Lightwell Survey The Weird Ones Are Wolves Red 2018
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Founded in 2015, Lightwell Survey is the project of winemaker Ben Jordan and brothers Sebastian and Jay Zutant. Ben Jordan is the winemaker of Early Mountain, the well-respected winery in Madison, Virginia. He also owns Midland Winery with his brother Tim where he makes wine from his family’s Mount Airy Vineyard. Sebastian Zutant’s name is well known in DC restaurant circles—his resume includes positions at such prestigious restaurants as Komi, Rasika, Proof, Red Hen, All Purpose (at the latter two he was Owner/Wine Director). He and his wife currently own Primrose in DC’s Brookland neighborhood. Jay Zutant’s experience working at Stubhub and eBay makes him the perfect person to handle the business side of things at Lightwell Survey. The three partners all bring different skills to the winery, but one thing is certain, the results of their unique contributions are interesting, distinctive small batch wines that are “unusual, delicious, and provocative.”
A shared love of natural wines, inspired by the wines of Louis/Dressner Selections (the New York-based wine importer on the forefront of natural wines in the U.S.) brought Ben and Sebastian together. Together they formed Lightwell Survey to produce natural, sustainable wines. Ben calls Lightwell Survey a "micro-négoce on the fringes of the Virginia wine industry". (Négoce is short for négociant, the French term for someone who purchases grapes to make and sell wines under their label rather than producing wines from their own grapes). Instead of owning vineyards, they source their grapes from a group of young dynamic Virginia growers all of whom are as committed to working sustainably as Ben is. For the Lightwell Survey wines, he seeks out grapes from cooler climates, higher elevations and stony soil (Some of the grapes come from Mount Airy, Ben’s own family vineyards and from Quaker Run Vineyard at Early Mountain) Once he selects the grapes, he blends them to produce unusual and delicious flavor combinations. Ben vinifies with native yeasts, uses little to no sulfur and filters only if absolutely needed for stabilization. The names and labels of the wines are non-traditional. This aesthetic may stem from Sebastian’s days as a lead singer in a goth punk rock band. Each label has artwork designed by Washington DC-based artist John DeNapoli. The designs, a bit dark and cutting edge, symbolize the non-traditional bent of the winery without distracting from the truly delicious flavors found inside the bottle.
The Shenandoah Valley AVA is Virginia’s first AVA (1982). It is located between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains to the west. Its position between two mountain chains provides good growing conditions for grapes. The mountains cause a rain shadow effect, forcing rain to drop on the other side of the mountains. The resulting relatively dry, fairly cool climate combines with limestone soils to produce an environment that is beneficial for viticulture.
2017 was a really good year for wine in Virginia especially for reds and this tasty red blend bears that out. It is an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc (Baer Ridge and Bailey Vineyards), Syrah (Quaker Run), Riesling (Shenandoah Vineyards), and Petit Manseng (Mount Airy). The juice is co-fermented (20% of it is whole cluster) using native yeasts. After fermentation it is aged in neutral French barrels for ten months before being bottled unfiltered. I’ll admit that when I tasted this the first time, I was expecting the cherry and red plum-skin flavors. What I was not expecting was meatiness and a certain sanguineous quality combined with floral pipe smoke aromas but I like the complexity this brings to the table. The wine has nice acidity and fine-grained friendly tannins.