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Sonoma's Wildest Wine Party

Sonoma's Scribe makes wines using wild yeasts. Fittingly, its young winemaker, Andrew Mariani, throws wild parties at the estate's old hacienda, complete with amazing food and great wine served right from the barrel.

The Scribe Winery tale begins with a charming young entrepreneur named Andrew Mariani and a storied piece of land—home, most recently, to a turkey farm—located about three miles east of the Sonoma town square.

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© Cedric Angeles

A mile-long driveway lined with palm trees leads to a decrepit hacienda built a century ago by two bootlegger brothers from Germany. Acres and acres of brush and cactus surround impeccably trellised grapevines. In the distance are vast expanses of conserved mountainside, where foxes and mountain lions roam beneath California bay laurel, oak and madrone trees.

"It's a wild place," says Mariani, who bought the Scribe estate three years ago. He suspected it would be the perfect spot to make wine using wild yeasts. And despite the peeling paint and broken windows, the hacienda is already the perfect party destination for the 27-year-old Mariani and his friends. Mariani decorates the place with twinkle lights and paper streamers, projects movies onto one of the expansive white walls and almost always invites a band or a DJ friend, like Alex Pasternak, to play. There's no working kitchen, so cooking happens in an outdoor wood oven or on a handful of grills. Guests stay late into the night, often camping out.

Mariani says, "I love telling my chef friends, 'OK, we need to throw a party tomorrow. We have the hacienda and no kitchen. That's it. Go to work.' " He recently issued that challenge to Chris Kronner, the new chef at San Francisco's Bar Tartine, who created the sensational recipes here.

Of course, all these parties involve Scribe wine. Mariani uses oak barrels to serve wine that, for one reason or another, wasn't mixed into his final blend. "It's not just a dumbed-down version of our wine; if we wanted to, we could put it in a bottle and sell it," he says. "But it's a fun way to make something different, and a great way to get wine into a glass quickly."

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Mariani and his partners, wine-industry veterans Kristof Nils Anderson and Andrew Avellar (Mariani's uncle), are growing 35 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sylvaner. The vines are still too young to harvest fruit, so for now, the trio buys grapes from Carneros and leases vineyard property in Napa on Atlas Peak, which they call Scribe Outpost East. Scribe's 2004 Syrah from the Outpost East vineyard has rich, dark fruit and a lovely earthiness, while the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is silky and cassis-scented—both concentrated, compelling wines. "I give the wine the freedom to do its own thing," Mariani says. Part of this includes allowing the wild yeasts that live on the grapes to start the fermentation process, instead of adding commercial yeasts: "There are something like 300 strains of yeast in a fermentation vat as soon as you put the grapes in."

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In addition to growing vines, Mariani has planted an acre of organic fruits and vegetables, rotating plants seasonally. He's also created an apiary to help pollinate everything. When he bought Scribe, he discovered there was already a native community of bees on the property; unfortunately, they'd made their home in the hacienda walls. "It was kind of annoying to have to deal with a swarm of bees during parties, so I gently vacuumed the 20,000 bees out of the wall and adopted the hive into my apiary," he says.

Mariani loves to forage for mushrooms with Free Spirit Farms owner Toby Hastings, whom he describes as a "dude of the earth" and who moonlights as a DJ.

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© Cedric Angeles

Mariani also harvests wild mussels from an outcropping of rocks off Salt Point. He likes to go with his girlfriend, Fanny Singer (left), daughter of Chez Panisse's Alice Waters and Stephen Singer, a restaurateur and the winemaker at Sonoma's Baker Lane Vineyards. "The last time Fanny and I went, we swam out to these huge rocks. There were so many mussels, we could have spent all day and not made a dent." The mussels at the party are incredible, cooked in a Pernod-laced broth.

Certainly no stranger to local, sustainable food and wine, Singer has been a big influence on Mariani. "She's been really inspirational to me and to how I approach this project philosophically," he says—as have her parents. The first time Mariani was introduced to Fanny's father, they had a Syrah taste-off. "It was a pretty intense first meeting of your girlfriend's father," he laughs.

Mariani's approach to food and wine was clear at the party he recently gave with Kronner. Kronner's menu at Bar Tartine (the four-year-old restaurant owned by husband-and-wife team Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of the much-loved Tartine Bakery) relies on ingredients from local farms and purveyors; he had no trouble utilizing Scribe's produce in dishes like a warm escarole-and-broccoli salad with garlicky dressing. He braised vegetables in Scribe Pinot Noir to go with guinea hens that were roasted in the outdoor wood oven until juicy and tender.

Mariani's friends love the wine blends he makes for his epic parties; the fun of drinking wine out of a barrel helps alleviate the spookiness of the old hacienda. Says Mariani, "It gets dark, there are bats, you hear noises. This is no fancy faux château in wine country. This is real—it's wild."

Published April 2010
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