A few weeks ago, I was out in the Dry Creek Valley for a couple of days. I stayed at Grape House, the wonderful Bed and Breakfast at Goodkin Vineyards on Dry Creek Road. On my first evening there, Donald Goodkin organized a tasting with a few of the growers/vintners in the Valley.
After the introductions, it was time to get down to some tasting. The assembled crew had decided the best order to taste the wines that they had brought over with them. We first tasted through Erik Miller’s Kokomo Winery bottles, then two wines from Gerry Pasterick and the Vineyard of Pasterick, and two wines from Ray Teldeschi of Del Carlo Winery.
The last winegrower to present his wines was Barry Collier of Collier Falls. Over the course of the evening (first the tasting at Grape House, then dinner at Dry Creek Kitchen), I did not really get a chance to talk to Barry all that much, which is a pity since his joie de vivre (French term) is infectious and he seems to have countless stories to tell. I was able to glean (through a bit of research), that much like the property where he grows his fruit, Barry’s life has been full of peaks and valleys.
He was involved with the Veg-O-Matic in the early 80’s, dabbled in the real estate market at the wrong time (20%+ interest rates tend to make selling properties complicated), and built a film company that concentrated on made-for-TV movies. Just as that industry was going to meet its fate (networks–including HBO and Cinemax–were starting to produce their own films in-house, rendering production companies somewhat obsolete), Barry and his wife Susan decided to move north, to the Dry Creek Valley, to grow grapes and produce wine.
Collier Farms is located at the warmer end of the Valley and the vines are above the fog line, both factors contributing to a very hot climate and fruit that lends itself to the bigger, juicier style. The wines were well received from the start and as a result, Barry and Susan were gradually able to plant more vineyards and increase production.
Then, another unfathomable valley occurred in 2004, when Susan was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the central nervous system. Sadly, Susan died in 2007.
By all indications, Barry, as has been his history, is climbing back up to another peak. He has been growing grapes now for the better part of two decades, and at 72 years old, he is still out on the tractor nearly every day (which certainly makes me jealous–I come from a family of farmers, but I have never driven a tractor, much to my chagrin). Both of his sons are now part of the business and he is in the process of increasing production again.
Right before trying the Collier Falls wines, I stated that I was a fan of Zinfandels with more restrained fruit, wines that have some age on them, where you can appreciate the nuances. Barry did not hesitate:
“Not me! I like my Zins just the opposite: big and bold.”
I guess that sums up Barry fairly well (given my limited time with him)–I doubt few would describe Barry as shy and demure–he is big and bold. He has an eagerness to laugh and to add to a conversation (particularly when it will lead to more laughter). He is not afraid to disagree, to do things his own way, but he seems always willing to listen.
He speaks in a charmingly disarming way–he was in no way challenging my preference, but simply stating his own. Neither was “right” nor “wrong”. In fact, if I had to choose one word to describe Barry, it would be difficult, but “charming” would certainly be near the top. His enthusiasm for his wines and life in general is infectious and you can’t help but be drawn in.
We tasted a Zinfandel and a Primitivo–Barry pointed out that many people feel that they are the same variety, but from opposite sides of the world. I am not sure if he set out to conduct an experiment of sorts (as a researcher, I am always on the lookout for “experiments”), but he planted some Primitivo in between a few rows of Zinfandel. Therefore, the two varieties grow in virtually the same conditions, soil, sun, elevation–all essentially the same.
Barry assured us that the plants were very different in appearance, leaf shape, and most important, grape cluster. The Zinfandel vines produced tightly clustered berries, while the Primitivo cluster was more spread out, allowing air to circulate and decreasing the chances of mold. According to Barry, there is no doubt that the two varieties, while perhaps related, are nonetheless completely different.
Completely different as well.
We tasted the two side-by-side and the contrast was striking. The 2010 Collier Falls Zinfandel ($36, with just over 300 cases produced) was aged for 22-24 months in 1/3 new American oak and 2/3 in once used barrels, and then one year of bottle age before release. The wine is big and jammy, with dark and brooding fruit, certainly more of the “classic Californian Zinfandel” (89-91 Points). In the other glass was the 2009 Collier Falls Primitivo ($36, less than 200 cases), which came from a terraced vineyard with 30-40% slopes. When compared to the Zin, it was more restrained, earthier. There was a meaty component that really called out for a nice slab of beef, preferably right off the grill. Even though this was already five years out, I would love to see how this develops in the next five years (90-92 Points).
The evening did not stop there, though. We headed down the road to Healdsburg for a wonderful dinner at the Dry Creek Kitchen, where there were several more bottles and countless stories. I thought about trying to take notes, but only for a few minutes. I think it was Gerry Pasterick who said something to the effect of:
“Put that away, it’s dinner time.”
That might have to be my new motto.