The 12th century French philosopher Bernard of Chartres is largely credited for the saying, dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants; an allusion to the belief that when one (modern) is carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of those who’ve come before us (ancients), they are able to see more and reach farther.
It was with this spirit that college friends (and whiskey buddies) Birk O’Halloran and Karl Antle created their label, Iconic Wines. To this day, a near decade into their adventure, their core mission remains intact: make wine we want to drink. Balance, focus and complexity, as any winemaker will tell you, is an achievement in and of itself, and Iconic Wines delivers.
California born and Colorado raised, winemaker O’Halloran attended Cornell University’s Hotel Program, where wine went from a subject of study to his career choice. He continued his studies at the International Wine Guild and landed his first wine gig, actually breaking ground to help build three wines shops for various owners. That sweat equity would lead him to a small import company called Acid Inc., where he spent eight years transforming the outfit into a national operation. Throughout his travels, he built an astonishing network of wine industry mentors and wine grape growers…this would lay the foundation for Iconic.
As for his winemaking philosophy, O’Halloran sees it more as a patchwork of philosophies borrowed from all the winemakers he has had the pleasure of working with over the years, including both Californian and European mentors. His goal always is to produce a delicious finished wine over any single, strict winemaking philosophy.
To that point, they chose the name Iconic for their winery to aspire and establish a new benchmark for California wine. And as their palate would have it, Iconic Wines was founded on a love of Chardonnay.
And they produce some great ones…
Their first vintage was 90 cases of Chardonnay in neutral oak barrels, and was named Heroine to capture its grace and elegance, while still reflecting the powerful terroir of California. They put a true American art form – comic book art – on the label (more on this later); and when it sold out in six weeks, they knew they had something beyond a pet project on their hands…it was time to go all in and get real.
The Hero Series (chardonnay, zinfandel, pinot gris) was envisioned with one idea in mind, to make great wine. The Sidekick Series (chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot) represents the finest wine they could create at everyday drinking value.
About the wines…
Since its debut in 2010, Heroine Chardonnay has been their defining wine. Like its predecessor, Heroine Chardonnay 2017 is sourced entirely from two blocks of the prestigious Escolle vineyard in the northern stretch of sunny Santa Lucia Highlands, which was planted in 2008. The vineyard retains a remarkable amount of acid yet balanced by the concentration of the Santa Lucia sun. Both fermented and aged in neutral French oak, Heroine Chardonnay 2017 shows the remarkable range of the varietal; in one moment clean and crisp, the next moment round and full. Green and golden fruits anchor this wine, in both aromatics and palate. Approximately 400 cases were made. And priced under $30, it performs like a wine situated much higher up the ladder.
As stated earlier, the Sidekick Series represents Iconic’s everyday drinking value wines. With fruit carefully selected from various vineyard sources throughout northern California, these wines, both chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, are indeed trustworthy in their pursuit of everyday reliability, offering freshness and fruit-driven satisfaction.
Sidekick Chardonnay 2018 serves as the go-to white wine. Like Heroine, bright fruit and minerality are the combined focus. Stainless steel vinified, it’s fresh and lively, with a racy acidity and dazzle-the-senses finish. There’s an eagerness to this wine that sets the stage for the big sister. It’s priced around $18 and holds its own.
Not to be outdone is the Sidekick Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. This particular wine is sourced from various sites in the Lodi California AVA, a wine region of great acclaim for its reds, particularly zinfandel and cabernet, as well as Anderson Valley fruit further north. Sidekick Cabernet 2017 is also fermented in several stainless steel vertical fermenters. After a maceration and pump-over phase to dryness, about a third of the wine is then aged in new French oak for a minimum of six months. Final blending is done a few weeks before bottling. The result? A rich bodied, red fruit focused wine that screams California greatness. There’s no jam or green vegetable characteristics getting in the way…just solid cabernet sauvignon purity that is sure to please, especially those seeking one under $20.
With spring here, Iconic has its own rose’ wine ready for the season. Secret Identity 2019 is a beautiful blend of seven red wine grapes. Of course, if I told you what they were, it wouldn’t be a secret. But Iconic will tell you that the name Secret Identity comes from the desire to make the best dry rosé for the buck they can, while not being trapped by tradition. For the record though, the wine is produced with fruit sourced from the Sierra Foothills, Clarksburg and Mendocino. The average vine age is over 20 years old, with a portion of the vines nearly 85 years in age. The beautiful color, enveloping aromatics and refreshing palate make this rose’ a great choice for the sunny months ahead.
And finally, as mentioned before, there’s Iconic Wines cool and oh-so-fitting labels. To capture (in label) the imagination, inspiration and excitement they have for their wines, Iconic turned to American comic book artist Cliff Chiang, whose artwork has been hailed for its fluidity, nuance and style; and with a resume of clients that include DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, GQ Magazine, Lucasfilm, Warner Animation, and the ACLU, his work speaks for itself.
So go for it…climb on a shoulder of inspiration and have an Iconic wine…
Until next time, Happy Vino’ing!