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Of Content and Character

Jan 16, 2012
Of Content and Character
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we salute winemakers of color

martin-luther-king-jr-2010-dayNearly one half century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and called for an end to racial inequality.

On the eve of what would have been his 83rd birthday, we hope the late visionary would have rejoiced not only in an America led by a black president, but one in which vintners of color are growing in numbers.

The recently revamped Association of African American Vintners claims five members, including Sonoma’s Sharp Cellars and Running Tigers Wine, but there are one dozen wineries in California where either the winemakers or owners are black.

Below, we profile four that are making wines of distinction.

Rideau Vineyard: New Orleans native Iris Rideau founded her Santa Ynez Valley winery in 1997 to make Rhone-style wines that would pair with the Creole cuisine of her childhood. A sip of the 2007 Lagniappe Red ($27) reveals ripe, vanilla-soaked cherries with a rich mocha finish. The wine does justice to its Creole name, which means “a little something extra.”

Esterlina Vineyards: Mario Sterling and his four sons have been making noteworthy riesling — the jasmine-laced 2009 Cole Ranch Riesling ($20) is a favorite of off-dry drinkers here — and pinot noir in the Anderson Valley for nearly 20 years. They do juicy zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon at their Sonoma property, Everett Ridge Winery, in Dry Creek Valley.

Longevity Wines: Phil Long launched his Livermore Valley winery in 2008 after making wine in his garage for years. He currently produces 1,500 cases of merlot, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and red blends, like the 2008 “Deb-ru-vee” ($35), a rich, chocolately Rhone-style blend named after his wife.

Indigene Cellars: Winemaker Raymond Smith of Paso Robles focuses on bold, juicy red wines made from grapes warmed by the Central Coast sun. His award-winning 2009 Ambiente ($24) is a sangiovese-based, Tuscan-style blend with bright acidity and gobs of red and black fruit.

What wine will you drink on Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Share it below.

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