When Matt and I first opened Uncorked Ventures, this was something we thought of doing. We wanted to have some wine made on our behalf.
Oh, we pictured it bigger and better of course. We thought about walking the vineyards in Rutherford, picking some Napa grapes and then having superstar winemaker (insert name of the moment here, say Phillipe Melka these days) make the wine.
This wine came from a casual email that said, I hope things are going well-I’m going to have some extra juice because of some greater travel with my day job: want any of it?
Of course I did.
The winemaker in question I won’t name, after all this wine really doesn’t exist, but let’s just say that he focuses on Rhone varietals, has learned aside some of the very best, has been named among the most 150 people in the wine industry by the San Francisco Chronicle and well….I hope that’s enough to convince you.
I spent a couple trips up to Sonoma meeting him and tasting through some barrel samples, making choices and then arranging a bottling.
It was an interesting process.
I’ve seen a number of blending sessions and while the back of a wine bottle is really specific about what’s inside, I can say with certainly….the difference between a few percentage points shouldn’t even be discussed.
We started out by staring at 26 barrels of wine, some of which the winemaker would be keeping for his own project, so we had an opened ended project to find a wine that I liked.
When it comes to white Rhone grapes, Grenache Blanc is by far my favorite. I know that the winemaker works with two vineyards that I was pretty familiar with. First, Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and there are only 2 acres of Grenache Blanc left anywhere in the RRV-all as part of this wine.
I knew I’d want at least part of that juice if I went forward with the wine.
Secondly, the winemaker works with a vineyard down in Los Olivos, Saarloos and Sons.
Having gone to school at UCSB, I felt like there was something poetic about having a Santa Barbara part of the wine.
Here’s the issue though. Saarloos and Sons charges about $20 for their Grenache Blanc and the Russian River Valley version goes for about $30. Yet, to combine the two….I’d have to have a label that read simply: California.
That was a let down and quite frankly…..this was going to be a hell of a lot better than those faceless wines we all buy from time to time at the grocery store that are called California.
Sure, maybe it was a bit of ego slipping in.
In any case, as it turned out the Russian River harvest for 2014 was slightly larger than most imagined, so there was some extra juice.
All available, but pricy. Given the fruit prices in play, we were talking a $35 bottle of white wine. As you might expect, there’s some barrier that most people won’t cross when it comes to white wine pricing. We only offer a $20 version in our wine clubs (our cheapest club, the Explorations Wine Club is $40 for a red and a white).
Pretty much, my wife and I realized, we’d be looking at this wine for a while, so what the heck, let’s do it and go 100% Russian River Valley.
What we ended up with, after quite a few hours holding a beaker that we continually filled up with wine, tasted, then tried a different combination of: we started 50% Grenache Blanc. 25% Viognier and 25% Marsanne + Roussane (anyone who says they can get this down to single percentage points in a beaker, out of a barrel, is a better salesman than I am).
As you’ll note by the back of the bottle, I started wanting to bottle a 100% Grenache Blanc and ended up with only 10%.
Part of the reason for that, is quite simply, during the Rhone Rangers last year, I attended the seminar section of the event. Bob Lindquist from Qupe down on the Central Coast, brought a bottle from the mid 80’s, Rhone varietal white’s and it literally changed how I saw wine.
I’ve had the conversation with winemakers already, Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega in Napa might be the most forceful about it, saying that he’ll gladly drink his Sauvignon Blanc every day, but he’d prefer it to be buried in the vineyard for 20 years first.
Quite honestly, most winemakers feel the same way. Even when we buy wine for the wine club and I know it’s something that I want to keep over the long term, we rarely keep more than a bottle or two.
This was a chance to make something and have it around for all of life’s important events. With young children still in the house, there’s plenty of those happening already and even more coming up.
I hope you enjoy the wine. I’ve shared with friends and family already and it’s an interesting process for me. When I ship a wine, it’s generally something that I like and that I’d gladly drink. There’s a certain level of stress when you open something for others, when you can’t be sure of their reaction.
This is really the first wine that fits what I want to find perfectly-but then again, it’s a Rhone white blend and there isn’t a ton of those sold in America. I mean, if you’re a winery….do you want to take the time to education someone about Roussane and Marsanne, or would you rather plant some more Chardonnay?
I might be a glutton for punishment, but please do tell me what you think of this one.
Oh and before you ask, sure I might try and do something similar again in the future. But, this was really a one-off and there aren’t plans to do anything similar any time soon. Once a year or so, we’d go through the process if we liked the winemaker enough, but this won’t be a core aspect to our business as it moves forward.