I take a special interest in a particular class of winery. I call them estateless wineries, but they are wineries that 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 context other 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 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 among others, 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.
Olson & Ogden offers two small portfolios of wines, one focused on Rhone varietals, the other on Pinot Noir. The wines are made at a custom crush facility 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.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2007 Olsen Ogden “Stagecoach Vineyard” Syrah, Napa Valley
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of sweet blackberry and violets. In the mouth it is beautifully balanced with lovely texture and rich flavors of cassis, blackberry, and black cherry. A hint of black pepper and white pepper spiciness creeps into the finish, which also has an aromatic sweetness that is disarming. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $52 Click to buy.
2007 Olsen Ogden Syrah, Napa/Sonoma, California
Medium purple in color this wine smells of cassis, violets, and blackberries. In the mouth it is bright with blackberry fruit and black cherry fruit. Juicy with acidity and structured with faint but lingering tannins, this is a delightful wine if somewhat less than profound. Easy to drink and delicious. Score: around 9. Cost: $28 Click to buy.
2007 Olsen Ogden Unti Vineyard Syrah, Dry Creek Valley
Dark purple in the glass, this wine has a nose of cassis, wet earth, and violets. Beautifully silky in texture, very well balanced and juicy as hell, this wine has a rich core of cassis, black cherry, and cocoa powder flavors that linger along with smooth tannins through a long finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $38 Click to buy.
2007 Olsen Ogden Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth and black cherries. In the mouth it is rich with black cherry and cranberry fruit, plus a nice spicy component that is married to the good acid levels. Missing some complexity and elegance however. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32 Click to buy.
2007 Olsen Ogden Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine has an aromatic nose of raspberry, cedar, and candied redcurrant aromas. In the mouth it is soft and lush with tart cherry and raspberry flavors with a very nice herbal quality on the long finish. Well balanced with great acidity, this is a wonderful wine. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $42 Click to buy.