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Barrel 27 – Wine Amongst Friends

May 6, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks 1 Comment

Two weekends ago was a big weekend for me. To understand why, I need to go back to the fall of last year.

My initial short list of wineries that I wanted to work with included Tablas Creek, Kosta Browne, Sine Qua Non, JUSTIN, Barrel 27, The Ojai Vineyard, and a few others. As I re-wrote my list a few times, JUSTIN, Barrel 27, and The Ojai Vineyard were consistently part of the top five. So, the weekend of April 23rd was a big one for me. On Friday, I spent several invigorating hours with Adam Tolmach and his assistant at The Ojai Vineyard. The following morning was spent on a tour at JUSTIN, where I had the opportunity to meet Justin Baldwin. We concluded the day down the hill, on the other side of the 101 freeway in Paso Robles, at Barrel 27. Three of my top 5 in less then 24 hours! Oh, plus I got engaged the next day, but that’s another story…

From early on in my wine exploration, Barrel 27 struck a chord with me. It wasn’t just because I liked their Rhone style wines, but it was the reason for the “27” in Barrel 27 that really drew me in. McPrice (Mac) Myers explained the thought behind the name. “We (Mac and partner Russell P. From) came up with the name, because three months before we were going to bottle, we were like, ‘what are we going to do [for a name]?’ Russell had just gotten back from Australia…and we were drinking a lot of Australian wine at the time. We liked the “bin” idea, but we thought ‘let’s make it American,’ which is barrel and we were both 27 at the time. So we said ‘let’s try it and see how it does.’

I was 25 when I really started to think and talk all too much about wine. My girlfriend would jokingly tell me, “you only have two more years to start working with wine like the Barrel 27 guys!” I will be 27 in 7 months.

While neither Russell nor Mac are the youngest guys to have ever made wine, I am always impressed when people in my age range have enough vision and dedication to turn a dream into a reality. While many their age were still wasting time at dead end jobs or longing for their college years, Russell and Mack were making wine.

Barrel 27 has been rewarded for their efforts, with a devoted following and increasing accolade in the wine industry. Last year, Wine Spectator wrote a nice feature about them and other Rhone producers. I also admired and do admire their marketing savvy. They are doing everything right to the reach a new crowd of wine lovers. They make flavorful wines that are very approachable, with memorable titles like, Head Honcho, Rock in a Hard Place, and Right Hand Man. The use clean labeling that has a quite elegance without pretention (Barrel 27 is also a great name). Above all, they make their wines affordable, from the teens to mid-twenties for most offerings.

On the day we visited the winery, located in an industrial park on the eastern side of Paso Robles, we walked in as the Barrel 27 team was finishing up lunch. A couple of picnic benches were set up in the middle of the winery floor. Many bottles of red and white wines, along with oysters and ceviche were scattered about. It had been a fine feast. I pulled a bottle of Tequila out of my bag that I brought as a gift and it was immediately opened, tasted, and described with hints of honey and oak. All of this fits in with the attitude the Barrel 27 winemakers share about wine, it is to be enjoyed regularly, not only on special occasions. For the self professed “wine geeks” who wear the term proudly, wine is not only an obsession…it is a way of life.

With KISS’ “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night” playing in the background, I was able to speak with Mac and Barrel 27’s General Manager Jason Carter about some of their views on wine and what they are working to accomplish with their label.

How did Barrel 27 come to be?

Mac Myers: “Barrel 27 started back, well the idea of it started between 01’ and 02’. Russell and I both had a couple of barrels of some Syrah that we really didn’t want to do anything with, but we knew were OK, but wasn’t really meant for our program, so we blended it…Russell already had his Herman Story idea in his head, I had the McPrice Myers idea in my head, and the Barrel 27 kind of came about like, ‘let’s make this second brand, I don’t want to sell this juice off.’ We wanted to make something, we knew it would be good and we were going to discount it and sell it for a good price, give customers a chance to have a great value…So that’s kind of how it started. But then we thought, ‘well this stuffs really good’. So we were like, ‘let’s create another brand.’ This was going to be 175 cases, really small…”

“I was in charge of selling it, at least in California. I went into the “Wine Room” (in Irvine), and that’s how I met Jason…Poured the wine for him, he loved it. He ordered 5 cases. The boss came in and ordered 10, we sold it that night…it was a big hit and they sold almost all of it at that wine shop…. almost all of the production.”

“02’ we did another one. I had a little cast off, he had a little cast off…I think we did 300 cases, so we doubled…We were selling all of our own wines at the time…Russell and I had our own brands coming on line…so anywhere where we went, it was kind of like, ‘try my little side project I have going on’…. We decided to take this brand and say, ‘let’s make a go at it…it’s either do this our stop worrying about it’….So that’s when we asked Jason if he want to come on board and run the winery, be the GM.”

Barrel 27 briefly made a Pinot Noir, but it wasn’t a fit and they did not stick with the program long. As Mack put’s it, “we were just over it.”

It seems like Pinot has to almost be your mistress if you are going to make it, that you have to be pretty dedicated.

MM: “We already have that, it’s Grenache. If you’ve talked to anyone that grows Pinot Noir, Grenache is ten times harder; it’s harder to grow. It’s more fickle; it’s more vigorous, it bleaches easy…that was already, like you said our ‘mistress.’ So we were like, ‘you know, Pinot is just out.’”

So do you think there is a lot of potential for Grenache?

