Bordeaux-Style Blend, Firestone Vineyards, Paso Robles, Red Blend, Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Ynez Valley AVA

Our Wine of the Week: Firestone Red Wine 2016

So much about this post is divergent from our usual notions and stereotypes about wine. Red wine in the summer? Certainly. Do you not drink Rosé in the winter? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s a topic for another post. Our Wine of the Week being a budget-friendly, mid-week wine? Well, this just proves that good wine doesn’t have to break the bank. But the most surprising thing for us, is that our Wine of the Week this week is a…*gasp*…Red Blend from California. (Spoiler Alert: Wine Snobbery Geekery ahead.)

Don’t misunderstand. Many of the great wines of the world are red blends. Bordeaux? Red blend. Super Tuscan? Also a red blend. Côtes du Rhône? We’ve made our point. Nevertheless, stereotypes exist for a reason. California Red Blends have a reputation of being cheap, flat, and sweet; mass produced for the masses. And many of them are. And a lot of people like them. They just aren’t a style we typically prefer. To be fair, the Firestone Red Wine 2016 is from the designated Paso Robles AVA, so it isn’t technically a “California” Red Blend.

(Side note, designations matter. If you see “California” on the label, it means the grapes came from somewhere, anywhere in the vast state. The name of a county on a label means at least 75% of the grapes must come from that county, and if the wine carries a designated AVA name, it means 85% or more of the grapes came from that AVA. Why does this matter? Some regions have better growing conditions for certain grape varieties, a suggestion that the wine will showcase the characteristics of the terrier of the region, and be an overall better wine. Another topic for another blog post. We now return you to our regularly scheduled Wine of the Week blog.) 

Firestone Vineyard was the first estate winery established in Santa Barbara County. In the 1970’s, before even Napa had established worldwide acclaim, Leonard Firestone saw potential in the Santa Ynez Valley. (In case you are wondering, yes, Leonard is the son of Harvey Firestone, of Firestone Tires fame.) With 325 acres under vine, and a commitment to sustainable farming, Firestone produces an enticing portfolio of wines. Their red varieties include Bordeaux and Rhone grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, while their whites vines are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

The Firestone Red Wine 2016 is a classic Bordeaux-style wine, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We found it at wine.com (currently on sale for $14.99.) Here’s what we thought of it:

Yes, stemless. Don’t Judge.

A smooth and easy drinking red blend. Garnet color. Nose of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and smoke. On the palate, ripe raspberries, cherry, fresh blackberry, cherry cola, tobacco, spice, and smoke. Medium body, with dry tannins and bright acidity. Medium finish.

In addition to wine.com, Firestone Vineyard wines are available through the Foley Food & Wine Society website. 

What was your Wine of the Week?

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Family Estate, Family Winery, Placer County, Wine, Wine Country, Winery

Loder Vineyards

In Western Placer County, near where the suburban housing tracts meet the rural farms and ranches, the Loder family has a small parcel of wine grapes. Ron and Kathy Loder are long-time wine lovers. When they were raising their children, they had grassy fields for the kids to play and practice football. Once the kids were grown, Ron and Kathy decided to plant grapes and make their own wine.

Getting started wasn’t as simple as just planting some vines and waiting for them to produce fruit. Ron was serious about wanting to make good wine, so he contacted U.C. Davis; renown for their viticulture program; and asked for help. Ron and Kathy really, really wanted to grow Cabernet Sauvignon – their favorite varietal wines. However, the experts told them that their microclimate and soil were not suitable. Instead, they were advised to grow grapes more suited to the Mediterranean climate here – Barbera and Tempranillo, and interestingly, Cab Sauv’s parent, Cabernet Franc. In all they have about ¾ of an acre of Estate vines, and they also source other varieties from vineyards around Northern California.

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to visit and experience Ron and Kathy’s production. The group started with appetizers and wine in the Loder family home, and then Ron escorted us out to the vineyard for an educational tour. One of first things I noticed about Ron is his passion for wine growing and winemaking. Ron enthusiastically talked us through the process, from initial plantings, to waiting the three years before the vines produce wine-quality grapes, to harvest, crush, and production. While in the vineyard, he brought out his refractometer, the instrument used to determine the brix (sugar level) in the grape juice, and allowed each of us to have a look.

Ron is also a humble man, relating the story of his efforts to cheat the process and make wine with grapes from two years old vines. It was a complete failure, and they marked the bottles with an “F”. They still have a few bottles, just as a reminder.

After the vineyard tour, we moved on to the fermentation room and cellar. Robyn even had the chance to punch down some recently harvested grapes that were in the fermentation tank! Then, of course, we got to sample more wine.

Loder Vineyards is not a commercial production, but with the quality of their wines, they should be. Touted as “no headache wine”, Ron uses a minimalist approach, with microscopic amounts of sulfites used, and little other intervention. All of the wines spend nearly two years in oak before bottling. Just a few weekends before our visit, they had just bottled their 2016 vintage.

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A true “friends and family” production, the Saturday following our visit, they would host their annual harvest and crush party. We were invited, but already had plans to be out of town.

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Ron’s vocational background is in commercial building construction. As such, when they first started bottling wine, they used blue painter’s tape as labels; having an ample supply on hand. This tradition continues today, and Ron says if he ever does enter commercial production, his labels will be designed in similar fashion.   

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All of the wines we tasted were well made and complex. Fruit forward without being jammy, with smooth tannins and balanced acidity and oak influences. We tasted Estate Barbera and Tempranillo, some interesting blends such as Tempranillo-Cabernet Franc (Kent’s favorite) and a Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, Ron and Kathy have made connections in the wine world, and source Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, so they can make and drink their beloved favorite. We barrel tasted the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is already coming along, with promise to be a fantastic wine!

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We were honored to be invited to this event, and consider Ron and Kathy, and all of the other’s there that evening, to be new wine friends.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael