By Celia Strong
I do realize that all is not always happy on the homefront, but for most of us, a glass of wine helps. And this week we can learn about a new wine that not only tastes great but also benefits service members and their families — that’s enough to make any American happy during this Fourth of July weekend.
We travel to California, the source for about 90 percent of the wine made in the United States. Wine production in California dates back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards in order to make wines for Mass. Today there are more than 1,200 wineries, all different sizes and production levels and all making the best wines they can.
Over the years, as the wine industry in California has grown, wine makers have developed a fruit-forward style for their wines; many of them ready to drink when they are purchased, or close to that. Other countries have chosen to make wines in this style, and it has become known as New World style.
More than 100 red and white grape varieties are grown in California. The diversity of soil types and climates spread throughout the state has enabled wineries to make a huge range of styles of wine, all with great success.
This week we are going to look to Sonoma County for our wine. Sonoma, the town, was the most northern of the Spanish missions established in California and it was the capital city of the California Republic — a short-lived entity resulting from the ousting of the Mexican colony. Still, today, it is the center of the wine business in the county. A visit to the town Sonoma lets you get a sense of its Spanish and Mexican beginnings — it was laid out like a traditional Spanish town where the streets run off from a large central plaza. Sonoma’s city hall, built early in the 20th century, is located in the center of the plaza. There are also about 30 restaurants around the plaza, so you can see what’s important there.
Sonoma is known as birthplace of American California. The Bear Flag was first raised in the plaza on June 14, 1986. After the Mexican-American War that followed the revolt in Sonoma, the Spanish leader General Vallejo was imprisoned and the United States flag was raised.
California’s oldest wine festival is at Valley of the Moon winery every September in Sonoma. The climate in Sonoma County is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Rainfall averages about 30 inches every year, and snow is rare.
Our winery this week, Murphy-Goode, was founded in 1985 by three friends: Tim Murphy, Dale Goode and Dave Ready. Their first wines were a Fumé Blanc and a Chardonnay, made from grapes grown on the Murphy Ranch. Today, Dave Ready, Jr. is the winemaker. He grew up in Minnesota but wanted to be a rock star. So, he moved to California, ended up at the winery where his dad worked and became the assistant winemaker in 1997. In 2001, he became the head winemaker. Dave still likes to play and write some songs, but his passion for wine is just as strong — the artistic urge is satisfied with both. And, he’s loyal to the Minnesota Vikings too. The football team’s purple color is on all of Dave’s wine labels.
Our wine, the Murphy-Goode Homefront Red, is another passion for everyone at the winery. For each bottle sold of this wine, the winery gives $.50 cents to Operation Homefront. This is a nonprofit organization that provides financial help and other assistance to families of service members and wounded warriors. (This charity is rated four stars by watchdog Charity Navigator. Ninety-four percent of their revenue goes to Operation Homefront.) And, while $.50 cents from each bottle might not sound like a lot, there is no cap on how much the winery will give. (The donation amount from the 2011 production will be close to $300,000 from 54,000 cases.) And the are possible plans for another vintage that will raise more. That means if we keep buying this wine, they will keep giving. Also, Murphy-Goode makes no profit for themselves on this wine. Helping service members and their families was a choice Dave, Jr. made because his father served in Vietnam, both grandfathers were in World War II, and his great-grandfather was in World War I.
So, what is this wine? It is a red blend that, according to the winery, was a pretty easy blend to develop: Dave sat down, tasted a few bits of a few wines, and voilà. The predominant grape is Syrah, giving great texture to the wine. There is also some Merlot for fruitiness and smoothness, some Zinfandel added for spicy flavors, and a bit of Petit Sirah gives structure. All grapes are aged in American and French oak barrels.
The finished wine has very pleasant aromas — vanilla and oaky notes with plenty of dark berry fruits. Black cherry and blackberry lead the flavors, followed with more vanilla, some cocoa powder, some black pepper spice and baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The tannins are soft so the textures are smooth and inviting.
I know we only have the one vintage of this wine, because they’ve only made one so far, but it is worth trying while we can. The suggested retail price is $15 dollars. But you can find it at Bill’s Liquors on Lady’s Island for only $11.99. And, for you real fans? There are three big bottles, three liter bottles, available at $39.99 — that’s the equivalent amount of wine from four bottles, for $10 a bottle. For sure, you might need a few friends to share it with, but drinking together is why we taste and learn about the wine in the first place. And, with this wine, we are helping our service members and their families. Seems like a lot of good reasons why all is happy on the homefront. Enjoy.