Greyscale Wines was founded in 2008 by husband wife Jean and Larry Rowe. Jean grew up in Orinda, CA and still lives there (SF Bay Area); her father planted grapes around their property and made home wine while she was growing up. Admittedly the varieties he grew may not have been ideal for their particular Orinda climate but it was this early introduction to wine that created an interest and passion for Jean for wine later in life. Both Larry and Jean fell in love with Napa and have been visiting the Valley for a number of years. Larry calls it, one of the “advantages of living in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
The impetus for creating their own wine brand came during a trip to Bordeaux in 2005 when they were introduced to the Bordeaux Blanc – a wine that is usually 100% varietal Savignon blanc or blended slightly with Sémillon. They have visited many wineries around California as well as on their International travels and they always gravitate towards an old world style of wine – one that is elegant, pairs with food and is lower alcohol.
Upon returning to California they were introduced to Crushpad, a winery that was located in San Francisco at the time. They were assigned a winemaker, Kian Tavakoli – who made them a barrel for personal use. Friends and family inquired about the possibility of purchasing the wine – and this in part led them to ultimately create Greyscale Wines.
Kian has made every vintage starting with their home wine. He is a good match for Larry and Jean’s interest in making more old world or French style wines. Kian is of French heritage and spent some time working harvests in France. He also helped create a co-op of a number of area vintners – called Kito Wine Consortium (Greyscale is a member) – which has been advantageous at times based on numbers and relationships with area growers.
Their first number of years in the business has required that they remain nimble concerning their production location. The winery location where they make their wine has changed more than a few times from San Francisco to Sonoma to Napa. They currently make wine in a custom crush facility on the northern edge of the city of Napa.
About half of their Sauvignon blanc for the 2011 Cuvee Blanc was aged in oak and then blended with Sémillon. This wine has pleasing aromatics showing both tropical and hints of citrus – pineapple with citrus blossom and just a hint of minerality. The palate is soft and slightly creamy showing some weight. The wine was stirred several times a month as it aged on the lees – helping impart additional complexities on the palate. Just a hint of baking spice shows on the finish.
Their vineyard sources have changed over the years with Coombsville and Oak Knoll (southern part of the valley) playing prominent roles in their red wine with newer vintages coming from a historical vineyard in Rutherford.
The 2009 Greyscale Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows bright lively fruit aromatics – including red cherry and red berry fruit. The mouth feel is soft and rounded with well integrated fairly delicate tannins. Along with the fruit on the palate, there is a toasted cedar/spice component that at times leans toward flavors of mocha. This wine drinks nicely by itself.
The 2010 Greyscale Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark in the glass. It shows a complex appealing bouquet with a pleasing smoky elegance combing a dusty or chalky quality and a slight herbal component which disappears as the wine breathes. Notes of baking spices also show along with a hint of black licorice. The palate is extremely well balanced – showing dark fruit and well integrated tannins that linger on the front of the palate rather than the back. The finish also reveals slightly toasted oak, subtle chalkiness and hints of mocha. This wine drinks very well despite being relatively young.
Wine is a product of variation and nuances – there is no black and white formula to make great wines. You can ask a winemaker about certain way of doing something – or a vineyard manager and you will receive back a number of variations in the way they do things – all backed up by specific reasons for their answers. The Rowes chose the name “Greyscale” to symbolize the art and science of wines – hand crafted wines are not expected to be made the same way every year – rather metaphorically they are always made in shades of grey – with adjustments made based on many factors depending on the particular vintage.
Their motto is “wine is neither white nor black, it is always shades of grey”.
As a small producer their wines are selectively distributed. At the time of this review they only make 250 cases total of all their wines – mostly sold direct via their mailing list/wine club. Their wines are made at a private winery located just south of St. Helena.
For more information and to join their mailing list, please visit: www.greyscalewines.com