Our 5 Favorite California Producers of 2013

DSC_81562013 was a bit of a renaissance year for wine in California. With American writer and columnist Jon Bonné championing the producers of “New California”, many local wine-makers are producing restraint, elegance, and a sense of terroir in their wines. There has been an influx of new blood, with young guns exploring both experimental and old-world winemaking techniques. Finally, we are able to shop in a wine store and buy a bottle of California wine that doesn’t reek of oak, stewed fruit, or buttered popcorn. Instead we can find mineral, forest sap, chapparal, white flowers and stonefruits.

The year has also been particularly kind to me. Having left my technology career in June to launch Winelandia, 2013 has been a year of soul-searching, experimentation, sometimes failing miserably, 14 hour work days, and exploring things way outside of my comfort zone. Trying to find my place in the wine industry has been trying at times, defeating at it’s worst, and absolutely transcendental at it’s best. That being said, I would much rather ride the wine rollercoaster than the tech dump-truck any day.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2013, I have most certainly tasted more wines than ever before. Colleen and I take every opportunity we can to go to industry tastings and visit small wineries, unearthing every stone we find in hopes of discovering something new to share with you. The most beautiful thing about wine is the sense of discovery and the sheer joy felt when you take a whiff and a sip of a wine that moves you. That’s what we want to share with you, that feeling of pure love. Wine is love.

Below is a list we have compiled of some of our favorite California producers of 2013, in no particular order. Some of them you may recall from your wine club shipments, seen in local wine shops, or read about in articles in the Chronicle. Next time you buy some wine, look for these producers, because we feel they are making some of the best wines today in California.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJolie-Laide Wines
Winemaker: Scott Schultz
Region: Russian River Valley
Style: Scott only makes a handful of wines (so far), but they unusual, thought-provoking, and unique. We have seen a Russian River Trousseau Gris with texture and unmatched complexity, an elegant Syrah from Phoenix Ranch in the cooler part of Napa, and a super-clean summertime quaffer of a Pinot Gris from the famed Windsor Oaks Vineyard on Chalk Hill. The labels for his wine change every year, are as mysterious and beautiful as his wines. He is definitely a winemaker to watch; his wines are quickly gaining cult status amongst wine geeks and are insane quality for the price.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARyme Cellars
Winemakers: Ryan & Megan Glaab
Region: Russian River Valley
Style: Ryan & Megan (a young married couple) make some really delicious, affordable, interesting wines. The style is both experimental and old-world, much like Jolie-Laide (and wouldn’t you know it, they share a winemaking facility). Some of our favorite wines made by Ryme are their Carneros Pinot Noir – a fresh and juicy wine reminiscent of cru Beaujolais, and their skin-fermented “His” Vermentino – a textural and savory skin-fermented white wine. All of their wines are super clean and beautifully balanced. We can’t wait to see what they have to offer next.
DSC_8196AmByth Estate
Winemaker: Philip Hart
Region: Paso Robles
Style: A Demeter-certified (Biodynamic) estate, Philip and Mary Hart planted their vines in 2004. They make wines in a super-natural way, mostly of Rhone varietals. It can get quite hot in Paso Robles, but the location of their estate is directly in path of the cooling coastal winds coming through the Templeton gap. The day-to-night temperature fluctuations can sometimes swing 50F, which preserves the acidity in the grapes. They tend to pick on the early side, so their wines are very unlike any others in the Paso Robles AVA (which are usually very ripe). Very little, if any, SO2 is used in the production of their wines. While they aren’t cheap, their wines are built for the long-haul. They were recently picked up by a well-respected wine distributor, so you can expect to see more AmByth wines in local shops. We highly recommend the Priscus white blend and the Mourvedre.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALa Clarine Farm
Winemaker: Hank Beckmeyer
Region: Sierra Foothills
Style: Hank Beckmeyer follows the ‘do nothing’ farming methodology of Masanobu Fukuoka, and his wines scream terroir as a result. Hank works mostly with Rhone varietals, both from his own farm and purchased from other vineyards. I can remember the first time I tasted his Cedarville Mourvedre; that was a wine that changed and excited me. I never knew that a grape which usually produces a rich, powerful, and extracted wine could make a wine with such femininity and finesse. We also love his white wines, which have so much character they can taste totally different from day to day. La Clarine wines are the Everlasting Gobstopper of the wine world, and a crazy good value to boot.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPorter Creek Vineyards
Winemaker: Alex Davis
Region: Russian River Valley
Style: Alex Davis has been quietly making some of the best wines in California for as long as I can remember. This is one of the first wine clubs I ever joined, and for good reason. They make my favorite California Pinot Noir, as well as a value-priced Carignan that is rustic, juicy and food-friendly. We love their Zinfandel, rosé, Chardonnay, Viognier… heck, we love everything they do. Alex spent a good amount of time in Côte-Rôtie, and naturally he also produces a slammin’ Syrah which is co-fermented with a little bit of Viognier, just like they do in the northern Rhone. Porter Creek is very consistent, so it will continue to be an old standby for us.

Honorable Mentions:
Arnot-Roberts
Dirty & Rowdy
Two Shepherds
Deux Punx
Massican
Matthiasson
Hirsch Vineyards
Copain
Wind Gap