Troll Bridge is at least as much about the owner, as it is the winemaker, which is a statement that I don’t get a chance to make very often.
Owner Allan Ezial is a graphic designer by trade, having formerly worked out of a space on Berkeley’s famed 4th street art and design district, he now works out of the north bay-which makes sense because he has a number of winery clients: many of which are names you’d recognize, namely Caymus.
His connections to the wine industry run pretty deep and over lunch & margaritas at Picante, a long time standout in Berkeley (also one of his favorite old lunch haunts….& since his office has moved, it seems he misses the place) we talked about his vision for his winery and why he decided to make wine in the first place.
A number of years back Allan told the story that he was having lunch with a group of growers in Napa and they were talking about how they wish their vineyards would perform like a couple of the rows or blocks that needed literally zero maintenance throughout the growing cycle. The specific blocks changed every year, but these high end vineyards always had a few.
Allan wondered what could be done if someone bought only these small maintenance blocks and had a wine made with them?
Troll Bridge is the project that has made that happen.
Over the past month or two, the majority of you have received a bottle that I made. I bring that up here, to highlight the spare no expense style of wine bottle that we’re looking at. I paid about 50 cents per bottle and an additional 15 cents for the unbranded, completely generic corks. Those prices were lower than normal because I also piggybacked on a longer and larger bottling run, but you get the idea….I bought expensive fruit and then dealt with pricing elsewhere as best as I could.
While Allan didn’t want to share exactly what he paid here, I’m guessing that the etched bottle ran him into the $3 range and the cork a similar price step up from mine, perhaps close to $1. I know you’re thinking, Mark that’s only a $3.50 difference from yours and this is a $100 bottle. Ok. That being said though, he’s made similar choices throughout the winemaking and marketing process.
Talking to friends with similar projects, he might not be making a profit of more than a few dollars on his sale to me. Partially, I bring that kind of stuff up to simply say, finding these incredibly high end Napa projects at this price point isn’t as easy as it initially sounds & yes, Troll Bridge prices are likely to increase as time goes on.
Apart from some great vineyard sources, the winemaker for Troll Bridge is Jon Engelskirger. Jon’s one of those guys. who has been around the valley for quite some time (and since we seem to exist in 2 valley’s right now, I’ll clarify that I’m talking about Napa instead of Silicon) making wine for a litany of interesting and influential names such as: Silverado, Robert Pepi & Turnbull among others.
If you’re wondering why someone leaves the likes of Turnbull and shows up a smaller project, like Troll Bridge, Jon’s working on his own wine project based out of Contra Costa County. Contra Costa’s an interesting place. On one side of the hill that faces San Francisco, it’s damn cold. On the other, an inland valley is hot enough that Italian and Portuguese immigrants found it among the best spots near SF to plant their native grapes. Jon’s making about 2,000 cases of an interesting mix of grapes in a town called Brentwood, out of a farm that he owns personally. It seems that even winemakers whose names we recognize, can’t find land to buy on and make wine from any longer in Napa….which is unfortunate.
I think the 2010 Napa Valley vintage also deserves a mention at this point. I’ve talked about vintage a ton in this space over the past few years. Basically my argument boils down to this: if it’s a great year, buy wine from anyone. Anyone can do a good job of making wine in a good year. If it’s a bad year, taste wine from respected winemakers and choose what you like. It’s bad practice for consumers, as well as, the industry as a whole to try and avoid entire vintages. If we all do that, the 1,000 case wineries we all love and want to support will simply cease to exist.
Ok, so the 2010 vintage. Was it 2009? No, not even close….it was a challenge. So here’s the exact way that you get vintners and growers really worried about a vintage. Start with rain or simply cold weather to get everything started late. Have cooler than normal temperatures continue throughout much of the spring and into early summer. Napa wines need to be ripe, so the natural reaction by most is to cut some fruit and make sure that they get opportune ripeness for what remains.
Then, have an extremely hot spell come through during the late summer and early fall. Sunburned grapes (yes it happens and it’s about as bad as you’re thinking it is) don’t make for good wine. But, vintners have to choose to risk the burn to get to the ripeness level that they want.
In 2010, there was some severe heat in late August, but for vintners who decided to hold off picking (most did, the one’s who were impatient ended up with substandard wine, better put into the bulk market) that was followed by what I’ve heard described as a “glorious” month of Indian summer where the grapes added sugar, without dropping much acidity.
All in all, most call it a challenging vintage, but most were also incredibly happy with the results, as long as the growers and winemakers were patient.
The folks growing the grapes for Troll Bridge, as a collective, have been doing this for some time. It’s been said that farming is one of the most patient of professions and these are truly professionals.
They waited-plus, with the vineyard blocks needing little maintenance, all the more reason to let the grapes hang a couple of extra days right?
All in all, I’m happy to provide what I believe to be an absolutely prototypical Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at a price point that I hesitate to call a good bargain. But, at $95, this feels right.
Plus, Allan’s someone that deserves our support for swimming up stream here.