Vine Path Blog 4/19: The Mystical Wines of Clos Saron
Gideon Beinstock didn’t set out to become a winemaker, let alone become an innovative winemaker that would lead a quiet revolution in California winemaking. Gideon’s story is a long one and a weird one and it starts in a sleepy town called Oregon House, CA. While Gideon was in his 20s he was a world traveling spiritual hippy looking, like may of us did in our 20s, for something meaningful to latch onto. He found just that in a bizarre organization called the Fellowship of Friends. The Fellowship of Friends, I’m sure you can tell from the name, was a cult established in Oregon House by a man named Robert Earl Burton in 1970. He was an academic obsessed with the classics, the Romans, the ancient Greeks, their thinkers, and their culture. He would, in his mad way, seek to recreate that culture by building a secluded compound in the Sierra Mountains where he could gather his followers and teach them his way. The compound was full of incredible things, in the words of the wine writer Esther Mobley, a neo-classical theme park. There were recreations of the statue of David, promenades, bronze, an amphitheater, decorative fountains, and even a pen of camels. When Gideon arrived the Fellowship was in full swing and it’s leader had realized that the Greeks had something he didn’t, vineyards.
It would be dubbed the Renaissance winery and the Fellowship would inevitably plant out so many vines in so many varieties across so many acres that the state of California had to designate a new American Viticultural Area called North Yuba. It was in 1993 that Gideon makes his first vintage at the winery and within two harvest he’s making what would become some of the greatest wines made in this era in California. The wines that Gideon made at Renaissance from 1995 to 2001 are slowly becoming collectable as the word gets out and amazingly the wines are as fresh, energetic, and lively as ever. Gideon’s style is defined by these qualities plus one important feature, austerity.
Fast forward to today, Gideon’s established his own winery in North Yuba call Clos Saron. Ever since he left the Fellowship he’s been quietly making wines from what remains of the Renaissance vineyards and it was only a couple of months ago that we could get our hands on his wines for the first time.
Gideon was a pioneer in many ways. At Renaissance he had to learn as he went (he had no prior experience as a winemaker) so he produced wines in a very natural and old school way. Organic agriculture was always practiced along with native yeast vinification. The wines are raw, wild and alive thanks to the kind of mystical skill that self taught genius nurtures.
A lot has happened in the Californian wine world between 1993 and today but the most important thing that’s emerged is the disruptive force that is the natural wine movement. Today everyone is clamoring to demonstrate that theirs is the most authentic and real in an attempt to gain clout in a rapidly clogged marketplace. To the side of all of this noise though there’s been Gideon who would accidentally become a legendary figure in this natural wine world, a world he wasn’t ever aware of while at Renaissance. If you speak to the new generation of natural winemakers in California, they’re all going to tell you a story about drinking Renaissance wines and their brilliance but the story is still shrouded in mystery for most people.
With Clos Saron, a new chapter for North Yuba AVA is unfolding now under the thoughtful and independent leadership of Gideon. The wines of Clos Saron are every bit as brilliant as the wines of Renaissance and every bit as mysterious. I was shocked and elated to discover that we could buy these wines and spared no time in doing so. It’s an honor to be able to introduce you to what I feel is the greatest unknown winery of California, Clos Saron.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the Renaissance winery, check out Esther Mobley’s amazing work at the San Francisco Chronicle here.
And please visit Clos Saron’s website here for even more info on the bottles.
Clos Saron Carte Blanche 2016 - Is a co-ferment of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Roussanne left on the skins for several days. This is an orange wine, so to speak, but it has great restraint and balance. This wine is bursting with floral and citrus aromas and has a bit of grip making it a really interesting food wine. Think seafood.
Clos Saron Pleasant Peasant 2014 - This is the first Carignan they ever made, and the first vintage of it to boot. They’ve knocked it out of the park with this one! The vineyard they sourced the grapes from was planted in 1900! This wine is still tight, closed up, and reductive when first opened so it’ll need a couple of hours in the decanter before it’s fully ready to be served. With it’s gamey, spicy, floral aromas and big chewy fruit, it’s worth the wait.
Clos Saron Kind of Blue 2015 - This is an interesting co-fermentation of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Semillon of all things. Being an aromatic white, Semillon adds a lot of freshness and lift to the aromas. This wine brings to mind earth, game, bramble, and tapenade and it’s got plenty of structure. You’ll want to have this with something salty, fatty, and rich.