Bill and Ingrid Wheeler, owners of the William Wheeler Winery, met while Bill was posted in South America as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. In 1970 they bought a 175 acre Sonoma County ranch. They planted their first vineyard (Cabernet Sauvignon) during 1973-1974 and harvested their first grapes in 1975 (these they “sold off”). They didn’t conduct their own “crush” until 1979. In 1981, they built and bonded a 4,500 square feet fermentation cellar. U.C. Davis graduate enologist Julia Iantosca joined them in the spring of 1982.
Julia, who grew up in a rural area of southern California’s Ventura County, recalls of her family life,”…ordinary table wine was always served with dinner. My father had a heart problem and part of his ‘prescription’ for a healthy diet was a glass or two of wine with dinner.” She is enthusiastic about the winery’s recent entry into the “Rhone Ranger” arena.
Offering relief for the palate weary, or at least some fire power to defend against the ever-growing Cabernet cult, Rhone Ranger wines appear to be here to stay in California. The grapes for these wines are transplants from France’s Rhone Valley region. Most of the varieties involved are not new to our vintners. In fact, many (e.g. Mourvèdre) were amongst the earliest vines brought. West by European immigrants a century ago. Not until recently, however, were these varieties given the respectful treatment (i.e., attentive vinification techniques) that they deserve, and to which they respond so well. R.S. (“Rhône Style”) Reserve 1989 is Wheeler’s second vintage of this exciting wine.
In this blend, Mourvèdre (28.5%) contributes fullness, depth and complexity. Petite Sirah (24.0%) brings structure, pepper and spice. Carignane (16.5%) gives a pleasant mouth feel, while Gamay Beaujolais (16.0%) and, Zinfandel (15.0%) each add their own distinct, fruity elements.
The wine is deep ruby/purple in color. Its complex, fruity nose hints of blackberry, elderberry, plum, sage and black pepper. Blended for early accessibility, it is lusciously dry on the palate. Plum, berry and spice flavors come through balanced by nice acidity. Fruit, spice and supple tannins punctuate the finish.
Serve slightly chilled with Mediterranean cuisine like dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) or Spanish paella.
Cellaring Notes: Near its peak. Drink now through 1994.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper