A while back Donna and I received an invitation to meet, eat and drink with historic Napa Valley winemaker Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone. The dinner was held during a starlit evening on the rooftop patio of their Denver distributor. The crowd was not too big and many of us were not very familiar with this fairly small producer. Stu Smith cut quite a figure as he spoke easily and generously with the guests. Husky and bearded, Stu reminded me of Jeremiah Johnson after a trip to the barber shop. His style is soft but firm, a real straight shooter. Some weeks later I was talking to a restaurateur who referred to Stu as “the real deal.” I could not agree more.
What’s better than “A day at the fair?” Today was the 20th anniversary of the Fredericksburg Wine and Food Fest in Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is the epicenter of the exploding and now widely recognized Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, about 70 miles from either Austin or San Antonio. A long time tourist destination, Fredericksburg was in my youth, better known for growing some of the sweetest and juiciest peaches known to mankind. They send Georgia peaches home cryin’ every time.
Over the last ten years wineries have sprouted like bluebonnets all across the Hill Country. There are close to 40 of the 200 wineries in Texas along the roads of this picturesque area. Are all the wines good? No. But as a whole they improve each year and some Voiginers and Tempranillos, in my opinion, have made it to “Damn, that’s Tasty!” status.
Fall Creek Vineyards
Recently, I was on line with a Facebook friend of this wine blog who is an American in the wine business in Paris. We were discussing the lovely experience Donna and I had just the day before at Fall Creek Vineyards. His thoughtful response fit this story so well. “Behind every wine bottle is a story. Behind every story is a person whose hard work and passion made your enjoyment of that wine possible.” Our day at Fall Creek Vineyards was filled with enjoyment, wine, food and friendship; all the result of the passion Ed and Susan Auler have put into Fall Creek wines for the last 35 years.
Even though I live in Denver over half the time, I am a Texan through and through. As such, I want, I mean really want, to love Texas wines. We spent the last two weeks re-exploring the Texas Hill Country wine region to reacquaint ourselves with what is going on with Texas wines. While I may not be in love, I definitely now have a crush on Texas wines. All puns intended…
Recently we were contacted by James Blanchard of Blanchard Family Wines in Sonoma and asked to review their newly released wines. It seems that James was reading our Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog and noticed we are based much of the time in Denver, Colorado. James, as it turns out, lives near us. He is active duty in the U.S. Air force and recently finished a teaching assignment in the business school at the Air Force Academy, down the road in Colorado Springs.
James, along with his brother Mark and help from the rest of the Blanchard family, started Blanchard Family Wines just a couple of years ago. Their story is one of many great stories about how wine can unite or in this case re-unite a family. The story they tell is of two brothers who while growing up were as close as two brothers can be, often referred to singularly as the Blanchard Boys. However, as they matured into young men they focused more on their differences than their brotherhood. James attended the Air Force Academy, earned his undergraduate degree in business, his MBA, and became a combat helicopter pilot. Mark on the other hand, was more of a free spirit studying music, poetry and ultimately getting his degree in creative writing. Separated by both ideology and geography, the Blanchard boys grew far apart.
Leave it to wine to bring these two brothers back together. Mark began working at a wine shop in Chicago which ultimately led him to choose to move to Napa. James at this time was stationed at Vandenberg in the central coast wine region of California. Dramatic helicopter flights over the wine country fueled a new love of wines for James. Mark worked at wineries in Napa and Sonoma for the next seven years gaining valuable experience. During that time when the Blanchard family would get together for holidays and the like, they found that their mutual love of fine wine was enough to bridge the differences between them. A few years ago James traveled to Sonoma to visit Mark for his 30th birthday and together they spawned the idea that became Blanchard Family Wines. While James continues his Air Force career through doctoral studies at the University of Colorado, he and his wife Sylvia operate the national sales and distribution program while Mark runs the daily wine making operations in Sonoma.
James and Sylvia came over on a Sunday afternoon bringing bottles of their 2007 and 2008 Amber Monique (named for their daughter) Syrah and 2007 Cash Allen (named for their son – note the boy’s initials C.A.B.) Cabernet. These wines are obviously young and are the first releases by Blanchard Family. Donna prepared grilled duck breast with raisin compote and thinly sliced brisket with grilled onions, blue cheese and an aged balsamic reduction to pair with the wines.
We started with the soon to be released 2007 Cash Allen Cabernet ($35). My friend Sue, in London, would accuse us of infanticide, drinking such a young cab. The wine was aerated and decanted for about an hour before it really opened up. The grapes are sourced from Windsor Oaks vineyard in Chalk Hill and aged for 24 months in French Oak. After an hour the tannins softened to match the young fruit. The wine had great color, great varietal flavors of dark fruit and a touch of pepper. We thoroughly enjoyed this wine and think that in another 3-5 years it will be at its peak. It paired best with the brisket, onion, blue cheese combination.
Next up was the 2007 Amber Monique Syrah ($25) from Russian River. Aged in French oak for 18 months, this Syrah really hit the spot. Nice and jammy with velvety tannins this 50 case production had definite cola, raspberry and spice flavors with a nose of cocoa and black cherry. Again, the wine was aerated and decanted for about 30 minutes. The jamminess of the Syrah combined with the duck and raisin compote were sumptuous.
We finished with the yet to be released and recently bottled 2008 Amber Monique Syrah ($25). These grapes were sourced from a different part of the Russian River Valley than the 2007. Needless to say this wine is very, very young and as a result very tight. Even so it showed much potential and may, in a couple of years, out shine its older sister.
Blanchard Family Wines will release a 2009 Laurel Springs Ranch (Dry Creek -Sonoma) Cabernet in 2011 along with a 2009 Zinfandel (Russian River – Sonoma) from a hillside block at Windsor Oaks Vineyards.
We had a great time meeting James and Sylvia Blanchard while sharing the first releases from Blanchard Family Wines. These are very impressive efforts that will improve as they age. We’re excited to see what else the Blanchard Boys will create in the years to come.