Friday, May 18, 2007

Winery Watch: Twisted Oak Winery

An ongoing series of Friday posts highlighting California family wineries. You might not be familiar with all of these vineyards and winemakers--yet--but they produce wines that speak with the voices of this state's people, places, and history. They are worth seeking out. These posts will be longer than most posts on the blog, but I hope you will find them perfect for leisurely weekend reading and internet browsing. To read previous posts in the series, click here.

Some people have entirely too much fun at their work.

They do not work in cubicles--they work at a place where a sign proudly proclaims "Adults at Play." (picture courtesy of Twisted Oak). They do not commute long hours on Los Angeles area freeways--they scoot down country lanes in Calaveras County. Instead of corporate cocktail parties they attend BBQs where folks dress up in pirate gear or western outfits, brandish rubber chickens, and ask if you are twisted enough to join the Twisted Few. They do not write up mission statements that no one will read full of words no one can pronounce. They've given those joys up for wine labels that feature punctuation marks instead of letters of the alphabet, and coming up with clever t-shirt slogans. You have a job that sucks the joy out of life at Mindless Thoughtless Corporation X. They work at Twisted Oak Winery, and they produce #!&* fine wine that puts some of the joy back into life.

Named after the venerable California Blue Oak on the property, Twisted Oak specializes in Rhone and Spanish varietals. (photo courtesy of Twisted Oak) Grenache, Tempranillo, Verdelho, and Viognier are just some of the grapes that Twisted Oak makes into wine. These wines are not just New World knock-offs of Old World bottlings, however. Each one has the stamp of the Gold Rush region of California where they are grown: they are a bit more adventurous in their flavor profiles, have a bit more backbone in terms of acidity and structure, and are more fun to drink as a result.

Twisted Oak grows their own grapes at vineyards in Vallecito and Sheep Ranch Road in Murphys, CA. But they also work in partnership with other Calaveras County growers, including Tanner and Dalton Vineyards, and those in other parts of the state like the Silvaspoons Vineyards in Galt and Sumu Kaw Vineyard in El Dorado County. Twisted Oak believes in the fruit grown in these often overlooked viticultural regions of California, and one taste of their wine will make you a believer, too. But they also know that good fruit benefits from careful treatment, so after the grapes are harvested they process them in their nifty gravity feed winery. This ensures that the juice is extracted gently and the maximum flavor is left in the juice, where it belongs.

One of the most remarkable things about the Twisted Oak Winery--apart from the wine--is the way that they have welcomed their customers as friends. This can be attributed in part to the fact that Twisted Oak is a pretension-free zone, where they poke fun at each other, their wine, us, and the wider world of wine enthusiasts with devilish good humor. Jeff Stai, known throughout the Blogosphere as "El Jefe," keeps us all up to date on the doings at the winery through his blog, El Bloggo Torcido. His entries show that these are winemakers we can imagine spending the evening with--just look at the picture above of the Twisted Oak bunch at the Hospice du Rhone Saturday BBQ. (photo courtesy of El Bloggo Torcido). Aren't these the kind of people you want to buy your wine from?

While Twisted Oak folks might be lots of fun, don't let their silliness fool you. These are talented winemakers who take a lot of care with the wine that they produce. I've been struck in my tastings of Twisted Oak wines by the balance that they are able to strike between ripe, lush fruit and food-friendly acidity. What follows are some of the wines from their portfolio that I've had recently. This is by no means all the wines that they make, so you might want to visit the Twisted Oak online store, or head over to WineQ which has a roster of their wines including some no longer available through the winery. Prices listed below are the recommended retail price from Twisted Oak or the price I paid for them through WineQ; as always you may be able to get these wines at higher or lower (lucky you) prices. Detailed "Geek Sheets" are available for each and every wine listed here, if you want to know what food goes with your wine, or how much brix or volatile acidity it has.

