Erosion Wine Co. The beauty of the Napa Valley is it attracts creative people from all walks of life – often those with no background in winemaking. Take Patrick Rue for example – he graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in Sociology. Later he graduated from Chapman University’s School of Law Program but ultimately did not pass his Bar exam. During his first year of law school, his wife Rachel encouraged him to take up a hobby – and Patrick discovered home brewing. Not satisfied to be only a home brewer, along with his father he purchased a cheese and wine shop in Old Towne Orange, California and named it The Bruery Provisions. He also co-founded The Bruery in 2007, a craft brewer with two tasting rooms in Orange County and a shop in Washington DC. Patrick and his father closed The Bruery Provisions in 2013 and have since sold the majority of The Bruery to a private equity firm (it continues to operate in Southern California).
Patrick recalls his first trip to Napa was conveniently on his 21st birthday as part of a family trip to pick up his younger brother who was attending a culinary camp at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. Later he fell in love with a number of wines in the valley including one of his favorites, Lewis Cellars. He recalls first making wines in 2010 with grapes sourced from Santa Barbara County. He began experimenting from the beginning – creating beer and wine hybrids. Eventually he and his wife Rachel moved to the valley and started Erosion Wine Co with their first ever release in 2020 from wines crafted in 2019.
Patrick brings a very unique perspective to winemaking in the Napa Valley. None of his wines are vintage dated (they are usually made from a blend of several recent vintages), vineyard designated, varietal specific or appellation designated. All the wines are one-off productions some produced in quantities of less then 15 cases (the draft releases), with a large production being several hundred cases bottled in cans.
And some of the wines are infused with a variety of spices. This brings us back to a tour we took years ago at Robert Mondavi Winery in which one of the guests asked the host if the winery puts spices and other fruit flavors into their wines. We inwardly laughed at the simplicity of this question at the time – while the host patiently and thoughtfully answered the question and informed the guests they do not put any external ingredients for flavor into their wines. But looking back now with much more perspective on the wine industry, that guests’ question certainly had some validity.
All of Patrick’s wines are from the Napa Valley. However, due to labeling laws, the infused wines legally cannot be labeled Napa Valley but rather are labeled as Napa County. He works with numerous growers and vineyard sites spanning at last count, 10 of the Napa Valley’s sub appellations. Patrick’s focus on winemaking is flavor first, offering a variety of diverse and unconventional wines (including blended with some varieties rarely seen in contemporary Napa Valley such as Alicante Bousche). And he remains humble in this star-studded industry where there is always more information to learn, the tagline on his business card simply reads, “winemaker in training”. While he continues to build his winemaking resume, he is already an accomplished brew-master – as one of only a handful of people on the planet to hold the title of Master Cicerone, the beer equivalent to a Master Sommelier (he was the 8th to earn this coveted title).
St. Helena Tap Room
The previous iteration of this space was dated and felt a bit tired – with Erosion Wine Company moving in, in early 2020, the space has been energized and has received a complete make over. Casual yet contemporary the space is inviting and setup for guests to have fun and learn about wine. Rather then offering beer, a number of small production wines are available from 24 different taps.
A tasting flight is presented in small beakers which can then be poured individually into glasses. Wines are also available for sale in “Crowlers”, recyclable and re-sealable 750 mL aluminum cans and in 8 oz. cans as a three-pack.
A large flip board is located behind the tasting counter – a product of Philadelphia based Oat Foundry whose motto is “we build cool stuff”. Certainly. Looking like one of the sign boards one may see at a train station somewhere in Europe, this flip board rotates a variety of messages. Guests can create their own message using a provided iPad.
A small gift area greets visitors on the left side upon entering the tasting room. Upon close examination one can quickly see the products for sale are as diverse as their wines. An eclectic assortment of temporary tattoos, various board games, Erosion branded clothing and adult humor coloring books are just a few of the items we spotted during a recent visit.
What happens when you let your 8 year old daughter at the time name your wines? The results are some of the more creatively named wines in the Napa Valley. The wines will change – so will the names. A couple of intriguing names from their first release included Afraid of Clowns, Secret Handshake, the Floor is Lava and Large Marge.
These are certainly not cookie cutter wines – each one is hand crafted and all are unique from each other with different flavor and aromatic profiles.
The Floor is Lava (Cabernet Sauvignon based) offers an earthy, mushroom driven aromatic profile. Savory with notes of smoked meat and bacon fat along with darker spices. Shows a sweetness of fruit on the palate including notes of ripe plum. Also cardamom and other baking spices. Dusty tannins persist on a long finish – slightly tart at the end, mouth watering.
It is remarkable how much an infusion of spices can change a wine’s profile – especially the aromas. We tasted the Secret Handshake and the Secret Handshakes (plural) next to each other – both are Merlot based wines. The Secret Handshakes was infused with vanilla and cacao – both spices immediately were evident on the bouquet. And structurally this wine felt more rounded then the non-infused offering.
Large Marge was partially inspired by a recent version of a Caymus Special Select – Patrick noticed the fruit forward characteristics and the appealing desert spices from its barrel aging. This wine is Cabernet Sauvignon based but was infused with nutmeg, vanilla and allspice. For his infused wines, Patrick adds the infusions post fermentation and aging, usually 5 to 7 days before bottling.
A ringer for a holiday wine, (with characteristics reminiscent of a mulled wine) this wine is dark in the glass with a bouquet featuring desert spices including cinnamon and vanilla. Has an egg nog aromatic quality to it. The dessert spices immediately show on the palate including nutmeg and cinnamon. Mouth watering acidity lingers with dry and dusty still tightly woven tannins. Firmly gripping but not course in texture, they persist for some time. Also slightly chalky with flavors of chocolate which lingers.
The Tasting Room at St. Helena
Visit and update coming by end of September 2021.
The Tasting Room at the Bruery, Placentia
A visit and photographs coming by late 2022…hopefully. Food trucks.
The Tasting Room at Bruery Terreux, Anaheim
A visit and photographs coming by late 2022…hopefully. Food trucks.
The Bruery Store at Union Market, Washington D.C.
This east coast outpost of the Bruery (first location outside of California) is located in a neighborhood that has undergone a significant upgrade and revitalization in the past few years. Visitors to this block would hardly recognize it anymore. Located only about a 10 minute drive from the center of Washington D.C. and a three minute leisurely stroll from Union Market.
Like at Erosion Wines, creativity is clearly on tap here. Their inventory is a wide variety of small production beers including sours, lagers, IPAs, stouts, ales and almost anything else you can imagine related to beer. And a number of their beers are only available at this store. Visitors who are familiar with Erosion Wines will see some familiar products here – as several of the Erosion Wines are sold in the store. After a visit here, we can strongly vouch for one of their taglines, “like nothing you have ever tasted before“.
Several membership options are available including their entry level, Preservation Society, Reserve Society (with access to very limited productions) and Hoarders (an invite only membership). And of note, the Black Tuesday release is an annual October 30th offering with a number of products branded as such going on sale for a very limited time.
The name Erosion was chosen for several reasons including the fact that the soil profiles of the Napa Valley would not exist without erosion, over the eons soils continue to be eroded by water and wind. And Patrick is creating wines that he hopes will broaden people’s palate, or as he puts it, “eroding preconceived notions people have about wine while at the same time respecting existing wine culture”.
And in mid 2021 Erosion Co opened a brewery directly next door to their tasting room. We will visit and update our notes here by the end of 2021.
Erosion Wine Co works with several select distributors but the wines are mostly sold direct through their St. Helena based tasting room and online. Friends With Benefits is their monthly membership subscription offering with several tiers available. For more information visit: www.www.erosion.wine