One of the more challenging things about being a wine writer based in a non-traditional wine area is that, once you get past a handful of local small-farm wineries, you've pretty much got to travel if you want to see grapevines growing and talk to the people who tend them.
But every now and then a visiting wine maker comes to town, and as often as I can, I try to take advantage of the opportunity to meet and learn from the people who fashion the beverage we love.
This week's visitor was Susie Selby, who makes a fine California wine that bears her family name. Founded just over a decade ago by her father, Dr. David K. Selby, Selby Winery is based in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, and sources its grapes from vineyards in the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander valleys and Carneros.
Susie, an adopted Californian who grew up in Dallas and went to Vanderbilt College in Tennessee, earned her MBA from George Washington University and worked in the corporate arena before joining the family winery. She's a hands-on wine maker who runs the production and still manages to find time to get around the country to talk about Selby wines.
"I learned everything I could by doing it myself," she writes on the Selby Website. "I began as a tasting room manager, then moved into marketing and compliance. I learned about the mechanics of winemaking when I became a 'cellar rat,' so I could work with barrels and wine, drive a forklift, manage a cellar and warehouse, help with harvest and crush. From there, I became an assistant winemaker, pulling sugars, blending and learning the finer techniques of winemaking . Because I believe that running your own winery should not be left to others, there is not a single aspect of Selby Winery in which I'm not personally involved. Today, I am the sole winemaker at Selby Winery, as well as the chief executive officer."
Susie brought six Selby reds to Louisville, where she dined Wednesday night with a small group of local wine enthusiasts at the city's excellent North End Cafe.
None of the critically acclaimed Selby Chardonnay was available for tasting - the small production sold out after the wine received a 90-plus rating from Wine Spectator - but I found the reds consistently persuasive, distinctly Californian in their forward fruit, but honest, balanced wines, not manipulated or overoaked.
In short, the Selby wines seem thoroughly consistent with Susie's expressed wine-making philosophy: "I make wine I love to drink, plain and simple. I don't doctor our wines with technological tricks; instead, I favor traditional principles of winemaking that yield elegant, sophisticated and accessible wines you can enjoy today and tomorrow. If it's possible to do it by hand, I do."
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Six wines from Selby
These wines were presented at a dinner tasting by Vintner Select, Selby's regional distributor.
Selby 2000 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Selby 2000 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Selby 2001 Dry Creek Valley Vesenez Vineyard Syrah
Selby 2001 Alexander Valley Syrah
Selby 2001 Dry Creek Valley Old Vines Zinfandel
Selby 2000 Sonoma County Bobcat Zinfandel
FOOD MATCH: Louisville's North End Cafe specializes in eclectic tapas-style plates with international accents, and Selby's wines went well with a broad variety, from duck confit with caramelized onions, date pure and demiglace on crostini (great with the Pinot) to spicy baby back pork ribs (fine with the Syrah), and an entree order of wild-mushroom lasagna with tomato sauce accented with a basil crème fraîche.
VALUE: The Selby wines sell at the winery in the range of $19 (for the Syrah, 2000 vintage) to $35 (for the Cabernet, 1999 vintage). Based on the wines' consistent high quality, these prices are fully competitive with other quality Sonoma producers.
WHEN TO DRINK: Selby wines are made for immediate enjoyment, but cellaring won't do any of them harm, and the Cabernet in particular may benefit from a few years of cellar time.
WEB LINK: Selby's Website contains substantial information about the winery, the vineyards and the wines, in addition to E-commerce sales where the law permits:
FIND THESE WINES ONLINE: Selby said her wines are now available at retail in 13 states. They are also available online in the winery Website's "Tasting Room/Store,"
To find vendors for Selby wines, including the hard-to-find Chardonnays, see Wine-Searcher.com,
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Friday, June 18, 2004