To look at Vision Cellars owner/winemaker Mac McDonald in his overalls and straw hat, one might almost expect to find him singing the blues at The Ark in Ann Arbor, instead of conducting a tasting of his wines at venues such as Shiraz or the Detroit Athletic Club, and his down-home demeanor and laid back drawl do nothing to dissuade one from that notion. In fact, Mac is both a very fine winemaker and a shrewd judge of related matters of terroir, such as soil (he’s been known to actually taste it to determine its quality and viability for growing grapes) and season (he’s allowing for a larger crop this vintage, due to the unusually heavy amount of rainfall that California received during the winter).
The son of an East Texas moonshiner and a home fruit-wine maker, Mac caught the wine bug sometime around 1955, after tasting his first red Burgundy. He and his wife Lil established Vision Cellars in 1995 and produced their first commercial bottling in 1997. They source grapes from their own “Ms. Lil’s vineyard” and select sites from some of the best appellations in California. I first met Mac a few years ago when he was in the area promoting his wines and have enjoyed tasting them on other occasions, so when our friends at AHD Vintners invited us to a wine luncheon with him recently at the aforementioned Bingham Farms restaurant Shiraz, we accepted without hesitation. I had the distinct pleasure of sitting directly across from Mac and right next to Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon, who is always great fun to taste with. We got things started with a couple of whites before moving on to his signature Pinot Noirs.
2008 Vision Cellars Napa and Santa Lucia Highlands California White Wine, 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Pinot Gris, 13.5% alc., $18.00: Clean, medium color, with a pleasing apple and pear nose; on the palate, it offers rich, fairly ripe apple, pear and passion fruit, balanced by crisp acidity. Medium-full bodied, with very good length and excellent concentration, but never over-the-top. Just released. find this wine
“When I come here, it’s really a relaxing time for me.” ~ Mac
2008 Vision Cellars Mendocino County Riesling, 13.5 alc., $22.00: Clean, pale-to-medium color, with ripe red and green apple aromatics; flavors echo, rich and ripe on the palate, yet finishing bone dry. Medium-to-medium-full bodied, not quite unctuous, with excellent acidity and just plain delicious. One of the best California Rieslings I’ve had in a long time. The vineyards that the grapes are sourced from are eight miles from the ocean, taking advantage of its cooling influence and thereby gaining longer hang time. find this wine
“You could teach somebody to blind taste Pinot (Noir) from this.” ~ Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon
2008 Vision Cellars Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.5 alc., $35.00: Medium dark color, with a pure Pinot nose of pretty smoky black cherry, Asian spice and a hint o’ cola; flavors echo and expand beautifully. Smooth, rich, harmonious and structured to pair beautifully with food and drinking so well right now. find this wine
2007 Vision Cellars Chileno Valley Marin County Pinot Noir, $42.00: Clean, medium dark color, and a beautifully perfumed nose of smoky black cherry, plum and Asian spices that follow through onto the palate, where they gain subtle earthy undertones. Medium-full bodied, with good structure and nice length. find this wine
2008 Vision Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Coster Vineyard, 14.5%, $42.00: Medium dark color, and not as pronounced on the nose as the previous two, but perhaps bigger and more concentrated in the mouth, with smoky plum, black cherry and Asian spice, underscored with a subtle creamy quality. Rich and expressive, this maintains a stylistic continuity with the other Pinot Noirs noted here. find this wine
2007 Vision Cellars Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, 14.3% alc., $48.00: Clean, dark color, with the smokiest nose of the bunch, fleshing out on the palate with black cherry, plum and a hint of cola; substantial concentration, with a very expressive personality, and the most concentrated of the bunch. Excellent now and over at least the next 3-5 years. Las Alturas is located between Garys’ and Pisoni Vineyards. find this wine
There’s something quite refreshing about a winemaker like McDonald, who crafts his wines to drink in the near term, not to languish in some collector’s cellar, and I, for one, need very little coaxing to open a bottle of anything with a Vision Cellars label on it. Bravo Mac McDonald!