Bichi Harvest Report

Bichi Harvest Report

Bichi, translated from Sonoran Yaqui, means “naked” and speaks to the minimal intervention style of winemaking utilized by Noel Tellez and his team. Their labels feature an array of naked and partially dressed luchadores that suggest the fresh, easy drinking style of wine that makes Bichi a fan favorite in natural wine circles. While the wines are intended for having a good time and not being too serious, it all hinges on the seriousness with which Tellez approaches farming.

2020 seems to not have been such a dick to Bichi. There were plenty of challenges posed by the heat, but Tellez is pleased with the quality and the quantity of grapes harvested. The last grapes were picked on Friday, September 11th, a full month later than last year. Tecate is hot, always, but especially in the last ten days of harvest. Temperatures rose up to 41 degrees Celsius or 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Vineyards called out “Hey Noel, we have to pick!”.

Many natural winemakers, including Tellez, believe that low alcohol represents one of the key attributes of a fresh, easy to drink wine. Beer people use the term “sessionable” when describing something you can drink a lot of without getting wasted. Most of the grapes harvested this year ought to come in around 12-13% ABC, with the exception of one vineyard which will probably be around 14%. Many winemakers in Napa Valley, the Valle and beyond “baptize” a high alcohol wine, which means they add water or other things to bring down the alcohol. Of course, this means that you also have to adjust the acid to bring it in balance with all the sugar. This is how a winemaker starts down the slippery slope away from a natural wine. One intervention often leads to another. Tellez will instead blend the high alcohol wine with another much lower alcohol wine to balance them out. Which is how Bichi makes wine anyways, everything is blended. In fact, they are moving towards the Spanish idea of pagos, or terroir focused, single vineyard blends.      

In Mexico, there is no jurisdiction restriction. Tecate and the Valle de Guadalupe are considered part of the same region. Bichi works with four main vineyards in Tecate, which are famous for Misión and Rosa de Peru grapes, but there are six or seven different varietals that are planted. The one they call Dolcetto may or may not actually be Dolcetto. The vineyards all occupy between four and six hectares and are at least 35 years old, with some more than 100 years old. Their 15 year old estate vineyard is the only one that is irrigated. This year they scored some 80 year old Grenache from the Valle, which is fermenting well so far.

Tellez has had the opportunity to speak with the elders that have grown grapes for years. Historically, rain fell in Tecate for four or five months out of the year and temperatures were cooler. San Lorenzo was planted in the 1920s, and even in Valle, everything was dry farmed. There was no irrigation. In the last two years, there has been plenty of rain but temperatures are rising. The reality is that, in the past, dry farming was more possible. Dry farming succeeds when the roots are deep. The plants that die have shallow roots that don’t reach water. The last three or four years have been crazy. Heat waves like a hair dryer blast the plants until they go into an emergency stage. In their search for water, the grapes eat their own water and turn into raisins in the span of a couple of days. It’s getting more challenging every year.

Climate change is here for good. It’s a reality. Viticulture management will be the key to continuing to produce fresh wines. Biodynamic farming produces healthier vineyards with better ripeness and better resistance to disease. The work is more difficult to be sure, but this is the most clear path towards the future for their style. The future for sustainability is better farming practices. Irrigate if possible. Not only one technique will be the savior, but a combination of practices will help the grapes cope more effectively, even if nothing completely prevents the damage.

With five years of biodynamic farming in his own vineyards under his belt, Tellez is not interested in just buying grapes. He wants to form a network of relationships with farmers that are interested in organics and permaculture and collaborate with them in viticulture. They don’t have to necessarily be organic but the future is there. Palomino, Misión, and Rosa de Peru grapes have grown in Tecate for a hundred years and present excellent opportunities for experimentation.

Bichi is changing. Experimenting with carbonics the past few years, they are happy with the Carignan this year. They are thinking about barrel aging because they are not against wood. Barrels are a vessel to finish wines. They don’t want to cover the wine with wood flavor. Tellez and the Bichi family are happy with 2020. The 2019s are being released next month, so go out and get some! We look forward to toasting you in person when it makes sense.