Rabbit Ridge California Grande Riserva Barbera 1995
In 1981, Erich opened Rabbit Ridge Winery and Vineyards in Healdsburg, California named after his college track nickname, "The Rabbit". Rabbit Ridge became a successful, cult winery producing up to 250 thousand cases per year. The winery continued growing and producing wine in Sonoma County until all operations were moved to beautiful Paso Robles, on the Central Coast of California. In 1998, Erich met his wife Joanne James, a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg Florida, while promoting Rabbit Ridge wines at one of Disney's top restaurants. Joanne was interviewing with Rabbit Ridge's wine distributor at the same time, and the two met. Having graduated from Northeast High School and Eckerd College, Joanne was working as a runway model and had her own catering business, along with a fledgling interest in good wine. Erich and Joanne were married in 1999 and maintained a residence in St. Petersburg while Joanne's daughter grew up, completed high school and went off to college. Joanne's daughter has since graduated from college Suma cum laude and now works for Rabbit Ridge in Paso Robles. In 2001, Erich and Joanne began construction on their new winery on San Marcos Road. Erich had always wanted a winery that was high-tech with all the bells and whistles. The couple took design ideas from their trips to Tuscany and the Mediterranean and implemented them to get the look they wanted for the Paso Robles winery - Regal and Old-World. After years of national and international distribution, Erich and Joanne decided to down-size to the level of the "good ol' days" and get out of the "rat race." Today, Erich and Joanne produce 10 thousand cases per year and farm 200 acres of premium grapes, all grown on the west side of Paso Robles, California.
Home to a diverse array of smaller AVAs with varied microclimates and soil types, Sonoma County has something for every wine lover. Physically twice as large as Napa Valley, the region only produces about half the amount of wine but boasts both tremendous quality and variety. With its laid-back atmosphere and down-to-earth attitude, the wineries of Sonoma are appreciated by wine tourists for their friendliness and approachability. The entire county intends to become a 100% sustainable winegrowing region by 2019.
Grape varieties are carefully selected to reflect the best attributes of their sites—Dry Creek Valley’s consistent sunshine is ideal for Zinfandel, while the warm Alexander Valley is responsible for rich, voluptuous Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are important throughout the county, most notably in the cooler AVAs of Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Carneros. Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah have also found a firm footing here.
Friendly, approachable and full of juicy red fruit, Barbera produces wines in a wide range of styles, from youthful, fresh and fruity to serious, structured and age-worthy. Piedmont is the most famous source of Barbera, but it is also planted in a few nearby Italian provinces and remains one of the most widely planted varieties in the country. Barbera actually can adapt to many climates and enjoys success in California—particularly in the Sierra Foothills—and some southern hemisphere wine regions.
In the Glass
Barbera is typically marked by flavors of red cherry, raspberry or blackberry and backed by a signature zingy acidity. Warmer sites produce Barberas with intensely ripe fruit and complex notes of cocoa, savory spice, anise and nutmeg. Cooler sites will produce a lighter Barbera with more finesse and intriguing notes of cranberry, graphite, smoke, lavender and violet.
Barbera’s prominent acidity makes it a natural match with tomato-based dishes, making it an easy pairing with a wide array of Italian cuisine. It works just as well with lighter red meat dishes, hamburgers or barbecue.
In the past it wasn’t common or even accepted to age Barbera in oak but today both styles—oaked and unoaked—abound, at least in Piedmont. In fact, many Piemontese producers today still make a deliciously pure, fruity and unoaked version, intended for earlier consumption. The wine world didn't realize Barbera's potential until the work of Giacomo Bologna in Asti in the 1960s. His debut of the barrique-aged Barbera called Bricco dell’Uccellone revealed this grape's true potential. Many of the better bottlings of Piemontese Barbera can age gracefully for 10-15 years or more.