A recurring theme during our recent visit to Sonoma was the early and quick harvest. Typically, with our visit happening in early October, there would have been plenty of grapes still on the vines. Not so this year. But, that didn’t make our hour-plus ATV vineyard tour with Barry Collier at Collier Falls anything less than an adventure-and-a-half. With the grapevines planted on steep hillsides and Barry navigating the turns like the seasoned veteran that he is, I swear I could hear the Indiana Jones theme song playing in my head. And there were still enough grapes on the vines, slightly raisined and very sweet, to satisfy that need as well.
I’ve known Barry for a few years, typically bumping into him at events such as Family Winemakers, Stars of Cabernet and most recently at the Sonoma In The City tasting in Beverly Hills. I’ve always been impressed by his wines as well as his passion and seemingly tireless energy for making wine and talking about it. But what has always intrigued me most is that he bottles both a Zinfandel and Primitivo and is very careful and adamant about distinguishing between the two.
Some winery owners have said to me that Zinfandel and Primitivo are the same, that Primitivo is just a type of Zinfandel. In other words, Primitivo can be legally labeled as Zinfandel but only Primitivo can also be labeled as Primitivo. Barry points out that they are in fact two different grapes with a common heritage, and when you see them side by side and even more importantly taste them side by side the differences are evident.
Barry can explain it better than I can:
“First of all, the clusters are totally different. While the Zin cluster generally has a shoulder or wing adding to the weight which can be 1 and 1/2 pounds on its own, the Primitivo cluster is half that size. Also the Zin berry is about the size of your thumb nail, the Primitivo is about the size of your pinky nail. These differences give you an idea of what the fruit offers as well. The Zin is big, juicy and aromatic with soft tannins and a slightly lighter complexion while the Primitivo is a little darker, denser and with more backbone, more of an Old World wine. While I’d pair the Zin with Duck breast or even Ahi Tuna, I’d pair the Primitivo with Spare Ribs off the grill or Pepperoni Pizza.”
But Barry and Collier Falls are not just about Zinfandel and Primitivo. In fact, after Barry left his successful music and movie production careers, he and his wife Susan acquired the Collier Falls property because they wanted to make world class Cabernet Sauvignon on the steep hillsides. They accomplished that and more, also making excellent Petite Sirah and Syrah. But, the area is well known for Zinfandel, and with Zinfandel grapes already planted on the property, Barry took the novel approach of interplanting Primitivo vines with the Zinfandel, ultimately producing delicious versions of both varietals.
Sadly, Susan passed away in 2007 from ALS. Per the Collier Falls website: “Her passion for agriculture and wine, her appreciation of nature, and her infectious love of life, people and Sonoma County are represented in every bottle of Collier Falls we produce. Our Syrah du Soleil is in her honor, and comes from vineyards she helped plant. 100% of the proceeds from this special wine are donated to ALS research.”
Barry and his two sons carry on the tradition of producing excellent and exciting wine. After our tour of the vineyards, we headed to the tasting room to taste some of the current releases. [No tasting on the vineyard tour here – I like my wine swirled, not shaken!]
The tasting room is actually located a few miles back down Dry Creek road, in the cooperative Family Wineries http://familywines.com/ tasting room that Barry founded in 2005. Here you can taste not only the Collier Falls wines, but wines from Dashe Cellars, Forth Vineyards, Lago di Merlo, Mietz Cellars and Philip Staley. Indeed, with additional tasting rooms in the adjacent center, one could spend the better part of a day here.
We tasted the Collier Falls 2011 Zinfandel, 2011 Primitivo, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2011 Late Harvest Primitivo. All the wines are made from estate fruit. The Zinfandel showed classic Dry Creek fruit without being overpowering, and the Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the more approachable Cabs that I’ve had – something about that hillside fruit. I am always drawn to the Primitivo and its richness. You should definitely visit this tasting room, and if you can arrange with Barry for a vineyard tour you’ll be in for a real adventure.
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 25 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. Michael is also Vice President of Eve Bushman Consulting (fka Eve’s Wine 101 Consulting) http://evebushmanconsulting.com/ and President of MCP Financial. Michael can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.