Behind the Wine: Two Shepherds of Sonoma
All photos by Emma Criswell.There is a funny thing about latitudes, no matter where you are in the world, similar crops grow similarly well if they are at the same latitude. Just look at Oregon’s Pinot Noirs, or England’s venture into sparkling wine for examples. In Central California, there is a group of winemakers who refer to themselves as the Rhone Rangers, and pride themselves in perfecting long cultivated Rhone varietals syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, marsanne, roussanne and viognier. One winery, however has chosen to work on perfecting the expression of grenache gris and grenache noir before creating the best expression of any other grapes.
Founded in 2010, Two Shepherds Winery is owned and operated by William Allen in Sonoma County, California. Originally a part-time, garagiste operation, Allen expanded Two Shepherds from 175 cases in 2010, to 1000 cases in 2014 by way of demand. As a wine writer and blogger, he dabbled in making wine that people loved. When the clamor from friends began to steadily increase, and the interest to expand to seven grape varietals was unyielding, Two Shepherds was born. The winery’s goal is to create wines that are vinified in the traditional style, using natural yeasts, neutral aging vessels, and most of all, that evoke a sense of place. In staying with the French aesthetic, Allen’s wines are crafted with higher acid levels that lend toward food pairings and induce mouth watering. However, all of these wines can easily be enjoyed on their own with the exception of grenache blanc, which requires food to be properly enjoyed.
A man who still has a day job, Allen says the sometime 7 day work weeks are necessary to keep his passion going. Launching a crowdfunding campaign with the moniker “Escape Gravity,” Two Shepherds is hoping to escape the gravity that tends to pull small wineries under water during their first years. Will this be the new way to fund wineries of the future? It’s certainly inspired, and so are the wines. I was able to taste a lineup consisting of three very popular wines from the catalog.
Grenache Gris 2013
The easiest drinking of the group, Grenache Gris has a nose of coconut meat, lime and vanilla giving way to a bright, light wine on the palate with medium acid, baking spice, fuji apple, and clementine notes.
Santa Ynez Grenache Blanc 2013
A friend who tasted with me put it best: “This white, is the existential white of the bunch.” This is a rich, beautiful wine that needs no food pairing. It’s unfiltered and straw yellow in the glass. On the palate, bitter almond is dominant, giving way to an extremely herbal bouquet of fennel, anise, menthol, vanilla and oregano. On the palate, again the herbal notes are prominent; fennel is the star of the show here with a lengthy and strong finish.
Pastoral Rouge 2012
A blend of 40% grenache, 25% syrah, and 30% mourvèdre, this is definitely a food wine. At 12.5% alcohol, Pastoral Rouge screams with acid, and certainly needs fat to create a rounded tasting experience. In the glass, the wine is cherry red with flecks of purple, a black pepper laden nose giving way to deep, rich cherry, scrub grass and Italian spices with a hint of purple flowers. On the palate, there is a burst of iron rich, bloody flavors characteristic of the Rhone region, with a hint of dried hibiscus. The finish is smooth and lingering, beautiful.