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Showbiz Likes Them Best: Smother Bros. 'Scale Back' Vintner Careers

May 04, 1989|DAN BERGER | Times Wine Writer

The recent resurgence of interest in the Smothers Brothers as a comedy/folk act, both on television and on stage, has been good for the fortunes of Tom and Dick, but not for those who like their wines.

CBS brought the brothers back for a decades-later reprise of their comedy show last year. Then the brothers found that there was demand for their talents in places like Las Vegas too. And that meant that making and marketing their Smothers wines had to take a back seat.

So they decided to get out of the commercial wine business.

"When their entertainment career took off again, they didn't have time to do both," said Jack Daniels of Wilson-Daniels Ltd., the Napa Valley-based wine company that was the national representative for the Smothers wines. "So they decided to scale back."

The End of the Line

The wines have begun to be closed out at lower prices than they previously fetched, Daniels said. When the current supply is gone, no more will be made for commercial sale.

The brothers first got into the wine business in the mid-1970s when Dick Smothers bought the Vine Hill Ranch, a 12-acre vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and shortly after began producing wine.

Later, Tom Smothers acquired the 60-acre Remmick Ridge Vineyard in Kenwood, in the Sonoma Valley. A Smothers tasting room was set up on Highway 12, not far from such well-regarded wineries as Grand Cru, Kenwood and Chateau St. Jean.

The brothers' first major wine coup came in 1979 when their 1977 Gewurztraminer won the sweepstakes award at the Los Angeles County Fair wine competition.

At its peak, the Smothers brand was producing 40,000 cases a year.

Daniels said a small amount of Smothers wine, perhaps as much as 1,000 cases a year, would continue to be made off the Remmick vineyard, which has only Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc planted. All such wine will be sold only at the tasting room.

Dick Smothers sold his Vine Hill property not long ago.

Today, Tom carries a business card that says, "Tom Smothers, Farmer."

They staged a dinner the other evening to mark the release of a new wine from Spain.

The vintage is 1952.

It might seem a bit unusual to be offering the initial release of a wine made 37 years ago, but the house of Marques de Murrieta is not your typical wine producer. This Rioja property founded in 1870 uses old traditional methods of producing wine, and the best red wine of the house is aged in bottle at the property until it is ready to be consumed.

For that reason, the 1952 Castillo Ygay from Marques de Murrieta will be released in a few weeks. It is a magnificent example of wine aged long in the barrel and very long in the bottle. Yet the wine retains good deep red color and fruit and has ample richness.

A Fine Wine Takes Time

The present owner of the property, Vicente Cebrian Sagarriga, El Conde (Count) de Creixell, noted that these wines remain in oak barrels for more than three years. One would think with that much wood exposure the wine would be oxidized, but Darrell Corti, the Sacramento wine merchant who has studied these wines as well as anyone, gave an explanation.

"In Rioja, they don't use oak the way we use oak," said Corti. He pointed out that as red wine ages, it drops tartrate crystals out of solution, which accumulate on the inside of the barrel. In most wine-making countries, tartrate crystals are removed from the oak casks. At Marques de Murrieta, they are not, and thus the tartrates coat the interior of each barrel with a tasteless and odorless crystal.

"In effect, these wines have been in glass containers all their lives," said Corti.

No Price Posted

The 1942 Castillo Ygay, released some years ago, remains available in the commercial market. It sells for $150 a bottle. No price has yet been posted for the '52, but it likely will be sold for about the same price. For those whose birth years are 1942 or 1952, these wines are a rare opportunity to see what aging can do to a great wine.

And for those who have just turned 21 and would like some wine from his or her birth year, the 1968 Castillo Ygay is still available at $44. It's lighter and more delicate than the previous wines, but equally enjoyable.

For a glimpse of what the Murrieta property does with its regular wines, the 1983 Marques de Murrieta Blanca (white) and 1983 Tinto, at $13 each, are good examples of well-made wines.

A new line of wines under the Blossom Hill label has been released by Heublein Wines, the division of Grand Metropolitan PLC of England that also markets wines under the Almaden and Charles Lefranc labels, among other wines.

The Blossom Hill line is in a niche in the market called Affordable Varietals, wines in 1.5-liter bottles priced to sell for $6.50 to $7.

With the move of Almaden Vineyards from San Jose to Madera (to consolidate operations), the Almaden line of wines has been repositioned to generic wine. The Charles Lefranc line is now all the so-called Pop-Premium wines, cork-finished bottles of 750 milliliters selling for $5 or thereabouts.

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