by Fred McMillin
for May 23, 1997

Winery of the Week

Fireman, Save That Vine

Prologue: His father had planted those Zinfandel vines in 1905 and 1927. Now, in 1969, Louis Barbieri was ready to retire. He and wife Lorraine had two sons, but both were dentists, too busy to manage a vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

The scene shifts to Firehouse 49 in western San Francisco. On duty is an anthropologist (honors graduate)-former marine-photographer named Cecil De Loach. He notices an ad with a caveat. One Louis Barbieri wishes to sell his beloved family vineyard, but ONLY if the purchaser agrees to keep it intact and operating. Six years later, the De Loaches (wife Christine is also an anthropologist) bottled their first wine, a Barbieri Ranch red Zinfandel.

The Rest of the Story: Christine and Cecil got along famously with the Barbieris, who even stayed at the vineyard another year to teach Cecil how to give those old vines the proper tender loving care. It was all so pleasant, the De Loaches scraped together enough money to purchase a nearby 28 more acres the next year. Production has risen from 9000 cases a year to over 130,000, so the family keeps on buying land to supply the grapes. Their acreage, all in the prestigious Russian River Valley is over 300 and counting. In fact, they have recently acquired the former Merry Vintner property in a manner reminiscent of their first purchase. They are on a first-name basis with the former owners who are welcome to come by any time to see "how their dream is continuing to grow."

Just the Facts

Name De Loach Vineyards
Cecil De Loach
Location   60 miles north of San Francisco, just west of the town of Santa Rosa in the Russian River Valley.
Owners Cecil and Christine De Loach, anthropologists bitten by Bacchus.
Awards Someway, Cecil found time to get his enology training at UC-Davis, and it shows. with the help of a sterling staff, their O.F.S. Chardonnay has stunned the critics. The reds are on the rise too, Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot. (Oh yes, O.F.S. stands for Our Finest Selection, a synonym for Reserve.)
Contact Kristin Thigpen, (707) 526-9111, Fax (707) 526-4151

Postscript: I can recall the Barbieri Ranch Zin winning best red in a major event not so long ago. However, the vines are not immortal. Yields from one part of the original 24 acres are down to a trickle (1/4 ton per acre) and so a small portion is being replanted.


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.


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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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