We begin our features of Lake County wineries withBrassfield Estate.
In many ways this was an easy winery to choose to feature because the wines are made with the esteemed David Ramey as consulting winemaker. Ramey has made a name for himself in the world of California many times over, but the winery that bears his name is among the standard bearers when it comes to both Chardonnay as well as Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. In fact, ask my wife what Chardonnay she’d gladly drink for the rest of her life and her answer would come pretty quickly, the Ritchie Vineyard version from Ramey.
Ramey has also done outstanding work in research since he left UC Davis, as well as helping to make Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill and Rudd Estate into the household names that they are today in places where people drink any amount of wine. I think it’s fair to say that hiring a consulting winemaker of the ilk of David Ramey, when you already have a strong winemaker staff in place shows that Brassfield Estate is willing to spend the money necessary to bring their wines into the conversation about some of the best values in California wine.
Here’s where Brassfield shows some difference between itself and the litany of Napa names that liter Ramey’s resume, my wife’s favorite Chardonnay sells for about $50 (no, we’re not opening it on a random Tuesday) but Brassfield’s white wines sell for between $15 and $22 per bottle. That’s part of the allure to Lake County when compared to more established names in the wine trade, grapes and land are cheaper here, so what ends up in your glass begins at a much more reasonable price point. The quality of these wines is quite good and borderline spectatular when you consider the price points involved.
Part of the reason for the spectacular quality from Brassfield is that the estate itself is about 2,500 acres in size. The family has continued the tradition of this land which was once and continues to be a wildlife preserve, while allowing wild life corridors to stretch throughout the entire length of the estate. Sitting between 1,800 and 3,000 of elevation in largely volcanic soil, Brassfield offers a vineyard manager and winemaker both challenges, but some of the biggest advantages imaginable in order to craft world class wines. Having driven the area myself, I can attest to the massive diurnal temperature differences as well as a crisp and cleaness to the entire environment that might remind one, of Rutherford, but without the tour buses.
There’s both a necessity as well as a perspective in reward to their environmentally friendly approach. The rugged terrain that leads to the winery also means that there isn’t a municipal water supply. If Brassfield wants to grow grapes or anything else for that matter, they’ve got to earn it and Jerry Brassfield might be the perfect man for the job based on his own background. Having grown up on a farm (alfalfa and almonds) as well as having owned a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains some years ago, Brassfield has an understanding of solid environmental principles, while allowing space for innovation and yes, profits. Of course, if you’re wondering about the long term plan here, this is the first business that Brassfiled has put his name on, his family is here for the long haul. In the changing wine landscape that we all live in, I don’t view that fact as a trviail one. Quality continued to improve over the past thirty years in California wine, partially because a generation of winemakers and vineyard owners wanted to pass a successful property and business to their descendants. I hope that sales, mergers and other news stories that seem more fit for New York, don’t become even more commonplace within the California wine industry.
Ok, so there’s a good story and a good consulting winemaker on hand as well as a beautiful estate. None of it matters if what’s in your glass doesn’t hold up, does it?
While I found the wines to be enjoyable and more fruit forward than I expected from Lake County, don’t take my word for it alone. I mean, please do, these are good wines, really good and really reasonably priced for the quality. In case you need a bit more assurance, listen to what some of the best known wine critics in the world are saying:
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: “This is a fabulous wine for the money” Talking about their 2011 Eruption which is an estate (every wine they produce is 100% estate grown grapes) bottled blend of Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre.
Antonio Galloni and Parker might not be the best of friends anymore, but he agrees about the high quality of Elevation. This time talking about the winery itself: “Brassfield excels with big, fruit-driven wines that overdeliver considering their reasonable price points.” Of course, he had nice things to say about the 2012 as well: “Another juicy, intense wine, the appropriately named
2012 Eruption bursts from the glass with dark red cherry, plum, spice and licorice.”
The long and short of it is pretty simple, we’re looking forward to featuring a Brassfield Estate wine or two in the coming months with our wine club members.
As per usual, yes this was written by Mark Aselstine.