Bill Cadman is a character and a half, with a quick wit and easy charm—and his wines have the same feel. Each is memorable and distinctive for its own reasons, and each has everything it takes to stand the test of time.
“Sure, I read reviews,” confesses Lancaster Estate winemaker Jennifer Higgins. “I can’t help it; everyone here reads them, so I see them whether I want to or not. But they never influence what I do, simply because there’s such a delay between grape and glass that I’d be chasing my tail. You just have to trust the 100 small decisions you make every day and do what you feel is best for the wine.”
Jack Tognetti is the owner and winegrower at Aloise Francisco Vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa. He’s also in his early 90s—but looks and acts decades younger. He lives with his wife, Camille, in a modest farmhouse surrounded by fruit trees and vineyards. There are figs, plums, pears, apples, peaches and his well-tended Chardonnay vineyards, the fruit from which is sold exclusively to Schramsberg Vineyards. Aloise and Francisco are Camille and Jack’s middle names.
What would you do next if you owned and operated a cult winery with a three-decade long track record? A winery where customers lined up frightfully early on release day to purchase your coveted wine? You’d certainly take pride in your success and, maybe best of all, you and your friends would surely enjoy drinking that great wine. But if you were the Raymond Duncan family, you’d also found another winery.
• Case production: 11,000
• Planted acres: 90, the rest are sourced
• Grapes used: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Syrah
• Employees: 6
• (707) 765-2117 www.kellerestate.com
The award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim once remarked that “art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” Nowhere is this more applicable than in the art of making wine. Behind the burgundy and golden-hued masterpieces poured out of curvy glass bottles and swirled into clinking glasses is the touch of a winemaker’s hand. It’s through the deft art of winemaking that nature’s chaos is turned into a sumptuous elixir.
A lot of people talk about tasting terroir in wine. But is it possible to taste history? Now that I’ve visited Martin Estate Winery, I think it is. No wonder proprietors Greg and Petra Martin (Greg being one of the world’s most recognized specialists in arms and armor) were attracted to it.
“I’ve learned to trust what my vineyards give me,” says winemaker Graham Weerts of Stonestreet Vineyards & Winery, who arrived from Cape Town, South Africa to work at the 5,100-acre Alexander Mountain estate in 2004. That was the year the winery decided to scale back its efforts and focus solely on its 235 separate blocks of mountainside vineyards.
Sitting at a shaded picnic table on the edge of Julie Johnson’s estate vineyard on an early September morning, I can feel the temperature rising, smell the late-summer dust in the air and hear a symphony of birds and bugs. All in all, it’s a pretty idyllic scene...until she tells this story:
“We had a rattlesnake under our couch the other day. We have open doors, because the dogs go in and out throughout the day, but this was startling! I mean, I’ve heard about rattlesnakes on doorsteps—especially from my friends who live up the Stag’s Leap area—and I guess we should expect it. But my husband [Jon Engelskirger, former winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars] and I both decided that’s not something we’d like to repeat.”
The Longboard Vineyards’ motto is “wine, waves and soul.” And those are, without a doubt, the three main ingredients that make up this one-of-a-kind (or, shall I say, “one-of-da-kine”) winery. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
Surfer/winegrower Oded Shakked (who co-owns the winery with partners Robert Watkins and Bruce Lundquist), sees many parallels between surfing and winemaking. “Both things remind a person that the major control is not up to you. Nature gives you good waves and good grapes. Surfing and winemaking are activities that force you to work with, rather than against, what nature gives. In those activities—and in life—it’s all about balance,” he says.
“I’ve been a fan of wine since I was 12 and got drunk for the first time at Thanksgiving,” says Phillip Staehle, winemaker/owner of Enkidu Wines. For some reason, Staehle won’t provide information on how he gained access to the wine at that age, so for now, it’ll have to remain a mystery.
What’s not a mystery is, in that defining youthful moment, Staehle found his true calling. Oh, if we could all be so lucky. And even though he originally went to school at UC Davis to study political science (we all fall off the path sometimes now, don’t we?), he also took a couple wine classes while he was there. That was also the time he began his first wine collection. “Unfortunately, the entire 50-bottle collection was consumed by my roommates and I.” Live and learn.
Bob Appleby is a craftsman by nature. A longtime woodworker (he owned Robert Appleby Woodworking for more than 25 years), he also makes acoustic guitars, writes songs, plays in an acoustic band (called “Bottle Shock,” which is a term used to describe, in Appleby’s words, when wine is first bottled and “kind of weirds out”)—and makes handcrafted, vineyard-designate wines.
His modest property, located in Graton in the Green Valley appellation, is situated along (you guessed it) Atascadero Creek, which is a main tributary of the Russian River. His estate vineyard is made up of four 900-foot rows of Pinot Noir that run along the back of his property. “I call it the Railroad Vineyard, because it’s on the old tracks,” he says. He’s even managed to reuse some of the tracks themselves as posts for his vineyard rows. There are also birdhouses onsite to attract swallows and bluebirds for natural pest control. “When I planted the vineyard, I thought it would be great if I got 100 cases out of it. Last year I finally did.”
Aldo Biale comes from the old school of Napa Valley grape growing. His family started growing Zinfandel in the mid 1930s—and still does. “I never dreamed it would be like it is today,” he says. “When I was a boy, I’d tell people I was from Napa, and they’d say, ‘Oh, by the crazy hospital [the state hospital]!’ Now, they say, ‘Oh, where the wine is!’”
In the 1940s, he lived on his mother’s small, Napa Valley farm, where they grew Zinfandel grapes, prunes and walnuts, and raised white leghorn chickens. Most of the grapes were sold to Gallo’s co-op winery in St. Helena (as were most grapes in the valley at the time). But Aldo, being his industrious self, decided he could probably make a little more selling his own wine.
Duane David Dappen (yep, D-Cubed) says a big reason he likes Zinfandel is because it’s fun. “It’s California: relaxed and naturally bright,” he says. “And going to a Zin tasting is way more fun than going to a Cab tasting. Just walk into the room. You can feel the difference in the air.”
Dappen has nothing against Cabernet. He’s even the winemaker for another winery, called Bravante Vineyards, where he makes Cabernet, Merlot and Bordeaux blends. But for his personal endeavor, it’s a one-man Zinfandel-makin’ show. (OK, and a little Petite Sirah, too.) “I got a chance to buy a little fruit from an 80-year-old Petite Sirah vineyard, so I went for it,” he says. “Most of Napa’s Petite Sirah grapes were removed in the 1990s. But what was left was the better, more interesting stuff.” This particular wine won’t be released until next year.
Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Zinfandel
Even though its first vintage was only five years ago, Balletto Vineyards has its roots firmly planted in Sonoma County. Born out of what was once the largest produce grower north of the Golden Gate, this family winery is getting noticed for good reason. (Its 2004 Zinfandel won a double gold medal at the 2005 Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and Wine Enthusiast deemed the 2004 Pinot Grigio a Best Buy in February.) So how do you move from growing vegetables to making award-winning wine? Having a passion for farming and a smart business sense certainly doesn’t hurt.
The road to Cain Vineyard and Winery is not for the equilibrium-challenged (let’s just say there are more than a few twists and turns). But a road like that can often lead to unique experiences, just like this one does.
Founded in 1980 by Joyce and Jerry Cain, this is one mountain vineyard with a true sense of place. And its signature offering, a Bordeaux-style blend called Cain Five, is where its soul intentionally lies.
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