The “lowdown” on Boz Scaggs these days has as much to do with wine as it does with music.
Music fans know he’s one of the country’s most engaging rhythm ‘n’ blues artists, that he broke big in the mid-’70s with an album that contained hit on top of hit, firmly establishing Scaggs as one of the kings of blue-eyed soul.
True, he’s invested in music at the moment, performing with Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen on a cross-country tour that comes to Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Oct. 1.
But Scaggs is also keeping tabs on another major investment — his own wine brand, Scaggs Vineyard, and the first wines to hit the market.
Scaggs and his wife, Dominique, launched Scaggs Vineyard wines — a rosé and a blend of aromatic Rhone varietals — at a recent celebratory wine dinner hosted by Bardessono executive chef Sean O’Toole. The wines are made by a respected member of the local wine industry, Ken Bernards, the force in the cellar behind Ancien.
The two wines are made from Rhone varietals planted on 2.5 acres at the northernmost reach of Mount Veeder along the Mayacamas Ridge, at an altitude stretching from 1,100 to 1,400 feet.
Planted over a period of three years starting in 1998, the hillside vineyards contain syrah, mourvedre and grenache. In 2007, the couple added a small amount of cunoise. Since 2005, the vineyards, fruit and olive orchards at Scaggs Vineyard have been certified organic.
Boz and Dominique Scaggs moved to the western hills of the Napa Valley in 1996. Dominique points out they’d “found a beautiful spot, virtually untouched, with a good well and the layered horizon of a Chinese landscape painting.”
Her husband said they were “planting fruit trees one day when a vineyardist friend stopped by and suggested we put in some grape vines he had on his truck, leftovers from another job. They were syrah cuttings that had come from Lee Hudson in Carneros. The idea of growing grapes in the Napa Valley didn’t seem too far-fetched, but what transpired the following spring when those fledgling vines leafed out was unexpected — they took root in us as deeply as they had the hillside.”
The Scaggs enjoyed wines from the south of France, especially those of the southern Rhone, and explored the possibility of planting more than syrah at their Mount Veeder home site.
“Research indicated they'd be a good match for our climate and the soils in our hills, so in addition to the newly planted syrah, we chose mourvedre and grenache cuttings from Tablas Creek, whose clones came from the esteemed Beaucastel Vineyard in Chateaneuf-du-Pape,” Boz said. “And we imbibed a good deal of the Beaucastel philosophy, too: minimal intervention in winemaking to allow for maximum expression of terroir, that evocative French concept whose meaning encompasses the earth, air, water and soul of a place. From the start, we were committed to sustainable farming practices — our steep hillsides and narrow vine rows committed us to farming by hand.”
Early on, Boz chatted up a good wine friend, Kermit Lynch, about making a small amount of wine. The project took on a little more seriousness when “true garagista” John Olney (now winemaker a Lytton Springs) experimented with several harvests “to see which expression we could get (from the grapes).
“We made our first wine in 2000 and have experimented over the years, testing techniques and blends, learning more about our grapes, our soil, our preferences. Each harvest has a story to tell.”
For the first few harvests, the Scaggs drank their own wines and shared them with friends. “We had no intention of getting into the business,” Boz said.
But as the vines matured, they met Bernards. “We married up our grapes with the right man,” Boz continued. “Wine had begun stacking up in the warehouse. I’m a dilettante in all of this ... I had no idea how to market wine. But we were quite proud of our wines and the whole thing sort of evolved.”
The world-renowned entertainer said he and Dominique are producing wines from a relatively small tract of vines. “It would be difficult to expand the acreage ... we’re not looking to do so. Ken’s approach to winemaking goes hand in hand with our goals. My wife has taken charge of the sales enterprise and I’ve got my hands full now with music.”
While Boz has placed a link to Scaggs Vineyard on his music website, he assures fans there won’t be any cheesy promotions at upcoming concerts.
“I’ve been reluctant to tie the two worlds together,” he added. “I didn’t want (the wine brand) to be considered just another celebrity rendering. I’ll not be putting giant inflatable bottles of Scaggs wines at my concerts — I won’t be going there.
“I believe the wine can stand on its own. And I know it’s important for me to get the brand out there, so I am doing more interviews related to our efforts.”
At the recent Bardessono dinner where the two wines were launched, Boz said his intent was for both wines to be “New World expressions” of classic Rhone wines. To prove a point, the Scaggs Vineyard 2008 Mount Veeder Grenache Rosé was poured alongside 2009 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé from Provence. The two wines were paired with a tomato and jamon Iberico salad, and a Pacific bourride, featuring sablefish, Monterey squid and Mendocino uni.
The Scaggs Vineyard 2007 Mount Veeder Montage was poured alongside 2006 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The two wines complemented the chef’s roasted chicken breast with Sierra butter bully mushrooms, as well a Marin Sun Farms New York strip steak and crispy potatoes.
The elegant Scaggs rosé has lovely floral notes, alternating aromas of roses and strawberries, and offers both strawberries and spice on the mid palate, finishing with a hint of Bosc pear. Production was 120 acres, with a retail price of $25.
The heady Scaggs Rhone blend features a mouthful of ripe blackberries, with hints of both blueberries and raspberries on the delightfully long finish. It retails for $75. Production was 250 cases.
Additional information about the wines and purchases is at scaggsvineyard.com.