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Uncorked: Rocky French terrain turns out intense Grenache

Grenache has a temperamental reputation when it comes to a full set of a fruit cluster. There’s a pollination defect that causes fruit to burst, a process known as shatter.

But, in Maury, a rocky windswept region in the south of France, shatter is an extreme phenomenon. In an area once known for its dessert wines, Orin Swift Cellars founder and winemaker Dave Phinney took inspiration from the dramatic look of hanging fruit for his newest project: Shatter.

Working with fellow winemaker, Joel Gott, and the finest juice purchased on the open market, Phinney has once again turned out a memorable wine with Orin Swift’s traditional eclectic branding.

Winemaker spotlight

After one look at the terrain, Bryan Sandoli thought it impossible for vines to grow in Maury.

“It’s the driest area in all of France,” said Sandoli, the general manager at Orin Swift. “It gets the least amount of rain, which produces low yields and fruit that is highly concentrated since the vines have to really struggle to get water. There’s an intense wind and rocky soil. It’s a gray, slate, shifty soil. I couldn’t believe vines would grow there, let alone thrive.”

The result is an intensely concentrated Grenache with bright dark fruit flavors, vanilla bean and huckleberry. There’s a crisp minerality, perhaps a hallmark of the rocky soil. All from juice Phinney and Gott purchased on the open market from local farmers.

Few wineries have a lot of land in the region that is located just two exits from the Spanish border. Instead, farmers sell fruit to winemakers who craft their interpretation of the juice under their own label. Phinney made sure the Orin Swift brand would be welcome, working closely with local farmers to retrofit 16 concrete tanks to stainless steel in the past two years and adding a new sorting table.

“The infrastructure has been improved,” Sandoli said. “No one is bummed out by the Americans being there. It’s been wonderful to work with the town of Maury and we’ve been conscience of the locals and really want to help the town.”

Growers in turn want to make their way into the Shatter blend.

What to buy

Shatter, Grenache 2011, $26.99: The collaboration between the duo of talented winemakers hits all the right notes and continues the recent trend of excellent Grenache entering the wine market. Made from 60- to 80-year-old vines, there’s concentrated flavor, a wonderful nose and friendly tannins and acidity that hold everything together.

Wine 101

Inspired by the bumper stickers that carry a country code, Phinney has created Locations. Another new project that will feature the best bulk wine available from any country with a label that carries the country code.

“The beautiful thing is we can cherry-pick the best areas,” Sandoli said. “We buy bulk wine and make a blend. There could be anything in the bottle.”

Not being bound by a contract, Phinney can avoid an area in a down year and be particular about what he purchases. At $16.99 a bottle, wines from France and Spain are on the market. An Italian blend is due in two weeks and a California and Argentine blend are expected in the fall. Visit for more information.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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