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Vino-sophy


Abe Schoener, one of the most divisive names in winemaking, was in Oklahoma in April to introduce to his remarkable wines.

Greg Horton May 11th, 2011

Abe Schoener is a philosopher — a real one. He holds a doctorate in ancient philosophy, studied Heraclitus after going to school to study Homer, and has managed to make a name for himself in wine, not philosophy.

Schoener was in Oklahoma City and Tulsa last month introducing his Scholium Project wines to restaurateurs and retailers at wine dinners and classroom training sessions. The name comes from the critical margin notes scholars write in books: scholia. Those wines, both hailed and reviled with amazing vigor, are now available locally.

It is worth quoting Eric Asimov, wine writer for The New York Times, about Scholium: “No winery in California is more unconventional, experimental or even radical than Scholium. Half the wines it makes in any given year are exquisite. The other half are shocking and sometimes undrinkable. All of them are fascinating, which is exactly the way Mr. Schoener wants it.”

Esquire magazine recently listed him as one of “16 geniuses who give us hope.” That was in their 2010 “Best and Brightest” issue. Yet, for every accolade, a simple online search will return a host of voices decrying his wines. He is, in the words of Alex Kroblin, co-owner of Thirst Wine Merchants and Scholium’s representative in Oklahoma, “a subject among sommeliers that is much like politics or religion at a family gathering. The room will divide quickly with some loving him and some hating him.”

Schoener is affable, brilliant and genuinely funny. He is not quite the geeky philosopher one expects, and he approaches winemaking in a way that defies categorization. When discussing the production of Androkteinos (Greek for “slayer of men”), his Hudson Vineyard Syrah, he said he knew the vineyard was ready to harvest when it “smelled like leather and serrano ham.”

Androkteinos is actually one of the more pronounceable of his wines, and that is one of the eccentricities of his approach. “I don’t want to talk about varietals,” Schoener said to an Oklahoma City class of servers and retailers. “You won’t find the name of a varietal on any label.”

For Schoener, the finished product is not about a varietal. “The beginning of a wine is always aesthetic,” he said, by way of explanation. His approach is comprehensive; he is looking for a finished result that is greater than the sum of the ingredients.

In keeping with this outré approach, Schoener chooses vineyards that other winemakers eschew (Hudson being a notable exception), including Lost Slough Vineyard, the source for one of his most approachable wines, Naucratis. The Naucratis is Verdelho, a white Portuguese grape, and the wine is the closest thing to light and crisp that Schoener makes. The vineyard is below sea level, muddy and virtually abandoned.

“Fruit sourcing is the most important element in winemaking,” Schoener said. When asked in a followup question why he would choose a source that is below sea level and avoided by other winemakers, Schoener smiled and said, “There is something charming about a vineyard that’s been despised by people.”

The puzzling, obscure names, unorthodox approach and nationwide buzz were the inspirations for classroom training before the wines were widely released around the state. “These are hand-sell wines,” Kroblin said, “but they are wines that everyone who loves wine will have to try. They are unique.”

Kroblin said the wines have already achieved wide distribution. The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro, 6418 N. Western, is the only Oklahoma City restaurant to have the whole lineup. Ludivine, 805 N. Hudson, and Bin 73, 7312 N. Western, are carrying some as well.

Retail locations include Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver in Norman; Broadway Wine Merchants, 824 N. Broadway; Beau’s Wine Bin, 2810 W. Country Club Drive; and Coffee Creek Wine Shop, 775 W. Covell in Edmond.

 
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