Dunne on Wine

Dunne on Wine: Raising eyebrows over ‘reposado’

Until visitors step up to the tasting counter at Borjón Winery in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley, they likely never have seen the word “reposado” on a bottle of wine.

On bottles of tequila, yes, but on bottles of wine, never, at least not before they pause at Borjón Winery. In addition to the bottles of “reposado” sangiovese, there are bottles of “reposado” zinfandel, “reposado” barbera and “reposado” petite sirah behind the Borjón counter.

What’s going on here? Borjón isn’t making one of those grotesque new adult beverages that blends spirits with wine, is it?

Not at all, though winery owner Iscander “Isy” Borjón, in using “reposado” on his wines, has crossed a clear line that divides one sector of the world of alcohol from another. In tequila talk, “reposado” long has indicated that the spirit in the bottle has been aged in wood casks for between two months and a year.

“All ‘reposado’ means is ‘laid down to rest,’” said Borjón.

The term is as fitting for wine as it is for tequila, he feels. That’s basically what he told federal authorities who oversee the country’s wine labels when they raised an eyebrow as he began to use the term on his wines. That’s all the convincing they needed. So far, he’s heard no objection from tequila distillers in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where production of the spirit has historically been centered.

A year or so after founding his winery in 2009, Borjón began to add “reposado” to his labels not only because it was apt for many of his wines but out of pride in his Mexican heritage and out of his fondness for tequila. (Before getting to the winery’s tasting counter, visitors often are distracted by the room’s colorful collection of tequilas, which are for display only, not for sale.)

Borjón is the son of Jesus and Nora Borjón, who arrived in the Shenandoah Valley some 30 years ago, he as a farm laborer, she as a homemaker with three young children to tend. Jesus “Jesse” Borjón grew up in the farming settlement of Parácuaro in the Mexican state of Guanajuato.

By 1991, the Borjóns had saved enough money and learned enough of the region’s farming needs to start their own labor-contracting and vineyard-management company. As he watched the valley’s wine trade grow, Jesse Borjón entertained thoughts of starting his own winery, but by 2006 he was ready to retire. He turned over the business to his son, then 19, and encouraged him to continue to pursue his dream of one day establishing a winery.

The younger Borjón started to build his eponymous winery in 2008 and opened the tasting room the next year. He retained seasoned Amador County winemaker Joe Shebl as his consultant, a role Shebl continues in addition to his new job as winemaker for nearby Renwood Winery.

Borjón and Shebl have been making about 3,500 cases of wine a year, a total expected to jump to 4,000 cases with fruit from the abundant harvest of 2012. They’ve also introduced a second label, Los Portales, exclusively for wines made with grape varieties traditionally associated with Spain, such as tempranillo and grenache. The Borjón label is used largely for wines from grape varieties more identified with Italy.

In managing the family’s farm-labor business, Isy Borjón has continual exposure to Amador County vineyards, which gives him insight into grapes he’d especially like to get his hands on for his own wines. That could help explain the authority of his portfolio.

Borjón’s most popular wine is barbera, the 2011 version of which balances ripe fruit flavors with a silken texture. Borjón’s 2010 zinfandel is brilliant and concentrated, while the 2011 primitivo is austere in structure but spicy in flavor.

Borjón is keen on blending Amador County’s flagship varietals, zinfandel and barbera. One result is the 2010 ECKS Rosé, a refreshing blush sweet with suggestions of strawberries and cherries. (ECKS, pronounced “X,” is in tribute to his and his wife’s four sons, whose names all start with “X.”)Another is the robust yet balanced 2010 Differente, sweet and smoky from aging in new French oak barrels.

The current standout in his lineup, however, is the Borjón Winery 2010 Amador County Reposado Sanviovese. It’s light in color and lithe in structure, but vibrant with sunny fruit, a sleek feel and the kind of razory finish evocative of Chianti Classico at its finest. No surprise it won a gold medal at this summer’s Sunset International Wine Competition. The grapes that went into the wine came from Frank Alviso’s nearby organically farmed Clockspring Vineyards, long tended by the Borjóns.

Isy Borjón’s plans for the winery include the unusual step of adding a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon to a lineup that in all other respects is local.

“I love Napa cabernet. It’s a beautiful wine, one of my five favorite wines. If you want cabernet, you go to Napa, just like if you want barbera you go to Amador County,” said Borjón.

Last fall, he bought cabernet from growers in the Napa Valley subappellations Oak Knoll and St. Helena.

“They’re aging beautifully in brand-new barrels,” Borjón said.

He’s also thinking of expanding his use of traditional tequila terminology. Might he someday come out with a zinfandel or petite sirah with “anejo” on the label, the term customarily used for tequila aged in oak barrels for at least a year?

“Believe you me, I’m going to do something with that name on it, something with real barrel age on it, maybe three years; maybe I’ll call it ‘Gran Anejo,’” Borjón said.

He doesn’t make a white wine, but he’s thinking of adding albariño to his lineup. If he does, don’t be surprised to see “blanco” or “plata” on the label, terms traditionally reserved in Mexico for tequila that hasn’t seen any wood.