While delicious on their own, Peter and Betsy are careful to craft wines that compliment food. These are wines meant to enhance a meal, share with friends, be part of the occasion. Peter explains it like this, “We believe strongly in blending different compatible grape varieties to achieve balance and complexity. Blending wine is like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. [The pieces] should fit just right.” He is especially careful with the Bordeaux varietals, blending grapes so the wine interacts with the entire palate. “Cabernet Sauvignon hits the sides and back of the palate, Cabernet Franc and Merlot the middle, and Petit Verdot the roof of the mouth.” And the blends are fun and interesting. Most are big bold reds . . . Mo Zin (Mourvedre, Zinfandel); Mojo (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc); The Classic Four (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot). Bottlings of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Tempranillo are also available some vintages.
It is difficult when I am asked to “name my favorite wine.” The answer varies with vintage, meal, and sometimes mood. Often when a recommendation is requested I am very specific about maker, vintage and varietal: “Go get the 2009 Shiraz from Barossa made by blank and if you cannot find it call me back.” However, there are a select few wineries and winemakers that I recommend with complete confidence – regardless of grape(s) or vintage and even if I have not tasted that particular bottle myself. Spann Vineyards is at the top of that list for me, and many people have heard me say, “Just get a bottle of anything by Spann.”
Then I like to tell the story behind the wine. I love the tradition and story behind the product, the things you learn from knowing the producer. This is why I want you to know Peter and Betsy Spann.
Peter and Betsy grow grapes and make wine. They live in a quirky double A-frame house deep in the Mayacamas Mountains dividing the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. They always intended to build a larger house but have been too busy growing grapes and making wine. They started Spann Vineyards from a background in wine business and marketing and vineyard operations and winemaking. Both have spent time in Europe and blend “California” and “European” winemaking techniques. Peter will tell you he is the brawn and Betsy is the brains. Their winery itself is a small, highly efficient barn-like structure built for making and aging wine, and operation of the business from the upper floor just above the winery, The Spanns are set up to drink and dine al fresco on a lawn dotted with art made by their friends from recycled materials. Peter and Betsy are cool.
Better still, they are old-school cool. They foot tread their grapes. Each year, their friends, who line up to participate, crush their grapes as have centuries of winemakers. When the wines have aged and the barrel room angel has taken her share, the Spann’s load their barrels eight at a time, and transport them over the ridge and down into Napa valley for bottling. (I always picture them rolling the barrels down the hill. They don’t. There is a truck and a trailer).
Peter and Betsy’s sense of winemaking is evident in every sip. Their sense of humor is also hard to miss. Betsy’s Backacher was originally made as a “thank you” wine for friends and family who helped with harvest and crush. The grapes came from their own “back acre” and the job was “back aching.” All of Spann Vineyards wines taste like Peter and Betsy made them for their friends. Peter says, “After all, we drink this wine too so we want it to be enjoyable.”
Spann is a boutique winery producing 5,000 cases per year. But they are not in the rarified air of pricey bottles most people associate with small production wineries. The Spann’s are too cool for that. Their approach is more like a Grandmother making her famous red sauce. Working with simple, honest, and timeless ingredients, techniques and traditions, they taste and blend to create affordable, approachable wines which can be appreciated by any wine-drinker.