With Napa and Sonoma both enjoying big, healthy vintages in 2012, 2013 and 2014, there are a lot of new wine labels coasting through my doors, and I suspect, making their way onto store shelves and restaurant lists. They’re not all created equal. Some are clearly clever marketing projects using bulk juice. There’s nothing wrong with that if the juice is good and the price is right, but I’m more excited to see new producers who are devoted to quality and have a story to tell. Here are a few that fit that bill.
A small group of family and friends are behind this new Pinot Noir-driven label, inspired by the Spanish word for ballerina. The heart of the project is the Suacci Family Vineyard in Sebastopol, where Petaluma Gap winds meet Sonoma Coast fog. Planted in 2001, the vineyard is behind the Suacci Carciere wines as well, including Keefer Ranch Chardonnay, Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Bismarck Vineyard Zinfandel. Bailarin is also working with the Manchester Ridge Vineyard in Mendocino County, planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
A family-run operation devoted to showing off what Sonoma County can do, winemaker Kent Humphrey didn’t get his start until 33, when he worked his first harvest. He credits Bill Hunter of Chasseur Wines, Bruce Devlin of Ballentine Vineyards and Jay Maddox and Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards for showing him the ropes. Colleen Teitgen, Humphrey’s artist wife, curates the stunning array of visually compelling labels that adorn the different bottlings. Some are what they call Permanent Collection labels, with artwork depicted on specific varietal wines year after year for 10 years. Eric Kent’s small-lot offerings are dubbed the Barrel Climber Series Labels, which currently has two 2013 Pinots, two 2013 Chardonnays and one 2014 Sauvignon Blanc under current release. The popular Sonoma Coast Rosé is already sold out.
Gregory Adams is the winemaker and vineyard manager for Baker Lane, a small producer in the Sebastopol Hills devoted to cool-climate Syrah, Viognier and Syrah-based rosé. He has also planted and managed vineyards across the wider Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley AVAs for such folks as Flowers and Red Car. With partner Jim Demuth, Gregory James is Adams’ chance to showcase his own wines, from the 5-acre estate vineyard around his house overlooking Freestone. The wines include a Sonoma Coast Rosé, a 2013 Hawk Hill Pinot Noir, and 2013 Chardonnay set to be released this April. The 2014 Patient Terrier Chardonnay is sourced from a gravelly vineyard nearby, 2014 being both the first vintage from the property, which Adams helped plant, as well as first vineyard designate. In February, Adams will be pouring the Gregory James wines at the West of the West tasting in New York City.
Set off the hullabaloo of Highway 29 in St. Helena, Young Inglewood is named both for the family who started it and for the street on which it’s based, and is unusual in that it employs a mother-son team to make the wines. Jacky and Scott Young make a delightful 2014 Vin Clair, picking estate-grown Merlot and Malbec early and letting it only see time in stainless steel, creating a crisp, textured and creamy wine, dotted in cherry and vanilla and under 12% abv. La Toque in Napa pairs it with beef Carpaccio. The Youngs also make Chardonnay from Linda Vista Vineyard—an Oak Knoll District property owned and farmed by Steve Matthiasson—and what they call their Right Bank Blend, made from Cabernet Franc and Merlot, a two-barrel lot culled from the estate vineyard surrounding their tasting room, winery and home. It offers classic notes of chocolate, plum, clove and cigar box, with soft, integrated oak. The 2012 vintage is set for release in February.