The Story: The Hambrecht family has been in the California wine business for over 35 years, partnering in esteemed brands like Ridge, Chalone, and Truett Hurst. Bill Hambrecht was among the first visionary business owners to open a winery on Healdsburg’s picturesque Westside Road in 1982. Belvedere Winery marked the beginning of what would become a family tradition and commitment to producing wines of the utmost quality. It’s this commitment to excellence that led to Alysian Wines, which is the result of the 2006 partnership between the Hambrechts, Denise Sanders and veteran winemaker, Gary Farrell, who is known in the industry for his uncompromising standards and resolute attention to detail. Gary retired in 2012, handing the reins over to Woody Hambrecht. Sourced from only the best vineyards in the Russian River Valley, and now Dry Creek, and Anderson Valley.
Why I chose them: I met Woody about 5 years ago at Cochon 555 in Chicago, they were one of the partner wineries. I instantly fell in love with their Russian River wines. I felt that they were reclaiming what has been so important about wines from this area-The Primary Fruit, with structure and developed secondary qualities along with building acidity. we recently reconnected and after tasting through Woody’s first vintage as winemaker, I thought the wines actually accelerated. Their Sauvignon Blanc from the Musque Clone (Dry Creek, Grist Vineyard, his Aunt’s holding) is perhaps the greatest Musque clone SB I’ve ever tasted. The Pinots and Chards are still great, and perhaps the 2013 PN has more to instantly love as well as a very long trail of fresh structure. The next phase for Alysian is the development and aquistion of land and fruit from Anderson Valley. They also offer some single vienyard bottlings from many of the esteemed RR Vineyards.
Every now and then, you come across a winery that is just doing everything right. Not flashy, no gimmicks, just really cool people making and selling great wine. That describes Anne Amie Vineyards to a "T".
Anne Amie is the baby of Robert Pamplin, Philanthropist, Author, Minister, Environmentalist, Educator, and much more. He purchased Chateau Benoit in 1999 in Willamette Valley. I can't speak to the quality of the wine prior to his purchase, but my understanding is that there was a lot of unfulfilled potential. He changed the name, and began bringing in some pretty key personnel. They kept one vineyard with Muller Thurgau, and pretty much replanted, grafted and generally changed everything else. They also purchased 3 additional estate vineyards. Most plantings are as recent as 2000-2001. Benoit had been producing every wine imaginable, but now, Anne Amie would, appropriately, focus on the 3 Pinots. L.I.V.E.and Salmon Safe practices were instituted, and Anne Amie was eventually certified.
With prime vineyards containing a diversity of Clones and Soil types, blending would be key. Single Vineyards bottlings can show great style, but many believe that blending different elements can result in a superior wine. The answer is there's no right answer, just style preferences. The results of Anne Amie are hard to argue against though. Using the right amount of age, and master blending results in very complex refined Pinot Noirs. The whites show the only flashiness, with rich Pinot Gris and racy Muller Thurgau, the whites have found their own cult. As the wines gather age, and the winemaking and winegrowing team, led since 2007 by Thomas Houseman, continue to flesh out the nuances of the grapes, this is a winery that is already making great wines but has an even brighter future.
Growing into wine in the 90's, Bonny Doon was a tremendously important producer to me as I learned about wine. Randall Graham's embrace of Rhône varietals, as well as obscure Italians, gave hope to the idea that the world of wine did not begin and end with Chardonnay and Cabernet. His quirk and wit said that you can make serious wine without being self-important. There aren't too many rock stars in the wine world, Randall is definitely one.
This is the 3rd time I've sat down to write about Bonny Doon's addition to the portfolio, each time, finding myself at a loss for words. As I have discussed my portfolio with my colleagues, their amazement at the fact that I coerced them into the fold is compounding my writers block. I always try to think of the cliche, "act like you've been there before" whenever I approach something big and new and scary. I have a couple of funny stories that I'm going to keep in my pocket for now about Bonny Doon and Randall Graham. Somehow, though, I needed to give this brand all the sincerity I could muster. Fortunately, their National Sales Manager thought it would be wise for me to taste through the current lineup. This was a brilliant idea, as I guess I haven't tasted the entire lineup in a few years, since which time, Bonny Doon has reinvented themselves.
