Meet Your New Wine Columnist Hayley Hamilton

Hayley HamiltonIt’s been an exciting  six years as D Magazine‘s wine columnist. I have tasted some amazing wines, interviewed fabulous winemakers, and explored the wine regions of the world. It’s been a fun run, but now that I am pregnant (surprise!), I feel it is time to simplify and take a break. Don’t worry. We have found a more-than-qualified replacement. You probably already know Hayley Hamilton from her quarterly wine club Dallas Uncorked. Well now she will be blogging and keeping you up-to-date on all the wines you need to know about about (and a few to avoid). Please help me welcome her and check out her first official SideDish post about Bill Easton, owner/winemaker of Domaine de la Terre Rouge and EASTON Wines. Follow the jump for her report.

Rhone Ranger visit to Dallas
Bill Easton, owner/winemaker of Domaine de la Terre Rouge and EASTON Wines in California’s Sierra Foothills, visited Dallas earlier this week and I had an opportunity to visit with him on his wine, vineyards and passion for the grape.

Bill always knew he would be in the wine biz.  Growing up in the Sacramento area of California his parents and grandparents were early influencers on his discovery of wine, and family dinners always toasted great food and wine pairings. On visits to the budding early 1960’s Napa wineries Bill saw and felt a good vibe amongst the people who worked the vines.  He saw it as a way to work the land, while growing a developing business, and still be creative.  Upon graduating from UC Berkeley he jumped in, though at first working in a winery in the Russian River Valley, and then in owning a somewhat cult wine store in the S.F. Bay Area called Solano Cellars, one of the first stores in the country to focus on the local developing wineries, including Ridge and Ravenswood.

At the time he also fell in love with the Rhone region of France and knew he could create something with a similar flavor profile of focusing on the land and place in the Foothills of the Sierra. He started small, grafting a few Rhone varietal vines near his home in Amador County, California, making a few bottles, creating his vision and testing his technique.  He owned the wine store from the mid 1970’s until 1994 when he moved on to making the Rhone style wines full time with Terra Rouge (Red Earth) and refined Zinfandel with EASTON Wines.  Bill was one of the original Rhone Rangers of California.  The Rhone Rangers took pride in creating old world style wine with structure and balance, a tendency towards earthy, mineral rich flavors, lower alcohol and an ability to age effectively.

Now, 15 years into doing this full time he produces about 10,000 cases of each brand, a solid amount in his opinion.  His goal isn’t to produce the most wine in this Artisan property; it is to produce the best wine. If a varietal doesn’t produce as much one year, he simply will not make as much wine.  He won’t sacrifice the quality of the wine to make more than the vines tell him he should.  The vineyard property has been completely sustainable for the past four years.  It is a solar powered property, and uses owls for rodent control….  With a growing staff of assistant wine makers, production assistants, sales managers, etc. he sees himself more as the conductor of his winery symphony, while still staying involved in all aspects especially during harvest.

As for the wine…Connoisseurs’ Guide named the 2005 Ascent Syrah the best wine of the year.  Why is it so special?  It is extremely low production; only 3600 bottles produced a year from a mix of the best Syrah grapes grown in his Sierra Nevada vineyards.  The wine displays great balance and structure now, and ability to gain complexity with age over the next 15- 20 years.  This is a wine that displays its place (terroir) in every sip, accenting the granite and volcanic-based soils of the foothills, and was aged 23 months in French oak barrels prior to being bottled unfiltered, keeping flavors intact.

The EASTON Fiddletown Old Vine Zinfandel is made from vines tracing to the original planting in 1865.  This wine is not blended with other Zinfandels in the cellar to make a consistent product. EASTON Fiddletown Zinfandel is 100% Zinfandel from the Rinaldi-Eschen Vineyard, and every year the results change.  Though this can be somewhat unpredictable, this process allows the  wine to be displayed in its truest form, a part of its charm. Filled with blackberry fruit, white pepper, anise, clove, and sweet spice, the wine yields great persistence on the palate.

The Terre Rouge Enigma is a white blend of Marsanne, Viognier and Roussanne grown in volcanic soil at an elevation of 3000 feet.  The higher elevation allows the fruit to remain on the vine longer, fully developing its flavors without losing structure and proper acidity.  Grapes are hand picked and aged in French Oak barrels, like the rest of the Terre Rouge wine.  Wildflower honey aromas engage the senses, matched by palate pleasing flavors of peach, apple and quince, wrapped with mineral notes from the region.  This is a perfect accompaniment for shell fish like lump crab meat, boiled shrimp and lobster.

Terre Rouge and EASTON Wines can be found at:

Vino 100, 2909 Mckinney Ave # A, Dallas, TX 75204

CORK, 3636 McKinney Ave, Suite 170, Dallas, TX  75204.

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