On Father’s Day I took John to Bravas, a fantastic Spanish tapas restaurant just off the square in Healdsburg – a restaurant we have been dying to try. You should have seen the look on his face when he saw that EVERY SINGLE WINE on the menu was available by the glass, carafe (half-bottle size), and full bottle. As soon as I saw that, I knew that we would be drinking our way through the menu one glass at a time; which we did. Some of the wines were familiar to us, others new. One that fell into the “new” category was a 2016 red wine from Frick Winery – a Cinsault, not something we see on menus very often, and almost never from Sonoma County. A check of the front and back label told us that Frick Winery was located in Geyserville, just a few miles away from where we were sitting. John couldn’t resist a quick web search for the winery and learned that it is located in the Dry Creek American Viticultural Area (A.V.A.), one that we have been exploring more and more as we have spent more time in Sonoma County.
Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to visit new wineries; I know, I know, #winepeopleproblems. Anyway . . . it turns out that the following weekend we were heading up to Fort Bragg to hang out with our friends Kent and Robyn to celebrate their second wedding anniversary. As it turns out, Geyserville would be a perfect place to stop and rest (and drink wine) before each of us proceeded home. We jumped on the Frick Wines website and made an appointment to taste on Sunday mid-afternoon. A very simple reservation process – check it out here. https://frickwinestore.com/
One of the very first things that you see when you land on the Frick home page is the phrase “7.77 Acres and a Man.” “Well,” we thought, “that sure is descriptive.” John likes to ask a million questions when we visit wineries. “How big is the property?” is one of his first questions. So, check, we got that out of the way up front. So now we were left to learn more about “A Man.” In this case, “A Man” – or perhaps better said, THE Man – is Bill Frick, the eponymous founder, proprietor, vintner, and winemaker at Frick Winery. Today, Bill fills not only all of these roles but also caretaker of the vines (he does much of the pruning himself and does have a bit of help to bring the grapes in during harvest). Oh, and he is also the tasting room scheduler and manager; the tasting room server; the receptionist; and chief cook and bottle (and wine glass) washer as well. We have visited many wineries with small staffs, often a husband and wife working alone, or the two with maybe one or two employees. Frick Winery, however, may be the only place we have visited where there really is just one single person doing almost literally everything in the winery.
It wasn’t always just “a man,” though. When Frick Winery started in 1976, it was a man, a woman, and a 1957 Chevy.
Bill and his wife Judith Gannon sacrificed the Chevy, selling it and using the proceeds to start their winery and pursue their dream together. For the next 25+ years, they worked together to tend the vines, crush the grapes, ferment the wines, sharing the manual labor at every step. In an AVA dominated by Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, the Frick’s decided they wanted to produce wines from Rhône varieties only and Frick Winery continues that focus to the present day. There are 7 Rhône varieties that go into the 14 single-variety and blends that they make: carignane, cinsaut, counoise, grenache, mourvedre, syrah, and viognier. We would have enjoyed visiting Frick Winery when it was “7.77 Acres and A Woman and a Man.” Sadly, though, Judith passed away in 2002. Bill decided to continue pursuing his passion for making small-lot, Rhône-style white and red wines, for which we are grateful as we had the opportunity to taste some fantastic wines.
As mentioned above, we have done a fair amount of Dry Creek tasting recently so we have become accustomed to relatively big wineries sitting on major roads like Dry Creek Road or Westside Road. By contrast, Frick sits on a road that dead-ends not far from the winery property. This is not a place that you drive by over and over and finally decide “today is the day I am going to stop and visit.” Thankfully, Google Maps worked perfectly and we found ourselves at the property right on time about an hour and a half after leaving Fort Bragg. As we pulled into the parking lot we saw a sign that made us smile in anticipation.
We entered the cottage and Bill welcomed us enthusiastically and suggested that, due to the 90-degree heat, we taste inside at the stand-up tasting counter. I, however, was in an outdoor mood and talked my reluctant husband and friends into sitting outside – in the shade, but definitely in the heat. Kent always thinks ahead and had plenty of water for us all so we stayed hydrated. Our first wine was a classic Rhône red – Counoise.
