This is the time of year when we look back at events that shaped our winery family.
2018 was marked by the passing of two of Livermore’s best-loved winemakers: Tom Doczy, of John Christopher Cellars (January 22), and James (Jim) McGrail of McGrail Vineyards and Winery (April 29). Both leave a void that will be difficult to fill. I miss them both, especially this time of year.
2018 was a year of accolades for Sidewinder. In July we were notified that our Sidewinder Label was awarded Best of Show at the FINAT (Féderation Internationale de Fabricants et Transformateurs) competition. And in August, we received word that the label was named Best of Class (offset) and Best of Show at the TLMI International Awards Competition – an award recognizing technical achievement in labeling. This is the first label design to have been awarded Best of Show at both international competitions.
Not to be outdone – Sidewinder Lounge won the Dealer’s Choice Award in floor coverings for our distressed redwood floor chosen to reproduce the feel of a nineteenth century Livermore saloon.
Let’s not overlook our wines – many awarded 90 points and higher this year. Perhaps most satisfying, however, was the 93 points and Editor’s Choice award given by Wine Enthusiast Magazine for our 2016 Founder’s Collection Chardonnay – proof that Dave’s efforts with this wine are being recognized outside our Valley.
This year’s weather was picture perfect – one of the best harvests since we began a decade ago. Dave continued to refine his barrel selections and added a few new vineyards into the mix based on his careful assessment of the valley’s wines over the past few years. New to the mix were Fong Vineyard for the Grenache used in our rosé and a Merlot from Sachau Vineyard that we will blend with our Thatcher Bay fruit.
Dave and I both felt these changes and additions were necessary for our long term goals. Fong Vineyard, which lies on the Western border of our town, produces fruit optimized for our style of dry rosé – light color, fresh fruit, and bracing acidity in one package. We have already bottled this wine and look forward to sharing it with you this spring.
We continue to value the Merlot from Thatcher Bay for its elegance and structure. However, we have taken this fruit about as far as we can as a single varietal, and though our Merlots consistently rate among the highest in the valley, we feel that we we can do better. That is why we are adding fruit from the Sachau Vineyard beginning in 2018. Dave has studied wines from this vineyard for some time, and we began small scale blending experiments in 2017. Sachau adds dimensionality to our single vineyard Merlot – and really shows how the Bordeaux varietals thrive in this valley. It is likely that our 2018 vintage, when it is released in a couple of years, will be a blend of these two vineyards.
The success of our Late Bottled Vintage Port (2011 Opportunity 5 year aged – 94 points) emphasized the benefits of long barrel aging for our port wines. That is why we decided to release future ports after a minimum of ten years of barrel aging, and explains why we have not had a port-styled wine in our inventory for some time. This is about to change, as our remaining barrel of 2009 port becomes ten years old this year! Expect a bottling of this tawny-styled wine sometime this spring. We hope to sample it to our members prior to bottling – perhaps in March during barrel tasting weekend. There will only be about 30 cases of this wine.
Sidewinder Lounge, which opened to our members last January, provides a refined setting for our members – a place where they can escape the crowds and enjoy time with friends and family. It is open Thursday and Friday evenings after normal tasting room hours.
New in 2019, Sidewinder Lounge will be open later into the evening – and Saturday hours are planned by early spring. Our partnership with Posada Restaurant now allows us to serve food, and a bar menu is planned.
Most important, however, Sidewinder Spirits has product! Last winter, we released Livermore’s only vermouths – a dry vermouth called Stem and Crown and a sweet vermouth called Winder and Bow – both named after the parts of a pocket watch. This month, we released an Eau de Vie, doubly distilled from our Malvasia Bianca fruit. It is Livermore’s first eau de vie distilled from wine since prohibition. In February, we will bottle our Grappa – also another first for Livermore Valley.
Bourbon fans will be pleased to learn that we have a barrel of bourbon that will be two years old this fall – the legal age to call it Bourbon! Another barrel of Bourbon along with our first barrel of Rye will reach the one year mark later this year. Production of a single malt is planned for spring once the brandy distillations have finished.
It is unlikely that Sidewinder will open to the public in 2019. The plan is to have public spirit tasting in the afternoons, turning back into a private members’ lounge in the evenings. However, to run a public tasting room we need to have product, and our current inventory (Grappa, Eau de Vie, and Vermouth) is too limited right now.
Work will soon start on a Sidewinder website to help separate the operations. This website will be devoted to the spirit side of our operations, with product information, Sidewinder events, and cocktail recipes. Though some information will be shared with the this website – Sidewinder will be its own animal.
Work has begun on improving this (Occasio) website. Most of this will be on the back end. You might already have noticed faster download times. Soon, we will be improving navigation and phone and tablet optimization. Most important, our store will be enhanced so that it will be much easier to place orders or send gifts through our site.
New Year’s Message
New Year’s is a time to reflect on the past and prepare anew for the future. Our New Year’s resolution remains unchanged from years past – to produce, without compromise, authentic Livermore Valley wines and spirits of utmost purity, authenticity, and quality.
From the Occasio family, we wish all of you a Happy and Rewarding New Year.