I walked into the Selby tasting room in downtown Healdsburg not really knowing anything about it. I’d heard great things, and I’d walked by the tasting room on more than one occasion — and kept on walking simply because it was packed. And now I know why.
Selby Winery was founded in 1994 by Susie Selby and her father David. For most of those first years the winery was a bit of a “side project:” David lived predominantly in Dallas with his wife; Susie worked as an assistant winemaker for a larger company. It wasn’t until David’s death in 1997 that Susie went full-force into Selby, making what was once her father’s pipe dream into a real wine country reality. Today Selby Winery makes sixteen different varietal and Susie is still at the head of the helm — taking on no partners or investors.
“Enjoy wine; enjoy life” is Susie’s motto and, indeed, it shows in her wines. Go to the tasting room and pick any varietal you like — they all just taste like they’re handcrafted with passion. I wanted to leave Selby with a bottle of everything. But I showed restraint and picked just one — this 2014 Dry Creek Grenache.
“Grenache is an unlikely hero of a grape,” says Jancis Robinson. And yet, it is the most planted wine grape in Southern France, (and the second most widely-planted wine grape in the world), is the primary ingredient in the popular Rhône grape trio GSM, and has garnered recent recognition for its contribution in the powerful red wines coming out of the mountainous region of Priorat in Spain. Indeed, it seems that in all cases, Grenache is considered a grape worth blending, playing a supporting role amongst a league of more forceful wines. So, to play on Robinson’s analogy, poor Grenache has both the perceived purpose and popularity as Aquaman among the Justice League.
This need not be the case. Depending on where its grown, how the vineyards are maintained, and the choices made during winemaking, Grenache can actually be quite sneaky-cool. A dedicated Grenache can stand on its own, with the strength and independence of, say, Catwoman.
As a vintner, when you find a vineyard site you love, it’s truly something special. You come to know the lay of the land, the quality of the fruit, and can taste — even at bud break — the potential for the wine you want to create. As a vintner, when you find a vineyard site you love, you’ll do everything in your power to keep the relationship with the landowner, ensuring that year after year you can keep on creating. As a vintner, when you find a vineyard site you love and the landowner decides to sell — this can be a tragic change of events. Unless you decide to purchase it. Which is exactly what Andrew Tow did.
When a wine is good. No. When a wine is outstanding. Full-on, stop eating, stop talking, focus all senses on the wine in hand — outstanding. It makes you want to understand where it came from, how it was produced, and — most importantly — who made it. This. This Passagio Wines 2014 Grenache. This is one of those wines. Thank you to Cindy Cosco, owner and winemaker of Passaggio Wines, for sharing this with me. I honestly can’t wait to meet you in person so I can hear (and taste) your story in person and share it with my little wine-loving world. Cheers!
Grenache can be a hard grape to grow, let alone enjoy as a single-varietal bottle. Traditionally used for blending purposes, Grenache’s tendency toward high acidity and fruit forward flavors make it the ideal backbone for Rhone-style blends like GSM, contrasting and thus balancing the heavier, heartier, and earthier components (in this example, Syrah and Mourvèdre). So when I see a single-varietal bottle of Grenache, I simultaneously smile and cringe (my face is probably quite the site at that point) because I’m excited at the prospect of a Grenache, but experience has led me to predict disappointment. On the one hand, the grape is what it is: bright, fruity, acidic. On the palate this amounts to a simultaneously austere and flabby wine — lean, yes, but without structure or purpose (much like a person can be skinny with a high percentage of body fat, aka skinny-fat). On the other hand, wine producers, knowing what the purity of the Grenache grape will produce, tend to want to mask these features with excessive amount of new oak. On the palate this becomes the actual definition of flabby — the fruit, the acid, the oak all maintain their individuality, never melding together to create a balanced body (much like that same skinny-fat person eating a high protein diet to try to gain muscle without working out — he or she will just get, well, fat).
There is, however, an achievable balance when it comes to Grenache. But it requires the right variables to be in place — namely the terroir, the climate, and a skilled winemaker. Welcome to Tercero Wines 2011 Grenache.