The Wine Rack - Fine Wine, Liquors and Beer

Oenophile Notes

Back in 1976, while visiting wineries in the Napa Valley, I stopped at one winery and was talking to a college student who was helping his brother out for the summer. When he realized I was a wine retailer he insisted I try a new wine they were beginning to test market. Although too sweet for my taste I told him it had very good market promise in this country. He said New Jersey’s allocation of 25 cases was in transit. When I arrived back home I ordered 5 cases from the distributor, then 5 more cases, etc. until I got a call from the owner of the distributor. He informed me I had purchased 24 of the 25 cases he had received and wanted to know what the wine was like and if I thought he should plan to purchase much more the following year.

If you haven't guessed yet, the wine was the original vintage of Sutter Home White Zinfandel (then called Eye of the Partridge). The student was Roger Trinchero, now the president of Sutter Home Winery, the originator of White Zinfandel.


California's Central Coast Region

        The California coastal wine region is a series of spectacular vistas that nurture an outstanding array of great wines.   The reds are headlined by Pinot Noir and Syrah.  Over the next few years Grenache will join the elite rankings.  The clear highlight of the whites is Chardonnay.  The wineries mostly radiate out from the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa (Sta.) Rita Foothills ( where much of the movie "Sideways" was filmed), heading south to Santa Barbara and north through the Santa Maria Valley, San Luis Obispo, past Paso Robles.

        The breathtaking vistas of vineyards lining hills and valleys are unique in this area as the valleys open west to east allowing coastal winds and weather to penetrate inland through these valleys as opposed to north to south ranges that hold up much of the cooling breezes at the first range closest to the coast.

        Spending a few days in this area solidified my belief that this is real Pinot Noir country.  Tasting at numerous wineries showed while they were mostly quite pricy ( about $40 and up) they were well worth the price compared to wines costing half the price which for the most part are "weak" in their earthy tones and varietal character.

        The better Syrahs of this region possess rich flavors and supple textures that do not have the traditional heavier tannins.

        If you plan a vacation in California, seriously consider this coastal region not just for its outstanding wines but for its beautiful and breathtaking scenery.  Be sure to travel along the back roads and savor the wines and vistas as you come upon them.  Ask Jeff for recommended areas to explore and wineries to visit.


George Hendry

Hendry Ranch Winery,  Napa Valley

          During a trip to California this past spring I spent part of an afternoon with George Hendry of Hendry Vineyards.  George is a former cyclotron physicist who still, I am told, manufactures about one cyclotron each year.  Having grown up on this vineyard land off the beaten track in Napa, George knows every detail and terroir of each block of grapes. He is perhaps the greatest stickler to fine detail in the California wine scene.

          George showed me the various "blocks" of grape vines sighting the differences in the blocks only a few feet apart.  He bottles these blocks individually or in pairs, depending on what he is striving for.

          We then went into the winery where he went over every step in the production of Hendry wines.  He purchases oak barrels for $900 each and only uses them once before selling them to other wineries for $300 - thus a cost of $600 for each barrel of wine (which must be factored in the final bottle cost).  Included in the barrel storage area is one barrel from each block that is aging in older oak, which imparts little or no oak.  This barrel is used as a reference when tasting the other new oak barrels from that block.  He uses this neutral barrel wine to "cleanse" the palate between tasting each of the aging barrels.  The oak extracted in each new barrel numbs the sense of taste and evaluation so the neutral barreled wine is used between tastes to bring the senses back to a neutral reference point.  All this is solely for keeping their senses and evaluations accurate!

          In the laboratory there is a spiral notebook where every bottle that is opened at the winery is evaluated for any corky or off flavors.  Where most premium wineries purchase 25 cent corks for bottling, George only uses one dollar corks.  He has lowered his "off of perfect" bottles to less than half of the industry average.  Another book lists each day's rainfall activity to the hundredth of an inch.

          So next time you open a bottle of Hendry wine (or any wine) appreciate what goes into bringing you the best that the winery is capable of producing.

          Stop in and pick up a bottle of George's wine and sit down and note the balance and finesse they possess due to his extreme detail from vineyard to bottle.