Three to Watch
You may not know these winemakers-but maybe you should.
By Linda Murphy
Who are all these winemakers? Thats the reaction of many wine drinkers when they scan retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, and see dozens of unfamiliar labels. Some of them are small brands, numbering in the hundreds, not thousands, of cases. The wines are sold by word of mouth, and the good ones are quickly snapped up by keen listeners. Here are three winemakers who are getting good buzz.
Yin and yang
No two red varietals could be more dissimilar than supple, nuanced Pinot Noir and muscular, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon. In a seeming contradiction, Sojourn Cellars partners Erich Bradley and Craig Haserot produce only Pinot and Cabernet, mixing apples and oranges, and coming up with fine examples of each.
Bradley is the viticulturist and winemaker (hes also the winemaker at Audelssa Estate Winery); Haserot (haz-er-OH, rhymes with escargot) is the sales and marketing guru. They met on a tennis court in Sonoma and founded Sojourn in 2001.
When asked how they settled on Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, Haserot shrugs and says simply, We make what we like to drink. He has a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in his Sonoma backyard, although Sojourn purchases the rest of the grapes used to produce its six Pinot Noirs and three Cabernets.
The Pinot Noirs, four from the Sonoma Coast appellation and most of them vineyard-designated, are elegant and refined, with pure fruit expression and remarkably silky tannins. Best bottle: the 2007 Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast. Try it at Sojourns tasting salon in Sonoma (complimentary, by appointment only).
Smarter than the average bear
There are dozens of wines and vineyards with bear icons, yet when Tim Carl pored over newspapers in search of a historical context for his then-unnamed brand, one headline grabbed him: Huge Bear Attacks Knights Valley.
The hungry grizzly apparently raided homes in eastern Sonoma County and was the icon that members of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt (which included Knights Valley namesake Thomas Knight) used on their flag. The bear remains the centerpiece of the California state flag.
Carl couldnt resist using the marauding bear for his Huge Bear Wines brand, which includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauv-ignon, all made from Knights Valley grapes.
Carl grew up in St. Helena; worked on a farm in Italy; did a stint with the Navy; cooked at Auberge du Soleil, John Ash & Co., and Chateau Souverain; played drums in a band; earned a Ph.D. in genetics; and was a management consultant. Today, he lives in Calistoga and is one of the owners of Huge Bear, cofounder and managing partner of Knights Bridge Winery & Vineyards in Knights Valley, and a private chef.
Huge Bear is not a critter label; its about Sonoma County history, says Carl. The Knights Valley appellation has definite terroir, and Sonoma County wines have a definite personality, which Huge Bear captures.
The 2006 Huge Bear Chardonnay indeed makes a bold statement. Its superrich and creamy, with intense pear, apple, and butterscotch flavorsbig yet balanced. Barely 100 cases were made.
More than one
Three to Watch offers a bit of a bonus this time because Jack Bittner has two brands: Franz Hill Vineyard and Caliban Cellars.
Bittner, also the general manager at Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa, is a sucker for old vines. He makes the brambly, spicy Franz Hill Napa Valley Zinfandel from his vineyard overlooking Calistoga, planted in 1870 and restored in 1969. His partner in Caliban, Dave Phinney, makes Calibans Noble Savage Napa Valley Petite Sirah from vines that are 100-plus years old.
When it goes into the bottle, the Petite is an unbridled monster [its named after Caliban, the monster in Shakespeares The Tempest], though aging gets it through the all-knees-and-elbows phase, Bittner says. Its not all tannin; it has great fruit, too.
Bittner got his wine-making start as a teenager in Massachusetts, helping his father make apple wine. It was awful, he says, but it made me popular at parties.
Where to Find Them
Caliban Cellars, (707) 963-0230.
Franz Hill Vineyard, (707) 963-0230, franzhillvineyard.com.
Huge Bear Wines, (707) 738-5711, hugebearwines.com.
Sojourn Cellars, (707) 938-7212, sojourncellars.com.