As we bounced along on the narrow, straight dirt road in our 1990 VW Westfalia camper van, with a very steep oak wooded hillside to the left, and a rolling dry cow pasture rising to our right, I was sure we’d gone the wrong way. The sign that said AmByth with the arrow? Maybe we should go back and check. And then the road came to an abrupt end in a clump of oak trees with a climb up to the right and the left. To the left was a green gate and another small sign: AmByth.
“AmByth is the Welsh word meaning ‘forever’. We view it as our legacy,” states AmByth Estates founder Phillip Hart.
We weren’t going to be wandering around out here forever, as beautiful as it might be. We’d found the green gate we were looking for. Now if I could only find where to punch in the code to get the gate to open…
With the gate open, we switch backed up the ridge, up, up, up, mostly on dirt, but also on pavement. We were glad it wasn’t raining. Up more and out of the oaks. To our left was a house and to our right, vines. But how to get through the fence? Clearly not by going straight: a sign warned us of a cliff. It looked like more UP, so up we went, with fruit laden head trained grape vines and small olive trees with small green olives on both sides.
The 360 degree view at the top of the hill made us gasp in awe. And to think we’d be camping here in our van overnight, the easier to be onsite for 7am picking of sangiovese– and to make a dream come true for my spouse: foot stomping grapes!
I was actually at AmByth because it’s one of the wineries I’m writing about for the next edition of the Slow Wine Guide. Edited by Deborah Parker Wong, the Guide highlights wineries in California, Oregon, Washington, and New York which farm regeneratively with organic and biodynamic practices, wineries that don’t use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Most of “my” wineries are in Santa Barbara, but as I have three in Paso Robles, when my spouse suggested we go up for the weekend to attend a concert at Vina Robles and visit Sensorio, I said sure! He brought his mountain bike so he could go ride in case my wine work got boring.
It was a last minute trip, during the heat of harvest. So when Gelert Hart, winemaker and proprietor at AmByth, was trying to figure out how to squeeze me into to his hectic schedule, I volunteered for us to help pick. It would give me first hand — and hands on–knowledge of AmByth’s vineyards. Marshall truly had always wanted to experience stomping grapes, and gently pressing the grapes with bare feet is a common practice at AmByth.
And what a stunning place to grill steaks and green beans paired with AmByth wine.
At dawn, we woke, dressed for the day, and drank tea while taking photos. Then we ventured down the hill in search of the others.
Gelert told us to head for the sound of the sheep and the goats. This time of year they are penned up, but as a biodynamic farm, in the winter and spring, they eat the weeds, and fertilize the soil.
In the vineyard, Gelert gave instructions then christened us with a nip of grappa he made. Many hands make light work, especially with the drought stricken vines meaning we picked less than a bin of fruit with some vines offering no fruit at all and many others only having a few small clusters. Yet other vines thrived; they’d figured out how to reach water on this fractured limestone hilltop.
Gelert told me that the vines rely on what comes from the heavens, and only received a five gallon bucket in the beginning to get started. He’s strongly committed to being dry farmed, but drought years challenge.
He gets this commitment from his father, Phillip Hart, who started AmByth, and from the beginning believed in dry farming, biodynamics, and using amphorae; he’d tasted the difference on a trip to Italy, and this way of farming fit into his philosophy as well.
By 9am we were heading back up the hill to the winery where we enjoyed food prepared by Robyn Hart and we helped press the fruit with our feet. A dream come true for Marshall!
Before we headed off down the hill again, Gelert sat with me for a quick interview. And that, my friends, is a story for another day. Read on for more about the orange wines pictured above; come back for details from my interview with Gelert and more about the reds –2014 Grenache Noir (SRP $45; pictured above) and the 2017 GSM Adamo ($45; pictured above).
They say: ALL OUR WINES ARE VEGAN, PALEOLITHIC, UNFILTERED, RAW AND ALIVE. ZERO ADDITIONS OF ANY KIND, INCLUDING SULFITES. Samples for my review.
