I’ve known Andrew Murray and his wines, for nearly 20 years. As a professed lover of Rhône, and all of its wine tributaries, Andrew, and his wines, immediately caught my interest. As a buyer for 6 years on the Central Coast, there was always something of his on my wine lists. Andrew started his winemaking journey in Australia. He quickly purchased some land in Santa Ynez Valley. After a few years, Andrew shifted and decided to sell his property, in favor or sourcing a diversity of grapes, from mainly cooler and older vineyards. While this may seem to go against the norms, this makes perfect sense for Andrew, who is always looking to improve and refine. They have taken over the old Curtis Vineyard, which he has replanted to better clone and plant materials. Since 2013, they have been farming organically and sustainably. The aspiration, is to be largely Estate within just a few years. Andrew Murray has expanded from 4 employees to more than 20. They now own 2 facilities, the older operation, hosts wayward winemakers without facilities. This journey may be somewhat full circle, but returning to what you started doing, but after gaining 20 extra years of experience. He wines are routinely, among the top reviewed wines in many publications. Half of their total production, is the ubiquitous Tous les Jours (translation:everyday), typically garners 90pts on a regular basis (2016-90pts RP). His top bottling, Roasted Slope (translation: Cote Rotie), is a coferment with Viognier and partial whole cluster, has turned into an icon in its own right.
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.
I came across Ground Effects Wine Company in a unique way (for me). Typically, I discover a winery, and they, try to build the market to match the wines. This was a little bit different though. For a few years, a few of us have noted a need time and time again-sub $20 California Cabernet of interest. There are a multitude of reasons as to why this category seemed tough to fill-short recent vintages, consolidation, homogenization, regression from distribution, towards DTC. Flash sales, an over abundance of purple, ink, confections. While searching far and wide, for a small producer that may fill this niche, I caught (the always great) Eric Asimov's September 2017 20 under $20. In it, was the Ground Effects wine Company Cabernet sauvignon. I immediately started digging around, was able to contact them, and they obligingly sent me some samples. I was pretty impressed. I circled back, and they said-good news bad news-we'd like to work with you, but we're out of wine. Typically, for a broker, this is like getting friend zoned. This time proved to be different. We did reconnect 6 months later and were able to finally put it together.
How can they produce such a Cab? How had they succeeded where others had not? Fortunately, the answer was simple, but I knew not quite everyone would understand. The grapes are from Santa Ynez Valley. Having spent 7+ yrs working as a buyer on that area, I knew the vines pretty well. a) The Eastern part of the valley is fairly warm b) There are some incredible wines coming out of this area c) Its not so hot as to get over ripe d) Most people don't think of this area for expensive Cab. Believe it or not, there are some very expensive Cabs coming out of this area. However, virtually all, produce more than they can sell (see "d"). Ground Effects, smartly, buys juice and finished wine from great vineyards (not allowed to discuss which ones-Cliché? also true). The result? A Cabernet, well beyond its price point, with balanced, fresh acidity, old world spice. Pretty killer stuff
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.
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.
Weingut Max Ferd Richter dates back so far, that it is a little fuzzy as to the exact starting date. On their label, they list 1680, but this is the “bonded” date. It is suspected that this winery dates back generations even before this time. Now on their 9th & 10th generations, the current property is run by Dr Dirk Richter and his son, winemaker, Constantin Richter. This family has defined traditional Mosel Riesling for centuries. With holdings in some of the best vineyard sites, as well as 2 acclaimed monopoles, Richter is a iconic Riesling producer.
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.
This business is incredibly small. People like Craig Camp, make it even smaller. Craig has worked with 3 wineries over the last 15+ years. I had worked with his previous 2. I had heard he moved over to Troon Vineyards a couple of years ago. which led me to ask a couple of questions-Where is the Applegate Valley, and who is Troon? Fortunately, for me, Craig is a tireless writer about the trade. I followed the comings and goings of this small winery in a place I'd never heard of. Fall of 2017, Craig offered to send out some samples. My curiosity was piqued. I cracked into the 2 cases and over the course of a couple of weeks, explored the range. I was impressed with each and every wine I tasted.
So, as Jerry Seinfeld might say, what's the deal with Troon? Well, it's sort of unique. The winery has been around for 45+ years. Dick Troon, a Scottish Immigrant, owned a Cattle Ranch, but found Grape Growing to be more lucrative. He immersed himself in the skills of grape growing. They are located in the Applegate Valley, which is a sub AVA of the Rogue Valley-Granted AVA status in 2000-Its and expansive AVA running 50mi South to North. It is separated from the coastal influence by the protective Siskiyou Mountain range to its West. Less than 2 dozen wineries lie within this AVA, but it is home to Oregon's first winery more than 100 years ago. The Terroir has 3 big things going for it-1) Decomposed granite 2) High elevation (1k ft+) 3) Long days during the growing season without fog.. These 3 things add up to a fascinating spot for Mediterranean Varietals. The new world version of many of these wines often produce over ripe wines without distinction. Troon Vineyard produces wines of elegance, structure and balance. Many of the alc%'s clocking in below 14 and 13%.
Part of this is credit to the winemaking approach. Along with Craig, Troon brought in a new winemaker in 2014-Steve Hall. Steve has an impressive list of Napa Wineries on his resume. Craig and Steve made the conscious decision to look at Natural winemaking and grape growing. Troon foot stomps and uses only ambient yeasts. neutral oak, natural ML, no enzymes, no acidulation, no manipulation, minimal sulfur at bottling. The grape growing is L.I.V.E. Certified (Sustainable), and working towards Biodynamic Certification by 2020.
This all adds up to a fascinating range of wines from varietals native to the rim of the Mediterranean Sea. Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Malbec, Tannat, Vermentino, Grenache, Montepulciano, Marsanne, Viognier. These are wines of character and individuality.