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Who Makes Wine Mirrors Other Advancements
There is a cultural phenomenon that only occurs in the United States. It is the rise of different ethnic groups from hard times to the top of their professions. Witness the chronological rise as a people of the Irish, the Jews, the African Americans, and the Hispanics. Perhaps this postulate is best illustrated in politics, entertainment (especially comedy), and in certain sports that have been around for 100 years or better. Take, for example, the champions of the welterweight division of professional boxing. From Irish Mickey Walker in the 1920’s, to Jewish Jackie Fields in the 30’s, to African American Sugar Ray Robinson in the 40’s and 50’s, to Hispanic Ricardo Mayorga in this decade, these men are representative of their brethren striving upwards, and succeeding, in our society.
In California, one sees to some degree the same movement in the wine industry. Started by (and still major players) the Italians and the Germans, in the middle of the 20th century the Anglo majority set down roots. It was not long afterwards that the Jewish community began to expand its mercantile expertise to wine and has, for a number of years, been an important part of the industry. More recently, African Americans and Hispanics are flexing their advancement in education, business, and finance, and transferring those successes to the production of quality wines.
In the past month we have attended two fascinating events where we observed the camaraderie and cooperation that naturally flow between members of ethnic groups, especially if the group is small in comparison with others.
We first had the pleasure of attending the second annual meeting of the Association of African American Vintners, where erudite panel members spoke about the trials, tribulations, and successes of black vintners, while a packed house of mostly African Americans provided the questions and the audience. Perhaps the entire meeting was best summed up by panelist Daniel Bryant, owner of Running Tigers Wines. In a statement that could be the mantra for all minority groups doing their best to be seen as equal by the majority, Dan said, “It is absolutely necessary that we all produce wines of quality.” Just in case you don’t follow, it means that all minorities must be better than the majority in order to succeed. And while most of the relatively new African American wineries are not yet on a par with the absolute best in the market, they are all doing exactly what Dan preached that they must – making a quality product that can compete with most. And there is no reason to believe these wines will not steadily improve.
Black Coyote: Located in the Napa Valley, we met Chief Executive Officer and nationally noted neurosurgeon Dr. Ernest Bates, who, along with three partners of prominence, produce Chardonnay ($18) and Cabernet Sauvignon ($40). The 2004 Cab, with its black fruit, smoke, chocolate, and cedar was a true favorite.
Esterlina: Represented by the association’s president, Stephen Sterling, this family winery near the Mendocino coast does it all – grows the grapes, makes the wines, and then bottles them. We particularly enjoyed the 2006 Cole Ranch off dry Riesling ($19), and the value of the 2004 Merlot ($20). The 2005 Chardonnay ($22) was pleasant, and while we believe the 2004 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($40) is a touch above average, we think it also a bit over-priced. Esterlina recently purchased Everett Ridge, and their 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) was crisp, fresh, and showed off bright fruit.
Running Tigers: You met owner Daniel Bryant above. Daniel does one thing, and does it well. He produces a beautiful 2004 Dry Creek Syrah ($32), with spice and white pepper making the finish a stand out.
Sharp Cellars: Vance Sharp’s winery in Sonoma has come a long way in 10 years. We tasted both reds he makes, and gave high marks to the 2004 Keenan’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($32), with its berries and earth, and medium scores to the 2003 Zinfandel ($45), with excellent fruit but a touch of a hot finish.
Probably because for a while it was easier for the Jewish community to obtain good land, and definitely because they have been making wine in California for longer than most African Americans, many of the wines produced by Jewish vintners and winemakers are at the top of the chain. Even those below wherever that first tier ends tend to be simply “damn good.”
In celebration of their heritage, the Napa Jewish community recently sponsored the second annual “L’Chaim” weekend in and around the Valley. Wine lovers from across the country joined the local population for 3 days of dinners, lectures, and open houses, culminating in a gala auction dinner for charity. The wineries participating ranged from the venerable who’s who of the Valley, to up and coming gems. There were just too many wineries represented for us to report on all the wines being poured, but each knew their audience, knew this event, and, because each came through with some of their best efforts, there is no need to rate each individually. You can feel confident in trying each and every wine below.
Alpha Omega Winery: 2003 ($52) and 2004 ($56) Cabernet Sauvignon
Bighorn Cellars: 2003 Coombsville Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($40); 2005 Yamhill County Oregon Pinot Noir ($40); 2004 Sugarloaf Mountain Napa Syrah ($30)
Calix Wines: 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($60); 2004 Masked Man Syrah ($35)
Cliff Lede Vineyards: 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($22); 2004 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon ($50)
Coho Wines: 2004 Michael Black Vineyard Merlot ($65.00); 2004 Summit Vine Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($60.00); 2005 Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir ($40.00)
Covenant Wines: 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)
Diamond Creek Vineyards: 2003 Volcanic Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($175)
Frank Family Vineyards: 2002 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($85 – only Mags available), 2005 Zinfandel ($35)
Gemstone Vineyard: 2004 Gemstone Facets ($95) - 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, and small portions of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc
Hall Wines: 2006 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20); 2004 Hall Napa River Ranch Merlot ($50); 2003 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon ($75)
JC Cellars: 2005 Imposter ($32) - 72% Zin, 12% Syrah, 11% Petite, 3%, Mourvedre, 2% Viognier
Krupp Brothers Wines: 2005 Black Bart Marsanne ($37); 2003 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon ($50)
Matthiasson: 2006 Napa Valley White ($35); 2004 Napa Valley Red ($75) – 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc
Rudd Winery: 2005 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($35); 2003 Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Chardonnay ($60); 2002 Oakville Estate Proprietary Red ($125) - 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec
Ruston Family Vineyards: 2004 La Maestra ($50); 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($45)
Silver Oak Cellars: 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
Spring Mountain Vineyard: 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($32); 2002 Elivette ($90) - 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Cabernet FrancThe rise of the Mexican-Americans from indispensable vineyard workers to noted vintners and winemakers mirrors the advancement of the African-Americans and Jews. We anxiously await word of (and in invitation to) wine events sponsored by the Hispanic community, whether it be through the vintners in Napa Valley, Vino con Vida (a wine education company that celebrates Latino flavors and people in the culinary and winemaking world), or some other organization
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.