Posts Tagged ‘Rhone Ranger’

Light ruby red with a touch of copper in color. Cherry and strawberries with some spice on the nose and just a touch of pine/eucalyptus/spearmint. I could almost mistake this for a Burgundy or Old World style Pinot given the color and aromatics.

On the palate, cherry, raspberry, some pepper, licorice and spice. There is some nice graphite, mineral and earthy elements as well. Really nice texture and structure. Fruit is well balanced with ample but soft tannins and lively acidity — with a pure, prolonged finish.

Steve noted on July 14th that he thought “the ’05 Rocks and Gravel is showing pretty nicely at the moment (he had a bottle some ten days ago). My sense is that in 3-5 more years it should be really quite nicely developed, though it will hold for many years beyond that.”

14.2% alcohol (without a touch of heat). 1,340 cases produced. This wine retails at about $18-20 a bottle, but it can be found at $10.20 a bottle (case price) at daryl wine shop. The wine is an outstanding value if you can find it for less than retail and strongly recommended. It is one of the top 5 quality/price plays I have seen this year at less than $11 a bottle.

Edmunds St. John is one the wineries that I will continue to purchase with every vintage. His wines are honest, well made and express the virtues of the varietal and the place they came from.

More about Steve Edmunds and Edmunds St. John

Steve Edmunds started Edmunds St. John in 1985 with his wife, Cornelia St. John, in an effort to explore the possibility of producing world-class, European-style wines in California, using Rhône varietal grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Viognier, etc.

He quickly earned a lot of praise and by 1988, Robert Parker was calling Edmunds St. John perhaps the “finest practitioner” of Californians working with Rhone grapes. At that time, I was working at Bonny Doon Vineyard and was bitten by the Rhone bug and have probably bought some of Steve’s wines with each vintage since that time.

Edmunds is entirely self-taught and says he has only occasionally resorted to science in his 20-year career, “only when it was clear that I’d lose the wine if I didn’t, and not to create a particular effect.” As he explains on his website, “I’ve deliberately chosen not to court the market, i.e., the commercial context out of which so much modern wine is being formulated. I don’t always get it right, but what I do is done honestly.”

Edmunds has never bowed to the fashion or trend for oak and super-ripeness — and some may see this as being out of step. Parker certainly seems to have changed his opinion on Edmunds St. John.

In the August 2007 Wine Advocate (see issue 172), Parker took issues with Edmunds’ wine, reporting that Edmunds can no longer secure fruit from the same vineyards and also criticized his winemaking. Parker wrote, “What Steve is doing appears to be a deliberate attempt to make French-styled wines. Of course California is not France and therein may suggest the problem. If you want to make French wine, do it in France.”

It is worth noting that no such criticism was made against the Perrin family with Tablas Creek receiving praise in the same issue, and even comparing their wines to similar French wines. Parker applauded the Perrin family for their efforts to make French inspired wines in California.

In his notes, Parker claimed that Steve Edmunds hadn’t made anything good in recent years and called the 04 Rocks & Gravel a low brow version of a French Côte du Rhône and the 05 Bassetti Syrah to be an innocuous effort. The whole tone of his review seemed to take a very personal, negative and almost petty.

Response to Parker’s criticism has been very interesting, it includes a thread on erobertparker.com.

I can remember some wines from St. Edmunds that I thought were not his best effort — but that in part is a reality of wine making, there are unknown and somewhat uncontrollable variables from vintage to vintage. I think the ’05s I have tasted from Edmunds are wonderful. I’m not sure if they are his strongest efforts to date or if I appreciate his wines more, but I tend to think the answer is somewhere in the middle. The one thing I am quite sure of is that Parker missed the mark on his criticism of Edmunds.

It is worth adding that I did taste the ’05 Rocks & Gravel against an ’06 Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah Rhône blend from Australia at about the same price point. It is from a winery that Parker routinely praises for making French inspired wines in Australia and rated the wine 91 points. While I thought it showed a bit more fruit (which is, in my opinion, not a negative or a positive in and of itself). The wine showed quite a bit of heat, was a touch candified, and while it was a good bottle of wine, I thought the Rocks & Gravel showed quite a bit better.

In addition to being a great winemaker, Steve is also an accomplished musician, songwriter and a wonderful writer. He contributes to Vinography (I strongly recommend reading his posts) and his newsletters offer up insights on wine, winemaking and reflections on life.

The picture of Steve is from October 2005. He is standing in the receiving hopper waiting for the last bin of fruit from the vintage. The photo seems to capture the essence of Steve and also reflects the spirit found in his wines.

In short, I enjoy his wine and his writing. He really is one of this country’s treasured winemakers — and someone I would enjoy sharing a glass of wine with and I am certain it would include an interesting and thoughtful conversation.


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