2003 Blackstone Winery Sonoma Valley Red Blend
Mission Codename: Uncommon Law
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Acquire an exclusive red blend from our new friends at Blackstone Winery
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Blackstone Winery
Wine Subject: 2003 Sonoma Valley Red Blend
Winemaker: Gary Sitton
The Sonoma Valley AVA is one of the oldest wine growing regions in California with the first vines being planted in the early 1800s. The AVA is located along California Route 12 and its eastern boundary are the southern end of the Mayacamas mountains. The unique micro-climate with less rainfall and fog than other parts of the region along with its unique soil provides ideal growing conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varietals.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dense dark purple and almost black with a dark inky heart. Along the edges the color remains dense and when swirled groups of tightly packed colored fat legs descend to the wine below.
Smell – Rich and bold with aromas of ripe spiced and jammy black-fruit are layered over a smokey oak base. Herbal and tobacco hints and a touch of wild fennel and black licorice add to this wine’s meaty gamy nose.
Feel – Smooth and rich, this dry full-bodied wine has medium firm tannins that coats the palate. Add to that its balanced acidity, spice and minerality – creating a chewy textured and warm feeling wine.
Taste – Plush jammy and juicy fruit including blackberry and black plum lead off this bold fruit forward wine. White pepper and mild cayenne pepper (and other exotic spice) along with cedar box, earth and smokey oak adds complexity to this inviting wine.
Finish – Long and lingering flavors of bold and rich black fruit with a touch of spice and smoke. After the fruit fades, a touch of spice and minerality clings to the palate begging for another sip.
Conclusion – The 2003 Blackstone Winery Sonoma Valley Red Blend will instantly appeal to lovers of bold and rich California-styled fruit forward wines. Jammy and spiced fruit with subtle spice and minerality makes this wine both easy to drink and very food friendly but not lacking in complexity and character.
SUBJECT: Gary Sitton
DATE OF BIRTH: 09/73
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bakersfield, CA
WINE EDUCATION: Masters V&E, UC Davis
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: I started out driving tractor and pulling leaves in the vineyard. That gave way to my first winery job, working at a small Mom and Pop winery named Sommer Vineyards (3,000 case). It was there I developed a love for Sonoma County, it’s rich agricultural heritage, and the culture, people and lifestyle of the wine industry. From there I went to work in the cellar at Ravenswood, during the harvest of 1999, as I was pursuing my Masters degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis. I worked at Ravenswood from Sept 1999 until the Spring of 2007 when I took over the head winemaker role at Blackstone.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: I don’t subscribe to the more is better philosophy of oak, butter (malolactic), etc. I strive to make varietally correct wines which are representative of place. And because I am first and foremost a wine and food guy, I look to produce wines with good acid balance and structure, that favor finesse and complexity over power.
SIGNATURE VARIETAL: Merlot: it’s my goal to make Merlot sexy again. I feel many consumers have been sold a bill of goods about Merlot. It is a fabulous grape, which if managed properly can produce world class wines.
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Oddly enough it’s not an accolade, or wine score, it’s the people I’ve worked with throughout my career, from grape growers, to my teams at Blackstone and Ravenswood.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”It’s my goal to make Merlot sexy again”
AGENT RED: Greetings, Gary. We are thrilled to be showing your wine today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
GARY SITTON: It’s my pleasure. The greatest enjoyment I derive from winemaking is sharing the wines with people.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
GARY: People fall in love with wine in different ways. For some people it’s an epiphany after tasting a specific wine. For others it’s a memorable event which involves wine. For me, it was an unintended immersion into the Sonoma County wine industry. I stumbled into it through marriage…my wife Jill was born and raised on vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley. I started out driving tractor and pulling leaves in her family’s vineyard. That gave way to my first winery job, working at a small Mom and Pop winery named Sommer Vineyards (3,000 case). It was there I developed a love for Sonoma County, it’s rich agricultural heritage, and the culture, people and lifestyle of the wine industry. From there I went to work in the cellar at Ravenswood, during the harvest of 1999, as I was pursuing my Masters degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis. I worked at Ravenswood from Sept 1999 until the Spring of 2007 when I took over the head winemaker role at Blackstone.
RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?
