Jasper Dickson is a true garagiste winemaker. Though he works retail at Silverlake Wine in Los Angeles, he moonlights as a small-batch producer under his Rhythm Wine label. For his 2014 vintage, Dickson will produce 400 cases, well within the 1,000 case production level that generally applies to boutique producers. Using unusual varietals and an intimate connection to the landscape, Dickson is making wine that can only be turned out on a small level.
From the beginning of his fermentation education, Dickson was thinking outside the box. At 18 he experimented by fermenting fruit juices, like prune and tangerine, before moving into the realm of wine. Now, he buys grapes from Southern California growers and makes two distinctive wines: Syrah and Lagrein, a rare Italian varietal.
We sat down with Dickson to get the details on small-batch winemaking, CHP tickets for winemakers, and why California is a great place to make vino.
California Winery Advisor: What was your introduction to wine?
Jasper Dickson: It all came from my father. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and when I was a kid I would travel up to Sonoma with my Dad all the time when he would go wine tasting or go to the county fair (to go wine tasting.)
Also, my Dad dabbled in home winemaking and I remember as a kid finding all his winemaking equipment in the basement, like some strange secret laboratory.
CWA: How did Rhythm Wine come to be?
JD: I would drive around California finding people who would sell me just a few hundred pounds at a time for home winemaking. Then I would drive the fruit back down to LA where I live now and make it in my garage.
On one of these trips I found a couple guys who were growing a lesser known grape called “Lagrein.” It’s a varietal that is originally from northeast Italy in the Alto Adige/ Suditrol region. I had never seen it in California and was so excited when they offered to sell me just 300 pounds. To make a long story short, the wine turned out great and I knew I wanted to do my first commercial release with these grapes. So Rhythm Wine started.
CWA: What kind of wine do you make?
JD: So in 2013 I brought in the first vintage, which was 2.5 tons of Lagrein. Production-wise that ended up being about 175 cases. I also produced 50 cases of Syrah for a grand total of 225 cases. Peanuts -- but it’s a start. I also learned from that first vintage, as I was hauling the grapes from the vineyard to the winery, that you can get a ticket from the California Highway Patrol for “Spilling Grapes.” I shit you not. $256. It sucked. But anyways, that was the start.
CWA: Which of your wines represent your vision best?
JD: I would say both my wines, but definitely the Lagrein. That wine would never exist in large production because for one thing there isn’t enough acreage of it grown in California. Also, no one knows what the hell it is, so no sane business person would take a risk at making it on a large scale.
CWA: What would you like to see change, to favor small producers?
JD: It would be nice for the ABC to completely knock out the tied house restrictions. Also to be able to directly ship wine to all 50 states. However, that has been getting tremendously better even within the last seven years, it seems.
The main thing I think is for consumers to continue to open their minds to different regions and different varietals within California. To continue to encourage the experimentation that is going on. Everyone always talks about the millennial generation, (which I believe I am a part of) and they should because they are super interested in wine of all sorts and all kinds. It’s amazing the kind of things people ask me when I am working at the wine store. I love it!
CWA: Why do you like making wine in California? What does this state offer that Old World winemaking doesn’t?
JD: The thing that Europe has is this beautiful tradition where people, food and wine were able to evolve together in these different places and because of that you get these unbeatable combos. However, the fun thing about California is the lack of tradition and traditional restraints. We can plant whatever we want wherever we want (for good or bad).
It is so dynamic to have that coastal influence and then to also have the continental vibe as you move inland and then up into the foothills of the Sierras… California has so much unexplored possibility, it really is endless. That, I think, is the coolest thing.
CWA: What winemaking practices do you observe?
JD: All our wines we keep as natural as possible. All indigenous yeast, no additives but the smallest amounts of so2 to keep it safe and we never fine or filter. With the big producers you end up performing all crazy kinds of chemistry instead of just letting the wine do its thing.
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Look for Jasper Dickson’s Rhythm Wine at the following Los Angeles locations: Silverlake Wine or Everson Royce. Also available at the Wine House, K&L Wine Merchants, Urban Radish, Rosso Wine Shop and Bar and Garden. If you live in the area some great restaurants and wine bars that currently have it by the glass are: Covell (Los Feliz) - Augustine (Sherman Oaks) -Ostrich Farm (Echo Park) -Crossings (South Pasadena) -Blair’s (Silverlake) -Cafe Stella (Silverlake) -Cliff’s Edge (Silverlake).