People often like to pose the question — if you could invite anyone from any point in history to dinner, but could only invite so many people, who would you invite? Sean Thackery is one of my people. Considered by many to be a maverick, a rebel and an eccentric — but also one of the most philosophical, intelligent, soulful and gifted people in the wine industry.
Thackery did not get a degree in viticulture or enology, he studied art history. His wines are made with his intuition, what his palate tells him and tips from his collection of ancient oenological texts (the world’s largest such collection in his opinion).
He has been making wine in a Bolinas eucalyptus grove for more than 20 years. The first wine he produced was a Cabernet Sauvignon, but quickly moved to other varietals. Today, Thackrey says he hasn’t bought a Bordeaux or a Napa Cabernet in 25 years. “They’re just too damn polite for me,” he says. “Why drink a wine that you wouldn’t like if it were a person? It’s like sitting next to someone and everything they say has to be so proper.”
Tastings of his wines reveal consistently powerful, intense flavors and rugged tannins — and there is a signature minty, eucalyptussy component as well. His wines are thought provoking and complex. Unlike almost every wine in the world, Thackrey believes his taste better the day after they are opened — and I actually might agree.
“My wines are like a person,” he says. “They talk, they change, they tell you something different every sip. They taste different from one day to the next, from one hour to the next. That kind of complexity is what makes wine interesting.”
Thackrey certainly has his followers and his critics. There are those that love his wines and others who do not — and many of his thoughts do not find a lot of acceptance from some in the industry.
His operation is quite small (3,000-5,000 cases annually), only recently adding a forklift and a bottling line. He didn’t learn how to make wine by going to UC Davis — and has both feet firmly planted in the art, only sticking his toe into the science (but understands it does have its place in the process). Thackrey often notes that there is no word for “wine-maker” in French, adding that if “chefs were trained the way wine-makers are, you would rarely eat out.”
Thackrey says that each time he gets back from harvest, he turns off the engine, opens the cab, and looks back at the truckbed stacked with grapes, tons of them, in hundreds of boxes. He just looks; and after a very particular moment of silence, says to myself, “OK, Sean, there it is. Do something.”
The first thing he does first is very interesting. After the grapes are picked, he lets them sit and “rest” at least 24 hours outside his home, a technique that one UC Davis professor says nobody else does today. Thackrey says the idea goes back at least to the Greek poet Hesiod’s book “Works and Days” (circa 700 B.C.).
“(Letting the grapes rest) is commonplace in wine literature until the middle of the 19th century,” Thackrey says. “That’s what impressed me about it. It’s a lot of work to do this, so they must have thought it was accomplishing some sort of useful purpose.”
Thackrey does use a machine to crush the grapes, but he pours the juice into open-top vats to ferment beneath the stars and eucalyptus trees — a technique that fell out of fashion more than 200 years ago.
Thackrey reads 7 languages. In addition to making wine, he is also creating an online archive of original texts that document the history of wine and wine making. He has personally transcribed all of these documents and the library currently contains about 100 transcriptions. He hopes this will be one of his huge contributions to the wine world, but his contributions go well beyond — and he is so deserving of more attention, respect and adoration.