- 2020 AmByth Estate, Sauvignon Blanc O.W. Coquelicot Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
- 2020 AmByth Estate, “Decorus” Amphora “Orange” Blend, Paso Robles
- 2018 AmByth Estate, Zinfandel, Magnum Solis Vineyard, San Miguel, Paso Robles
- 2019 AmByth Estate, Sangiovese, Paso Robles
Inspired by the sangiovese and zinfandel and how Philp Hart was inspired by wines made in Italy, as well as inspired by a garden full of fresh vegetables and locally sourced seafood, we went with an Italian-style menu.
- Raw Oysters
- Rosemary Skewers with Tomato and Marinated Mozzarella
- Zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese, battered and fried
- Seared Blue Fin Tuna with Canneloni Beans and a Dollop of Sue’s Pesto
- Eggplant Parmesan Bites
- AmByth Biodynamic Olive Oil $38 (sample)
- AmByth Biodynamic Wine Vinegar $15 (sample)
2020 AmByth Estate Sauvignon Blanc O.W. Coquelicot Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
This natural white wine is made like a red wine where the skins give it a rich color. The wines has NO additives, just made from organic grapes sourced from Santa Barbara, gently foot pressed, then fermented for seven months with the skins in Italian terracotta amphorae and neutral oak puncheon, before pressing. After two months for settling, the wine was bottled.
Color: Cloudy, golden, orange tinge.
Nose: Bell pepper, sour grass, jalapeno jelly, very herbal.
Palate: Very herbal on the palate, minty fresh, spearmint, sage especially on the back of the palate. Great textural experience.
This is a one of a kind wine.
Pairing: Fabulous with the salt water in the oyster as we were taking our time with this pairing, With the whole oyster bite the wine becomes so orangey, while also bringing out the brininess of the sea. For someone who doesn’t care for the fishy oyster would not care for the pairing. We both loved the two together. The tomato mozzarella skewers were perfect with the wine.
The wine was open for about a week before we took our tasting notes and did our pairing. I had tasted it a few days before and found more stone fruit on the nose and the palate. With so many wines clocking in between 14-15% alcohol, this wine is super refreshing in style.
2020 AmByth Estate “Decorus” Amphora Orange Blend, Paso Robles
Vineyard: AmByth Estate, Mark’s and Stonecross Vineyards
Blend of estate grown biodynamic fruit: 44% Viognier, 45% Marsanne, 11% Grenache Blanc, 10% Roussanne… and nothing else including yeast or sulfites in the 84 cases produced.
After gently foot stomping, the Viognier had skin contact for six days. Next the Marsanne was added the ferment for three days, and pressed. With one day of skin maceration, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne were added, then elevage occurred for ten months in an Australian Vitrified Clay Egg. The wine was racked and bottled the following descending moon with no filtering or additions.
Color: Orange, golden orange, amber, cloudy
Nose: Honeysuckle, garden flowers, sandalwood, incense, herbal mint, guava, orange oil.
Palate: Honeysuckle, bee pollen, sour grass, dry chalky texture, mouthwatering finish that resonates. It really makes you salivate! Apricot essence without any sweetness, apricot oil.
Another incredibly interesting wine.
Pairing: The tomato mozzarella skewer was even more perfect with the wine! The herbs, the vine ripe tomato and the richness of the cheese was so fantastic together. Wow with stuffed zucchini blossoms. It loves the goat cheese and the whole fried element of the dish, a to die for pairing. Sue’s oyster was clean bringing out the fruit in the wine, the orange especially. With my creamy oyster it was almost like taking a tumble under the wave and tasting nothing but ocean. I had to open another oyster to have Sue’s experience and she was right. This was a wow pairing. The flavor of the oyster resides all over my palate and as the wine comes through the palate it has sex with all of the residual flavors. There is an orange pith. I still feel like I have gone under the wave, but have come out the other side. It is amazing with the tuna and the beans loving the rich creaminess of the beans and the herbal pesto. The little eggplant bites worked perfectly with the wine. The wine works with the tuna and white beans. The creamy beans, the herbal notes of the pesto, and the salty tuna are fantastic. The wine loves salt in foods.
2018 AmByth Zinfandel, Magnum Solis Vineyard, San Miguel, Paso Robles
78 cases produced of nothing but zinfandel grapes.
