Carl Kanowsky: Industry giant steps into boutique wine business

Ryan Hughes, estate manage of the Spire Wine Collection, and the wines poured at the tasting.. Courtesy photo
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In 2016, according to Wine Spectator, Kendall Jackson produced over 4 million bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir. This count does not include other varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc, etc. Some internet sources peg K-J’s production at 12 million bottles per year.

Long before he died, Jess Jackson, utilizing the income from this mammoth amount of wine, had a plan to acquire significant wineries at a variety of price points to supplement what Kendall Jackson offers. As a result, Jackson Family Wines Collection now boasts wineries in California, Oregon, Australia, Chile, France, Italy, South Africa, as well as the prestigious Spire Collection. Along the way, Jackson bought or obtained controlling interest in two of my favorite wineries, Siduri (champion-class pinot noir at reasonable prices) and Brewer-Clifton, producer of some of the finest chardonnay around.

Composed of 18 wineries (from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino County, Oregon, Australia, and Bordeaux, France), the Spire Collection’s members are establishments that individually are remarkable. Renowned names like Cardinale, Verite, Lokoya and Chateau Lassegue, along with up-and-coming places like Maggy Hawk, Capensis and Gran Moraine.

The setting in Napa Valley for the Spire tasting. Courtesy photo

After that amazing tasting that we enjoyed with Chris Pisani at ZD (covered in my last column), we then travelled to the tasting room (off the Silverado Trail) for the majority of the Spire Collection. There we met Ryan Hughes, estate manager for the Spire Collection.

Ryan’s journey to representing high-end wines is a decidedly unorthodox one. You see, Ryan was Swoop, the Philadelphia Eagles’ mascot, for 12 years. He talks about that time fondly, but his heart drew him to California and his love of wine to Napa.

He then began the tasting of some fine wines in the Spire Collection.

We started with the 2014 Zena Crown Conifer Pinot Noir from Oregon. It presented unlike most California pinots, with a bright bouquet and a powerful finesse, but not a strong berry flavor. Not a fruit bomb – more European in style. At $75/bottle, one to consider but I recommend you taste it first if possible.

Another pinot followed, the 2014 Maggy Hawk Unforgettable. A contrast to the Conifer, this Anderson Valley red is very fruit forward. A strawberry/cherry nose, the wine is full-bodied and tannic. I would give this a couple of years to see what develops.

Then came the 2011 Arcanum, an Italian Super Tuscan with 77 percent cabernet franc. Ryan decided to test us by serving it to us blind. I was able to guess that it was red. Ryan was blown away by my skills of perception. Terry had to show me up, of course. She opined that it was an Italian wine, not sure of the varietal. As is often the case with European wines, it will shine with food, especially something hearty like a ribeye steak.

Stepping up the price ladder at $125/bottle was the 2013 Single Block Mt. Brave, a project of the much-acclaimed Chris Carpenter, also either the current or past winemaker at Cardinale, La Jota and Lokoya (quite an impressive resume). It’s 100 percent Mt. Veeder fruit and spends three-plus years in barrel before it is bottled. All cabernet sauvignon, it is heavily perfumed with aromas of black fruit, especially blackberry. While heavily tannic (which will likely dissipate over time), the fruit flavor is outstanding and beautiful.

My next column will cover the final four of this amazing tasting.

© Carl J. Kanowsky
June 20, 2018

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