Five appellations, with six appointments in fourteen days. That was our calendar in late April through early May, and we couldn’t have asked for a finer return to California wine country for the first time since 2002. We decided right from the get-go that we were going to do it right this time; no exhaustive three of more appointments per day, and not even one appointment every day. We were going to enjoy ourselves, take our time, see some of the state and concentrate on a select group of producers, two of whom were new to our experience and three with whom we were very familiar.
Our travels took us to Napa Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Mendocino County, Paso Robles and the Santa Cruz Mountains. On off days, we simply toured or renewed acquaintances with old friends like Allan Bree, Frank Joyce and John and Pat Wolf. And of course, there was never any lack of good food and wine, as we’ve already detailed with recent blog entries.
Our site visits were all marvelous, and included appointments with John Olney at Ridge Lytton Springs, Julie Johnson at Tres Sabores, Mario and Danelle Storm Rosati at Rosati Family Winery, Jason Haas at Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello and Sean Thackrey at his barn… OK, it’s REALLY Sean’s office-auxiliary storage facility outside of Bolinas and equipped with a kitchen many would envy.
We made extensive use of the video camera, and indeed, some of our reports could have stood on that footage alone – candid as they are, but there are always anecdotes and tasting notes to be included.
Our trip report begins in reverse, with accounts of our last two visits, with Paul Draper and Sean Thackrey. We met with the two of them just a few days apart, and couldn’t help but be struck by the differences in style and technique of these two otherwise brilliant winemakers. Subsequent reports will follow individually in quick succession.
The Philosopher & the Provocateur
Having the opportunity to spend a few hours talking wine with one of the great winemakers of California is a rare and special privilege. Having two such opportunities in the span of a few days is almost mind blowing, but such was our lot during our recent hiatus on the Left Coast, when we spent afternoons with both Paul Draper and Sean Thackrey.
The two men are rather different in style. Draper, CEO and chief winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, has a scholarly look about him and heads a team that is meticulously analytical in just about every aspect of the winemaking process. Thackrey, on the other hand, has a more Bohemian demeanor, and employs an intuitive, seat-of-the-pants technique to produce his brilliantly quirky eponymous wines named after night sky constellations. Draper embraces the concept of “terroir,” while Thackrey dismisses it. Draper chooses his words well, tending to avoid making provocative statements, but Thackrey, ever the iconoclast has no such reservations, as was evidenced by not only the interview conducted by our own Allan Bree several years ago, but by comments he made during our visit with him.
Neither man has any formal winemaking training. Draper is an adherent to natural winemaking techniques, but in a thoroughly modern setting. Thackrey actually employs methods that are hundreds of years old, culled from his extensive collection of ancient books and manuscripts on winemaking, and it’s a well-known fact that his winery is outdoors. But whatever their differences or similarities, it certainly can’t be denied that both have been crafting remarkably fine wine for decades.
Our reports feature extensive use of candid videos, supplemented by brief written narratives and tasting notes. It is our hope that our viewers and readers will get some sense of the excitement and pleasure that we felt enjoying the company of these two very exceptional and impressive gentlemen.