Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Volcanic Wine - Brassfield Estates

If you want to make hot wine you need a volcano, so Jerry Brassfield, owner of Brassfield Estate, bought one right smack in the middle, well not maybe not exactly in the middle, of his 2500 acre estate in the newest California AVA - High Valley. High Valley is north of and above Clear Lake in Lake County not exactly known for great wines , but a significant source of good grapes for some of California's largest producers. In contrast to most California valleys High Valley runs east/west and thus catches lots of cool marine air and fog from the Pacific making much of it Region I or II in terms of heat units. Micro-climates on the estate vary considerably, thus, Jerry and winemaker, Kevin Robinson, have planted 19 varietals on the site in the experimental spirit of the new world. Who would have thunk it? A new frontier! Right in the middle of California.

Jerry and his cattle ranching family bought most of the original acreage in 1973 at amazingly low prices. The volcano and other parcels were added later. The winery is growing so fast it is hard to keep track of the exact stats. Vines were first planted in 2001, today there are approximately 270 acres planted with a build out to an eventual 500 acres planned for 2010. Production now is close to 50,000 cases and it looks like they are headed toward 100,000 cases. Since Brassfield is one of only a few "estate only" wineries, production will be limited by the number of acres planted. We asked Jerry, why another California winery? Especially now with so much competition from other California wineries to say nothing of Australia, Chile ,etc. Jerry's just got the bug. Typical of so many "older" entrepreneurs, 67 year old Jerry had an eye for the possibilities of High Valley. According to the AARP, people 55 to 64 years old are more likely than anyone else to start a business. In fact, it appears that Jerry has all the traits of "older" entrepreneurs - a take charge attitude, comfort with chaos, tenacity of a pit bull, creative instincts, enormous self-confidence, a practical bent, and super resiliency. If Jerry were to take the Biz Whiz Quiz, he would probably go right off the scale. Many entrepreneurs come from business families and they are good judges of character - their own and others. Jerry and Kevin brought five of their fun and interesting associates to town with them on this marketing expedition which leads me to full disclosure. These wines were not purchased off the shelf, they weren't even samples mailed to me. They were part of a tasting paired with dinner at Ruth Chris steakhouse, so take this post with "a grain of salt." The wines were good, the company was good, the steak was great.

So I really don't have any specific tasting notes on these wines, but here are myimpressions.The whites should be available as very reasonable "glass pours" in local restaurants. Despite the volcano, the white wines weren't "hot", they were cool, way cool! The whites were all unoaked and cool fermented. The Pinot Grigio was perfectly chilled and balanced between the fresh crisp, dryness you would expect and an almost mineral, medium bodied mouthfeel - sort of a cross between American and European style. This is a great wine to look for on a restaurant wine list. The Sauvigon Blanc had the typical varietal aroma and taste of grassiness and grapefruit. A great example of this varietal, although I must confess, I am just not that fond the grapefruit taste of Sauvignon Blanc. The Serenity White Blend is unusual- Sauvigno Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, and Semillon. - kind of a kitchen sink blend. This wine is very easy on the palate. All the white are priced at about $15 retail. The reds all seem to have a distinctive signature of earthiness. Is this the terroir of High Valley or the signature of winemaker Kevin Robinson? Probably both, but in any event the wines have character. We tasted a Zin, two Syrahs and two Cabs. The reds are generally priced at $25, except the Monte Sereno Cab which is priced at $40. I liked the Monte Sereno Cab the best - the usual problem - champagne taste on a beer budget. On the whole I preferred the whites. They were whistle clean, true to type and totally refreshing. The reds were good but not real standouts, with the excepton of the Monte Sereno Cab.

Even though Brassfield is not certified organic, Jerry says they are beyond sustainable agriculture, biodynamique practices and into Astral spiritual agriculture. In the California market this may be necessary, especially for a new winery, but as Vladimer Putin said at Crawford, you do what you have to do. And Jerry is good at that. My prediction: Audacious as it is to start a new California winery at this stage of the game, Brassfield will succeed because of Jerry's drive, his marketing inclinations, wines from a new AVA, and, for the most part, the right pricepoints. This winery has exploded onto the scene in true volcanic fashion and will undoubtedly make a place for itself between the world of corporate wines and petite boutiques of 2000 cases.

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