Some people seem to get into the wine business through sheer determination. After years of saving, scraping, dreaming and planning, vineyard or winery ownership is the fulfillment of many people’s long held (if not hard earned) fantasies.
And then there are those people who somehow seem destined for it — people whose stories you hear and you think, how on Earth did you manage not to do this earlier?
If Stephen Singer was going to fall into one of these categories it would most certainly be the latter. In 2003 he became the proprietor of a small winery called Baker Lane, which was the end of a long road, and will no doubt be the beginning of another.
Singer has been in the wine business in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades, starting with a small wine shop and distribution business in the City that began over 30 years ago. His retail skills and wine knowledge were parlayed into wine consulting for many restaurants, eventually landing him at Chez Panisse, where he was the wine director for many years (and also was married to owner Alice Waters). After leaving Chez Panisse, Singer went on to become a restaurant owner and entrepreneur, a career which still takes up much of his time. He is a partner in the popular Cesar in Berkeley (next door to Chez Panisse) and the newly opened West Country Grill in the town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County.
As if that weren’t enough, Singer has been importing artisan olive oils and vinegars from Italy for over ten years. I find myself asking, is it any wonder that this guy eventually had to get his hands on a vineyard?
Singer was waiting for just the right piece of land, apparently, and eventually found it in a ranch just outside of Sebastopol, where two sloping edges of small valley in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed offer good exposure for Syrah and Pinot Noir.
To make his wine, Singer has enlisted veteran winemaker Steven Canter, who currently also makes wine for Davis Bynum and Quivira, as well as for his own personal label Luddite Vineyards. I suppose with a label name like that, it goes without saying that Canter doesn’t go for much fancy-shmancy technology when it comes to making wine. Canter, who comes to winemaking first via music and then via a series of jobs in most every facet of the wine industry, has developed his craft through experiences working at Torbreck Winery in Australia and Foris Vineyards in Oregon, among other places.
Canter makes this wine from grapes grown on the east-facing slope of a hillside vineyard that sits nearby Singer’s property near Sebastopol. The Hurst Vineyard is planted with the Pommard, 777, and 115 clones of Pinot Noir, which are hand harvested and fermented in small lots. I don’t know much about the exact winemaking regimen for Baker Lane, but if Canter’s other work is any guide, it is most likely done with native yeast fermentation, a modest amount of new French oak, and bottling without fining or filtration.
The 2004 bottling of Hurst Vineyard Pinot Noir was the first release from Baker Lane, and this year, in addition to the 2005 Pinot Noir, Singer will be releasing the first Syrah from his own fruit. Judging by these early efforts, this is certainly a winery to watch.
Medium ruby in the glass this wine has a nice nose of tart cranberry and slightly earthy pomegranate aromas. In the mouth it is juicy and tart with good acids and a primarily pomegranate aspect. It possesses a lovely texture and offers notes of dried herbs, including a hint of lavender as it heads towards its substantial finish. This is a young wine, only in bottle for a short time, but it is drinking excellently now and will doubtless be fantastic in 4 to 8 years.
I had this wine on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a couple of friends seated around a platter of charcuterie, sliced baguettes, and Mediterranean olives. It was a lovely match for the salty meats, though if I could pair it with anything I think I’d down it with grilled, spice-rubbed cornish game hen.
Overall Score: 9/9.5
How Much?: $40
This wine is about to be released and will shortly be available from select retailers. If you are interested in purchasing it, the best bet would be to call up the winery at 510.845.0693. Or you can find the 2004 vintage for sale online.