It was a beautiful day. We sat under a huge old oak tree on a ridgetop in north Sonoma County to sample new releases from Bannister Wines paired with creative bites from Shane McAnelly, executive chef at Chalkboard in Healdsburg.
Marty Bannister founded the original label in 1989. After some time away exploring other pursuits, son Brook Bannister returned a decade ago, eventually taking the reins in collaboration with his mother.
Marty’s first exposure to the wine industry came in the lab at Rodney Strong Vineyards, where she took a job in 1973.
She later co-founded Vinquiry, a wine service laboratory and consulting business, before starting the Bannister label in 1989.
Through involvement with past harvests, Brook has become passionate about the winemaking side and plans to use his roots in the area to explore new opportunities. He was raised within a few miles from this ridgetop and knows most of the local farmers and fruit sources.
Before assuming his position at Chalkboard, McAnelly honed his craft in the Bay Area focusing on fresh, locally produced ingredients. We have long enjoyed his creative small plate dishes at Chalkboard with fresh, farm-to-table food as the center point.
To start, Chef McAnelly served a local halibut crudo with piment d’espelette, a hot dried pepper from the Basque region of France, English pea, fennel, toasted seeds and napitella, a popular Italian herb.
The piment d’espelette added a spicy contrast to the raw fish and the 2018 Bannister Orange Riesling, Cole Ranch Old Vines ($28) was the most intriguing pair of the lunch.
Orange wine, as I have learned, is made from white grapes, but produced like a red wine with extended contact with the skins. Named for the evident deep golden hue, they are known to be excellent food wines.
Cole Ranch Vineyard, located in a tiny canyon along the Ukiah-Booneville Road (SR 253) between the Russian River and the Anderson Valley is the smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the United States. It is singly owned and sources cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and riesling grapes to many wineries.
Wine writer and radio host Dan Berger, who attended the luncheon, felt that Cole Ranch produced the country’s best riesling, better than the Fingerlakes, New York region or Washington State.
For a second course, Chef McAnelly chose duck served with beet purée, tatsoi, an Asian green with cabbage-like texture, and blackberries that was paired with a Bannister 2013 Pinot Noir, Campbell Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($60), the first wine that Brook ever made.
The Campbell Ranch Vineyard is primely located on an isolated ridgetop, high above the fogline, near Annapolis along the northern Sonoma coast.
This wine is produced from a single clone, 777, twenty percent whole-cluster pressed and aged for eleven months in 35 percent new oak. Brook, at first, felt that the wine was a bit hard-edged, even after it was in the barrel.
With age, the balanced and complex traditional pinot aromas and flavors in the 2013 evolved with a refined spicy and herbaceous component and a clear acidity.
To pair with the Bannister 2015 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($55), Chef McAnelly served pulled duck with beet puree, turnip and tatsoi, but aptly substituted horseradish for the blackberries, more fitting with the younger, more tannic wine.
Zinfandel was always a major part of Marty’s portfolio and the Bannister 2017 Dry Creek Zinfandel, Saini Ranch Vineyard ($36) was selected to pair with our final plate, a hanger steak with morel mushroom, bacon and kale. Morels have strangely flourished after the recent fires.
The Saini family has been producing and sourcing old vine zinfandel in northern Sonoma County since 1917, over four generations. Aged nearly a year in 30 percent new oak, the Saini Ranch zinfandel was full and round, but not overpowering, with a balanced acidity and nice spice elements.
It stood firmly with the beef, bacon and morels.
In the short term, Brook is focused on expanding the portfolio to include a standard riesling and is considering an offer on some new chardonnay grapes. While he is happy to be making wine, he made the point that new vineyard plantings out-number the amount of new releases, making it more difficult to sell.
As the second generation, Brook is owning the Bannister brand, set on honoring its legacy and molding the future to create one of his own, one fine wine at a time.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.