Gelert is super excited about this wine and the partnership with the vineyard because, while the vines aren’t certified organic or biodynamic, the vineyards are dry farmed and they share the same growing philosophies and practices. They hand picked the grapes early in the day, foot stomped, then fermented with six days skin maceration, followed by elevage in (2) 350 liter “Novum” California Clay Amphorae for 18 months. They racked and bottled during descending moons.
If you are looking for a wine that has zinfandel character but that’s something different, this is your wine.
Color: It is not the most beautiful color, very cloudy. It looks the color of cherry cola, prune juice, the color is quite difficult to describe
Nose: Grassy, earthen, spice, spiced fruit, fruitcake, rhubarb, raspberry, mint, bramble fruit, prune, dried prunes, cinnamon
Palate: Super dry, tons of acidity, almost abrasive tannins, dusty dryness, this is not a smooth glycerol wine, cinnamon stick, tart fruit and baking spices, essence of zinfandel grape, true to the flavor of the grape and the experience of being in the vineyard and tasting it as you pick it.
Pairing: This is such not a sipping wine, but with Italian fare it is a game changer. Just dipping fresh crusty bread out of the oven and dipping it in the Ambyth biodynamic olive oil with this wine was a game changer. Food and with the wine etehreaial. Perfect with the eggplant Parmesan bites. Without the food, the fruit is not as evident. The salt and the fat in the food brings out the fruit in the wine that is not as present without the food. The tuna bean pesto dish was like the perfect marriage.
2019 AmByth Estate, Sangiovese, Paso Robles
SRP $45 (for the current release)
Color: Ruby with a bright pink rim
Nose: Cherry, cherry cola, insence, baking spices, smells warm, embracing, potpourri; as the wine opens it becomes so heady
Palate: Tart fruit, cherry, but super tart cherry, jolly rancher super tart cherry without the sweetness. Earthen, woody, we have never had a Sangiovese like this, very grippy tannins,
Pairing: While we enjoyed the eggplant bites with most of the wines, a more traditional eggplant Parmesan recipe would work better with this wine. It wants more sauce, and more cheese. However Sue found it all to be quite nice with the dish. She felt that it brought out so many of the nice fruit flavors in the wine. The rosemary skewers were fantastic with the wine. the sweet tomatoes the richness of the mozzarella and the herbal skewers. The wine loves the rosemary. On a subsequent evening, the wine was still opening up, offering more cherry and spice and paired really well with a filet mignon.
Eggplant Parmesan Bites: recipe to be added ASAP!
Pairings with organic wine from my #WinePW colleagues:
- Robin Bell Renken brings Organic Wine – Sustainability and Beyond (Plus Recommendations and Pairings to Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Camilla Mann suggests Sustainably Sourced Seafood + Organic Wines: Rock Crab Claw Crêpes with Bonterra’s 2020 Chardonnay on Culinary Adventures with Camilla.
- Wendy Klik is Drinking and Dining Sustainably and Organically on A Day in the Life on the Farm.
- Terri Oliver Steffes sees Slow Wines and Organic Farming with Lettuce Grow at Our Good Life
- Nicole Ruiz Hudson presents a Chardonnay and Chicken Showdown: Chile vs. California on Somm’s Table
- David Crowley offers an Organic Wine Pairing with Veggie Burgers on Cooking Chat
- Linda Whipple suggests Vegan Black Bean Burgers and Organic Wine: a Planet-Conscious Pairing on My Full Wine Glass
- Cynthia and Pierre Ly present Mystery Organic Wine “Le Vendangeur Masqué” with Crêpes Dinner and Economics on Traveling Wine Profs
- Jennifer Gentile Martin considers Organic Wines with Pasta and Shrimp on Vino Travels
- Pinny Tam goes with Organic White Wines: Bonterra Chardonnay, Cono Sur Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc Paired With Asian Vegan Dishes on Chinese Food and Wine Pairings
- Martin Redmond offers Sustainable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Paired with White Pizza on ENFYLZ Wine Blog.
- On Wine Predator, Sue Hill and Gwendolyn Alley have AmByth’s Natural Wines, Biodynamic Farming for the Future.
You’re invited to join our Saturday September 11 twitter chat using the hashtag #WinePW.
