When a wine company makes a lot of wine and sets a high standard for the grapes it uses, the logistics can be daunting.
Finding high-caliber grapes in sufficient quantities is tricky. Are they planted in the right soils and climates? Can they make it to the winery in time to be turned into fine wine?
Then there's the task of dealing with lots of wine on a year-to-year basis that provides consistency in the style of wines that large brands must deliver, especially in the face of differing vintages.
Although they differ in the amounts of wine they produce, two of the best larger wine brands in America are Kendall-Jackson and Bonterra. The parallels are interesting, and the wines are pretty much stellar and excellent values.
Both wine companies are environmentally sensitive. Since last year, Kendall-Jackson's 10,500 acres of vineyards have been 100% certified sustainable by two groups, Sustainability in Practice and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
And the wines of Bonterra, a brand of Fetzer, are 100 percent from organic grapes.
Moreover, at the head of each winemaking team are longtime industry veterans with great track records for making wines of impeccable balance, varietal character, and real personality.
K-J's Randy Ullom not only handles the majority of final decisions from a large team of top-rate winemakers, but he also spearheads a major international effort that deals in wines from many other countries.
Bonterra winemaker Bob Blue, who has long worked with Fetzer's brilliant Dennis Martin, now handles a line of wines that has grown to nearly 350,000 cases a year and has improved the quality of every wine in the line despite some of the most nightmarish scenarios an organic grower can face in the last three very cool years in California's north coast.
Ullom is blessed to be beneficiary of the late Jess Jackson's vision that only coastal fruit can make great wine. That idea led Jackson to acquire vineyards in Lake and Mendocino counties in the north, Santa Barbara in the south, and virtually every wine-growing region in between.
Trucking grapes to a central winery can be hard on the delicate aromatics in many varieties, so K-J has wineries all over the state to minimize harm to the fruit.
Bonterra faces a similar problem and has solved it elegantly. Because organic farming of grapes is still a risky venture, few of the state's vineyards are so certified, making Blue's job that much harder.
Moreover, Blue dislikes forcing harvested grapes to make long truck trips to the winery, which could cause deterioration to the delicate fruit. So all of the fruit he gets from the company's loyal organic farmers comes from a 26-mile radius around the winery, located in the western hills south of Ukiah.
As a result, all of Bonterra's wines come from Lake and Mendocino counties.
The two brands' wines are remarkably consistent and improving despite the last three vintages of cold weather. And everything is reasonably priced.
K-J's Vintner's Reserve line, basically priced below $20 a bottle, includes some remarkable finds, such as the flagship wine, 2011 Chardonnay ($15). This new release is sprightly and fresh, with nuances of oak aging and superb balance.
Also stellar is the winery's new 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly from Sonoma County ($19).This delightful wine is so young it won't show how excellent it is until at least a year from now.
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