If there’s one thing you can bet on in the wine industry, it’s change. Nothing stays the same for long — that goes as much for any of business aspects of the industry as it does the conditions from vintage to vintage.
Despite this variation, our judgments as consumers about wineries and their wines tend to be absolute. Casual wine drinkers are likely to treat wines like candy bars — they taste them once and if they don’t like them, they never buy again. There’s a certain amount of sense to this, and it certainly fits my mantra of “life’s to short to drink bad wine.” Against these expectations the largest wineries in the industry blend their way towards a bland consistency year after year, just as small wineries suffer the slings and arrows of (rightfully) fickle wine drinkers who tend to depart if they don’t find what they are looking for the first time around.
One of the pleasures I have discovered in being whatever approximation of a wine critic that I have become, has been the opportunity to observe hundreds, maybe even thousands of wineries from vintage to vintage over the span of several years. I learn an incredible amount by tasting the same wines year after year, not only noting the variations that come our way courtesy of Mother Nature, but tasting the results of the many changes that occur at wineries over time, many deliberate, many not.
Suffice it to say, the wines of Quivira Vineyards have never particularly turned my head. Undaunted, I kept tasting. And recently I have tasted wines that will cause me to pay a lot more attention to this little producer in Dry Creek Valley, and to the somewhat uncommon grape variety they seem to really have dialed in on their estate.
Dry Creek Valley is not known, particularly, for its Grenache. There are less than a handful of wineries that produce a Dry Creek Grenache (Ridge and Unti are the only two I know of). Yet both the rose I tasted a couple of weeks ago, and this wine which I opened up a couple of days ago prove that Grenache may be a seriously under-appreciated candidate for growing in the region, and that the folks at Quivira might be able to give some folks lessons on how to do it.
Quivira Winery was originally not a winery at all — merely a farm, and then vineyards run by the Nelson family, who farmed its acreage in Dry Creek Valley for decades, selling first the fruits and nuts, and later grapes to willing buyers. When the ranch was purchased by the Wendt family in 1981 and given its name referencing the fabled city of gold sought by Spanish conquistadors, most of the fruit (a collection of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan, and other “mixed blacks”) was being sold to Rodney Strong and Seghesio.
From the opening of their winery and tasting room in 1987 Henry and Holly Wendt set about creating a fairly typical small family winery in the Dry Creek Valley, distinguished from many of their peers perhaps not by the quality of their wines as much as their early dedication to sustainable farming and winemaking through organic and Biodynamic practices, as well as a focus on minimizing their impact on the local ecology and global environment (including running entirely on their own solar power since 2005).
In 2006, Quivira was purchased by Pete Kight, an entrepreneur who founded the early online financial services company CheckFree, and someone who was keenly interested in continuing the legacy of sustainability that the Wendts had pioneered. With this in mind, Kight brought on winemaker Steven Canter, recommended to him by Dave Powell, winemaker at Torbreck in Australia’s Barossa Valley, where Canter spent four years as an assistant winemaker.
With a background working with some of the oldest Grenache vines on the planet, it’s no surprise that Canter might be doing some good work with the raw materials available to him at Quivira. He holds the role of both winemaker and viticulturalist, which means that Quivira’s wines have recently become the products of a singular vision.
The way that vision plays out in the context of this wine becomes immediately apparent when it is consumed. Canter has decided to let good fruit express itself with very little interference. Picked by hand, destemmed, and lightly crushed into open-top fermenters, this wine frothed and soaked its way through to dryness and then drained out into old (neutral) oak barrels where it aged for 15 months before bottling. A mere 10% of the wine was put into new oak, and then blended back into the neutral lot. 812 cases were made.
One of the hallmarks of Quivira’s brand includes the various imagery that appears on their bottles, evoking elements of the environment that are particular to the story of each wine. This Grenache is marked with the head of a goat, as the estates Grenache vineyard sits adjacent to the pen where the winery’s three goats make their home. The goats play a (carefully controlled) role in farming the vineyard as well, as they are guided (on leash — otherwise they’d eat the vines, too) to places where they can eat the weeds down that would otherwise harbor harmful insects.
I’m quite excited to see how Quivira’s work with Grenache in Dry Creek Valley continues, and I hope their success will encourage others to follow suit. I’ve probably had enough mediocre Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel to last my entire life, but I’d love to drink more Grenache.
Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of ripe plums and cherries with a dash of bright strawberry thrown in. In the mouth it is bright and juicy with a core of cherry and plummy fruit that has a vibrant, pure quality to it. Nice acids marry well with lightly dusty earthiness that lingers in the nice finish. It’s got a character of mellow exuberance that makes it an easy and pleasurable drink. This wine greatly benefited from air, and unless you’re going to hang onto it for a couple years, I recommend decanting it or pouring big sloshy pours and a little breathing time.
I tasted this wine over several days, including tonight, when we drank it with a stew of sausage, peppers, and onions over couscous, which was an excellent pairing.
Overall Score: around 9
How Much?: $22
This wine, as well as their excellent rosé made from the same grapes can be purchased on the Internet.