Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's the Thought That Counts--Two Shepherds Vineyards

It takes a lot to make wine.  Yes, one needs grapes, and equipment, and time, and money, and passion, and work ethic, and…the list goes on and on.  However, to make GOOD wine—really GOOD wine—it also takes a lot of thought. 

Voltaire once said, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”  William Allen of Two Shepherds Wines saw a problem.  He saw wines that were over-processed and over-worked, wines that didn’t show a sense of place where the grapes were grown.  He saw too much manipulation, too much use of the same grape varieties.  And William thought. 

He moved to California wine country and thought.  He started his own wine blog as “Sonoma William”—Simple Hedonisms—and continued thinking.  He home brewed beer.  He started making small batches of wine.  He became part of the Rhone Rangers movement and then president of the North Coast Rhone Rangers, focusing on grapes that are traditionally grown in the Rhone Valley of France:  Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Mourvedre.  He thought, and thought, and thought.  He began to form the ideas of what he believed would not only make wine in northern California, but make great wine. 

This “assault of sustained thinking” led him to use primarily neutral oak, all indigenous yeasts (with no inoculation), and some whole cluster fermentation with no new oak, no filtering, and no Cabernet Sauvignon. He started small—just 175 cases in 2010; however, by 2013 he was up to 1,000 cases from 11 varieties (10 of which are Rhone) sourced all the way from the more southern area of the Santa Ynez Valley to the more central area of Lodi.  This is quite an undertaking, especially considering that, for the most part, William is a one-man show, doing the majority of the production work himself, all while still maintaining his full-time “day job”.

William pondered everything:  what grape varieties to use, where the grapes were grown, how the grapes were grown, and how they were harvested.  He considered bottle shape and size, cork type and artwork, and label design and colors.  Every detail was painstakingly thought through…with amazing results!

The Whites
Grenache Blanc 2012—Two Shepherds largest production with 200 cases made, this wine (sourced from the Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez) is filled with mineral on the nose and golden apples on the palate while being both incredibly smooth and brightly acidic.  (I purchased this white.)

Pastoral Blanc 2012:  Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc Blend—The nose shines with pineapple and baked apple as the palate reinforces these fruits.  Once again, this wine has that great acidity while maintaining a velvety smoothness not often found in acidic whites.  William thinks this wine has great aging potential for the next decade.
Pastoral Blanc 2012, Trousseau Gris 2012, and Mourvedre 2012
Viognier 2013—Grown in Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley (one of William’s absolute favorites), the nose of this wine is filled with flowers and tropical fruits which are repeated on the palate.  With only thirty-three cases made, this is a very special wine.

Grenache 2012, Grenache Blanc 2012, Pastoral Blanc 2012

Trousseau Gris 2012—This might be considered a schizophrenic wine showing William’s inner wine geek and constantly-processing brain.  William used white grapes but produced them as he would a red wine, with 12 days on the skins after two punch downs a day; it is a beautiful neon-apricot color showing soft tropical fruits on the nose and palate.  William recommends continuing to treat this as a red wine and serving it at red wine temperature.

The Reds
Grenache Noir 2012—Also sourced from Saralee’s Vineyard in RRV, this was my favorite red!  A slightly murky shade of chokecherry, the nose was filled with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries; the palate was packed with these mixed berries and that zippy acid that William’s wines display.  (I purchased two of these and have already consumed one.)  A barrel tasting of the 2013 Grenache had slightly less fruit on the nose at this time but still great berries and acid on the palate.  This 2013 is shaping up to be just as fantastic as the 2012.

Grenache 2012

Syrah/Mourvedre 2011—This almost fifty-fifty blend sourced from the Russian River Valley has baked fruit and spice on the nose with currant, cherry, spice, and metal on the palate; I might add this also had a finish that lasted forever!  The aging possibilities on this wine look good.

