Sometime during the most intense phase of lockdown, The New York Times asked readers to send a sentence describing their philosophy of life — or at least of coping. The request got me thinking about “what I live by” and my pithiest — just four words — possibility was “First do no harm.” I quickly realized, though, the impossibility of that. I do harm every time I turn on a light, start the car or heat water. And then there’s ordering something from Amazon: harm squared.
So I amended it to “do as little harm as possible,” not so succinct or catchy but more serviceable. (And yes, it is possible to live without Amazon, I remind myself when I’m tempted.) With this on my mind, I was struck by a line on the Two Shepherds Winery website in which the “shepherds” write that their role is to guide their wine along, protect it from harm, and otherwise not intervene. In other words, to shepherd it. A good philosophy for raising children and inhabiting the earth as well as making wine.
Their wines are, indeed, very low intervention — no additives save a minuscule amount of SO2, whole cluster fermentation in neutral barrels, native yeasts, no fining or filtration, etc. And the shepherds believe that “winemaking is an art, not a science, regardless of what UC Davis says.” In an interview, one of the shepherds, Karen Daenen, placed her commitment to natural winemaking in a wider, more inclusive context: “It’s also how I choose to eat. I read ingredients on food labels, enjoy cooking from scratch and eat minimally processed food.”
I had a specific reason for looking at this website: some friends recently shared with us a bottle of 2017 Two Shepherds Centime, a grenache blanc (Two Shepherds specializes in Rhone varieties) from Catie’s Corner Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. It’s a skin contact or “orange” wine that I took one sip of, interrupted the conversation, and just said, “Wow.” I continued to say (or at least think) “Wow” until the bottle was empty.
Two Shepherds is just a small team consisting of the shepherds, Daenen and William Allen, and their cellar master, Lorenza Allen (no relationship to William). William and Karen have full time jobs and run a farm as well as a vineyard (they also use other vineyards, like Catie’s Corner, all grapes handpicked and organically grown). “We make the wines we want to drink” — surely the very best policy for a small operation.
And I can see why they “want to drink” this spicy, lively, multi-faceted beauty with its hints of grapefruit and ginger as well as intense minerality — my cheater phrase for imagining myself able to taste the alluvial soil of the region.
Now one of my urgent missions in life is to visit the Two Shepherds Windsor warehouse tasting room and try everything they’ve got.
Wine drinkers on a strict budget have a hard time finding “no harm” wines. The above grenache blanc, for example, costs $30 (totally worth it, though!). It’s especially difficult to come upon domestic “no harms” in the lower price ranges. And importation brings its own harm. Nevertheless, many producers, who already use more earth-friendly growing techniques, are trying their best to lower their carbon footprint in bottling and delivery as well.
One is the family-owned Proviva Winery in Mendoza, Argentina, also called Chakana Winery. The son of an Italian immigrant with roots in northern Italy’s viticulture, Juan Pelizzatti, founded the winery in 2002 in collaboration with a young and innovative winemaker named Gabriel Bloise, and it’s now one of the leading projects in “new” Argentinian wines.
Their Inkarri brand features estate-grown wines produced exclusively from organic and biodynamic vineyards in the best terroirs of Mendoza, like that of the small village of Agrelo at the foothills of the Andes — most known for its malbec. The dry, desert-like climate features warm, sunny days and nights cooled by winds from the snow-capped Andes.
The Co-op carries the Inkarri white, a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and viognier. It’s a bright, clean, dry, spirited wine that tastes of honeysuckle and tropical fruit as well as summer stone fruit. You can practically taste the regions’ distinctive calcareous soil. It’s a perfect wine for patio sipping or to accompany seafood of any sort, a big vegetable burrito (such a tempting dinner dish for a hot summer evening), or Asian dishes like pad thai.
Not so complex as the Two Shepherds bottle, it is nonetheless a delicious, easygoing, appealing wine. And at just $11 a bottle, it’s an excellent bargain as well, especially given the wild fermentation, and the fact that, unusually, there are no added sulfites. In a further reduction of “harm,” it comes in a very light-weight bottle.
Hippocrates was (as far as we know) the first to advise “do no harm,” and we think of this phrase as part of the oath physicians take (which they no longer do — hmmm). But if we all pledged to do as little harm as possible (and to support businesses trying to do the same), who knows what healing — of ourselves and the planet — might ensue?
— Susana Leonardi is a Davis resident; reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com.