Brown Estate Vineyards, Napa Valley - The wheels in my head began to churn when I read the March 31, 2000 issue of Wine Spectator. In the Upfront section, where the faces of the world's leading food and wine icons (like Paul Draper, the Mondavis, Angelo Gaja, and Julia Child) have found themselves, I spotted the Brown family. The mini feature was entitled, "A Family Affair." (I was fascinated.) Patriarch Bassett Brown is a Los Angeles doctor with a family practice. He and wife Marcella acquired 450-acres in Chiles Valley in 1981, after abandoning their initial thoughts of farming in Bassett's native Jamaica. They planted their first Zinfandel in 1985, and since then have been selling the grapes to such esteemed nearby producers as Green & Red, and T-Vine and D-Cubed, whose winemaker, Duane Dappen, is making the Brown Estate wines.
I liked the sociological fact that as a people, we're becoming one in this business. But surely, I wondered, there's not just one African American family in the American wine world? There's not. The American dream is alive and well. The Browns are not the only family to turn a weekend project into an outstanding Napa Valley wine.
Bates Creek, Napa Valley - I first discovered Dr. Ernest Bates in March of 2001. When my husband Jose met with Tom Cline of Rodney Strong, Cline suggested that Jose contact Dr. Bates. Cline knew that Bates was looking for some marketing direction, and felt that Jose might be able to share his thoughts. Meanwhile, Jose and I were thinking of collaborating on a writing project as columnists... sort of like Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal, in reverse order.
Bates is an African American neurosurgeon and vintner, who is concurrently president and CEO of American Shared Hospital Services, a San Francisco publicly owned company, for which Bates is also the founder. We met with Ernest, and found a passionately intense, private man who's caught "the bug." In 1990, Bates moved into Napa Valley to get some peace and space from city life. When he bought nine acres of land set against the Silverado Mountains on one side, and the Napa River on the other, he believed that the wine bug wouldn't get him. A sail boat was definitely in his future, he thought. After all those years of intense study and specialized work as a preeminent brain surgeon, he would so appreciate those days when he would be gliding into San Francisco Bay from the north side. Once you've met Dr. Bates, you know that that's not going to happen in a million years. With so much life to live, and such a passion for excellence, the wine industry is a natural place to put his passion to use... and so Bates Creek was born. Dr. Bates refers to it as his "hobby."
Like all other vintners, Bates has another passion; it's a natural ingredient of the wine world's segmentation - fine art. As he produced his first Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, he contemplated a label. Ernest jokingly said that "the label art ended up costing me more than my Napa Valley juice."
Bates doesn't do anything in a mediocre way. He went to Benny Andrews, an African American artist born in 1930, who truly blossomed with the emergence of the radical 1960's. A time that was rollicking with unsettled race issues, Benny Andrews surfaced as a major national art force. Born in Georgia, Andrews was the son of a share-cropper family. As a child, he picked cotton on his father's farm. Today, Andrews is an acclaimed painter of people, a teacher, an author, and a lecturer. His work can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The Detroit Institute of Art; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; among others, including the Bates Creek's label. Andrews agreed to allow Bates to put his art on his label (after purchasing the original art, "Junk Yard Dog Blues"), as long as Bates agreed to produce high end wines. The mold was cast. In a month, you can visit www.batescreek.com for more details. Dr. Bate's Web site is due for completion at that time.
Vision Cellars, Sonoma County - E.G. "Mac" McDonald was born the son of a Texas Moonshine maker. His father, Sue, was considered by many to be the finest Moonshine maker in all of Texas, because he used fine grains to make corn whiskey. His mother, Elbessie, along with her brothers and sister, made wine from various fruits that they grew. Chuckling, Mac told me, "If it fell from a tree, they made it into wine."
Even though Mac grew up around distilled spirits and fruit wines, he says that he didn't develop a taste for either. It wasn't until he tasted his first Burgundy in 1965, that he fell in love with fine wine. It was then that Mac vowed to make a wine as fine as the one he tasted. His fervor for Pinot has taken him and wife Lil to Burgundy on many trips.
When it became time to create a label, the art reflected on Vision Cellars is African American imagining. It's a depiction of an African ceremonial mask, bringing the reflection of his roots to bare his souls in a comprehensive package of his winemaking.
Mac's wine comes from a small vineyard near Petaluma, CA, and in 1997 Mac released 400 cases of Pinot Noir. This vintage is an excellent example of a dream (or vision) fulfilled, "Vision Cellars." Visit www .visioncellars.com for more details.
Dr. Marvin Poston - Calistoga ophthalmologist Dr. Marvin Poston has been selling his grapes to Kirkland for the last 26 years. Dr. Poston was a graduate of U.C. Berkley in 1939. He quietly moved in Napa Valley, and has been growing grapes ever since. So, when Alan was asking his question about "Where are they?"... there was an answer, and has been for quite a while, including the Brown Family at the time Goldfarb was wondering.
Rideau Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley - Founded in October 1996 by a Los Angeles, African American businesswoman, Iris Rideau, produces Rhone varietal wines. Iris is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. She told me that she loves to host winemaker dinners at her winery. Coupled with her authentic Creole cooking for her food and wine events, this lovely restored historic Alamo Pintado adobe is a great place to visit. It dates back to 1884, and is one of a few two-story adobes in California. In March of 1995, when Iris bought the building and surrounding acreage, Iris's dreams came true.
Esterlina Vineyards and Winery - Formerly Pepperwood Springs Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Esterlina Vineyards is owned and operated by the Sterling Family. The 10-acre vineyard consists of seven acres of Pinot Noir and three acres of Chardonnay. The Sterlings' focus is Burgundian techniques in making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery also produces Sauvignon Blanc from the Ferrington Vineyard near Boonville, Zinfandel from Napa Grapes, as well as Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from the family-owned vineyards.
· 1 decade ago