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by L.M. Archer FWS, Bourgogne ML
Today’s Exclusive Interview:
Angels & Cowboys | Sonoma
Ever miss those carefree summer days when ‘making a splash’ meant cannonballing into a cool lake, dousing all around you with a satisfying ‘splat’? In 2006, seasoned Sonoma winemaker Dennis Hill and business partner Yoav Gilat founded Cannonball Wine Company, carefully crafting 100% varietals designed to make an equally dramatic impact upon wine lovers. They’ve succeeded.
Over the weekend, Angels & Cowboys’ winemaker Dennis Hill shared his thoughts with me about the impetus for starting Angels and Cowboys, his passion for the diverse growing regions of Sonoma, and the secret behind their proprietary blends. Enjoy!
Angels & Cowboys hand crafts ‘intriguing, soulful’ proprietary blends. What was the inspiration behind crafting the name, and the wines?
The name was inspired by the notion that, “There’s a lover, a trailblazer and a rule breaker in all of us.” That idea coupled with passion for Sonoma County and a love for Zinfandel-based, robust, red blend wines were the catalyst. The Rosé was originally created as our own passion project, with very limited production, and developed into a permanent program due to demand! The label was designed by Northern California designer, Michael Schwab, (also Cannonball Wines label designer) and was an image we fell in love with at first sight.
Angels & Cowboys falls under the umbrella of Cannonball Wine Company, which has enjoyed an enviable marketplace trajectory since it’s inception in 2006. Talk about the relationship between Team Cannonball Wine Company & Angels & Cowboys.
Angels & Cowboys was the beneficiary brand of all the collective knowledge gained from the Cannonball experience. We applied the same market strategies that had proven to be a recipe for success; strong distributor alliances, personal and hands – on relationships with the trade, build the brand primarily on-premise and focus retail presence in wine shops and higher end grocery. Passion from grape to glass and never compromise our focus!
Cannonball wines are spot – on varietal specific wines. Angels & Cowboys wines are proprietary blends designed to deliver the best flavors in the ‘blend’ categories. In just two short years we have become a successful player in both the Red Blend and Rosé categories. Cannonball wines will always remain varietal specific; Angels & Cowboys gives us the opportunity to play in the emerging, high growth ‘blend’ and Rosé categories, which we are personally passionate about!
What makes the Dennis Hill | Yoav Gilat partnership so successful?
The reason for its success is having very different and complimentary personalities work together and find common goals. (Dennis is analytical and careful, while Yoav is tenacious and intuitive. They are the Ying and Yang that result in a magical business combo.)
Talk about your wine making approach – more old world or new world, or a combination?
The approach utilizes both new world and old world philosophies. The Rosé is primarily old world techniques, using both saignée and direct to press whole cluster processing. The wine style is similar to the south of France, minimizing fruity flavors and accentuating mouth feel and structure. In many of the other wines, a more new world approach is used.
Angels & Cowboys 2015 Rosé emulates a Provençal-style rosé, boasting a blend of Grenache Rouge, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Grenache Blanc, low alcohol (12.8%), and delicate ’Oeil de Perdrix (Eye of the partridge) pale pink-grey hue. Any oak during aging? What determined the blend composition?
With the Rosé we want to maximize a racy and fresh expression. There is no oak aging. The blend is driven by a desire to make a style that is not highly fruity, but more mineral and savory, The varieties that contribute to the profile are not widely planted in Sonoma County – ideally, Grenache Noir, Sangiovese, Mouvedre, Tempranillo and Grenache Blanc. Syrah and Merlot can work as well. One key to making great Rosé is growing and harvesting the grapes specifically for Rosé, not using a by-product of red wine making, which is how many Rosés are made. We want the wine to be fresh and vibrant. The correct chemistry of the juice is critical.
Angels & Cowboys Rosé and Proprietary Red source fruit from Sonoma County, Carneros, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. What drives the sourcing determinations – distinct sub-region flavor profiles, long-term grower relations developed over the years, or both?
We work with growers wherever we find ideal conditions, and we prefer the cooler climates. Carneros and Russian River Valley give us bright acidity. Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys ripen earlier. Being close to where we live, we can watch the ripening on a daily basic and call the pick at the optimal time. We are harvesting at chemistries that make the appellation differences a little less significant.
Anything else you care to share about Sonoma County in general, and sourcing sub-regions in particular, that inform the flavor profiles of your finished wines?
OMG, I could write a book about this. I am so fortunate to have grown up here in Sonoma County. It is paradise.I believe it has more climate and terroir diversity that anywhere else in the world. It has more soils types than the entirety of France.
In the southwestern part on the county – southern Russian River Valley and Petaluma Gap – direct Pacific Ocean exposure limits the varieties to early ripening grapes. Provides great acidity.
Sonoma Coast – Encompassing the western and southern parts of the county. Heavily ocean influenced. Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
West Sonoma Coast – Western part of Sonoma Coast. Completely influenced by Pacific Ocean. Pinot Noir country.
Northern Russian River Valley – Moderately cooled by direct Pacific Ocean breezes. Cool mornings and nights with short hot peak afternoon temperatures. Loamy soils. Merlot, Chardonnay Sauvignon blanc.
Sonoma Carneros – Very mild summers and mild winters, affected by the San Pablo Bay. Earliest budbreak in the county. Mild ripening season. Clay soils. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Southern Sonoma Valley – Cooled by both San Pablo Bay and some Pacific breeze. Clay and rocky soils. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay.
Mid & Northern Sonoma Valley– Moderately Warm between Madrone Road and Kenwood. Cabernet Sauvignon country. Then becoming cooler in the north. Merlot.
Dry Creek Valley – Rolling hills, with clay benchland and gravelly bottom land. Evenings cooled from breezes northward from the south. Well drained soils. Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Alexander Valley – Evening cooling like Dry Creek Valley, but more flat and fertile ground. Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varieties.
Any farming techniques important to Angels & Cowboys and Cannonball when sourcing wines, e.g., sustainable, organic, biodynamic? ?
I think about fruit quality first. Bio-dynamic farming is a great philosophical adventure. Organic farming is possibly less impactful of the environment, but very difficult to do in Sonoma County. The proximity to the ocean provides for more disease pressure that cannot be controlled with cultural practices alone. I’m proud to be part of Sonoma County’s commitment to being 100% sustainable by 2019. In our estate vineyard we achieved first level sustainability
Talk about the Angels & Cowboys and Cannonball philosophies – what make them resonate so loudly with consumers?
With Cannonball and Angels & Cowboys winemaking, my only rule is to respect the consumer. I like to be with our consumers when they are tasting our wines. I want that first-hand information about whether or not they like the wines. I don’t need the press or scores or experts. Our consumers are our judges. Both brands’ label design is eye – catching and emotional. The brand names are evocative and the winemaking style is approachable. These elements are ageless and thus, have a wide-ranging appeal. Millennials can sniff out inauthenticity like no other generation and fortunately we over-deliver on all fronts and have seen organic success with that demographic. We also have great momentum with our mature wine consumer, which we established over the last decade with our quality and consistency.
It’s not too late to jump on the virtual party bus on Twitter and Instagram
from 6-7 pm PST on June 28th at:
Dennis Hill, Yoav Gilat, Kelley Deal.
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