Wine X Magazine
Everyone already knows that Wine X loves what’s going on with Pinot on the West Coast in general.
We also dig Adam Lee, owner of Clarice Wine Company, and his rather unique business model for his Windsor winery. Community, education, and tremendously superb wine are the pillars to the business model, inspired by his early mentors and his Grandmother Clarice’s home cooking.
If you aren’t already aware, as a members-only winery, a limited number of Pinot-lovers can sign up and receive several perks throughout their year-long Clarice membership. Membership includes 12 bottles of world-class Pinot Noir, members-only content from Adam and other industry leaders, access to private forums, an annual Clarice wine party, and a second party at a separate grower’s site to learn about their vineyards and wine. It’s really cool.
We caught up with Adam recently and thought you’d like to hear what was said.
Much has been said about the Clarice model…it’s different…where did you come up with the idea? What’s the back story?
“It came about after several realizations gained from customers and from that long period of time in the business. First off, what people truly seem to value in their relationship with a winery is a personal connection.
What I am trying to do with Clarice is build a community that allows wine lovers to interact with each other. One of the most unique aspects of Clarice is that members not only receive their Clarice Pinot Noirs at a better price than others, but they also receive offers from other wineries.
From a sales POV, most wineries look at other wineries as friendly competition. Here I am trying to bring wineries together and realize that our greater good is to get more people drinking more wine. If we can do that – whether that wine is Clarice or something else – it is good for wine consumption and that is good for every winery. I hope that it is a “bigger view” on the wine business and I hope that others learn about my model and copy it and improve on it in some way.”
Adam went on to note that he has become quite close with many of the winery’s members. Early influences from Sam Kindred and Mark Mattingly of Austin Wine & Spirits, Leon Cikota, a local restaurant owner from Austin, and Lee’s Grandmother Clarice, paved the idea of having a community model winery.
This type of business model also encourages communication and collaboration between wineries, restaurants, and other businesses. Wine X has a bullish POV on this business model, but we’ll save that convo for another day.
Think back to your first few vintages at Siduri and now your first few at Clarice: tell me what’s the biggest difference in how you work with Pinot?
“First off, it begins a bit with a freedom that has come with Clarice. Over 25 years, Siduri became something of an institution. And, at some point, that limited what I could do with it. Oh, of course, as owner, I could have done whatever I wanted. But my loyal customers came to expect something from a Siduri Pinot Noir and, while I could change that a bit to go with the vintage, I felt a bit constrained by the expectations that came along with a Siduri Pinot Noir.
With Clarice, and with 25 years’ experience and with the older vines at Rosella’s and Gary’s’ Vineyards, I felt that I wanted to do something different. I decided to look at the vineyards similarly to how my Grandmother Clarice made food in a crockpot.
She combined ingredients early and let them meld together into one harmonious dish. I’ve done the same thing with the vineyards, picking different sections that usually ripen at very different times, together and fermenting them together. That means that some of the fruit is more ripe and some is less ripe, but together hopefully, they make a more complete and complex wine.”
Owning Clarice Wine Company has given Lee the ultimate freedom to create the wines he wants and build a community who is interested in not only drinking wine, but learning about the viticulture and enology practices that go along with making fantastic Pinot Noir.
With that, there are some exceptionally exciting things coming soon from Clarice…
You’re also working with some other labels: Tell us what excites you about those.
“I’ve got a lot of different projects I am working on. One of the most exciting is something called Root & Rubble, that I am doing with Jackson Family Winery. It is an all concrete Pinot Noir – both fermented and aged in concrete. It is only with specific clones of Pinot that have more tannin (such as 828) as the wine doesn’t get tannin from oak so I want grapes that have the tannin themselves.
I also have a new project in 2019 – just in its infancy – where I am working with famed French vintner Philippe Cambie. Philippe makes some of the most exciting wines in the world, focusing mainly on Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I am fortunate to be friends with Philippe and, while having dinner at his home, he mentioned that he had “always dreamed of making Pinot Noir.” Well, we worked out a deal where we are making Pinot Noir together. That new winery is called Beau Marchais and it is something I am truly thrilled to be a part of.”
Parents love all their kids the same, but if you had to pick a bottle, which is your favorite?
“Well, the 2018 Clarice Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir is truly special. It is one of the few wines in my career that I knew from beginning to end was truly outstanding. It is rare for me to have that happen as juice and continue all the way through bottling (it has happened 3 other times in my life – 1999 Siduri Christian David Pinot Noir, 2005 Siduri Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir and 1995 Siduri Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir). That was the case with the 2018 Clarice Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir.”
Ultimate question: If it wasn’t Pinot, what is your next favorite grape and why?
“I like making Zinfandel. That would be my next favorite grape to make. As far as drinking goes, there’s a lot of wine that I love to drink. But lately I have been on a huge Chateauneuf-du-Pape kick. Both the 2016 and 2017 vintages there have been extraordinary and drink well early but should age incredibly well.”
Adam Lee has quickly made waves and gained a well-deserved cult following in California and across the US. His sole focus on Pinot Noir has left the Clarice groupies with outstandingly consistent vintages.
We look forward to Root & Rubble collaboration with Jackson Family Winery and the first release of Beau Marchais. As should you…. We’ve already put a calendar reminder on our iPhone.
So let’s get down to business…Wine X Style… that means the juice and earning some X’s
2017 Clarice Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands:
Scarlet Johanssen bridge bungee jumping in a string bikini. You live your life for this moment, need I say more?
Wine X Says At LEAST a XXX with unmistakable sad regret when its all over.
2017 Clarice Pinot Noir Rosellas Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands:
Imagine a universe where chocolate covered bing cherries had zero calories. Now imagine you have a bottomless box.
Wine X Says: XXX plus a mouthwatering mouth explosion.
2017 Clarice Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands:
Chip and Joanna Gaines, you know…. but, a wine. Sneaky-sexy on their own, but nicely balancing each other out.
Wine X Says: XXX and not really caring who wears the pants. Or who doesn’t 🙂