Friday, April 29, 2011

Meeting a Rhone Ranger and Tasting His Wines - Sherman Thacher from Paso Robles in California

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Rhone Ranger Sherman Thacher

The Rhone Rangers is a group of winemakers in the US that dedicate themselves to the grapes whose ancestral home is in France's Rhone Valley. I was happy to meet one of them – Sherman Thacher from Thacher Vineyards in Paso Robles, California – recently at Screwtop Wine Bar in Virginia.

WeinRallye #44

This posting is part of WeinRallye #44, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading "The Rhone – the River, the Wines, the Winemakers". Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. The first wine rally took place in 2007. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog. This month's wine rally is organized by Christoph Raffelt, author of orginalverkorkt.

The Rhone Rangers

The Rhone Rangers are a group of winemakers who promote the use of grape varieties from the Rhône Valley in the US. They are mostly based in the Central Coast of California, but also in other parts of the US. In particular, the Rhone Rangers are considered a catalyst in making Syrah more prevalent on the Californian wine landscape. In the 1980s, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard and Bob Lindquist of Qupé Wine Cellars began popularizing the marketing of the Rhône varietals.

The French government recognizes 22 varieties in the various appellations that comprise this large and diverse wine-growing region. Rhone Appellations, including Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu, Chateuneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Bandol and Cotes du Rhone each choose a different subset from the collection of these 22 grapes.

Picture: Screwtop's Owner Wendy Buckley with Sherman Thacher

The most common red Rhone varietals are Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, with Syrah predominant in the Northern Rhone and Grenache in the Southern Rhone. Other relatively common red grapes include Cinsault, Carignan, and Petite Sirah. The Rhone Rangers have also adopted Zinfandel as a "cousin" grape. The principal white Rhone varietals are Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, each found throughout the Rhone Valley, with Grenache Blanc a widely planted but less well known contributor in the Southern Rhone.

Paso Robles

Thacher Vineyards is in the Paso Robles American Viticulture Area (AVA), which is located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s central coast. More than 26,000 acres are planted to vineyards that provide fruit for Paso Robles wineries and others throughout the state. Today there are more than 170 wineries.

Thacher Winery

Since 2004, the Thacher Winery - with the grasshopper label - has been hand-crafting wines from vineyards found on the Westside of Paso Robles and in Southern Monterey County. It is a boutique winery that specializes on Rhone blends and Zinfandels. Currently, Thacher Winery produces 1800 cases.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Sherman Thacher

Thacher Winery is a family operation of Sherman Thacher and his wife Michelle. Sherman started as a brewer and became an award winning brewmaster; but he is now a very successful winemaker. “I may do something with apples and produce hard cider in the future” said Sherman. As a big fan of applewine from Frankfurt am Main, Germany, I am looking forward to this.

Sherman is buying all the fruit and “that will remain so” he said. He is no intentions of growing vine. This dichotomy between vine growing and wine making is very common in the US, but had to comprehend from an European perspective. “I will always buy – it is like buying different spices” said Sherman.

“I like to pick at 24.5% Brix, as most people in the region do” said Sherman. This equivalent to 103.3 degree Oechsle, and according to the German classification at the Auslese level.

The Wines We Tasted

Here are the wines we tasted, including winemaker comments.

Picture: The Thacher wines we tasted


100% Viognier from Hastings Ranch Vineyard, Paso Robles

This Rhone varietal is crisp with a nose of green apple and flavors of grilled pineapple. A very refreshing wine and great with anything spicy. This wine is clear and bright, with a medium lemon core fading to a pale lemon-gold rim. Legs are present, and are fast and thin. On the nose, this wine is clean, with medium plus intense developing aromas. These include candied lemon peel, jasmine perfume, ripe peach, rosehips, incense, tangerine zest, and banana candy. Very fresh and complex. On the palate, this wine is dry, with medium plus intense rich body, medium integrated alcohol, medium supporting acid and medium plus intense flavors. These include ripe yellow peach, peach skin, lemon drops, rosehips, baking spice, heavy cream, banana, pineapple and other tropical fruits. The finish is long with lasting richness attributable to a balance between a viscous body and a depth of ripe fruit. This wine is drinking wonderfully right now, and will hold for another 1-2 years before flavors mute.


100% Zinfandel from two westside vineyards; 85% Je T’aime Vineyard and 15% Hastings Ranch Vineyard.

