MacLaren Wine Company Review
Address: 27 East Napa St., Suite E Sonoma,California 95476.
Phone Number: 707-938-7490
Tasting Hours: Thurs-Sun 12:00-6:00 and by appt.
Region: Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
Review Date: 4/2/2016
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
In March 2014, shortly after moving from Virginia to Napa, I had a cool-climate syrah moment at a Rhône Rangers public tasting. The syrahs were produced by Sonomas MacLaren Wine Company. Six months later, I finally found myself in the tasting lounge with winemaker and Scotsman, Steve Law. He said to me, Did you know you have an accent? My reply, No, you have an accent. The ice was broken and from that point on, I was enamored with the wines and story of MacLaren.
MacLaren Wine Company is a husband-and-wife team comprised of Steve and Heather Law, who decided to make their love of wine a new career. Yesterday, I paid a visit to MacLaren, where I learned that Steve, who holds a masters degree in electronics engineering and spent 23 years in that career, grew to love wine during the 10 years he spent living in France. He recalled a pivotal wine moment at Steamers Grillhouse in Los Gatos, where he and his French wine consulting friends, Yves and François, drank from the restaurants non-public wine list until 2:00 in the morning. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled at UC-Davis extension program. However, a friend advised him, You have to make wine to learn to make wine. In 2007, he made his first syrah. In nine years, MacLaren has grown to 1200 cases consisting of multiple syrahs, a rosé of syrah, a sauvignon blanc, and a pinot noir, all of which have received public acclaim. Three of the wines are named after his wife, Heather (pinot noir), his mother, Lee (sauvignon blanc), and his goddaughter Kenzie (rosé).
The MacLaren Tasting Lounge in Sonoma, which opened a few years ago, is one of the most welcoming settings for wine tasting that I have ever experienced. Comfortable, couch-like bench seating beneath windows lines the walls, and there is space to taste at the bar when it is crowded. The walls are decorated with artwork depicting MacLarens wine offerings and label design. There is also an erasable blackboard with the tasting fee prominently displayed, $20, waived with any purchase. On the tables and the bar is the tasting menu. MacLaren also has laminated maps available which depict the vineyard sources, elevation, and the grape clones used for each wine produced. The space is clean, orderly, educational, and most of all, relaxing.
During my recent visit, Steve shared with me his upcoming releases: his 2015 rosé of syrah and his four 2013 syrahs. His first pressed rosé is quite different from other rosés. The grapes are sourced from Samanthas Vineyard located in the Russian River Valley, separated from Chalk Hill by a canyon. The vineyards are terraced, with only eight feet separating the terraces. The berries were handpicked at 21 brix, and Steve hand sorted all of the fruit there at the vineyard, as he does with all of his fruit. Only on the skins for about an hour between picking and pressing, the salmon-colored wine retains vibrant acidity and shows red berry aromas and flavors. It sees sur lie treatment and six months in neutral French oak, which yields a creamier mouthfeel, making this wine very food friendly.
I must confess, though, that my great loves are the syrahs, which are tasted in order from the coolest to the warmest climate vineyard sources. MacLaren acquired fruit from three vineyards in 2013 Atoosas Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, Samanthas Vineyard (the same vineyard source as the rosé), and Moavini Vineyard in Bennett Valley to handcraft three single-vineyard syrahs and a blended syrah from the multiple vineyards named Drouthy Neebors (thirsty friends, also the name of MacLarens wine club). All were aged 14 months in neutral French oak, no new oak. In 2013, Steve experimented with an unconventional production technique. He did not rack the wines, which has resulted in beautiful texture, weight, and length on the palate. 2013 was a relatively warm year, and the syrahs, while still cool climate, are more robust than previous vintages. The Atoosas, always my personal favorite, is still a wine geeks syrah. It is always the last vineyard picked because of its cool, foggy climate. Herbaceous, floral, fruity, and peppery qualities dominate the nose and palate. Drouthy Neebors, the blend, captures the qualities of all of the vineyards, showcasing blackberry, blackcurrant, black tea, and pepper. Samanthas Vineyard is a pretty wine, revealing lovely fruits such as blackberry, blueberry, and wild strawberry. Last, but not least, the Moavini Vineyard, called heart of darkness by Steve, comes from a very steep vineyard of volcanic soil, and is the darkest and most dense of the four.
By far, the greatest appeal of MacLaren, besides the exemplary quality of the wines, is that more often than not, Steve will be your tasting host. There are not many tasting rooms or wineries where the winemaker is directly involved in hosting guests, so it is a real treat to be able to hear the passion in his voice as he speaks about each one of his wines. Sitting on the couch, tasting and talking with Steve, you feel like you are at home. You realize that you are indeed a drouthy neebor, a thirsty friend, of MacLaren Wine Company.