Revisiting My First Orange Wine

Have you ever tasted a wine that changed your perspective? That gave you an “ah-ha” moment? I think everyone has some sort of story like that and mine starts with The Scholium Project The Prince In His Caves Sauvignon Blanc 2010.

In 2015, Sean and I were celebrating an anniversary with a staycation at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami. We dined at the hotel’s restaurant, Boulud Sud Miami, and enjoyed a five-course meal with wine parings. The sommelier asked if I was fond of any varieties in particular and I said Sauvignon Blanc. He brought out The Prince In His Caves, saying that it would be unlike any Sauvignon Blanc I had ever tasted—and boy was he right! The skin contact and funky flavors—it was one of those moments that opened my eyes and made me look at wine in a different way. Since then, I’ve had the wine twice—early last year with friends at Lagniappe and now after finding it at Graziano’s. Every time I open it up, I have a moment of nostalgia.  

A photo of the bottle from that anniversary dinner.

The Scholium Project started with Abe Schoener in California. Originally a philosophy professor in the late 1990s, Schoener took a sabbatical and turned to deepening his knowledge of wine. After some time traveling through Napa Valley, he connected with winemaker John Kongsgaard and assisted with him for a year. At the end of the year, Schoener went off to begin making his own wine. Now, The Scholium Project is facilitated by friends, colleagues, interns, and includes teammates Alex, a former chef at the French Laundry, and Brenna, a wine director.

Schoener is always experimenting with his wines, whether it be techniques or grapes—he ultimately wants the wine to speak for itself. He works hand-in-hand with small vineyards of individual farmers throughout northern California. In the cellar, Schoener lets the wines take its natural course and leaves them undisturbed in the barrel and allows the fermentation to develop a ripeness particular to wine, not fruit. And on the label, instead of naming the grapes used, he shares the name of the vineyard from which the fruit was harvested, and a title that captures that particular wine’s personality (most often historical literature references).

Skins from the wine. Courtesy The Scholium Project.

The Prince in His Caves is an orange wine with 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It has been an ongoing project released for a handful of years. The Caves project has been produced with a similar basis of technique–foot stomping of grapes with extended skin contact–each vintage but with tweaking of the details of production to allow for recognition of that year’s grape qualities.

It was a deep amber color—so beautifully orange. The nose was full of pineapple, nectarine, passion fruit, and grapefruit, but overripened, almost candied. There was a slight nail polish remover smell, which means there was some excess volatile acidity, but it went away after a while. The palate was dry, light bodied, with medium+ acidity and a long finish. It tasted like the nose—over ripened tropical fruit. Such an interesting wine and one I will always revisit.

Do you have a wine ah-ha moment?

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