Friday, May 30, 2014

Twomey Cellars – Healdsburg, California



The primary regions in California for producing premium Pinot Noir include Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz Mountains, Los Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Mendocino and along the Russian River. Of all these I tend to prefer the Pinots from the Russian River as they tend to have more than just fruit and spice but additional notes of root beer, cola, sassafras, clove and the earthy notes that are often lacking in the more fruity California Pinot Noirs of other regions.

Lately I have been enjoying bottles of Pinot Noir from the 2008-2009 vintages that I collected during my travels in both California and Oregon. Consequently my inventory is in need of replenishing. So, I am now again on the hunt for good vintages of Pinot Noir beginning with the Russian River and I hope to make another trip up to the Willamette Valley in Oregon later this Summer or in early Fall before the harvest.

I had not been to Healdsburg and the Russian River since July of 2012 so the during the Memorial Day weekend I returned and visited two wineries – Twomey Cellars and Arista Winery.

The Winery
Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer
Twomey is the child of the Silver Oak Cellars family, an iconic winery in the Napa Valley established in 1972 by Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer that focuses on premium Cabernet Sauvignon.

After graduating of high school Justin Meyer (11 November 1938 – 6 August 2002) became a monk of the Christian Brothers and taught Spanish at a Christian Brothers high school in Sacramento. In 1964 he was an apprentice to winemaker Brother Timothy at their winery in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. In 1972 he left the Christian Brothers and became president of V&E Consulting and Management Company.

Raymond Twomey Duncan (born 1930) is an American entrepreneur and vintner who was originally involved in oil entrepreneurship in Colorado and founder of Duncan Oil.

In 1972 Justin Meyer met Ray Duncan who had purchased a 750 acre plot of land in the Napa Valley which was formerly the Oakville Dairy farm, as an investment in growing and selling grapes. Together Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan then founded Silver Oak Cellars. Today Silver Oak has two wineries; one in Oakville in the Napa Valley and one in Geyserville in the Alexander Valley.

In 1999 the Duncan Family established Twomey Cellars which is named after Ray Duncan’s mother, Velma Marie Twomey Duncan.  Whereas Silver Oak Cellars was established to produce premium Cabernet Sauvignon the goal of Twomey Cellars is to craft fine wines from other varietals beginning with a Merlot produced from the Soda Canyon Ranch Vineyard.


In 2000 Twomey acquired the West Pin Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and began making Russian River Valley Pinot Noir in addition to the single vineyard Napa Valley Merlot. As production of wine continued to increase they decided to establish Twomey as a separate winery.

In 2003, the Duncans purchased Stonegate Winery in Calistoga, surrounded by a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard, which then became the home of Twomey’s Calistoga winery.

In 2006, the Duncan family purchased Roshambo Winery in Healdsburg to establish a second winery for Twomey which is dedicated to the production of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

In 2007, Ben Cane was hired to oversee the production of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

In May 2012, Jean-Claude Berrouet joined Twomey as winemaking consultant, working closely with Director of Winemaking Daniel Baron in the production of Twomey's Napa Valley Merlot. Jean-Claude Berrouet served as the winemaker and technical director at Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix for 44 vintages. During his tenure at Etablissement Jean-Pierre Moueix, he was responsible for the production of their line-up of wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion, including the Chateau Petrus.

Twomey is currently operated by Ray Duncan’s sons David Duncan, who serves as the President and CEO, and Tim Duncan, who serves as Executive Vice President.

The Wines
In my recent travels in the Napa Valley many wineries are now charging anywhere between $40 and $90 for tasting fees which are not refunded with purchase. One of the reasons for these seemingly astronomical fees is that the Napa Valley has become the #1 tourist destination in California and many tourists visit the valley to go wine drinking (not merely tasting) and are not purchasing wines to take home. Unfortunately, for those who are seeking to buy and not just taste wines such costs become prohibitive to visiting the valley and they seem out of place in comparison to other California wine regions that charge on average only $5 - $10 for tasting which is often refunded with purchase. Fortunately the Russian River wineries have not yet bought in to the exorbitant charging fees and yet they produce some of the best Pinot Noirs in the entire state. Twomey Cellars charges a nominal fee of $10 for a tasting of 5 wines.

2013 Estate Sauvignon Blanc
This is a clear straw-yellow wine with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has pronounced aromas of white grapefruit, guava, green apple, and lemon blossoms. On the palate it is dry with crisp and refreshing medium+ to high acidity, it is medium bodied with a medium+ length finish. An excellent example of a California style Sauvignon, it sells for $25 per bottle.

The next three wines were all excellent representatives of their respective appellations. While the differences in their aroma and flavor profile may be subtle, they are unique enough to be distinguished in a blind tasting. This makes Twomey Cellars an excellent place to learn about how the differences in the terroir of the Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast have an impact on Pinot Noir.

2012 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
This is a clear ruby red wine of low intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of raspberries, ripe cherries, strawberries and a hint of spice. On the palate it is dry but fruit forward with bright acidity (medium+), it is medium bodied and has a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $46 per bottle.

2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
This is a clear ruby red wine of low intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it is earthier than the previous wine with subtle aromas of strawberry preserves, black cherries, root beer, cola, anise, clove and cinnamon. It has medium+ acidity, medium tannin, it is medium bodied and has a medium+ length finish with lingering notes of strawberries and spice. This was my favorite in the line-up, so I brought two bottles home for $50 each.

2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
This wine is very similar to the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, but with just a touch more earth and dried floral aromas. It is a clear ruby red wine of low intensity and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, dried roses and a hint of spice. On the palate it is dry with medium+ acidity, medium- tannin, it is medium bodied and has a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $50 per bottle.

2009 Napa Valley Merlot
Whereas most wineries clarify their wines by fining using filters, or fining agents, Twomey uses a more traditional and labor-intensive form of racking known as soutirage traditionnel to produce its Merlot. It aged for 18 months in French oak barrels and during the aging process the wine is moved from barrel to barrel using gravity rather than a pump, which is gentler handling of the wine. This process softens tannins and clarifies and enhances the aromatic qualities of this wine.

This wine is somewhat opaque, dark ruby at the core with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of black cherries, blueberries, cherry-cola hints of mocha and subtle notes of damp earth. On the palate it is dry and very soft on entry with refined moderate tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ body and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $50 per bottle.

I have been to Towmey Cellar’s Calistoga winery a few times and I have always thought of them as a Merlot focused winery that “Does with Merlot what Silver Oak Cellars does with Cabernet.” Now having visited the Healdsburg winery I see them more as a Pinot Noir focused producer than a Merlot-based winery and a “must visit” for anyone who loves Russian River Pinot Noir.

To visit or for more information:
Twomey Cellars
3000 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 800-505-4850