Healdsburg winemaker crafted HBO's official 'Game of Thrones' wines
With all that wine consumed in the Seven Kingdoms the past eight seasons — whether sipped or sloppily guzzled — North Coast superfans of the HBO smash hit Game of Thrones might wonder what type of wine characters Tyrion Lannister or Lady Olenna might drink.
What wine appellations might be found in Westeros and Essos? How does the wine palate of a King’s Landing nobleman differ from that of Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell?
Healdsburg winemaker Bob Cabral spent a lot of time pondering such questions, after HBO asked him to craft the official wines of the epic fantasy saga, a pop culture phenomenon that’s become the most watched series in the network’s history.
On the eve of the climactic finale Sunday night, Cabral recalled with a bit of giddiness — he is himself a big fan of the adaptation of the best-selling book series — how he overlaid California and Oregon grape-growing regions onto fictional growing territories that are home to flesh-eating wights, murderous clans and fire-breathing dragons. Cabral partnered with Vintage Wine Estates to produce four wines for HBO — a cabernet, chardonnay, red blend and most recently a pinot noir.
“The wines kind of represent the show — there are kingdoms represented in those wines,” Cabral said. “That’s what gives me the creative spark to be able to translate that to the show itself, those (real life) appellations to kingdoms in the show.”
Cabral said it was during the grape harvest of 2016 when he first met HBO marketing representatives at the Santa Rosa offices of Vintage Wine Estates. He said Vintage chief executive Pat Roney had been in talks with HBO, but the network still hadn’t picked a winemaker.
It was early evening and Cabral had just finished a day of pressing out some pinot he was making for his own Bob Cabral Wines label. Wearing jeans and an old concert T-shirt, Cabral cleaned up a little to meet the HBO representatives, but was still covered in grape skins and seeds from digging out tanks and dumping pomace power-washing equipment.
“I think some skins or a seed or something came off of my clothing and landed right on his sleeve. It kind of broke the ice,” Cabral said. “It was kind of like, ‘Well, this guy is a real winemaker. He’s got skins and seed all over him.’”
The first three wines, introduced in 2017, were the cabernet, red blend and chardonnay, the qualities of each matching Cabral’s perception of the climate, terrain and gourmet and not-so-gourmet offerings of George R.R. Martin’s fictional landscape.
Cabral started with The North, which he envisioned as a rough, cold land with not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, a place where preserved food and hunted meats are the staple. With that in mind, Cabral began putting together a red blend from the Paso Robles area, using varieties like petite syrah, tempranillo, malbec and a little bit of nebbiolo.
“Then, to kind of bring out the fruit a little bit, we found some Lodi Zinfandel,” he said, adding that as you moved south in the story’s setting of Westeros, toward the middle of the kingdom, the weather gets nicer — offering more fresh fruits and vegetables and opportunities for lighter wines.