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Good wines begin in the vineyard

April 26, 2011

We often hear winemakers say that good wines begin in the vineyard — unless they have great fruit they can’t make great wine. Unlike winemakers whose names become famous, the farmers who grow the grapes are hardly known. Let’s put our hands together, then, for winemakers like Tom Gore.
Gore has been giving Simi winemakers good juice for nearly his entire life, but you can’t even find his name on Simi’s web site. He doesn’t mind it, though — he says Simi winemaker Steve Reeder is effusive in his public praise.
Gore’s father was a grape grower and as early as 8 he was riding alongside his dad and even pulling leaves from freshly harvested grapes. He said his dad had to make a choice between growing grapes in California or growing chili peppers in Mexico.
“I’m glad he chose grapes,” Gore said. He never wavered from the desire to follow his dad and after a few stints in various California vineyards, he landed the vineyard manager job at Simi in 2004.
Even at 35 he has a good perspective of what he calls a “symbiotic relationship” between vineyard manager and winemaker.
“The relationship didn’t exist years ago,” he said.
The grape grower would harvest the grapes whenever he was told and generally without regard to the ripeness of the grape. The winemaker then took over. Today, the two work hand-in-hand and although they sometimes disagree over such things as vineyard yields and picking dates, they eventually come to a consensus. The winemaker has the final decision.
“My success is intrinsically based on how Steve makes his wine and how Steve makes his wine is based on what I do,” Gore said during a recent visit with us.
Simi has 600 acres planted in Alexander Valley that consumes Gore’s time and buys from other vineyards for the rest of the grapes. His goal is to bring uniformity to the various blocks of vineyards.
Simi has had its ups and downs. Zelma Long was once its winemaker and even Paul Hobbs and David Ramey worked there before moving along to make some of the most expensive wines in California. It was during this time that Simi bought the Landslide Ranch, a volcanic soil-based vineyard that produces Simi’s flagship meritage red. But those huge chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons lost a lot of their momentum. With the ownership now in the hands of Constellation, the wines are more distinguished in the hands of Steve Reeder, a former winemaker with Chateau St. Jean who perfected that property’s iconic Cinq Cepages.
Here’s what we liked:
Simi Winery Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($26). Fresh and generous apple and peach flavors with apparent sweet oak, butterscotch and mineral notes. A very aromatic wine that would do well with fish or chicken.
Simi Winery Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009 ($20). After a long hiatus, Simi is back in the pinot noir business with this new release. It’s a steal in a category that discourages consumers with lofty, $50 prices. It may be a simple wine but there is no argument with its pure fruit quaffability. Elegant with plum and cherry flavors and hints of coffee and spice. You would be hard pressed to find a better deal in pinot noir.
Simi Winery Landslide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($35). Another great value, this is a blend of cabernet sauvignon (80 percent), merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, petit verdot and tannat. The latter grape variety even at only 1 percent of the blend adds structure and tannin to the wine. We would add more, but that aside, this is an approachable wine with good balance. Dark berry and plum notes dominate the palate.
Wine picks
Festivo Mendoza Malbec 2009 ($15). You won’t find a better value in Argentine malbecs that this. Fruit forward dark berry and blueberry flavors, floral nose and a nice mineral note. Excellent for your summer barbecues when a crowd comes over. Festivo’s torrontes at the same price is also an outstanding crowd-pleaser in white wines.
Robert Arnoux Seigneur de Lauris Vacqueyras 2009 ($15). Arnoux is one of the largest producers of wines from this southern Rhone appellation and perhaps that is why he can make such an inexpensive Vacqueyras. Never mind, this is simply a great value: hedonistic, richly textured with ripe raspberry, sweet cherry flavors and a classic hint of spice. You will be hard pressed to find as good a value as this beauty.
Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($80). Celebrating its 20th vintage, this iconic giant from Chile is another homerun. Rich and concentrated, it shows off expressive blackberry aromas, balance and soft tannins. An immense wine, it performs best with beef and wild game.
d’Arenberg The Olive Grove Chardonnay 2008 ($15). This wine from the McLaren Vale of Australia sports aple and spice notes with a soft, buttery richness.
Brazin Lodi Old Vines Zinfandel 2008 ($15). Varietal aromas with generous raspberry and blackberry flavors. A nicely textured and fruit-forward wine suitable for backyard barbecues.

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