Here’s what we will be discussing and when:
Q1 8am Welcome to the #PourOrganic #WinePW chat during #OrganicSeptember! Please introduce yourself, tell us where you are tweeting from today, and share a link to your website or blog if you have one.
Q2 805a At $54.5M in the US, Organic Wine is an important category in wine that’s growing FASTER than total table wine; globally it’s expected to grow to over $1B by 2024. How does organic factor into your wine selection? #WinePW #PourOrganic
Q3 810a Have you written about #organic wine in the past or is this a new category for you? Share a link if you’ve written about it before or tell us about a favorite organic wine. #WinePW #PourOrganic
Q4 815a According to UCLA research, #organic certified wines score higher than conventionally grown wines. Have you noticed a difference in flavor in organic food and wine? #OrganicSeptember #PourOrganic #WinePW https://winepredator.com/2021/02/09/ucla-research-organic-biodynamic-wines-score-higher/
Q5 820a In addition to flavor, people choose organic wine for a number of other reasons. What are some of yours? #PourOrganic #OrganicSeptember #WinePW
Q6 Some of us received samples from @bonterrawine and @ConoSurWines. Was it hard to find wine to #PourOrganic for #OrganicSeptember? How did you choose your wine? Is it certified or did you go by the winery’s reputation? Have you checked out #SlowWineGuide as a resource? #WinePW
Q7 830a Red. White. Orange. Sparkling. #Organic Wine comes in every style and from everywhere! Tell us about the #PourOrganic wine you are featuring this #OrganicSeptember. Pictures? #WinePW
Q8 835a Many of us wrote about more than one #organic wine or more than one winery. Please tell us more about your #PourOrganic wine and winery. Share a link, please. #WinePW
Q9 840am How did your pair your #organic wine? Did you go traditional to the region or inspired by it? Was your food organic also? Pictures? Was the pairing a success? Would you do anything different? Please share a link. #WinePW #PourOrganic #OrganicSeptember
Q10 845a Many organic wineries are concerned about people and planet. What did you learn about your featured winery’s sustainability initiatives? Is the winery a B Corp? #WinePW #PourOrganic #OrganicSeptember
Q11 850a In the US, organic produce costs more than conventional but organic wines usually don’t. Consumers in the UK pay an average 38% more for a bottle of organic versus non- organic wine. How does price play a role in your selection of organic wine? #WinePW #PourOrganic #OrganicSeptember
Q12 855 What makes an organic wine an organic wine? Why might this be important to consumers? Is there anything else you learned about organic wine or your winery that you’d like to share? #WinePW #PourOrganic #OrganicSeptember
Q13 9am Thank you for joining the #WinePW crew as we #PourOrganic for #OrganicSeptember. Thank you to sponsors @bonterrawine and @ConoSurWines. In October you’re invited to #MerlotMe hosted by Jeff Burrows @foodwineclick.
Each month, Wine Pairing Weekend group of wine writers explore a different topic. What we’ve done in #WinePW so far in 2021:
- Jan: Sake & Other Pairings for Asian Food:
Sushi and Wine? Totally fine! Here’s 21 to try in 2021
- Feb: BIPOC and LGBTQ Winemakers/ Owners:
Camins 2 Deams: When a Chumash Winemaker Meets a Spanish One and Sparks Fly
- March: Washington’s Yakima Valley
Washington Syrah With Lamb
- April: Under the Radar European Wine Region
3 Wine from Sicily’s Etna Paired with Pork Sugo
- May: Middle Eastern Pairings
South Africa’s Organic Reyneke Syrah and Chenin Blanc with Instant Pot Persian Lamb
- June: Wine Pairings for Hard to Pair Foods
A+ Pairings for Asparagus, Arugula, and Artichokes with organic wines from Alsace, Argentina, Australia, and Austria
- July: Midwestern US
Indiana’s Oliver’s Surprising Fruit Wines Paired with Deviled Eggs, Roasted Peach Salad, Berry Galette
- Aug: Amphora Wines hosted here on Wine Predator
Where we’re going:
- Sept: Organic Wine — and we’re hosting!
- Oct: #MerlotMe with host Jeff Burrows
- Nov: Paso Robles wines with host Lori Budd
- Dec: Greek wines with Deanna Kang