Wineaux: Bobbing for bottles, berries and brambles

By From page A9 | October 06, 2011

I have four Bobs in my Davis wine life. Sometimes I toss out their names in this column, so I thought I should introduce them — and their wines — a bit more officially and systematically. Four Bobs can be confusing, even to me.

Bob Simas arrived on my scene a little over a year ago. I was pouring wine at an event, noticed his table and tasted his white and red blends. We started talking about the grapes in the blend, and I mentioned that I had recently discovered the wonders of Marsanne.

“But I make a Marsanne,” he said. “100%. I don’t have it with me, but I can get you a bottle.”

Marsanne’s a hardy French grape usually used in France for blending, often with Rousanne. It can produce a wine that combines — as it does in the Simas version — simple fruits with good minerality. The Simas Marsanne is a perfect accompaniment to light meals or on its own for a dog day’s afternoon.

Like some of the more adventurous growers in the Sierra foothills, Bob has discovered the affinity of Rhone varietals for our area. In his son Chris and daughter-in-law Bonnie’s Capay Valley vineyards, Bob and his wife, Judy, grow Grencache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Rousanne in addition to Marsanne.

With these grapes, they’ve created easy-drinking but complex, food-friendly Rhone-style blends that are excellent bargains.

Bob retired from the department of plant sciences at UC Davis in 2009 — the first year that the family sold their wines. I’m really impressed that this foursome, who admittedly didn’t know much about the wine business when Chris and Bonnie bought the property just a decade ago, is already producing such good wine. Impressed, too that they use organic growing practices in the vineyard.

You can find these wines on the Davis Food Co-op shelves or by the glass or bottle at Monticello. Two weeks ago I tasted their just-released white blend — it may be their best wine yet.

Bob No. 2 — that would be Bob Traverso — also took up commercial winemaking after retirement. Some of you may remember him from his time as city manager of Davis in the late 1980s and early ’90s, but did you know he was an avid home winemaker during all those years?

Actually, he started making wine with his immigrant Italian grandfather in the 1960s while he was in graduate school. Their project was an extension of family dinners that included homemade red wine served to everyone (including, in a watered-down form, the kids) during their “highly animated, multi-course, home-made, eat-until-it-hurts … meals.”

Wine, in other words, was simply a part of eating. Thus his own approach to winemaking “reflects the philosophy that food and wine are complementary and to be enjoyed with each other.”

Bob describes his technique as “maximal naturalist/minimal interventionist,” which includes carefully selecting grapes from old-growth vineyards, hand-harvesting grapes when they taste ripe (not when they have a certain sugar level), hand sorting the grapes, and aging only in high-quality French barrels just as long as it takes the oak to enrich but not overwhelm the wine.

In Davis, you can try Bob’s wines with your meal at Tucos, Seasons, Osteria Fasulo and Monticello — or buy a bottle at Nugget. I’m especially enamored of the Syrah — try it with a dish of gnocci, a fat pork chop or your Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings.

Like Traverso, Bob No. 3, Bob Marr, comes from winemaking stock but his is French rather than Italian. Perhaps both their passions for good grapes and hands-on technique are genetic. While Bob No. 3 (like Bob No. 2) doesn’t grow his own grapes, he works closely with a number of carefully chosen vineyards like Matten Ranch near Ukiah, Alger in Tehama County (the volcanic soil here produces my own Marr favorites) and Rominger Vineyards in our own back yard.

Bob started Marr Cellars in 1997 after 15 years of moonlighting — somewhere — every harvest/crush, which may explain why he thinks it’s so important to hand-select and personally monitor every step of his wine-making process. Working in Sacramento by day (his master’s degree in natural resources being much in demand), he produces his wines in Woodland in his spare time, naming some of them after his kids, Patrick and Selena.

Fruit-forward and flavorful, his wines are both high-quality and approachable. I especially enjoy the Tehama Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah with their good tannins and earthy, almost smoky flavors. Bob’s wines would go really well with the fall flavors of holiday foods, like smoked meats and baked sweet potatoes. You can find a number of his wines at the Co-op, at Valley Wine and at Monticello by the glass or bottle.

My final Bob, Bob Boys, does not own vineyards, and he doesn’t make wine. I met him via a circuitous route that began with his years of work on the straw bale construction of Ridge Winery’s Lytton Springs center. Bob’s a builder — of the perfectionist sort — with the heart and eye of an artist. He has worked in Davis half his life and recently designed and built the wine bar at Monticello and did much of the renovating of both Monticello and Tea List.

Less recently, he took on the small job of turning our horrible condo (which had been long rented by a series of students and their pets — I’ll spare you details) into a wonderfully livable home. Part of the process was his transformation of the hall closet into a pantry/wine cellar, which occasioned many hours of food and wine talk. And some tasting, too.

Bob knows a lot about cooking and a lot about wine. Like the other Bobs, he thinks of wine as an important part of good meal. He has a great palate. Without cant or jargon, he inevitably has something thoughtful and helpful to say about any wine he drinks.

Last week, he took a sip of something I had just poured him and said, “Brambly” — a perfect word for the earthy and wild berry flavors of that Langetwins Petite Sirah-Petit Verdot blend (from a Lodi area family vineyard). And Bob so obviously enjoys the drinking and the thinking that I love to taste with him — and I always learn something in the process.

He thinks, by the way (and I concur), that you can’t go wrong with a Ridge wine (if you can afford it).

If the first three Bobs represent the wonderful grower and maker friends who make wine possible, this one represents the wine lovers/drinkers, who make my wine life and wine writing possible. I’m grateful to them all.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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