Mourvedre 2012—Also sourced from the RRV, the nose had currants and cherries with dried herbs that were repeated on the palate with lively acid.  Such a great style of Mourvedre, with only 12.3% alcohol (lower alcohol percentages are typical of William’s wines).  This would be a great food-pairing wine.  (I also purchased this wine.)
Viognier 2013 and Syrah/Mourvedre 2011
William Allen definitely made all of his thinking count when he started his Two Shepherds label.  Though he lives in the part of the country where he has easier access to the basics of winemaking—grapes, equipment, facilities, storage, etc.—and he added the time and money needed to make wine, he knew he wanted more.  He wanted to make a THOUGHTFUL wine, a wine that fixed the problems he saw in the industry.  His attentive yet almost minimalist style of winemaking is a model to be emulated, to be followed, to be enjoyed.  William definitely made his sustained thinking about absolutely every detail of winemaking count!
Two purchase any of these wines, please go to the website:  Two Shepherds Vineyards.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Doon’t You Know--Bonny Doon

A trip to northern California…mecca to a wine lover/wine geek like me.  Oh, yes!  Napa and Sonoma, and all the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas—legally recognized growing areas) within these counties are a wineaux’s dream.  However, many “Doon’t” know that the climate of California is wonderful for growing grapes all over the state, not just in those two famous areas.  One such famous winemaker, Randall Graham, actually makes his wine in the beach town of Santa Cruz, known more for its famous boardwalk of amusement rides and hundred-year-old wharf of shops than for its wine production.  Graham sources grapes for his Bonny Doon wines from different areas of California, finding the vineyards that produce grapes with the qualities he yearns for in his unique and (self-proclaimed) esoteric wines.  Graham does this in his quest to produce wines with soul (as a wine friend of mine put it), and I couldn’t agree more with this mission and the outcome.
Santa Cruz...known for its beach, but has great wine too!

Focusing more on Rhone grape varieties and purposefully eschewing the usual California grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Bonny Doon’s wines are unique in many ways.  Graham lists the actual ingredients of his wines on the back labels of the bottles, making him a pioneer in this practice.  This ingredients list is generally quite short, due, in part, to the Biodynamic and organic growing processes of the grapes he sources.  Doon’t be fooled, however; though Graham is a bit of an “eccentric” and this shows up in his wines, he produces some amazing, one-of-a-kind juice.
Bonny Doon tasting room.
Albarino:  Sourced from Kristy and Jespersen vineyards, the 2013 Albarino is filled with mineral and wet stone on the nose with just a hint of sweetness and green herb on the palate.  The 2010 Sparkling Albarino is a traditional method sparkling with peach and lime on the palate, perfect for a warm, California summer day.

Syrah:  The 2010 Jespersen Syrah is a special treat with smooth, balanced tannin and acid, alongside green pepper and mixed dark fruit.  The surprise of the day was the 2011 Sparkling Syrah.  This refreshing wine is the perfect summer wine for red wine lovers.  This bottle has all the characteristics of a quality Syrah, with the fun of bubbles.  Serve slightly chilled and this checks all the boxes of a summertime red wine.

Blends:  The Rhone Valley influence really shows up in Bonny Doon’s old-world inspired blends.  But these aren’t stuffy or old-fashioned bottles.  These are California cool blends—cool because of the quality of the vino and the backstory of the name.  (Look up the meaning, but it deals with the French and UFOs…the makings of a great wine title!)  The 2009 Le Cigar Volant Normale and 2008 Le Cigar Volant Reserve start with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault (and sometimes Carignane) grapes.  The Normale is smooth with baked cherries on the palate, while the Reserve’s smoothness is tempered with more fig and over-ripe plum from being aged additional time on the lees.  Both would be age-worthy, with the Reserve cellaring well over fifteen years…even with the screw cap closures of which Graham promotes the use. 
 The tasting line up.
The bottles.

Doon’t believe for a minute that the only places to taste great wines in California are in Napa and Sonoma.  I’m definitely not saying these wine regions aren’t stellar…because they are!  (Upcoming blogs of me practically squealing like a 1960s teenager seeing the Beatles while I was in Sonoma will be published soon.)  My point is that there are so many tremendous wineries all over northern California, Doon’t focus only on Napa or Sonoma:  look to small producers, look at different regions, look for different varietals.  Doon’t miss out on a special stop that might be slightly off the beaten path.  You won’t be sorry!