This is Day 3 of a series for Robert Biale Vineyards commemorating 25 years of their dedication to preserving historic vineyards. It’s not just about growing wine grapes for the Biale team. It about history, people, wine grapes, terroir, and the best use for all of it. Yesterday, I attended the Robert Biale Vineyards’ Vintage Review Tasting. (I’ll also blog about this event in the future.)
A New Generation ~ the Founding Partnership
by Dave Pramuk, Co-Founder of Robert Biale Vineyards with Robert (Bob) Biale
Aldo Biale’s long held dream was to produce a premier commercial wine from his Zinfandel vineyard. Finally in 1991, with the coming of age of his eldest son Robert, a new chapter began to unfold.
It was in the winter of 1991, when Robert (Bob) Biale, with little experience in the areas of legally commercial winemaking or marketing, called a meeting. Bob summoned a dinner meeting with friends, to gauge interest in a joint wine venture. Winemaker, Al Perry (who Bob was working with at Beringer Vineyards) and Dave Pramuk (lifetime schoolmate, and winery-direct salesman) soon agreed to form a partnership with the Biales. The goal was to produce a premiere wine from the Biale family vineyard.
The fledgling winery’s first bottling was Zinfandel harvested from the Biales’ oldest vines. It was made in the garage of a small winery on Spring Mountain, in October of 1991. As a tribute to Aldo Biale, who had preserved the vineyard his whole life, the wine was named “Aldo’s Vineyard,” and amounted to 415 cases.
A New Twist on an Old Success Story
Initial tastings with consumers and sommeliers in Napa Valley, the Bay Area, and Southern California garnered instant interest and recognition, as a serious new entry into the Zinfandel category. Most of the production was sold to a small mailing list. Then, tastings at the new Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) event in San Francisco garnered strong interest from distributors nation-wide. Bob and Aldo’s careful vineyard selection, from its unique Oak Knoll District source and Perry’s introduction of Burgundian techniques and barrels, were a new twist on Zinfandel’s story. And the young winery’s reputation for a more elegant, balanced, pure, and sophisticated style, for this time-honored Californian variety, was quickly established.
As the succeeding vintages progressed, the winery moved its modest operations to a leased winery in Napa’s Vaca Mountains. Other historic vineyard sources were also added to the production mix. In 1995 Biale was producing as many as five different vineyard bottlings, and being recognized as a new shining star in Zinfandel from the following vineyards: Aldo’s Vineyard, Old Crane Ranch, Monte Rosso, Falleri, and Valsecchi. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and the San Francisco Chronicle were publishing praise, and the wines were being snapped up by a growing mailing list. Perry crafted the winery’s first Petite Sirah in 1995 – an inky, dark and lush blend of two rare old vine vineyard lots, and the winery’s following for that once ubiquitous, heritage variety began to build.
The Winery’s Permanent Home
In 1991, having rented space for operations for so long at three different facilities, the Biale partners begun a search, in order to invest in a permanent winery home. They wanted a vineyard property. It had to be in an ideal location in Napa’s Oak Knoll District, and one became available. The partners were able to fulfill their dream. They would be able to construct a winery, establish a new source of estate grapes, and offer Napa Valley visitors a place to discover the pleasures of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. After a lengthy process of permit applications and winery design, the winery moved into its new home in 2005.