Last week, I joined a dozen other wine writers to taste several wines from Virginia, and posted my tasting notes here.
One of the writers I met, Michael Wangbickler, invited me to a tasting tonight in Sonoma of Don Sebastiani & Sons’ showcase of their Pepperwood Grove wines, previously priced at around $9 for a 750ml bottle, now being released in environmentally friendly 3.0L box packaging for about $20.
The cost of producing one 3.0L box is less expensive than four 750ml glass bottles, and each unit sold is four times a previous single container purchase. Cost savings, and economy of scale discounting, allow a savings of about 44% from an already affordable wine purchase by volume. The Pepperwood Grove wines are being sold at a price comparable to $5 for a typical 750ml bottle. That works out to about 83¢ for a glass of wine.
Coincidentally, I worked as a campaign worker to help elect Don Sebastiani in his successful bid for the California Assembly in 1980.
Don, and his sons Donny and August created an international wine negociant company Don Sebastiani & Sons in 2001. Within three years, by 2004, they had launched a number of wine brands, including Pepperwood Grove, and by the end of that year the company has sold over 1 million cases of wine. In 2005, Wine Enthusiast magazine named Don Sebastiani & Sons “American Winemaker of the Year,” and in 2007 case production exceeded 2 million cases.
Pepperwood Grove wines available in 750ml glass bottles include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier, made with varietal grapes sourced from California to South Eastern Australia, and Daunia, Italy to Mendoza, Argentina.
The first four wines Pepperwood Grove wines released in new “The Big Green Box”es are a California Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Old Vine Zinfandel, and a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes from the Valle Central.
The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove wines feature environmentally friendly packaging, touting 100% recyclability, energy savings, lighter weight fuel transport benefits, and sustainable forest sourced paper.
While the packaging makes clear that the box holds the equivalent volume of four 750ml bottles of wine, the compact nature of the box makes fitting two boxes of white wine side by side in the refrigerator much easier than trying to store 8 bottles of wine in twice the space.
Anyone familiar with wine in a box knows that the box contains a bag of wine and, as wine is dispensed from the bag, the bag deflates. Unlike wine bottles with oxidizing air trapped between the surface of the wine and the cork, boxed (bagged really) wines do not suffer a similar harm, and box wines can typically be served a month after opening without the typical turned wine experienced with opened and resealed bottled wine.
It really comes down to one question, “does the wine taste good?” I would love to find a tasty wine to recommend to friends to serve with food for family and friends, inexpensive enough to try and delicious enough to try again. The industry generally does a terrible job of marketing their product, and too many professional wine marketers, writers, and reviewers in complicit in that failure, making regular folks shy away from a beverage where too much has to be learned, known, understood, where only Frasier Crane and his brother feel comfortable.
I have friends, family, and readers who love hearing about traditionally bottled wines $30 and over, and I love tasting and sharing notes on these wines, many are incredible values and drink like wines costing $60-120. There are also many friends, family, and readers who will never buy a $30 bottle of wine, not even as a gift – but would take a chance on an affordable wine recommended by someone they trust.
I am thrilled beyond telling to be invited to taste some wines from a wine company, a Sonoma County wine family that “gets it.” Michael invited me, and other folks with a little wine influence, to taste wines that cost just 83¢ a glass together, live in Sonoma, or remotely via shipped wine samples and internet updated tasting notes.
A rising tide lifts all boats. More people drinking wine, whether 83¢ a glass or $10 a glass, means more grapes growing, more bottles and boxes sold, more ink and corks, bags and capsules, winemakers and social media marketing managers. I wouldn’t mind, on a personal level, a great inexpensive wine brand for cooking and food pairing. Saving money, and enjoying a new delicious wine, is always a welcome experience.
Here’s my tasting notes on tonight’s four wines:
The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove California Pinot Grigio $20 3.0L Box – Clear pale golden straw color. Clean oak vanilla citrus and mineral nose. Flavors of balanced sweet and sour apple, lime, and melon. Medium bodied. Long, lingering citrusy dominant fruit finish. Much more flavor rich than some wine flavored water Pinot Grigios from Italy, but still light enough for folks looking for a lighter styled wine. Pair with clam, shrimp, crab, lobster, spring mix salads with Tres Classique lemon splash, a host of cheeses. This was my second favorite wine tasted, but my favorite white wine tasted.
The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove California Chardonnay $20 3.0L Box – Clear pale white gold color. Nose of oak, toast, cream, vanilla. Not as much fruit as I was expecting, and much more lemon lime citrus instead of the almost absent but anticipated apple notes. Round. Smooth. Shorter, quickly dissipating finish. It would flavor some sauteed thyme onions nicely for the top of a homemade pizza, or be good as a base to a pasta cream sauce. Simple pairing: foil wrapped baked salmon.
The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove California Old Vine Zinfandel $20 3.0L Box – Okay, even before I could guage the appearance of this wine, the aroma wafted up big and bold with chocolate, cocoa, and coffee notes. Explosively big rich forward nose. This is a pretty rich, deep, dark, and dense burgundy purple colored wine, blocking light, too dark to see through. Okay, now putting my big nose into the glass, and the bigness is confirmed. Tons of dark dusty chocolate powder, rich black raspberry and blackberry fruit, spice and earthiness. Round mouth, med full body, smooth, nice lush richness of fruit. Black berry, plum, cherry, chocolate, nice herbaceousness, sweetness balanced by nice acidity. Soft tannin, oak. Nicely integrated. Medium long finish. Would love to pair with venison, lamb, pork, almost any dish flavorful enough to match this big but accessible Zinfandel. This was my favorite of the four wines tasted.
The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove Valle Central Cabernet Sauvignon $20 3.0L Box – Nice red purple color. Muted nose of oak. Oak follows through on mouth, dry spice and wood notes, berry fruit in background. Tannins noticeable on the medium long quickly tapering finish. Pair with Gorgonzola, portobello, and mushroom barbeque burgers and enjoy the Umami.
I opened the wines, and poured a glass of each so that they could breathe a bit in my glass, open up, and show their true character. Each benefited from a kiss of air.
All of the wines were non-vintage, which is fine by me. By being able to blend grapes from different places, harvested in different years, a consistent flavor profile at an affordable price is more easily achieved than in vineyard designated vintage wines.
The wines were uniformly approachable, oaked, smooth, and drinkable. I could have stood a little more fruit expression, but I am too old for subtlety – I’m just looking for a sexy wine bomb.
None of the wines tasted like $20-$30 bottles, but I thought they were all good value wines at $5 per 750ml, and I thought both the Old Vine Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio were particularly drinkable. I can see myself purchasing both and recommending them to anyone – I guess I started on the latter.
Thanks to Don Sebastiani & Sons winemaker Greg Kitchens, and Balzac Communications & Marketing guru Michael Wangbickler.
Disclosure: I received shipped wine samples, the equivalent of 16 regular bottles, enabling me to write this article with tasting notes.