Dunne on Wine: A French-style rose from Lodi

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3D

Melinda Kearney had two models in mind when she established her wine brand in 2008.

One was the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé from Provence in the south of France, widely seen as the benchmark for rosés of rare structure and finesse. "In my early years in the restaurant business I discovered Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé. I loved the way it interacted with food," Kearney said.

The second was her daughter Michele Lorenza Ouellet, a model whose middle name, in tribute to her grandfather Lorenzo, now also serves as the name of her mother's brand.

"Michele lived in Paris for several summers early on as a model. She was able to sample rosé wines there and found an affinity for the festive, fun attitude they brought to the table. So when we decided to make a wine together, we went for rosé," Kearney said.

Their latest collaboration is the Lorenza 2011 California Rosé, a deceptively simple name for a rosé of exceptional frame and content. Like the straightforward label, the wine's faint coral color provides little clue to the freshness and depth of the wine's smell and flavor. It's a lighthearted wine, which rosés are meant to be, skipping about the palate with a wiry zestiness that suggests orange peel in the aroma, strawberries and cherries in the flavor. It's dry, with no oak influence. The finish is as quick and crisp as a camera shutter.

"We insist on clean, fresh flavors, a beautiful salmon color and low alcohol," Kearney said.

While the wine carries a "California" appellation, all the fruit was grown in Lodi vineyards. The two eschewed "Lodi" on the label in favor of "California" for the sense of sunny living that the state's name provokes.

The wine, made at Klinker Brick Winery of Lodi under the guidance of consulting winemaker Joseph Smith, is an intricate blend of four grape varieties closely identified with the south of France – 33 percent grenache, 26 percent carignane, 23 percent mourvèdre and 18 percent cinsault.

"Our goal was to create a similar blend to what we have held up as our iconic wine, Domaine Tempier," Kearney said. "So we went out to Lodi and found the fruit."

The cinsault comes from what may be the oldest plot in the world planted to the variety, the Bechthold Vineyard, planted in the late 1880s by Joseph Spenker, a German immigrant who didn't have much luck prospecting for gold in the nearby Mother Lode but subsequently did well by providing provisions to prospectors and then by going into farming.

Today, cinsault from the old stand is sought eagerly by such prominent producers as Bonny Doon, Michael David, Jessie's Grove and Turley, each of which has its own designated rows in the vineyard.

Kearney and Ouellet have purchased fruit from Bechthold Vineyard for three of the four vintages they've made of their rosé.

Kearney was in the restaurant business in Boulder, Colo., when she was lured to California's Napa Valley in 1990 by an urge to join "the epicenter of food and wine."

When Kearney found restaurant hours incompatible with rearing a toddler, she gravitated to the valley's wine trade, working initially in vineyard and cellar during harvest but gradually carving out a niche for herself in marketing and sales. She put in 10 years as vice president of sales for Frog's Leap Winery, and for the past decade has been consulting in marketing and sales for high-end Napa Valley estates. Her business, Intersection Wine Co., is in St. Helena.

Aside from their own fondness for rosé, Kearney and Ouellet agreed to focus on the style because of rising sales for the genre, because the wine could be released soon after harvest to assure a quick turnaround on their investment, and because it wouldn't compete with the releases of Kearney's Napa Valley clients, known principally for their cabernet sauvignons.

With a daughter for a model, Kearney has no problem coming up with art for her label. Just as the blend for the rosé is apt to change from vintage to vintage, so is the photo of Ouellet on the label.

Ouellet, who has been modeling since she was 15, lives in New York and works often in Los Angeles, but she steps aside from the runway each harvest to walk the vineyards and to work the crush pad. "She has a very clear palate, so her input on the blend is invaluable," said her mother.

Represented by Elite, Ouellet has been involved in marketing campaigns for The Row (the clothing line of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), Johnson Hartig's Libertine, Free People, Mini Cooper, J Crew and Newbark. Between shoots, she markets the rosé and writes the blog Kisser (www.kisser.com).

Lorenza 2011 California Rosé

By the numbers: 11.8 percent alcohol, 1,262 cases, $20.

Context: Kearney and Ouellet like to savor the rosé with French fries, preferably seasoned with truffles or salt. Seared tuna nicoise salad and salmon with sweet corn, tomatoes and mashed new red potatoes are two other favorites. "It's fabulous with cured meats, and salty things are a great pairing – calamari, tempura, oysters," Kearney says.

Availability: In the Sacramento area, the Lorenza rosé is available at Plaza Foods in Rancho Murieta and WineStyles in Folsom. It is poured by the glass at the restaurants Land Ocean in Folsom and Sienna in El Dorado Hills.

More information: A tasting of the Lorenza rosé is by appointment only at the St. Helena office of Intersection Wine Co.; email lorenza@intersectionwine.com. The brand also has a website, www.lorenzawine.com.

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