I’m always looking for something new and interesting in wine. It may not be new to everyone, but it’s at least new to me. Given that we celebrate Black History month in the United States in February, I thought this would be a great opportunity to seek out and taste some of the wines of the handful of black winemakers/winery owners in the country. So each week in February, I’ll highlight a different winemaker and some of their wines. So here’s to making new discoveries.
First up is Esterlina Vineyards and Winery. I just love their story because it personifies the true “American Dream” for many. Mario Sterling got the idea of being in the wine business from a conversation he’d had on an airplane while traveling home from a visit to Sonoma County. Someone asked him if he was “in the business” and even though he wasn’t at the time, the seed had been planted. Both his father and grandfather had made wine, so why not him? So he talked to one of his sons, Eric Sterling, who was a practicing physician, about his idea. Of course his son thought he’d lost his mind, particularly given how difficult a business it was.
For years Mario and his sons grew grapes for some of the area’s largest winemakers — initially on their property in Alexander Valley, but then in other areas in Northern California as the family acquired additional acreage including Cole Ranch in Mendocino which is the smallest AVA in the U.S. and which has only one owner — Esterlina. After years of growing grapes for others, the family decided to launch their own wine label, Esterlina, which is the Spanish word for their last name Sterling. So fast forward and all of the Sterling sons (who had all gone to college to pursue other things) are now involved in the family wine business. Son Chris Sterling does the vineyard management. Steve Sterling, who has an MBA, is director of marketing and is responsible for wine sales. Craig Sterling is VP of Operations and controls the day to day business. Eric Sterling was the winemaker for many years. Talk about a family affair! I love it!
Today, the family runs its operations from the Everett Ridge Winery in Healdsburg in Dry Creek Valley, which they acquired in 2006. Their wines are available in many fine restaurants and have even been served in the White House. So from Mario (whose father raised vegetables in Louisiana) working as a cattle rancher for many years to four highly educated sons running the family business, the story of Esterlina is a fascinating success story. So now that we know a little of the background, it’s time to find out if the wines live up to that great success story.
It was a ridiculously warm January day, so I decided to sit outside on the patio to taste. I tasted three wines: the 2013 Cole Ranch Dry Riesling, the 2013 Anderson Valley Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2011 Cole Ranch Reserva Pinot Noir. And yes, I had potato chips so don’t judge me! Being a Pinot fan, I of course chose some Pinot to taste, but I was also intrigued by the Cole Ranch wines since Esterlina is the sole vineyard in this very small AVA. They grow Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes on the Cole Ranch property.
The 2013 Cole Ranch Dry Riesling was a beautiful, transparent, pale yellow with lots of lemon and orange citrus on the nose and palate. It had bright acidity and was quite refreshing with the grapes I brought out. Though the wine benefitted from being paired with some food, I could definitely see me sipping this around the pool when the weather warms up (for good).
The 2013 Anderson Valley Estate Pinot Noir was a beautiful ruby red with some purplish hues. I loved the strawberry notes on this light bodied Pinot. It was smooth and very easy to drink and I was definitely rewarded from being patient and letting it sit for a bit.
As expected, the 2011 Cole Ranch Reserva Pinot Noir was more of a brick red as compared to the younger 2013 Pinot with its reddish purple hues. The wine was light to medium bodied with dark cherry fruit. Though the dark cherry fruit was present it was quite restrained. The wine was silky and elegant and the longer I let it breathe the more I loved it. It was the most expensive of the three wines at $75, so you may not drink it on a daily basis, but it would be great on the weekend or for a special meal.
So I was definitely excited about my new (for me) discovery of black winemakers. Who knows what next week will bring.