Two Careers & Counting
Derby Wine Estates
Life is long, too long at least for just one career. Ray Derby says he shared similar interests with his father and naturally followed him into the family business, manufacturing automobile fasteners. Ray eventually sold to a competitor and expected to retire, moving from Los Angeles to Paso Robles in 1991 when he purchased 635 acres 1.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean near San Simeon in Paso Robles. While he managed the family business east of Los Angeles, he had developed a small avocado farm, a crop that flourished in the area. He described the activity as “an avocation,” an opportunity to be a weekend gentleman farmer. Some- what at loose ends in his retirement, “too young to sit back in a rocking chair and let the world go by” as he describes it, Ray longed for some hands-on work that would also expand his horizons. This time, he was in grape growing country, and it didn’t take him long to embrace the challenge.
The land that Ray had purchased in Paso Robles, what he named Derbyshire Vineyard, was a cool climate area, fit only for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Within two years, he acquired Laura’s Vineyard on the east side of Paso Robles with a much warmer climate where he could grow the Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Yet the Rhone varietals were missing from the equation, an important omission since the area was well known for the reds Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre and the whites Marssane, Roussane, and Viognier. In 2006, he purchased the Derby Vineyard for Rhones. Thinking of the future, he has lately planted the Spanish varietals Graciano and Tempranillo along with a few other unusual grapes. He wants to be “a little ex- citing,” he says in a measured voice.
Today, Ray owns 400 planted acres. His wife Pam accuses him of being busier now than when he ran the larger manufacturing company. “She’s probably right,” he says. “I had a lot of people who were involved with their own areas of responsibility, and I could pretty much let them run their show.” With his vineyards and now winery, his organization includes just Steve Vierra, who manages the vineyards, and Tiffinee Vierra, his winemaker. The two are husband and wife, “fine young people who are do- ing great jobs,” Ray emphasizes. They both earned degrees at Cal Poly and met there when they were 18 years-old. “They live, eat, and breath wine, and they complement each other. Tiffinee lets Steve know what she expects from the vineyard, and Steve works very closely with her to make sure that she gets what she needs. They’re very passionate about doing a good job.”
Winemaking is a new aspect of the business. Ray hired Tiffinee in 2005 , when she made their first vintage. Case production is small and hasn’t yet gone beyond 3000 cases, which utilizes only 10 percent of their finest grapes. The rest are sold to wineries as far north as Napa and as far south as Temecula, Ray says, including prestigious Justin Winery in Paso Robles and Gallo Sonoma in the Dry Creek appellation of Sonoma County.
Ray works closely with both Steve and Tiffinee, having learned his trade over a ten year period while he engaged the ser- vices of a vineyards management service and worked along with them. “Once I felt that I had developed sufficient knowledge and understanding of the grape growing business, I decided to go ahead and take over the management myself. Ray makes viticultural decisions with Steve, who handles daily operations and directs most of the work force. On the winemaking side, Ray says that he has conversed extensively with Tiffinee. First, he says, they both have the same philosophy in terms of how they see the finished wine. “The trend has been toward higher alcohol content, but my viewpoint is that high alcohol detracts from the aromas and flavors of the wine. I think we ought to get back to a product that allows the consumer to savor the flavors of the grapes rather than get blown away by the alcohol.” In fact, intense aromas and flavors distinguish Derby wines from many others, although most of the wines hover around 14 percent alcohol, which is neither unusually low nor extravagantly high. Clearly, the team has found a remarkable balance. Ray surmises that Tiffinee has a softer palate, “softer than some of these macho winemakers that we have around here,” he chuckles. “But in any event, I’ve been very pleased with the wines that we’ve been able to offer, not only in terms of the style but also in terms of the varieties,” which cover a large range that will become even larger as the Spanish varieties mature.
Ray anticipates a fine future, not just for his own wines but for those of the en- tire Paso Robles appellation. He sees three emerging trends in the area, the first being increased quality in the vineyards and in winemaking, especially coming from the west side of Paso Robles, which is closer to the ocean and has a cooler climate. “As much as I like to say that I’m not an advocate of either the east side or the west side of Paso Robles, because we have vineyards on both sides, I see the boutique market on the west side and the larger production market on the east side, where crops tend to be directed toward bigger wineries.”
Another trend that he sees clearly is in- creased interest in Rhone varieties, which have suffered somewhat in the recent past, especially Syrah. “The Rhone Rangers seem to be really picking up steam here and becoming more and more significant in their offerings.” Particularly Grenache is attracting attention, and the market is exploring new possibilities for Syrah, especially lighter versions.
Finally, Ray observes that blends are gaining traction in Paso Robles. “More and more winemakers are coming up with some very interesting blends that give us tastes and wines that you can’t get with single varietals.” Derby Wine Estates is participating in the effort with some extraordinary Rhone and Bordeaux blends, both red and white.
But the project that currently engages Ray’s enthusiasm is the new winery. Origi- nally built in the 1920s as an almond pro- cessing warehouse, he is restoring the building as a winery and tasting room. “The project is consuming all of our time and efforts now. The structure is right off of Hwy 101, a very visible building. I’m very excited over that. We’ll be able to increase our offerings as far as these other varietals are concerned and have a great tasting room at the same time.”
California Wines of the Month
Old World Winery – 2008 Tweek Block Chardonnay – 243 cases produced
Winemaker Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Weeks Vineyard is managed by an old family friend, Ted Weeks, in the remote Occidential area of the Sonoma Coast appellation of Sonoma County. The site is located atop the highest of a series of small hills that build up to the Pacific coastline. These small hills can be steep at times, creating pockets of microclimates, which lend to the uniqueness and complexity of the flavors found in the bottle.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wines except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. We believe letting the wine make itself is the only way to truly express the vineyard through the wine.
