Beyond Champagne: Pinot Meunier Shines in a Varietal Wine from Two Shepherds (#winophiles)

Are you a lover of French wine? Partial to Bordeaux or Burgundy; Languedoc or Loire? The French Winophiles are devoted fans, too, celebrating the subject on the third Saturday of each month. Our March event mixes things up a bit, as we turn our focus to French grapes grown elsewhere in the world.

If your first reaction is “Sacré bleu!” I urge you to reconsider. Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla is our host this month; you can read her invitation post here. She provides some compelling reasons to expand your thinking on the topic. Then please join our chat March 20th at 11 am ET and learn just how far your favorite French grapes have traveled. Remember to attach #Winophiles to your tweets and replies!

Here’s what each of the Winophiles will add to the conversation:

Pinot Meunier: A Sparkling Wine Staple

Part of the grape family that includes Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, Meunier (as it’s called in Champagne) takes its name from the white filaments that cling to the leaves, giving them a flour-like appearance. The French word meunier means miller, an apt moniker.

Pinot Meunier in the Vineyard (photo: Two Shepherds)

This grape is prized in Champagne (and other places where traditional method sparkling wines are made) because it ripens earlier than Pinot Noir and thrives on cooler, northern-facing slopes where other grapes may struggle (e.g., the Vallée de la Marne).

As a varietal still wine, Pinot Meunier is a rarity. Most are made by winemakers whose primary focus is on sparkling wine, in places like Tasmania, Germany, and California. Until recently, I had only ever tasted one – and it was unremarkable. The Pinot Meunier Gabe and I shared over dinner a few weeks back completely changed my opinion.

 Two Shepherds Winery: The Hobby that Ran Amok

William Allen and Karen Daenen are living the dream: working full-time jobs and managing to make low-intervention wines from small parcels of organically farmed grapes in California. And they tend a flock of adorable creatures that populate their Instagram feed. Okay, so that is a lot to manage (especially that full-time job thing). Only folks driven by passion and fueled by limitless energy need apply.

Baby Luna just celebrated her first birthday! (photo: Two Shepherds)

They describe their path to winemaking as a “hobby that ran amok” in 2010, when they established Two Shepherds and produced 175 cases. As of 2019 they had expanded to 3,200 cases, most of which was sold directly to consumers through their Flock Wine Club. In addition to their day jobs, William and Karen manage relationships with growers throughout California who specialize in unique grape varieties and who can meet their exacting specifications (down to the exact plot and row.)

What drives them is a commitment to making wines in an old-world style, one that honors the true character of the grapes and eschews the use of chemicals in the vineyards; to say their cellar methods are low-intervention would be redundant.

All wines are fermented spontaneously, using native yeasts; all undergo natural malolactic conversion. Barrels, when used, are always neutral. The idea is to allow the primary aromas and flavors of the variety to shine; to tell the story of a special plot of vines planted in just the right place.

Two Shepherds specializes in Rhône varieties, grapes that you’d recognize from French AOCs like Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But they also make very small lots from grapes like Trousseau Gris, that originate elsewhere. In my short time as a Flock Wine Club member, I’ve learned that there’s always something surprising; a wine or two that will delight my inner wine geek and entertain my taste buds.

If you’re looking to jump into the natural wine experience, there’s no friendlier way to go than with a Two Shepherds wine. After tasting my first bottle, I practically kicked myself, asking why I waited so long to do it. Don’t be like me.

Look at that brilliant color!

2017 Two Shepherds Pinot Meunier (12.8% abv; $44 at the winery)

Just 100 cases were made of this 100% Pinot Meunier, and what a beauty it is! Grapes came from the Hopkins Ranch in the Russian River Valley, which William and Karen discovered by accident, when they went to purchase two goats. (Notice the goats featured on the label?)

Natural yeast fermentation occurred in half-ton bins, then the wine aged in neutral barrels for 10 months before bottling. The wine was not fined or filtered. Minimal sulfites were added.

Color: Brilliant ruby red; this wine has a brightness to it that is really gorgeous

Nose: Pronounced red fruit aromas (cherry, raspberry, cranberry) with a little dried thyme.

Palate: Tart acidity, moderate tannin, medium body; fresh berry-cherry flavors, a hint of tree bark (maybe some stem inclusion?) and a long finish with notes of raspberry tea (obscure reference, but I do drink that quite often).

There is a wonderful freshness to this wine, making it a lovely match with food. But I would be thrilled to sip this by itself; by myself so I wouldn’t have to share. 😊

Stay Tuned: More Two Shepherds Wines Coming Soon!

Gabe and I have been putting a real dent in our Two Shepherds stash, and I can’t wait to share more of our tasting notes and pairings with you. There’s a Syrah that, if I’d tasted it blind, would’ve sent me to a very good producer in the Northern Rhône; and a hedonistic blend called Mouton Gris, a blend of Trousseau Gris and Pinot Gris. And so on, and so on.

Skin-fermented Grenache Blanc is a dynamite pairing with vegetable dishes. More to come!

24 comments

  1. Great choice! I stumbled upon Two Shepards then got hooked on reading about their wines and seeing Luna. I won’t tell anyone if you keep the Meunier all to yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’ve heard nothing but good things about Two Shepherds and when we see not one but two writers in this group feature them, we know we need to get to know them!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have only tasted Pinot Meunier as a still wine once and I loved it. I love the varieties they are using as well as their methods. This winery definitely seems right up my alley. Thanks for sharing!
    Oh, and that photo of Luna is enchanting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks so much! This wine was a real pleasure to drink. I highly recommend Two Shepherds (all of their wines) but especially if you want to taste a lovely, still PM. They produce some really fun orange wines, too, if you’re into that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG! I’m in love with baby Luna! So cute! I’ve had Two Shepherds on several occasions but you’re inspiring me to try more. I you’re interested to try more Pinot Meunier, Poe Wines makes some lovely versions as well. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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