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by Fred McMillin
for November 24, 2000

 

Winery of the Week

Help! Help!


Prologue

Forty years ago the Charles Krug winery needed help. Their off-dry Chenin Blanc would start fermenting again after it was bottled. So they hired an ace German enologist to come over for a few months and solve the problem. His name was Robert Stemmler.


The Rest of the Story

Robert not only solved the problem, his work was so valuable that six years later he was still with Krug. Then nearby Inglenook lured him away to become their winemaker. A few years later Sonoma's Simi winery did the same.

In fact, the Stemmler touch became so coveted that in the 1970s he became an independent consultant, not only in California, but also in Chile and Argentina.

1977—Robert decided to establish his own small winery and vineyard high on a hillside with a grand view of the Dry Creek Valley. He tried a number of varietals on a small scale. Then, former employer Simi decided to abandon production of Pinot Noir in 1982. Robert grabbed the grapes.


The Gold Strike

"Robert Stemmler struck gold with his 1982 Pinot Noir. By 1986 production was up to 10,000 cases. 'The Unwilling Prince of Pinot' is the way the press described him." (from Charles Sullivan's Wine Companion)

Critic Anthony Dias Blue on that '82: "Clean, soft, rich, fruity, very lovely." The first Stemmler Pinot served in my classes was the 7th vintage, the 1988. My students agreed with the San Francisco Chronicle's Larry Walker, who wrote, "The Stemmier 1988 Pinot is a stunning wine—a far step beyond many of the run-of-the-press, tutti-frutti California Pinot Noir."


Racke Joins the Fun

The German Racke firm knew a good wine when they saw it. So, the next year, 1989, they bought into Stemmler, and Robert switched to making the Pinot at Racke's Buena Vista winery. His original winery was ultimately sold to Pezzi King.


Judy, Judy, Judy

Today, Racke Winemaker Judy Matulich-Weitz makes the Stemmler, but continues using the techniques that brought such great success, for example:

  • Sonoma hillside grapes
  • Small "batch" fermentation, to enhance aroma and flavor extraction
  • Production has not been expanded at the risk of reduced quality.
  • The 1989 total was 8,000 cases, Judy's 1997 is 6,500 cases.

My panel just tasted the '97 and gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Their comments included "subtle," and "well-made."


To Learn More About Stemmler

Contact—The office of Michelle Danzer. Phone (800) 678-8504, X-1439, FAX (707) 252-0392, www.robertstemmlerwinery.com

Postscript

The Stemmler Pinot experience is not the first time Judy has followed Robert. As you recall, Robert was once the Inglenook winemaker (as late as 1970). Let's fast forward to 1985. Where is Judy the winemaker? Inglenook!

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 
 


 
 

This page created November 2000

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