Is it a wine club? An allocation list? Call it what you will, but Adam Lee wants to change the way aficionados buy good wine. Well-known founder and winemaker of the Siduri brand—which produces Pinot Noirs from vineyards throughout California and Oregon—Lee knows his way around a tasty bottle of Pinot. And with his brand-new label, Clarice Wine Company (2017 will be the first vintage), he’s sticking with the Burgundian variety. “But I don’t want this to be just another $85 Pinot Noir,” Lee says. “I want people to join a community, enjoy experiences connected to this wine.”
So Lee has created a subscription model. Members—only 625 of them—will pay $160 a month for six months ($960 total). They’ll get a case of Clarice containing four bottles each of the three Pinots he’s making under the label. But they’ll also get an article a month, written by Lee or another industry expert, taking a deep dive into an interesting facet of the business, from dry farming to old-vine Zinfandel to the finance of wine. And if that expert is another vintner, Lee will fold them into one of the member parties he throws each year so people can meet them and learn more—and even buy their wines. “In some ways, I’m selling other people’s wines,” he says, “but I’m okay with that.” He doesn’t see how it hurts him to offer his members the value of telling them about other people’s good wines.
Of course, Lee has the luxury of needing only a few members. That 625 cap represents the average number of cases he expects to make from the miniscule four acres of vineyards supplying the entire label. In Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands, those acres are blocks in legendary Gary’s and Rosella’s vineyards, which Lee has worked with from their early days in the 1990s. Now, though, with some age on the vines, he’s taking a slightly avant-garde approach to the fruit. While many vintners take great care to vinify lots from different blocks and clones separately, Lee is blending grapes from vineyard blocks together at the beginning of the process to create a “wine of place versus a wine of parts put together,” as he puts it. It also has everything to do with a memory of his grandmother—Clarice, of course, who ironically was a teetotaler—insisting that you have to put all the ingredients for whatever it is you’re cooking into the pot at the beginning so the flavors meld.
In the 2017 Clarice Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, a blend of Gary’s and Rosella’s fruit, spicy red cherry and berry flavors meld with herbal and floral notes, and are held together by vibrant acidity. The 2017 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is darker-souled, with a forest-floor quality adding complexity around lush fruit. The 2017 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is all about earth, warm spice, and fresh herbs layered under its cherry and berry flavors. All have backbone from a fair amount of whole-cluster fermentation and character from no fining or filtering.
The community concept of Clarice involves a Facebook page, through which Lee hopes members will share notes well beyond his three wines—such as new discoveries and on-the-spot wine list advice. “Let’s get new people drinking good wine instead of fighting for shelf space,” says the innovative vintner.