Friday, July 29, 2022

The Colorado Wine Barons

Recently, I read a notice about Joseph Phelps Vineyards changing ownership and it made me think of "The Colorado Wine Barons," an article I wrote in the early 1970s, about Phelps, Tom Jordan and Ray Duncan. 

I was living in Colorado then and became aware of these three businessmen/vintners from a business article I read in a Denver newspaper.  Wine was mentioned only mentioned wine in passing.  For me, though, that mention was the germ of an idea for an article about Colorado wine for a wine magazine. 

California wine was booming in the Seventies and everyone wanted a piece of it. Land in prime locations was still available and most of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma were still family owned. 

With a little research, I learned that all three men had transformed their love of wine and the culture associated with it into successful wine businesses in California.  Phelps, a Colorado building contractor, hired his own company to build  Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the Napa Valley.

Colorado entrepreneur, Raymond Duncan, with his partner, Justin Meyer, started Silver Oak Cellars and for a short time, owned Franciscan Winery, both in the Napa Valley. 

Tom Jordan, a Denver-based businessman in oil and gas exploration, and his wife Sally, established the Bordeaux inspired hilltop Jordan Vineyard & Winery outside Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. 

Jordan Vineyard & Winery 

                             1998 Cabernet Sauvignon

Long before I met him in his offices in the Petroleum Building in downtown Denver, Tom Jordan had made his fortune exploring for oil and natural gas in Indonesia. It was only natural that this new found wealth would support the love that Tom and Sally Jordan had for fine wine and food.

The Jordans were Francophiles with a refined passion for French food and Bordeaux wine and a distinct style of "chateau architecture." In 1972, construction began on the Jordan chateau on the crest of a rolling hill outside Healdsburg, in Sonoma County.

It was, and is, a handsome pile, complete with two elegant apartments, gourmet kitchen and a grand dining room that looks out on the winery tank room.  The space became legendary in Wine Country for elegant soirees attended by politicians and film stars.  At one dinner, actor Danny Kaye swept off the table, jumped up and danced a fandango, or so it has been rumored. 

From the first vintage in 1976, Jordan winemaker Rob Davis made only an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and later added a Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is a Bordeaux-style blend, aged in French oak.

Davis, who retired in 2019, was mentored by legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, who developed the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.   

Joseph Phelps Vineyard

                                           2018 Insignia, Napa Valley product shot

In the early 1970s Hansel Phelps Construction Company, a Colorado based firm that specialized in large buildings, was contracted to build Souverain of Rutherford winery.  Souverain, located off the Silverado Trail, later changed names and owners, to Rutherford Hill. 

Joe Phelps visited the Napa Valley many times during the construction phase of Souverain and was taken by the natural beauty of the valley.  Eventually he purchased land not far from Heitz Cellars in a spot known as Spring Valley, where he commissioned his construction company to build Phelps winery.

A vineyard was planted along Taplin Road and the German-born winemaker, Walter Schug was hired to make the first Phelps wines. Before Phelps was known for the Cabernet-based Insignia, Schug won acclaim for Phelps Rieslings, including one of the first late-harvest wines in the state.

Interest in Riesling tapered off while the Phelps reputation for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, took off.  Insignia, has been credited as one of the first so-called Napa cult Cabernets, as well as the impetus for Meritage, a concept that promotes Bordeaux-style blends.  Phelps Vineyard was also the first winery to bottle the true Rhone Syrah, while other California wineries were making Petite Sirah.

Phelps has said that he credits Joe Heitz, Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi for teaching him about grape growing, wine making and the business of running a winery.

In 2005, Joe Phelps turned over ownership and management of the winery and vineyards to his children, to spend more time with his grandchildren and cooking, his long-time passion. 

 Silver Oak Cellars & Franciscan Winery


At first glance, it would seem that Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer were an unlikely pair to get into the California wine business together.  But the partnership proved to be a success.  

Duncan, an entrepreneur, financed the investment and Meyer, a former Christian Brother, who studied wine making under Brother Timothy, supplied the wine expertise. The partnership thrived through the ownership of two Napa wineries.

In 1972, Duncan and Meyer founded Silver Oak Cellars, focusing only on making Cabernet Sauvignon, one from Napa Valley and the other from Alexander Valley, in Sonoma County.  Silver Oak maintains its reputation as one of Napa's best. 

The Franciscan brand was sold to Silver Oak, keeping it in the Duncan family. Franciscan makes a Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon and a Napa red blend, Magnificat Meritage, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

My connection to all three men and their wines and wineries was as a writer.  In the early 1970s, the most successful wine shop in downtown Denver, was Harry Hoffman. The unusual thing about Harry Hoffman, in those days, was a focus on California wine, when most other stores promoted European wines. 