This wine is clear, with a medium intense ruby core, fading to a pale ruby edge and water-white rim. Legs are medium and fast to form with faint saturation of color. On the nose, this wine is clean and developing. Aromas are complex and medium plus in intensity. They include Bing cherry, cranberry,dried cranberry, red currant, toffee, smoke, hibiscus tea, leather and oak spice.

On the palate, this wine is dry. It has medium intense structural tannin, medium silky body, medium plus spicy alcohol and medium acid.The flavors are medium plus intense, and include cherry cola, dried cranberries, baking spice, cedar, tobacco, baked berry crisp, molasses and vanilla. The finish is long, and has lasting ripe berry flavors balanced by piquant alcohol and tannin. This wine is ready to drink, and will age for 3-4 years before becoming fully developed.

2007 SYRAH

100% Syrah from Coast View Vineyard, Monterey County

This wine is clear and bright, with a deeply intense shiny purple core, fading to a medium purple rim. Legs are slow and sheeting, with saturated purple color. On the nose, this wine is clean and developing, with medium plus intense aromas of ripe black cherries, French roast coffee beans, vanilla, cedar, plum sauce, cocoa nibs, tar and cola. On the palate this wine is dry, with medium plus firm tannin, medium plus spicy alcohol, medium plus filling body, and medium acid. Flavors are medium plus intense, and include ripe black cherries, vanilla extract, cedar, roasted coffee, black huckleberries, cola, cinnamon and Chinese five-spice. The finish is very long and supported. Firm tannins carry throughout, with dense chocolate and black fruit flavors. Acid to balance. Outstanding. This wine is ready to drink, but has enough structure, depth and complexity of elements to last 5-7 more years.


42% Zinfandel, 37% Mouvedre and 21% Grenache

All three varietals picked from westside Paso Robles vineyards. This wine is clear and bright, with a medium plus intense ruby core fading to a pale ruby rim. On the nose this wine is clean and developing, with medium plus intense unctuous aromas of red and black plums, black cherry, strawberry jam, crushed black pepper, cedar, pan grille, roast meat and vanilla. Very complex.

On the palate, this wine is dry, with a medium plus body, spicy alcohol, generous chalky tannin, and acid to balance. The flavors are very intense, showcasing black cherry, black berry, strawberry jam, crushed peppercorn, cassis, chalk, black morel mushrooms, grilled meat and warm oak. The finish is long, with complex flavors balanced by lingering firm and integrated tannin.

This wine is ready to drink, but would benefit from 1-2 years in bottle, or a splash decant. It will hold for 4-6 years, maintaining its fruit and tannin throughout. Overall, an outstanding wine.


100% Zinfandel from the best of three west side vineyards; Bailey Ranch, Je T'aime Vineyard & Will's Hills Vineyard

This wine is clear and bright, with a deep garnet core and water white rim. Legs are saturated with color and are thick and slow to develop. On the nose, this wine is clean and developing, with intense aromas of blackberry, raspberry, cherry jam, dried plums, currants, sweet spice, toast, licorice and vanilla cream. On the palate, this wine is dry, with a medium plus rich body, medium plus integrated alcohol, medium acid, and medium plus flavors of blackberry pie filling, framboise, strawberry, Flor de Jamaica, sweet oak, and cedar. The finish is long and delicious, characterized by lingering fine tannin and ripe berry and wood flavors.

This wine is ready to drink, but becomes much more generous after decant. It will hold for 4-6 years, aging on structured tannin and an abundance of ripe fruit.

2008 GSM Central Coast

42% Grenache, 38% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre

schiller-wine: Related Postings

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Zinfandel and other "Italian" Wines of Seghesio Vineyards in California

The Wines of Abeja, Washington State

The Wines of Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley

The Natural Wines of Donkey and Goat Winery in Berkeley, California

The California Pinot Noir Pioneer Walter Schug: From the Rheingau in Germany to Sonoma County in California

Wine ratings: Two American/German wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 Wines from Washington State list for 2009

One of Oregon's Pioneering Winemakers - Myron Redford - with his Amity Vineyard Wines in Washington DC

Wine Tasting: The Pinot Noirs of Patricia Green, Oregon, US

The Excellent Wines of Ken Wright Cellars, Oregon

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