The madness must come to an end. Last night, a new men’s champion was crowned. The field was narrowed, and narrowed, and narrowed...until just two teams were standing. Those two fought hard, but only one could win. Someone, somewhere, chose the winner and today sat victorious over the others in the office pool. Was it you?! (I took second in my office pool, by the way!)
Last week, I made the tough choices of eight elite wineries I was dying to visit in northern California. I put much thought and logic into my picks. I used a certain set of rules when making my choices, but just like with the regular bracket for the NCAA men’s tourney, there were literally another thousand different choices other than my eight.
Experts say that the possible bracket combinations for the men’s tourney were more than nine quintillion…yes, quintillion...options. I did not find nine quintillion other views on eight elite wineries in California, however. I found two!
The first opposing bracket is from Eric Gardner—Rapid City, South Dakota’s wine and food loving meteorologist. His love for wine and food are shown in multiple ways, but they appear first and foremost in his “In the Kitchen with Eric Gardner” segments on the KOTA network out of Rapid. He has taught wine and food pairing classes in the area and has led multiple tastings and wine events around the Black Hills. It is obvious through Eric’s elite picks that he loves a good cabernet sauvignon, yet he appreciates many California wines.
|[Eric Gardner with his two favorite hobbies: food and wine!]
One—[Morlet Family Vineyards]: Patriarch Luc Morlet came from France to the U.S. with just a thousand dollars in his pocket. He sought the best grapes to make wines in the fashion of his homeland, and he has done just that. Eric loves the Morlet white Bordeaux blend—sauvignon blanc and semillon—but he also enjoys Morlet’s cabs, pinots, and syrahs.
|[Morlet Family Vineyards]
Two—[Varozza Vineyards]: Jack and Dianna Varozza started by growing fruit for other wine producers. However, they make small amounts of their own wine. Eric tells they grow some of the best petite sirah in Napa to produce wine under their own label. They also grow and ferment a wonderful old-vine sauvignon blanc, a show-case Chardonnay, and a world-class zinfandel.
Three—[Verite Wines]: Another transplant from France, Pierre Seilan makes Bordeaux blends using merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc. Verite’s Le Desir blend has a higher percentage of cab franc than his other wines; it is made this way to be similar to the traditional wines of St. Emilion. Eric’s “Parker palate” is evident in his love of this producer—a producer that has received perfect one hundred point scores from Robert Parker himself.
Four—[Detert Family Vineyards]: The Detert family has been growing grapes on the west side of the Oakville region of Napa for over sixty years. Year after year after year, Eric believes the Deterts produce one of the most delightful, unusual, and complex cabernet francs from California; they are big reds with floral notes. Since this is a smaller producer, to purchase these wines, get on the winery mailing list.
|[Detert Family Vineyards]
Five—[Schrader Cellars]: Speaking of winery mailing lists, Eric’s father was fortunate to be one of the elite on Schrader’s, earning the ability to access some of California’s greatest cabernet sauvignons. Eric believes these wines show the “essence of California”; they have also received more perfect scores from Parker and other critics than any other wines in California history.
Six—[Alban Vineyards]: Eric’s love of Napa is quite evident in many of his choices, but he shows his diversity with Alban Vineyards, a tiny winery near San Luis Obispo in Arroyo Grande. One of the first wineries to produce wines exclusively from Rhone varieties, Alban specializes in syrah, grenache, mouvedre, marsanne, and grenache blanc. Eric still considers an Alban wine to be the most moving wine-drinking experience he has ever had: “When I drank the 2006 Alban 'Reva' Syrah. The enormous wine changed every 15 minutes in the glass - much like John Alban's personality, interestingly enough!”
Seven—[Entre Nous]: Grapes for Entre Nous wines are grown in the Kristine Ashe Vineyards and produced by the team of Philippe Melka and Julien Fayard. Entre Nous has one of Napa’s finest sauvignon blancs but also produces a cabernet that is, as Eric states, “More than fruit and tannin.” It is so complex that even floral notes show through.
Eight—[Barbour Vineyards]: Jim Barbour has tended some of Napa’s most prestigious grapes over the past thirty years. He grows his own fruit for elite winemaker Celia Welch to ferment into wine. (Celia is the second Barbour winemaker; the first was equally as impressive—Heidi Barrett.) This duo only makes cabernet sauvignon--which Eric loves--from Barbour’s dry farmed, sustainably grown vineyards. Celia also makes wines under other labels: Scarecrow, Keever, Hollywood and Vine, and Corra (her own).
Enjoy Eric’s elite eight wineries. Check back soon when I have yet another bracket to add to our “bracketology” madness, a viewpoint that will be completely different! My fellow International Wine Guild sommelier from Austin, Texas—Oscar—is going to share his unique insight on eight special California wineries. This is yet another bracket that could be a winner. Let the madness continue!