‘I don’t get no respect, no respect at all!’
We have three new wines in our tasting room this month: 2015 vintages of our Founder’s Collection Merlot and Zinfandel along with the 2017 vintage of our Malvasia Bianca. Each of these wines is a survivor of a century of changing tastes and attitudes, and each has a story to tell.
Consider Merlot– the wine that ‘gets no respect.’ In the 90s, America’s appetite for Merlot could not be sated. In response, Merlot became planted everywhere, and thousands of gallons of non-descript wine saturated the market. The low quality of these wines, more than the movie Sideways, was responsible for Merlot’s decline in popularity.
That Merlot survives at all in California is a testament that, when grown properly in the right climate and on the right soils, Merlot produces a rich and powerful wine that is the major, if not the sole component of some of today’s most coveted wines. Since 1880, Livermore has been famous for its Merlot. We believe that Thatcher Bay Vineyard has both the soil (clay) and the climate (cooling Altamont breezes) to produce the finest examples of this variety, which is why we source our Merlot exclusively from Thatcher Bay. We believe that our 2015 Merlot is a worthy expression of the varietal and can be compared alongside the finest examples of this wine. It will be released to our wine club in late August.
Zinfandel– you won’t need reminding that Livermore has always had Zinfandel and that Livermore Zinfandel has been considered since the 19thCentury to be among the finest produced. Yet Zinfandel barely survived prohibition, and repeal was its death knell when Maynard Amerine and Albert Winkler, Davis professors, fought long and hard against the replanting of Zinfandel in post-prohibition California. In their pioneering 1944 paper, which established the winegrowing climate zones of California, they expressed the opinion that no climate zone was suitable for the growing of Zinfandel.
But the winegrowers of Livermore Valley paid little attention to these experts. And though, by 1975, Zinfandel had almost vanished from our state, in Livermore, it reigned supreme as our most widely planted varietal. Today, Zinfandel ranks third among the Livermore plantings, behind only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Livermore has always had a Zinfandel, and always will – quite simply because it does so well here.
Our 2015 Zinfandel is an excellent introduction to Livermore Zin. A field blend of two ancient clones, the wine expresses the herbaceous and spicy character of this wine without being over-the-top. Released in mid-July, our 2015 Zinfandel is now on our tasting menu.
And what is Malvasia Bianca? First, it is quite rare. This northern Italian cultivar, which once thrived in our valley, has now been replaced with more fashionable varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Today, fewer than 1500 acres remain planted to this variety in California, and most of these are in the Central Valley. Coastal plantings like the few remaining in Livermore Valley are vanishing.
Malvasia is a fragrant and exotic wine, literally like no other. To preserve these exotic flavors, we harvest the wine early. It is a low alcohol wine in which we preserve a little of the residual sugar to balance the natural acidity. We also eschew the use of sulfur at crush – something that must be done with great care. We find that this no-sulfur crush preserves subtle flavors of the grape, allowing them to shine in the bottled wines.
Some of our 2017 Malvasia was distilled and will soon be bottled as an eau de vie. Our Malvasia Bianca is available now in our tasting room. Look for the release of the Eau de Vie in the fall. It will be available for purchase at our winery, and available for tasting and purchase at Sidewinder.