between what she and her closest friends and family made together that first year, she sought a way to connect with those who would drink it. So after capping the very last bottle of the 2013 Pinot Noir, her first solo vintage, she set to the task of marking each by hand, each and every label adorned with a distinct droplet of the wine inside. To correlate with each individual droplet, she then devised a story-share system on her website that catalogued each bottle by number, allowing customers of that first vintage to describe their experience with and of it, each unlike any other.

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What we soon understood about that first wine was that it was first and last of its kind, just as each and every wine ever made is and will be. With the specificity of time, place, types of grapes, composition of the soil they are grown in, even down to the insects that inhabit that vineyard, no two wines are ever the same. “It was a way to always remember it. It can never be recreated, even if I use that same combination I could never make that exact wine again.”

Because so much of the art of winemaking is dependent on agriculture and its seasonal calendar, Rachel’s year is divided accordingly: fall harvest, winter release, spring tasting, and summer bottling. Fall is arguably the most important, for it is during those few precious weeks that she and all winemakers alike must decide when to pick the fruit. It’s a season of scouring the vineyard day after day, watching it ripen in the hot sun and tasting for just the right time. “A big factor that determines what your wine will taste like is when you pick. The time you pick determines the pH, or the acid, and the Brix, which is the sugar level. The higher the Brix, the higher the alcohol content.” For RASI, Rachel was looking for higher Brix, meaning she would have to leave the grapes on the vine longer for the fruit to fully ripen. This moment more than any other in winemaking is a dance of chemistry and intuition. “The acid provides structure, so you want that

structure to balance out the aggressive sugars and alcohol. As long as you have that backbone, you can create a balanced fruit-forward wine. In those cases you can taste the fruit in all corners of your mouth.” Motioning to the 2014, “I can just sit with this glass of wine and it will evolve and change in the glass. It will intrigue me the whole way through.”

The first three weeks after the pick is the most critical in the life of the one-day wine. It is then that all of the crucial color and flavor components are developed from the fruit’s skins, and when the personality of the wine begins to emerge. After it naturally begins to ferment, the winemaker will inoculate the lot with a simple yeast, just enough to nudge the process along. Then it’s on to the press, and finally to barrel, where it will rest virtually undisturbed for ten months. Despite the incredible amount of work that goes into getting the wine into those barrels, Rachel stands in awe of what Nature does on her own. “We just shepherd it into existence afterwards. It’s a very hands-off process in a way; we just let it do it’s thing.” Whether hands on or off, Rachel remains inquisitive engaged year after year. “After sorting for hours straight staring at fruit all day, you always come up with questions. Even though I’ve been working in it for three years nonstop, there are still questions I’ve never thought to ask until three years later.”

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Choosing such a meticulous role in your craft is the blessing and the curse of creating an emotionally durable product. Those extra hours, long nights, and difficult days imbue a certain richness that in RASI’s case you can actually taste. For winemakers, it’s the plight of any farmer: unpredictable weather, a cyclical schedule that ignores the pace of the modern world, and the backbreaking actuality of physical work. But from that first walk in the vineyard to the last bottle capped, it’s still all about patience. Because no matter how well you know your fruit going into barrel, it’s difficult to predict exactly what will be waiting for you on the other side of 10 months. It’s the winemaker’s job to make sure it’s worth waiting for. “You have to be able to see twelve months into the future, and appreciate what you’re doing today knowing that down the line you’ll get to taste what you’ve made.” Just like drinking a glass around the table with friends she adds, “Part of wine is just being in the moment.” And so, she presses on.

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