March 28, 2017 – Sabrine Rodems is a well-known name to wine club members at Wrath: the winemaker has been the tour de force in the cellar and in the vineyards since what used to be San Saba was reborn and renamed. Owner Michael Thomas has kept Rodems plenty busy with his many often unconventional winemaking ideas, and has given her the latitude to chase different styles, like unoaked Pinot and fiercely oaked Sauvignon Blanc.
When they ripped out a block of underperforming Muscat (I’m still crying over that), Michael, an archeologist, decided to plant Falanghina, an ancient Roman grape that was vinified in amphora. So, Rodems acquired a modern day replica of the ancient clay vessel from Italy (called a dolio) and tried her hand at Falanghina in clay. Truly an interesting, textural wine with just a hint of licking a clay pot.
In addition to making some wine for Ventana, Rodems has her own label, Scratch. She’s also the force behind the rowdy group of vinters known as The Wines of Danger, a group that also includes renegades like Comanche Cellars and Waxwing. She prides herself on being edgy, ardent and forthright: you won’t catch her mincing words, and her wines are equally expressive and full of boundless energy.
As I ardently have come to believe in this life, when one door closes, another one opens. When Peter Figge decided to leave Carmel for Carmel Valley Village, Rodems finally had a home for her fledgling brand that focuses on outlier grapes that Wrath does not dabble in: namely, Riesling, Grenache and Cabernet. She also makes a Pinot from the KW Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and a Pinot rosé from the San Saba Vineyard.
Knocking on wood now, Rodems hopes to be installed with her Scratch wine lineup in the Winfield Gallery in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea by mid-April. And then you can taste what she does in her not-at-all copious spare time.
We asked Rodems to tell us a little more about herself. Here’s what she had to say.
EMB: What is your first food memory?
SR: We always celebrated Chinese New Year and it was tradition for all-hands-on-deck, making wontons. I think I was 4 years old…slave labor at its best!
EMB: Where you were born?
SR: I was born at Marin General Hospital and we lived in Novato. The only one of the six of us born in California!
EMB: What was your first vocational aspiration?
SR: I was a theater, film and television Major at UCLA and was a stagehand for many years before I went back to school to get my viticulture and enology degree. I did four seasons at the SF Opera House and worked in film and television until I went back to school for wine. Shout out to San Francisco IATSE Local #16. I still hold my card in the union.
EMB: Where did your family vacation when you were a kid?
SR: Since there we six of us, we mostly car-camped all over California. It was always fun and exciting, and we still make an annual trip as a family to Salt Point State Park on the Sonoma coast.
EMB: Was there an eye-opening moment that turned you onto wine as a career?
SR: Wine tasting when I grew up in the ’70s was free, so I had been on many wine tours as a kid. I remember the smell of the cellar and learning about fermentation. I always knew it was something you could “grow up to be.”
EMB: What was the first wine you ever had that made you stop and think…wow!
SR: It was Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet. Still one of my favorites. I love the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA and make my home in Ben Lomond. This place is amazing, and the wines Ridge makes are all pretty spectacular! (EMB note: She makes a pretty spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon herself from the Janaca Vineyard on the steep hillsides of Mount Madonna in the Santa Cruz Mountains under her Scratch label.)
EMB: Favorite wine growing region in the world?
SR: Monterey, of course! As a winemaker we have the luxury of picking when the time is right because we have little to no pressure from weather systems during harvest. This allows us to have a lot of control of our style and quality because picking times really determine much of the flavors in a wine.
EMB: What is unique about growing/making wine in Monterey?
As I mentioned, weather, wind, diurnal temperature swing (warm days and cool nights), the people are all pretty awesome too! Great wine-growing and wine-making community.
EMB: Have you been on an archeological dig with Michael Thomas?
SR: Not yet, but would love to see it!
EMB: What is the one piece of equipment you really want for the winery?
SR: Want or Need … I could be really boring and say we need a new press with automatic doors (now that would be nice!), but WANT? I would love to get a couple of concrete eggs. Not sure where we would put them, but it would be interesting to compare them to the terracotta dolio that we are fermenting the Falanghina in now. The things I want are all based around experiments I would like to do in the future.
EMB: Why did you start your own wine brand and what does the name signify?
SR: I started my own brand because I wanted so have some skin in the game. Have a brand where I could explore other varietals and styles of wine, like a dry Riesling form Arroyo Seco or SCM Cabernet. The name Scratch came about in one of my brainstorming sessions over coffee with my husband. Once it popped out, we knew it was the one…and no one else had trademarked it, which is 99% of the name game these days. I like the name Scratch because it means so many things: from scratch, slang for money, scratch baker, scratch golfer, scratch on a piece of paper, chicken scratch. I liked the fact that it doesn’t just signify one thing. My brand would probably be the bane of most sales and marketing people…too hard to pin down to one message, which is the way I like it!
And that’s just what we love about Rodems, too.
Scratch Wines • www.scratchwines.com • 831-222-0620
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.