It was Benoit’s idea to make the 2020 La Fe, our first Rosé. Everything was chaotic, with a harvest and vintage shaped by two massive wildfires in Napa Valley, one in August and the other in late September. Early after the first fire, we decided Realm would not produce any red wine from 2020. And then Benoit came up with the idea of making a Rosé, harvesting some of the fruit from our Stags Leap District Estate Vineyard and Farella earlier than we normally would to see what we could come up with. Scott agreed to try it, even though it was a move that required a completely different mindset.
Scott: “The team was still wrestling with the fact that there wouldn’t be a 2020 red vintage, and Benoit springs this on them. And not only are they going to make a Rosé, they’re going to make it as you’d make a white wine, which frankly, is just a little more technical. Red wines are kind of like cooking; whites are more precise, more like baking. Especially when it comes to temperature control.”
Benoit: “I thought, why not? It was a chance to be creative, to make something beautiful in the face of disaster. I liked the challenge.”
It was a big change, maybe even a big risk. But it was better than doing nothing. So we went ahead and picked the fruit in late August - Merlot and Cabernet. The grapes were nice, with no pyrazines or green flavors. We pressed the fruit lightly with a low rate of extraction, essentially following the same road map we use with our white wine, Fidelio. Benoit was excited about it.
Scott: “I still needed to be convinced. Realm is known for making high end Cabernet, not Rosé. How would our mailing list respond? I was worried about the brand reputation. I had a lot going through my mind. But as we continued to taste the wine late in 2020 and early 2021, it was really good. Benoit said ‘too good not to bottle.’ And in the end, I decided he was right. Yeah, maybe Rosé doesn't fit in the traditional box of a so-called cult Cabernet producer, but it does fit into the spirit and essence of Realm. To the idea of resilience, of making the best out of a situation, no matter how difficult it is. So we bottled and shared it with our members because ultimately La Fe is a statement about who we are. And I’m really proud of the wine.”
La Fe, Spanish for “faith,” is pronounced “lah fay,” and our Rosé was so named because of the faith we needed to get through 2020. It was us having faith that we’d be able to bounce back. That 2021 will be better than 2020. It was the faith our customers had to have in us that we would not put something in the bottle unworthy of the Realm name. And maybe there's even a little existential faith or spiritual faith in there. As farmers, you have to be optimistic, which borders on faith in a sense. If you didn’t, you wouldn't be in this business in the first place, at least not for long.
For the label we approached Sylvia Ji, the artist who created the Fidelio label and who often draws on Mexican folk art, symbolism and imagery for inspiration. We batted around ideas and told her to go for it. Sylvia researched Mayan and Aztec mythology and came back to us with an image of Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent and deity of the Aztec (and other) cultures. Among other symbols, Quetzalcoatl is known as the “Lord of the Dawn,” signifying rebirth and the morning star. The label is colorful and evocative of Rosé, and also features golden rays of sunshine – typical of Aztec folk art. The original piece, 18” by 30”, is acrylic and gold leaf painted on birchwood.
The final blend of La Fe is 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet adding a little richness to a wine that is clearly in the Provençal camp. When we released it in spring 2021, we were able to be generous with our allocations - which is a nice opportunity we don’t normally have.
Scott: “When customers came back asking for more, we were actually able to say yes and surprise a few people. It was a cool facet of the project we didn't necessarily think of when we made the wine. We hope it spread a little joy.”