Winemaker Series: Bill Frick, The One Man Band

After the bare requisites to living and reproducing, man wants most to leave some record of himself, a proof, perhaps, that he has really existed. ~ John Steinbeck

Just driving around the Dry Creek Valley, you'd most likely miss a casual stop to see Bill Frick and visit his tasting room, found at the bottom of a small hillside in Sonoma County. For most visitors, you really have to know, that you'd like to go there because it's far off the well-beaten path in the Dry Creek Valley. But it's a stop well worth your time and attention, these wines are only available at the winery's tasting room or via direct ship.

It was quite the warm day in the Dry Creek Valley, as you can see, the harvest was still nigh, the vines groaning silently with their heavy load, anxiously waiting to be picked. We strolled through the vineyards, picking a berry here and there, Frick shaking his head after tasting, "no not quite ready yet," and me looking at the brown seeds in my hand thinking, "really?" But what do I know, I'm just a wine writer, definitely not a winemaker, vineyard manager and not even the garden variety cellar-rat by any stretch of the imagination. Thus I'll trust the timing of grape picking and other related activities to professionals like Bill Frick.

Incredible and beautiful is the diversity which can be found in the Dry Creek Valley if you know where to look. It's here in this beautiful spot, quiet tucked away hillside in the Dry Creek Valley that exists one of my newly found favorite Rhone Zone locations. Here you'll find all things, Rhone, from the grapes growing on the roller coaster slopes of this property to the flavors of the wines themselves which transports the visitor to the Southern Rhone Valley of France.

I've been in positions where I've run, nearly an entire operation on my own, from processing film, calibrating printing equipment, mixing chemicals, drawing silver from exhausted chemistry, then running across a busy sales floor to close another sale. Just so I could make my bonus that month, stay on top labor hour goals and keep my boss happy with my performance. But that is a young man's game, I doubt, and I'm honest here, that I could do all of that over again, at my current age.

That is why I was surprised to find out, that Frick was a one-man band. Yes, he does it all, from deciding when to pick to operating the basket press during the harvest. Everything you usually see a good sized crew doing, let alone one person. Frick takes it all on himself, and the results are pretty amazing. Speaking of his basket press, Frick likened it to an Alfa Romero sports car, which he says, "has a good feel for the road, the smell, sound, and flavor all clicking in one harmonious sound." When it comes time to get into crush mode, there's no music, he wants to hear what the wine is telling him. Thus he only turns on the tunes when it's time to clean up. Of course, I asked him about the picking and the bottling aspects of his operation, he said outside of those two activities, "it's just me, myself and I."

All the grapes are picked by hand, no machine harvesting at all and the bottling truck pulls right up on his property, where Frick connects the hoses and mans the pumps; he takes little to chance with his artwork and who can blame him. It's often said, if you want anything done right, you're better off doing it yourself, and I'd have to conclude sometimes that is the best course of action. All wines are bottled unfiltered, with no fining and zero fooling around. It's just seriously good juice, that is made ready to drink, but I believe a few will age gracefully and reward the patient.

Now before it seems I've gotten carried away, here's a bit of perspective. The truth is the property is only a little over 7 acres, and Frick just bottles 1400 cases a year. While on the surface of those stats, may not seem like much, but folks I'm here to tell you, that is some ass-kicking work to do on all your own, don't try this at home.

I was saddened to hear, that he had lost his partner Judith Gannon, who with Bill and via the sale of a premium 57 Chevy embarked on this fantastic journey, on a lovely slice of Sonoma County back in 1976. Now he didn't tell me this, but from my perspective, she was a fabulous artist, whose paintings you will see here and there. If you do decide to take the full nickel tour, you can see some of larger than life canvases in the barrel/crush-pad. I asked Frick [I was encouraging him really] if he had thought about showcasing some her paintings at a gallery or other exhibit. I also asked if he thought about talking to the folks at the Hess Collection, to inquire whether or not they'd be interested in showcasing some of her more significant works at their museum.

I explained that it would be a great way to celebrate her life [my opinion, one I'm fond of sharing] and share those images with the rest of the wine world. Perhaps, he's thinking about it, I hope so. He also lost his dog, and now it's just him, and his fantastic winery. I asked, who will take the reins when he is gone, he replied: "it will pass when I do." Honestly, my heart winced a bit hearing his answer. I thought to myself, "no, that can't be true, it would be a terrible loss."For anyone who watched the movie "My Dog Skip," you know the anguish I experienced at that moment.

Now I'm going to tell you why; this could be one of the worst things to happen to the wine world because it would mean that these wines with genuine soul and substance would no longer be around for future generations of vino sapiens to enjoy. The first wine I want to introduce to you is the Frick 2008 Syrah, which I almost don't want to tell you about, seeing I'd like to grab a few more before they disappear. Why the hesitation? Because, it's an epic wine, that subtly blows your mind, yep it just creeps up on you, and before you know, your mind is officially blown. I was so impressed with this wine, I wanted to bring a couple home just so I could make sure it wasn't a one-time impression. So I purchased the Syrah and a couple other wines and asked if I could kindly have the shipping box on the counter so I could check the box, filled mostly with Frick wines back to San Diego. It's worth noting that Frick Wines was the only place I purchased wine to take home.

After opening that second bottle here at Chez Vino, Mrs. Cuvee brow-beat me into having the last pour splashing into the glass. In the glass, a garnet-brick rim and solid garnet core, the perfume of ripe plum, dried brush, and licorice. On the palate, dry, cracked peppercorns, vanilla, acacia, dry orange rinds, ripe cherry and plum skins.This wine is elegantly textured, the acid to fruit ratio is flawless, it has depth, balance and the finish sails on and on. My score for this wine is 96 points. Barrel aged in small American oak barriques.This wine is only $24, making the QPR through the roof.

The Syrah was not the first wine I tasted that day, but it was the first wine I tasted that left a huge impression with me, not that the other wines were slackers, but this Syrah really stood out for its overall balance and complexity. I also sampled 2009, and I believe in couple more years it too could be a blockbuster. But wow, talk about vintage variation. We all know 2008 was a year of more restraint and 2009, in general, was a bit of hot year, making way for more opulent wines, sporting far less restraint. I scored 2009, 90 points, it's a solidly built wine, but lacks the focus of 2008. It had a funky wet earth nose and smashed dark plum aromas. In the glass, more ruby and less garnet, the palate is round and reasonable, the tannins are still a bit taught, a sweet tobacco spot, black pepper, dark ripe plum, cherry and the finish is reasonably long. I'll be finishing this article tomorrow, with the rest of the wines I encountered that day, and you'd be wise to stick around to read the rest of the story in part two. Until next time folks remember life is short, sip long and prosper cheers!


This is the second blog I have read in 2 days about Frick Winery. Both reflected the amazing work captured in a bottle. Another bookmark for a future wine trail.

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