One of my favorite magazines, Sunset, recently announced that October is Sonoma County Wine Month. I love Sonoma and personally could celebrate it every month. Fall is a particularly great time to celebrate Sonoma, when harvest is at its peak, the grape leaves are turning color, and the change of the weather and thoughts of upcoming holidays are simply conducive to the romance of wine.
During the fall season, I particularly like to turn to Rhone-style wines. They are versatile and completely on point for the season. For those of us in warm weather states where the arrival of cool weather is still weeks — if not months — away, we can sip on a Viognier or even a slightly chilled Grenache to temper the heat. For the lucky ones already basking in the glow of crimson-colored leaves and crackling fireplaces, a bowl of chili and a hearty Syrah are an amazing pair.
Then we have Thanksgiving. Just about all white and red Rhone-style wines are great pairing options for the holiday table. Rosé is a beautiful option given its beautiful color, aroma and ability to pair with a variety of foods. And, a glass of Petite Sirah is a great alternative to cranberry sauce to go with that slice of juicy turkey!
With that being said, I am celebrating Sonoma County Wine Month with Crux, a relatively new winery in Sonoma specializing in Rhone varietals. Founded by Brian Callahan and Steve Gower, Crux is a small-production winery in the Russian River, where the climate is similar to that of the northern Rhone Valley of France.
A Two-Man Show
I first encountered Crux back in 2012 when Callahan was serving as the interim Chief Information Officer for the company for whom I worked at that time. Knowing that I liked wine, Callahan, who serves as the General Manager for Crux, invited me to a tasting event at his sister’s home, where he and winemaker, Gower, introduced some of their first bottlings.
The passion for what Callahan and Gower were doing was evident early on during that event. The bottles were beautifully, and tastefully, branded. The wine was well balanced and, dare I say, tasted like they knew what they were doing! While I hesitate to say I was surprised, I sort of was. I mean, let’s be honest, when you know it’s a two-man moonlighting operation, you have this vision of a couple of guys in their garage, extracting wine out of an old barrel with a turkey baster. Heck, maybe that’s even partially true, but whatever they were doing, it was working!
Passionate Rhone Rangers
Fast forward a few years later, and I had the opportunity to see the Crux operations during harvest. As members of the Rhone Rangers, America’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines, Callahan and Gower were busy with the 2015 vintage. However, they made time to walk me and my husband, as well as a couple of our friends, through their process and even let me help punch down the Syrah. And, despite the somewhat off-the-beaten path location in Sonoma, their professional operation did not match the vision I described earlier (I found no evidence of a turkey baster, unless it was well hidden)!
We tasted through a collection of the 2012 and 2013 vintages of Petite Sirah, Syrah, GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) and Zinfandel, which is not a Rhone variety but one that does well in Russian River. We also tasted the 2014 GSM Rosé. Because we just couldn’t decide which ones we liked best, we ended up shipping a mixed case home of the full lineup and promised to be back soon.
Getting to the Crux of the Matter
I learned during that harvest visit to Crux that Callahan and Gower know who they are and what they want to produce. They avoid excessive alcohol and overripe fruit in their winemaking process, and they employ sustainable farming practices as well. They personally farm the 2.5 acres that produce all of the varietals they make (with exception of the Blancs, which they source from neighboring growers). Callahan and Gower describe the name Crux as that “pivotal point, the essence, the heart, the crossroads of many things,” all of which aptly reflect their passion, their focus, and the culmination of many years of hard work that have led to this endeavor.
Recently, I opened the latest releases of the Crux Viognier and GSM blend with a small group of friends who would not ordinarily encounter these wines. (Currently Crux is available online and at the winery, through its wine club, at select Sonoma restaurants, and—for San Francisco Giants fans—at the Gotham Club at AT&T Park during season.)
Everyone loved the Viognier, including a non-white drinker who actually went back to the bottle for another pour. A recent gold medal winner at the North Coast Wine Challenge in California, the Viognier has a shimmering golden hue and, as I learned from Callahan and explained to the group, the sediment visible in the wine is a result of it being unfiltered to preserve aromatics and fresh flavor. It does indeed have an aromatic nose and lots of honeyed fruit. The layers of flavor give it a full-bodied mouthfeel, even though it is tank fermented and is absent of oak.
The 2013 GSM is drinking especially well right now. I recommend opening it about an hour before consuming because as it opens, the complexity of flavors is unleashed, producing layers of spice, dark berries, and a silky texture. Like many of their other wines, I found the GSM to have an elegant and refined quality that lends toward a lingering finish and good balance.
During the month of October, Crux will have regular hours every Saturday afternoon from 1 – 4 pm. They just released their 2015 Grenache Blanc and will have many others to taste as well, just in time for the upcoming holidays. If you are in the area, stop by and see Callahan and Gower to celebrate Sonoma County Wine Month and experience wine country at its best—two guys putting their heart and soul into every bottle.