The Seeing Red Wine Festival offers a chance to explore new wines by Tom Ward
The Seeing Red Wine Festival in Seaside is a great opportunity for everyone to taste a lot of wine, plan what they want to serve at the holidays and find some gems to add to their cellars. A tendency some have is to spend too much time tasting wines we already know. When we do that, we are squandering the opportunity to broaden our horizons and our palates. I’m going to shine a light on some of the things that happen inside the wine industry, that many are not aware of, and this festival creates a prime opportunity to explore.
There are many wineries that start out as small, family-owned establishments. They are usually the lifelong dreams of the owners and wine makers, and I deal with many of these small wineries on my wine tours. In many cases, these wineries develop loyal cult-like followings. Some strike gold by landing on a magazine’s radar and getting critical acclaim. This is great for business, but also generates the interest of mega-conglomerates that own dozens, if not hundreds of wineries. When a small winery starts to gain critical acclaim, operations can get more difficult. This can manifest in grape shortages, and therefore, wine shortages. They might need to expand their operations, production, and storage facilities. They might take on investors or add wines with sourced grapes from vineyards that aren’t theirs. In many cases they might just sell part of the operation, or the whole thing. This happens quite often, given the sums that wineries sell for. As an example, Constellation Brands (a mega-conglomerate) bought the Meiomi label from Joseph Wagner (a member of the Wagner family that produces Caymus, Belle Glos, and several labels) for $315 million in 2015. I don’t know too many people that could pass up a pay day like that.
When someone sells part or all of their winery, they often take the money from the sale and start new wineries or new labels. They use the lessons they learned from their first foray into wine production and avoid those same pitfalls to do it better and with more of a focus on their passion — making great wines. These wines often fly under the radar, except for the eye of the serious collector or industry professional. These passion projects are highly coveted and sought after, but equally hard to find. I’m going to share a piece of this inside information with you.
The Seghesio family sold their winery in 2011 after getting hit with a massive back tax bill. The family had built a reputation for producing some of the best zinfandels on the market and were known for their single vineyard releases. Free of the legal entanglements and restrictions of operating the Seghesio winery operations, Pete and his wife, Cathy, and their sons, started leveraging the family’s long history in the Sonoma winemaking community, the relationships that they had established, and the wealth of knowledge they had accumulated over several generations, to work with other families and produce small production wines at a very high quality level. Many of these wines will be at the Seeing Red Wine Festival this year.
One of these labels is Journeyman Wines. A fitting name for a family that has had a long journey in the wine industry. They are utilizing the winemaking facilities from their previous Seghesio winemaking facility, cutting edge technologies and methods, and grapes from some of the area’s best growers, to produce some small production wines. There will be a chardonnay (660 cases produced), and a single vineyard pinot noir (66 cases produced), at the festival. These wines would be welcome at ANY dinner table and/or as an addition to a cellar.
Another label is San Lorenzo, an homage to Pete’s family’s history in California winemaking, and a zinfandel, which is what they were known for. This vineyard was owned by Pete’s mother’s family and was planted in the late 1800s. It creates low yields and very high-quality fruit. This is the second year that they have made these wines and will be showing a single vineyard zinfandel (425 cases produced) and Pearl red blend (108 cases produced). Add these to your “must try” list.
This next one is an example of those that have worked behind the scenes and are now stretching their wings. Murder Ridge is the collaboration of vineyard owner Steve Alden, whose family sold fruit to the Seghesio family, and winemaker Leslie Sisneros, who has worked for Ch. St. Jean, Rodner Strong, and Kendall-Jackson. With a 13-barrel production of four wines, this is sure to be another cult label that a passionate collector would appreciate.
This last one is Cornerstone. Founded by Randy Dunn and Phillip Titus (of the Titus family of wines), it is a small production cabernet sauvignon winery. They focus on producing high-quality, cellar-able cabernet from some very select vineyards. They have utilized their history and relationships in the region to achieve this goal. Here is a fantastic tidbit that should make your mouth water and pique your interest, their consulting winemaker was responsible for the first 12 vintages of Opus One. And their head winemaker has worked at Lindstrom, Keever and Scarecrow. With limited production, this is another can’t miss winery that will be shown at the festival.
All these wines are made in the vineyards, produced in the cellars and crafted with love. They are examples of wines that have vintage fluctuations, as opposed to manipulated grocery store wines that taste the same from vintage to vintage. They are family owned wine labels versus the corporate, mega-conglomerates. These are wines that may not even make it into each state, let alone restaurant or wine list. These are for the true oenophile, and I am sharing them with you.
I hope that I helped you narrow down your focus for this year’s festival, encouraged you to go outside your comfort zone, try new wines and continue learning about wine. If you are interested in these wines, you can reach out to the people at my favorite wine bar, Ji•Shi Ki•chn. I’ve tried to highlight some of the small, family-owned labels that I encourage everyone to support and shared some of my industry knowledge with you. Thank you for trusting me with your palates and enjoy the Seeing Red Wine Festival.
Tom Ward is the owner and operator of ATL Vineyard Express wine tours in Atlanta, Ga. He has worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years and has his Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification. Ward loves sharing his passion for wine with those who want to learn more.
Visit the website at ATLVineyardExpress.com