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04.21.2005

2003 Olson & Ogden "Sonoma Valley" Syrah, Sonoma

As regular readers know, I am very interested in small, family-run wineries. These come in several flavors in the industry, and one of the most interesting to me is the estate-less label -- those wineries who have no permanent physical presence. These types of operations have no vineyards, own no buildings, and sometimes don't even own any equipment. Such wineries are most often the result of someone taking small steps towards their personal dream of being in the wine business, and are often sources for great wines at reasonable prices.

Olson & Ogden winery is a perfect example of such a label.

Proprietor John Ogden worked in the high tech corporate world for most of his life, doing business development, marketing, advertising, and sales. Through the boom and bust of the Internet, he quietly socked money away for the day he could leave that world behind. The only problem was, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. Taking a year off in 2000 to answer precisely that question, John traveled the world with his wife. One of their stops around the globe was the South of France, where John had actually spent several years of his childhood. Their time there triggered many memories of family, food, and wine, and in the process John started paying more attention to wine than he ever had. Call it falling in love, call it an awakening, call it whatever you want, but Ogden returned to San Francisco with the desire to work in the wine business in some way.

With no background, training, or contextother than his newfound passion, John simply just started talking to everyone he knew, trying to make connections in the business. In the process of his networking, he met Tim Olson who was just finishing up a stint as the winemaker for Tarius vineyards and looking for his next project. Together they batted around the idea of a small production label focused on Rhone varietals (though Tim has made John promise that they will eventually do a Pinot Noir), and a partnership was born.

Tim does the winemaking, and through previous connections has brought with him several contracts for fruit from Unti Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, while John does the business management, marketing, and sales. Both work on the wine part time, and think it will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future. Like many other small estateless labels, they don't have huge aspirations, just a desire to make small quantities of great wine. "Right now we just want to make interesting wines from interesting places," says Ogden, who emphasizes that this means first and foremost sourcing great quality fruit from top vineyard locations.

In the long term, Ogden envisions the label having two small portfolios of single vineyard designate wines, one focused on Rhone varietals (Syrah and Grenache mostly) and the other on Burgundy-style Pinot Noir. "One day it might be nice to make a really great premium cuvee that could be our top wine," says Ogden, but for now, they're content at the current production levels of about 340 cases with little plan to expand.

True to the form, Olson & Ogden is made at a custom crush facility provided by Chasseur winery in Sonoma, and both Ogden and Olson work out of their homes when they're not in the vineyard or cellar. Ogden and his wife have a playground equipment construction company that pays most of the bills.

There is no easy way to find out about small wineries like this. By definition they don't have large marketing budgets or widespread distribution, and their lack of a physical presence means there aren't signs on the side of the road as you drive through the Sonoma Valley. However, for those who choose to seek them out, they can be a source of excellent wines that represent the passions and dreams of a new generation of winemakers.

This wine is a blend of different barrels of Unti Vineyard fruit that were removed from the final blend that went into Olson & Ogden's vineyard designate Syrah. The wine is aged for 13 months in French oak, only 15% of which is new, before being bottled unfined. 116 cases made.

Tasting Notes:
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a delicious nose of blueberry and chocolate, with a hint of blackberry and vanilla. In the mouth it is light and well balanced, in more of a French style, with a decent amount of acidity and nearly imperceptible tannins supporting primary flavors of blueberry, blackberry, redcurrant and spices that taper to a reasonable finish.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $19.

While wines made at this small production level can sometimes be frustrating to find, these small labels are extremely open to customers who want to order directly from them, or locate distributors in their area who might carry the wine.

This wine is sold at several restaurants and wine stores in the Bay Area and also in New Jersey.

If you're interested in purchasing some of this wine, or of their slightly beefier vineyard designate Syrah, John Ogden would be happy to oblige. You can reach him at: 707-823-6127.

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