Part 1. Introducing Les Behrens
Part 2. "We're not about shy"
(barrel-tasting the 2002s)
Part 3. Now
Hitchcock wanders in
Part 4. Starting
from absolute zero
"Partnerships are tough, but we seemed to get along..."
Part 6. "Those
five cases changed our lives"
Part 7. "Robert
Parker is going to make you a star"
Part 8. Getting
Part 9. Raising
money the B&H way
Part 10. Keeping
"Buddha's keeping an eye on things"
Part 1. Introducing Les Behrens
"Can't talk too long," says
Les Behrens. "Cement truck's coming. Why don't we go in and
Already I'm warming to this guy. Wine first,
no hype, no time for it. He's totally consumed with his craft and you
can't help catching the passion.
We're standing way high on Spring Mountain,
near the Napa County line. You might say we've risen above the Napa Valley
razzle-dazzle. Down below are the lavish wine temples. Up here, you've got
Philip Togni, Paloma, Pride Mountain -- great stuff, no puff.
But wait a minute. They've got
twenty acres here
and ZERO vines. Why the heck not?
"We might," says Les, "if
we thought we could improve our wines by doing that. But we're already
getting fantastic fruit from great vineyards. Could I grow better
Plainly these guys don't mind breaking the
rules. We'll revisit this subject often.
But first a little comic relief...
Enter Le Chien Lunatique...
A little white Jack Russell terrier trots over to check me out.
"That's Lucy," Les informs me.
"Can I take her picture?"
"You can try."
He's got a point. Like everyone else I'll meet up here, she's a
perpetual motion machine.
Finally, Les calls out "Lucy!" She stops, rolls over and
waggles her legs.
I'm in love. "What a girl," I gush.
Les nods, "We've named a wine for her.
Now that I've got my camera out, I ask Les to pose for his own picture.
"Smile," I say. "I don't smile," says Les.
He manages a smile anyhow. Unconventional?
Yes, but very engaging. This is a recurring
theme at Behrens & Hitchcock.
At some point, Les also introduces me to his wife, Lisa
Mark Poremski, the newest member of the Behrens & Hitchcock winemaking
family. They promptly go off and do stuff that I'm sure is important,
but I never get a chance to ask about it, because I'm already scribbling
notes as fast as I can.
As we walk toward the barrel room,
I sneak in a few quick questions...
APJ: So which vineyards are you getting fruit from?
LB: Quite a few. There's one called Alder Springs, way up in Mendocino.
I mean really far up. Well north of Anderson Valley. We get Syrah and
Merlot from them.
Then there are two vineyards in Calistoga. The Eric Stevens Vineyard
will be giving us fruit, but we haven't made any wine from it yet. And
APJ: I've tasted your Kenefick cuvees. Very distinctive. Where's the
LB: You know where Bart Araujo's [Eisele] vineyard is? It's across the
street from there.
APJ: Really? But your wines taste nothing like Araujo. What clones
is Kenefick planted to?
LB: Let's see. Clone 7, clone 4 and clone 337 -- that's the hot clone
these days. Our Kenefick wines also have higher percentages of Merlot and
Petit Verdot than Bart Araujo's wines.
APJ: Maybe the Petit Verdot accounts for the blueberry flavors?
LB: Could be. I like Petit Verdot. We made a Petit Verdot in 2000. It
was actually about 75% Petit Verdot and the rest was Merlot.
The secret of success in 2000
APJ: Let's talk a little more about 2000. I've tasted a bunch of
watery 2000 Cabs, but I loved your 2000 Ode to Picasso. It's one of the
few Napa Valley 2000s I bought in quantity. What was your secret?
LB: Well for one thing, we were very, very selective. We sold off about
27 barrels of wine that didn't make our final cut.
Plus, we did a lot of cross-blending. We combined wines from Calistoga,
Rutherford, Carneros, Yountville, St. Helena and so on. One might have a
great palate presence, another might have a nice finish, and so on. Put
all the pieces together and you've got a complete wine.
Finally, we've decided that quality is more important than flavor
consistency. Big wineries bend over backwards to make sure their wines
taste the same from vintage to vintage. But we don't set out to make a
wine that tastes like last year -- we just want each vintage to be the
best it can possibly be.
APJ: How would you characterize 2002?
LB: I'd say it was a year with some extreme highs, and also some
middle-of-the-road wines. We'll be selling off the medium stuff.
I'll tell you, though... I'm very hard and critical on our wines. And a
few months ago, I was pretty depressed about the 2002s. Just didn't think
they were showing much. But now I'm tasting them and it seems to me
they've turned a corner. Now I'm thinking, WOW.
Amen to that, Les. After tasting a few of your 2002s, I'm thinking WOW
Part 2. "We're not about shy"
Les pulls out his thief and we start tasting some of the highlights.
First up is the ***+2002 Alder Springs Syrah, singing in
three-part harmony this morning. Aromas of violets erupt from the glass.
The palate's mostly about raspberries, with shades of strawberry-rhubarb
pie. The finish is long and soaks your senses. This is not your
normal Syrah -- it's got the flavor profile of great Pinot Noir. Only the
concentration and density might lead you to guess the grape.
I'm trying to keep a stone face, but can't. "Oooh," I say,
"Nothing shy about this one."
"We're not about shy," comments Les.
This comment could also apply to the
***+2002 Hommage to Erna Shein.
It's 40% Merlot, plus about 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet
Sauvignon. And not to put too fine a point on it -- this is pedal to the
metal FRUIT. Lots of it. Many different kinds. Blueberries to the max,
plus any other berry you like. "Yeow!" I say. "Where does
this stuff come from?"
"Well," says Les, "there's Madrona Ranch, David Abreu's
"You're getting grapes from David Abreu?"
"Yes," Les replies, very matter-of-factly. "Also,
there's fruit here from Thorvilos Vineyard [jointly owned by David Abreu
and Ric Forman]. It's sort of at the base of Howell Mountain, not far from
Herb Lamb Vineyard [the original grape source for Colgin].
"It's phenomenal. How much will there be?"
"Maybe 250 cases," says Les.
We move onto a cuvée yet to be
named. They're thinking of calling it ***+Rudy's Cuvée,
after one of the Behrens sons. It's roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc,
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Entirely different from the Erna Shein,
this is more like Bordeaux on steroids. Blackberries and other dark fruit,
plus a trace of herb and anise. Yum.
"What kind of oak are you using here?" I ask. "I've
heard that you use some American oak, but I haven't sensed any so
"It's all French," Les answers, "except for the Petite
Sirah. That gets a little American oak."
Finally, we sample Lucy's wine...
***+2002 Chien Lunatique is Napa Valley Syrah. Here again, we've
got a totally different wine than the 2002 Alder Springs Syrah. It's much
more like classic Syrah, but huge -- swarming with blueberries and
blackberries, plus lesser notes of dark chocolate and earth. The texture
is wonderfully thick and velvety.
"What's the vineyard source for this wine?" I wonder.
"Yountville," says Les.
"Not the Page-Nord Vineyard?"
"Yes, in fact," says Les. "It's our first year with
(What a small world Napa Valley is. The Page family used to run my
favorite Bed-and-Breakfast, and we'll actually be picnicking with them a
few days from now.)
There's more! CLICK HERE
Top of Page
Go back to interview contents