I don’t believe I woke up one morning and said, “Geez, I think I will make wine in Napa Valley.” The making of my own wines wasn’t an instant inspiration. My desire to make wine came over time; from enjoying a particular taste of wine and the challenge to see if I could make a wine the way I wanted it to taste every time. I will admit that the idea grew quickly after I started my wine distribution company and decided to explore the opportunities and relationships I had cultivated over the years in Napa Valley. I went back to my wine counselor and friend Didier Loustau of Loustau Wines (he is also the founder of ToutSuite Social Club and Cork Wars, which I will write about in future posts) in Napa Valley for more advice. I said to Didier, “I think I want to make my own wine.” And after a bit of conversation he said “why don’t you talk to Brian Nuss and see if he would make wine for you.”
And I remember, exactly, the day that I met Brian Nuss, his wife Lori and their son Tim. It was a dinner party at Didier’s home on Halloween 2010. I had been in San Francisco for a real estate meeting and I had traveled for the first time up to Napa Valley and went to Didier’s house. Didier is trained as French chef and has worked at some really great restaurants in his career. He was preparing dinner that evening for his birthday party. That evening I had the privilege and delight to meet the Nuss family, and also John and Michelle Gretz. Lucky for me, John is Director of Wine Education for Shafer Vineyards. We had a delightful evening. I was seated next to Brian at dinner and he had brought a 2005 Vinoce Cab Franc for the dinner (his label) and it was really my first encounter with Cab Franc and it was just marvelous. I recommend that you try it.
As Didier suggested, I called Brian and asked him about making wine together and he immediately, and thank goodness, said “yes.” He then began to tell me all of the things that I thought I knew, but really didn’t…but needed to know about making wine. Those beginning conversations were about getting a name for the wine, getting the label designed, approved and printed…in addition to the information about how to actually start the wine-making process.
I will share with you that just the task of selecting a name for the wines falls into the category of the “things that I thought I knew but didn’t.” I thought to myself, what can be so tough about this name thing? So one Sunday afternoon I sat down with a legal pad and my laptop, and wrote down some names that I thought I liked. At this point I need to mention that, naturally, you can’t use a name that has already been used by someone else, thus risking rejection by the U.S. government or a lawsuit by the offended party. So I started out using the names of my grandchildren, kids, my wife Emilie, holidays, local and national landmarks, etc. I then ranked them according to my favorite and best sounding names. I had about 20 names written down and was pretty cocky about the whole process. After all I was now a vintner and making wine. Well needless to say it didn’t take long for me to get yanked back to reality. My Google searches revealed that every name that I had listed was taken and then some. It took about a month and 75 names before I came up with Glenwood Cellars. There was someone who had registered the name but had withdrawn it and never used it. Truth be known, I live on Glenwood Park Drive and have a wine cellar. Pretty sophisticated right? Thus goes the wine business.
The first wine we made with Brian was our 2008 Glenwood Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. I explained what I wanted the wine to taste like and he said he would take care of it. And he did. It was very similar to his award-winning Twenty Rows Cabernet. The first vintage we produced was 112 cases. With Brian we also make a Sauvignon Blanc under the Glenwood Cellars label. Brian makes the wine and we both put our labels on the wine. It is a great Sauvignon Blanc…it does not have that standard grapefruit earthy taste that is common to a lot of Sauvignon Blanc wines. Ours tastes of melon with a hint of green apple to it. I believe it to be just a delightful Sauvignon Blanc.
My friend Didier has rescued me more than once in the world of wine. After our Glenwood Cellars wines were bottled, Didier and I were having a wine conversation and he mentioned that he wanted to introduce me to Sean Larkin of Larkin Wines. He said that Sean made a good Cab Franc and he might be interested in doing a red wine for me. Didier fired off an email to Sean introducing me and telling him my story and my wait began for a response. We finally spoke on the phone a number of weeks later and agreed to explore the possibilities in front of us. Sean provided me with a sample wine that he had made called Grand and we used that as the base for our first vintage of the 2008 Tiedemann Signature Series Red Wine.
To me, Brian and Sean are interesting to watch in action. Brian is of Italian heritage and Sean was born in Scotland. Both make outstanding wines; each makes a Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Each relocated to Napa after working in the construction industry. Brian’s business operation is a lot larger and more sophisticated, while Sean’s business is smaller and more of an entrepreneurial driven business model. You need to know that according to the Didier “the national pastime of Scotland is to be cheap.” That trait carries over into Sean’s operation, and it serves him well.
In our next post, we are going to talk about the three wines we make with these two outstanding winemakers. Stay tuned! Cheers!