MM: “Oh yeah! But people have to commit to it…. The one person that I listened to about this was Manfred Krankle. When he really got into the Grenache thing, that’s why he stopped making Pinot. He’s like, ‘Grenache is more nerve racking, more intense, and more of a holy grail type of thing…Grenache is, it’s just this thing. It can be so ordinary or it can be the most haunting beautiful wine you have ever had.”

“There is a lot of potential in Grenache but you have to focus…. We are going to focus on it. We are going to take the challenge and we are going to try to make Grenache to the same level that Sine Qua Non does, that John Alban does.”

Do you have a favorite aspect of wine making?

MM: “I do. I would say the blending process.”

Are you involved with the blending Jason?

Jason Carter: “That’s the only part of the wine making process I am involved with.”

MM: “Jason is a good backstop for us, for us to throw things at…Jason has a great palate…Him and I are wine geeks beyond wine geeks. [He is] a great person to throw things off of. ‘Try these four blends and tell me what you think,’ and he is going to give me an honest answer….But I love that process, being able to sit in a cellar and taste through different components, different vineyards, and really put something together that you feel has intensity and balance…The blending process is very much part of me, part of my personality.”

JC: “When you are doing single vineyard, single varietal wines, there is not a whole lot of blending that is going to go into them. You concentrate on the best technical wine you can make, but that’s the end of your day. Then if you are doing blends, then you have to do all the different components, then your next day starts. Now you have to get them in the right proportions, that’s the hard part…coming up with that wine that’s going to be a notch higher than everything else you could have done. That’s wine making, that’s tough.”

MM: “It’s amazing how many blends I have put together, where I think about those things at three in the morning. It’s what’s going to take that to the next level…the wine we are looking for…you have to be in-tuned to those details.”

Who has inspired you in California wine and who are you watching?

MM: “Manfred Krankle is pretty much a very inspirational person. In the beginning when I first started making wine, whether his wines are perfectly made for your palate or not, you realize that this guy has created something that no one on the Central Coast has done.…Now days I watch people like Justin Smith with Saxum, you want to see what he’s doing because obviously he is doing things right….John Alban you want to watch. Manfred is on a different level, I don’t even want to call him the Godfather of anything, he is almost beyond that. Alban is like Godfather of the kind of Central Coast wine scene…Justin Smith is kind of the new guy on the block as far as the level. Matt Trevisan of Linne Cal0do, he’s kind of very inspirational on his blending side of things. He’s a chemistry kind of guy. He’s one of those guys that figures it out on the chemistry side…There’s another winemaker…Scott Holly, I really find him to be a guy that’s really sharp. He makes wine at Booker. He makes a wine called Torrin. He’s a really sharp guy. You’re going to see that guy in three, four, five years.”

Russell wasn’t able to join Mack and Jason for the interview, due to some customers he was pouring for. We spoke on my way out and he was disappointed he missed the interview, but he jokingly told me, “I usually don’t do very well in the interview portion anyway, I do better in the swimsuit portion of the competition.” Pictures were promised.

However, Russell was warned an imaginary interview might be drafted.

So here is Russell’s portion of the interview, as I imagined it in my head. I studied him from across the room during the afternoon, so I’m pretty sure my interpretations are highly accurate.

Who has inspired you in California wine?

“The funny thing is, it isn’t a winemaker who has inspired me most. Bob Ross has been a huge influence on my life. I used to watch him paint all of those “happy little trees” as a kid and think, ‘now that’s an artist!’ I wanted to make something one day that inspired people the way his majestic mountains and lakes inspired me. Bob Ross is also the reason I have a beard.”

Do you have a favorite aspect of wine making?

“Well like I said before, the swimsuit competition.”

OK So here I do have to restate – THE ABOVE QUOTES ATTRIBUTED TO RUSSEL ARE FICTISIOUS IN EVERYWAY. But, Russell does have a cool beard like Bob Ross.

I once put in a fictitious reference to a winery needing a new Assistant Winemaker. Early the next morning, I received an email requesting if the sentence could be removed, due to the fact that they had already been bombarded with email applications. So, I learned my lesson about making jokes nobody apparently gets. Please don’t contact the Estate of Bob Ross or ask Russell for autographed swimsuit photographs. However, please feel free to paint him some “happy little trees.”

Barrel 27 was the 11th winery I have been privileged to visit since the start of this project (not counting the many wineries I have visited tasting). Each has its personality, just as humans do. Some are big, grand, and demand respect and attention. Others are modest and efficient, there to do work and accomplish their mission. A winemaker once told me that terroir is more than just your soil, it’s your people as well. The same must be said for the spirit of a winery.

I have seen wineries that work with the precision of a bio-engineering lab, where each process is controlled in every detail to produce the exact desired result. By the way, I don’t mean this as an insult, since it is incredibly impressive to see a winery function with so much precision and efficiency. After all, consistency can be incredibly difficult to pull off. However, other wineries are more open to the variations and changes in each vintage, and in fact celebrate that. The result might vary from year to year, but there is a sense of excitement that comes with that. What I saw at Barrel 27 was a team of guys (who also have other projects by the way) working together for the common good of the wine. It reminded me of artists sharing a studio space and building off of each other’s inspiration. The warehouse has been home to other winemakers like Justin Smith, now of Saxum and Linne Colado.

With young winemakers like Russell and Mack making such large strides early in their careers, it makes me think that California’s best wine is still ahead.

Barrel 27 Wine Company

2323 Tuley Rd. Suite 110

Paso Robles, CA. 93446


Twitter: @barrel27wines

Pictured left to right: Mac, Jason, Russell

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  1. […] amazed at how well it was all going. Tablas Creek, check! The Ojai Vineyard, a very excited check! Barrel 27, Foxen, Jordan, check, check, and […]

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