2005 Twisted Oak %@#$! ($23.99, WineQ) Also known as "Potty-Mouth White," I had it with some of John Potter's crab cakes I pulled off his blog Brim to the Dregs and it was a great pairing. This wine is a Hermitage-style blend of Roussanne and Marsanne that represents stunning value. I dare you to try to find a Hermitage from the Rhone that delivers such fresh peach and pear aromas and flavors with a decided streak of minerality for this price. Earthy notes add complexity to the finish. Excellent QPR.

2005 Twisted Oak Viognier ($22) This is seriously good viognier, a textbook example of the aromas and flavors characteristic of the varietal: honeysuckle, jasmine, and orange blossom flowers; zippy citrus including lemon and an intriguing note of mandarin orange. The wine was also very well-balanced, with a slightly sweet impression when you first sipped it, and then refreshing acidity in the flavors. Excellent QPR.

2005 Twisted Oak Verdelho Silvaspoons ($15.99, Wine Q) Get this excellent, award-winning white while you can, as stocks are running low. It had soft aromas of peach and melon followed up by bright floral and citrus flavors to accompany the rounder peach/melon notes. Perfect with grilled fish, fish tacos, peel and eat shrimp—if it swims in the sea or crawls on the ocean floor, this is the wine to have with it! Excellent QPR.

2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo ($24): This young tempranillo from Calaveras County grapes has lots of potential. All it needs is a bit more time in the bottle to settle down. Right now there is a pronounced spiciness to the wine, with good tannic structure and cherry fruit—the kind of wine that would perfect for BBQ and big steaks. But in another year or two I suspect that the fruit and spice will be a bit more integrated, the tannins a bit more subtle, and it will be even more fantastic. Buy it now while you can! Excellent QPR.

2005 Twisted Oak *%#&@! ($28) They may call this "Potty-Mouth Red", but it's really another beauty of a wine made from Calaveras County fruit. This soft Rhone-style red blend contains grenache, syrah, and mourvedre. Blueberries, black plum and alluring floral aromas are followed by black and blue fruit flavors that are bright and will pair well with food. Very good QPR.

If you're planning a trip to the Foothills this summer, be sure to stop into one of their two tasting rooms to try some of this excellent wine. I've had a chance to meet some of the Twisted Oak family, and I guarantee you will have a good time! In the meantime, consider joining the Twisted Few wine club, to get your hands on their wine (and maybe a rubber chicken, too...) at deep discounts, as well as procuring limited production wines like their new 2005 Torcido.

You and I might not be able to have much fun at work. But at least we can drink stuff made by those who clearly do.

Next Week: Peachy Canyon


Unknown said...

Great write-up. I'm tremendously jealous that you've been able to taste so many Twisted wines. The Murgatroyd was enough to make me a believer. I'm anxiously awaiting the day when I can buy their wines in my neck of the woods.

Anonymous said...

What a happy day when El Jefe left a comment on my blog. Not only was he one of my first (and still best) fans, but that meant I learned about this crazy new winery that, as you point out, also makes some damn good wine. A fun place to visit, to boot.

Unknown said...

I like the emphasis on the vineyard lifestyle. My "family" has a new vineyard in the south of France and it has been tempting to quit my job and move there and work with them. Now Sarkozy is threatening the 35 hour French work week.

Sonadora said...

I need a job where I can play with rubber chickens. I might be able to here, but I think people might look at me funny and recommend a forced sabbatical....

Dr. Debs said...

Hi, everybody. John, I'm jealous you tasted the Murgatroyd--that's on my list for their new releases. I guessed the TO experience was a good one, Farley, but it's nice to have it confirmed. Welcome, bluescientist. Hmm--surely there's some good experiments that can be done on wine?? Combining day job and wine fantasy? And I'm with you, Sonadora. Chickens would lead to an unpaid sabbatical, unfortunately!

David said...

great idea for a series! I've especially enjoyed visits to smaller wineries when in California. Sunce in Sonoma is one that comes to mind.

Dr. Debs said...

David, thanks for the tip! I'm embarrassed to say that I pass that place every time I go to Costco in the summertime. I'll stop for sure now.

thomas said...

The people from Twisted Oak are awesome. Rad people and fantastic wine, especially the F&%# wine!

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