Often times, people have the assumption that larger is better; whether it’s in wine, packages of snacks at Costco, or houses with more bedrooms than people in the town where I went to boarding school, the message is bigger is better. Even in wine, the message can be bigger is better; while not referring to size, it often shows up in large production labels, that assume that releasing 10,000 cases means they are successful. It also shows up stylistically, when wines become Fraken-fied, with additives and strange concoctions of science much more than art.
My choice, therefore, is to spend as much money as I can on supporting smaller, local producers who not only need to cash more, but have more creativity and stylistic control than – dare I say it – that label with the Kangaroo on it down the street.
Luckily for me, I was invited to the Micro Winery Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa recently. Here, several smaller wineries - including Inspiration, were pouring their wares. I have a few highlights from the event and a shamless plug for a fellow blogger turned winemaker who is doing some great things with Rhone varitals.
First up, Wesley Ashley Wines‘ Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc is a Rhône style
blend of Vioginer, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara. The Viognier adds a nice aromatic note, while the Roussanne gives a crisp acidity that would be perfect for a summer sipper. We all know by now, that I love a good Grenache Blanc, and the 20% addition to this blend rounds out the white and gives it a solid body. This is no wimpy wine! Classic flavors of nectarine and apricot show up under the floral notes of the viognier.
Also from Wesley Ashely, the 2009 Intellivent Design Cuvee is another classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. The Grenache, which is 75% of the blend, shows off its strawberry spice, with the Syrah adding some great backbone.
YOu can find Wesley Ashely Wines at the winery by appointment, The Wine Mine in Oakland, and several restaurants around the bay area.
This is a winery to watch!
Keeping on the Rhône theme, next up we meet the Two Shepherds. William Allen, a fellow wine blogger over at Simple Hedonisms, and partner Michelle Berger launched Two Shepherds wine to focus on Rhône style wines from California with distinction.
So far so good I’d say! It takes extreme talent and guts to start a winery, particularly if you’re day job is in sales, as William’s is. Having known him for a few years now, I have seen first hand the sheer tenacity that it takes to launch a brand, learn about the chemistry of winemaking, the ins and outs of running a business and also trying to pay the bills. Kudos to a successful launch!
I was one of the lucky few to taste the delicious Grenache Blanc, which is sadly sold out now – but it was a great example of a Rhône white, that balances out acidity with the creamy subtle sweetness. Some GBs can be either too acidic (I’ve had a few from Spain) or too full bodied which implies sweetness. The Two Shepherds balances those two, with a nice minerality, white peach, lemon lime flavors, followed by a flinty finish. I am eagerly waiting for more of this to be bottled so I can nab some for the cellar!
Also from Two Shepherds, the MRV is a classic white Rhône blend, comprised of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier. I enjoyed a bottle of this last night with Butternut squash Lasagna, and the creamy body of the MR balanced the sweetness of the Butternet perfectly. The Addition of the viogner adds a touch of honeysuckle.
There are two red offerings from Two Shepherds, the GSM, and the SM (Syrah/Mourvedre). The GSM blend is a bit different than your average southern Rhone, or for that matter, Paso Robles Rhone blend, as the Grenache in this blend adds acidity and flavors to develop that are unique to the area. The lighter style blends perfectly with the fuller bodied Syrah and Mourvedre, to create a masterpiece of bright red berry, spice box, and a lingering flavor that I personally can only describe as Grenache.
This wine isn’t technically released, but it will be soon and I suggest buying a bottle and letting it sleep for a bit. If not, give it some air before you sip and swirl.
The Syrah/Mourvedre blend uses the same Syrah from Russian River, and is blended equally with Mourvedre. The SM is slightly fuller bodied than the GSM, as you don’t have the higher acid in the Grenache to lighten the load. It is also delicious and would be fantastic with roast chicken, a burger, or cassoulet.
You can find Two Shepherds wines at the winery by appointment, and via mail order, but also at K&L Wine Merchants, Wicked Wines in HBG, and several restaurants in the Bay Area including The Girl & Fig, Spoonbar, and Toast Wine Lounge. Click here for details.
The moral of this story? Seek out those small producers. They work in small lots, and can be more creative than people making large amounts of wine. Have fun discovering them. The custom crush / coop tasting room is more and more popular, as it allows smaller brands to showcase their wines while sharing costs for capital expenditures.
Now, I don’t harbor any fantasies of being able to be a chemist and make my own wine, but it sure is fun to live vicariously! I’ve picked up some of the pieces of the puzzle on the way, and while I don’t think I could go it on my own, I do lust after a barrel or two of Pinot Noir in my future.
Some of my other favorite coop tasting rooms:
- Winery Collective – San Francisco
- The Wine Yard – Santa Rosa
- The urban wineries of Coffey Lane (that’s my own name) – The NPA, Carol Shelton, Vinify Winery Collective & Custom Crush, Inspiration Custom Crush, all located in the same complex as the micro wineries featured in this post.
Explore your town! There are Urban wineries in San Francisco such as Dogpatch Wineworks and Bluxome Street. Oakland and Alameda have an urban explosion.
Support your local winemaker! You won’t be sorry!