Pete Hamill captured tension, beauty in simplicity, and childhood dreams and then juxtaposed them with the racial and social complexities of a New York borough when he wrote his powerful and moving novel Snow In August. Ten years later, this all came to mind as I tasted and retasted a different Snow in August, only this time it was the newest release from Loomis Family Vineyards (LFV).
The 2008 Loomis Family Vineyards Snow is complex to understand yet simple to enjoy, made from the unheralded and underplanted grape, Grenache Blanc. The wine evolves in the glass as it embraces its new oxygen and warming temperatures, and reflects a kaleidoscope of components that you can miss if you are not paying careful attention. The range of aromas include lemon, minerals, green herbs, sandalwood, cocoa, and nuts. The wine has a velvety mouthfeel, flavors of petrol and anise, and finishes not unpleasantly, but with a bite of acid and a long finishing coating in your mouth. As our tasting group reread our notes, we were perplexed by the range of flavor components that individually showed themselves over the half hour the wines were tasted, but in retasting the following week, the experience stuck. Unfortunately, only 25 cases were produced in 2008.
Jeff Loomis, visionary behind LFV, moved by his school days in Avignon in the early 80’s when his wine awareness and appreciation went into overdrive, concurs that Grenache Blanc can present a full range of complexity while remaining clean and easy to enjoy with light foods or by itself, but the trick is avoiding the fruit’s tendency to produce sweet honeyed style wine. Snow is just one result of Jeff, along with his wife and co-owner Jennifer, dedicating four specific blocks on their 135 acre Napa Ranch to Rhone style fruit, completing what began as a simple family weekend retreat comprised of Jennifer’s horses, a home created by Jeff’s school buddy Cape Cod architect, pond, tractors, Black Angus cows, sheep, native oaks, rolling hills and vistas, and the required black swan.
Full disclosure, I have been a friend of Jeff for over 15 years. His life has been one giant “Zag”, taking unorthodox approaches to wastelands of traditional thought and emerging on top in all cases. Jeff’s life of decency, self creation, and perseverance is one that I am not prepared to tackle here besides highlighting his remarkable 24/7 dedication to family, business, wine, and food in that order. LFV is only the most recent outcropping of his contagious vision which is reflected on the bottle of Snow.
When you reach the sky, turn left. At this heady elevation, on a single mountain estate, we set out to succeed where few have ever dared to dream. Growing a few rows of Grenache Blanc in California is rare enough, transforming this grape’s honeyed taste into wine with clarity and minerality is rarer still
The winery was established in 2000 and the first release was in 2007. Total production target is 375 cases and in 2008 they will produce 25 cases of Snow, 75 cases of a Fire (red), and 93 cases of Air (rosé). I had the chance to taste the 2007 Air, which finished in the top 25 of over 170 wines tasted in a SF Chronicle rosé tasting, and it was a pleasing crisp wine of muted flavors ranging across plum, white peach, and black licorice that lingers on the back of your tongue for minutes. The Loomis’, assisted by winemaker Tim Milos and vineyard consultant Roger King, are working four different Syrah clones, three Grenache Noir, and single clones of Mourvedre, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.
If you want to try some of these wines, and need a break from the overly extracted or rich wines that dominate the California release parade, I would suggest you move quickly and contact the winery at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is under construction but you can find them and some tasting notes on Facebook at Loomis Family Vineyards. These early wines are interesting and different, and the program should evolve based on the commitment that the Loomis’ are making, so securing a spot on the mailing list is not a bad idea.
If you like complexity that is easy to embrace, wines that can be paired with food, and bottled vision that tells a powerful story of simple pleasures, tension, and character like Pete Hamill’s Snow in August did ten years ago, then Snow is for you.