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.”
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Striking Wine Blends
Priest Ranch, 2015 Napa Valley Grenache Blanc, 14.8% alcohol, $22. ★★★★
What makes this a standout is its yin yang —-- its bright stone fruit and its lush texture. It’s refreshing with its crisp acidity coupled with great minerality. Notes of melon and pear. Finishes crisp. Gorgeous.
Magnolia Tribute, 2015 Healdsburg Museum Bordeaux Red Wine, 14.4%, $39. ★★★★: It’s not surprising that this bottling is so tasty when you find out it was crafted by Longboard Vineyards. It has generous fruit, concentrated notes of blackberry and black cherry, with snappy black pepper spice. It’s edgy, yet supple —-- quite a feat. (The bottling was produced to honor the historic Magnolia Cannery that once stood on the Longboard property. Eight dollars of every bottle sold benefits the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society.)
DeLille Cellars, 2014 Columbia Valley Red Wine, 14.3%, $48. ★★★★: This is a merlot-based blend so its forte is its supple texture. It has aromas and flavors of both black and red fruit that marry well with toast and spice. The blend has nice acidity and its well balanced. Pretty.
Bootleg, 2014 Prequel Red Blend, 15%, $35. ★★★1/2: This is a sassy red blend with notes of tangy cherry, a hint of caramel and black pepper spice. What makes this a tasty pick is its length. The cherry note lingers on the finish. The packaging is trying to appeal to the mMillennial, but it’s a solid wine for all ages.
Michael & David’s Freakshow, 2015 California Red Wine, 15%, $20. ★★★: This is an uncomplicated blend with generous fruit and edgy black pepper spice. It’s a user-friendly red, a solid quaffer for the budget-minded. The playful label and packaging plays to the mMillennial, but it’s a tasty blend and works for a broader audience.