A line was dropped from the wine column of March 9, 1983. The description of Kistler, a new California boutique winery, should have read: Kistler: This winery, which started with very high aspirations and prices to match, did well with its expensive but well-made vineyard-designated 1979 chardonnays. The 1980 chardonnays, released at very high prices of $15 to $20 a bottle, were terribly flawed, and should have been taken off the market. The 1981 chardonnays are much better, but made in a heavy-handed, highly oaked, maximum-extract style that lacks balance. Kistler's pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons are also vineyard-designated, and while they may have their supporters, their brutal tannin, massive constitution and raw, exaggerated feel in the mouth are neither worth their outrageous prices nor worth the wait that they obviously need.
NEW wineries, like all fragile shoots, need frequent attention if they are to survive. In California the new boutique wineries are not only feeling the stiffer competition of lower French and Italian wine prices, they are eclipsed by older and better-known California wineries as the fickle limelight of the press moves elsewhere. Several of these new wineries' releases have recently become available in local shops, so here is an alphabetical summary of new California boutiques and an evaluation of their offerings.
Acacia: Perhaps the most successful of the new California wineries, Acacia specializes in high-quality, expensively priced chardonnay and pinot noir, which have been well-received by critics and consumers. The winery produces both chardonnays and pinot noirs with specific vineyard designations, usually from Napa Valley grapes. The 1980 pinot noirs represent some of the finest of their type yet produced in North America. Its chardonnays, from both the 1980 and 1981 vintages, are immensely enjoyable wines with rich, deep concentrated flavors nicely complemented by spicy oak. Acacia's wines retail for $13 to $18 a bottle.
Buehler: This Napa winery specializes in three major varietals: sauvignon blanc, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. The results have been mixed, although the cabernet sauvignon seems to be the most successful. It is made in a huge, ripe, inky, concentrated style, which seems to require five or more years in the cellar to reach its full potential. The 1980 cabernet sauvignon sells for about $12 a bottle and is quite impressive, although it is not really ready to drink.
La Crema Vinera: Like Acacia, La Crema Vinera specializes quite successfully in pinot noir and chardonnay. Its wines are expensive ($14 to $16) and are identified by specific vineyards. Its chardonnays, especially the 1981s, are wonderfully rich, lush and flavorful. The 1981 pinot noirs are also quite impressive and made in an elegant style that may not approach the tremendous success of the pinot noirs of Acacia, but are nevertheless interesting examples of this fickle grape variety.
Flora Springs: Started in 1979 in Napa, this winery has produced some attractive, stylish, elegant chardonnays and decent sauvignon blancs. While good, they are not great wines and their prices of $12 to $14 do not qualify as spectacular values.
Kistler: This winery, which started with high aspirations and prices to match, did well with its expensive but well-made vineyard-designated 1979 chardonnays. The 1980 chardonnays are much better, but made in a heavy-handed, highly oaked, maximum-extract style that lacks balance. Kistler's pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons are also vineyard-designated, and while they may have their supporters, their brutal tannin, massive constitution and raw, exaggerated feel in the mouth are neither worth the outrageous prices nor the wait that they obviously need.
Newton: Newton's winemaker, Ric Forman, achieved well-deserved fame and success at Sterling Vineyards for his splendid merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. His new releases at Newton Winery, unabashedly expensive at $13 to $18 a bottle, are a mixed bag of mediocrities and triumphs. The 1981 chardonnay is excellent, as is the 1981 sauvignon blanc. But the 1980 merlot and 1980 cabernet sauvignon are quite simple, with tart, lean, meager flavors.
Pine Ridge: This new winery has done an exemplary job, with supple and delicious cabernet sauvignon and fresh, flowery, crisp chenin blanc. Pine Ridge's cabernet sauvignon, made from Napa Valley grapes, is quite attractive, and reasonably priced at $8 to $12 a bottle. The 1979 is very nice. But the real winner is the 1980, a beautifully made wine with an uncanny resemblance to a French bordeaux, most notably a pauillac. Pine Ridge also produces chardonnay. It is made in a lean, elegant style that is above average in quality, but certainly not in the top league.
Saintsburg: A new winery in Sonoma County whose first two releases--a 1981 chardonnay ($9), which is a cleanly made wine in an easygoing, fruity style with no pretentions, and a light, watery, rose-colored pinot noir--will not inspire many consumers to search these wines out. But the chardonnay is, in fact, a decent value.
Vichon: The labels are pretty, and the wine is bottled in expensive burgundian light olive glass. But the wines, all chardonnays, are quite mediocre, with tart, unyielding flavors and excessive acidity. The Vichon chardonnays are expensive, at $12 to $15.
William Wheeler: My first exposure to this new wine was a bottle of marvelously fat, ripe, richly textured 1980 chardonnay from Monterey County. Since then, I have been unimpressed by a bland, one-dimensional, somewhat flat 1981 Monterey County chardonnay and a vegetal, yet fruity, 1979 Sonoma County cabernet sauvignon. WINE BRIEFS
Wine enthusiasts visiting France this spring, summer or fall should not leave without a visit to Paris' top wine bar, Willi's (13 Rue des Petits-Champs, telephone 261.05.09). The wine list is impressive, with an outstanding selection of high-quality French wines in all price ranges, as well as the best selection of Rho ne wines I've seen anywhere. In addition, its bistro-style cooking is generous and skillfully prepared . . . and its bathrooms are home to some of the most interesting and sensual wine art you will ever see. Willi's is moderately priced and quite small, so reservations are a must.