and I met Ray Coursen of Elyse winery at 2:30pm on a sweltering, record-high
106 degree Friday. The dry heat was so intense that even the winery's
canine greeters, Otis and Bubba, wouldnt move out of the shade
to say "hello".
As you can imagine, I could only consider drinking ice water or a
very chilled dry Rosé. I was in luck. After all, Rosé
was the reason we ventured to Elyse that day and Rosé is exactly
what Ray had in mind when we arrived.
This off-the-beaten-path tasting room is hidden down Hoffman
Road off Solano which is parallel to Highway 29 in Napa. The tasting
room at this small, family-owned winery is a quaint little area transformed
from an old horse barn just 15 years earlier.
Ray is a warm and friendly soul who is ready with a glass of wine
and a joke. His humor came early, Dont be embarrassed
to let your friends know you drink rosé he remarked as
he handed us each a cool glass of Jakob Franklin Rosé (the
wine label named for his son).
I followed him to a stack of Elyse cases of wine and sat down smack
dab in front of a big fan. My hair was blowing like I was doing a
Sears summer catalog photo shoot and it got a little loud, but I sure
didnt mind cooling off.
Ray was sipping and reminiscing about the days when he said, we
were all hippies and dry Rosé was all the rage. Of course,
in southern France it still is and hasnt lost its popularity
as an afternoon quaffer. Ray, an East Coaster originally, who grew
up in New Jersey and got his degree from University of Massachusetts
in agriculture (specializing in stone fruits, i.e. apples, peaches)
cut his teeth on quaffing a lot of French and European wine and so
he still is a big fan of European Rosé.
Only, his public appreciation of the wine had to be quelled a bit
after the birth of White Zinfandel.
Rays theory is that because the winemakers who make White Zinfandel
decided to produce it as a sweet wine, Rosé started to get
a bad name simply because of the color similarities. All of a sudden
Americans stopped drinking it because they were too embarrassed to
be seen drinking it, for they would have to explain in a panic, Its
not White Zin!. Although Ray laughs it off now and enjoys whatever
wine he wants in public and does not begrudge the world its White
Zin, there is still something about Rosé in America that is
forever altered but shouldn't be.
Rays winery, Elyse, is named after his daughter - a beautiful
17 year-old who is getting ready to go off to college. She will probably
be the only one with her own personal wine. We tried her label, the
Elyse Rosé next.
The Elyse Rosé, Ray explained, was made from the bleed-off
juice of the 2000 dAventure [which our members tried in February].
Everything we do in Rosé is to enhance other wines. This
means that Ray removes this extra extracted juice from the grapes
about 15 minutes after they are destemmed in order to gain intensity
in the red as the leftover juice and skins sit together. The result
is Rosé. The difference between Elyse Rosé and White
Zinfandel (besides the grapes used) is that a dry Rosé has
all the sugars fermented out while a White Zinfandel has residual
We sipped the Elyse and had a moment of silence (except for the fan).
It is a beautiful wine, surprisingly complex and spicy, yet quite
refreshing and delicious. Ray broke the silence. Slow, cool,
and gentle. That's my motto and that's the way I make my wines."
He destems the grapes slowly by hand instead of putting the grapes
through a crusher. He handles them gently by using gravity rather
than a pump to move the fruit from one place to another. He also keeps
the grapes cool and allows for a long 5 day fermentation in order
to extract the most in flavor and complexity. He says. 75% of
the berries are in the skins during fermentation. This is an
incredible feat and it pays off for Rays wines.
Our tour ended with some blending and barrel tasting of some Pinot
Noirs that Ray is making. Then he wanted us to try his Meritage-style
(ala Cheval Blanc) wine called "Mon Chou", which his wife
says sounds like a Chinese Menu item. Ray, a funny guy by nature went
with that theme and gave it a "Chinese menu item number"
as well. It's called "#52 Mon Chou". The "52"
is actually the amount of Cabernet Franc in the blend. We took a sip.
I looked at Derek, Derek looked at Ray, Ray looked at me... and we
gave one of those slow, knowing nods in unison it was awesome.
Ray thinks that he will release the 2001 Mon Chou for around $90 a
Ray laughed and said that was what winemaking is to him, Its
about getting absolutely stoned by something. Something
that floors you, like a great meal, a classic piece of art, or a great
glass of wine. It has nothing to do with the buzz. Its not about
the alcohol, but a mind-blowing experience.
Cheers to that. Let's get stoned.