This article first appeared on The Bloggery at UndergroundEats.com, December 11, 2013.
The bi-coastal vigneron: a phenomenon far from new, yet the trend of producing a boutique wine from afar is on the rise. Urban Wineries like City Winery and Brooklyn Winery have sourced fruit from vineyards in California and trucked it east to vinify it on their home turf. But for the one-family or even one-person vintner, the costs of such an endeavor (let alone where to make the wine) are completely cost-prohibitive. One solution is to join a co-op or custom crush operation situated nearby to where vines are grown (like in California), and it is within these constructs that part-time vintners are flourishing and not all are ex-bankers as you might suspect. Many are fanatics with a small savings, bitten by fruit flies, looking to make a micro-mark.
Michelle Reeves of David Family Wines arrived in New York in 2001 “ready to take on the corporate world,” she says. “Managing sponsorship deals for global sports brands like New York Yankees, PGA, and the Olympic Games, I spent 8 years traveling the world. When I moved to San Francisco in 2003 I was distracted by the California wine industry.” That distraction led to Reeves working weekends for free in a wine store “to learn more about wine.” By 2006 she was ready to give it a go. “I started DFW on my own with nothing but a ton of gumption and my savings.”
Today DFW production totals 500-600 cases per year, and the wines are sold primarily through a mailing list, though some have made it on coveted wine lists—places like Eleven Madison Park and Le Cirque. She’s also started a new side project: I Know The Winemaker, which sources uber-boutique bottles and makes a few available to those on the mailing list.
Then there’s Loren Grossman. His label, Wilde Farm, came about as a result of Grossman visiting vintners in the Bay Area when out on business. “I was reminded of Central Italy,” where he grew up. “I visited vintners I knew were making wines with higher acid, lower alcohol and more honest expressions of the land in which the grapes grow.” On one such excursion he met Pax Mahle of Wind Gap, a chap dedicated to a terroir-driven style of winemaking. “I really loved Pax’s wines and felt that we shared the same philosophy around wine and winemaking.” Mahle encouraged Grossman to “really think about making a wine.” The seed was planted and before long he had a deal with Mahle to produce Wilde Farm wines.
Reeves and Grossman are part of a micro-trend of vintners-turned-brand-ambassadors, who are forced to undercut the three-tier system (Producers » Distributors » Consumers) because the distributor isn’t pulling their weight. “It’s not enough to let your distributor and sales reps manage [your brand] for you,” says Reeves, “New York is a loud market and the voice for a wine brand has to be loud and it has to be genuine.”
With a myriad brands knocking down the doors at top restaurants, begging Sommeliers and Bar Managers for a coveted spot on the wine list, it’s more important than ever for a brand-ambassador to show face, show passion and convey the wine’s story to prospective buyers. Of course, getting the sale is critical, but somms and wine buyers can sniff out the numbers-driven vintners from the passion-projects and it’s impacting lists.
As more enthusiasts funnel their savings into boutique wines and the playing field levels out with more quality small-production offerings, the trend is apparent: wine lists with wines you’ve never heard of, being offered on a rotating basis year-round. It sounds the trumpets of a great day in wine consumption and we would do well to encourage the Reeves and Grossmans of the world because their tenacity provides consumers with new options, rather than the old guard of powerful brands being pushed by distributors. There’s greater potential for discovery of wines that might inspire the next micro-vintner waiting in line to dig in his heels, grin and bare a flashy wine-stained smile.
JONNY CIGAR’S TASTING NOTES
David Family Wines 2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, $110
Deep ruby in color, a medium bodied smooth wine redolent of dried strawberries, red cherries, cinnamon, mocha, cedar, dried violets and dirt that’s been rained on after a hot summer day in the Catskills or if you prefer, the Central Coast.
David Family Wines 2011 Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, $70
Though four years younger, similar in ruby intensity, medium palate offering younger Pinot notes of bright berry, vanilla, oak, a bit more silky leading to a spicier finish than the ’07.
Wilde Farm 2012 Donnely Creek Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42
Delicate aromas of bright cherry, forest floor, vanilla, roses and lilacs opening up to a medium bodied wine, gentle on the palate giving way to sour red cherry, strawberries, graphite and earthy overtones. This wine brings me back to the farm I never grew up on.
Wilde Farm 2012 Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone, $36
Unfined and filtered the wine is slightly cloudy in appearance (mark of the non-winemaker) and evokes creamy leesy notes, like Sherbet on a stick, along with tropical character; a weighty roundness envelops the mouth and under-ripe mango coupled with cream builds to a stark mineral finish. This wine is a superb accompaniment to high acid foods like Eggplant Parmesan and salads with acidic vinaigrettes.
Wilde Farm 2012 Bedrock Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, $36
This old-world style wine wafts of blackberry preserves, pepper and subtle vanilla spice unfolding into a light, zippy wine of strawberry jam on the palate, dried violets and underbrush. I’m reminded of Italy even though my family comes from Sicily.