The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2010

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Page 106 of 112

WINE NEWS Wine as a Study W inemaker Sandi Belcher’s relationship with wine began, inauspiciously, at 15. She hated it. “I thought it was awful. I’m sure it was something really bad,” laughs Belcher, who with her husband, vineyard consultant John Arns, owns St. Helena, CA–based Arns Winery. Fortunately for wine-lovers, Belcher was later exposed to the wines of Europe while traveling, which seeded a career path she pursued after graduating from the College of William and Mary in her native Williamsburg, VA, and later at the University of California, Davis. Of course, given the industry and social cli- mate of the early 70s, the notion of becoming a critically-lauded winemaker was not a forgone conclusion. The opportunities for California winemakers, let alone women winemakers, were few and far between. “The industry was nothing, you know,” Belcher reflects. “There were probably 15, 20 wineries locally in Napa County, probably fewer in Sonoma.” Belcher worked abroad for a spell, immersing herself in the grape-growing regions of France and Germany. Upon her return to Napa Valley, Belcher began an extended professional association with Long Vineyards, where she created white wines for 27 years. Concurrently, the long-held ambition to team with her husband and launch Arns Winery came to fruition in the early 80s. By then, Belcher’s acumen as a winemaker had developed to such an extent that she could assess the Brix count of a grape merely by taste. “They would say, ‘Sandi, taste this and tell us what the Brix is,’ and I never missed in 20-some odd years. It’s like your favorite spaghetti sauce—the more Sandi Belcher of Arns Winery. SANDI BELCHER OF ARNS WINERY HAS LEARNED BY DOING by Daedalus Howell you taste, the more you know what you’re looking for.” Taste is just the beginning for Belcher, who brings not only her sensory faculties to bear, but a philosophy as well. “You look through a wine. A wine’s a study, and the study begins out in the vineyard,” Belcher says sagely. “If you pay attention to your vines and listen to what’s going on there, that will tell you what’s going to happen when you harvest your vines.” The winery itself is a study in economy. Built on the same acreage as the Arnses’ vineyards, 800 feet above the valley floor and just below the Howell Mountain appellation, the winemaking facility is a stone’s throw from the couple’s 19th-century home. Though quaint by industry standards, it proves more than adequate when one uncorks a bottle of Belcher’s supple estate Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. “We’re an estate grower—everything grown, produced and bottled right here where we sit,” Belcher says with a smile. This September, Belcher will proudly shuffle the patio furniture aside and bottle her 2008 vintage. Vindependence CLOS DU VAL SPARKS A BUYER’S REVOLUTION “We decided to take a stand, as a winery and as individuals,” says a determined John Clews, chief winemaker for Napa Valley’s Clos du Val winery. “People are tired of overly oaky, highly alcoholic wines and, moreover, being told that these are the very wines they are supposed to like. Now is the time to do something about it.” This vinous Declaration of Independence reaffirms Clos du Val’s commitment to independent thought. “To demonstrate how important our customers’ opinions are to us, we are proud to be the first winery to ask consumers for their personal review of our wines, which we will feature in point-of-sale materials for advertising campaigns nationwide,” announces Tracey Mason, Clos du Val VP/Marketing. For more info on the movement, go to Ask not what your winery can do for you; ask what you can do for your winery. In an independent move, Clos du Val asks the consumer to write reviews. 106 / the tasting panel / september 2010 PHOTO: RYAN LELY

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