Ok, so I may be a bit late in writing this given the recent attention William Allen and his Two Shepherds label has received recently. I had planned on writing this immediately after visiting with Allen last November (and before Meg Houston Maker's praise and being named one of the Top 10 Hot Brands by Wine Business Monthly). Now I'm not trying to say I discovered Two Shepherds before anyone else, as David White, Fred Swan and Jon Bonné all beat me to the punch, or perhaps shepherded me towards Two Shepherds. Nevertheless, I think I'm still ahead of the curve because Two Shepherds is going to be a star. Not a big star producing tens of thousands of cases, but a star for fans of Rhône varieties.
Allen is doing something that I've tried to urge Colorado wineries to do. He is focusing his efforts by producing only Rhône varieties. Sure, he has thrown a kink in that philosophy with his trousseau gris, but other than that aberration, he uses grenache blanc, viognier, marsanne, roussane, syrah, mourvèdre and grenache to make inspired wines. Not only is he making Rhône varieties, but he is making them from the Russian River Valley (the grenache blanc comes from the Saarloos Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley). The Russian River Valley isn't exactly known for its Rhône varieties. Pinot noir, chardonnay and zindfandel, yeah, sure. Syrah, maybe. The other Rhône varieties, not exactly. Allen decided to stake his claim in the wine world by using grapes originally from a Mediterranean climate, but sourcing them from a cool climate. Oh, and he uses all neutral oak. No new oak to be found. He makes wines that show their sense of place and not a barrel's.
In the Russian River Valley, Saralee's Vineyard is one of the few, if not the only, vineyard to grow roussanne and marsanne. Saralee Kunde even budded over some of her vines to grenache blanc for Allen. However, the evening before I visited Allen, news broke that Jackson Family Wines purchased the 260-acre Saralee's Vineyard. The Kundes kept 80 acres of the property known as Kate's Corner. Needless to say, Allen was a bit worried about the prospects of losing one of the main sources for his grapes. Last time I spoke with him, he seemed confident that the new owners would keep his grapes and continue to sell to him. That's good for him and good for us! Allen also recently announced that he signed a contract with Saarloos Vineyard that will more than double his grenache blanc production.
A Bermuda-born software salesman by day, Allen's path to winemaking started with beer. Eventually he graduated to fermenting grapes in his garage and when he outgrew that space (as well as exceeding the legal limit for home winemaking) he moved his tiny winery into a custom crush facility. Two Shepherds is now housed at Sheldon Wines alongside Sheldon and Krutz Family Cellars. Allen has found time to sneak away to pour at events in New York and Paso Robles in between the sales trips that pay the bills. Humbled by the demand and enthusiasm he has seen for his wines, he slowly and carefully wants to build his production (currently at about 650 cases) to a more sustainable 2000-5000.
Allen does something else that I think more wineries should consider. He proudly describes his blends (Pastoral Blanc and GSM, soon-to-be-renamed to Pastoral Rouge) as his best wines and not simply a dumping ground for leftovers after the varietal wines are determined. He even dumped half of a barrel of marsanne because it didn't fit into the blend and wasn't up to his standards as a varietal bottling. The varietal wines are beautiful on their own, but the idea of blending is something that many of Colorado's wineries have yet to grasp. Too often leftover barrels get thrown together at the end. I love that the blend is the first concern for Allen.
And one final thing before I get to the wines. Allen isn't the kind of guy to claim that his wine is the best. He is also a blogger (see Simple Hedonisms) and tastes lots of wine. This is how winemakers get better. Sure, classes at UC Davis can help, but tasting is perhaps the most important thing. Yesterday, as I watched the In Pursuit of Balance seminars online, I saw Jamie Kutch say that he learned to make wine by tasting the best wines he could find. That's all the more impressive if you had the opportunity to try some of Jamie's pinot noir! Learning what other people do to make great wine is perhaps one of the most important things a winemaker can do to make great wine themselves. So when Allen was in Denver last December, I invited him and Michelle Cleveland, winemaker at Creekside Cellars, along with some friends over to my house. Both Allen and Cleveland shared their wines and shared techniques. Michelle gushed over Allen's viognier. Allen thought the Creekside Syrah was superior to his (imagine that, a Colorado Syrah!). Both were very good, but Allen's willingness and desire to expand his horizons will help him expand consumers' horizons. After all, how many people really have had a grenache blanc. I'd be willing to bet if you tried Two Shepherds' Grenache Blanc you'd want to buy more!
2011 Two Shepherds Vineyards, Grenache Blanc, Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
Lovely nose of lemons, limes and steely minerals with a slight hint of flowers. This is a beautifully crisp wine filled with limes, jasmine and a lovely saline undercurrent. The finish is long and leaves you wanting another sip. 13.8% abv Very Good/Excellent
2011 Two Shepherds Vineyards, Viognier, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
This screams viognier. Loads of flowers and tropical fruits jump from the glass. It is very smooth, yet tart citrus flavors complement peach and papaya flavors. This is a wonderful expression of viognier, but only 25 cases were made. 13.8% abv Very Good
2011 Two Shepherds Vineyards, Pastoral Blan, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
The original white blend was named MRV because it is a blend of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. The 2011 is 45% roussanne, 25% marsanne, 20% viognier and 10% grenache blanc and only 60 cases were made. This has the biggest and most complex nose of the three whites. There is an abundance of bright flowers and fruit; kind of like a fruit salad dominated by oranges, peaches and melons. The thing that gets me with this wine is the texture. There is great acidity, yet this wine has a wonderful oily texture that coats the entire mouth. The finish is exceptionally long. A beautiful wine that Allen made to age. 13.8% abv Excellent
2011 Two Shepherds Vineyards, Centime, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Allen decided to step into the "orange" wine fray with this wine. He cofermented marsanne and roussane with a 7-day skin contact and then added 10 gallons of grenache blanc wet lees to impart a light copper color to this unique wine. The nose is truly amazing. Candy and fresh bouquet of flowers come to mind. It is fat and rich in the mouth, yet still svelte. It tastes like a glass of white Rioja and a mouthful of salty jamón ibérico and melon together. Sadly, only 13 cases were made. 13.8% abv Excellent
2011 Two Shepherds Vineyards, GSM
This will be renamed Pastoral Rouge with the 2012 vintage. This blend consists of 50% grenache and 25% syrah from the Russian River Valley and 25% Mourvèdre from Alameda. This is a fun and bright wine. Lots of raspberry and strawberry aromas on the nose. It has good acidity and exhibits flavors of tart raspberries, chocolate and tanned leather. It is both heavy and light at the same time. The flavors keep ramping up on the finish. 13.8% abv Very Good
2011 Two Shepherds Vineyards, Syrah, Russian River Valley
This is pure red fruit and tart acidity. The meat, spice and sour cherry flavors combined with the supple tannins take my mind and tongue to Côte-Rôtie when I taste this wine. Perhaps the acidity will scare a few people off, but if old world syrah is your thing you might want to try this wine if you can get your hands on it. Only 50 cases were made. 13.8% abv Very Good
I also tasted a few barrel samples that I won't go into because they're unfinished wines. For 2012, the grenache blanc is seeing both a 70 gallon concrete vessel and stainless tanks. The 2012 trousseau gris is a fun pink/orange wine this is sure to intrigue.