The lineup now includes the Ca' del Solo wines as well as the Cigare Volant wines, some dessert wines,and the Le Posseur Syrah. Gone are the larger production wines that you may have associated with BD over the years. Randall has always loved the old world analogues to his varieties, but without the overwhelming desire to replicate. This thought was crystallized in tasting through the wines. The Cigare wines are dead ringers for Rhône wines. great structure from the grenache made the red drink just like a great CDP. The white, with a healthy backbone of Grenache Blanc is one of my favorites white wines of this year. Rose, always rocks. Then we got to the Ca' del Solo lineup. My first thought was " this is the first Albarino from California that tasted like it came from Rias Baixas. Great minerality (California, really?),and that signature under ripe mandarin orange character.Then came the Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. Again, dead ringers for their Italian counterparts. Nebbiolo from California NEVER has this kind of Tannin and earthiness!
So with a few wines left to go through yet, I felt like i had a firm grasp on what is going on inside the bottle. These are all wines that make you reconsider whatever you feel or felt about Bonny Doon. They remind you why Randall Graham got to be so famous in the first place, by making great, interesting, challenging wines.
The Bonny Doon story can't really be told without discussing the other exciting concepts Randall has championed over the years. Remember his burial of corks? How about his take on Dante's Inferno? The story of the alien spacecraft? So what is he up to these days? First, all wines are now from either sustainably farmed vineyards, organic or biodynamic. How about Bonny Doon is now including all ingredients on their labels? And then there's sensitive crystallization. I can't think of the last time a concept in wine was so complex that it required hours of reading to just begin to understand what it means. The Ca' del Solo wines all have an image on the front of the sensitive crystallization of that particular wine. Sensitive crystallization is basically taking the wine (or grapes or plant material) combining them with cooper chloride in a petri dish and letting the liquid evaporate. What is left are these images of crystals that apparently tell one (that knows what to look for) all about the wine. They should show life force, balance, health in the wine. This is a concept that goes hand in hand with biodynamics. This is all an attempt from Randall to peer a little closer into the grape, the vineyard, the terroir, analyze what it gives back and frame this in a visual representation. Pretty heady stuff indeed.
Perhaps the thing that's makes Bonny Doon such a special producer is their spirit. Embracing something new and exciting not just for changes sake but for the progression of quality, discourse and responsibility. Bonny Doon takes risks everyday in the noble pursuit of enhancing your wine drinking experience. All I needed to do to understand this was drink some of their wine.
Corvidae is a side project of David O'Reilly of Owen Roe. While they share a winemaking team and facility, they are stylistically different wines. Corvidae referes to "corvids" the family of birds that include crows, magpies, ravens, etc. These are though to be the most intelligent and inquisitive birds out there, even remembering people's faces. Oddly, this curious and smart nature, describes David O'Reilly just as well. I sold his wines in the 2000's as I begged him to let us represent him. After agreeing and giving us a great allocation, he came out for a visit just as I was getting ready to leave the distributorship. we sat down for a beer at the end of a long tasting and he told me about this project he was working on. Great vineyards were available, that would lend themselves to organic and sustainable farming practices. By buying the vineyards, they would be able to keep costs down. He believed he could come to market with very competitively priced wines with complexity and structure. But, he said, that several years down the road. well, that beer was 7 years ago, and Corvidae is now on it's 3rd vintage. while it's not fully estate grown fruit quite yet, it's largely based on their own vineyards as well as those of some great grape growing friends. They just completed their brand new winemaking facility. In the coming years, the hope to have even a larger percentage of the grapes from their maturing Estate vineyards, farmed organically. These are wines made with purpose and minimal intervention. Oak regiment is kept to a minimum.
The Story: Brothers John and Steve Dragonette and close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis founded Dragonette Cellars in 2005 after having worked together at a renowned wine shop in Los Angeles. Their shared passion for great wine brought them to wild, windy and remote northern Santa Barbara County where they spent the next several years seeking out extraordinary, cool-climate vineyards and dedicating themselves to careful, patient, minimalist winemaking. As vignerons, they have committed themselves, above all else, to the mindful farming of precise blocks in exceptional vineyards for low yields and high quality and to the shepherding of these grapes into wines of purity, complexity and balance.
Why I chose them: I met Brandon 7 years ago as I was forming ampelography. He was splitting his time at another winery as Dragonette was getting off the ground. I’ve followed them for years, until they made enough wine to share with my friends. Santa Barbara always tastes like home to me, and this new (10 year old) winery seems to raise the bar. By talking with Brandon, you realize why they have incredible vineyard contracts-they are great guys that really understand the entirety of the terroir of SB County. By mixing their expertise of growing conditions, vineyard work (they work the vienyards, they hire people for the cellar work), and a great philosophy of Non-dogmatic, minimal interventionalist winemaking (All ambient yeast, so far...), they strike all the right chords. As of 2014, everything
I’ll admit it. Early on, in my wine career, I was into ‘parkerized” Spanish wines. I say this after coming out of that fog a better person (at least I think so). I have always loved Spanish wines. As my palate developed, I realized the Spanish wines I really liked weren’t readily available. As a distributor, we shopped around a bit and through mutual friends, found Grapes of Spain. I was immediately impressed with their structured, and elegant wines that all found the terroir of Spain (without any candied oak!). Aurelio Cabastrero is one of the great minds regarding Spanish wines and his portfolio does this beautiful country justice.