GARY: That’s a very difficult question to answer. I’ve learned different lessons at each stop in my winemaking journey. Starting at a small 3,000 case winery gives you the opportunity to do everything, from manual labor, to retail sales, to accounting, to winemaking. It gives you a great breadth of experience and perspective. My time at UC Davis gave me a great foundation to build upon, understanding the science behind grape growing and winemaking. My time at Ravenswood gave me a deep appreciation for how wines are affected by place, and it taught me to value deeply the relationship I have with my grape growers. And, my time at Blackstone has been an opportunity to synthesize all these components into my own wine style.
RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
GARY: I don’t subscribe to the more is better philosophy of oak, butter (malolactic), etc. I strive to make varietally correct wines which are representative of place. And because I am first and foremost a wine and food guy, I look to produce wines with good acid balance and structure, that favor finesse and complexity over power.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
GARY: I would have to say it was Joel Peterson and the entire winemaking team at Ravenswood. As I said above they gave me an immense appreciation of place and its affect on grapes and the resultant wines.
RED: How long have you been making wine?
GARY: It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been making wine now for 14 years.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
GARY: At the end of the day I make wine first for myself, but always with an eye on the end wine drinker. What I mean by that is if you make wine by consensus, trying to please everyone, you will seldom produce a distinctive high quality wine, and the wines will often lack consistency. So I first make wines according to my taste, which incorporate specific elements depending on the who will be drinking them. For instance, if I am making a bottle of $10 Blackstone Winemaker’s Select Merlot, I will be making a wine that is intended to be more fruit forward, with an emphasis on a soft/supple mouthfeel, which can be drunk right now. If I am making a $20 bottle of Sonoma County Merlot, I will be making a wine that while fruit forward, will have more structure and tannin.
RED: Tell me, what makes Sonoma County so special?
GARY: The diversity of the growing regions, soil types, and microclimates is what makes Sonoma County so special. We do Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (from Russian River, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Carneros) equally well as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Valley). This diversity really lends itself to the production of many distinctive, unique wines.
RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
GARY: Be true to yourself. This goes along with the question above as to “who you make wine for”. At the end of the day you have to be confident enough, and comfortable enough in your own skin, to know you can’t please everybody. While sharing my wines with people is the most rewarding part of my job, it can also be difficult when people don’t like necessarily resonate with them. I guess that’s what I mean when I say you can’t make wine to try and please everyone. I feel the most distinctive, consistent, and high quality wines are made by people who have the confidence to make wines according to their particular vision.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
GARY: We are still working on the 2009 vintage wines: getting them into barrels, through malolactic fermentation, and put to bed before the Christmas Holiday, and a much deserved break.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
GARY: The wine we are featuring today is a 2003 Proprietary Red Blend of 52% Syrah, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Malbec. The wines are mainly from Les and Judy Vadasz’ vineyard in Sonoma Valley, which lies in the hills west of Sonoma. The Syrah from this vineyard has smokey, meaty aromas, as well as some pepper spice, with a rich full mouthfeel. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds aromas and flavors of currant, and black cherry, as well as some notes of cedar and tobacco, while the tannin structure adds length to the finish. And the addition of Malbec adds some additional breadth and weight to the mid-palate of the wine.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
GARY: One of my favorite meals this time of year is pot-roast, cooked at a low temperature all day, until the meat is falling apart, with wine root vegetables. This wine is fabulous with this meal. It goes equally well with grilled steaks or lamb, or even hearty pastas.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
GARY: When I was fresh out of college I spent a brief stint as an aspiring professional soccer player in the US and abroad.
RED: What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
GARY: This is one of the most common questions I receive as a winemaker, and I truly must say I do not have a favorite. It’s a bit like asking someone what their favorite song, or type of music is. For me it is determined by the weather, the food I’m having, and my mood. I love equally French Champagne, Rhone wines (from Syrah based to Grenache based), Bordeaux, California Zinfandel, Sonoma County Merlot, Rose… you get the idea.
RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
GARY: I recommend approaching wine boldly and without being afraid to experiment. Forget about wine scores, high prices, and all the romance of the wine industry, and start trying things you haven’t tried before. You will try some things you don’t like, but in the process you’ll learn what you do like, and you’ll be awakened to so many knew things. And even more importantly you’ll begin to appreciate the value in wine…that you don’t have to pay $30+ to get a great bottle.
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
GARY: I truly can’t point to a single wine which I would choose above all others.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
GARY: Thanks, Red!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of Blackstone Winery’s tasting room in Sonoma can be seen in this satellite photo.
The location of the in Blackstone Winery’s tasting room in Monterey can be seen in this satellite photo.