Local Expert | Mark Luna
One year ago this month I wrote my debut wine column for this magazine. It has certainly been a rewarding experience for me and I sincerely hope you’ve found it to be worthy of your time as well, and perhaps even an avenue for you to learn about a whole new world of fun and interesting wines.
As this my second February wine column, I’ll forego the obvious “special day of the month” (Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody) and skip to a new day that I just discovered. National Drink Wine Day falls on Monday, February 18th. Nice way to start the week, right? It’s an unofficial holiday that’s celebrated annually all over the country and its purpose is to celebrate the joy and health benefits of wine. After all, wine has been around since the beginning of time and continues to play a big part in the experience of being a human being. So, to commemorate this new-found holiday, which apparently has been around forever, and in keeping with the spirit of last month’s article, New Year, New Wines!, I’ll introduce you to some terrific wines.
They say every great success story takes a good ten years to come to fruition. A great idea requires real time and planning, hard work and a little luck to become something tangible and sustainable. Brack Mountain Wine Company is one such success story.
Back in 2008, winemaker Dan Fitzgerald and vineyard owner Jason Enos were standing at the edge of Jason’s eponymous Enos Estate Vineyard when an idea struck them both at the same time. At that moment, give or take, Brack Mountain Wine Company was born. Fast forward to 2019, BMWC is now home to fifteen boutique wine labels, producing elegant, hand-crafted wines of delicious fruit, sourced from multi-generational farmers with small lands dedicated to sustainable farming practices. Located in California’s picturesque Russian River Valley, BMWC sources grapes for its wines from distinctive vineyard sites across Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Anderson Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands, as well as other cool, coastal regions in NoCal. Of their stable of labels, two that have caught my attention are Borne and Busca, both offering selections of the classical varietal kind and featuring the gorgeous fruit of both Sonoma County and Mendocino’s Anderson Valley.
A quick note about the winemaker, as I’ve always deemed it important to know something about the person who’s made the wine I drink. Dan Fitzgerald’s wine devotion actually began well before his career did, having lived in Europe for 13 years. Curiosity became a passion, and that passion became his trade. Returning to his native northern California, his winemaking career began in 2002. Eventually, he earned his bachelors of science in enology from Fresno State University, and would hone his winemaking skills at Williams Selyem Winery in the Russian River Valley, Coldstream Hills Winery in Australia’s Yarra Valley, and Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa Valley. He also became head winemaker at Pellegrini Family Vineyards, all leading up to his current role as partner and director of winemaking at Brack Mountain.
Borne is a label that honors the timeless varietals of Burgundy, France – chardonnay and pinot noir; and California’s truly ideal home for these two grapes, at least by Burgundy standards, is Mendocino County. One of California’s largest and most climatically diverse wine growing regions, Mendocino County is virtually the northernmost commercial wine grape region in the state, with two distinct climate zones separated by the Mendocino Range. It’s also worth noting that nearly 25% of the acreage in Mendocino County is grown organically, making it the leading wine growing region for organically produced wine grapes in California. In fact, in 2004, residents of the county voted to become the first GMO-free county in the U.S. in an initiative that was supported by many of the county’s largest wineries. Its widespread focus on organic viticulture has inspired journalists to describe it as California’s Organic Wine Mecca. The jewel of the region is Anderson Valley, one of California’s coolest wine growing regions, heavily influenced by the chilly Pacific Ocean fog coming in off the coast. Ironically, despite being called a valley, very few vineyards are planted on flat land, but rather on a series of steep hills that range in elevation from 800 – 1300 feet. Which brings us back to Borne…
Borne Chardonnay Anderson Valley 2015 is an outstanding, quintessential Mendocino wine, grown on steep slopes in cool climates. It’s both crisp yet full, elegant yet bold. Pale yellow in color, it also has a tinge of green on the rim and the aromatics offer up bright fragrances of citrus, wet stones and orange blossom. On the palate, you’ll find additional hints of briny oyster shell, hazelnut and even tangerine. Though aged in French oak, Borne Chardonnay Anderson Valley 2015 has a racy acidic quality, which complements its intended viscosity. It has a long, full finish and is worthy of a great meal, perhaps of white meats and assorted fish. As expected from its “boutique” background, less than one thousand cases were made. But, priced inside $25, you’ll certainly feel you got away with a great bargain.
Playing big brother to the chardonnay bottling is the Borne Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2015. Also hailing from Mendocino, this pinot noir is everything you could wish for from a northern California wine. Showcasing deep plum red tones in the glass, with fragrances of orange peel, red cherries and fresh peppercorn enveloping the nose, Borne Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2015 is a pinot lover’s perfect date. The palate is both bright and textural, with all the fruit notes transferring perfectly. There’s plenty of mouth-watering acid, making this an outstanding food wine. And like its chardonnay sister, it’s also aged in French oak, giving a nod to its Burgundy inspiration. Retailing around $25, you’ll be very hard pressed to find a wine from that area at that price…at least a wine that’s worth talking about.
And now we move on to Busca, another terrific label in the Brack Mountain portfolio. In addition to a great pinot noir, Busca also offers a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon, both wines coming from one of my absolute favorite places in the country, the Sonoma coast of California.
Sonoma County is one of America’s most important wine-growing regions, with seventeen of American Viticulture Areas (AVAs), all reflecting the very wide range of climate and soil conditions in the county. Cooler climate grapes grow exceptionally well in certain sections of the region while the heartier grapes thrive in the warmer zones.
Busca Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016 is a prime example of a great Sonoma County wine. Produced in smaller quantities, less than 500 cases, this is a Russian River pinot noir drinker’s wine, minus the AVA moniker on the bottle. It hails from the Vines and Roses Estate in the central RR Valley, and its clones are renowned for the low yields and very concentrated flavors and color. Deep plum red in color, the bouquet is brooding with fragrances of dark cherries, coffee bean scents, roses and distant tar. It’s well-structured yet bright, and the palate is alive with distinct flavors of black cherry and plum, with a little cigar box thrown in. In contrast to the Borne pinot, Busca Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016 is a more muscular expression of an otherwise lean and mean varietal…a different take on a grape that gives you a lot of different looks. Priced under $30, it’s a steal.
And finally, to the Busca Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Coast 2015, where Fitzgerald really showcases his winemaking skills. Cabernet Sauvignon can grow almost anywhere, but warmer climates is where it reigns. Obviously, Napa is cabernet country. That said, Sonoma very much holds its own in producing great “cabs.” Busca Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Coast 2015, while sourced a few stone throws away from Napa, is a wine grown rich in deep, dark volcanic soils, giving it power, yet great elegance, as the climate, while warm, is cooler than Napa. This allows the cabernet to express itself very differently than those from the neighboring, more famous area. Aged in French oak for 18 months, the tannins are present, but restrained. And the fruit is no joke – aromatically exploding with black cherries, plums, currants and graphite. The palate returns the favor, with some weight and pronouncement, while the finish is like a walk through a dark forest of red fruit trees. If you’re aching for a glass, you can head over to The Plains. There’s a nice Italian restaurant there serving it up.
As for the other wines here, check out the bottle shops in Warrenton and Clifton. Let them know you’re interested and they’ll get them for you, maybe even in time for Valentine’s Day and National Drink Wine Day, too.