Episode 429 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently, and it features Bill Easton, the proprietor and winemaker of both Easton Wines and Domaine de la Terre Rouge in Amador County, California.
The history of California wine has often been told through the lens of California’s prestigious and expensive wines, but Bill Easton takes a different tack in this interview. The wines that first caught his attention were the inexpensive jug wines bottled by Italian and Eastern European immigrant families to California, often from grapes grown in the Sierra Foothills. That era of good jug wines made by families has largely been suplanted today by cheap wine made on an industrial scale, and that particular history of family winemaking is rarely spoken about. Bill Easton followed that time period closely, because it coincided with his own early days of learning about wine, and he details all sorts of largely forgotten names and recalls the exploits of several California wine figures who are rarely spoken about today. He also ties an admiration for those sorts of early post-Prohibition wines from the Foothills into his own work in the 1980s, as he pioneered Rhône grape varieties like Syrah and Roussanne in the Shenandoah Valley. He further explains why the high octane, high alcohol wines of the 1990s never caught his fancy: he had already seen how the drought vintages of the 1970s had aged in bottle, and he wasn’t impressed with the results. Rather than follow the points driven trend for higher alcohols that largely dictated the style of California prestige wines in the 1990s, Easton kept in mind the sorts of wines that had inspired him to get into wine in the first place.
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I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine