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Scaggs Vineyards

Our Story / Putting Down Roots
Our RootsBoz & Dominique Scaggs

In 1996 we moved to the hills above Napa Valley. We’d found a beautiful spot, virtually untouched, with a good well and the layered horizon of a Chinese landscape painting. We were planting fruit trees one day when a vineyardist friend stopped by and suggested we put in some grape vines he had on his truck, leftovers from another job. They were syrah cuttings that had come from Lee Hudson in Carneros. The idea of growing grapes in the Napa Valley didn’t seem too far fetched, but what transpired the following spring when those fledgling vines leafed out was unexpected —they took root in us as deeply as they had the hillside.

We'd come to love the Rhone wines of France, particularly those of the Southern Rhone, and explored the possibility of planting more Rhone varietals on our hillside. Research indicated they'd be a good match for our climate and the soils in our hills, so in addition to the newly planted syrah, we chose mourvedre and grenache cuttings from Tablas Creek, whose clones came from the esteemed Beaucastel Vineyard in Chateaneuf-du-Pape. And we imbibed a good deal of the Beaucastel philosophy, too: minimal intervention in winemaking to allow for maximum expression of terroir, that evocative French concept whose meaning encompasses  the earth, air, water and soul of a place. From the start we were committed to sustainable farming practices-- our steep hillsides and narrow vine rows committed us to farming by hand—and under the guidance of Bob Schaeffer, co-founder of Soil Culture Consulting, the vineyard was certified organic by California’s CCOF in 2006.

We made our first wine in 2000 and have experimented over the years, testing techniques and blends, learning more about our grapes, our soil, our preferences. Each harvest has a story to tell, to be continued.

Boz and Dominique Scaggs

Boz and Dominique Scaggs

The Daily Meal Article 2010

Producer Profile: Scaggs Vineyard
By Colman Andrews
Dec 27, 2010
 
In Napa Valley, a music legend makes wines worth tuning in to.

A profile of musician Boz Scaggs' Napa Valley vineyard, Scaggs Vineyard.
 
One night a few weeks back I heard Boz Scaggs performing at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan. The night after that, I drank 2008 Scaggs Vineyard Mt. Veeder Montage at my dining room table in Connecticut. Neither Scaggs nor his wine was what you'd call flashy, but both were polished and strong at the core; both were the real thing.

Scaggs — who is currently touring as part of the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue with fellow musical veterans Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen — has been singing and playing guitar for roughly 50 years, and clearly knows what he's doing. He has been growing grapes on his property on Mount Veeder in the Napa Valley for not quite 15, but he seems to have that down pretty well too.

Because he likes Rhône wines, Scaggs planted the principal red wine varieties from that region, syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre, along with a little counoise (a lesser grape, used mostly in Châteauneuf-du-Pape). Winemaker-for-hire Ken Bernards — whose other efforts include wines for Porter Family Vineyards, Richard Perry Vineyards, Truchard Vineyards, and his own Ancien label, among others — turns them, with Scaggs' input, into the rich, supple, Gigondas-ish Montage ($75 for the 2008). Their efforts also produce a serious rosé ($25 for a 500-ml bottle of the 2009) that suggests grapes grown in a warm climate with a sea breeze — the kind of rosé that red wine-drinkers tend to like even though it is a little pale compared to their usual tipple.

"Essentially," says Scaggs, who functions as vineyard manager (his wife and co-proprietor, Dominique, is the winery's creative director), "we're just listening to the vines, with an increasing awareness of what they are 'telling' us." Scaggs gives large credit for his interest in wine, and especially in wine of the kind he now makes, to the celebrated Bay Area importer Kermit Lynch, with whom he has shared many bottles over the years, and whom he has joined on numerous occasions traveling around the south of France. "Among my most vivid wine memories," Scaggs says, "was of tasting a Joseph Swan '68 or '69 zinfandel from Kermit's cellar. The elegance, balance, and distinction of this wine were on the level of the best European offerings I know of, and the alcohol was only around 12 percent! — practically unheard of in California wines nowadays. These are the qualities we strive for in working our soils, in our vinegrowing practices, and in the vats and barrels."

The first Scaggs wines — informally labeled as "Scaggs Leap" (a pun on Napa's famed Stags Leap appellation) — were for friends and family only. "We outgrew 'friends and family' as the cases reached to the high ceilings in the warehouse," Scaggs explains, "and our choice became to get into or get out of the business. We chose the former. During the years since we planted our grapes, it has become clear to us that our property will always be home and that these vines, the wines they produce, and the people we work with here are vital to our well-being and happiness."

Scaggs Wine Reviews:

Scaggs Vineyard 2005 #6 Mourvedre blend from Napa Valley is full of aromas and flavors of raspberry, blackberry, peppercorn, cassis and intense spices.  It is a classic southern Rhone blend with the firmness of the Mourvedre, the bright fruitiness of the Grenache and the spiciness of Syrah.  The vineyard sits at around 1,300 feet in the mild climate and complex soils of Napa Valley’s Mt Veeder region.  Owners Boz and Dominique Scaggs started the vineyards in 1996 at their home above the Napa Valley.  Boz is renowned among his fans and fellow musicians as one of America’s preeminent R&B artists.

-Steve Ferree
California Wine Examiner

Scaggs Vineyard News:

Mount Veeder Appellation wine tasting

Mount Veeder Appellation wine tastingTaste Scaggs Vineyard 2009 Rosé and 2007 Montage at the annual Mount Veeder Appellation Wine Tasting, September 25 from 1-4 PM at Hess Collection Winery.
 

Scaggs Wine & Bardessono

Bardessono, July 15, 2010

Chef Sean O'Toole of The Restaurant at Bardessono in Yountville designed a summer menu pairing Scaggs Vineyard's 2008 Grenache Rosé and 2007 Montage alongside the two French wines that were their inspiration: Domaine Tempier's Bandol Rosé (2009) and Château de Beaucastel's Châteauneuf-du-Pape (2006).




Scaggs Wine Interviews:

Boz will release his first wine from Scaggs Vineyard in the fall of 2008

Boz Scaggs has spent years laboring over his Napa Vineyards hoping to produce his finest. In 1998, Scaggs planted Mourvedre and Grenache, which along with Syrah form the basis of many Rhone blends. The result is just over 2 acres in the approximate ratio of grapes from the Rhone Valley towns of Beaucastel and Gigondas, Scaggs says: 46 percent Mourvedre, 38 percent Grenache and 16 percent Syrah.

Says Scaggs, "It's taken years to move [the wine] from down-the-sink to drinkable to sellable, and I'm determined to make it a medal winner."  His first vintage was 2003, but he wasn't crazy about it, so he's waiting to see how the 2004 "sits in the bottle for a few months" and said he is hoping to release it once he completes the BATF legal process and label approval. "It's in a bonded warehouse and will be released.

From Boston Globe Interview:

Q: Speaking of new releases, we hear Scaggs Vineyards has a new wine coming out.

A: Yeah, we brought out a rose last fall that some San Francisco restaurants are carrying. This fall we'll release our first red. The wines will primarily be sold online [Scaggs Vineyards].

Q: Who knew you were an oenophile?

A: I am. My wife and I bought property in Napa 14 years ago and planted a vineyard about nine years ago. We've been making wine for the past six years. It's fun, but we're real small-time.

From blues-rock to rootstock, Boz Scaggs launches label

Foodies and vintners come in all stripes, even in the garb of a top-of- the-charts 1970s rock singer turned critically acclaimed jazz crooner. In 1997 Scaggs and his wife Dominique, who plan to launch a commercial brand next year, bought a property in the Mayacamas mountain range that divides Napa and Sonoma counties.

Although Scaggs liked wine, becoming a vintner wasn't initially part of the plan. 

"We were having some fruit trees and olive trees planted and a fellow said he had some vines left over from a job earlier that day and did I want to plant them," says Scaggs, a part owner of Slim's who divides his time between Napa and an apartment in San Francisco.

One-third of an acre of Syrah went into the ground; Scaggs went on tour and forgot about it. But when he returned, "it was a warm September night and there were little grape vines stickin' out of the ground," says the Texas native, tenderly. "We started looking after the vines and it's just been a pretty seductive process."

Scaggs, who is particularly enamored of wines from France's Rhone Valley, went to work researching rootstocks and talking to neighbors and local growers. The old-timers told him that Mourvedre -- also known as Mataro -- was popular on Mt. Veeder in decades past, when Italian wine families dominated the area.

So in 1998, Scaggs planted Mourvedre and Grenache, which along with Syrah form the basis of many Rhone blends. The result is just over 2 acres in the approximate ratio of grapes from the Rhone Valley towns of Beaucastel and Gigondas, Scaggs says: 46 percent Mourvedre, 38 percent Grenache and 16 percent Syrah.

Scaggs also planted a small amount of Roussanne, a white Rhone varietal.

The grapes are farmed organically, although Scaggs says he doesn't intend to go through the lengthy process of having the vineyard certified.

Today the property is producing charming, complex wines, but their quality wasn't clear at first. The initial harvests were ruined by a bacterial infestation in the winery where they were made, Scaggs says.

New winemaker

He sought a new winemaker and in 2002, John Olney, the vice president and winemaker for Ridge Lytton Springs, agreed to make the singer's wine in Olney's Healdsburg garage.

Olney's winemaking brought out the exceptional qualities of Scaggs' grapes. The wine "is special. Delicious. You slurp it down," says Berkeley wine merchant Kermit Lynch, who is friends with Scaggs and introduced him to Olney.

Scaggs bottled two blends of his 125-case 2002 vintage, which will not be commercially released -- one Mourvedre-dominant and the other mostly Grenache. Both are exceptional wines with velvety textures, rich fruit and the charming spiciness the Rhone varietals are known for.

The wines were so good that I invited friends over to help finish them instead of regretfully pouring them down the drain, which I often do with even very good wines. Not a drop of Scaggs wine was left for the sink.

For the 225-case 2003 vintage, Scaggs, Olney and Lynch decided to create an old-fashioned "field blend" by throwing the entire harvest together, rather than aging the varietals separately and trying to craft the perfect mix.

"We decided it would be simpler and just as good as anything we might try to conjure up," says Scaggs.

The wine shows great promise, although it is still in its fetal stages. Like many good, young wines, it tastes and smells rough-hewn, but shows a rich character, great depth of fruit and should soften and integrate with some time in the bottle.

The singer, who says he plans to call his new wine brand Scaggs, also intends to sell a dry rose and a small amount of Roussanne. Prices have not been set; Scaggs says he doesn't expect wine to be a big profit center, but he also doesn't want to lose money on the venture.

Long and winding road

For now, Scaggs is neck-deep in the legalities of launching a wine brand, which includes state, federal and local licensing and label approvals from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The singer hopes to sell the 2003 wines by next fall via his Web site, and a few white-tablecloth restaurants.

Lynch, who owns a vineyard in Gigondas, has been advising Scaggs on going commercial. Lynch says he likes his friend's wine so well that he would consider selling it in his Berkeley shop, although he typically carries only European wine.

While other celebrities have wine labels -- Jerry Garcia's was started posthumously and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac launched Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar this year -- Scaggs' role is unusually hands-on.

Scaggs is slowly learning the winemaking process; this fall he had responsibility for testing the Brix (sugar content) of the grapes and making harvest decisions -- as well as trucking the grapes to Miner Family Vineyards in Oakville, which is making his 2004 vintage wines. Becoming a winemaker "is quite a venture," says Scaggs. "I'd like to, but I don't know. We're taking things as they come for now."

More celebrities pour into wine business

Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, The Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2006

Animal labels are so 2005. Now that winemakers have used up pretty much all real critters for their labels and are resorting to mythical creatures like two-headed cats, it's pretty clear that this trend has peaked. Next up: paparazzi wines. 

Appropriate to an age when gossip is ascendant and personality is king, wine stores these days are a virtual People magazine of labels. There are labels for race-car drivers (Richard Childress, Randy Lewis, Jeff Gordon, Mario Andretti), golfers (Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Ernie Els) and stars of other sports (Joe Montana, Larry Bird). There are labels for live musicians (Bob Dylan, Vince Neil of Motley Crue), dead ones (Jerry Garcia, Frank Sinatra) and some who may or may not be dead (Elvis Presley). There are labels for living Hollywood stars (Fess Parker) and immortal ones (Marilyn Monroe). Madonna's father has his own winery -- Ciccone Vineyard & Winery -- in Michigan. His winery says his first Madonna label will be released any day now. There is even celebrity synergy: Football commentator John Madden grows some of the Syrah grapes for the wines of Olympic skater Peggy Fleming. John Madden on ice -- wow.

Of course, there have been some paparazzi wines for a long time. We bought our first bottle of Always Elvis, with a shiny label outside and bad Italian wine inside, in 1980. Around the same time, we had our first Smothers Brothers wine and a Muscat Canelli from Pat Paulsen. The director Francis Ford Coppola started his winery in Napa 30 years ago; now it's one of the biggest in the U.S. However, when Costco, Gallo and Martha Stewart all get involved, you know a trend is coming ashore, so consider this: Costco will soon be carrying a line of wines with Mick Fleetwood, drummer and co-founder of Fleetwood Mac. Gallo now has MacMurray Ranch, named for actor Fred MacMurray, who used to own the land where the grapes are grown. And Martha Stewart has been quietly mixing up her own line of Sonoma County wines. We're told she's particularly interested in making a great rose. That will probably be her first release, along with a Chardonnay.

Clearly this trend has hit the slipstream, as Mr. Lewis, the race-car driver, whose wines are very well-regarded, might say. We seem to see a new paparazzi wine every day. Some companies now specialize in putting celebrities' pictures on wine labels. The question is: How are they? When we conducted a tasting of animal labels a couple of years ago -- we dubbed them critter wines, a name that has stuck -- we found most of them, as we put it then, "beastly and fowl." How about paparazzi wines? Are the pretty labels concealing ugly wine? We conducted an extensive tasting to get the answer.

We found at least one wine from everyone mentioned above, plus quite a few others -- more than 50 bottles in all. A few, such as Greg Norman, are widely available. Others are obscure. In some cases, we had to order directly from the winery and in other cases we had to look hard to find wines from dealers who specialize in unusual orders. While many wineries are owned by famous people, we only bought wines in which a celebrity's picture or name, or some version of the name, appeared on the label. We did not include Coppola wines; they have done so well in our general blind tastings that we can simply stipulate that these are good wines across a wide varietal spectrum.

In most cases involving a live celebrity, the winery claims that the star is intimately involved in every aspect of the winemaking. We believe this. We also believe that Paris Hilton personally harvests materials from sperm whales to make her namesake perfume. But it is clear that some celebrities are more involved than others. Our assistant, Melanie Grayce West, heard that popular '70s singer Boz Scaggs made wine in California, so she called around to try to find some. Then her phone rang. "This is Boz Scaggs," said the voice on the other end. "You called about my wine?" Mr. Scaggs said his first vintage was 2003, but he wasn't crazy about it, so he's waiting to see how the 2004 "sits in the bottle for a few months" and said he may release it -- around 200 cases -- later this year.

And, of course, death alone is no reason why stars can't be part of the process. Two winemaking buddies, Christian Garvin and Andrew Kahn, longtime Frank Sinatra fans, decided the day after Mr. Sinatra died in 1998 to make a wine in his honor. With vintage Sinatra songs wafting through Kahn Winery, which they opened in 1996, they made one barrel of Cabernet Franc, which they called Cab Frank. Then, Mr. Garvin told us, they wrote Old Blue Eyes' family to tell them what they'd done and thus began a partnership of sorts in which more wine would be bottled -- 2,000 cases at its peak -- and a portion of the proceeds given to the Frank Sinatra Foundation.

We tasted the wines in blind flights over several nights and we have good news: They were surprisingly tasty, and some were excellent. The overall quality was high. To be sure, they weren't all winners. We found the reds, in general, better than the whites. Indeed, we tasted 10 Chardonnays and didn't like any of them. We also found that live people make better wines than dead ones. We have never much liked the well-known Marilyn Merlot brand and we didn't this time, either. We tried several different Elvis wines from the Graceland Cellars line and didn't like any of those. Nor did we like any of the Jerry Garcia wines we tried. The Sinatra Merlot was an excellent exception, but, sadly, it is no longer made. The 2001 Merlot we had was made after the two friends parted ways, Mr. Garvin says, adding that the business, minus the Sinatra piece of it, was sold last year. "It was a fun run," he says.

We very much liked the Bracco Pinot Grigio. Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony Soprano's psychiatrist in the hit HBO series, told us she has loved wine since she moved to France as a teenager and lived there for 10 years. With all of the offers for her to endorse this product or that, she jumped at the chance when her business manager and an associate of his brought to her the idea of launching a line of wines. "I loved the fact that I would own the business and I loved the fact that it was something that I loved to do," she told us. "I love to eat and drink." So with her importer, she visits wineries in Italy and tastes and chooses the wines that will bear her name, she says. Her dream, she adds, "is to have a fabulous rose" in her portfolio.

We also really enjoyed Mick Fleetwood's wine, which is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Mr. Fleetwood, whose wines are made at various wineries, told us he enjoys the blending process, the trial and error it takes to get something good that he wants to put his name on. "I don't mind the responsibility," he said. "Take it home. I trust you will really love the experience of drinking it, but if you don't you know who to blame." He added: "So far we've had almost exclusively good comments. The wine is obviously accessible to a broad palate, which it has to be to be really drinkable. I don't like being hit over the head. I don't like to be traumatized. For some people it's all about the full tannic approach where you feel like the enamel is being stripped off your teeth. I don't like that."

In general, we would say that, at the moment, people, especially live people, are a better bet than animals in the wine shop. Hmm. Maybe that's a natural evolution.

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