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Ernest Gallo Pours Out the Wit

May 26, 1988|DAN BERGER | Times Wine Writer

Wine industry odds and ends. . . .

The E in E&J Gallo Winery, Ernest Gallo, isn't a recluse, but neither does he seek the limelight. He shuns interviews and rarely makes public appearances. But when he does, it's a treat: The elder statesman of the wine-making fraternity is a witty speaker.

Which he proved again on May 14 at the 70th birthday party for Edmund Mirassou, grand pere at the Mirassou winery in San Jose.

Ernest was the hit of the evening with one quip after another. His first words set the tone:

"For the next few minutes, I'm going to be Frank Bartles and Ed is going to be Ed Jaymes, which means that for the next few minutes I'm going to do all the talking and he's just going to nod."

Gallo said Ed Mirassou was born in 1918, that Prohibition began in 1919, "and the first word Ed ever spoke was 'Repeal!' "

Gallo said he will turn 80 early next year, "so if you want to live to be our age, drink only Mirassou or Gallo wines. If you drink Mirassou wines, you're sure to reach 70, but if you drink Gallo wines, you're sure to reach 80 . . . and it'll cost you half as much."

About Ed Mirassou's viticultural work, he said, "For years he has tried to develop a grape that is resistant to Cesar Chavez."

Only Randall Grahm would hand a wine writer a glass of Marsanne and ask him to guess what it is. But you have to understand Grahm to know why he would do this.

Grahm, the brains behind Bonny Doon Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has fallen for three varieties of grape from the Northern Rhone--Marsanne, Rousanne and Mourvedre.

Though California Chardonnay is selling rapidly, and at high prices, Grahm is turning his back on that variety in favor of these rarities.

"I've gone ape over them," said Grahm. "I'm the beneficiary of wine burnout. I was getting jaded, and I needed a new direction."

He noted that with a plethora of Chardonnays on the market, one way to distinguish himself is by making wines like his 1986 Marsanne, which will only appeal to sophisticated wine drinkers--which is one reason Grahm, a former philosophy student, calls the wine Le Sophiste.

Bonny Doon has converted 28 acres of vineyard land from traditional grape varieties to Marsanne, Rousanne and Mourvedre, which are in such limited production that the state doesn't even list them in its annual grape crush report. He also grows Viognier, another Rhone-type grape.

Grahm will still make some Chardonnay, to satisfy those who like his rich, powerful style. And his 1986 ($20) is a massive wine loaded with oak, buttery complexity and tropical fruit flavors.

The greatness of 1985 Bordeaux was revealed once again at a tasting of 10 of the best three weeks ago at a Commanderie de Bordeaux event in San Francisco.

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild showed best. It combines the fruit and richness of a great vintage with finesse and lively taste. Second on my score card was Chateau Lynch-Bages, which has received many great reviews.

Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and Chateau Margaux were next. All are fairly massive, brawny things, loaded with potential, though all were relatively approachable. An anomaly was Chateau Haut-Brion, which was very impressive but in a more refined way, a wine of delicacy rather than raw power.

Prices for the acclaimed '85s are, however, very high. Despite their greatness, they're poor value.

But watch for prices for the modest 1984 Bordeaux to begin falling soon. Warehouses here and overseas are bulging with '84 Bordeaux, which initially were praised by some writers but which sold poorly after merchants tasted them and found them not worth their high prices.

ERLY Industries of Los Angeles has agreed to sell its old, historic Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti, and a strong bidder is Beringer Vineyards of the Napa Valley.

However, the names Italian Swiss Colony, Colony and ISC remain with ERLY, which uses them on a line of wines. Beringer has been looking for a production facility so grapes don't have to be trucked to already overburdened plants in St. Helena and at its Chateau Souverain operation 10 miles south of Asti.

Colony is an historic winery on 550 acres considered by industry analysts to be antiquated for production. Although it once crushed 35,000 tons of grapes, recently it has been used as a brandy factory.

Also included are nearly 400 acres of prime vineyard land that could be planted to premium varieties.

Beringer wants to refurbish it in time for this year's harvest. A subsidiary of Swiss-based Nestle, Beringer has expanded rapidly in the last two years, buying Souverain as well as two large properties in California's Central Coast region.

Wine of the Week: 1987 De Loach Gewurztraminer Early Harvest ($7)--Gewurztraminer, when made relatively dry, can yield a heavy, unctuous wine or one of delicacy, and the latter style is hard to master. But De Loach wine maker Randy Ullom has hit it two years in a row with the 1986 Early Harvest and now the new 1987, which offers a faint honeysuckle quality under an overall carnation spiciness. The wine has 1% residual sugar, and the acidity is high enough to make this a perfect match for brunches or picnics.

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