NAPA/SONOMA Ca. – Repeating the familiar is an easy way to go through life as is taking the safe road. We all do that but find unexpected rewards when taking the path less traveled.
That little bit of philosophy applies to visiting wine country. You can visit Mondavi in Napa or Archery Summit in Oregon and you should. But if you limit yourself to those kind of stops you miss out on the real people and great wine you’ll never find back home.
Let’s face it, you’re not going to run into the owner, winemaker, or much of anyone else at corporate wineries which make their wines by the trucker tank – or for this analogy let’s use the 100,000 case level.
A California trip July 9-19 taught me that lesson over again but can’t be repeated enough. A long weekend in Santa Barbara County resulted in tasting literally hundreds of wines at the 2014 Wine Blogger’s conference. There were several winery names I knew but the defining experience was a dinner trip to Happy Canyon at the far east end of the St. Ynez Valley.
A group of about 20 wine writers visited with six Happy Canyon wineries that most have never heard of before. Grassini, Sloan and more aren’t household names because they produce such small quantity of wine. One of the six was making just 700 cases!
They had good sauvignon blanc but crazy good Bordeaux varietal blends. The far east end, being the greatest distance from the Pacific, results in a warmer climate well suited for Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, and the other French staples.
The red blends were fantastic wines. The price point was a $50-$80 a bottle but the quality suggested the tiny operations were on point. Obviously, you’re not going to find these wines in the Midwest. But the lesson is small can be good, and very, very good.
There isn’t a wine region in the world that does not have these type of producers. My experience has shown the prices will be a little higher but the wines are usually fantastic. And often the winemaker or owner is the one pouring the juice in your glass.
At those corporate wineries you might luck out and get a really good tasting room employee. But hearing how the wine was made and the inspiration to make it from the winemaker is priceless.
Let’s bring the concept closer to home. Who hasn’t tasted Oliver Winery’s sweet red and white wines? Bill Oliver’s small batch Creekbend Vineyard wines are some of the best you’ll find in Indiana. Better yet, make a trip to the far south and visit Indiana’s other powerhouse Huber Winery. But while there go another 10 miles and visit the quirky Turtle Run Winery near Corydon.
Regardless of the region of the world, wine made in small batches is almost always going to be something special. Think of it this way – would you rather have your soup made in a tub or small pot on grandma’s stove?