Northspur Brewing (“Delicious, craft beer made with Californian craft malt”), project of “kid” Jakob and his spouse, Sarah, opened shortly before lockdown. In the way of most California businesses, it has opened and closed and closed and opened in various permutations ever since, as Jakob and Sarah try to figure out how to keep the place afloat.
A small, excellent, local, affordable wine list has been a part of the Northspur plan since the beginning, but dropped away while they figured out how to can beer for take-out, create a second outdoor space, heat it, stay safe, and pay their employees. They have, though, recently assembled a very limited list of wines by the glass.
Committed as they are to making beer that is as healthful and sustainable and local (and, of course, delicious) as possible, they seek the same qualities in the wine they carry. Two of their early choices, I’m pleased to tell you, are wines made by Kenny Likitprakong — one his red blend, Parts and Labor, and the other the Camp Cabernet Sauvignon.
In the last few months, my own most-purchased red has been Camp Cabernet Franc; I like it so much that I didn’t even bother to taste the cab sauvignon. I’m not a huge fan of the grape anyway (only, I suspect, because I’ve tasted so many Napa cab fruit bombs). When I asked Jakob what decided him on the wine, the first thing he said was that it smelled and tasted like a classic cab but wasn’t a fruit bomb. High recommendation from my never-hyperbolic son. So I bought a bottle.
Since it happened to be Pizza Night, I thought we might as well just pop the cork. It’s delicious — and the butternut squash pizza liked it, too.
Camp is one of Kenny’s many labels; he uses it for his Sonoma wines. He sources these cab grapes from several organic vineyards in the county, along with a few in Mendocino. This year he added 12% merlot from Sonoma Valley and 2% malbec from Alexander Valley. He fermented the grapes in stainless still and aged them nine months in neutral French oak, so if you’re expecting a big oak burst, be assured that the oak is barely detectable (as it should be, to my mind). Instead this wine is all about bright lively black currant and raspberry and some spicy pepper to tease the taste buds. Low alcohol for a cab sauv (13.1%), it’s medium-bodied and eminently food-friendly.
Now, alas, I can’t decide whether I prefer the cab franc or the cab sauv, so last time I was in the Co-op, I just bought both (they’re available at The Pip as well), excellent bargains at $18. New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov called the Camp Cab Sauv “an old favorite” when he included it in his 20-under-20 list. For me, it’s a new favorite, and I can’t think of a cab under $20 that’s anywhere near this good.
While I was searching the shelves for the two cabs, I noticed a bottle with a really delightful label and discovered it was another Kenny-made wine, one I hadn’t seen before — the Folk Machine Rosé. I grabbed a bottle of that, too, realizing that it would be my very first 2020 rosé. I’m not sure it was a good one to start with—now all the others will have to live up to it. It’s terrific. Fresh, crisp, and vibrant, it’s 100% gamay, made (“naturally” of course) with Arroyo Seco grapes.
In this second vintage of rosé, Kenny decided on a green bottle with a much higher percentage of recycled materials than last year’s clear glass. So you don’t get to see the lovely rose tint until you pour, but it’s all the more surprising and satisfying for that. Only 359 cases were made, so don’t put off trying a bottle—it has already sold out in many places.
This would be a wonderful partner to almost any spring holiday dinner you’re planning. You might not think, for example, of rosé to accompany an Easter ham but this one would work well.
And speaking of spring holidays, The Pip Wine Bar (in Dixon, with Saturday delivery to Davis) has three EZ button bundles to go with your holiday meals. (“EZ Button” being Amy Grabish’s shorthand for “one click and you’ve ordered all three or four bottles.) There’s a 4-pack Passover selection ($70), and one 3-pack for an Easter lamb, another for Easter ham (both $50).
I’ve tried almost all the bottles included, and written about many, so I can recommend them without hesitation. One I haven’t tried is the intriguing-sounding Szekszard Kéfrankos from Hungary. Blaufränkish is the more common name for kéfrankos, but I’m a big fan of this pinot-like grape, whatever you call it, so I ordered a bottle to arrive with my next delivery. Stay tuned for an update. (And here’s an update from the last column: I mentioned Matthiasson’s Tendu blends as excellent “clean” bargains; in one of wine maven Jancis Robinson’s recent international newsletters, she praises both the red and white Tendu blends in a short list of “low in alcohol, high in flavor” wines.)
If your spring holiday plans include a trip north rather than dinner at home (yet again), do stop at Northspur in downtown Willits and tell Jakob and Sarah I said hi. And try a glass of the Cab, while you’re at it, or one of Jakob’s new brews. I’m especially excited to sample “Mendo Summer,” a Kolsch style ale, and to enjoy my usual favorite, Northspur Amber.
— Susana Leonardi is a Davis resident; reach her at email@example.com. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com.