Yesterday I finally got the chance go go down to Sarah's Vineyard with Dave-my-boss. I've known Dave since 1994, when we both worked as tech support staff at Claris, which has of course become FileMaker, Inc. in the meantime. Dave was far and away the most knowledgeable person on the phones; his specialty was, well, anything and everything that had to do with FileMaker. I remember him being described as the best person to speak to about any problems you were having with FileMaker... but only if you had done all of your work and were absolutely, positively sure that you wouldn't be wasting his time. The idea was that as the guru par excellence in the shop, you'd look like a complete boob if you went to him first before exhausting all other avenues of inquiry. Anyhow...
Four years later on, when I'd left the company, Dave had also switched over to the QA team, proving himself to be every bit as good at QA as he was at tech support. I'd also gotten a chance to get to know him as something other than a FileMaker expert; it turns out he'd taken a degree in oenology at UC Davis of all things! He made wines at Chalone for a while in the 1980s before switching gears and taking work in the IT industry. Dave being Dave, he was always great fun to speak about wine stuff to, although at the time I didn't like it anywhere near as much as I do now. Our sum total wine purchases back in those days were limited to occasional shipments from Gundlach Bundschu, which, in retrospect, mostly sucked. But you gotta start somewhere.
In the five year duration of my absence from FileMaker, Dave had been promoted to managerial status, which is of course very cool. Even cooler is that a friend of his bought Sarah's Vineyard about two years ago, and brought Dave on as the winemaker for the place. Last week they bottled their 2001 reds, or at least some of them, and Dave had to go down to Sarah's yesterday to check on the wines currently in barrel and fill out some BATF paperwork - specifically, he needed to test the bottled wines' alcohol content. As luck would have it, I was able to come down with him and have a look around the place.
Sarah's isn't a huge place - it's about as big as Clonakilla near Canberra, maybe a little bit smaller. I don't think they produce more than a couple of thousand cases a year. It's in the Hecker Pass area west of Gilroy, sometimes known as "Vinegar Alley". There are a handful of small wineries there, none of which are particularly well known except for possibly Thomas Kruse. Mostly, these are old immigrant family wineries from the late 1800s. Sarah's was planted in 1978 and was apparently best known for their packaging, but never really for their wines. Until, of course, Dave and team took over in 2000. The packaging has changed somewhat [the new labels are not as gaudy], but most importantly, the wine has really changed. Same fruit, sure, but a lot more attention to detail.
In the morning, we crept through the barrel storage area tasting left and right. I was careful to trim back my moustache so that I wouldn't spit all over my boss - hey, this stuff is important! Tried a few different chardonnays, two of which were pretty damned good, one of which might have been experiencing some sort of sulfur-related problem. Dave tends to keep things as straightforward as possible, with minimal handling. He's also obviously a fan of French oak - everything was in French oak, save for a few Hungarian oak barrels that Chalone apparently overbought a couple of years ago. I'll not go into detail too much, but the most interesting things for me was a Zinfandel in Hungarian oak that smelled strongly of peach blossoms, and a demijohn of roussanne that had an intriguing spicy honey note. All in all, good stuff!
But on to the important part. The four wines they'd bottled last week, well, we had to open a bottle of each and start testing for alcohol using a small French contrapation and a crème brûlée torch [because we couldn't find any matches!]. As Dave only needed 50cl from each bottle for the testing, I was invited to have as much as I wanted from the leftovers. Ooooh, fun! So I tried the estate merlot, the zinfandel, the pinot noir, and the reserve merlot. All in all I'd have to say the zin was the most fun, even after hearing about what a bitch it was to vinify [it sounds like it pretty much annoyed the hell out of everyone at Sarah's to get this stuff in bottle, but I think it turned out pretty well]. The pinot was lovely with very distinctive varietal characters as well as some pretty up front oak; the estate merlot was just great but not really my thing, but the reserve merlot was about as good a Merlot as I've had in years. A lot of alcohol at over 14%, sure, but good fruit, nice oak, everything just round and dark and lovely. I suggested that the marketing materials speak of "damson", but then I realized I don't really know what that means. "Dark plums dripping with juice" seemed to be the best way to describe this stuff.
When we finished up, I was pretty exhausted from the alochol and the sitting in the sun, so I just headed home and fell asleep by 5 PM. At least I got to Super Taqueria beforehand, or else I'd've woken up at 10 PM with a rumbly tummy and a killer headache. :)