Bichi - No Sapiens 2019
Baja California, Tecate, Mexico
From the importer-
No Sapiens comes from a single, dry-farmed, 69-year-old vineyard comprised of a mysterious grape variety that remains unidentified. The farmer says it could be Dolcetto, Luyt thinks maybe Cariñena due to it's sharp acidity, no one is quite sure and perhaps it doesn't really matter as this wine shows it's place beautifully. The head-pruned, own-rooted vines are planted close to the Pacific Ocean at 1,066 ft above sea level on sandy loam and granite soils in the area of San Antonio de las Minas in Ensenada, Baja California. The grapes were harvested by hand towards the end of August, de-stemmed, and then fermented in concrete. The wine was raised for 3 months in equal parts steel vat and older oak and bottled without fining or filtration and only 10 ppm’s of added SO2. This is the most linear of the Bichi wines, with crunchy dark fruit, ample vibrancy and structure. A wine that will get better with time in the bottle. Decant before serving.
Some of the most authentic and delicious wines are born from the least expected places and most unlikely collaborations. In the rugged mountains of Mexico’s Baja California Norte, El Equipo Bichi has recently put together one of the most exciting new projects in the world of wine. Noel and Jair Téllez, their mother Ana Montaño, and their team of collaborators produce beautifully expressive natural wines from mostly head-pruned, non-irrigated, organically farmed vineyards.
The Spanish conquistadors first planted vines in Mexico in the 1500’s, pre-dating vine growing in both Chile and Argentina. About 90% of Mexico’s wine is produced in Valle de Guadalupe, with many of the oldest vineyards centered around Tecate, very close to the U.S. border. The soils in these regions are mainly sandy loam over granite, excellent for winegrowing, and some of the most distinctive vineyards are planted as high as 2,500 ft in elevation. The nearby Pacific Ocean brings a lovely spine of salinity into the wines and helps moderate temperatures, providing more moisture here than to other regions of Mexico.
The Téllez family moved to Baja from neighboring Sonora (hence the name Bichi, which means “naked” in the Sonoran dialect) in the early 1970’s. Jair is a trained chef who opened his first restaurant in 1999: the pioneering farm-to-table Laja in the Guadalupe Valley. With the Mexico City additions of MeroToro and Amaya (offering the country’s first all-natural wine list), Jair is now one of Mexico's most influential chefs. Back at the ranch in Tecate, the family planted their Home vineyard in 2004, where Ana Montaño currently oversees the farming and is responsible for converting their vineyard to biodynamics.
Bichi bottled their first vintage in 2014. It was in that year that Jair and his brother Noel met Chilean natural wine trailblazer Louis-Antoine Luyt. Originally from Burgundy, Luyt worked in notable wineries in France before relocating to Chile in 1998. He is now known for his work with the under-appreciated País grape, which so happens to be the same Missión grape that is found in Tecate. Louis-Antoine convinced Noel and Jair to seek out heirloom plantings of Misión, as he had done in Chile, and produce "vinos sin maquillaje" (wines without makeup) from them. The Téllez brothers saw connections between Louis-Antoine’s approach to wine and Jair’s approach to cooking, and like a bolt of lightning, Bichi Wines was born. Noel has left his career as an attorney in Tijuana and now oversees the running of the winery. From finding these almost forgotten heritage vineyards, to day-to-day relationships with local farmers and fabrication of the concrete tinajas, Noel has been a crucial asset to the team.
While Valle de Guadalupe has overall adopted a more technological and modern approach, Bichi adheres to traditional methods and minimal intervention. Bichi farms 10 hectares of their own Tecate vineyards biodynamically and collaborates with a growing family of organic farmers working vineyard land in Tecate and around Valle de Guadalupe. Their work with Misión is notable, but you will also find Rosa del Peru (Moscatel Negro), Tempranillo, and in the case of the No Sapiens vineyard a mysterious grape variety that remains unidentified. In the winery, grapes are destemmed by hand and gently trodden by foot, and fermentations are carried out by wild yeast in locally-made concrete amphorae. The wines are raised in a mix of neutral barrels and steel vats, with a minuscule 10 ppm of sulfur added at bottling to preserve the wine for travel, if needed.
It’s hard not to talk about Bichi without mentioning the labels, which are uniquely Mexican and represent the Téllez family's whimsical sense of humor. Inside the bottles are incredibly vibrant and transparent wines that evoke the nearby Pacific Ocean, the granite soils, and rugged mountain vineyards of their region. Through the persistent work of the family and their farmers and collaborators, lively Baja wine is officially on the map.