Sunday, January 8, 2012

Behrens Family Winery

Behrens Family Winery is an enchanting winery that makes some of the best red wine in Napa Valley. Known previously as Behrens & Hitchcock and Erna Schein, this winery is now called Behrens Family Winery, although some of their wines are labeled with the previous winery names and all of their wines have whimsical names that might confuse you. Try “Blender Boy,” “Fat Boy,” “Ode to Picasso,” (a deceased cat, not the artist), “Homage to Ed Syrah,” “Everything But the Kitchen Sink,” “Jersey Boy,” “Sainte Fumee,” “The Road Less Traveled,” “The Heavyweight,” “The Knockout,” “Left Bank,” “Farewell Cuvee,” “Spare Me,”and “Cemetery Cabernet.” I pity any wine marketer trying to figure this all out. And all of the bottles have labels with unusual artwork and phrases. It is all very creative and playful, with word plays mixed with a diversity of art and cartoons. In direct contrast to all of this is the seriousness of the wine.

View from Behrens winery

Staff at other wineries on Spring Mountain suggested we visit Behrens because “Robin does a great presentation.”  We weren’t quite sure what to expect of the wines after seeing such unusually named wines on the Internet, so we went there to see Robin’s legendary presentation.  Robin turned out to be very nice and highly informative.  Behrens also has great views.  The funky old house trailer with a beautiful wood interior turned out to be the tasting room. We noticed all the strange labels, odd wine names and varied winery names on the bottles. Then Robin told us they are about great fruit and not terroir.  Red flag for me.  I anticipated super ripe fruit, Robert Parker type wines or, at worst, fruit bombs.  But Robin dissipated our anxiety by telling us interesting stories about the owners and the winery. So we gave in, and went with the flow.

Behrens tasting room

This wonderful presentation by Robin was then followed by our tasting. First, there was 2008 Erna Schein Blender Boy at $50.  An interesting red blend of Cab, 28% Cab Franc, 8% Petit Verdot and 14% Petite Sirah.  Cherry on the palate with flexible tannin and nice finish.  Next was the 2006 Erna Schein Herrick Moulds Cabernet Sauvignon at $65 which was much more drinkable than the still too young 2008 Erna Schein Moulds Family Cabernet at $75. Then there was Behrens and Hitchcock Ode to Picasso, with Picasso’s (the dead cat) passport on the label. Somewhere in the mix of tastings we encountered the 2009 Behrens Family Winery Kick Ranch Petite Sirah at $50, a wonderful PS, with great balance, nice PS spice and very good mouth feel and finish.  This is one of the finest Petite Sirahs being made today.

Our very favorite wine, though, was yet to come. This was the 2006 Erna Schein Fat Boy at $75.  It is 56% Merlot, 25% Cab, 13% Petit Verdot and 14% Cab Franc.  This had the wine fruit of a lifetime, ultimate fruit, divine fruit, fruit of the gods.  Who said it does not have terroir?  It has the terroir of Heaven where it had to be grown, and it must have been made into wine by Bacchus himself. Teardrops from Aphrodite?  Nectar of the gods?  No, grapes from David Abreu made into a magical wine by Mr. Behrens.  If this is what great fruit is about, then count me in as a fruit freak. Right bank Bordeauxs have more Merlot than Cab in their blends, but I never tasted any French fruit like this.  Fat Boy provided one of the ultimate wine highs.  It is truly a wonderful, magical wine of another world. This has sumptuous fruit but with very balanced acid and tannins and layers of complexity.  The 2006 Erna Schein Fat Boy is an incredibly deep and layered wine that gently explodes in your mouth, delighting the senses.  So, while Robin’s presentation alone makes a visit to Behrens worthwhile, you will also find wonderful wines there, and, if you arrive soon, you might still be able to taste Fat Boy.

Behrens tasting trailer

By the time you read this, however, Behrens Family Wines might be called by another name and you will probably encounter wines with names other than those mentioned above. All I can advise you to do is to track down Robin at 707-963-1774 and be prepared for a great introduction to a magical winery and a wonderful tasting experience.  All reds.  Mostly about fruit. But wonderful fruit. I suspect the winemaker for Behrens is more wizard than winemaker and that the ancient art of alchemy is employed in addition traditional wine making techniques.  Although Fat Boy is being discontinued, Behrens will undoubtedly have some other strangely named wines with odd labels.  Hopefully you will find them as delightful as we did.
Behrens Family Winery 
4078 Spring Mountain Road 
St Helena, CA 94515
(707) 963-1774
Date of visit: January 4, 2012  

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