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Up and Comers


Despite the high cost of starting a winery and the years of waiting before it will show a profit, new ones keep opening all the time.

Many of these make wine in tiny amounts. Twenty years ago, wine of this quality would have been snapped up by those in the know; today an overabundance of high-quality wines and slow consumer demand makes it a tougher sell.

Here are a few recent entrants in the California wine derby that have received little, if any, publicity. Yet.

Garen and Shari Staglin bought a 50-acre vineyard in 1985 from Walter and Dagmar Sullivan. Dagmar--whose grandfather, Georges de Latour, founded Beaulieu Vineyard--had planted the vines in 1965.

Staglin asked former Chappellet winemaker Cathy Corison to make the wine. Her first, the 1989 Staglin Family Cabernet ($22), is gorgeous with generous cherry and berry fruit, a toasty-cedary note and a rewarding, textured finish.

This isn't a blockbuster. It has the silkiness of BV Private Reserves of yesteryear, but that wine was aged in American oak barrels; this wine was aged in French oak.

Only 350 cases were produced. It's available at select wine shops, and telephone orders will be accepted at (707) 963-1749.

Delia Viader, daughter of an Argentine diplomat, moved to the Napa Valley in 1987 to develop a ranch her father owned. It was steeply sloped virgin land 300 feet outside the Howell Mountain appellation.

Viader planted the land with vine cuttings from Spottswoode, whose Cabernets are highly sought. Tony Soter, the man who makes Spottswoode wines, also makes Viader's. The first release, 1989 Viader ($25), is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc.

This is a deeply concentrated and complex wine, showing the inky character of mountain-grown grapes--the vineyard is 1,040 feet off the valley floor. There is mint and cedar, a load of black cherry fruit and a tart finish.

When Bob Frugoli, a former stockbroker, bought his first vineyard in Sonoma in 1965, he "did everything wrong," so he sold the vineyard and moved to Chicago. "But when I was out of the business, I was dying to get back in it," he says.

In 1979 he returned and bought a 100-acre parcel in the Russian River of Sonoma County. His first wine from that property, 1990 Armida Chardonnay, a delicate, citrus-y wine with marvelous flavor, is a bargain at $11.

John Loeb Jr., U. S. ambassador to Denmark, owns a 47-acre vineyard in the Alexander Valley across a fence from the famed Robert Young Vineyard. Loeb sold the grapes to other wineries in the past, but in 1990 he decided to make his own wine. His 1990 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay ($15) is an impressive wine with apple and vanilla scents and soft, creamy, rich flavors with lovely texture.

Greg Graziano, winemaker for Hidden Cellars Winery in Mendocino, developed his own label called Saint Gregory, which includes an excellent 1990 Pinot Noir ($14) loaded with cherries, clove, cinnamon and sandalwood. There is also a rich 1990 Chardonnay ($14) and a superb dessert/picnic wine called Moscato di Mendocino ($10), slightly fizzy with wonderfully spicy taste.

A decade ago, George Rubissow bought a vineyard site on Mt. Veeder and planted vines where orchards had been. Today, with Tony Sargent making the wines, the 1988 Rubissow-Sargent Cabernet Sauvignon ($16), a premier release, has hit the shelves with a splash. The aromas are intense with black cherry and mint, and the wine is infused with deep, concentrated flavors.

Marty Bannister, partner in Vinquiry, a laboratory that analyzes wine for wineries, also makes a stylish Chardonnay. Her first release, 1990 Bannister ($16), is from fruit grown in the cooler areas of the Russian River. The wine has hints of apple, lime and spice with bold, rich, buttery flavors. I prefer a tad more acid, but served chilled the wine is delicious.

Arturo Klein is a resident of Switzerland who owns a three-acre vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains and whose Cabernet Sauvignon is limited in production (about 500 cases a year). The fourth release, from 1989 ($25), is a powerful, Bordeaux-like wine with dense cassis flavors.

Bob and Sue Brakesman own a vineyard on Howell Mountain and have made wine under their Summit Lake brand since 1985, but distribution is limited. The 1988 Summit Lake Zinfandel ($11) is a lovely wine that exhibits the peppery, spicy nature of the hillside vineyards with a hint of anise.

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