Among the selections at Hoffman were Phelps and Franciscan wines, even though Ray Duncan had opened a Franciscan tasting room in historic Laramer Square. Colorado law at that time required a facility operating as a winery that served  wine also had to make wine on the premises.  So, Duncan installed a miniature press and fermentation tank, making just enough wine to satisfy the state. 

Jordan's oil exploration business included two corporate jet planes that he and some members of his crew used to move back and forth from Denver to Healdsburg.  I was fortunate to have hitched a ride to Sonoma and was invited to visit the winery before the official opening and release of the first Cabernet Sauvignon.

So many things have changed in the California wine business, but Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Joseph Phelps Vineyard and Silver Oak Cellars, maintain their high-end reliability for quality wine.


Next blog: The Chardonnay Question

Leave a comment of write me at

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Covid Delay


 Free Red Bicycle on Green Grass Field Near Green Trees Under Blue Sky Stock Photo

A couple of weeks ago, I got Covid and ever since I have been bothered with persistent fatique.  At times I have trouble standing and my legs don't work the way I want them to.

I'm working with physical therapy to get my strength back.  So, for now, today's regularly scheduled blog, "The Colorado Wine Barons, is postponed to July 29.

I hope to see you all then. 

Gerald D. Boyd

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Australia Series: Victoria

"Yarra Valley is a place of extreme beauty, of constantly changing light, of colour and mood...Once you've seen it you cannot help but love it."  Writer and winemaker James Halliday describing where he lives and makes wine.

Australia's Victoria state is in the far southeast fertile corner of the country, with Melbourne as its capital.  Victoria is the most densely populated and most urbanized of all the states.

Sorting out Australian geography can be confusing because there are states and  territories, a mainland and an island. Victoria is the smallest of the six states on the mainland while the island state of Tasmania is the smallest. Smaller still is the Australian Capital Territory, which was established from two areas of New South Wales. The other territory is Northern Territory.  Western Australia is the largest state and occupies the western third of the continent.

Melbourne and Sydney each have a population of about 3 million, although bragging rights for the most populous goes back and forth.  Melbourne and Sydney are rivals in many ways, from population to sport.

An interesting thing about Australian cities is the relative size of first and second; Geelong, Victoria's second largest city has a population of only about 120,000, a fraction of Melbourne's three-plus million.

Victoria's Wine Regions

Victoria can claim at least eight major wine grapes, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon the principal varieties. Victoria's climate is generally temperate (climates are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere), just the right conditions for cool climate grapes like Pinot Noir. 

In all, there are 17 wine regions in Victoria, clustered in the southeast part of the state.  Noteworthy are Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula (both close to Melbourne), Geelong and Pyrenees. 

                               Old winery in Yarra Valley, Australia Yarra Valley, Australia – February 19, 2016: Yering Station established in 1838 is the oldest winery in Yarra Valley, which is one of Australia’s premium wine growing regions. Yarra Valley Stock Photo

Yarra Valley is, by some estimations, Australia's premier area for Pinot Noir and one of the top regions for Chardonnay.  In the 1980s, France's Moet & Chandon was looking for a place to make sparkling wine in Australia and settled on Yarra. The view from the Chandon tasting room is superb, as are the wines, which in my opinion, are better than the Chandon sparkling wines I've tasted in the Napa Valley and Argentina.  Microclimate pockets in the Yarra are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a little Shiraz.  Yarra brands to look for: Coldstream Hills, Yarra Yerring, Yering Station, DeBartoli, Mount Mary, Domaine Chandon, St. Huberts.

Geelong lies off Port Phillip Bay and is dominated by the Bellarine Peninsula. Noted for Pinot Noir, this cool climate area also makes Chardonnay and Shiraz, plus distinct long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon.  Geelong's history is the history of Australian wine, as 130 years ago, the region was one of the most important in Victoria.  Wines: Bannockburn, Prince Albert, Scotchmans Hill.

Mornington Peninsula; the name conjures up images for day-trippers of small wineries, trendy cafes and restaurants and beautiful sea vistas.  The Peninsula, as its known, is a pleasant drive from Melbourne.  Chardonnay and Pinot Pinot Noir are the leading wines, along with growing interest in Pinot Gris, Viognier and the odd Italian-style wine.  Wines: Dromana Estate, T'Galant, Stonier's, Kings Creek, Port Phillip Estate.

Pyrenees is an odd name for an Australian wine region since most people associate the name with a mountain range along the French-Spanish border. And in a country where the highest peak is 7,300 feet above sea level, the Victoria Pyrenees, known locally as Blue Pyrenees, for the soft blue cast on the rolling hills. Grape growing didn't get going in the Pyrenees until the 1970s, with arrival of Taltarni, Mount Avoca and Redbank.  They found Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grew well in the mountain climate. Taltarni and the French firm of Remy Martin also produce sparkling wines from non-traditional varieties.  Wines: Taltarni, Redbank Winery, Dalwhinnie, Blue Pyrenees Estate, Mount Avoca Vineyard, Summerfield.

