Saturday, January 16, 2016

Burgess Cellars

Burgess Cellars is the proverbial "treasure worth searching for" that has been hiding in plain sight all of the time.  In 1972 the Pillsbury corporation sold the Souverain Napa vineyards, complete with the beautiful new rock tasting room they had just built, to airline pilot, Tom Burgess.  Before getting out of the wine business, they then moved Souverain to its current site in Sonoma County.  Burgess, who had become acquainted with fine wines from his travels to Europe, intended to re-create that same quality standard in northern California.  In 1972 when there were only a couple dozen wineries in Napa, Pillsbury enabled that to happen.

There is a relevant prehistory though.  The vineyards that were to become Burgess Cellars were originally planted by Italian immigrant, Carlo Rossini back in the 1880's, when vineyard construction was done with mules over dirt roads if there were roads at all.  Moreover, for these particular vineyards on the sides of Howell Mountain one could assume dynamite would have been a toolkit necessity.  In 1972 when Tom Burgess assumed the reins of his new project he effectively inherited the labors of these workers along with ninety years of vineyard care under three previous owners.

The Burgess Cellars vineyards actually constitute 120 acres in three parcels.  Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the western side of Howell Mountain; Syrah, on the east side; and Merlot is grown on the Oak Knoll valley floor to the south. The view to the south from the tasting room reveals a fresh water expanse called Bell Canyon Reservoir which lends its name to the Burgess second label line of varietals.  All Burgess wines are grown on these estate vineyards at 800-1,000 feet altitude.

Bill Sorenson has been the Burgess winemaker since the beginning and he has sustainably farmed eight grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Grenache.  In the Atlanta market the first three types are in distribution as varietals along with an occasional Library Selection Cabernet Sauvignon which is always held back ten years before release.  The prestigious Burgess Grenache and Petite Sirah are sold only from the tasting room.  

The twenty thousand case annual production of Burgess wines are remarkable for their pricing.  Most are under thirty dollars.  Because of the way the appellation was drawn, Burgess is not considered a Howell Mountain wine, which explains somewhat why they are favorably priced.  In any event the end result is that the elegantly balanced and harmoniously complex red wines of Burgess Cellars both stun when accompanying red meat on your dinner table and for those who appreciate the product in itself, they over-deliver.    

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