There are only 56 acres of this grape planted in California, compared to over 40,000 acres of Pinot Noir. How’s that for rare? Only 103 cases of this gem were bottled, and both we and the Kent-Robyn duo took some home with them. An intriguing blend of red and dark fruits, spice, earthiness, and, Kent swears, “leather.” He has a pretty uncanny ability to peg aromas so if he says leather . . . well, there’s leather, dammit. Mild tannins and nice acidity balance the fruit to deliver a really sophisticated, balanced wine. I almost forgot to mention, aged 22 months in 100% neutral French oak, contributing to a beautiful texture to the wine without imparting the vanilla or toasted aromas and flavor of new French oak. A ridiculous bargain at $29.00 a bottle (you’ll see a consistent theme – stay tuned).
Our second variety explored was Cinsault, which was what brought us here in the first place. You remember – the 2016 Cinsault we had at the Spanish tapas restaurant. Bill really gave us an opportunity to geek out on this grape, pouring the 2016, 2017 and 2018 and allowing us to compare the variety across the three vintages.
All three wines were fantastic but our favorite was the 2016. In fairness, though, it has also had more time to age; perhaps the ’17 and ’18 will be superior with more time in bottle. Only 7 acres of Cinsault are planted in the entire Sonoma AVA so this is another rare single-variety Rhône-style red wine. For his wines, Bill sources grapes from a Dry Creek Valley AVA vineyard nearby comprised of head-trained, dry-farmed vines. $29.00 a bottle (ring the bell when you see a pattern forming).
Over the course of the afternoon we tasted single-variety Syrah, another beauty. The cost, you ask? $29.00 a bottle. Bill also poured us his single-variety Mourvèdre. The cost? $29.00 a bottle. We also enjoyed the Frick GSM blend – 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 20% Mourvèdre. The cost? $29.00 a bottle. Hopefully we can all see a pattern here? Every. Single. Wine. Costs. Just. Twenty. Nine. Dollars. This is Sonoma County, people! Hell, it’s Dry Creek Freaking (Fricking?) Valley. I beg you: fine one other winery in one of the most exclusive AVA’s in the United States where they have EVEN ONE red wine for $29.00. Most places don’t even sell their white wines for that little. John’s businessman mind was engaged at some point during the tasting (early on, undoubtedly, before the wine fog rolled in) and he actually asked Bill: “Why do you sell your wines for so little?” His answer was priceless (or was it $29.00? I forget): “I would be scared to death to sell wines where the price started with ‘3’.” Can you believe this guy? In Napa Valley we don’t even blink at a 3-digit Cabernet Sauvignon from some upstart, no-name winery. Even some Pinot Noir are going for over $100 in parts of Russian River Valley. $29.00 a bottle? That’s what you get, my friends, with A Man and his 7.77 acres. If you want to taste real wines with a real person on a real farm, what the Frick, you know where to go. I think I can speak for John, Kent and Robyn when I say we will be back.
Before wrapping up this post, I wanted to say one last thing about a very unique block of vines on the Frick estate: the Garibaldi block. The Frick’s named this block after Judith’s mother, Babe Garibaldi Gannon, whom Bill calls his “fantastic mother-in-law.” Surely those words are not often seen so close together! Anyway, back to the block. Visually, it looks nothing like the manicured and linear vineyards more common to wine country: the vines are head-trained, some of the vines close to or over 100 years old. There are a number of varieties growing in the Garibaldi block, a relic of the days when Sonoma County wine country was more “Wild West” than the mature, buttoned-up place that it has become. In addition to Carignane, Grenache, vines growing in the Garibaldi block produce Muscat Blanc, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Valdiguié, Mission, Mataro, Palomino and Burger grapes. It is hard to imagine there is another single block anywhere in California that has so many unique grapes (not even Lodi I bet). The block is so small that it takes two years to accumulate enough grapes to make a white-and-red grape field blend – the most recent being “Lot 6.” No grape makes up for that 15% of the blend. Only two barrels (50 cases) were produced; sadly, Lot 6 is sold out so we are waiting for the next blend.
July 14, 2021