Event - Imbibing LXV Wine's Inspired Art

Wine and Kama Sutra - did I read that right? My first look at my email invitation to taste LXV Wines noted that the wines and their labels were inspired by the Kama Sutra and featured those inspirations of the acts. I've always known that there was more to that text than what many think of as just creative ways to have sex (it's about sensuality, love, respect, and virtuosity) but I could not help but wonder if I might come across lewd artwork in their branding. Curious though because the iconic name Amy Butler (prestigious and well-respected winemaker) was tied to the winery, Duc and I opted to attend the tasting and see why there has been buzz about LXV lately. Upon first sip, we could understand why.
"Pay respect to the grape, pay respect to the terroir, and let the rest of the vineyard play it out."
The grapes come from Paso Robles on a property which is just about the intersection of three top-notch vineyards. The terroir in this region tend towards what Paso Robles is known for - Rhone Valley style wines - and the focus of the winery itself is to produce food-friendly French styles. They stay away from overextracting fruit and try to intervene very minimally with the grapes and their process in neutral oak barrels. No wonder the iconoclastic Amy Butler is involved; there is also an emphasis on picking the grapes early, a practice Butler is known for. Owner Neeta Mittal explained the arduous process of finding a winemaker for LXV Winery's vision (a two year search) but once they came across Butler who had the same vision and the exact style they discovered, it was time to produce. Mittal said of Butler, "She'll taste the flesh of the skin and the seeds instead of looking through the refractor to decide when to pluck. She is a true artisan through and through."

The tasting that evening was hosted at the Orange County Creatives, a gallery of 34 local artists including jewelry designers that was founded by Jason and Maggie Tockey. The Tockeys believe that art is important to a community and that artists have something valuable to contribute to the world. If the names sound familiar, they might be; they used to have a studio in the Santora Building of the Artists Village in Santa Ana where you may have seen their collections. Once that lease was up, Laguna Beach was honored with their accumulation of unique and exquisite art pieces and their efforts to support emerging artists. It seemed nearly perfect to do the LXV Winery tasting in this space which emphasizes the beauty and character in artists' work and features several "Meet the Artist" events for the local community.

As we browsed the gallery, we learned about Mittal's start of LXV Winery. With a background in the arts as a dancer and choreographer and as an appreciator of wine, Mittal found herself falling in love with the intimacy and environment of Paso Robles. Once she and her husband (also co-founder) came across their place, they felt so much at home that they decided to move there quickly unplanned and start up their business. As for the branding and its relations to Kama Sutra, Mittal explained:
Kama Sutra is about the senses. It's more about the tease than the taste and that's what we wanted to do with the brand - make it the "dance" before the performance.
Their tasting room opened in October 2013 in downtown Paso Robles and is fashioned in an Indian-inspired style with blue & red walls. Meant to create an "Ah!" moment before sinking into zen, the room is laid out to evoke an environment akin to Mittal's own heritage. Not only is the ambiance a little different compared to other tasting rooms in the region, the experience inside is as well. LXV Winery pairs its wines with neutral cheeses dipped in spices. The idea is for the aromas and profiles of the spices to open up memories and pull out the layers in their wines that you would not be able to tease out otherwise.

There was certainly a bit of a challenge when Mittal first started off her business aside from the issues that all new businesses face. It was not customary for Indian women to drink wine or alcohol in general. However, her dedication to the art of her business was able to convince those around her, and she joked that even her mother will now ask to be "quality control" and taste test the bottles.

We tried three different wines that evening. To open up our palates, we started with their 2012 Heart Note ($25/$21.25 Club) which was a rose showcasing "Gandhayukti" (Perfumery), the 18th art of Kama Sutra. It featured an artisan candlemaker, Mary Ramos, from New Jersey. The second caught Duc's attention for its uncommon blend - it was the 2010 Rising Tempo ($38/$32.20 Club) which contained Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo. This bottle showcased "Nritya" (Dance), the 3rd art of KamaSutra, and featured LA dancer Reshma Gajjar. This was the flagship wine (though we tried the 2012 vintage) and a blend that was out of the norm for Paso Robles which usually has Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The tempranillo gave a leathery base to the wine and contributed a smokiness that allowed the Syrah to shine. Mittal suggested that perhaps Butler had wanted to offset the bold fruitiness of grenache and syrah with some depth - thus, the tempranillo. In the tasting room, you would have tasted this with garam masala (this one made with cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, and proprietary exotic pepper blend made of coriander, pink peppercorns, and lemon pepper) and recommended to also have it with saffron. This was Duc's pick of the night.

