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by Fred McMillin
for March 28, 1997

Winery of the Week

The Hitchhiker

Prologue: *"When brandy was first made, on the strength of using fire to extract it from wine, it was called 'vinum adjustum, ' meaning 'burnt wine.'"...by E.R. Emerson, 1908, in "Beverages Past and Present"

*"The copper pot still or 'alambic' of the Middle Ages is temperamental, demanding kicks and curses to keep it running; nevertheless it still makes all of the great spirits of Europe." ...by William Massee in "Wine and Spirits"

The Rest of the Story: Driving back to his Mendocino ranch, Dr. Ansley Coale screeched to a halt. The former U. Of Cal. classics prof opened the door for a hitchhiker who would completely change his life. In less than ten
The Hitchhiker & the Professor
Hubert Germain-Robin (left) & Ansley Coale (right)
years they would be making what is arguably the best brandy in the Western Hemisphere. Here's what happened. The rider explained that his family had owned and operated the Jules Robin cognac house for over 200 years when it was abruptly gobbled up by the giant, Martel. Furious, Hubert Germain-Robin had picked up his shining copper alambic and wanted to set it down in California wine country.

That was all Ansley needed to hear. Six years later Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan would be sipping Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy at a summit dinner in the White House. Critical acclaim has been overwhelming. Typical is the L.A. Times' Dan Berger who suggests that the world's best Cognac is being made in Mendocino. The last time my Scott's-on-Lombard panel tried the Reserve (XO), they decided it was the best thing tasted in the entire year.

Hubert's Secret: There's a sound reason for the press saying, "tasted blind, it outclasses famous Cognacs." Those famous Cognacs are all made chiefly from a very bland grape, the Ugni Blanc. Instead, Hubert has added new aromas and flavors by abandoning the Uni Blanc in favor of much more interesting wine grapes like Pinot Noir and Gamay Beaujolais. They are more expensive, but just wait until you sniff and sip the difference.

Just the Facts

Name Germain-Robin Alambic Inc.
Location Eagle Rock Ranch, Mendocino County, CA
Start of the Partnership 1981
What to Try There are various lots and names. Start with something in the $30 range, and then get a friend to split the cost of a $100 ultra-premium bottle.

Postscript: The sky was filled with ominous clouds before the football playoff game. The coach asked if the minister would include in the pre-game prayer an appeal for no rain. Smiling, the minister refused, saying he was in sales, not operations. That applies to Dr. Coale as well. He handles the sales and Hubert the operations. Phone (707) 462-3221 for the best "burnt wine" in the country.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend


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