Lots of changes underway in California.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers February 20, 2008
The winds of change are blowing through California’s vineyards. After more than 30 years at Beringer, winemaker Ed Sbragia has left the Napa winery to focus his efforts on his family’s project in Sonoma. The Sbragia Family Vineyards have been producing quality wines since 2004 and release 6,000 cases a year. Sbragia will get to work more closely with his son Adam, and their goal is to increase production to 10,000 cases annually.
Current releases include the nicely balanced Sbragia Family Home Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($20), which has vanilla and citrus aromas that lead to tropical fruit, grapefruit and guava flavors with a bright finish. Also enjoyable is the hazelnut and floral scented Sbragia Family Gamble Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 ($40), with peach and fig notes along with some oaky spice at the end.
Their cabernets are built for the long haul. The exceptional Sbragia Family Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 ($50) has a pleasing earthiness along with deep dark currant, spice, black cherry and anise flavors.
Taking the helm at Beringer is Sbragia’s long-time associate Laurie Hook, who worked with him for 21 years. An excellent winemaker in her own right, Hook now becomes responsible for all of Beringer’s production, although Sbragia will still be available as a consultant. Despite being from a family that once owned a French Chateaux, Hook did not become interested in winemaking until college. UC-Davis trained, she worked in Australia and Sonoma until Beringer hired her in 1986. Hook became the Assistant Winemaker in 1997 and was promoted to Winemaker in 2000.
Beringer’s current releases reflect the success of their long-time collaboration. A terrific blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier, the Beringer Alluvium Blanc Knights Valley 2006 ($16) is an excellent value. Pear and floral aromas predominate, progressing into orange and peach flavors and a long finish. The Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay Private Reserve 2005 ($35) is also first-class, with melon and fig aromas, apple, vanilla and mango flavors and some spicy oak during the lingering finish. The Beringer Napa Valley Merlot 2005 ($19), which contains 13 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent Cabernet Franc, is well-structured with black plum, chocolate and cinnamon flavors. One of the best dessert wines made in the U.S. is the gorgeous Beringer Nightingale Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($40), named for Myron Nightingale, Sbragia’s predecessor at Beringer. It is beautifully constructed and balanced with lush honey and apricot aromas and a near perfect marriage of sweetness and creamy butterscotch, vanilla and sweet spice flavors.
Another transition is occurring nearer to San Francisco with the purchase of Rosenblum Cellars by Diageo, one of the world’s largest wine, beer and spirit conglomerates. Long considered among the best of California’s wine producers, Kent Rosenblum will continue to supervise operations for the next three years. It is clear that the new owners are striving to maintain his high standards by keeping all the current employees, grape-growing contracts and the winery located in the San Francisco Bay. Big and bold, the Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel 2005 ($35) remains one of the stars of his portfolio. Floral aromas precede a complex interplay of licorice, dark berry and spicy cherry flavors with a delightfully prolonged finish. Other excellent offerings are the Rosenblum House Family Vineyard Zinfandel 2005 ($25), with blueberry, dark plum and pepper notes, and the Rosenblum Pickett Road Petite Sirah 2005 ($35), which should be decanted before enjoying its dense blackberry, currant and mocha flavors.