Due to its popularity and being fully reserved in orders, we were unable to taste the 2010 Crimson Jewel ($42/$35.70 Club) that night but truly wanted to. A Sangiovese and Petite Syrah blend showcasing "Maniragakarajnana" (Precious Stones), the 39th art of KamaSutra, using Berkeley jewelry designer Rhiannon Griego, this one tempted us quite a bit. We were, however, able to taste LXV's 2012 Summer Satine ($32/$27.20 Club), a Viognier that was my favorite for the evening. It featured "Alekhya" (Painting), the 4th art of KamaSutra, and sported Palm Springs oil painter Carrie Graber on the label who had done a self-portrait from behind. I quite enjoyed the 100% viognier because it was robust and meaty, similar to a red wine though it was white. The Summer Satine is one which Mittal tries to use to steer people away from the close-minded belief that white wines only went with white meats like fish. I am sure this bottle could hold its own next to red meat. This one also won Best of Class at the SF Internationals, and I can attest to its great balance. In the tasting room, this would have been paired with a proprietary exotic pepper blend which brings out reminiscences of banana, stone fruit, and creme brulee. Mittal suggests this with a pepper-crusted meat and noted that in general, meat is only there for structure and basic taste; wines should be paired with their seasonings instead.

If any of these wines have seemed enticing so far, keep in mind that the production is only about 100-200 cases per vintage and style. The small lot is a trait of their hand-crafted business, and by hand-crafted, we mean it. The Mittals will often stand on bins to inspect incoming grapes, follow them down the line, chase the process in their cars to the crush vats, and even remove stems that were missed by the machines. Featured artists are selected from a network of people they know but also because they agree with LXV Winery's philosophy of doing business. The photographs of these artists would be taken while they were indulging in their art.
"Everything that we do, we need to inspire."

LXV Winery has only had two vintages but have taken awards back to back in various competitions. Their next planned style is a Chenin Blanc which will be difficult to make and will taste like a richer Vouvray. There is also a Cabernet Franc Syrah Merlot blend releasing this year as well. All of these hold steadfast to the idea that the winemaking be traditional in technique but expressed in contemporary blends.

Mittal was mentioning the wine club frequently throughout the event and soon we realized why - the plan is to go from a public tasting space to an exclusive wine club with regular members. However, what sets LXV Winery apart is that their wine club has a smaller minimum commitment than others do - you can either opt for 2 or 4 bottles every four months. The shipments round out to about $80 including shipping for these orders of 2 bottles every four months, and the best part is that the wine club is free to join. Members get to source from a dedicated barrel selected from the best of the best in grapes every vintage as well. Another perk is the ability to travel to India with Mittal in February on a food-themed excursion with the Taj Mahal, Delhi, and other monuments/landmarks on the itinerary. Additionally, on the first Sunday of every month, they host a lunch for club members in their backyard at a 95-year-old barn with gorgeous crawling rose and grapevines.

Any thought of taking it back to India? 
"They have only started to understand it there now; bureaucracy is the biggest hurdle and then volume. Logistics within India are also challenging. The plan is to be in the $8-$12 range for that audience but yes, I want to be in that market too. They love anything California."

We recommend you giving LXV Winery a try at some point. Not only are they dedicated to their craft but also to the craft of the Kama Sutra and the crafts of their photographed subjects. Our thanks go out to everyone for hosting this event. As a way to get you started on your first bottle of LXV wine, here is a unique opportunity for readers of Much Ado About Fooding:

Use code "LXVADO" to get 10% off on ALL the wines available for sale until April 20 at www.lxvwine.com

We hope you'll enjoy these and their beautiful artwork on the labels!

Photography by Duc Duong. More pictures available on Facebook here.