The Independent Magazine
Great Grapes in the Vineyard
By Janet Armantrout
McGrail Vineyards is a fledging winery with something special going for it – a vineyard that produces superb Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
The proof is in the list of medals collected by wineries using the grapes in their blends. For example, The Steven Kent wine was given a 91 by Wine Spectator magazine. The Crooked Vine wine earned a silver medal with McGrail's fruit.
Jim and Ginger McGrail hadn't planned to use their grapes to make their own wine. Jim is a former deputy sheriff with a law practice in Livermore . Ginger is in real estate. When they purchased the property eight years ago, they planted the grapes for use by The Steven Kent Winery.
There was much discussion about what varietal to plant. Jim recalled that his neighbor across the street grew Cabernet and Chardonnay that produced great fruit. “If my neighbor could grow great fruit across the street, I thought we should be able to do the same, “ he said, adding, “I love Cabernet wine.”
Ginger's preference is Chardonnay. Sometime in the future, the McGrails may plant Chardonnay on the winery estate. The McGrails have a contract with Wente to farm their vineyard “meticulously.” The vineyard produces 60-tons of fruit each year. A new partnership at Steven Kent has meant fewer grapes purchased from the McGrails.
Jim McGrail said, “We decided we couldn't pay the farming costs and drop all the extra fruit on the ground. We decided to make our own wine.”
While new to the business of winemaking, Jim and Ginger weren't total novices. They had helped Rhonda Wood at Wood Family Vineyard with every step of the winemaking process, from cutting the fruit off the vine to corking the bottles.
This past year, the McGrails made a couple of barrels with their grapes. The first McGrail Vineyards wine, 2003 Cabernet, was released this year.
Jim did the blending. “We are very pleased with the wine.” He described it as having a very good nose. “You can really taste the fruit. It drinks well with food.” Ginger adds, “There is dark cherry flavor. The wine is very low in tannin.”
There are no plans to expand the wine line. “We will stay with the Cabernet for a while,” Jim stated. “I have found that blending the grapes from our two clones produces a wine with a taste that I like.”
The crush takes place off-site. The wine is blended and bottled at Wood Family Winery. To prepare the wine, it is aged in different oaks – Russian, American or French. Different yeasts are used to achieve different tastes from the fruit. The resulting wines will be blended to achieve the very best wine. While Jim declines the title of winemaker,
he says, At the end of the day, I will do the blending.”
Currently, the McGrail Cabernet is available in two restaurants in Discovery Bay , where the couple has a second home. In Livermore , the wine can be purchased at First Street Wine Co. and Kawa Sushi. It can also be ordered by email. Since there are only 120 cases, it's best to get in early.
By the time the 2005 vintage is released, the production will be up to 2000 cases a year.
A tasting room is in the future. A site has been selected that will provide visitors with a stunning view of wine country. A fountain is planned for in front of the house.
There are also plans to eventually have a full fledged winery. The McGrails say they are taking things one step at a time.
Jim declared, “We are young and new. We plan on making McGrail wines known throughout the Livermore Valley .”
“And beyond,” proclaims Ginger.
Tasting is available by appointment only. Call 925-373-6214. The winery is easy to find. It is located near the end of Greenville Road . The large white tower in front has been decorated by a friend with grapes and the McGrail logo.
While the winery venture moves from fledging to full growth, Jim expects wine country to continue to expand. He quotes Karl Wente as saying, “When my grandparents came here, they made the best wine in the world. We have the same soil and climate.”
Jim credits the Winegrowers Association with doing a great job in getting the word out about Livermore Valley Wine Country. “The people are coming. The hill is getting busy. I think this are will continue to add more vineyards and wineries. The more the better.”
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