The Story: INIZI means beginnings in Italian. The name INIZI came from our belief that a bottle of wine begins in the vineyard. We believe that wine should reflect not only the variety of the grape, but also the place it was grown, and the farming applied to the vineyard. As friends, husbands, wives and partners we are each passionate about different aspects of the wine business and have come together to bring you wines that showcase the vineyards and varieties in their purist form. Using as little new oak as possible, we rely on older barrels to age our wines.
Why I chose them: All 4 of the partners are friends and work in other wineries (Fisher, Brack Mountain, Medlock Ames) or work in Vineyard Management. This is obviously a labor of love. Our friends at Medlock Ames connected us. I have a historic and profound affection for old Italian immigrant plantings form the 19th and early 20th century, particulary Charbono. when John sent me these samples, I was all at once giddy and terrified. Charbono isn’t for everyone, but when it’s at its best, it’s something altogether unique and “shadowy”. I would argue that this is one of the very best Charbonos I’ve ever tried. The Hi-Jump, blend of “Cal-Itals is equally compelling. Thei winemaking approach checks all of my boxes-Ambient yeast, low brix, whole cluster, no new oak, unfined/unfiltered and most important-sourced from old, unpopular vines.
Somehow, someway Craig Jaffurs and Dave Yates have been a part of my wine career almost since the beginning. As a young wine buyer, Craig explained the concept of Brix to me. I can't even tell you how many wine dinners I've been to with Craig. I do know that for each dinner, Craig's wines have brought out the best on some of my favorite Chefs, and closest friends. When I became a sales rep, one of the wines in my portfolio was Jaffurs. I know I sold a lot of their wine because I still always hear about the good ole days from these guys. When I decided to move to Ohio, Craig and Dave put me with Walt for a lunch at La Super Rica in Santa Barbara (You have no idea how great...). Walt eventually hired me, and again I was selling Jaffurs. As I was putting together the concept for ampelography, Dave and Craig were 2 of my first phone calls.
This is one of those phenomenon in this business that makes it so special. We are all members of our own mutual admiration society. And it is these types of relationships that can last a lifetime.
Oh, by the way, the wines are ridiculously good. I remember back in the day when we would speculate as to why the press hadn't wised up to these wines. Now, they are famous for the huge scores. The thing is, the style of these wines has remained the same all these years. The guys make Rhone wines in Santa Barbara. They make the best examples of nearly every single vineyard bottling they produce. I have had countless winemakers tell me that Jaffurs Roussanne is the absolute best White Rhone Wine from the U.S.! Their Syrahs all have a sense of place. Each single vineyard bottling has it's own personality, but all have that commonality of of balanced structure and minerality. These wines age as well as their Rhone counterparts. I'd rather drink Jaffurs Viognier than almost any Condrieu. I could go on, but I'll just say that we are thrilled to add Jaffurs Wines Cellars to the ampelography portfolio!
The Story:Proprietor Ken Volk has been making Santa Barbara and Central Coast wines for more than a quarter century. Perhaps best known as the founder of Wild Horse Winery, Ken has earned a reputation for crafting world-class wines, particularly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley
Why I chose them: Ken is a living legend. My professioanl career began in Santa Barbara in the late 90’s. The name Ken Volk was and is eponymous, perhaps even more so that the winery he founded in 1981, Wild Horse. An old friend of mine, Barbara Smith (National Sales manager) approached me 2 years ago about representing these wines. I tasted through them and loved them, but something struck me as odd. The Chards and Pinots were dead ringers for the wines of Byron I grew up on. As I later found out, Ken bought the old Byron property and was now using it as his vineyard and winemaking facility. These are old school SB wines. The Chards are made in the same style as 1er Burgundy. They are not ringers, but this was the old methodology and put many great Chardonnay producers on the map. His daliance into esoteric and “heritage varieties” is all the more endearing.
Langdon Shiverick Imports was founded over 25 years ago when David Shiverick took over for the retiring Louis Langdon. David Shiverick eventually purchased the company outright and has been searching for and representing some of the top estates in France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. David is well-known for his ability to find outstanding producers in Europe and then developing the wines through a distributor network of major markets as well as his own distributorships in NY and CA. Many of the producers are very highly rated and although limited in quantity, he makes sure all markets have a chance to purchase his wines. Robert Parker once said "David Shiverick maintains a remarkably low profile in view of the high caliber of his portfolio. The estates are not always household names and that's the reason why wine insiders are his biggest fans."