                    Kangaroo road sign in Australia Kangaroo road sign on a side of a road in  Adelaide Hills wine region, South Australia australian wine stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Aside.  I have pleasant memories of Victoria, but among the most vivid and lasting was my time with Dominique Portet, brother of Bernard Portet of Napa's Clos du Val.  We had arranged an evening visit and when I arrived, Portet came bounding out of the winery door, smiling broadly and shouting, "G'day mate."  The greeting surprised me as I didn't expect to be met by a Frenchman with an Aussie accent. 

By the time Portet and I had lingered over a light supper and tasting of Taltarni wines, the light was gone.  The Victoria Pyrenees are a long way from anywhere and it was pitch dark. To make matters worse, when I got to the end of the lane, I couldn't remember which way to turn back on to the main road back to Avoca where I was staying the night.

There were no road signs and no other buildings to help me and I was driving on the right side of the road and you had to watch for nocturnal kangaroos.  

I sat at the end of the lane for a few minutes, then figured there was a fifty-fifty chance, so I turned left. After what seemed like endless nervous kilometers, there were the first signs of Avoca.  Good thing, because considering the size of Australia, I could still be driving.

Even though Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz dominate Australian wine, it's nice to know, especially for pinot fans, that there is a temperate region like Victoria for cool climate wines like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 


Next blog: The Colorado Wine Barons 

Leave a comment or write me at


Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Weighty Subject

The other day, I was thinking about Spanish red wines and how they differ in weight from light to heavy. And it occurred to me that the relationship between wine and weight needs some explanation. 

Weight is very subjective. If you have any doubt, consider the ageless dilemma of the hapless male upon hearing, "Honey, do I look heavy in this?" 

Heavy to one person is likely not the same to someone else.  Wine is a weighty subject too.  In wine terms, weight usually refers to the tactile pressure of the wine in the mouth. This is true more for red wine than white wine. 

Weight can also mean must weight, or the measurement of ripeness, in terms of certain compounds in grape juice, either in the vineyard or winery, or both. Must is the intermediate liquid -- neither grape juice nor wine.



Winemakers use a refractometer, like the one shown above, to measure grape ripeness.  

You probably don't have a refractometer laying around, so next time you take a sip of a red wine, think of your tongue as a scale, measuring the weight of the wine.  It's a trick that I found works, mainly when the sensation of the wine is present, but words to describe that presence are missing. 

Everyday examples of liquid weight are water as the lightest and milk as heavier.  Weight in wine might begin with a light rose, to a medium Pinot Noir and weigh out with a Syrah.

Spanish Reds

 Spanish red wines follow a more prescribed scale.  Learning Spanish wine terms is a good way to decipher the weight and style of the wine.  The terms are spelled out under Spanish wine laws, known collectively as DO laws or Denominacion de Origen

Higher quality categories include Denomacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) and Denomacion de Origen de Pago (reserved for single estates). 

The following two age levels of quality and weight apply only to wines with DO and DOCa designations, although the aging differs for red and white wines:

Joven wines are the lightest because they are the least handled in the winery and usually not aged before release.  Joven wines, white and red, are harvested in one year and released with little or no time in oak.  These immediate-drinking wines are light and fruity and may carry the word "roble" (oak) on the label, indicating the wine spent less than six months in oak.  Wines: Bodegas Santa Rufina, Teofilo Reyes, Abadia la Arroyada.

Crianza red wines are aged for at least 24 months, with at least six months in oak.  This popular category of Spanish wine often presents the right balance of fruit and oak.  Longer extraction time coupled with more contact with oak adds weight and structure.  Wines: Bodegas Casa Juan Senor de Lesmos, CVNE, Bodegas Puelles, Lopez de Heredia, Vina Real, Bodegas 220 Cantaras.

At the top end of the aging categories are Reserva and Gran Reserva, required to spend 36 and 60 months, respectively, in barrel before being sold.  

Joven wines, and some of the lighter and less weighty Crianzas, are good choices with casual outdoor meals and take-alongs for picnics.  Spain's workhorse red grape, Tempranillo, is adaptable enough to make light and fruity reds, as well as ones destined for aging. 

                  Hamburgers on barbeque Stock Photo

Grilled burgers and sausages are great with light Spanish reds and those labeled Tempranillo. Another trouble-free choice is spit-roasted chicken, like those pre-cooked birds you find in supermarkets.  Joven reds are quaffing wines, so just about any of your favorite al fresco foods will work, even spicy dishes. 

Easing into summer usually means a transition from heavier wine and heartier foods, to light and easy.  As the temperature rises, you'll feel more comfortable with less complicated meals, complimented by lighter wine.  Salud!

Next blog: Australia Series: Victoria

Leave a comment or write me at