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 Grahm's embrace of Rhône varietals, as well as other obscure (at the time) wines, 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.
Reinvention, renaissance, revolution, rebirth. They list goes on. This is 10 years into Randall and Bonny Doon’s second act (perhaps the 3rd, if you count the early misstep). THIS version of Bonny Doon Vineyard is built around several orbiting visions. The first-To find the right mix of varietals, some old, some new, some from seed, grown in an idealized location (Popelouchum) to try to discover true California terroir. Second, through open eyes and sleepless nights, develop wines of substance, soul and lifeforce.
The lineup now includes the eponymous “Cigare Volant” and family-Rhône-centric and inspired blends. The Rhône varietal wines-Le Posseur (Syrah), Clos de Gilroy (Grenache), and Picpoul. Rounding out the offerings-Bordelaise blends of white (Gravitas) and Red (A Proper Claret). In addition-a veritable Wonka-esque offering via tasting room and wine club, show deeper dives into sources, techniques and other curiosities.
Somehow, after all of these 30+ years of taking the road untraveled, and championing the wines and ideals seen as eccentric and quaint, the American tastes are finally evolving to catch up to the very things Randall has been preaching for generations.
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.
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.
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.