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Wine

August Briggs Winery ~ Crafting One Bottle of Wine at a Time

The PS I Love You group that I founded, and am still its director, has turned me onto a lot of wineries that I may have never discovered on my own. This is because I’m now so wrapped up in the wine business that I don’t find as much time for exploring, outside of those who come to me for whatever reason; clients, members of the group, wine companies querying me because of the blog. There are lots of reasons and way too many options for me to have to go far to find someone to write about. My mother used to say to me, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” However true that may be in some instances, in others – like for writers – it breeds stories.

Having recently spent a day in Napa with Megan Kenney, whom you might recognize as Sonadora, I realized that it’s time for me to stretch my knowledge base and get out of a comfort zone I’ve snuggled into. I set up a day with Megan, primarily living within a group for which I had become very familiar. There’s no problem with that… Old friends are a great comfort, and visiting with them is fun and predictably. As I used to teach all my Girl Scouts, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other is gold.”

The epiphany I had was that I have about 70 wine companies and grape growers (combined), and have been drawn to the most active, because they’ve made themselves very available. But – honestly – not everybody joins a group for the same reason, and not everyone plays a very active role. They are, however, all there for the same reason, and that’s to support the cultivar and perhaps even gain some publicity along the way. Without a firsthand knowledge of each brand, my scope is very limited to those that I know best who stay within my peripheral range, and I’ve  decided that it’s time for a change.

[Left to right: Lyla Diaz with Spike, Sara and Andrew Helman, and August Briggs’s Arron Inman.]

I’m now going to be reaching out to those who have just quietly supported the group.  I want to know what makes each wine company so unique… I”m now going to be out looking for all their hooks.

Recently my niece Sara Helman told me that she and her husband Andrew were going to be visiting from Maine, and asked if I’d like to have them for a day. Are you kidding? I love having family come across country. It forces me out of my office and into the world I love so much… Wine Country.

I realized that it was time to get going with this new theory. The last time Sara and Andrew were here we visited wineries within 20 minutes of my home. It’s just so easy to do. This time, I decided to take them over the hill, and down into Napa Valley visiting those who would be in somewhat close proximity to each other, but ones whom I hadn’t yet visited.

There’s something very telling about a company with this kind of poster on the wall. I know I’ve never worked for any wine company that valued my time to this extent. There’s something to be said for a boss who understands it takes a village to sell a bottle of wine.

The day involved August Briggs, Vincent Arroyo, and Rutherford Grove wineries. If you love Petite Sirah, this is an excellent day trip that you could also do. You don’t have to only taste Petite Sirah, because each vintner also produces other varieties of wine… But, you can be sure to taste some pretty amazing Petites in the process.

First stop ~ August Briggs Winery, 333 Silverado Trail, in Calistoga.

When Joe Briggs began his winery in 2002, he had already been a winemaker for over 10 years.  Joe graduated from Fresno State in the early 80s, and then worked as a Pinot Noir specialist; first, at Alpine Vineyards in Oregon, and then at La Crema in Sonoma County.I’ve always been partial to La Crema’s Pinots. This might have been my first Pinot “aha!” moment, in the 1990s, when I first began to really love red wine. Then, working for Kendall-Jackson, I couldn’t wait for the tasting room to shut down for the end of the day selection of wine that happened among the staff. No wine was left there for the next day, because the policy was to only open fresh bottles the next day. This was the same ethos at Robert Mondavi Winery, and should honestly be for all wineries. Having customers taste wine a day old is just wrong for a lot of obvious reasons.

August Briggs Winery is a micro facility, with all equipment being much smaller than I really imagined. Having a new member of PS I Love You allows for me to read a few paragraphs about them when they become a member, but that’s not any where near the snapshot of their true reality. Visiting opens up a whole new reality that’s then jammed packed with important details. Walking though August Briggs’s small wine cellar drove home that this is an artisan winery. There’s just no other way to grasp this without seeing their wine making facility and equipment. It’s a micro winery at is best.

The winery is housed in a relatively small building that is one long barn. August Briggs Winery is the culmination of owner Joe Briggs’s dream, which began in 1995 with the production of the first wines under his own label.

Wines that we tasted this day that were my favorites (and I’ll only say this once, but you can thank Steve Heimoff for the scores, because he’s been wondering when I’d gives scores to wine that I taste):

2007 Carneros “Leveroni Vineyard” Chardonnay ~ (867 Cases) ~ $32.00

The Chardonnay for this wine comes from the Sonoma County side of the Carneros. (Do you know that the Carneros AVA is the only one to exist partly in Napa Valley, while the other half is in Sonoma County?) This wine exhibited tropical fruit aromas on the nose… like pineapple, honeydew melon… and a hint of minerality. On the palate, it was refreshingly round with delightful fruit that followed the aromas that were so enticing on the nose, and finished with a beautifully rounded vanilla and hints of toast. This is a Chardonnay that’s very special and worthy of the finest dinner parties. 91 Points

2006 Carneros Pinot Noir ~ (139 Cases) ~ $40.00

This fruit comes from the famed Sinskey Vineyard, also located in the rolling hills of Napa’s Carneros. The coolest part of Napa Valley, this area produces gorgeous Pinots, and this one is no exception. The soft cherry flavors tasted like a fresh bowl of cherries that had been gently mashed, like they were being prepared for a young child’s delight. Slight hints of blueberry and spice add to the delicious flavors of this wine. Coming from Dijon clones, the fruit was picked at 26.4 degrees brix, was hand sorted, destemmed, and the fruit was placed in small, open-top fermenters. The Pinot was then placed in Burgundian Barrels. All of these hand-crafting practices were the steps taken to produce the most beautiful of fruit. 92 Points

2005 Napa Valley “Page-Nord Vineyard” Syrah ~ (334 Cases) ~ $32.00

Saddle up your horsies, boys and girls, because this one’s true to that saddle leather thing going on with Syrah. This is a full bodied, not-a-bit-shy Syrah. The fruit comes from the middle of Napa Valley, so it’s got a bit of summer heat to add to the depth of its flavors. Dark purple with ripe juicy flavors, this Syrah deliver spice, chocolate, and black fruit on the nose, which segued onto the palate, finishing with rich, dark chocolate and black cherries. Barrel aged for 20 months, this Syrah is very enveloping. 90 Points.

Other wines to taste at August Briggs:

  • 2005 “Monte Rosso Vineyard” Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ~ $55.00
  • 2005 “Two Moon” Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Saugivnon ~ $55. 00
  • 2007 August Briggs ‘Old Vine’ Napa Valley Zinfandel~ $NA

This image is part of August Briggs’s Petite Sirah vineyard on their property.

2008 Petite Sirah barrel sample was extremely promising, and a treasure to enjoy while wrapping up our visit. August Briggs became a new winery to savor in my portfolio of PS growers and producers.

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