Inspiration through Forgotten Tradition: Unto the Breach with Forlorn Hope


Inspiration through Forgotten Tradition

Unto the Breach with Forlorn Hope

Every week, we shine a light on either a region or producer that we feel is making exceptional wine and make them our Featured Wines of the Week.  This week, we put the Spotlight on Matthew Rorick, a rugged hipster cowboy meets English gentleman vintner who's behind Forlorn Hope, a winery dedicated to the natural wine movement, and to finding the rare creatures of varietals that show off the best of California's terroir. This sale runs from 3/18/18-3/25/18.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
— William Shakespeare, Henry V Act III, Scene I

Past the well-trodden varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay, there's a movement dedicated to exploring the promise of California's agricultural riches.  Small wineries are looking forward, while going back to the natural roots of the land, and finding wines that can reflect the depth of terroir.  We've been excited to carry some of the forerunners of this movement, wineries like Folk MachineMartha Stoumenand now Forlorn Hope.

The name comes from the Dutch phrase "verloren hoop" literally the lost troop, that made its way into the English vernacular around the English Civil War.  It came to represent the desperate first charges into enemy lines where failure was all but guaranteed, but there was just the slightest hope for success.

Matthew Rorick, the vintner at Forlorn Hope, quite liked the romanticism of the concept. He wanted to show the world that California was more than capable of handling varietals from all around the world. The former Navy man turned almost English Literature major turned double major of Viticulture and Enology knows a thing or two about defying expectations.  California should not be fated to be typecast for its voluptuous wines, rather, we should push to see what the state and its vineyards are capable of.  

The Natural Wine Movement might evoke images of patchouli-adorned hippie farmers taking a blase hands off approach, letting the vines grow as wild as their hair, but in truth, natural winemaking is no simple thing.  The desire to limit chemicals and highlight the terroir influences requires a hands on approach that can make the slightest details stand out in wine, not just vineyard to vineyard, but vintage to vintage. That doesn't mean that Rorick is constantly fiddling with the wines once they're in the fermenting process, but that great care is given to the sourcing of the vineyards and handpicking of the grapes.


Tucked into the Lodi AVA south of Sacramento, a region known for stellar old vine Zinfandel, you'll find the smaller sub AVA Alta Mesa. It's here that you'll find Rorick's Suspiro Del Moro which roughly translates to the Sigh of the Moor. The name is fitting of the single varietal that lies within-- Alvarelhão. This varietal was largely used for the production of Port in its native land, but here,atop sandstone and porous volcanic rock soils, the result is unique.  Thanks to its whole cluster fermentation, this wine is soft and warm, like the touch of silk with a wonderful bouquet of a chef's secret garden-- rose hips, sage, and ripe fresh plums -- with just a whiff of the surrounding pine forest.  

Rare Creatures is Rorick's affectionate term for the wine that makes up Forlorn Hope, and north of Lodi and Sacramento we find another of his elusive creations, Saint Kerrigan. This is composed of 100% Carignan from the Poor Ranch in Mendocino County where the land is a harmonious combination of redwood forests and cool-climate vineyards.  We've previously had the wonderful Venturi Vineyard Carignan from Martha Stoumen, and loved the effect that these lands bring to the classic southern French varietal. 

Taking its name from what many Californians still call Carignan, the Saint Kerrigan is one of the few red wines that he destems, and is a one barrel, unsulfured selection, from his traditional Carignan that is just called The Kerrigans.  Pure and fresh, with the structure and elegance that good Carignan can bring, the Saint Kerrigan is a quiet beauty.

Beauty is what Rorick was chasing after all.  He had learned how to make wine at UC Davis, much like our friend from Folk Machine, Kenny Likitprakong. At first, he was a roving winemaker for hire, making the bold wines that are synonymous with California, but, as he recalled,  "I became less excited about what I was making and I became more excited about what I was tasting from Europe: Etna, Loire, Ribera Sacra and Jura.  There was a purity and focus to them.  An honesty in the glass that I didn't find in the wines I was making." As he looked for inspiration, he found it through tradition, and not innovation.  UC Davis republished a book from the 1880s, The Wine Press and The Cellar by Emmet Rixford which chronicled the old way that California made wine-- before technology or large scale mechanization. That became the foundation and go to consult for Rorick's winemaking and the years of tradition that those initial Californian wine makers had built on became born again.

Not to be forgotten is the Dexter Lake Blondini, a white blend that is predominantly made of Verdelho, Picpoul, and Albariño.  This fascinating wine is fermented whole cluster from Rorick's own Heritage Vineyard in Calaveras County and matured for 2 years in both neutral oak puncheons and stainless steel tanks. The result is a intriguing combination of lemon cream and papaya, with the fresh acidity that comes from the limestone and schist soils.

The push towards natural wines is bringing exciting things from the state of California, even if it is only the early stages.  Matthew Rorick and Forlorn Hope relish the challenge, they relish a tussle, and they know that even if they don't transform the wine world of California, what they've done has been worth it.

The Fine Print:

Forlorn Hope 'Dexter Lake Blondini White' $̶2̶1̶.̶9̶9̶ $19.79

Forlorn Hope  'Saint Kerrigan'- $̶3̶2̶.̶9̶9̶ $29.79

Forlorn Hope 'Suspiro Del Moro' - $̶2̶9̶.̶9̶9̶  $26.99


Further Reading:

Forlorn Hope Wine

Feature on Matthew Rorick in SFGate

Vinography article on Rorick and Forlorn Hope