David's portfolio now contains over 50 top producers. He has developed a lovely Portuguese portfolio and has reasserted his presence in Burgundy. Having had the distinct pleasure of travelling with David to Europe each of the last 2 years, I was able to witness what must truly be the defining characteristic of any great importer-an insatiable natural curiosity.When you pair that with experience and quick wit, you have David Shiverick.
Perched atop Bell Mountain in Alexander Valley, they are crafting Bordeaux Varietals with great style and structure. The quality that I always am reminded of is the texture of their wines. The tannins are from the beautiful fruit they use, not from oak. As a result, their wines are like velvet on palate. This winery is completely off the grid. They are solar powered, and use organically grown grapes. Gravity flow, low yields all the right things.Founded on some basic principles of sustainability and purpose, Ames Morrison, the head winemaker and partner puts his thumbprint on everything they do.
Many, many years ago, the wines of Owen Roe caught my. They were intriguing and wen I finally tasted them, I felt they were full of the promise I had always expected from Washington State. when I had an opportunity to add wines to our distributor portfolio several years later, I knew I had a connection that could hook me up with David O'Reilly-Peter Rosback from Sineann. They’re old friends. Once I began to wrap my head around what these wines are and their beauty, I was quite enamored. To me, they are a great embodiment of Washington State. From the Dry Rieslings, to the dense Cabernet Francs, they hit every time. Most impressive though, are the approachable, mid range wines-Sinister Hand, Abbots Table and Ex-Umbris (I’m a noted syrah freak). When I finally met David O’Reilly, it sealed the deal (at least in my mind-I’ve been trying to get these wines in my book for 5 years!). The guy just has a twinkle in his eye. His family first approach and big table kindness are refreshing departures from this business of wine.
During the economic recession of 2001, and Owen Roe’s first couple vintages as a winery, Washington growers were facing hardship in selling their fruit, come harvest time. At Owen Roe, we wanted to help our farming friends and prevent missing out on such well-tended, beautiful fruit. We were presented with the difficult and costly purchasing of grapes to process, cellar and bottle, waiting several months to recover our costs on the finished wine. To overcome this obstacle, we decided to bring back the historical business practice of sharecropping, resulting in the aptly named wine, “Sharecropper ’s.” This partnership meant that Owen Roe would take the fruit, make the wine and once it was sold, share the profits with our growers. This remains an important part of our history and due to the success of this wine; we are now able to pay our growers upfront.
I had heard of Sineann going back to the late 90’s in CA. I first met Peter Rosback about 8 years ago. We had dinner at a restaurant in Akron. I remember 3 things from that evening a) he didn’t really care to talk about himself or his wines b) he was very into cool old world wines on the wine list c) he said he only had 1 rule of market visits-he likes to eat well , and his curiosity of food may dictate the day more than the sales opportunity. Utterly authentic, Peter is one of the more unique individuals in this business. As I’ve gotten to know him a bit, I’ve found him to be confident, opinionated and very kind. I realized why he doesn’t need to talk about his, they speak for themselves. Equal parts Oregon and Washington, Peter places the work in the vineyard above everything. Each site is more special, than famous . He has no qualms about what his wines are, vintage variation and all. If they’re in the market, it’s because they’re fascinating.
The Story: Poppie and James met during the harvest of 1997 while working together in the cellar at a custom crush house, in Willamette Valley. Shortly after, they had fallen in love, married and began plans for a new endeavor: a winery of their own. Four They relocated their home to the Columbia Gorge; where passion for Rhône wines led them to explore the emerging potential of vineyards in the Columbia Valley. Inspired by early efforts of Rhone and Burgundy varietals sampled from Washington wineries, With great humility they chose to wait 15 years, gathering data and paying attention to the local flora before expanding their estate vineyard. They continue to push viticultural limits in a new block of their estate vineyard, planting one of the rockiest sites in the cooler Columbia Gorge AVA. All of Syncline’s estate fruit is farmed with Biodynamic practices. Special attention is granted to the health of our soils, wines, and employees.
Why I chose them: Another winemaker turned me onto them in 2006. I love all things Rhône, as it turns out, we both found original inspiration from the same winery-McCrea. Their bottlings were the first exposure to the greatness of WA State Syrah. Years later, Syncline absorbed many of their long term contracts as McCrea’s production diminshed. They hand selected the Mantone’s to carry on with these beatiful vines. Minimal intervention, mostly orgnaic farming and a really sane family-first approach.