Philip and Mary Hart are the owners of AmByth Estate, a biodynamic California-based winery from Templeton, between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Theirs is an organic farm certified by “Demeter” and they have been making wine in amphora since 2012. Terracotta is a material that responds fully to their production philosophy centred on agricultural techniques marked by purity and respect for the rhythms of nature.
Mr. Hart, during the event “Terracotta and Wine 2014” we tasted your wines and were immediately struck by the flavours so different from what we are used to in Europe, can you tell us again about the type of grapes you use and why?
We have planted mostly Rhone Varietal grapes. Very simple reasoning, our climate here is very similar to the Southern Rhone and along with the natural limestone in our soil it seemed to make sense. We also have some Tempranillo and Sangiovese that love our dry conditions on the steep slopes of our little vineyard. I am very happy with how the Terracotta seems to bring up the fruit in our wines. Even neutral oak barrel seemed to mask the natural fruit flavors a little. Because we pick at old fashioned sugar levels which gives us wine in the 12-14% alcohol range we want the natural fruit levels to be there to balance the acidity, so the Terracotta has very much worked in our favor so far. We love that once a Terracotta is used and cleaned it develops no off odors like oak does, even sitting empty it stays smelling pure until ready to be used again, we do not sulfur them which is great as we do not sulfur our wines either.
How did you hear about Artenova and how many terracotta wine-jars are there in your cellar?
We heard about Artenova through Francesco Cirreli in Abruzo. He visited us and showed pictures of his amphora and we were immediately struck by their beauty. We have 16 Amphora right now.
How well do you think terracotta is known and used for wine making in Templeton and in general in the wine region in California?
I would say almost not at all. Because we imported a container with someone else there are a few others around but it doesn't seem to be a trend amongst wineries here. People are a little old fashioned here, they do like to make unusual blends but they don't want to risk anything new in their winemaking that deviates from the norm.
What are the latest wines in amphora that you have bottled and which ones receive the most praise?
Because we started with Amphora in only 2012 most of the released wines have been whites. Our white Rhone blends based on Grenache Blanc (our name for the wine is Priscus, meaning venerable and ancient in Latin) and also Grenache Blanc Orange wine. These wines have been wonderfully received and sold out very quickly, again we are very small with small quantities. This year we will release our 2012 reds of which a few were in terracotta, we are very happy with the full flavor profiles with no masking but also how well they have developed because of the breathability of the clay.
Please can you tell us about the curious and beautiful name of your estate?
AmByth is Welsh, as I was born in North Wales on a sheep mountain farm. It means For Ever in Welsh and that pertains to the land, as we farm with no chemicals or intervention, just animals, olive trees, gardens, vines and purity.