The Wine: Aged for eight months in new French oak barrels, this Chardonnay displays layers of complex fruit, including baked apple, ripe fig, and pineapple cake on the nose. An attractively rich mouthfeel full of mouthfilling fruit is supported by an excellent acid backbone, providing a clean and crisp finish (14.9% alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
“My favorite white wine is beer,” Darek says seriously. “I love the stuff.” He wanted to make a white wine that would be what amber ale is to lager beer, in other words rich. To give this Chardonnay its golden color and intense flavors, he left the skins with the juice for a few hours before fermentation instead of eliminating them immediately as is commonly done. The result is heightened color, aroma, and flavor. “I’m loving this style,” he says. You will too. Serve chilled.
Old World Winery – 2005 Fog line – 185 cases produced
Winemaker Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Bei du Rocchi Ranch, located in the Sonoma Coast near the town of Cazadaro, has been owned and operated by the Bei family for four generations. The ranch lays one ridgeline from the Pacific Ocean on an easterly saddle that is protected from cool winds by Pole Mountain. With an elevation of 1600 feet, the fog usually rests below the vineyard, allowing for hot afternoons, which benefit the ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in an appellation that is considered to be mostly Pinot Noir country.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wine except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are grown side by side in the Bei du Rocchi Vineyard. They were both picked on the same day and fermented together so that flavors completely integrate before bottling.
The Wine: Aged for 20 months in neutral French oak barrels, the wine is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Syrah, which show bright fruit flavors, including plum and black currant with subtle blackberry notes that are present in this unique single vineyard blend. A pleasantly tart backbone makes this wine perfect for warm evenings (13.9 % alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
A rich and rustic red, this wine is perfect for barbecued beef and sausages. But given the weather in many parts of the country, including here in the San Francisco Bay Area where it has been raining, you might have to delay the pleasure. Serve at cool room temperature.
Old World Winery – 2005 Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel – 184 cases produced
Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Laughlin Vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley near the town of Fulton. Mark West Creek flows along the northwest border of the vineyard and provides cool, foggy mornings for the vines. The heat does arrive, however, later in the afternoon to ripen our fruit. The vines are vertically trained to maximize sunlight penetration of the berries. Lee Martinelli Jr., the vineyard owner, holds the vines to about 2.5 tons of fruit per acre, which provides a concentration of fruit flavor not found in higher tonnages.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wine except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. We believe letting the wine make itself is the only way to truly express the vineyard through the wine.
The Wine: Aged for 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, our Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel is an instant classic. The nose bursts with concentrated aromas of black cherry, raspberry, prune, and fig, overlying a subtle backbone of chocolate and espresso. The texture is mouth-filling and leads into a long and rich finish. This wine is a very muscular Zin that can be enjoyed now or cellared five years for further enjoyment (15.9% alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
The Italians call a wine this powerful a “contemplation wine.” In other words, its aromas and flavors will dwarf most dishes, so why bother trying for the “right” pairing. Instead, serve it after a light meal only to your best friends with a last course of assorted cheeses.
Old World Winery – 2007 Field Blend – 197 cases produced
Darek Trowbridge’s Notes
The Vineyard: The Mounts family has been growing premium wine grapes for over 60 years in the Dry Creek Valley. Every vineyard block design reflects the unique orientation of hillside sun exposure, soil type and depth. Each of these factors determines the variety, the appropriate clone, and the most favorable root-stock that the family has planted there to achieve the greatest possible expression of fruit character.
The Winemaking: All of our wines are fermented with native yeasts only. We add nothing to the wine except for a small amount of sulfur, which protects the wine during the aging process. The Zinfandel and the Petite Sirah for our 2007 Field Blend are grown side by side in the vineyard. They were both picked on the same day and fermented together, allowing the flavors to completely integrate before bottling.
The Wine: Aged for 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, the wine is a blend of 89% Zinfandel and 11% Petite Sirah. The aroma contains gobs of blueberry liqueur, dark cherry, roasted figs, and vanilla. Also present are hints of coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon with a subtle earthiness in the background. The wine displays pure fruit in the mouth behind a full-bodied frame with enough acidity to retain a sense of freshness (14.8% alcohol).
Anna Maria’s Notes
Rich and earthy, this Old World Winery Field Blend would pair well with assorted grilled or barbecued meats or one of the slow cooked all day stews made from wild game that Darek remembers his grandfather serving. Serve at cool room temperature.
Menu of the Month
Spring Celebrations with Roasted Lamb
Sliced oranges, dressed with olive oil, salt, capers, and chopped Italian parsley
Roast leg of lamb stuffed with garlic & rosemary, roasted potatoes,
green peas with chopped red onions and parsley
Frisee, radicchio, and Belgian endive with lemon, garlic, & olive oil dressing
Fennel Cake, served with berries and a dollop of fresh whipped cream
Recipe of the Month
Roast leg of lamb stuffed with garlic & rosemary
Throughout the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim worlds and their pagan predecessors, spring lamb has appeased and pleased both gods and humans as they celebrated nature’s rebirth, which coincides with the breeding cycle of sheep. The recipe that we present here is a favorite of contemporary Romans. But anyone who loves garlic, rosemary, and lamb separately, will love them in combination.
5-pound leg of lamb
5 garlic cloves, slivered
5 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
Coarsely ground salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. With the point of a knife, cut slits into the lamb. Stuff with garlic slivers, rosemary, and salt.
Rub the lamb with olive oil and a little salt. Place on a rack in a roasting pan . Roast for about 1.5 hours or until meat thermometer indicates that lamb is cooked.