Craig Becker considers Mother Nature his third business partner.
“You can either whine or dance with Mother Nature and I prefer to dance,” he said.
Becker produced our wine-of-week winner — the Priest Ranch, 2015 Napa Valley Grenache Blanc at $22.
What makes this bottling a standout is its yin yang — its bright acidity coupled with its lush texture. It’s refreshing with great minerality, and it has notes of melon and pear, finishing crisp. It’s gorgeous.
“My philosophy is that 90 percent of the effort is in the vineyard,” Becker said. “I consider myself a grower as well as a winemaker. I wear both hats.”
The grower realized cabernet sauvignon wasn’t thriving in this portion of the Priest Ranch property at an elevation of 1,200 above sea level. That’s when Becker decided to be “semi adventurous” and plant something out of the ordinary for the region — grenache blanc.
“I decided on the southern Rhone white because it’s an interesting clean wine with a flavor profile somewhere between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc,” Becker said.
Grenache blanc thrives on the site, Becker said, because it’s warm during the day and cools off dramatically in the night, with a 40-to-50 degree fluctuation.
Becker, who is also the co-founder and co-owner, was studying plant physiology and soil science at U.C. Davis in 1995 when he realized he didn’t want to become a professor or work in the biotech field. That’s when his girlfriend Courtney, now his wife, suggested he give winemaking a go.
Becker applied to be a tank sampler at Napa Valley’s Mondavi Winery and after he took a test, he was left alone for 45 minutes. He wondered what happened. Then he was told he scored 100 percent on the test and he was offered a position in the laboratory, right next to the room where the late Robert Mondavi and former winemaker Tim Mondavi tasted wine.
The lab work was Becker’s entrée into the wine world. It prompted him to study an extra year to complete classes on fermentation science and microbiology, graduating in 1997.
After toiling in the wine world for 20-plus years, Becker said his strength is experience. He said making grenache blanc isn’t challenging anymore, after years of experimenting to fine-tune its house style.
“With our grenache blanc,” Becker explained, “we don’t want to showcase the heavy-handed winemaker but the diligent vineyard work to let the crisp acidity be the star.”